The amount of equipment that Jones travelled with was surprisingly light. Andrea had insisted on only bringing a minimum of equipment – relying on the combined might of Agency policy and Lost principles to bring the boy in their custody.
Stef adjusted the case that Andrea had asked her to carry – a small silver case, hung on a thick black strap – she wasn’t sure what the piece of equipment inside did, but hopefully it would provide a piece of the puzzle to help fix the boy.
The Lost had provided a room for them to work, one far larger than they needed, but it was the closest workspace to Austin’s room. Dr Sunflower!face – who asked to be called Worthington, lest they mispronounce his fae name – had also loaned them an assistant, a young individual named Chu.
Andrea had immediately given Chu a small sensor, and asked them to place it in the room with Austin – it would provide an initial scan for them to work from – and the database that Jones had brought with her would annotate it with any noticeable changes from the expected.
However, as the boy was half-agent, and each child of an agent was different – there would be a lot of annotations that they would be able to immediately dismiss as natural quirks.
As soon as Chu had left, Andrea had unrolled two thin wireless displays – something that seemed like smart plastic – it would read the information from the sensor and display the basic data, whilst the deeper scan would display to the large TV that was on the wall.
Andrea handed her one of the displays – it was large and almost cumbersome – about the size of a piece of newsheet, but it could display more information than a tablet, with more room to work.
‘I’ve got them,’ Andrea coughed, and Stef looked up in time to see a small smile, ‘ahem, mirrored, for the moment.’
‘I don’t freak out everytime I hear that word, you know,’ Stef said. She stared at the floor. ‘Only. Um. Sometimes.’
Information popped up onto their displays – half of the screen was taken up with a basic human outline, showing Austin. The rest showed basic medical stats. The screen froze for a moment, and a code snippet appeared. ‘Let’s go from the top, shall we? Just look for anything weird.’
‘Okies, Jonesy.’
‘There’s something I want you to consider,’ Jones said idly as she flicked her display to straighten it out. It made a noise like an X-ray, appropriate, as they were using it like one, except looking at code, rather than bone.
Stef poked at her own blue display, and watched the ripples play across the screen. ‘That maybe I’m wrong about X-wings vs. TIE fighters?’
Jones shrugged. ‘Only if you don’t want to be called rebel scum for the rest of your career, Agent.’
She tried to look indignant. ‘Just because I have the accent of an Imperial,’ she started angrily, but couldn’t keep up the facade. ‘Oh, who the fuck am I kidding, hail to the Empire, I just like the look of the X-wing better.’
‘I don’t have an aide.’
The words hung in the air, an invitation, a dare, something that could change her life.
Stef felt her breath catch in her throat. If she’d been…anyone other than Stef Mimosa, her heart would have skipped, stopped or leapt. Even agents could have funny heart feels – it was just girls with hunks of silver there that didn’t get to have those.
‘And-’ she tried her best to sound cool, disinterested, lest she start babbling and hanging off Jonesy’s lab coat in a decent impression of the agent’s son. ‘Well, yeah. That’s a well known fact,’ she said, falling back on facts when anything witty to say failed to appear.
‘I have my best recruits. It’s not like with kids, you are allowed to play favourites with your employees. I have my golden duo – Sacha and Screen – they’ve always been my prime candidates, but at the same time, I haven’t wanted to choose one over the other. It would seem unfair. And…’
Jones trailed off, and seemed to be waiting for her to fill the space, to make the leap as to why the agent hadn’t chosen one of the two very, very qualified candidates. ‘And the Aide position can be a full-time job in itself, and you need them doing what they already do?’
Jones nodded. ‘Well deduced, Watson.’
‘Stop obfuscating, Spyder.’ Jones’ green eyes twinkled. ‘I’m not saying today, or tomorrow. I just want to let you know that you aren’t stuck specced to Field for the rest of your life.’
Stef swallowed, then nodded. ‘Ryan did say that. But- Andrea, I can barely tie my damn shoes, Agency-ly speaking. And- And-’
‘I don’t mean today, tomorrow or this year. But I am dangling this in front of you as a real possibility, Spyder.’
‘You keep calling me Spyder…’
‘Hackers are mine, Agent, I don’t care what department you’re in. I think you could fit. You like my kids, and they like you. Even if…well, a couple of would like you to strip you down to your binary code to see how you tick – that’s just the price of being an augment. Give it time. Give it thought. But if it’s something you want…and I’ll be arrogant enough to assume that it is, it’s something I’ll help you work towards.’
Stef slowly put down her own display, laced her fingers together, and stared down at her nails. ‘Jonesy?’
‘You really think-?’
‘I’m an even bigger genius than you. Do you really think I say much that I haven’t thought about beforehand?’ Jones took her hand, and squeezed it. ‘Nothing’s overnight. If you want-’
‘I do,’ Stef said, her breath catching in her throat, hope and…hopey-fear welling up and taking over. ‘I love Ryan, but I’m always going to be so much better at Tech than I am,’ she shrugged, ‘you know, being like Mags and Curt.’
Jones smiled, and pushed her hair back, her loose curls falling in pretty waves. ‘The phrase I like to use is that Field is the favoured son of the Agency. Field is our first line, Combat are their enforcers, but the support divisions, Tech, Medical, we’re still needed. They can’t do what they do, without us.’
‘I’ve never seen it as lesser.’ She gave a lopsided smile. ‘I mean, you ever done a raid with a healer down. You just can’t. I just don’t want to-’
‘Disappoint your dad. And I understand that. I just want to widen your worldview.’ Jones tapped her blue display. ‘And cases like this, where you can work on technical aspects, you’re going to to get to see the difference for yourself.’
On the monitor in front of them, the detailed version of the code refreshed, showing that the automated annotations were complete.
‘Thank you,’ Stef said. ‘For- For thinking of me. For thinking I can maybe- I’ll work towards it, I promise.’
‘No pressure, Spyder. But if you want extra-credit assignments, I’m happy to give you work in your downtime.’
For a moment, it was like she was standing back in Ryan’s office on her first night in the Agency. Choices and chances that she hadn’t known about were being laid at her feet, asking her to be brave, to take the step onto the path.
It had felt right then. This felt right now.
She nodded furiously. ‘I’d like that.’