Twenty years ago.
Agent Ryan wished the small child would stop screaming.
Unfortunately, she didn’t, and the Solstice cultist decided to escalate the situation. ‘Get the hell away from me, proxy!’
The cultist, a young man – though one unlikely to get any older, struggled for his next breath, exhausted from the chase. The Solstice clutched the terrified toddler to his chest, one hand tight around her middle, the other waving his pistol wildly. He looked around the room – presumably for an exit.
He moved to the left a little and blocked the only door to the room. Now the only escape from the nursery was through the small windows, and the cultist was unlikely to do that – it would mean turning his back. ‘Put the child down.’
‘If I do, you’ll kill me!’
He kept his gun steady. ‘Only if you believe your own propaganda, I’m willing to talk.’
The cultist’s impromptu human shield started to struggle harder. She screamed again, then settled on crying, clutching the doll in her hands tighter to her tiny chest.
He watched as the cultist gripped the little girl tighter. ‘Put your gun down,’ the doomed Solstice yelled with a confidence he didn’t have. ‘Or…are you going to kill this kid as well?’ He lifted the child higher, allowing him a better view of the crying and terrified girl. He stared blankly at the cultist – unwilling to harm the child unless there was no other option.
‘Oh look, you bastard,’ the cultist said sarcastically, ‘you made the thing cry. Are you really going to hurt this precious little civvy? Pick one you soulless prick!’ he shouted. ‘I don’t have time for this shit!’
It impressed him that no one had called the authorities, or had even noticed the situation. This type of situation usually lead to screaming and frantic parents making things difficult. No one was screaming. No authorities – besides himself of course – had been called. The party outside must have been very important. And loud.
He didn’t mind – he preferred to work without interference. It made his job easier.
He had no wish to prolong the situation. ‘One last chance. Talk.’
‘No,’ the cultist hissed as shook the child to quieten her – it failed miserably, and she dropped the doll, the fragile porcelain smashing on the floor.
He nodded in acceptance of the cultist’s decision to…well, to die. ‘You brought this on yourself.’ He lifted his free hand and clicked his fingers. The child disappeared from the cultist’s hands and reappeared in his own. Tipping the situation in his favour gave the Solstice another chance to reconsider – they often did, the fear of their imminent death saving them at the last moment.
The cultist howled in rage and fired wildly. The bullets smashed a lamp, a picture frame and into his chest, he fired a single shot in return and the cultist fell. The body landed with a wet sound, then everything was still.
He took a moment to concentrate and heal the holes in his chest. It was then that something became very apparent.
The child had stopped moving.
The gun faded from his hand and he lifted the child to look at her. A single bullet had gone into her chest – straight through the purple dinosaur on her shirt. The tiny spark of her soul floated past his eyes, hung hesitantly in the air for a moment then began to fade.
No.
His hand shot out grabbed it. The blue light streamed out through his fingers, like he was holding a small star, and he could feel it trying to fade away. Effort creased his forehead as he tried to stop it from disappearing.
‘What are you doing?’ a cold voice asked. He held onto the soul for a moment longer, then released it. He’d done what he’s needed to do – he’d garnered her attention. He held the tiny body close and turned to look at Death. All he could see of her face was a skeleton’s grinning mouth.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ she asked again.
He looked down at the dead child. ‘She is too old to become a Starbright.’
‘Far too old. Your point?’
‘Lady, please, I beg of you.’
‘She cannot make the choice to come back on her own.’
‘Has she passed?’ he asked, afraid of the answer.
It took her a long moment to answer. ‘Not beyond my knowing.’ She removed her cowl, disappointment apparent on her “human” face. ‘One day you are going to have to live with the consequences of your actions.’ She looked closely at the girl. ‘It may not be today, but one day, you will.’
He stooped and placed the body on the floor, and as an afterthought, picked up the broken china-headed doll. Death nodded to him and they faded from the world. He kept his eyes closed as he sank through death’s realm – he hated the feeling of the void, the utter nothingness around him. No matter how many times he went there, he still felt like an intruder. It was not a place that an agent belonged.
When he felt solid ground under his feet again, he was brave enough to look. He was in Limbo. The gray ground was the same as it always was, as was the winter-dead forest. The perpetual storm clouds swirled overhead, promising a great storm, one that never broke. A slight breeze stirred the dirt at his feet, and a laugh made him look up.
Near the tree line of the winter-dead forest, the guardian of Limbo – herself having the appearance of a little girl – sat playing ball with the dead child. Limbo, in her monk’s robe, was a being that existed in grayscale – her hair silver, her skin ashen and her eyes black. Nonetheless – he realised as he watched the two girls roll a bright red ball back and forth – that she was joyful as a sprite.
Death touched his hand, a rare gesture. ‘You’re hesitating.’ He looked down to her. ‘And before you ask, no, you do not have the right to do this. And yes, there is every chance she will become a ghost, is that what you wish on annotations her?’
‘Of course not.’
‘Then let her pass.’
He looked over at the little girl – in this place, the bullet hole in her chest didn’t exist. ‘No.’ Death looked up at him. ‘She deserves a chance.’
‘As you wish. She has to come willingly,’ Death reminded him.
They walked over to the two girls, and he crouched before them. Limbo’s guardian stood, handed him the ball, then walked over to her older sister.
The little girl blinked at him and expectantly held out her little hand for the ball. When he didn’t roll it, she scooted away a little. He put down the ball and held up the doll with a smile. She stared at it for a moment, then burst into tears. It occurred to him then that showing her a doll with a broken head wasn’t the best idea he’d ever had.
He frowned, then looked at the doll, a moment later, the china slipped and melted, repairing the broken face. The little girl squealed in delight and ran over to him as fast as her stumbling legs could carry her. She grabbed the doll and hugged it tightly.
He stood and looked at Death. ‘May I take her back now?’
‘She has not said yes yet,’ Death replied.
He opened his mouth to protest, then felt small arms grab onto his leg. He looked down and saw the girl hugging him. She mumbled something that could have been ‘thank you’ into his pants leg.
‘Now she has,’ Death said with a smile.
He knelt down and picked her up. ‘Time to go home Stephanie.’
 


Scholar Wraith’s Commentary:

First things first, what the hell was this line supposed to be, Stormy?
“is that what you wish on annotations her?”
ANNOTATIONS? DAFUQ?
Stormy: You expect me to know what I meant? Have you met me? It’s a gift for my ashreader, obviously.
Wraith: I would certainly hope I’ve met you, if not, whose apartment am I living in?
Stormy: Oh, shaddup.
Secondly, this commentary thing might just be the death of me. Stormy and I were sitting in the lounge room reading through this and I nearly died choking on my laughter. What follows is the best recreation I can muster of the conversation leading up to that:
(Context, we had just read the following line:
He took a moment to concentrate and heal the holes in his chest. It was then that something became very apparent.
The child had stopped moving.
)
Stormy: You know, a lot of people thought it was callous of Ryan to heal himself before noticing Stef was dead.
Wraith: What? His actions make perfect sense to me. He considered Stef as being “safe” once she was in his arms, so he was concentrating on the threat. His list of priorities was probably 1. handle the shooting Solstice, 2. ascertain and fix wounds, 3. worry about the child. Hell, his HUD was probably screaming at him “Bullet Wound, Left Torso, Fix Immediately”
S: Yeah, stupid Clippy
W: OH! You totally need to have Stef deal with a Clippy in her HUD at some point! That would be awesome! (You’ll note that most of my contribution to the writing process is being a huge fanboy and coming up with stupid ideas)
S: Yeah, have it be an experiment for a “Enhanced Interactivity HUD” that Stef signed up for.
W: She would love the idea, right up until the first time Clippy popped up. Then she’d be all “GET THIS THING OUT OF MY HEAD!”
S: Jones would go “You signed up for a 6-week trial, we can’t cut it short.”
W: Have it run as a sub-plot through some random story, Clippy pops up, “You seem to be looking at a murder victim-”
S: “-are you responsible?”
W: *breaks down laughing so hard I choke and nearly cough up a lung*
Seriously, the laughing/coughing fit lasted for nearly 5 minutes. Stormy almost killed me.
Stormy: I am totally going to do this as a sub plot at some point. We need more Agency stupidity.
Now, for what this commentary was supposed to be:
This scene has stayed remarkably the same across the versions, which I think is a good thing. Stormy had an opening that worked, and instead of changing it wholecloth (as has had to happen in many other scenes) she has just made small refinements. I’ve always loved this chapter, and this version is no different.
(as a note: I first started reading with Mirrorfall 2.0 [The Kindle Edition is 3.0] so this is all going to be new for me, should be a fun ride.)
Also, Stormy and I have decided that our conversations as we go through these chapters are too funny to keep to ourselves, and I suck at transcribing them (I’m also too lazy to do so on a regular basis) So we are going to look into recording them in the future. Let us know what you think of the idea, would you listen to it or not, what would you like us to talk about, etc. in the comments below.
 


Director Stormy’s Commentary:

Stef didn’t die in the original. In the majority of the earlier versions of the story, she was dying of something unrelated – in the Matrix story, she was part of a bad crop, in the computer-world worldbuild, her code was corrupt, so death was a lingering part of her character development. As I moved into the Mirrorverse builds, it seemed like an unnecessary addition her plot. So…I decided to have her killed off.
Doing this also allowed for us to have a really upfront introduction to some of the magic of the world – to see Death, to grok onto something of the worldbuilding. The situation was already there – all that needed to change was the Solstice’s aim. 😛
So little Stef dies, and we get…what is probably the key scene of the whole series. I’ve been able to add more to the scene as the versions have moved along, being comfortable mentioning Carol, exploring Limbo more, but everything that is important to this scene is here right from this version.
The party outside must have been very important. And loud.
Keep in mind, I haven’t read this version for years, except what was needed when I was copy/pasting it out of the Wayback machine, so some of the text will likely surprise me. This line really did. It’s so snarky and wonderful, I’m hoping I can recycle it somewhere.
(Hell, it would actually work in OUB when Stef and Ryan are sitting on the fence of her old house discussing this scene).
Death plays a much larger part in the series than I had intended – back during the worldbuilds I discussed in the introduction, I wanted to have Life far more involved than what she is, because a lot of series have a Death character, and I wanted to do something different. However, as time and story wore on, it did make sense for Death to be kept around (especially as Stef kind of treats death like it has a revolving door).
Wraith: And I always giggle when I think about “Mama Death”. . . I am such a fanboy. . .
It also kind of makes them a weird little family – Death is probably the closest thing Stef is ever going to have to a maternal figure, and Death is closer to Stef than she is to Entropy (for solid reasons) – Stef isn’t unique in the universe, but probably is out of the characters we’ll encounter. (IE, Death cares about people who aren’t our hacker and her dad).
Speaking of Ryan…yeah, Ryan totally has a crush on Death. That’s putting it lightly and blithely, but he does. He has an affection and love for her that is more than loving her as a distant figure. I’m not sure if he realises it consciously, but it is the reason he invited her to the gala in OUB.
Limbo came from a dream I had (one of several RC things that did), and remains pretty much unchanged – a grey and dreary world, a stormy sky overhead, rows and rows of regimented, identical trees.
Alexandria the doll was something that’s survived since basically the inception of the series, initially it was a way of showing off a simple form of magic, and for Stef to have a trigger for her memories – there are things that you can’t remember until you hold a thing, or look at a photo, and Alexandria is the embodiment of all that.
But because Stef keeps her around, it keeps the memory alive – and mutating to a certain degree (which is she has dreams about it sometimes, but the dreams will play up certain factors of it – it became a recurring dream about drowning at one stage, and the forest of Limbo became a different dream). No one has convenient and clear dreams in Cookie. (Curt has slightly more vivid/logical dreams, but that is also because what he has nightmares about is a lot more recent than Stef).
 


Recruit Shade’s Commentary:

So, unlike Wraith, I had actually seen this chapter before. Really, I have. Somewhere around the time that Stormy was actually finishing Mirrorheart, I stumbled across Require: Cookie. I read the chapter, thought to myself, “I should bookmark this and do an archive binge tomorrrrzzzzzzzzkkkkkkkkksnore” and fell asleep on my desk. I had to work the next day, so pretty much all thoughts about Mirrorfall, Ryan, Stef, and everything you see now all faded away to that vault in the back in my brain reserved for phone numbers I’ve not used in years and memories of those amazing tricks people do when nobody is looking that you can never do when people are looking.
So, years pass. At least four of them. I decide to visit some people in Denver in February of 2012, and Wraith had just recently joined The Basement, so I ended up staying at his place, and had the time of my life. During that time, I watched him do some of his scholarly duties, and (re-)kindled my interest. I did my own archive binge after returning home, and realised that this was all alarmingly familiar to me. The vault mentioned in the previous paragraph would be reopened when I was poking around on the wiki and I saw one of the really old ad banners that led me to Mirrorfall the first time. So, I mentioned it to Stormy, and, had Fate been kinder to me all those years ago, I’d be the more tenured scholar around these parts.
So, the chapter.
Twenty years ago.
Agent Ryan wished the small child would stop screaming.

Holy fuck, Stormy. This sounds like something a teenager would open with. You’ve improved greatly since then.
Stormy: Um. Turn back now. This is one of the better chapters. Seriously. Run.
Otherwise, I still like it. It’s the same story, it just isn’t as verbose and descriptive as the current version. It feels more like a bunch of young students performing it, rather than the huge, amazing world we’ve all come to adore.