‘I know you…I remember you,’ the girl said again, more sure of herself this time – none of the fear had left her expression, and she kept looking past him and to the window, as if considering leaping through it.
Ryan shook his head. No. Not possible.
She took a slow step back, as if he were about to pounce her like a rabid dog, and put the laptop on the bed, her hands shaking as she did so. She simply stared at him, her eyes occasionally flickering to the gun he had trained at her head.
‘You’re mistaken, Miss Mimosa,’ he said. Usually, knowledge of someone’s name unnerved them – she gave him no reaction.
She clutched her fists for a moment. ‘I am rarely mistaken,’ she said as she jutted her chin out. She lifted a finger to make a point, but put it down when it began to shake. ‘And I remember you,’ she said, her voice cracking as though she was on the edge of tears.
He kept the gun trained on her, but required the safety back into place – she wasn’t acting like a Solstice, she wasn’t approaching him like even a nascent member of the organisation, it was all the more likely that she was one of the civilians – the fear on her face was the same that had been frozen to the faces of her dead colleagues.
Still, he couldn’t take any chances – they’d been fooled more than once, and he wasn’t going to let one groundless statement – she was of course bluffing, there was no way that she could have remembered that day, she’d only been a child. One day, yes, two, yes, even a week was reasonable. Not twenty years.
The girl shifted uncomfortably for a moment. ‘Why,’ she asked, ‘do I remember you?’
‘As I said, Miss Mimosa, you don’t.’
‘Alexandria…I remember Alexandria. Pain, and cold, lots of cold. I remember…you. Then nothing. Black. Just…black. So either confirm my certification of insanity, or tell me why I remember you.’
He kept his expression neutral. ‘Your mention of the Great Library does nothing to further your case.’
‘Not the library.’ She paused and hesitantly took a step closer. ‘My doll.’
He wasn’t able to keep the surprise from his face. The girl smirked, and he simply stared, marveling at her memory. He shook his head – duty was all-important, only duty would bring the situation to a a resolution, whatever that resolution ended up being. ‘‘You are…correct. You still have to come with me.’
She chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, still far from ease. ‘Are you going to show me a badge?’
‘Do you really think I need to show you one?’
She shook her head, then went still – she took her eyes off him to look around the room. ‘I can’t hear anyone else, are they all…?’
Her cheeks bulged and the tears finally started to come, she backed up to the wall for support. ‘I- Why’d-? You-?’ she stammered, then shook her head. ‘Why didn’t you get me the first time you came in here?’
‘I didn’t…This is the first time I’ve been in this room.’ The implication of her words took a moment to sink in – he hadn’t been in the room before, so it must have been the Solstice, and if they’d bothered to check the wardrobe, instead of looking past it, then-
In his mind, the odds that she was a member of Solstice, plummeted. She slowly moved away from the wall, sank down onto the bed, picked up the laptop and clutched it close. ‘I didn’t like them that much, but why’d you kill them all?’
It suddenly occurred to him that he was still holding his gun. ‘Miss Mimosa.’ It took her a moment, but she looked up, he holstered the weapon and closed his jacket. ‘It was Solstice who killed your colleagues.’
She took a few deep breaths, then looked up, a lot calmer. ‘So what happens now?’
‘As I said, you have to come with me.’
She looked up and shrugged. ‘Okies.’ She gave him a wary look. ‘Just don’t shoot me, ok?’
‘Not without cause,’ he said – it was the best, most honest answer he could give her. He reached forward and touched her shoulder. With a thought, he shifted them away from the mansion.
Her bulging eyes and small gasps of disbelief made him smile – most humans reacted the same way the first time they were shifted. He took his hand away from her shoulder, quietly took the laptop from her loose grip and let her stand in shock for a moment. He rounded his desk and sat in his comfortable leather chair, shifting the laptop down to Jones’ lab. He looked up at her – she was talking silently to herself, staring at the window behind his desk. He smirked and required a couple of files, the standard blue folders appearing on his desk. When she turned to look at him, he required a chair for her. ‘Sit, please, Miss Mimosa.’
The girl looked down at her legs as though she didn’t trust them to move. ‘No…’ she said. She swallowed and looked up. ‘No electrical tingle to indicate machinery, no apparent loss of time – it was instantaneous. No lapse in consciousness to indicate that I was in fact destroyed upon disappearance and remade upon entry. No equipment visible, no transponder, you did that with a touch.’
He smiled, she sounded Jones. ‘Conclusion?’ he asked after watching her stare at her hands for a solid minute.
‘Not technology,’ she said at last. ‘However, in light of recent events, not surprising.’
‘Recent events are what we need to discuss,’ he indicated to the spare chair.
She slowly walked toward the chair – staring at it suspiciously. He wasn’t sure if she’d seen it appear or not, but it apparently gave her reason to worry all the same. She ran her hand along it and then sat, the new leather creaking and settling as she tried to get comfortable. ‘One question first,’ she said. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Ryan. Now please, start from the beginning.’
She fidgeted it for a moment, then lifted her hands and counted her fingers. ‘Which beginning?’ she asked. ‘I can’t remember my birth. Or my first day of school. Or my first day of high school…that’s because it sucked and I blocked it out. I-’
‘What were you doing with the Solstice?’
‘They were nobody’s first choice. It wasn’t their gig. But the code was degrading, and we were running out of time.’
He raised his head – so it was connected to the mirrorfall – he needed to know how much she knew. ‘Running out of time until what?’
She shrugged. ‘That I don’t know, I’m just a code monkey.’
‘You weren’t with the others. Why?’
She went pale again – something that almost seemed to be a feat, given her normal skin colour. ‘I’d be dead if I’d been with the others, wouldn’t I?’
He stared at her – refusing to answer the question, the answer was all too obvious. Hiding in the wardrobe had been a desperate act, and it hadn’t slowed him for even a second, it hadn’t afforded any real protection…yet it had been just enough to save her from the Solstice’s sweep. A quaint hiding place, a child’s hiding place, but something so simple had stopped her from being just another body on the floor.
‘I’ll take that as a yes,’ she said as she bit her lip. She stared at the ground. ‘I was warned about them. The others weren’t. But…’ her voice cracked again, ‘he didn’t tell me that they…They killed all of them?’
‘Who warned you?’
‘You’ll think I’m crazy…’
‘Possibly. Who?’
‘Dorian Gray.’
‘Ah. And you believed him?’
‘He freaked me out less than the Sols-ass. I didn’t have a reason to disbelieve him. And I was on the right track, they weren’t. I didn’t want them to get to the Beast’s Belle first.’
‘…what beast?’
‘Hey, you’re the one with the personal teleport…’ she said, then quickly sank back into the chair, trying to hide in the leather.
‘You saw the leech?’
‘He looked more like a wolfman than a leech…’
‘Was he still-?’
‘No, he cleared out. They really were a last resort.’
He required one of Recruit Magnolia’s reports on the leech and pulled out one of the surveillance photos. He slid it across the desk. ‘Is this him?’ The girl took the photo and gave him a nod.
‘Can I,’ she asked in a small voice. ‘Can I have some water?’
He required her a glass, and it appeared just in front of her on the desk. She lifted the glass, stared suspiciously at it for a moment, then drank half the glass without taking a breath. ‘All this,’ she asked after wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, ‘is this all magic?’
‘What do you think it is?’
‘Frankly, I’d like another explanation, but I’m not gonna get one, am I?’
‘There’s no better explanation than the truth.’ He leaned back in his chair. ‘So if it wasn’t Solstice that was running the show…?’
She seemed unsure for a moment, then shrugged. ‘Dorian was hiring us, everything was for the Beast, whether or not someone was arranging it outside that, I don’t know. We had the beast’s code, but it was old and crappy, so those bastards came, and no one knew till it was too late.’
‘Why were only you told of them?’
‘Because I saw the monster and didn’t run screaming into the night. Because I accepted the possibility that the code wasn’t human, and because I’m clinically insane and no one would listen to me anyway? Dorian said they were dangerous for people like him and the beast, he didn’t say that they were gonna…’ She downed the rest of the water, and he required it full again. ‘Why would they just kill everyone? Is what we were doing that important? I didn’t sign up for anything bad, I said that at the beginning, that I didn’t want anything to do with anything bad…’
‘I don’t know what you were doing, so I can’t tell you, what was the code you were working on?’
‘I don’t know, got interrupted before I could finish…’
‘That can get remedied. What else can you tell me?’
She shrugged. ‘I think I saw a ghost?’
He spun his chair – the parade of ghosts would continue until the phoenix appeared, so spotting a few ghosts would be easy. Without prompting, she got up from the squeaky leather chair and crossed the room to look out the window-wall with him.
She pressed her face against the glass. ‘Conventionally speaking, I should be able to see my house from here.’ He smiled, but stopped himself from calculating the number of buildings that blocked the view of her home address. She pulled away from the glass and wiped her oily nose print away with the sleeve of her shirt. ‘Assuming you’re not organising another gun and replacement carpet…what happens now?’
He turned on his chair to look at her, but remained seated – he had no wish to frighten her more. ‘That really depends on you, Miss Mimosa.’
‘Meaning?’ She tucked some of her short brown hair behind her ear and stood uneasily for a moment. ‘My number one preference is for not getting shot.’
‘That’s not something you have to worry about,’ he said, hoping that it was true. ‘What will happen will depend on how much you wish to cooperate with us.’
‘To state the obvious,’ she said, ‘this isn’t ASIO. Who’s “us”?’ She crossed back to to her chair, and grimaced at the squeaky leather.
‘The Agency.’
‘Oooh, descriptive… What do you do besides shoot people, scare hackers and kidnap babies?’
He smiled. ‘I never kidnapped you, Miss Mimosa.’
‘You have three choices.’
She looked up at him. ‘Well, if you didn’t kidnap me, then-’
He cut her off, explaining what had happened as a child was a conversation for another time. A much later time. ‘You have three choices,’ he repeated. ‘One, you cooperate and then you leave. Two, unlikely I believe in your case, but I must state it nonetheless, you refuse to cooperate and…things will be less pleasant.’
‘You’ll shoot me.’
‘As I said,’ he said, ‘less pleasant.’
She stared at her fingers for a moment. ‘Does knowing there’s weird crap in the world change the base math to the point where two equals three?’
‘Most people jump at the first, or unfortunately choose the second.’
‘So what’s the third?’
‘Rather than simply giving us what information you know, you come work for us.’
‘So I’d have my own licence to kidnap babies and shoot people?’ She snapped her fingers. ‘Shooting people, right. Did you shoot this creepy bearded guy with, slight aura of GTFO?’ He stared at her, unable to translate the tech-department dialect. She pouted. ‘Fifty-ish, badly cut grey beard, kinda wild eyes, but not in the good Doc Brown way…’
‘Are you referring to David Kane?’
She went absolutely still for a moment, then slowly reached for the water glass. ‘Kane?’ she asked. ‘As in…Oliver Kane, Maestro…that was…that was Maestro’s father? The teacher guy who did all those press conferences when Maestro went missing?’ She rocked unsteadily for a moment, downed the rest of the water and rubbed a fisted hand against her forehead. ‘Can I have some more water please?’
He topped up the glass with a thought. ‘Yes, he’s Oliver Kane’s father, at least on paper.’
She ignored his comment. ‘Maestro’s father is a Solst-ass? Maestro’s father…k- killed a room full of hackers?’ She looked up from the glass. ‘How the fuck does something like that happen?’
‘It’s enough to say that Oliver and his “father” do not see eye to eye on a lot of issues.’
She chewed on a knuckle for a moment. ‘When Maestro disappeared, it made all the conspiracy sites buzz. It didn’t take long for people to work out who he was after his father started doing all of those press conferences. Then there was all that crap with the rusty cars and dead trees and frozen cans and Surprise Fiction and…oh my god…’ She looked up to him. ‘All that was real?’
He nodded.
He regarded her quietly for a moment. ‘Should I take that as a yes?’
She nodded. ‘Sign me up.’