Part of her didn’t expect him to be real.
Part of her knew she’d made him up. Stress and…stress, and something had combined to give her an all-too-realistic hallucinations of something from beyond her wildest imaginations.
She’d always hoped that if she cracked and imagined a mysterious man, it would have been someone more akin to Zorro, than to an apparent angel in a suit.
‘Katie?’ She turned, and saw Darren standing there, his posture somewhat awkward, his hands a little away from his sides. ’Sorry,’ he said, ‘I wasn’t sure if I should approach from in front of behind. I hope this is all right.’
She nodded, and rose to reach for his hand, and shook it gently. ‘Either is fine. You announced yourself politely.’
He smiled. ‘I appreciate it. Your pointers and context are…helpful.’ He dipped his head in a brief nod. ‘Thank you.’
‘May I sit?’
She released his hand and pointed to the spare seat – the small, two-seater table was away from the rest of the customers, so no matter the strange conversation, it was probably something that they could have without too many people overhearing.
‘I’m surprised to see you,’ he said. ‘Statistically, a lot of humans have trouble with the truth.’
‘You gave me proof,’ she said, then sipped her tea. ‘I’m not in a habit of disbelieving my eyes.’
‘Eye,’ he said. ‘Or is it uncomfortable to modify the idiom for your situation?’
‘I use “eyes”,’ she said, looking away from him, ‘because it tends to make other people more comfortable. The more I pretend to be normal, the more they can ignore my disability. I do it, because it’s easier for them, not because it’s better for me.’
‘I’m glad you can believe your eye,’ he said. ‘Was the replacement suitable? If it needs adjustments, I can-‘
She reached across the table, and laid a hand on his – something that felt completely natural, despite not even knowing him twenty-four hours. ‘It’s fine. It got me through the interview, but I don’t think they want me. It’s a customer-facing role, and they had the look that means they won’t be comfortable with the one-eyed lady greeting their clients.’
‘I-‘ Darren paused, then tilted his head and a copy of her tea appeared in front of him. ‘It’s probably rude not to have a drink when here.’ He sipped at the tea. ‘This is sweet. I think I like it.’
‘I like it with honey and lemon,’ she said. ‘It creates a nice balance.’
He nodded as if she had dispensed some universal wisdom to him. ‘I have a new interview for you to attend. If you want. If you are still seeking employment.’
There was something in his voice. An invitation. Katie leaned back in her chair, her eyes narrowing a little. ‘Come work for you?’
‘Yes,’ he said, the nervous note back in his voice. ‘I believe I could provide amenable working condition and as to pay- You could state your own wages. Along with the ability to require. You would have everything you could need.’
She tried to keep her expression level. ‘And for what in return?’ she asked. ‘What would the job be?’
‘Agents have recruits. Human or fae assistants. Each agent also tends to have an aide. Depending on the agent, the aide can be a personal assistant, second in command, or some combination of the two.’ He folded his hands. ‘I need help, and you are the first person to offer it to me, even in the small amounts. These conversations. I would like more of them. They help. And I like you. You are- Taking me as I am. I can provide a contract.’ He paused. ‘Are you at all interested?’
She stood, and lifted a hand to him. ‘Let’s talk some more. Do you want to show me around your- Agency?’ she asked. ‘You work for the Agency in an agency, is that how you say it?’
He took her hand, smiled, and they began to walk down the street, towards the location of their impromptu late-night picnic. ‘It’s technically the Caboolture Outpost. It’s part of the Brisbane Agency network, or hub. Our primary agency is in Queen Street, in Brisbane city. They’ve got a full staff. I’ve just got- Me.’
‘Is that normal?’ she asked, not quite able to bring herself to be embarrassed at how natural holding his hand seemed to be. ‘If you’re so-‘ she stumbled over her words for a moment. ‘New at this, why don’t you have someone helping you?’
‘My predecessor. The agent who held this position before me. He had been in the role for the last seventy years. He had three recruits at the time of his death. All decided to leave. He had no aide, so there was no impetus on them to stay.’
‘But what about Brisbane? Shouldn’t they offer you help?’
‘Director Ryan stated that as this was a quiet area, the role should be easy to acclimatise to. He even decided to forgo my external training – which is usual for newborn agents.’ He paused again. ‘That’s what they call us. Newborn. The term sticks – from what I’ve gathered – until we’re at least a few years old. Older, if you are emotionally immature. I believe I will be one of those. I am- Aware that I am not reacting to situations as most newborn agents. Most take a while to develop personalities and flaws. I am already expressing distress. It’s not a good sign. I apologise. I apologise, but I am not sorry for asking for your help. Or offering you help.’ He nodded at her. ‘This has been my favourite period of life so far. Thank you.’
She forced a laugh, trying to cut some of the sudden solemnity. ‘No pressure then, huh?’
‘I’m making you uncomfortable,’ he said, and pulled away his hand.
She stopped walking and turned to look at him, aware that there was hair over her glass eye, but she didn’t bother to move it. ‘You’re laying a lot on me. It’s good. It’s bad. It’s very quick, and- I’m not ready to say goodbye to you, but it’s a lot to hear that you’re responsible for someone’s best
day, when we haven’t even known each other long enough to be friends.’
He suddenly brightened. ‘Would you like to be friends?’
She stepped closer, and wrapped her arm around his. ‘If I’m still with you by dinnertime, then I think it’s a definite possibility.’
His lips quirked into a smile. ‘If we shift to another time zone, we could be standing in the evening right now.’
She blinked. ‘You can do your Mister Spock teleport thing around the world?’
The blank look returned to his face. ‘I can shift to any point in the world that isn’t blocked to me in some way. Which I can explain later. Height becomes an issue. It takes special permission to shift up to one of our low-earth-orbit satellites.’ He tilted his head. ‘But I have no desire to go to space.’
She gripped his arm a little tighter, and didn’t say anything as they continued to his agency.
The door was unlocked as they entered – the building was air conditioned – a nice touch, even if it wasn’t too hot outside – and very, very quiet. ‘There’s no one else in residence,’ he said, as if reading her mind. ‘As I said, I’m alone.’
There was a receptionist desk in the small front lobby – a visitor’s book sat abandoned, with no new sign ins for at least a month. There were two chairs and two small, pretty plants to the right; and a set of wide wooden steps to the left.
They went up the stairs – eight stairs up, a landing and a turn, then another ten up.
The first floor was a large, airy space – there were rooms off to her left, and at the start of the left wall – meeting rooms or kitchens or the like, in all probability. Both walls had tall windows with curved tops, letting in a lot of light.
The walls were plaster, blues and greys and whites – a nice, casual corporate feel, especially when combined with the wooden floors.
There were eight desks, set up like an open plan office – no half walls or cubicles – and all bar one appeared in disuse – though some of them held file folders, or small piles of paper.
‘This is my home,’ he said, as if needing to fill the silence.
‘You live here, and work here?’ she tried to think of the questions that she should be asking. ‘Or are you working all the time. Do you- Was that a bad question to ask?’
‘It’s an understandable question, so much as I understand,’ Darren said as he moved to what she assumed to his primary desk. ‘We are created to perform our duty, and it our reason to be, and what we are to perform for the entirety of our lives. We are allowed time for our own interests though. So long as our down time does not interfere with our duty, we are not chastised for it.’ He looked around. ‘I haven’t had time to develop any hobbies, as yet.’
She gave him an encouraging smile. ‘You like taking long walks in the park.’
‘I find it a good prelude to sleep,’ he said. ‘I allow several of my cache-clearing programs to start,
so that my mind is clearer before I attempt to rest.’ He looked at her. ‘I did, of course, cease those activities when we met last night. You had my full attention.’
‘You sleep?’ she asked – the concept almost seemed strange, from what she understood of what he’d told her.
He pointed to one of the rooms to the left of the stairs. ‘Yes. That’s my bedroom. It is, in technicality, a diagnostic state where we are less active than during the waking hours. It tends to be a shallow sleep, and we don’t dream, but for ease of conversation, we just refer to it as sleep. Would you like to see it?’
She blushed. ‘Darren?’
His expression was completely innocent. ‘Yes, Katie?’
‘I’m not sure how much you’ve been socialised, as to the potential meanings of words, so for now, I’m going to take everything you say at face value.’ It seemed safe – he didn’t seem like he was trying to push a double-meaning. ‘But you should be careful about inviting women to see your bedroom. The context could be construed to be sexual.’
‘Ah.’ His cheeks reddened a little – it was the subtlest expression she’d seen on his face so far. ‘I wasn’t aware. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.’
‘You didn’t,’ she assured him. ‘You said you want me help, so consider this me helping. Language and interaction is full of context and double-entendres and a million little things that take a life to learn.’ She smiled. ‘I assume you don’t want me to partake in a formal interview.’
‘The job is yours,’ he said, ‘if you want it.’
She nodded. ‘Do you have somewhere we can sit? Let’s make this official.’
Part of her didn’t expect him to be real.