The visits to the oubliette had taken on an easy routine. A visit, a little catch-up on what was happening in the Agency, and a meal appropriate to the time of day.
It was easy, it was comfortable, but it was stagnant.
And it was easy to see that the stagnancy was getting to Stef.
So it was time for a change.

Ryan took off his coat and folded it over his arm, obscuring the small present that he’d brought, then unlocked the door to the fairy stairs.
He waited inside the top of the stairs for a moment, listening for any foot traffic, then unlocked the oubliette.
Stef lay on her stomach on the bed, large blue-and-white headphones on her head, a comic in her hands, resting on her pillow.
The barrier leading to Carol’s side of the room was frosted – as it often was when he came, but there were patterns in the frosting, squares and shapes, like comic panels – as if some of the concentration it took to keep it frosted was being impinged by what she was reading.
Stef looked up, held up one finger, then looked back down at the book, read for a minute more, then sat up, the book and the headphones disappearing.
‘Hey,’ she said, pushing some loose hair behind her ears. ‘I’m kinda in the mood for burgers, if that’s okay with you-’
‘I’m not sure if they sell burgers, but we can check.’
Ryan smiled as her face slipped from one emotion to the next. Confusion, followed by shock, then hope.
‘We’re…we’re going outside?’ she asked, getting up off the bed. ‘I can- You’re okay with-’ She closed the two steps between them. ‘Really?’ she asked, her voice edged with fear and excitement.
He put a hand on her shoulder. ‘Really.’ He removed his jacket from his arm and lifted the small shoulder bag towards her. ‘I took an allotment of Fairyland per diem, so you would have a little spending-’
Her eyes went wide. ‘We’re going to Fairyland?! Like, proper, proper Fairyland, not just the inbetweenie Local Court thingy? Really for reals we’re going into Faerie?’
He couldn’t help but smile – her excitement was nearly palpable. ‘Unless you explode first.’
She took the bag – Agency blue, and large enough to hold a few trinkets – and knelt beside the bed, dumping the contents onto the mattress. There was a wallet, a required phone that functioned well enough in the Marches, and a pair of sunglasses.
She lifted the sunglasses. ‘Please don’t tell me these are supposed to be a disguise.’
‘Not as such,’ he said, ‘we’ll be getting a real disguise when we get there, but I was unsure as to how photosensitive your eyes would be.’
Stef lifted her head and looked at the roof of the oubliette, the crystal-bubble roof changing to mimic a bright sky. ‘I’ve been doing this every so often,’ she said, looking away, ‘I didn’t want to entirely forget what the outside looked like…even if I wouldn’t have believed that a month ago.’
She sat on the bed, and emptied the fairy currency from the wallet and began to examine each note and coin.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said for what felt like the fiftieth time on the subject. ‘There just isn’t anywhere I feel safe taking you to on even a short-term basis. I’ve taken the lease on your apartment, but if a drone were to-’
‘I get it,’ she said, the excitement slipping away, ‘but it’s just still a bit claustrophobic. But- So if that’s the case, then how can you justify-’
‘Because you don’t deserve to be locked up against your wishes. The Marches have no ongoing system surveillance, despite the system presence, and-’
She looked up and spun a single finger. ‘You’re gonna have to rewind and explain that.’
Ryan moved to sit on the bed beside her, and rearranged the coins in her hand into ascending order. ‘The Marches is an area of Fairyland that has a minor system connection. It was done as a pilot program years ago, something which unfortunately never took off. A place that’s a little safer for agents than the rest of Faerie. Requiring has a lag, shifting can only be done from designated areas, but communication works well enough, so it’s a good place to be away from work, without being entirely off the grid.’
She nodded. ‘I would love to look over the specs and see how that works.’ She gave a lopsided smile. ‘And I never did get to see your code.’
‘I’ll arrange something,’ Ryan said. ‘There was so much-’ he cut himself off, looked at the floor of the oubliette for a moment, then stood. ‘Come along,’ he said. ‘We’re going to have a good day.’
He walked to the wall of the oubliette, and pressed a hand to the shimmery surface, and focussed on the Marches – the park where he had seen her red aspect, the one trying to play hide and seek.
A door formed, and he pushed it open. He turned and held a hand out to her. ‘Come on,’ he said gently. ‘It’s all right.’
Stef slipped the bag over her shoulder. ‘I…’ she shook her head. ‘Once more into the breach,’ she quoted, then ran past him, jumping through the door and into Fairyland.
He stepped through, and the new door immediately closed behind him.
Stef lay in the grass, eyes closed contentedly, the blue bag beside her. ‘I have so many questions,’ she said, lifting a hand to shield her face from the the sunlight. ‘And this grass is kinda wet, so I hope that’s rain, not dog pee.’
Ryan looked up at the sky and saw a few grey clouds hanging over the small city of the Marches. ‘I am fairly certain it’s rain.’
She lifted a hand towards him. ‘Okay, can I start jabbering random questions at you, or should I wait until-’
He pulled her to her feet. ‘Go ahead.’
‘Okay, so I get – I think I get – the whole Faerie is the whole thing, Fairyland is fae-stralia and-’ She looked up at him. ‘I’m right so far, right?’
‘Correct.’
‘Okay. Okay. Okay. I am saying that a lot.’ She slumped in on herself as they walked across the park. ‘Where does the rain come from? I mean, is it raining in the Earth-equivalent of where we’re standing right now?’
He shook his head. ‘No. Faerie has its own climate and weather, though there are some similarities in terms of placement of bodies of water, deserts, and the like – unless they have been altered by the locals.’ He arched his eyebrows as he looked down at her. ‘Fairyland has an inland sea.’
Her look of glee was infectious. She shook her hands frantically. ‘Forget the sea for a minute, what about the sky? Tell me about the sky!’ She looked up, shielding her face again. ‘I mean, let’s fast-forward twelve hours, am I going to be looking at the moon?’
‘Yes.’
‘And is it the same moon I would see if I was standing on the Agency roof? One…hopefully not giving birth to baby firebirds?’
‘Yes.’
Stef stopped walking. ‘So you’re really, really going to have to explain that.’
‘Faerie is its own-’
‘Pocket dimension on a separate plane and-’
Ryan smiled. ‘It’s going to be impossible for me to explain anything if you keep interrupting.’
Stef stared down at the ground. ‘I just didn’t want you to think that I was a complete idiot.’
‘I would never think that,’ he said gently. He crouched down and touched the wet grass. ‘The plane that Faerie exists on is limited, it does not extend across the universe, it is tied to the Earth, so its strongest point is at the core, and it weakens from there.’ He plucked a blade of grass. ‘That’s why it’s possible to penetrate Faerie at ground level, if only in places.’ He stood and held a hand toward the sky. ‘And from here, it just gets weaker and weaker, until it merges back into Earth’s plane.’
Stef held up a hand. ‘So, um, let’s just say I Superman on up out of here, I’d crash into the ISS, not the Fae-ISS?’
‘Correct.’
‘Second question,’ she said, dropping her hand, and staring at it. ‘If that’s true, then wouldn’t, like, Neil Armstrong be a resident of Faerie? If you can get out, then can’t you-’
‘No,’ he said, ‘it’s a one-way transition, you can get out of Faerie, but you cannot simply…fall into Fairyland from a great height.’
She narrowed her eyes. ‘I’ll blame quantum for that, I guess. Okay, so how high?’
‘Around the mesosphere,’ he said. ‘Breakthroughs are possible from-’
‘Magic sky jellyfish!’ Stef said, the words rushing out of her mouth. ‘Sky! Magic! Magic sky jellyfish!’
Ryan looked at her for a moment, wondering if she’d gone an entirely different kind of mad. ‘I beg-’
She grabbed the edges of his sleeves, bouncing up and down with excitement. ‘Jellyfish! The big red-’
‘Sprite lightning?’ he asked, interrupting her.
‘Yes,’ she said, her arms flailing. ‘Does it have something to do with that?!’
He nodded. ‘Some sprite lightning can be attributed to breakthroughs from Faerie. Other times, it’s just a natural phenomenon.’
‘That is incredibly awesome and cool and I can’t even-’ She let go of his sleeves and folded her arms across her chest. ‘I know I’m not supposed to ask for things, but if you could require me some textbooks the next time you come to visit, I’ll never ask for anything again. Except to peek at some agenty code and-’
‘I can find you some reading material, Stef. Now, come along, we’ve got to buy you a glamour.’
[table id=15 /]