‘You’re just going to-’
Stef looked up at Grigori. ‘Yeah. Just no.’
‘But I-’
She let her head drop for a moment. There were crumbs on her crumpled t-shirt, there was a hole burnt into her pants from a small soldering accident in the tech department, and her hair was all over the place. The absolute pinnacle in a lack of authority.
‘No,’ she said again, a thought replacing her luxuriating geek outfit with her uniform. A second thought dealt with her hair. Better. Not much, but better.
‘Stef, I-’
‘I think you’d better go back to “Agent Mimosa”, or if you don’t wish to call me by my rank, then “Mimosa” will do.’
‘Please, just let me state my case.’
She raised a hand and pointed to the door. ‘I’m sure you’ve been informed I require a longer sleep cycle than the typical agent, and with your permission, I’d let to get working on that now so that I’m in an optimal condition tomorrow.’
He stared at her for a moment, his expression unreadable. ‘Goodnight, Agent Mimosa.’
She collapsed as he shifted away, fixing her vision on the ceiling.
Ok, what the fscking fscking fuck?
It really is your job to do this, but I think I need to invoke Admiral Ackbar at this juncture.
Trap, trick, test, one of those t-words that generally go very badly for you.
What’s the gain?I mean, he’s in on the secret, it’s not like I’m admitting to someone who doesn’t know about the hunk of shiny stuff that it’s there. He-
I don’t know, and I’m not sure I want to know.
I’m stuck here for a week.
Gods, would you stop thinking about yourself for a moment, we’re stuck here for a week.
What do you think he wants to wish for?
I don’t care, and that isn’t the point.
Spyder, just be careful. And listen to me, no matter what.
I always do, don’t I?
Most of the time. But this is your life, you can’t afford to make mistakes.
She opened her friends list, and opened a communication window with Ryan, despite the little busy signal next to his icon.
His face appeared in her HUD. [Stef, I’m still busy, sorry. Is there something wrong?]
No, it’s all speculation and paranoia. And possibly just an Agency-approved test.
[No, I just wanted to say hi,] she said. [Is the world ending or something, you’ve been busy all day.]
Frustration entered his expression. [Clarke…may have sent us to war with the Court of Liars. We’re trying to diffuse the situation.]
[Um. Ok. You should do that. Night.]
There was a knock at her door, and she jumped. She took a breath to steady herself, slid her hand under her pillow, and required her gun, feeling the beginning-to-get familiar feeling of metal in her hand. ‘Who is it?’
‘Just me,’ Curt called. A thought unlocked the door, and he pushed it open. ‘They’re showing a couple of Trek movies in the tech theatre, you in?’
‘They didn’t invite me before…’
‘Ana said she tried, but that you were…covered in molten metal at the time?’
She slumped, and required away the gun. ‘Just my face.’
‘And that you started a fire.’
‘I haven’t soldered anything in ages!’
‘If any of us actually paid for the clothes on our backs, I would invest in body armour stocks. So, coming or not, newbie?’
She stared at him for a moment. ‘I’m trying to work out why you’re interested in this. You aren’t…’
‘A massive social reject? No ma’am, I’m not. However, I do like Trek, so you can sit here if you want, I’m not missing the start.’
There’s safety in numbers, Spyder.
‘Fine, I’m coming,’ she said, getting up to follow him. ‘So long as it’s not the V’Ger one.’
‘I think there’s going to be a vote,’ he said. ‘But I warn you,’ he said as they walked down the corridor. ‘You had better vote for Khan, else I’m going to stop doing your paperwork for you.’
‘Are you threatening me, Recruit? Or blackmailing, or something?’
‘Not quite, but seriously, there’s nothing better than being in a room with a whole bunch of people all shouting Khhaaaaaaaaaaaan at the same time. I don’t care what your other vote is for, so long as it’s not Nemesis.’
‘What do I look like, a crazy person?’
‘Well, actually…’
‘Oh shut up…’ she said as she hit the button for the elevator.
‘You…looked kind of shell-shocked when I came into your room, you doing ok?’
‘Yeah. Fine.’
‘When are you going to get used to the idea that lying to me is a bad thing?’
She turned away from him, and waited for the doors to slide open. ‘Huh, more than eight seconds,’ she said.
‘Some Agencies do that,’ he said, ‘doesn’t surprise me, the way this one is run.’
‘Compliment or complaint?’
‘Compliment,’ he said. ‘It’s really relaxed here. I’m in an Agency, and I’m not worried about someone executing me, and that’s a rare feeling for me. You, however, kind of look like that.’
The doors finally opened, and she stepped in, leaning against the back wall of the car. ‘It’s nothing. Drop it.’
‘You do know that I’m here to assist you in any way, right, that if I don’t return you in pretty much the same shape as you left that my life is worthless, yeah?’ He put a hand on her shoulder, and she shook it off. ‘When are you going to get it through your thick fucking skull that I don’t like being touched.’
He dropped his hands to his sides. ‘Sorry. But seriously, what’s wrong?’
‘I said it’s nothing, Recruit.’
He sighed and looked away. ‘Yes ma’am.’
‘You aren’t a very good liar, ma’am.’
‘Yeah, well, I’m getting better at it,’ she said.
The doors opened on the tech floor and she stepped off, rushing down the hallway.
‘Hey,’ Curt called.
She spun on her heel. ‘What?’
‘Do you know where you’re going?’
‘Then how about following me?’
‘See,’ he said as they got to the end of the hall. ‘It’s here.’
The rest of the tech department had been familiar, everything close enough to Jones’ hallowed halls to make her feel at home. However, there was a slight difference in the way that the Russians watched their movies. Instead of crowded around a large television, sitting on beanbags, or other recruits, the tech department theatre was just that, a theatre. Plush red seats went on for rows and rows, with a cinema-sized screen.
‘Do we need to buy tickets?’ she asked as they went in.
‘Feels a bit like that, doesn’t it?’
One of the techs handed them buckets of popcorn as they went past, and another offered cans of soft drink. The young man handing out the drinks then directed them to a short line, leading to a table with twelve labeled buttons.
‘We find this way is the easiest,’ the tech with a short green mohawk said, ‘especially for when this thing fills up. Two movies, so press two buttons.’
She scanned the twelve choices: the ten Trek movies, the reboot film, and… ‘Galaxy Quest?’
‘By popular demand,’ the tech explained.
‘I can dig that,’ she said, punching the button.
‘That’s one,’ the tech said. ‘And the other?’
‘Khaaaaaaan,’ she said dutifully, hitting the other button.
‘Thanks,’ Curt said, punching in his choices. ‘Now I don’t have to kill you.’
She headed for one of the back rows, pressed her feet up against the seat in front of her, and rested the bucket of popcorn on her knees.
‘So you going to tell me what’s bothering you now?’
‘Look, I’m pretty sure Ryan said I had permission to fire you. Or fire on you. Or shoot you with a flamethrower or something. Why don’t you go sit with Ana or something?’
‘Fine,’ he said, stealing a handful of popcorn from her bucket.
[Mimosa, can I see you please?]
She stared at the communication window in her HUD.
He stopped walking away and turned back to her, chewing on his stolen handful of popcorn.
[My office here.]
[Fine,] she said, severing the link.
‘What, newbie?’
She looked up at him. ‘I’m going to Grigori’s office. Require your headset. If you don’t hear from me in two minutes, come find me. If you can’t find me, call home and tell Ryan that-’ She paused for a moment, trying to figure a way to get a message across without giving him information he wasn’t allowed to know, and that would be more than little dangerous for her. ‘Tell him that Grigori got to the heart of the matter. Exactly that, got that?’
‘Yes ma’am,’ he said, and for once, seemed to mean it. ‘Is there something I can help with? I’ve got a little bit more experience than you do with…everything.’
‘No,’ she said, ‘I’m probably just being paranoid.’
A headset appeared on his ear. ‘Two minutes,’ he said.
‘Starting now,’ she said as she shifted to Grigori’s office.
Grigori’s office was a lot different to Ryan’s – instead of the sleek, narcy design that Ryan had, Grigori’s was done in warm reds and browns, except for the high-backed leather chair behind his desk. The walls were covered in photos, drawings and cards, even the filing cabinet had childish creations taped to the side.
A glass-fronted cabinet at the back of the office housed a warehouse of treasures behind the smoky glass and lead lighting – weapons, coins, pieces of armour. A museum in miniature.
And sitting, with his legs up on the expensive, ornate desk, a glass of vodka in his hand, was the agent she wasn’t sure she could trust.
‘I just want to state my case,’ he said. ‘Please, sit.’
She shook her head. ‘No, I’d rather stand. And…I’m defaulting to English around you,’ she said, ‘do you want me to switch to Russian? I said no.’
‘You don’t even know what I want it for, or what I can give you in return.’
‘I am well aware that I am the newbie, that I don’t know how anything works, or even how I work, but I’m pretty sure the piece of mirror in my chest isn’t the only one on the planet. Why don’t you take whatever you’ve got to offer and go barter for someone else’s mirror?’
‘Do you have any idea what a piece of mirror goes for on the black market? Or how hard it would be to get a piece from a court? Mirrors fall rarely, and generally the wishes are used up right away, the pieces that aren’t…those are hidden away for when they are really needed, and couldn’t be bought for the tokens I’m offering you.’
She stared at him, ‘Oh. Huh. Ok. So not only do you want a piece of mirror, you want to…offer well below market price for it?’
‘I thought once I stated my case, you would at least give me a chance. It won’t sway others that have mirror. And…according to the documentation, technically you both belong to the Agency.’
Ok, strike one for paranoia.
‘You say something that like, and you still expect me to let you state your case?’
‘What I state is simple fact, it isn’t a threat.’
Seems like a threat to me.
She looked at the empty chair, then required her own and sat – just on the off-chance that the one he had offered was rigged, and really was the chair that would drag her down to hell. ‘May I ask you a question, Agent Grigori?’
‘Of course.’
‘This thing in my chest, what is it?’
‘A piece of the Dajulveed mirror.’
‘And that’s all?’
‘It was the method by which Ryan brought you back to life.’
‘And that’s all?’
His expression softened a little. ‘It’s your heart.’
‘And that’s all?’
‘I’m not sure what you want me to say.’
She stood. ‘It’s my damn life,’ she said, trying to keep her calm, trying to retain composure. ‘It’s my life. It’s my heart, it’s my soul, it’s my memories, my consciousness, my self. It’s…me. Without it, I stop existing, full stop. I don’t get to go to Death and pass on, I don’t get to come back again, I just…end. All it takes it someone to crack my chest open and make a wish and I’m dead. I’m kind of…fragile.’
‘It’s just a small wish.’
‘And I’m just a small agent. It’s just a small heart. And it doesn’t matter, I’m not a genie, you don’t get three wishes.’
‘It’s not for me.’
‘If I give you a wish, then someone else will want one, then someone else, until I’m all used up and gone. Or…everyone will come to their senses and realise that it would be a lot better to keep it locked up in a vault somewhere than incubating the chest of a damned, stupid hacker. No. Final answer.’
You’re not bad at this.
I’m just pretending to be you.
‘I have friends that could fix you,’ he said, ‘make you complete. Fix the problems that the mirror didn’t, or improve you if you wish. I can get your faerie currency, I can take you to the finest restaurants in the world, I can get you unicorn wine, which would be the most exquisite taste to ever pass your lips, and one that is becoming rarer and rarer by the bottle. I can-’
‘Not interested. No wishes. There’s no magic lamp for you to rub one out on.’
‘So, what, you’re never going to make a wish?’
‘I’ve made two wishes, they helped me fake my death and escape a situation where my only other alternative was to sit and await execution. I felt it was a worthwhile risk at the time. Other than that, no. I…like being around, I’m not going to chance wishing myself away on anything frivolous.’
He slammed his glass down. ‘You don’t even know what I’m asking for.’
‘And I don’t care.’
‘Agents are allowed compassion, you realise.’
‘Whatever your problem is, is your problem, take the tokens that were going to offer me, and barter for your resolution that way. I don’t know you, I don’t owe you anything, and I’m not going to risk my life for you. Because, yanno, that’s the thing, I don’t even know how many wishes I get, or what’s a little wish, and what’s a big wish. Thanks, no thanks, I’d prefer to be able to stand, think and breathe.’
He lifted a hand and a section of the wall disappeared. Behind it were hundreds of medals, dog tags and other small objects. ‘Every other agent in Russia,’ he explained. ‘Something there from each of them. Each of them was found, even if only a scrap, or ash in the wind, we’ve found everyone else, everyone except for Dmitri.’
‘I thought the war was over, like, ages ago.’
‘He was one of the last to be taken, but we’ve never found him, or his body, he just disappeared.’
She looked at the wall. ‘But it’s been…decades, right, what chance is there that he’s still alive?’
‘None, of course,’ he said. ‘But I need to know what happened to him. I need to know for sure that he’s gone, so that we can have a service for him, so that his family has closure.’
‘Aren’t people supposed to be declared dead after so many years? If we turn to ash, what makes you think you’re going to find anything?’
And seriously, you want me to risk my life for proof of death?
‘This is important to me, in a way you could never understand. Please, it’s such a small thing I ask of you, and you can have anything I can give in return.’
‘My name is Agent Mimosa. And I think it would be best for everybody if I did my external training somewhere else, Agent Grigori.’
Good little narc.
He required a few forms, and signed them, then attached them to a clipboard, then stood and walked over to her. He handed her the forms, then lifted his hand, presumably to hand her a pen.
And then there was a knife in her chest.
‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘but once you understand duty, you’ll forgive me.’
There was a knock at the door.
He pulled the knife away, the tip gleaming with a tiny piece of mirror, a tiny piece of her heart, and she dropped to her knees. The pain finally hit, and she let go a string of obscenities as the hole in her chest began to close over.
There was another knock at the door, and she decided played the odds, shifting Curt to her current location. He looked from her, to Grigori and the knife, then back to her. He crouched beside her, looking at the blood strain on her chest. ‘Did you just get stabbed?’
She looked across at him. ‘If I buy you the damn DVD, do you mind if we go home now?’
‘Of course not, ma’am.’
Curt wrapped his hands around her arm and helped her to stand as Grigori stared at them.
‘Fine, go, but I want to teach you a lesson in duty first,’ he said, sliding his fingers over the tip of the knife.
The world stretched, flexed and bent, splitting into a rainbow at the edges, Grigori’s office disappearing as they were wished away.
She stared at her HUD, and at the one warning message dominating her whole field of vision: BLACKOUT ZONE. It flashed over and over, making it hard to see anything else. She let it sink in for a moment, then closed the warning.
Grigori looked around. ‘An unexpectedly pleasant way to travel,’ he said before moving off further into the dark room. ‘See if you can find a light switch or something.’
‘Blackout is bad,’ she said to no one in particular. ‘Blackout is very bad.’ She pressed the heel of her hand to her chest, feeling for the wound, for their one viable transport out of the blackout zone, but it was closed. ‘So we’ll also need something sharp,’ she said quietly.
She stumbled through the near-dark room, keeping her hands in front of her, skimming them across tables and cupboards until she found the wall.
‘Found one,’ Curt said, and light flooded the room.
A dead fairy in a jar stared back at her as her eyes adjusted to the light.
‘Dmitri!’ Grigori yelled, running to the far end of the room.
She looked a the fairy, then up at Curt. ‘This is fucked up.’
He looked around. ‘You have no idea where you are, do you?’
‘A creepy room in a blackout zone. We’ll be able to get out of here in a minute, so-’
He turned to her. ‘This is a Solstice facility.’
‘Ok, so we need to get out of here now.’
‘How did we shift into a blackout zone?’
‘Blame Grigori.’
He grabbed her arm, spinning her around to look at him. ‘Answer the question I asked.’
There was something in his voice that made her shudder.
He let her arm go. ‘Then I’ll just have to work it out myself.’ He picked up the jar with the dead fairy inside, swung it, and everything went dark.