16 days ago.
Ryan paused in his paperwork when Jones’ face appeared in his vision. [Sir, could I see you for a minute?]
He placed his pen down and shifted to the tech’s lab. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘What is it?’
Jones ignored him for a moment while he crouched in one of the lab’s corners. He looked past the tech and saw Merlin there, asleep on what looked like a large pillow designed for a dog. The tech placed a hand on the slight boy’s shoulder and shifted him away from the lab. ‘Sorry,’ Jones said, ‘he’s been working for too long. He worked through the night, even though I told him not to.’
‘It’s fine,’ he said. He turned his attention to the large table in the middle of the room, and the shell of his recruit under the sheet. ‘Did he have fun helping with her?’ he asked as he approached the table.
‘He had some amazing insights,’ Jones said as he sat at his chair on the opposite side of the examination table. ‘Things I never would have thought of. New priorities, new perspectives, new ways of thinking, so much as it sounds like PR bullshit sometimes, recruiting human really was the best thing that happened to the Agencies.’
‘Even though he’s not a recruit,’ he pointed out without thinking.
‘Or entirely human for that matter,’ Jones said, his face slipping back toward neutral. ‘But Merlin’s neither here nor there at the moment, let’s leave my child alone and focus on yours.’
He looked down at his recruit, dead on Jones’ slab. No, not dead, inert. Just a shell, all parts of her were scattered, disparate, waiting to come back together so she could start her new life. Still, she looked dead. Dead like-
‘This is the third time I’ve done this,’ Jones said quietly as he removed his glasses and laid them on the sheet covering Stef, ‘and honest to Chaos, I regret the first two times.’
The tech’s quiet voice halted his thoughts, and self-restraint stopped him from thinking too much on the first two times. The overwhelming guilt, the pain, the- He marshaled his thoughts, this was different, it was such a different thing to what they had done for Carol, or for Taylor. It wasn’t going to fail this time, it was going to be fine. She was going to be fine.
Fine. She was going to be fine. Just like they thought Carol was going to be fine. Just like they thought Taylor was going to be fine.
He swallowed, looking for the positive, looking for a way out of the guilt-ridden memories. ‘We wouldn’t even be here without you. She wouldn’t be-’
‘I know,’ Jones said, suddenly brightening, his voice taking on a slight manic edge. The tech stood, replaced his glasses and lifted a panel on the side of the slab – revealing a set of controls.
‘I’ll leave you to work, then.’
‘No.’ Jones snapped. ‘This is the really cool part. And for the amount of awesome things I get to do in a day, that means it’s pretty special. Stay and watch.’
He gave a slight nod as Jones began to play with the controls.
‘The heart can’t be present, as it keeps the status quo. Keep it in there while we work, and it will either impede it, or keep her in a transitory state. And…for this, it might begin to recognise her as a shapeshifter.’
He nodded, and was relieved that Jones had thought of this – the last thing he needed was an sugar-high recruit with the ability to shapeshift at will, or worse yet, without thinking about it.
‘The first time, there really only was some cosmetic damage to repair. The second time, the blank slate needed some work. This time, well, you want her to be an agent right, don’t you think she’s a little short?’ Jones spun a dial, and the body grew by several inches.
He just stared.
‘The hair is fine,you’d almost think she’d been planning on this career move her entire life.’ He tore the sheet away, exposing the inert body to the world. ‘The scars, however, sir, are a problem. Who’s going to buy an agent with this many scars?’
‘Tay-’
‘Yes, but she’s not combat is she? No field agent has this amount of scarring.’
‘How would you know that?’
‘I IM’d a sample population of a hundred and fifty, and said “nekkid pics plz”. For the combat guys, it’s the…the….Klingon mentality, they’re proud. They can’t stay.’ Another few dials and all of the scar tissue disappeared.
‘I’m not sure-’
‘And she’d underdeveloped.’ A generous spin of a dial. This time, the effect was slowler, but gradually, his nigh-androgenous recruit grew into a shapely young woman.
‘What is-’
‘Now, now that hair’s out of place,’ Jones commented idly. A few button pushes cycled through hair colours – black, red, orange, blue, silver, blonde.
Blonde.
He stepped away from the slab, afraid of his tech’s next move. With a look that bordered on true fear, Jones put a hand over Stef’s face and closed his eyes. When he moved his hand, it wasn’t an inert Stef that stared back, it was Carol. A dozen questions solidified in his mind. A dozen more insults in a multitude of languages. But…he knew what it was that his tech was asking.
‘No.’ he said.
‘Are you sure?’ Jones’ voice wavered a bit.
‘Of course I am.’
‘We can end this experiment now. We can cease everything. We can unchain her in the collective unconscious and let her pollute future agents. We don’t have to continue.’
‘No.’
‘If you want Carol, I will not think less of you – use the mirror to bring back Carrol, with whatever consequences that brings. For me to continue, I need you to tell me that you are doing this for her. For no other reason than for her.’
‘I am.’
‘We brought back Taylor for ourselves, because of our guilt, because we could not stand to lose him. We did not do it for him.’
‘I know.’
‘Carol, we brought back for you. I’m sure part of her wanted to come back, but it was for you, really. You loved her too much to let go.’
‘He waved a hand across the body, and it became Stef again.
‘Tell me that you’re doing this for Stef.’
‘You know I am.’
‘Tell me you’re doing this for Stef.’
‘Would I have chanced recycling if I wasn’t? If it…were any any other need, or just a position that another recruit could fill, do you think that I would have chance my own life? I was afraid, I will tell you that. And I know what else I can use the mirror for her, but this is for her. For her, no other reason.’
To this, Jones nodded. ‘Good, I’ll start the next stage, then.’
‘How long is this going to take?’
‘Longer than Carol, but I’ll have to do her in stages, she’ll be awake a lot sooner than Carol was, but I imagine I’ll be patching her for months to come. The human part, that’s easy, that’s a couple of scans and some minor configuring. The mirror though, that’s the hard part.’
He opened his mouth to speak.
‘To all of your questions, no.’
‘Pardon?’
‘Your first was going to be “she’s in the collective unconscious, can’t we just make her an agent from there?”. Answer: no. Why? For so many reasons. Primary amongst them is that we’ve already run that format of experiment before. It didn’t work out so well. And they wouldn’t let us keep her – we have to have a basis for running this experiment, remember? Secondly, yes, she’s in the collective unconscious, but how much of her is still in the mirror? You said it yourself, sir, it holds her soul, so yes, I could create an agent, it would walk and talk like her, but in all likelihood, whatever you keep trying to save would be gone. It would be a poor reproduction, and I refuse to make another of those.’
All he could do was stare.
The tech managed a smile. ‘Most of the other reasons, sir, pale in comparison to that.’