‘Um, so what’s going on?’ Stef looked around, trying to take in information. Lots of people. Signs. Books. Backpacks. University.
‘Stop gawking,’ Curt said as he slipped on a pair of sunglasses. ‘People will notice you if they notice you noticing things.’
‘Ooooh, that’s why narcs wear glasses!’
‘Pretty much.’
Require: mirrorshades.

The sunglasses appeared in her hands, and she slipped them on, repressing the urge to monologue.
‘This way.’
‘You still didn’t tell me what was going on,’ she said as she hurried to catch up with him.
‘Let’s start with your preconceptions,’ he said as they stopped at an intersection of paths. He put a hand to his ear. ‘Raz, you on channel?’ Pause. ‘I realise that.’ Pause. ‘Do a wider sweep, and get someone on social media.’ Pause. ‘Your efforts are appreciated, Recruit.’ He looked to her and pointed down the path. ‘If say “goblin”, what’s your first impression? If you say “Grignotts”, I’m giving myself permission to leave you behind.’
‘Gringotts. And are you a closet Potter fan too, Trekkie?’
He slipped his sunglasses down his nose far enough to give her a withering look before putting them back into place. ‘It was a deal I had with my girlfriend. I sit through the stupid movies, laugh and/or make sad noises at appropriate times, and she’d let me–’ He coughed. ‘She would reward me in other ways.’
He sighed. ‘Yeah, newbie, let’s say cake.’
She stared at him. His inscrutable expression gave away nothing. ‘Are you lying?’
‘I probably am.’
They took a left turn past a noticeboard, and she stopped dead in her tracks. In one corner was an innocuous little flyer, with purposely bad clip art and an email address spread across a dozen tear-away strips. She quickly grabbed the flyer and tore it away from the single tack that held it to the board.
It didn’t matter. It didn’t mean anything anymore. It wasn’t important anymore.
She crumpled the paper and quickly stuffed it into her pocket.
‘Goblins,’ Stef said, pushing a smile onto her face. ‘I don’t have a default idea for them. There’s a dozen different lores and canons I could throw at you, so just tell me what they’re really like, and I’ll deal.’
‘Wait.’ He put a hand to his ear. ‘Okay, great. Okay, not great, but better than– Where from here?’ He looked down at her. ‘How are you at running?’
‘Running and I do not get along.’
He muttered under his breath. ‘Okay, then just try to keep up.’
He moved quickly, and she tried to match pace with his striding steps, having to run for a few steps every couple of meters to catch up.
‘So I see a lot of treadmill work in your future,’ he said.
‘Yeah, but you should see how fast I can type.’
‘Look at the ground,’ he said. ‘Most goblins are pretty small, and if there haven’t been more calls, then it’s got to be on the small side.’
‘Misick small or dog small or–’
‘At least the size of your head,’ he said. ‘You’ll know if it you see it .’
‘We don’t have a better way of tracking fae? No tricorders or anything?’
‘Well, there’s–’
Something scampered along the ground and disappeared through an open door.
‘There!’ she said, with a point.
He quickly grabbed her arm, pulled it down, and released it.
‘No pointing?’ she asked.
‘No pointing.’ He turned his head to look at where she’d pointed. ‘Just… Be cool, okay? Relax. Act like you belong.’
They walked through the door and into the building but saw no sign of the little, dark shape.
‘Are they dangerous?’ she asked, immediately looking to the ceiling in case it was hiding above them.
‘Not really,’ he said. ‘We rarely have anything to do with them.’
A door closed at the end of a hall to their left. Curt took a couple of steps and looked through the clear pane of glass on the door. ‘There’s a lecture in there,’ he said. ‘This is–’
Stef punched the fire alarm.
The evacuation tones began to play almost immediately, and there was a flurry of activity from within the classroom. Stef and Curt stood to the side as the students hurried past, then slipped into the room.
Curt closed the doors, and she heard a click as they locked. The windows – already closed gained security mesh.
‘Come out, come out, wherever you are,’ she muttered.
There was no movement.
‘We’re Agency,’ Curt said in a loud, clear, narcy voice. ‘We’re not going to hurt you.’ He looked to her. ‘Keep your movements slow. It’s probably spooked enough.’
The desks disappeared, and she began to circle the room, listening for any tiny sounds of a creature hiding.
Hiding in the dark, listening to footsteps outside and just waiting to–
Stop it.
‘Would heat vision goggles work?’ she asked.
He shook his head. ‘Not with goblins. One of their only abilities is to regulate their body temperature to blend in with their environment.’
‘What about–’
‘I want sanctuary!’
A little dark shape shot out and flung itself against the freshly-required security screens over the windows. ‘Sanctuary! Sanctuary!’
Does he think he’s Quasimodo?
She looked to Curt. ‘Are we a church?’
He ignored her and walked to the goblin. ‘The Agency is neutral. We can’t give you sanctuary. You–’
‘He’ll kill me!’
‘The locals have changed leaders again?’
The goblin – who truly looked as though it belonged in the Labyrinth – nodded its lumpy head.
‘You didn’t yield?’ Curt asked. ‘This is the fifth time this year the locals have changed leadership. What happened the last four times?’
The goblin looked from side to side, then shrugged.
‘We can’t help you,’ Curt said. ‘Have you gone to the local Court?’
The goblin shook his head.
‘They’re your best shot,’ he said. ‘Or you can head down into Fairyland, but I like your odds better up here.’
The goblin cocked its head to the side. ‘Recruit me, Agent?’
Curt shook his head. ‘We can drive you to the Court. Or arrest you. We can’t let you run around in broad daylight.’
The goblin jumped off the window and onto a bench beside her. ‘I don’t want to go to Court.’
Curt glared at the goblin. ‘Incarceration. Fairyland. Court. Those are your three choices, and you’re running out of time to decide.’
The goblin drew itself up to all of its one-foot-and-change height and puffed out its chest. ‘You can’t arrest me. I haven’t done anything–’
‘You’re running around in broad daylight. Public exposure is an Agency offence.’ His voice went cold. ‘You know the Court is your best chance. I suggest you accept.’
The goblin’s chest sagged. ‘They’ll indenture me.’
‘Only for a year, then you’re on equal footing with the other citizens. King Steve is good to your people.’ A large backpack appeared on the table. ‘It’s this or cuffs.’
Stef looked at the goblin, imagined the teeny-tiny cuffs necessary to hold it, and tried hard to suppress a smirk. The goblin looked to her, and she shrugged.
The goblin climbed into the backpack, and Curt closed the snaps before lifting it and handing it to her. ‘He’s not heavy. Do me a favour and carry him.’
‘I’m not that strong–’
‘Think ahead, newbie. You always have to be prepared for an attack. Fine, we’ve only got to walk to the car park, but if we fall over some Solstice part-timers, I’m better in a fight, and the backpack will slow me down.’
‘Fine.’ She lifted the backpack and slipped it over her shoulders. The goblin bounced up and down inside, then settled.
Curt turned in a slow circle and undid all of the requirements and dismissals, leaving the room looking as though they’d never been there. They walked from the room, and he took a left once out of the building.
They found car park without too many people around and he required his stupid sporty red car. He opened the small boot. ‘You can put him down.’
She slid the backpack off, and Curt undid the clips. ‘It’s only a ten-minute drive,’ he said the goblin. ‘So just keep quiet.’
He closed the boot, and they climbed into the car.
‘Why don’t you require a sensible car?’
He stared at her for a moment, then started the car and backed out of the parking space. ‘Would you look at this car and think “Agency”?’
‘Um, that was kind of my point.’
‘It’s less likely to be a target. Less likely that someone is going to try and force you off the road, or take a shot at you, or whatever.’
‘Using that logic, we shouldn’t wear uniforms.’
He shrugged as they exited the university. ‘And some agencies don’t. Even here there’s variance – even the people who wear the uniform may pass up on element of it, like you aren’t wearing the coat, and I’d prefer not to wear the vest even though I do. The uniform’s dangerous to us, I’ll happily agree with that. It paints a target on our backs. But it also makes us walking safe house. Cops need uniforms so people know who to turn to; same goes for us. Sometimes you’ll be on patrol, and a fae will just walk up and ask for help.’
‘Plus it looks spiffy.’
‘The uniform is necessary. Driving around in some boring sedan isn’t.’ A file appeared in Stef’s lap. ‘There’s the overview of goblins. Have a quick read while we’re on the way.’
[table id=15 /]