7am, Thursday, Hyde
5pm, Thursday, Brisbane
Stef opened her eyes.
She rubbed her eyes.
She kicked the blanket off. It was a familiar bed, familiar sheets – both standard Agency issue, even if the room – similar, but still different to those in Brisbane – wasn’t.
She stood, pushed opened the curtain – and stared down at early-morning Hyde. The windows in the dorm rooms were a nice touch, and one she was glad wasn’t replicated at home.
She’d barely had a chance to look at the room after they’d come back from the festival – the desk covered in the remnants of the fae fair food was proof of that.
She walked over to the desk, munched on some popcorn, then walked into the bathroom – showering was polite, even if it wasn’t necessary. The ability to refresh skin and require herself clean was an amazing shortcut, but it never seemed as thorough as soap and water.
Good, now shower, because you can’t blame jet lag for being late to your shift.
She required away her pants, and stepped into the shower – the water came on hot and strong, just like at home.
She stepped out a minute later, feeling as though that would be enough to fulfill her social obligation not to be stinky.
Ultra-fluffsome towels seemed to be the Agency standard – which was always surprising, as they served no purpose other than luxury – whereas at least the plush, deluxe, sleeping-on-a-cloud beds could be justified as well-rested recruits were better recruits.
She wrapped herself in the towel, held it like a terrycloth hug for a moment, then required herself dry, and required a fresh uniform.
Stef looked down, almost surprised to see the blue of her vest – there would be some logic to making guest agents conform to the local uniform; for the sake of civilians if nothing else. There was one advantage though – wearing blue instead of purple made her effectively invisible to local Solstice…even if there apparently weren’t any.
She walked back into the main room, patting Frankie’s laptop bag to ensure he was just as rested as she was, then headed for the door.
The door knocked as she reached for the handle.
She stared for a moment, unsure as to why the door would be responding like that, then opened it, and found Milla holding two large smoothies – though one was half-empty. Milla handed the full, purplish one to her. ‘It’s berry,’ she said, ‘I think you’ll like it.’
Stef took a sip through the wide straw and made an appreciative noise. ‘It’s great, thanks.’
I’ll have coffee later.
‘Billy is busy with stuff, so I’ve got you to myself for a couple of hours, want a tour?’
‘Okies,’ Milla said brightly, ‘the lift is this way. I suggest,’ Milla said, ‘we start with the cafe down the street. No, wait, we can do that later. Important question: Which Court are you?’ She smiled. ‘I like to know which Court somebody belongs to, so I know how to treat them.’
‘Lost, I think,’ she said. ‘I had one of their imaginary friends when I was a kid, and I’ve got an offer to go there if I need to.’
Milla beamed. ‘Good. Lost is good. Ok, not the show, but the Court. Who was your friend?’
‘Um, Captain Hook?’
Milla nodded in approval. ‘Better than a blue kitty named Toffee Oliver.’
‘Nope, Recruit Milo…something, I forget his name. Except he didn’t just have her as a kid, she kind of stayed with him all the time, even when he grew up, except she wasn’t just a kitty then, she would come here in people-form, and bring him a cut lunch and stuff. They left to go have babies, or kittens, or something. He pops by now and then, but not for ages. I think he might be training to be an imaginary friend himself.’ She shrugged, popped her briefcase open again, and unwrapped a sandwich. ‘He was pretty cool, even if his name was Milo. Milo’s a weird name.’
‘Did he taste like chocolate?’
Milla’s face pinched into an uncomfortable look. ‘What is it with white people and asking that?’ She gestured to her own light-brown skin. ‘Nothing makes me swipe left faster than something likening me to some kind of coffee.’ She scowled. ‘I don’t even drink coffee.’
Stef looked down. ‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘unintended intimation. Milo’s this stuff you add to milk. Yanno. Chocolate.’ She looked up to meet Milla’s eyes. ‘I’m aware enough of my own privilege not to be an intentional asshole. I’m sorry.’
The tension slipped from Milla’s face. ‘I don’t know a lot of brands. When you grow up in an Agency most stuff is just the system default so you don’t get the brand association.’ Milla said, then bit into her sandwich again. ‘I thought you were being a horrible person that I couldn’t be friends with and would have to pretend to like for the rest of the week.’
‘It’s not mandatory to like me,’ she said, ‘most people don’t, so don’t feel weird if you end up hating me.’
Milla gave a lopsided smile. ‘I’ve got plenty of other reasons to feel weird.’
‘So what,’ she asked as Milla led her over to the elevator, ‘do you do if someone doesn’t have a Court? How do you know how to treat them then?’
‘That makes it harder,’ the recruit said as she swung her briefcase, ‘if they don’t have a Court, I try and find out which Sin or which Virtue they belong to.’
‘Which what now?’ Stef asked as they stepped out of the lift.
Milla screwed up her face in confusion as she stepped into the lift. ‘Don’t you have to pass a test or something to become an agent?’
‘I didn’t. I’m still learning, gimme a break.’
‘Seven Sins, seven Virtues,’ Milla said. ‘Everyone belongs to at least one of them, but I don’t believe the crap that you get to belong to one of each, some people have nothing bad about them, and some people have nothing good about them, not that I’m saying which is which.’
Milla stepped ahead and opened the door to the Agency, and they stepped out into the early morning light.
‘How do you know who you belong to?’
‘It’s generally a guess,’ the recruit said. ‘Unless you’re lucky enough to get visited by them. I mean, you get immortal, like, really immortal guys wandering around, and they’re that way because Fortitude smiled upon them, and got Life and Death’s permission to let them keep living.’
‘Like Dorian Gray?’
‘You don’t know who the Sins and Virtues are, but you’ve had time to read Dorian Gray’s file?’
‘Dorian’s…the reason I’m in this whole mess in the first place.’
‘So the Agency is a mess now?’
‘No, I just mean-’
Milla poked her tongue at her. ‘I’m just trolling you. What’s he like?’
‘Subtle and quick to anger?’ she said. ‘Nothing like the book. Complicated, I guess…’
He’d left her to die. Her and all the other code monkeys. The need to help Astrin had been important to Jon…but nowhere near important enough to warrant the deaths of the nerd brigade.
Dorian could have gotten Jon free, then called the Agency. Everyone would have been saved.
And you might not have ever met Ryan.
So? The life of one fuck-up isn’t worth all that much.
‘What is it?’ Milla asked.
‘He’s a selfish prick,’ she said, staring at the wall, ‘sorry to ruin the fantasy.’
‘Meh, boys,’ Milla said, ‘I’ve never needed them. Let me know if you ever come across any awesome immortal women and then I’ll be interested.’
Stef smiled. ‘Okay, I’ll keep an eye out for Fa Mulan, Maid Marian and Mab.’
‘Oh,’ Milla said, ‘I know where Mab is.’ The recruit looked at her like she was an idiot for a moment. ‘I mean, don’t you?’
‘If I say something mundane like “in a book” you’re going to laugh at me, aren’t you?’
‘Do you know who runs Madchester?’
‘Queen Madhe, right?’
‘Do you think that was always her name?’
‘Mab? Mabs runs Madchester?’
‘She was born a goddess, so you couldn’t say her real name anyway, not even with an agent voice box,’ Milla said. ‘And it’s not the first name she’s had, but it’s close enough to her favourite name, and the name that most people know her for, kind of like how you’re an “agent” but people still think of “agents” as “angels”.’
‘Just when I think the world can’t do that anymore, here we go, another wham episode. Mab? Really?’
Milla nodded. ‘Really really.’
7am, Thursday, Hyde