The relative safety of Ryan’s arms disappeared as the world blurred.
Shift. Still not used to that.
Once the world came back into focus, Stef blinked rapidly for a moment, trying to get a grasp on her surroundings. An office, no window wall – not Ryan’s office.
It was also a lot more ornate than Ryan’s office – wood panelling instead of blue plaster walls, a few paintings, none of which she recognised. There was a desk that really wouldn’t have looked out of place in her father’s study – big, fancy, some wood that was probably endangered or cost more than a month’s worth of servant wages.
She jumped at the voice and turned around, looking at the man who had shifted them – he was, unsurprisingly, another white guy in a suit. No blue – a real man in black this time. No awesome blue vest, and his jacket was cut to the regulation, stereotypical blazer-length of most MiB reports.
‘I’m trusting you enough to leave your arms free. It would be in your best interest to repay that trust.’
Stef stood as straight as she could and swung her arms behind her, her right hand gripping her left wrist. There was still blood on the exposed skin from where she had tried to escape the cuffs, but the wounds and the pain were gone, thanks to the Wolverine-style healing from the mirror.
Really, Spyder? I was certain you’d say Deadpool.
Then start manifesting as yellow boxes.
‘I didn’t– I didn’t catch your name,’ she said.
The man pressed on a piece of wood panelling and it slid open, and she tilted her head to see part of what looked like an impressive liquor collection. He removed a small crystal decanter, its neck twisted elegantly, and poured himself a measure into a tumbler. It hit the glass brown, then became blue as she watched.
‘Can I interest you?’ he asked, angling the decanter towards her.
‘I thought a cigarette was traditional for an execution,’ she muttered.
God, I’m a fucking idiot.
She looked down at the floor and tried to blink back tears.
‘I’ve got no intention of bloodying up my carpet,’ he said. There was a snap of the wood panelling closing. ‘I didn’t bring you to my office to execute you. That would be rather gauche, don’t you think?’
‘I don’t know the Agency etiquette for dealing with problems. Besides–’ She shrugged, losing the battle with the tears. ‘Besides, you might like snapping necks. That shouldn’t leave blood, right?’
‘I’m Enforcer Crawford,’ he said as he walked past her. ‘Whether or not you’re an Agency problem, Miss Mimosa, is up to you. Sit.’
‘Yes, sir,’ she said, trying to make it sound automatic. Good little girl. Respectful little recruit. She turned and saw a chair waiting for her. She sat, extending the points of her elbows out to press into the upholstered arm walls – if the chair tried to eat her, at least she’d have warning.
‘I don’t know the enforcer rank,’ she said, trying to sound as polite as possible. ‘But it doesn’t take a genius to work out–’
‘So far as you’re concerned, in the matter of your life, I’m the voice of the Agency. The final decision, whatever that might be, is up to me – though I’m willing to accept input from interested parties.’
She sat straighter. ‘Does that mean I get a say?’
Crawford lifted the glass. ‘Following my own, yours is the most important opinion. I will make the decision, but you will heavily influence whatever that decision is. So far as I and Agent Jane understand, you’re a victim of circumstance, you’re not to be blamed for that. We have our operational procedures and–’
She raised her chin, trying to look alert, sensible, and knowledgeable. ‘And Duty to follow.’
He gave her a nod. ‘Correct. That doesn’t mean we have no room for kindness, whatever the eventuality.’ He sat beside her. ‘I’d like to start by asking what your ideal outcome is.’
‘I want Ryan to be okay,’ she said quickly. ‘I know he– I know he fucked up by doing what he did. I know you’re not supposed to make wishes on this stupid thing. I don’t want him to get punished for that. If that means that I–’
I don’t matter, so long as he’s okay. He doesn’t deserve to die for me.
‘I wasn’t asking about Ryan,’ Crawford said evenly.
‘If it’s me or him, pick him!’ she snapped. She dropped her head and tried to look meek. ‘Sorry, but that’s my first condition. First wish, whatever. I don’t give a fuck about me, so long as he’s okay.’
Crawford seemed to consider her words. ‘If this situation goes to an extreme, I have the authority to execute him. Whilst you were…not in the picture, we were willing to let it go as a case of Cherry Syndrome.’
Ryan had mentioned that once, but she couldn’t remember what the explanation was. She gave him a confused look. ‘Buh?’
‘A case of an agent becoming too emotionally compromised too quickly,’ he clarified. ‘Now that you’re back, however, there is cause to worry that, unless you’re an asset, you may become a liability.’
She tried to give a casual shrug. ‘So get rid of me.’
‘Miss Mimosa, I asked you a question, I’d like you to give me a straight answer.’
There was a lump in her throat, but she tried to ignore it. ‘I want to be here. Not– Not here-here,’ she said, indicating to the office. ‘But Agency-here. I know I was here for all of nought-point-five seconds, but I liked it here. And not to honk my own horn, but I’m a genius. I’m sure there’s somewhere out of the way that you could stash me that would let me be useful.’
‘You have, so far as scans can tell, nearly a kilogram of mirror in your chest, making you…a force to be reckoned with, and you want–’
‘I want to work for the Agency. I want the suit back. I liked it here. I’ve never liked it anywhere.’
‘And your plans for the mirror in your chest?’
She looked away. ‘Hope it keeps me alive?’
‘You have no plans to make wishes?’
‘It is, so far as I’m aware, the only thing keeping me breathing. So until something becomes more important than that, why would I risk it?’
Crawford nodded. ‘Fair enough. I thank you for being reasonable, but you have to know that that answer alone won’t satisfy the Agency.’
She felt the imaginary other shoe drop onto her head. ‘Meaning what?’
‘Miss Mimosa, so far as I see it, you have three choices. Your first is a direct refusal to cooperate, in which case–’
‘Yeah, yeah, I know what Agency choice one tends to be,’ she said. ‘I am in no way refusing to cooperate, so can we please skip the threat to take me behind the chemical sheds and shoot me?’
‘Very well. Your second is limited cooperation – which, due to the level of threat you represent, will likely mean a life incarcerated, either in your Agency’s basement or at Central. You’ll never see sky again, Miss Mimosa, and that won’t be the worst of it.’
Is he going to make me ask about choice three?
Count to ten, then see.
Pausing before choice three cannot possibly be an agent trait. They couldn’t program for something so dumb.
‘And choice three?’ she prompted after counting to five.
‘Your third choice is to cooperate, to let us do whatever we can to make this situation tenable. If you accept choice three, you consent to whatever that means.’
That sounds less than awesome.
Crawford drained his glass. ‘The first step of this is rather obvious. The issue we have with you…is not you. It’s the mirror. We have one of your doctors cut open your chest and either try to surgically remove what is deemed to be mirror excess to retaining your vital functions; or to wish you back to human. This wish can either be performed by yourself or a designated agent, whatever you…wish,’ he said, scrunching his face at the word.
‘Would you trust me to make that wish?’ she asked. ‘Wouldn’t that go against all the precautions?’
Crawford gave her a small nod. ‘That question works well in your favour, Miss Mimosa. Should this work– If we can get rid of the problem, then there is no problem. If the problem goes away, you can become a recruit again, if that’s what you want.’
‘Three,’ she said, only hesitating for a second. ‘Choice three.’
Crawford stared at her for an uncomfortable moment.
Fear crawled across her skin.
The enforcer continued to stare, and the buzzing in the back of her head grew.
‘What?!’ she asked, the word bursting from her. ‘Did I say something wrong? Wasn’t that what I was supposed to choose?’
Crawford said nothing.
What the fuck do you want?!
She was out of her chair before she realised she was getting up. ‘Do you want a blood oath or something? Do you want me to swear to work for the Agency forever?! Do you want me to prove that I’m useful?’ Her hands were shaking. ‘Please just tell me what you want!’
‘Nothing,’ Crawford said. ‘I just like to see what people will say to fill a silence.’
Shaking uncontrollably, she forced herself to sit. ‘Well?’ she managed.
‘I believe you’re genuine, if stressed, Miss Mimosa,’ Crawford said.
‘You think?’ she asked, then wiped at her eyes. She took a deep breath. ‘So? So what now?’
Crawford nodded. ‘Choice three.’