The recruit at the garden’s gate house waved them on as Curt pulled the car into the long driveway. A moment later, the red and white striped pole rose, allowing them access onto the rest of the long, curving road.
‘Do you know everyone?’ Stef asked.
Curt shrugged. ‘I try to learn as much about fae culture as I can; especially where it intersects with the human world, so that I can be a better recruit.’ He took his eyes off the road for a moment. ‘Anything to see less like a Solstice shit,’ he said.
They parked, and she eagerly climbed out of the car.
‘Wait here for a second,’ he said, ‘I want to check on something.’ He jogged away, towards a group of people with small stands and carts.
Across from her, a huge tree shook, displacing the birds that had been in its branches. It shook again, and half of its leaves fell away, and slowly, it shrank, becoming a man around Curt’s height.
Bark lost its roughness, and became skin. Knotholes became eyes and a mouth.
A group of branches – the last remaining – protruded three feet out of his head for a moment, before withering and sucking into his head. The leaves remained, though, sticking out at all angles before each split a hundred times over, and became hair.
One leg was already formed, the other was the last part of the trunk – which split into his other leg, and uncovered a messenger bag.
A thin, pale root whipped around from the man’s back, ducked down into the bag, twisting and turning for a moment, before returning with a pair of glasses, which the root brought up to the man’s face. He pushed his face forward, accepted them from himself, then the root tapped on the bridge to secure them in place, before whipping back behind him and disappearing.
There was now no hint that the man had ever been a tree.
He lifted the messenger bag, pulled out a mobile phone, and walked off towards the parking lot.
I am…going to love getting used to this.
‘Dammit,’ Curt said as he jogged back over to the bench. He sat, and handed her a small paper packet. ‘The kite vendor is out sick today.’ He held up his hand. ‘And don’t suggest requiring a kite, let me explain.’
She looked into the packet, and saw half-shelled nuts with blue nutmeat. ‘Ok, so, explain.’
He pointed behind her, and she looked. Across the park was a woman flying a lumpy kite. A lumpy kite that looked very much like a living child. ‘Huh?’ she said at last.
He turned his pointing finger and aimed it at a bench. She nodded, and they walked to the wide, backless bench. ‘Some kids, depending on the fae race, or races, their wings don’t come in early, or if they do, they aren’t strong enough to support their weight just yet. Like…baby birds, I guess.’
Stef watched the child circle around, two bright orange, patterns flapping above him.
‘Thus, kites,’ he said. ‘They help to teach kids being okay with being off the ground, and they learn to balance and turn, even if they aren’t always practicing with their own wings. The benefit though, anyone can use them, so when the vendor isn’t sick, you can come here and fly. I mean, there’s gravity tricks and stuff you can do within the Agency, and in sims, but this is different.’
‘Have you done it?’
‘I actually own a pretty decent rig, but it’s in storage. A friend bought it for me, I’ve used it a few times, but, you know, I don’t have a lot of free time to do this.’
‘Yet, we’re here,’ she pointed out.
‘It’s your second first week, newbie,’ he said, ‘we’re allowed to have some fun.’ He scraped his foot in a rough semi-circle. ‘We can try again when you’re done with your external training.’
She pulled one of the nuts out of the bag. ‘I don’t even know where I’m going for that yet,’ she said. ‘Ryan’s going to tell me after I officially get my office this afternoon.’
She shook her head. ‘None. I’m hoping…somewhere easy, so I don’t look like a complete fail clown. Maybe somewhere out in the middle of the Antarctic where they have no dramas to deal with. Or Mars. I’d like to go to Mars.’
Curt grabbed a handful of nuts. ‘What, visit the only planet entirely populated by robots?’ He winked at her. ‘I’m sure you’d hate it there, newbie.’
‘I’d be super-tempted to draw naughty words in the soil, just to confuse the fuck out of astronomers. And maybe a bigass “Doctor Manhattan was here” declaration.’
She chewed on another nut, actually bothering to take in the flavour this time. Salty-sweet. Plain like a macadamia, but with a definite sugary edge to it. ‘What are these called?’
‘Logos,’ he said. ‘They’re a hob-made hybrid species between two extinct varieties.’
She played with an empty shell for a moment, then looked. ‘So are we just going to sit here awkwardly for the rest of the day, or what? I think you would have gathered I don’t like the outside.’
‘Certain conversations can only take place away from the Agency,’ he said. ‘After what happened with Taylor…you sure you want to go back?’
She nodded. ‘I don’t want to be anywhere else.’
He nodded. ‘If that’s what you want, newbie. You should just know you have choices. It’s harder, because you’re an agent, but-‘ He shrugged. ‘I’m just trying to give you the choices I never had.’
She absorbed his words, and tried to look for their actual meaning. ‘Do you want to be at the Agency?’ she asked.
‘I didn’t want to be recruited,’ he said, ‘but now that I’m here…I think I’m doing a good job. I’ll never be aide; despite what Agent Jane said, but I like to think I’m making a difference.’
There was a ping in her HUD, and an envelope icon appeared in her upper-right-hand corner. She opened the message.
[Don’t shirk your responsibilities on your first day, Spyder…
She scrunched her face, and hit reply. [To be fair, Ryan never told me what time you needed me.]
A video chat request appeared, and she clicked it. Jones smiled at her. [To be fair,] he said, [I’m just rushing you because I have some free time. Sooner this is done, the sooner you can go back to whatever you’re doing.]
[K,] she said, [I’ll be there in a minute.]
She looked over to Curt. ‘I’ve got to head back. Want to meet up later? You can help me decorate my office.’ She tried to imitate his smirk. ‘I was thinking black paint and Twitch streams.’
‘Maybe if you were a tech agent, newbie.’ He lifted his arm. ‘You going to shift us back?’
‘What about your car?’
He pointed, and she saw the car disappear. ‘All good.’
Stef laid a hand on his arm; and shifted the home.