The cafe was large, airy, and had a living nymph providing live flower arrangements as performance art, set to quiet, inoffensive pop music.
‘I am never going to get over how cool the world is,’ Stef said as she sat down. She hesitated as she looked at the window. ‘Hey, um, a window seat didn’t work out so well last time.’
Ryan smiled as he handed her a menu. ‘So don’t order ice-cream.’

‘Awww.’
‘They have a fantastic selection of pastries. A former recruit of mine and her husband actually supply the baked goods here, I’d love to take you to meet them one day.’
‘That good?’
Ryan nodded. ‘But I would appreciate if you had some kind of protein first.’
‘K!’ She flipped open the menu and began to browse the selections. ‘Um…’ she said.
‘Yes?’
‘Why is it in English? I mean, I haven’t actually picked up on it until now, but most of everything I’ve seen is in English. I’ve seen some other lettering here and there, but-’
‘It’s not,’ Ryan said. ‘It’s…there are a lot of names for it, we’ll use “glyph”. It’s a form of ideographic writing and printing that is used on most public signage, and in areas where you’re going to have multiple fae languages in constant usage. Fae have the gift of language, something fiction has probably well prepared you for.’
She nodded.
‘That only works on a person-to-person level. If you ever watch a fairy movie, or fae television, you’ll notice – unless it’s a work that’s been specifically translated – that you’ll be reading subtitles throughout. And those subtitles will use glyph – it’s the closest thing there is to a unified language, however…primitive it is. It is a way of conveying a collection of fairly simple concepts, but it tends to fill the gap when you’re dealing with people who don’t speak the language.’
‘So I can read “hamburger with cheese” but not “War and…Peas?”’ she asked, trying to force the words to rhyme.
Ryan gave a small smile. ‘Correct. It’s a lot easier to have “bathroom” written in glyph than it is to convey a work of poetry or exactitude. It’s why you’ll find a lot of tourist information is written in fairly simple language, or some things on a menu will have additional qualifiers where an exact ideogram isn’t available.’
‘So what I’m looking at is actually written in another language, but my brain can’t see that, my brain sees English? That is…creepy and cool in equal amounts.’
‘Lead the words with your finger.’
‘Huh?’
Ryan laid his menu flat, spun it around so it was right side up for her, then slowly dragged his finger beneath the words of the menu – the words in the description of a sandwich turned into ideograms, and after a moment, she was able to see the whole menu for what it was – but it went back to English after she blinked.
‘Do I even want to know how this works?’
‘I think you should order lunch,’ he said.
She blinked a few times, ensuring everything was in English, then picked out a fairly inoffensive-sounding chicken burger, and a chocolate milkshake. He took her menu, then nodded. ‘I’ll go order.’
She nodded, then dug into her bag, and pulled out the wallet again – the currency was fascinating. The plastic banknotes were a rainbow of denominations: five, ten, twenty and fifty were expected, but there was also a twenty-five note.
What is even the unit here? Dollars? Pounds?
Use dollars until you know better.
Among the coins, there was a similar selection to what she was used to, but far more colourful. The ones she assumed to be the smaller unit – the cents equivalent – were red, whilst the coins representing dollar amounts were silver.
Five, ten, fifty cents – normal. One and two dollars, normal. There were also three and five dollar coins – not something she was useful, but she could see the benefit. A cheap coffee could be paid for with a single coin – if the exchange rates were even approaching something like a one-to-one with Australian currency – the menu prices gave some indication, but there was no way of knowing if this was a very cheap, or overly exorbitant cafe.
Ryan sat down down, placing her chocolate milkshake down in front of her, and his iced tea in front of him.
He smiled, and opened his mouth to talk, then closed it and looked confused.
‘Director,’ a voice said from behind her, ‘I feel like I just saw you.’
Ryan’s face froze into a perfectly narcy, neutral expression. ‘Recruit,’ he said to the voice behind him. ‘Good to see you.’
The evil dick she’d tried to punch stepped up to the table. ‘I haven’t seen you here before, Director, I’m a regular, have you tried-’
‘I come here infrequently,’ Ryan said. ‘Is there something I can help you with, Brian?’
The recruit looked down at her, and for a moment, she felt an urge to reach up and ensure that her mask was still in place. She kept her hands under the table though, not wanting to move, not wanting to arouse suspicion. ‘Agent Jane has been make a lot of noise about your lack of an aide, and a good aide knows his agent’s preferences.’
‘Recruit, this is none of-’
‘There’s some agents that are into really kinky shit,’ Brian said, ‘I know some people, if you want a discount on a chill parlour, otherwise-’
‘I have no wish to further this conversation with you, Recruit.’
Brian clapped a hand on her shoulder. ‘Tall. Short. White, black, chink. All the little details count when you’re trying to source a good fuck.’
Stop touching me. Stop touching me.
The grip on her shoulder tightened, and lifted a hand onto the table, letting it drift towards the fork.
‘Alexandria,’ Ryan said, his voice in full dad!mode.
Huh?
She shook herself a little, taking her hand away from the cutlery. ‘Hm?’
‘Would you go check on our order?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ she said, getting out of the chair, and pulling away from the creepy recruit.
‘Sir, you have to know that-’
‘It’s funny,’ Ryan said, his voice taking on a no-bullshit tone. ‘When Curt made his Aide application, he posed no queries about my sexual preferences.’
‘Then he obviously doesn’t know what he’s doing,’ Brian snapped, then pushed past her, and walked out of the cafe.
Stef turned. ‘Do- Do you still want me to go-’
‘No, sit down, please,’ Ryan said, tilting his head to look out the window. ‘That man is thoroughly unpleasant. I’m sorry you were caught up in-’ He placed one hand on the table, and lifted his drink with the other. ‘Many agents come to Fairyland, specifically for the purpose of…liaisons. His assumption was inappropriate and-’
‘Oh, fuck no, you are not apologising for him,’ she said, then watched the butterfly wings flap in her field of vision again. ‘You can’t control when someone is a douchebag or not.’ She slid back into her chair. ‘And is pimp seriously part of the Aide job?’
Ryan’s face finally relaxed, he smiled, but pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘No, it truly isn’t.’ His gaze went back to the window.
‘What?’ she asked. ‘You think he’s coming back for a second round?’
‘What if we hadn’t gotten you a glamour?’ he asked, pausing as food was put in front of them. ‘What if that had been someone who would have recognised-?’
She looked out the window. ‘What if you let your pasta get cold?’
He turned to face her. ‘Stef, we need a solution to this.’
‘I know,’ she said, ‘but we’re not going to figure it out on an empty stomach.’
[table id=15 /]