Stef stared up at Jones – the bright green eyes were unmistakable, even if the form was unfamiliar. She sat on the edge of the bed, still cataloguing the agent’s new features. ‘You’re pretty as a girl, Jonesy,’ she said after a moment.
Jones smiled and began to empty a bag of tech onto the bed. ‘People say that so often that I’m beginning to believe it’s a myth that gentlemen prefer blondes.’ She lifted a scanner and began to tweak it. ‘Grats on the rez,’ she said, ‘but seriously, how are you doing?’

Stef shrugged as deeply as she could, her shoulders brushing against her ears. ‘I…I dunno. I never process stuff well, but-‘ She picked up the closest empty chocolate wrapper and began to tear it into smaller pieces. ‘I’m fine,’ she said, her voice shaking. ‘I’m fine.’
‘Stef, I’ve seen your psych profile, and I have an entire department of- The neurotypicals are the minority in my walls. I can’t imagine the self-care necessary for going through something like this, but whatever it is you need to make sure you’re getting it.’ Jones put a hand beside hers. ‘If you need anything, ask for it.’
‘I need to know I’m okay,’ she said, her voice straining. ‘I don’t have a heartbeat, and I’m not convinced that’s okay. Ryan says everything else looks normal, but if my heart- I don’t even have a real heart anymore- And all that oxygen stuff blood needs to do, and what if it’s not, and what if-‘
Jones held up her hands. ‘So let me run a few scans.’
Stef nodded. ‘Okies.’
Jones pointed to the pillow. ‘Lie back. Call me Doctor if it helps. I have the equivalent of twelve different PhDs.’
‘I’m not calling you Indiana, Doctor Jones.’ She made a face and laid her head back on the pillow. ‘I think I’ll stick with Jonesy.’
Jones handed her a tablet. ‘Take a look at this while I’m working. And stick out your arm, I’ll need to take some blood.’
Stef held the small tablet with one hand. ‘What is this?’ The code was complex, the language nothing like she’d ever seen before.
‘Before you-‘ Jones coughed. ‘Before the mirrorfall operation, Ryan sent me a request – he wanted me to section off a piece of agent code for you to investigate. Something that wouldn’t be detrimental to security if you “accidentally”,’ she said, layering the word with sarcasm, ‘or accidentally, release it to the wider web.’
Her eyes bugged. ‘This is Agent code?’
‘Read the first few lines,’ she said, ‘it’s Ryan’s code, actually.’
Stef stared at the code, and saw some initial parameters being defined – Ryan’s name stuck out like a beacon. She started to scroll through the code, not at all comprehending what she was seeing, her mind reeling as she tried to parse any of it into something she understood.
It was a beautiful language – there was a flow to it, even if she didn’t understand the components.
‘What’s this for?’ she asked after reading through the first few hundred lines.
‘The very first portion of how an agent’s nose processes olfactory input.’ Jones tapped on her free arm.
Stef barked a short laugh, laid the tablet on her chest, then waved a hand. ‘You wanted to give me something harmless, and you chose one of the major senses?’
Jones raised an eyebrow. ‘Oh?’
‘Okay,’ Stef said, her brain working faster than her mouth. ‘What if I drop this, and some Solst-ass gets a hold of it, and creates something that can’t be detected by the parameters established in the olfactory code? They could release a gas that’s killing recruits before an agent notices anything, cause they can’t smell the chemically death all around them?’
Jones smiled. ‘I’m feeling vindicated in scoring you an eight-point-six. Nicely extrapolated. So…pro-tip? Don’t leave it sitting out where some Solstice can get their bigoted little hands on it.’ She tapped Stef’s arm. ‘I’m going to take some blood now.’
‘It’s virgin if you need it for any dark rituals,’ she said, shrugging as Jones stabbed the needle into her arm. Needles didn’t bother her – the time in the hospital after the accident had qualified her to put “pincushion” on her resume – if she’d had a resume.
There were a lot worse things in the world. Like paper cuts.
‘Do you think magic is so stupid?’ Jones asked, pulling away the full vial and placing an empty one in its place. ‘Do you really think magic cares if you’ve had sex? And if it did, what kind of sex would count?’
Stef shrugged. ‘I dunno, I didn’t mean- I don’t think about that kind of stuff. And I still don’t know how magic works.’
Jones lifted a scanner, which flickered with a blue light, held it a foot above her feet and began to slowly track it up her body. ‘It comes in a few flavours,’ she said. ‘You’ve got your primal forces, Life, Death, Time, Limbo – forces like that are something innate to the universe, and something we’re never going to be able to understand.’
Stef nodded.
‘You’ve got the fae, which are…as a TL;DR explanation, essentially naturally evolving magic. The blue phoenix gives magic to new worlds, so there’s seeded initial paths, the warden structure for animal families is common across worlds, plant fae occur wherever there’s plants. It’s…templated, then left to flourish and grow as per the individuality of a world.’
‘And agents?’
‘You skipped gods, sweetie,’ Jones said, clicking off the scanner. ‘Gods, to use a metaphor you’ll get, are basically the Q…but with less personality.’ She cringed. ‘Downside of being an agent? It actually takes effort, then hurts, to speak against your creators.’ She rubbed the back of her neck for a moment. ‘The first races in the universe to evolve, who have billions of years as a head start? They’re…to the best of anyone’s knowledge, about the most any mortal race could hope to evolve to. Give people like that incalculable time more and they’d begin to approach one-one-billionth of one percent of what the primal forces are like. But since that level of life never survives beyond the end of a universe, that evolutionary path doesn’t seem to occur.’ She held up a finger. ‘Again, to the best of my knowledge.’
The agent was silent for a moment, then picked up the tablet and played with it for a moment, then turned it back and showed a scrolling selection of code similar to the Ryan-nose-code. ‘And then the gods created agents on most worlds with sentient life. Legend goes…’ Jones stopped talking. ‘One thing you have to understand is that we know very little about our own history more than a couple of centuries ago – the lineage of beings such as myself is pretty much restricted to what the fae can tell us. It’s…gauche to know about the previous types. It’s irrelevant, so says the system.’
‘That’s kind of…awful,’ Stef said.
Jones nodded. ‘Anyway. There’s a non-interference pact between the gods and demons, because it would be so easy for either one to wipe us out, so they agree not to fuck with lesser races. Most of the time, it’s not even an issue, because we are just that uninteresting to them. You can have an ant farm, but how much time would you truly spend getting invested in the lives of ants.’
‘Well, entomologists…’
Jones smirked. ‘And you do have a few that want to come play, but by doing so they have to take a major nerf. Any god or demon that you see is operating at the smallest percent of what they used to be capable of. People tend to treat them like extremely powerful fae.’ She tapped her fingers on the next piece of equipment. ‘Queen Madhe is one, and there’s actually a god that hangs out locally, I’ve never seen him though.’
Stef stared at her fingers. ‘Where’s the jump from that to agents though?’
‘Originally, to monitor the non-interference pact. We were…sentries, for lack of a fuller explanation. Sitting around and making sure that evolution wasn’t messed with. Somewhere along the way the mandate changed, we got more involved and…became what we are today. Protecting the masquerade. Protecting humans.’ Jones shrugged. ‘We don’t know how it happened. I’m glad though. I like my raison d’être.’
‘And the fae don’t know?’
‘Angels are about the earliest that the fae remember us. We assume, and they acknowledge that we were…on the sidelines before that, but the forms weren’t memorable. We may have looked entirely human and walked among them; or we may not have looked human at all. We might have been statues or rocks or ghosts.’ Jones sighed. ‘We don’t know,’ she said sadly.
Stef stared. ‘Wow, that’s really kinda depressing.’
‘Indeed,’ Jones said, raising an eyebrow. ‘Okay, it’s going to take me a bit of time to run these samples when I get back – there’s only so much I can do on the sly.’ Her hand hovered over the case. ‘Would you consent to a biopsy?’ She lifted a scary looking needle from the case. ‘It would only take a small scraping, but it’s entirely up to you.’
Stef looked up at the door outside, letting her gaze linger on the narrow patch of her apartment that she could see.
Out of place embarrassment flared for a moment – the thought that someone she respected had been victim to her shitty housekeeping was mortifying. Agency rooms seemed to take care of themselves – to see an apartment that was barely livable must have been worthy of pity, scorn or both.
God, I hope I took out the trash.
She dug her nails into her thighs, trying to focus. Jonesy wanted a sample of the only thing that was keeping her from being six feet under. Jonesy wanted a sample to help her. To understand exactly what the fuck was going on with her physiology.
And the teeny, tiny piece of mirror that would come from a biopsy wouldn’t be enough to make a wish with. Maybe a wish for a cookie, but there was requiring for that.
Worry that she should consult Ryan knocked on the back of her head. Worry that he’d say no for very sensible reasons she was failing to think of, or just “no” on the grounds that he didn’t trust Jones with a piece of mirror.
All mirror was supposed to be destroyed.
She looked at Jones – the second Agency person she’d met, and felt the worry slipping away.
It had been amazing to meet Ryan – or, more accurately, meet him again – but it had been a completely overwhelming experience. Residual terror from hearing the other code monkeys dying. Fear that she was next. Shock that some half-dreamed bit of memory was real. Amazement at seeing magic. Excitement at the chance to learn more.
Meeting Jones on the other hand had been a far calmer experience. And a Mario reference. Jones seemed immediately trustworthy. A nerd among nerds, someone who spoke the same languages as her.
And someone who Ryan trusted enough to share the secret of her resurrection with.
‘Through the back?’ she asked. ‘Or through the chest?’
Jones gave her a grateful smile. ‘Back.’
Stef pulled off her shirt, propped her head on her hands and tried to keep as still as possible.
Jones sprayed something on a spot on her back and probed it with her fingers. ‘Tell me when this gets numb.’
‘Okies.’
‘Not a lot of people would willingly hand over mirror, Stef,’ Jones said, her fingers still probing Stef’s back. ‘Have you been made aware of how valuable it is?’
‘I think a tiny piece is worth knowing if I’m on a limited clock or not. And…and if I drop dead cause you scraped a bit off, then-‘
Then it was flimsy magic.
Stef swallowed. ‘Then I guess it wasn’t going to be long-term anyway.’ She paused, concentrating on her back. ‘And I can’t feel you fingering me anymore.’
‘Phrasing, sweetie,’ Jones said gently. ‘Now keep as still as you can.’
‘I will,’ she said, ‘I don’t fancy you puncturing a lung.’
Stef tried to keep her breathing shallow – no need to make things more difficult than necessary.
‘And done,’ Jones said after a moment. ‘I’ll just- Oh.’
‘What?’ Stef asked, sitting up. ‘What what? What oh?’
‘You just healed up,’ Jones said. ‘I wondered if that would be the case, but I didn’t expect it. Now, if I just had an hour, a flamidimiser and your willingness to participate in some science we could-‘ Jones started to pack the equipment away. ‘You can put your shirt back on. I’ll run with what I’ve got for now and I’ll build an experiment protocol, and maybe we can get some correlative graphs if you’re willing to do some more tests.’
Stef grabbed her shirt and pulled her head through the hole, flailing with her left arm for a moment before she twisted the shirt into place. ‘Let’s see what we get from this first.’
[table id=15 /]