Stef managed to avoid Taylor for the rest of the morning, spying him once briefly at lunch time, but he didn’t follow when she ran away, then took refuge with Frankie in the tech recruits’ common room.
It was a pleasant mess – the arguments about the games on the giant screen were an friendly background noise, and the couches were comfortable, even if there were plushies hidden behind the pillows.
A pair of goggles peeked at her over the top of the screen. ‘Whatcha doin’?’
She shrugged. ‘Just looking at the data again. Seeing if there’s anything I missed.’
‘Even if you did, we found it. Can you see the monster on that?’
‘No, he’s hiding in the blackout zones.’
He flopped down onto the couch beside her. ‘Maid Marian’s been out looking for him, she’s good at that. Finding monsters, I mean. She says it’s natural.’
She stared at the slight tech recruit for a moment, then slowly closed Frankie’s lid. ‘A week ago I wouldn’t have believed that I was asking this but…the real Maid Marian?’
He giggled. ‘No, I mean Magnolia.’
‘Oh. Her…’
‘Don’t take it bad cause she doesn’t like you, she mostly doesn’t like techy people..’
She frowned. ‘O…k…’
‘She’s the goddess of the combat recruits.’ She gave him a quizzical look. ‘Um, not a real one, just like one though, she’s amazing.’
Humans. Relationships. Right, they like to have those. ‘So she’s your girlfriend?’
He giggled and shook his head. ‘Nupe. Magnolia’s “nobody’s woman” – she’s too busy to have a boyfriend. And I’m not her kind anyway, maybe when I achieve my destiny and prove myself.’
‘No fate,’ she mumbled. ‘I don’t believe in destiny.’
He lifted his goggles up onto his forehead. ‘Not everyone has one, so not everyone has to believe in them. I have to believe in mine though, my future was determined by my past.’
She drummed her fingers on Frankie. ‘So what’s your fate?’
It was his turn to give her a confused look. ‘You do know my name, right, Squishy?’
She thought back to her bout of insomnia in the elevator. ‘It’s Merlin, right?’
Oh crap.
He nodded and looked at her expectantly.
‘You’re…I…no. No. No?’
He nodded again.
Another nod.
‘You don’t look anything like Sam Neill.’
He giggled. ‘That, Squishy, is cause I’m the real one!’
Stupid m-word.
Careful, he might be telepathic.
Shut up you.
‘So your destiny is…what, king-maker?’
‘No one needs kings anymore, they lose popularity contests. I don’t know my purpose, it will become clear once I embody my name once again.’
‘So are you stuck here tonight, or what?’
He tilted his head to an extreme angle. ‘That’s a strange question, squishy, you ask it like I actually leave the fortress.’
She looked around. ‘You…don’t?’
‘Why would I? I have everything I need here.’
She shrugged. ‘Guess I can’t blame you, it’s not like I would have ever left my apartment if I didn’t need to go for groceries or computer bits. It’s great to have a place you’re comfortable you’re in.’
‘Anyways, being “stuck” here isn’t a bad thing, we still get to be useful.’
‘I think I’m helping tonight.’
‘Yup,’ the boy said, ‘you are. Your name’s on the roster and everything. No start time though, you’ll have to ask Jonesy about that. You gonna go see him now?’
She shook her head. ‘In a few, I need to wiki some stuff first.’
He nodded and wandered off.
Five confusing minutes on Wikipedia later, she turned off her laptop and walked toward Jones’ lab.
‘Is he seriously Merlin?’ she asked as she approached his desk. Jones’ screen immediately went blank. ‘Sorry, didn’t interrupt something important, or-’ Walk in on you- ‘-looking at pr0n did I?’ The deadpan look on his face told her that again she’d said something aloud that was supposed to stay in the confines of her brain. ‘Totally didn’t mean to say that.’
He raised an eyebrow. ‘Unlike you, Recruit, I do not have a ten gigabyte folder dedicated to pornography.’
She flushed red. ‘It’s not really for porn, it’s where I keep my SQL databases…’
‘All of it?’
‘Yes. The mating habits of humans really don’t interest me.’
He shook his head. ‘Are you sure you’re entirely human yourself?’
‘Is he really Merlin?’ she asked again. ‘I kind of need to know these things so I know where to draw the line between fantasy and reality. The m-word I’m getting a hold of, and the fact we’ve got our own little hobs, and the fact this building is a refrigerator TARDIS, and…’ She shook her head. ‘But then you get random factors like Dorian Gray, and I don’t know if or when people are joking about stuff.’
‘Merlin’s story is not mine to tell, just as I would not go around telling recruits all of your secrets. Everyone has things they wish to keep to themselves, and share when they wish.’
‘Is he?’
‘He is what he is.’ He leaned back in his chair. ‘We’ll need you at seven tonight, think you can make it?’
She nodded. ‘I’ll do what I can.’ She yawned. ‘I’ll probably need to nap first. My sleep pattern’s all screwy.’