Stef punched her pillow, then tossed it across the room and leaped from the bed in order to give it a good kicking. After it was thoroughly beaten, she made it disappear into whatever smelly sub-dimension all of the things required away went to. If such a place even existed. If not, the whole concept played merry hell with physics. Apparently the “m-word” didn’t have to take physics into control.
Hacking hadn’t worked. Coding hadn’t worked. A game of computerised chess hadn’t worked. Nothing was allowing her to relax – such was the curse of having to change a sleeping pattern almost overnight.
Looking at the clock for the fiftieth time, she required herself into some real clothes, and left the room. There was no point lying around when sleep wasn’t going to come, and if she regretted it the next day…later the same day, then she’d deal with it then. Night was for hacking, night was for being jumpy on caffeine while writing a new program, night was for staring into the light-polluted sky waiting for it to stare back at you. Night was not something you spent in bed, on your back.
All of the other recruits were asleep now, no sounds indicating biological practices came from behind the doors. No other insomniacs wandered the halls. The gym was dark, at least until she stepped into it. The lights clicked on as soon as she stepped over the threshold. She stepped out and the lights went off.
‘Stupid refrigerator building,’ she muttered as she went to the lift.
The lift arrived exactly eight seconds later. She leaned against the back wall and slid to the ground. She knew where the “R” button went, as well as the “G” button. Levels four, five and six were easy enough – combat, field and technical. One, two and three, she had no idea. There was a “PG” button, which was either advising parental guidance, or a parking garage.
There was a key operated panel, under which, she was sure were more buttons. After three screwdrivers and a blowtorch, she decided it was impenetrable.
Suddenly, the lift began to move.
Shrugging and sitting cross-legged, she waited for the lift to open.
It dinged open one level up. Jones and recruit wearing goggles walked in, didn’t say anything, and hit the button for the ground floor. The recruit punched the emergency stop and tugged on the sleeve of Jones’ lab coat.
‘Jonesy?’
‘Yes?’
‘Someone left something lying in the lift again. Finder’s keepers still applies right?’
Jones spared her a look, then turned back to his recruit and nodded. Goggles turned and crouched in front her, staring out from behind green-tinted lenses. ‘It’s a bit bigger than the usual bits of trash people leave behind. But more interesting than a pair of knickers,’ he added.
‘If it is too unwieldy,’ Jones said, ‘you can leave it for the hobs to find.’
‘Nuh-uh!’ Goggles whined. ‘Those guys have detect treasure, they always get the best stuff.’
‘…you actually look for stuff left behind in lifts?’ she asked, staring up at the bouncy recruit.
‘Eek! It speaks! Is it an escaped experiment?’
Jones looked at her again. ‘Not one of mine.’
‘Neat, it’s mine!’ He collapsed to the floor and latched onto her arm. ‘I shall call her squishy, and she shall be mine, and she shall be my squishy. And I’ll put her hair in pigtails,’ he said as he began to grab at her hair, small pink scrunchies appearing in his hands.
‘She is armed, Merlin,’ Jones commented as the lift restarted.
He clutched her arm tighter. ‘My squishy wouldn’t hurt me, my squishy wouldn’t hurt anyone.’
She looked up at Jones. ‘Am I dreaming?’
‘That’s a silly question to ask, Recruit, if this were a dream, how could you trust the answer?’
‘I’m only asking because I have something attached to me, and I’m not sure whether to react. If it’s a dream, it’s ok, if I’m awake, I’m going to start screaming in fourteen seconds.’
Goggles – Merlin – let her go and leaned against the other wall. ‘My squishy hates me!’
The wailing continued until Jones threw a small plush toy at the recruit. Merlin snatched it from midair and began to chew on its head, a moment later, he seemed to calm. ‘Jonesy, I wanna go to the games room.’
‘As you wish,’ Jones said and the Merlin faded away with a wave.
The doors slid open. ‘This is your floor. You should get some sleep, you look exhausted.’
‘Can’t sleep. Clowns will eat me.’
He smiled. ‘Actually, my recruits have clown-proofed every wall in the building.’
She pushed herself up. ‘I think that’s quite possibly the most awesome thing I’ve ever heard.’ As she stepped out of the lift, Jones’ hand gently grabbed her arm.
‘Please, do not think badly of Merlin. He spent the first ten years of his life in almost complete isolation. Now, he craves all the contact he can get.’ He sighed. ‘My recruits understand, most of the others avoid him as though he were contagious.’
‘The only thing that bothered me was him nomming a plushie. Does he do that a lot?’ Jones simply nodded. ‘Are you sure the walls are clown-proof?’
‘As yet, we’ve had no clown-related incidents within these walls.’
She planted her feet and stared at him. ‘How can I be sure that you’re not a secret clown?’
The tech agent smiled and pointed to his feet. ‘I have tiny feet, like all good-hearted people.’
‘K, you win…clown would have eaten my head, not countered with another Simpsons reference.’
‘Good night, Recruit,’ he said pointedly as the lift doors slid closed.