Ryan looked to his office door. There had been a knock. His HUD told him it was Stef outside – and she had knocked, instead of shifting in – a sign to be a little worried for her. She went through strange cycles of this – on good days, she would shift straight in, on days when she felt less good about herself – and therefore feeling undeserving of his affection – she would loiter in the hall outside his office, or insist on knocking.
He had insisted, gently but often, that she was always welcome.

[Come in, sweetheart.] He said, hoping his voice in her head would strengthen her resolve to pass over the threshold.
After three more seconds, she opened the door. She held Frankie to her chest, her shield against the world.
‘It’s work,’ she said without preamble. ‘Well. Not work. Not like anything you told me to do. But it’s Agency. And about Hook. And the Lost. And an agent. And why are people shits to their kids?’ She tossed Frankie onto his couch, strode forward, and threw her arms around his shoulders, her head resting against the back of his neck. ‘I know I say it like eight times a day, but thank you for being a good dad.’
She released him, then jumped up so that she could sit on his desk, both of her feet resting on the side of his chair. ‘You know how you kidnapped me when I was a kid?’
He gave her a mockingly stern look. ‘I took a child for necessary medical attention. I do not know why you insist on painting it as a crime.’
‘Because it’s our meme,’ she said, a smile trying to assert itself on her face. ‘Something. Um. The Captain just did something…liiiike that,’ she said, stretching the word out. ‘Took a child from the custody of a parent for the sake of that child’s safety.’
He nodded. ‘That’s something the Lost does quite often. Agents are just as capable of being bad parents as anyone else. If you know the agent’s name, I can push this through the correct channels, and-’
‘Yeah,’ she said, looking from side to side, ‘I mean, that, at the very minimum. But. He didn’t just- He didn’t just like, hit the kid. Or be a persistent asshole like James. He used System tech. Used the kid’s blue against him. I saw this kid. Spoke to him. He was like- Not quite like a newborn – newborn agents are more quiet than anything. But he was more like an agent than a kid. Words. Postures. Hook said his dad has been taking away the kid’s memories and- And the stuff he likes. Making him strong. Making him- whatdidyoucallthem – the best of us?’
Ryan stood, leaned forward, and kissed the top of his daughter’s head. ‘Conference room. Let’s go over everything you know.’
She nodded. ‘Hook’s there. He’s got the Lost’s files. It was Agent Reilly. Newscastle. Wasn’t one of yours.’
He nodded, and thought about the agents that reported to him. ‘Not a lot of my agents have children, and those that do…I can’t imagine they would hurt them.’ He targeted Stef, and shifted them to the primary conference room, where Captain Hook – he’d yet to get any other name for the man – sat, a number of files and photos spread over the far end of the broad table.
‘Director Ryan,’ James Hook said, tipping a nod in his direction. ‘I appreciate the help. I know this isn’t the proper channels, but-’ Tiredness crossed the old man’s face. ‘If I went through proper channels, I would have to let go, and I want to see this to the end. In my position, we get protective of our charges.’
This man had protected Stef, when she’d been a child without anyone to rely on, the only semblance of family – though one she had thought imaginary. No debt technically lay between them, but…there was no way he would deny the man all the help that he could provide.
He took his usual seat, and listened as the man in the guise of a storybook villain ran through what they knew – and what the Lost knew was quite extensive – as a Court with limited resources, they had to be thorough with the cases they did work.
The background information out of the way, Ryan raised his hand. ‘I would like to bring in Jones for the technical aspect of this. He will have a better idea if a reversal is possible.’
‘Of course,’ Hook said.
Ryan let himself focus on his HUD. [Jones?]
Jones’s face appeared in his HUD. [Sir?]
[I require a technical consultation. It’s not strictly something under your purview if you’re busy.]
[I’ll be there in a minute, sir.]
Ryan exited from the communication window. ‘He’ll be here momentarily,’ he said, even as there was a disturbance in the air next to Stef – Jones shifting in.
Jones took a seat to Stef’s left – wearing his usual mishmash of uniform and non-uniform clothes – today was his white lab coat, and a T-shirt that was simply split into two – one half orange, one half blue. ‘How can I help?’
‘Agent,’ Hook said, ‘I’d like you to give us your learned opinion on the potential to reverse a perversion of a System process.’
‘I’ll do what I can,’ Jones said.
Hook launched into the detail they knew – that Agent Reilly had used some kind of “filtering” process to remove interests and memories from his son.
The Agency had a number of memory removal and memory modification techniques – sometimes they were used for Solstice wanting a second chance, or civilians who had seen things that they couldn’t handle. The former was far less successful than the latter. With civilians, the incident was usually a contained thing, and even if it meant wiping out an entire day, it was still a fairly…crude, if achievable thing.
Razing a forest was one thing, with Solstice, it was cutting individual trees – often leaving them with swathes of memory missing, personality changes, and lingering impressions or dreams.
And what had been done to this young child sounded an awful lot like something they were hesitant about using on people who had been their enemies.
The situation was horrific, but what was interesting was the colour progression of Jones’ knuckles through the explanation – turning from the usual pale of someone who spent most of their time inside, to the white of anger that he usually associated with Taylor.
‘If this was me,’ Jones said, ‘I would use a modified form of Procedure 19.’ He looked up at the pirate. ‘When we wish to know if an agent is emotionally compromised, we can perform a lock on certain sections of thought – it’s a way to get…a baseline reaction on how they feel about a subject. A way of knowing,’ he seemed to flounder for a moment, ‘if it’s the man or machine with the failing. If he did before and after comparisons, he would be able to get to know which specific memories to target. But I won’t know anything until I can take a look at him.’ Jones flexed his hands. ‘Do you think I can see the child, or can he be brought here?’
Ryan looked between Jones and Hook. ‘Until we put something in place to punish his father, I would suggest leaving him in the custody of the Lost.’
Hook nodded. ‘My people can provide whatever scans you require, should you furnish us with the equipment.’
‘I’ve got a passive scan,’ Stef volunteered, ‘but we weren’t in System territory, so it wasn’t much more than an ID. Sorry. He was freaking me out. I didn’t want to push for a blood test or anything.’
‘I’ve got more precise equipment,’ Jones said, ‘I’m no vampire, I’m not interested in his blood.’
‘I- I could go do it. He doesn’t want to agree to anything, but I’m a familiar face at least.’ She turned to look at Ryan. ‘If you could give me some form of words that mean that the Agency is doing what the Agency is supposed to be doing, I think that might get through.’
Ryan nodded. ‘I’m sure I can mock something up.’ He looked down at the Lost’s file in front of him, with a photo of Agent Reilly laying on top. ‘I think our action items are as follows. Jones, Stef, get a start on the technical aspects of this. Captain,’ he said next, ‘if you could accompany me to see his Director, it would lend weight to the proceedings.’ He considered everything for a moment. ‘I should clear this with one of our representatives,’ he rested two fingers against his right temple, ‘I do understand that you want to keep control of your case, but I want to ensure that everything is above board. The child is what is important here, and there are procedures in place to keep him safe.’
‘They weren’t keeping him safe,’ Hook said, his tone more sad than accusatory.
‘I know,’ he agreed, ‘but now that we know, we have to keep him safe.’