There was a dust mote floating through the stream of sunlight.
There were, in fact, three hundred and twenty-seven visible motes in the line of sunlight currently pouring morning into her eyes; and her HUD was tracking them all.
Stef lifted a hand, disturbed the air currents, and squeed with glee as her HUD continued to track every dust mote; providing a basic chemical analysis, predicting paths based on available data; and asking her if she wanted deeper analysis on her surrounding environment.
The surrounding environment being Ryan’s office.
The carpet was soft beneath her head; and there was nothing to do, but enjoy lying in a strip of sunlight like beloved cat.
‘Be very, very quiet,’ she said, ‘I’m hunting dust bunnies.’
‘Agent,’ Ryan said, his voice in full agent and full dad mode. Stef swung her arms up, and lazily crossed her legs. Ryan sat at his desk, looking down at her. ‘We can’t avoid work all day, young lady.’
She made a face. ‘What if I say my waffles are still digesting?’
He smiled. ‘Then I’ll enlighten you about agent physiology.’
She grabbed her stomach and rolled side to side. ‘My wafffffles.’ She lifted a hand to block out the sun. ‘I feel like I should be a lot more tired than I am. I’m just…awake. Dammit, what’s going to be my excuse for drinking coffee as soon as I get up now?’
‘A bad habit. That’s what the rest of us say.’
Stef felt her eyes go wide. ‘Coffee’s a bad habit?’
‘No, not just coffee. Eating, drinking, breathing, they’re all bad habits, or addictions that we shouldn’t develop. The best of us never do.’
‘You seem like a pretty good narc to me, but even you eat.’
Ryan shook his head. ‘I’m not one of the best of us. I’d recycle myself if I had to be like them.’
Stef shook her head slightly to clear the non-existent fuzz from her mind. He wasn’t talking about combing your hair and being on time for stuff. ‘Um, sounds serious.’
He tugged on his vest with the classic Picard manoeuvre, and gave a short, sad smile. ‘The best of us are to be envied, and to be pitied. They are agents who, by birth or by training, never fell into frailty. They don’t love. They don’t have friends. They never speak using their mouths, instead-’ He appeared in her HUD. [Every word they say is through communication mode.] ‘They don’t recruit, seeing it as unnecessary. They don’t eat, drink, or breathe. They don’t blink. They are as perfect as the day they were born, and stay that way. Because they don’t have distractions, they are better at their jobs than any of the rest of us could ever be, if efficiency could be a fault, then it’s the only one they have.’
‘So…basically they’re the scary robot agents that the Solstice think you all are.’ She paused. ‘That we are all are.’
‘Have you ever met one?’
‘They tend to spend their entire lives in Central. They don’t outside much, they don’t see the point.’
He totally avoided the question.
It’s your choice whether or not you let that pass.
She nervously lifted a hand. It had worked at school. It had sometimes worked with James. ‘Um, Ryan?’
He raised his eyebrows a little, then lifted his hand and gave her hair a single ruffle. ‘I met one when I was-’ Another sad smile. ‘On my first birthday.’
Stef racked her brain for a moment. ‘Wait, that’d be Federation Day, right?’
‘Correct,’ Ryan said. ‘But at the time, that didn’t mean much to the Agency as a whole – a change in government structure is never easy, so it’s often our best practice to maintain current practice till the obvious new status quo takes shape.’ He brushed some imaginary lint away, a strangely nervous gesture from him. ‘My first annual evaluation. The first is important – the first is usually the only one that takes place in Central, with all the following ones usually your Director alone will be satisfactory, or with a regional director at most.’
‘And then?’ she prompted.
‘One of the men evaluating me had the dubious honour of being of the early examples of this kind of exceptionalism. I apparently…impressed him. I didn’t find out a lot of this until long after the meeting. The agent apparently suggested to Reynolds that I would be transferred to Central. I had a few flaws, but I was close enough to…perfect,’ he said, saying the word with obvious distaste. ‘That they would be able to file away the rough edges. Reynolds refused, and the best of us are such that a logical argument will sway them. Reynolds pointed out-’ Ryan paused for a moment. ‘Reynolds brought my heritage up with them, the elements that had been saved from Rhys, and that because of that innate knowledge of the city, I would be wasted anywhere but right here.’
‘Were you happy with that?’ she asked. ‘Shouldn’t he have at least asked you?’
‘Sometimes, the people who care for us can be selfish,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what I would have thought at the time, if I’d known, but having lived with the results…I am happy he made that particular decision for me.’ He looked at her for a long moment. ‘I will…always try to you agency in your decisions. Some choices that affect you will be made over my head, but where I can, you’ll have choice.’
‘I know, and I appreciate that.’ She straightened up. ‘We went from coffee to being morose. What’s on the magic schedule for today?’
‘Paperwork,’ Ryan said. ‘A lot of paperwork.’
She looked past him, at his desk. ‘How much of that is mine?’
‘Your pile is in your office.’
Stef stood and eyed the paperwork suspiciously. ‘So all of that is just…yours? Can I echo my comment about getting in a bloody temp?’
Use the right word.
What’s the word?
‘Aide,’ she corrected herself. ‘A temp or an aide?’ She pointed to one of the folders. ‘There’s enough paperwork here to build a fort.’ She focussed on the folder and shifted it into her hands.’ I mean, if you want to do that, then cool, but you at least have to have to-’ she stared at the sticky note on the folder, one that bore a familiar alphanumeric string. She flicked open her HUD’s vital stats menu, and confirmed that it was her serial number. She turned and shook the folder lightly in his direction. ‘Wouldn’t it have been easier to write my name?’
‘I wrote your name on the ones I sent to your office,’ he said.
‘You haven’t even shown me my office!’ she chided. ‘So that pile is?’
‘There are some that I can do in your stead. You have enough to deal with, it’s only your first week.’
‘I’m making the choice to try and do these. Besides,’ she said with a smile, ‘the worst I can do is screw them up, and you were planning on doing them anyway so let me try.’
Ryan seemed to consider this. ‘They are all fairly simple.’
‘So what’s the harm? Anything else other than the paperwork?’
‘Meeting the recruits,’ he reminded.
There was a frantic knock on the door, and Ryan lifted his head and turned towards it. ‘Come in, Curt,’ he called, and the door nearly burst open as Curt rushed in.
Stef hung her head backwards. ‘Hiiii,’ she said, noticed the relieved look on Curt’s face, then rocked forward again. She pressed her palms flat to the soft carpet, then stood. ‘Um, hi,’ she said as she turned.
Curt took a couple of steps towards her. ‘I- I saw your room,’ he said, then stopped and ran his hand through his hair. ‘I don’t know-‘ he smiled. ‘Whatever happened, I’m glad you’re ok ne- Stef.’
She hopped up onto the edge of Ryan’s desk, thumping her feet against the wood, unwilling to say anything until her dad-boss-angel squeezed her hand. ‘Taylor-‘
Curt looked scared, but only for a minute, when his face went back to agent-like-neutral.
She swallowed. ‘Taylor got-‘ She was handling it better than she should have – probably thanks to the blue that was running through her veins, stabilising her emotions. ‘Taylor got mad.’
If you’re going to be friends with him, the truth is the best policy.
What if he can’t handle it?
Butchered movie quotes are just your way of stalling for time.
‘Taylor tried to kill me,’ she said, her hand raising to where the bullet had run through her face. Had probably really nearly killed her. Where she had pulled the one cool move of her life. ‘Taylor tried- For reals. He’s the one that messed up my tank. Not me. My room isn’t usually that shitty.’
Ryan stood and put a hand on her shoulder. ‘For lack of another way to put this,’ he said, ‘we’ve called a truce. He was acting- There were certain technical reasons that added to his actions. Glitch-like actions, if not a proper glitch. No action is being taken. And only those that you would expect to know about the situation know. A few others know Taylor was acting irrationally-‘
Ryan straightened her tie. ‘We have to reintroduce her to the recruits,’ he said.
‘Or introduce,’ she said, kicking the side of his desk, ‘I’m not exactly that memorable.’
Ryan smiled, and put a hand on her shoulder, urging her to get off his desk. ‘You’re welcome to join us,’ he said to Curt.