Stef felt the spark of consciousness rip through her body, and in turn, began to feel each part of her body. Toes flexed against socks. Fingers curled reflexively against cold air. Something weighed down her chest and shoulders. A mouth worked, as if trying to speak words without aid from the brain, and finally, she felt her sleep-heavy eyes.
Unafraid, she opened her eyes.
A fuzzy blue world met her eyes. Insubstantial clouds flew about the sky – the seemingly low sky, the way-too-low sky, occasionally broken by the frail impression of a bird or plane. Except they weren’t birds or planes they were- Her eyes lost focus on what she was seeing for a moment, and she looked away, more concerned with where she was than with the native wildlife and/or native technology.
She sat up, and found what was weighing her down – heavy, cold, iron chains. She stabilised herself, pushed the chains from her shoulders, letting them pool around her. There was a distant feeling on her chest and she looked down – the chains weren’t simply wrapped over her, they were through her, poking through her chest several times, with a large section embedded in her stomach. It wasn’t painful, they were just there. Just there, just like she was, just “where” was the question.
She wasn’t alone – there were plenty of people in the strange, fuzzy world – her vision kept trying to focus on them. She blinked, then without warning, her vision zoomed in on the people. The fact that she now apparent had camera eyes was less disturbing than it should have been, and the fact that she was less disturbed than she should have been disturbed her, but again, the feeling was somehow muted.
‘I should stop thinking about it,’ she said, her voice slightly flat against her ears.
Again, she had the not-as-disturbing, disturbing feeling. She’d told herself to calm down. She’d told herself. The command hadn’t come from…
Her mind was silent.
All of her thoughts were there…the voices weren’t.
She sat still, ignoring the other people, ignoring the chains, and listening only to herself. Nothing. Just her thoughts, just regular thoughts, or what she presumed to be regular thoughts. No thoughts that she wasn’t aware of not having. She was alone, truly alone for the first time that she could remember. The ever-present murmur that was her rather vocal sensible side was gone. The angry, crabby voice that had kept her safe was silent. Her thoughts weren’t disparate, and everything was still.
A not-as-afraid-as-she-should-be feeling filled her. There was a word to describe what she was experiencing. A word to describe her. A word she’d long along left behind.
‘Who’s gonna tell me what to do?’
There was no answer.
The questioned remained unanswered, and quickly became less important as a few of the people began to move toward her. No, not people, agents. The knowledge was immediate, and she didn’t question it. Not all of them were suits – not all of them wore clothes – some clad in nothing more than underwear. But they were still agents.
It was only a small contingent that moved toward her. Six agents, in various costumes.
Leading the pack, and outdistancing the rest of the small pack by at least a few metres was a severe-looking man in a longcoat. Badass longcoat.
‘You stink of Brisbane, human.’ He said as he came within earshot.
‘Who pissed in your Weet-bix?’ The question came surprisingly easily, and she only second-guessed her decision as the man pulled back a hand to strike her.
‘Leave her alone, Rhys,’ an English – London English – agent demanded. His suit was modern, unlike the badass longcoat’s Victorian jacket. ‘She doesn’t even know what you are, she’s not to blame, stop bitching at the girl.’
‘Then you deal with it.’
‘I know what he is,’ she said slowly, ‘he’s an agent, you all are.’
This time, he did strike her, but there was nothing more than the impression of skin against skin, as his hand went straight through her head.
‘Go away Rhys, you can talk to her when you calm down.’
‘They destroy me, and now they’re letting humans in?’
‘Go away Rhys.’ This time, the Londoner’s voice had a tone of finality to it. ‘Two things,’ the English agent said as Rhys stalked away. ‘He’s a dusker, not an agent, still angel-kind, but a different model, if you get what I mean.’
‘Yeah, I guess,’ she said.
‘And he’s not going to like you, no matter what you do, so stay away from him. Brisbane was his city, but then again, duskers, nothing you can do.’
‘I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.’
Her attitude seemed to surprise the agent, and frankly it surprised her as well, they were her words, certainly, but…at the same time, it wasn’t her. The quickly becoming familiar not-really-only-kinda-disturbed feeling filled her, but she was distracted by the slight of a nearly naked man standing in front of her.
The bald agent, wearing only a pair of ratty boxers stared down at her and grinned the grin of an idiot. ‘A girl,’ he said in a wavering voice before patting her on the head.
‘Probably,’ she muttered. ‘Why aren’t you wearing clothes?’
‘That’s just Kelvin,’ the Londoner said, ‘play nice, girl.’
‘Why is it with agents people get reduced to a sex or a title? What does your kind have against names?’
‘Our kind, you mean,’ Kelvin muttered as he tied a bow into her hair. The other three agents behind the Londoner gave her last looks, then disappeared.
‘What the…?’ She looked up at the agent, and yanked the bow from her hair, then looked across at the Londoner. ‘What the fuck does he mean?’
‘Standards certainly have slipped a lot,’ he said, ‘I mean, it’s not like we get a lot of humans down here, but you’ve still got quite a mouth on you, girl.’
She gave a shrug, and more of the chain fell from her chest. She stared at it, raised a hand to the chain and began to pull on it. Slowly, but surely, more of the chain easily fell from her chest, each new link sparking for a second before dulling into what felt like iron.
‘Humptydumptyhumptydumptyhumptydumpty!’ Kelvin shouted, causing her to cringe.
‘Jesus!’ she muttered as she covered her ears. ‘What the hell is your problem?’
‘Exactly how much of an education did you have?’ the Englishman asked her. ‘Did they actually have good reason for doing this, or were you a favoured bit of ass by whoever’s in control now?’
‘I fail to see,’ she began, before cutting herself off. ‘He’s the broken egg they can’t put back together, isn’t he?’
The agent crouched in front of her and grabbed hold of one of the sections of chain. There was a blue glow under his hand and the chain sparked again, this time going clear, turning to crystal. She stared at the crystal, and at the…memories being played out in slow motion in each facet of the crystal.
‘Oh fuck me, it’s a chain of memories? I didn’t even play that game…’
‘You have no idea where you are, do you?’
‘Well, no-one’s told me anything yet.’
‘Kelvin,’ the agent said, ‘why don’t you go visit with the Jeremies for a while?’
‘…yes sir.’
She began to play with the chain, staring into the disconnected memories within the crystal facets. They were all her memories, but they were so distant, so far away, all information, no feeling. She looked up at the agent. ‘Want to start with your name?’
‘Edward,’ the agent said. ‘Formerly of the London Agency.’
‘Gee,’ she said, ‘never would have guessed.’
‘I can’t hit you here,’ he said, ‘but don’t tempt me anyway.’
‘That must make you feel like such a man, hit a little girl.’
He looked uncomfortable for a moment, then seemed to dismiss it. ‘You’re not a girl, you’re an agent, no conflict of interest.’
‘Recruit,’ she corrected, ‘former.’
‘Agent,’ the man said again. ‘Or…unless they’re releasing the new model already, which I’d say they aren’t. Agent.’
Edward stared at her. ‘Ok, why do you think you’re here.’
‘I don’t even know where here is.’
‘You’re in the collective unconscious. Specifically, memory storage.’
‘This is where they chuck recycled agents?’
‘And the girly gets a prize.’
She stared at the iron chain, trying to pull together the sequence of events. ‘I got put in the crystal chamber. But then there was Death. Then nothing. Then here.’
‘Great, half a story, tell us the rest when you get back.’ He pointed a finger at her. ‘Chain means they’re keeping you all together, not letting any bits fly free or get taken by others. Means you’re going back whole. Unusual for these parts, hardly any bits or bobs escape here.’
‘I’m gonna be an agent?’
‘Seems that way.’
‘I’m calmer now,’ Rhys said as he reappeared behind Edward, though his expression was far from serene, ‘my turn.’