Stef opened her eyes, saw Jones’ lab and bit back on the scream roiling in her throat. Electrodes were removed, and water was offered.
You still with me?
I’m right here.
You sure, Spyder, you don’t-
I’m not sure your opinion is needed right now.
She slipped from her chair, smiled at Jones, ignored his queries into her condition, and simply informed the tech that she was tired, and requested, that if nothing further was needed from her, if she could be send back to her room.
Spyder?
With a worried look still on his face, and a wave of his hand, she was back in her tiny little room with her tiny little bed and her tiny little refrigerator. She ran her hands through her hair, pulling as much of it behind her ears as possible. She began to pace in the tiny amount of space, taking tiny shuffling steps.
Will do for the moment. Need-
Spyder? Talk to me. You’re-
Shh, I’m thinking.
She sat on the edge of her bed, and quickly slipped off her shirt.
Spyder, whatever it is you’re doing, I don’t like it.
What did I just say about your opinion?
She eased herself up off the bed, and pulled off her pants, standing quickly, she also stripped away her underwear, leaving her naked to the world.
Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing?
She shook out her hair again, let her head fall to one side, then the other.
Do I have a good side?
You’re naked. Why are you naked?
I guess you don’t want to help me after all.
Spyder-
She shook her hair again, letting it fall in the messy-but-not-too-messy kind of way – if Dorian found that attractive in women, than it was a positive sign. It wasn’t as though she had the tools to do much with her hair. It wasn’t as though she had the knowledge or skill to do much with her hair. And…hair wasn’t going to be very important for very long – at least, if she understood how things worked.
Jesus H Kitten Fucking Raptor Christ, Spyder…explain to me exactly what’s going on in your head right now?
Shouldn’t you know?
You’re hard to read when you’re trying to shut me out. I…it’s all jumbled, and I don’t like what I see.
She moved back over the bed, then pulled herself under the sheet, a single layer of cotton keeping her nudity from the world. She pulled the sheet over her head and looked down at her body. It wasn’t a very good body, not at all. It was gangly, it was pale, it was covered in scars. It wasn’t attractive, she wasn’t attractive. Things would have been so much easier if she were-
Spyder. Question. Have you completely lost your shit?
I need you to shut up.
You do realise that it was a glitch, right?
You’re still giving opinions.
She brushed some imaginary lint from one tiny breast. They were so small, they weren’t the kind that the anyone would write home about. If anyone wrote home about breasts. If, indeed, anyone wrote home anymore.
I wish-
You finish that thought and I swear to the gods I will quit being of any use to you.
She heard the door opening, and froze for a moment before taking a deep breath, and preparing herself. It was all about preparation, being ready for a situation, being prepared to face reality, being ready to-
Four letter word, it was just a four letter word. So simple.
Oh, just use your heritage and say “shag”.
Shag. Being ready to shag.
She took another deep breath, and bit down hard on her lip, steadying herself to expose herself to the world, but more importantly to-
‘Are you still awake?’
She sat up, letting the sheet fall free and pool around her hips, exposing her inadequate breasts and scarred torso to him. He simply handed her a cup of coffee and put the large stack of files in his hands down on top of the fridge.
Um-
She pushed the sheet away from the rest of her body, just to make sure he got the idea.
‘Careful,’ he said, ‘that’s hot.’
I-
He’s talking about the coffee.
Lol, hot coffee. I don’t suppose “let’s make a game hack” is a good come-on?
Just do me a favour and smash your head against the wall. Please.
He sat on the side of the bed and put a hand to her bare shoulder.
Oh, good, now-
‘We have a dress code, and if you’re expecting guests, I do expect you to follow it.’
Two seconds later, there was the familiar sensation of cloth sliding over her skin as new clothes were required for her.
‘That wasn’t why I was naked.’
He looked at the coffee, it disappeared, and he fetched her a bottle of Coke from the small fridge ‘Have a cold drink first, then if you’re still hot, I can adjust the thermostat.’
‘Ryan-’
He grabbed the top file. ‘You wanted some more information on the Lost. It wasn’t easy to find, since they’re a lot less active than the other Courts, and they don’t try and play politics as the others do. And our operations don’t tend to cross over, they are very contained. What I did manage to find was the diary of a recruit who spent a month there doing research – it wasn’t filed with the rest because of the focus of her study was-’
She pulled off her shirt again.
‘-in fact inter-Agency relations, the Lost were simply being used as a comparison, and they allowed it as she had, ah, used their services as a child. There is also some audio, so Jones is having a few of his recruits chop it up and convert it to smaller mp3 tracks for you.’
‘Ryan?’
He looked up from the file. ‘Sorry.’
There was a blast of cold air as the temperature of the room dropped. Goosebumps ran across her skin, and she rubbed at her arms.
He lifted the next one down. ‘This one is an instructional, remember, you’re the one who wanted to do homework, it’s the authorisation form to allow a recruit to-’
‘Ryan?’
‘Yes Stef?’
‘It’s ok, you can have me.’
‘Have you do what?’
‘I think that you’re pretty much going to have be in charge of, since I don’t know how any of this works.’
He held the form up. ‘For the most part, a T-197 is a lot like an E-J-23, a lot of the same fields, a lot of the same information is required-’
‘I’m not making myself clear,’ she said, a lump forming in her throat. ‘I’m sorry, I’m no good at this. Me. You can have me. It’s ok. I accept it. I accept you. I’m ready.’
She reached to pull her pants off, but a strong hand grabbed both of her small hands and held them still, a second later, a new shirt appeared on her. ‘The main difference with this one is that you have to have the recruit sign off on a few sections, so they have to enter their information here, here and-’
‘Responsibility with no reward isn’t how the world is supposed to work, at least not with voluntary obligations. You are getting nothing out of this situation.’
‘I might have you sit and run through a few practice ones of these with Merlin, he’s always happy to help, and I think he sees you as somewhat of a pet project, no offense intended.’
‘I don’t know if you saw my glitch-’
‘Of course I saw your damn glitch,’ he said, tapping his fingers on the page. ‘See, most recruits go through at least a few of these a year, if not more, especially when it comes to weapons, as they get more confident, and want to upgrade to something better-suited for them each time. The key example being, unless a recruit has prior training, we start most off with a handgun of some description – most often the “girly gun”, or indeed a Desert Eagle, though most that choose the latter rethink their choice within a week.’
‘If you saw-’
‘Do you really think I could hurt you like that? Or anyone?’
‘I was only hurt, or scared, or whatever because I wasn’t expecting it. I wasn’t prepared, I am now.’
‘You aren’t getting anything out of the situation except for more trouble. Please, it’s the least I can do, I mean, I think it’s mostly just lying there, right?’
He put the files back on top of the fridge, then turned to look at her. ‘Arcane mother of Chaos Stef, how can you think like this?’
‘Because it makes sense that you-’
‘Answer me this, if my inclination was that kind of relationship with you, do you think I would accept now? Do you think any decent person would accept an offer of sex made under self-imposed mental duress? You are making an offer under and obligation that doesn’t exist.’
‘Then at least tell me that you’re just keeping me around as an incubator for the mirror, that as soon as you need it, you’ll unzip my chest and wish away the apocalypse?’
‘No.’
‘I can’t-’
He put a hand to her cheek, and she leaned heavily against it. ‘Stef, when I…watched your glitch, the second half of it anyway, I was worried that you’d be unable to trust me…unfortunately, that does seem to be the case.’
‘No, I’m just-’
‘If you trust me, then trust me on what I’ve said. There is no other shoe waiting to drop, I have no…designs on violating you in such a manner, and would bring anyone who attempted such to severe injury.’
‘I-’
‘A former recruit came to visit,’ he said, looking almost scared for a moment, ‘and we spoke about you, and I introduced you as my daughter.’
‘So I guess you really don’t want to shag me then.’
‘Your guess would be correct.’
She scooted back from him, and leaned against the wall, pulling the sheet up over her knees. ‘Sorry.’
‘Sleep now, half a day tomorrow, then all of this is behind you.’
She crawled across the bed and pulled the files from the fridge before moving back and sitting cross-legged, pages spread out in front of her. Ryan followed suit, removing his jacket and sitting comfortably. ‘If I’m gonna be a real agent soon, then I’ve got to know what I’m doing. So which bits do the recruits fill in?’
‘Here, here, and here on this page,’ he said. ‘The thing that makes this tricky is with certain items – like weapons – they also have to complete a competency test.’
‘…which is why you wouldn’t give me a rocket launcher.’
‘No, that still firmly remains as me being terrified as to what you would actually do with one.’
She smirked. ‘Not too much collateral damage.’
Several containers of Chinese food appeared. ‘If you’re going to stay up and do your homework, then you should at least have dinner.’
She snapped a pair of chopsticks and delicately lifted a piece of honey chicken. ‘Thanks.’
‘It was nothing.’
‘No for dinner…for not…’ Tears fell onto the T-197. ‘Yanno.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘And it was nothing.’ He leaned across, wiped away her tears with a large handkerchief, and ruffled her hair. ‘The only obligation you’re under is to happy.’
‘And not to cause too much collateral damage.’
He smiled. ‘Even that I might forgive a few times.’