‘Which building?’ Curt asked.
Stef leaned against the door and pressed a finger to the window to point at the building they’d just passed. ‘That one.’
The car jerked to a halt. ‘A bit of warning next time, newbie.’ He turned his head, then backed into an empty spot.
She shrugged. ‘I’m used to walking.’
He turned the car off. ‘I’ll just wait here?’
She nodded and pushed on the door of the car. She tripped over her feet as she climbed out of the little red car, then walked up to the front door of the building. She pressed a hand to the lock, and required it open, a tiny thrill rising in her chest – requiring was awesome, and free cookies were the best, but requiring objects to move, to respond, or to unlock felt like an entirely different kind of magic.
I totally have to try telekinesis.
She pushed the door open, then stopped at her mailbox. There was a small pile of junk mail, a phone bill that would be paid via direct debit, and a small box from Amazon. She shook the box, unable to remember what she’d ordered, dismissed the junk mail and the bill, and walked over to Mr Jenkins’s flat.
The door, as usual, was open.
She knocked, loudly, to be heard over the sound of the television.
The door was pulled open, and Mr Jenkins, resplendent in an old dressing gown, stared down at her. ‘Stephanie? Can I help you?’
She shrugged. ‘I, um, owe you some rent?’
He blinked for a moment. ‘Yes, probably, but I knew you’d pay. I was going to wait another week, then use your bearer bond.’
She smirked, still appreciative that he’d known what a bearer bond looked like, how they worked, and that he’d accepted one from a scared teenage girl. She required a wad of cash and held it up, but he turned and beckoned her in. ‘Drink?’
‘No, um, I’m okies.’
He sat heavily in his big brown recliner. ‘This won’t make much sense to you,’ he said, pouring dark beer into a glass. ‘But you look like a recruit. Now, I think you’re two weeks overdue, so–’
‘How do you know what a recruit looks like?’
He put the bottle down, then looked up with a smile. ‘Congratulations are in order, then?’
‘How do you know?’
Jenkins continued to smile, and his face exploded.
Her heart skipped, and she backed away against the wall. She clamped a hand over her mouth to stop herself screaming and tried to calm down.
He was a plant.
Where his face had been was a tangle of thin braches. His face reformed a moment later, though leaves still stuck out of his ears.
‘Nymph?’ she asked.
He nodded, and the little leaves were sucked back into his skin.
She still stared. ‘Um,’ she said, unable to think of anything.
‘Rent?’ he asked, picking up the glass of bear.
She nodded numbly and handed over the wad of cash. ‘Are you still going to accept it, now you know it’s required?’
He winked. ‘The bank doesn’t know, and I don’t care. You’re still wanting to keep the place then?’
‘Yeah. I mean, um, is that okay?’
‘Just pay your rent, and I don’t care.’
She required another wad of notes. ‘That’s the next two months, in case I forget to come back.’
He nodded. ‘Very well. Enjoying it so far? You working for the local one, or one of the outposts?’
‘Um, Queen Street?’
He gave her another nod.
‘Um, bye,’ she said, then turned and left his apartment.
Curt was leaning against the car when she left the building.
God, he does not like being the regular kind of vertical, does he?
She approached him. ‘Can we, um, chalk up another lie that you’ve told me?’
He looked up from his phone. ‘Huh?’
‘You said that not everybody’s fae, that just because I know about the weird stuff–’
He smirked. ‘One of your neighbours?’
‘What I said is still true,’ he said as he put his phone away. He stood straight, then opened the door for her. ‘Not everyone is fae. I’m not. You’re–’ He gave her a critical look as he got into the car. ‘You’re weird, but you’re not fae. Hell, we don’t even have that may fae recruits.’
He paused as he got into the car. ‘We’re supposed to do a patrol, but do you mind a diversion?’
‘We already tangented once,’ she said, non-committally.
A GPS appeared on the dashboard and silently flashed instructions as they drove.
‘I still think you’re an idiot for wanting to come tonight,’ he said. ‘But if you’re insisting, then…’ He looked at her and shrugged.
‘Require some different clothes.’ His uniform turned into a red dress shirt and black pants.
‘Because we’re being sneaky, newbie.’
She required her uniform to change into a T-shirt and cargo pants.
The GPS flashed message stating they’d reached their destination, and he stopped the car. The building was small, nondescript, and looked as though it was undergoing major renovations.
He walked up the short set of front steps, and she followed.
‘Is this one of our buildings?’ she asked as he swiped his security pass.
‘No, we’ve just rented one floor for a few weeks,’ he said as they walked through the drop cloth–covered lobby towards the lift. ‘When Agent Jones found the assumed area for the mirrorfall, we got some strategic lookout posts. We’ve got a few around the assumed area, and then some others scattered around a wider area in case the initial calculations are wrong.’
They rode up to the top floor, and he swiped his access card again after they stepped off the lift.
The door slid open, and they walked into a room that could have been stolen from the tech department. Computers lined the walls, and there was a large couch in the centre of the room, looking at a huge TV.
‘Recruit?’ Curt called.
An arm rose up from the couch. ‘Present.’
‘Ira?’ Curt asked.
The recruit sat up. ‘Like I said, present.’
‘I’m just showing the newbie around.’
‘Your first question,’ Curt said, ‘is going to be “Why can’t we do this from the agency?”’
‘No, it wasn’t,’ she said. He looked at her, and she stared at the floor. ‘Okay, fine. It was. But also, isn’t he on duty? Are we allowed to nap while on duty?’
‘I don’t question the modus operandi of techs.’ He walked over to the control station. ‘The majority of this, yes, is done from the tech department back at the agency. Most of the drone control is done from there, all of the high-level surveillance, and all the intel – like maps and safe points and no-go zones – are all organised from there. When we’ve got a situation like this, though, it’s standard operating procedure to also do local surveillance. Local surveillance helps us with figuring out if there’s anyone else scoping the area, and therefore if we’ve got any well-organised competition for the mirror.’
‘Quis cutosdiet ipsos custodes.’
He looked around and stared at her. ‘What?’
‘Who watches the watchmen. That’s what this is. We’re watching for watchmen.’
‘Yellow smiley face, giant blue dong, right?’
‘I’m giving you half points for being cursorily aware of Watchmen. Only half points though.’
He indicated to the monitors. ‘The other reason we do this is it gives us safe points if the area gets blacked out and we can’t shift out.’ He pointed to the cupboards. ‘Medical supplies and food for a week.’
‘Are blackouts for that long normal?’
‘There are a lot of people who would love nothing more than to see the Agency gone forever. A lot of these people are idiots and don’t realise the implications of that wish, but it would be the first thing they do if they got their hands on the mirror. Events like this are so rare that it doesn’t hurt to be a little over-prepared. Besides, techs are the one thing we’re not short on, so it isn’t as though we’re tying up resources.’
She moved closer to the screens, staring at one of the images. It was of the room they were in. She lifted an arm and pointed, watching her arm until it was pointed at the camera. She then turned, looked at where she was pointing, and saw a pigeon sitting on top of a tall cupboard. ‘We have pigeon drones?’
‘We have all kinds,’ Ira said as he slid into the workstation. ‘Ibises and seagulls and pigeons mostly, though. We have some crows, but we have to pay for the rights, and magpies are more trouble than they’re worth.’
The pigeon flew down from the cupboard and landed on the desk.
‘Want me to make him dance?’ Ira offered.
She shook her head.
‘Who are we expecting?’ Curt asked.
‘It doesn’t look like anyone out of the usual, at least from what we’ve seen. The Liars never pass up a chance at a mirror, and I’d guess we’ll have some other major Court reps, but most won’t get in our way. Solstice, duh. And then just independents.’
Stef stared at her fingers. ‘I thought there would have been more.’
‘People kill over the mirror,’ Curt said. ‘A lot of organisations see it as more trouble than it’s worth, so some will actively discourage their people from going after it. What’s a wish worth when you’re dead?’ He pulled his phone from his pocket. ‘Come on. Plenty to do before tonight.’
[table id=15 /]
‘Which building?’ Curt asked.