Ryan stared at the hunk of mirror in his recruit’s chest and the slowly dying daylight that reflected off of it. The sunlight caught on the surface of the mirror and swirled across it in ways that certainly weren’t natural, beautiful and mesmerising for certain, but not natural.
It was one of the myths told about the world that that sparkles of sunlight that fell of a mirror, manifesting if only for the briefest of times was where Starbright came from. It was incorrect, and most people knew that, but it was still a nice story. Sometimes the world just needed nice stories, just to beat back the harshness of reality.
Thinking of Starbright in terms of its appearance, of its sparkle and mass of rainbow colours distracted one from thinking about its inextricable link to dead children. He sighed as the guilt returned, it had disappeared for a moment, but there was it again – as real and aching as when he’d found her on the roof, as when he’d seen her blood staining the bags of ice, or when he’d held her tiny dead body.
He shook his head, trying to distance himself from the guilt, reminding himself that everything – for the most part – had worked out for the best. If she’d been younger the first time, young enough to become one of the Starbright children, then she would not have experienced any of the pain that her life had brought her, and it would not have led to her dying alone. She would have had a year of innocence, of fun, of everything a child could hope for.
Everything a child could hope for…but it was by no means a full life. And here he was, cheating her of a full life again, even if- Even when she woke up, things weren’t going to be easy.
The last vestiges of sunlight died away, and he moved away from the body and closed the curtains, closing off the small bedroom from the dangers of the night. He required the light on, his eyes adjusting immediately to the change. He held his breath though – every time he turned on the light, or made some other seemingly insignificant change, he expected her to wake up, to sit up and say something that he barely understood, or to give him the strange look she gave him when she worked out something about the world.
Daylight was bad enough, but under the harsh scrutiny of an incandescent bulb, she looked far more like the corpse that she was. In the daylight, it was easy enough to imagine that she was just sleeping – or in a coma. The judgment of the light bulb left no room for those weak imaginings. Greyness had slipped into her skin tone, just a tinge, but it was enough to set it apart from the normal pale hacker pallor. He hadn’t expected it, and it did nothing but worry him further, if that had happened, then it couldn’t be too long before rigor set in, or until she began to rot, or until it was time to stop fooling himself and let her go.
He sat on the edge of the bed and checked her vitals again. He’d moved from doing ten-minute checks of her life signs to half an hour checks, from there to hourly checks, until where he was now, checks only every two hours. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t let the checks get any more infrequent than that, he wasn’t going to let himself forget that he was looking after a person, not guarding a corpse.
He slowly pushed one of her eyes open and flicked a penlight across it; there was no reaction, and he closed the eye again – he alternated on which eye he checked, just in case one was damaged, or one was being taken as payment for bringing her back. There was no breath, no air circulated through her lungs, and none escaped her mouth. He kept his fingers against her neck for five solid minutes, just on the off-chance that the suspension had slowed her pulse down that far.
Sitting so close to her, he couldn’t help but look at the heart – a warped reflection stared back at him, occasionally making movement that he did not. She hadn’t begun to rot – that was the only positive element that he could glean from the situation. Whatever was keeping her suspended was keeping her body from falling apart while its life force was missing. It was free of rigor mortis as well, though he had a nagging worry about muscle wastage.
There was no smell, aside from the “hacker funk” that seemed to seemed to pervade the apartment, just as it did the tech department.
He stepped away, sat at the desk’s new chair and leaned his head back. He dropped into communication mode, then opened up his mainframe access. Sparks of blue and white swam in his vision as his muted view of Stef’s apartment disappeared. He blinked to readjust his vision – now he could see all of the crystallised files floating around him. He wasn’t used to it – he rarely had to access the knowledge of the collective unconscious – normal file searches were enough, or were easily found.
‘Mirrors,’ he said aloud.
The files spun, then a few broke free of their companions and fell down to his eye level.
‘Mortals animated by mirrors,’ he specified. Two of the five folders remained, the others dissipated and reappeared in the “sky” high above him.
He opened the one on his left and stepped back. The image of a tall agent, wearing a suit that was at the height of its fashion a few hundred years ago, paced back and forth for a moment, then stared straight ahead.
‘As previously reported, we lost the mirror. There was a storm, we were outnumbered. We lost the whole thing. Some halfbreed fae captured it. They created a warrior. It was…powerful. It killed half a dozen agents. Completely destroyed them. There’s nothing to be recycled, no memories to be had.’
He scrolled through the file, and the image stopped and started accordingly. It wasn’t what he needed.
‘Require: physical copy of file, discard from current search.’
He opened the file directly in front of him. A pretty young woman appeared in front of him. ‘Aide Anne-Marie, filing report in place of Agent Lambeau. As has been reported, Agent Lambeau confiscated a piece of mirror from an evidence locker and used it to wake his sick wife from a fae-induced coma. This would not have warranted as severe punishment as was given, had it worked properly. He was not careful in his commands, and woke up more than her lost mind. It copied over memories and languages from the dead world – Micerin – and this drew leeches to her.’
The image of the Aide hesitated for a moment before continuing. ‘Micerin was an advanced world – approximately relative plus three, so we had a number of leeches. Fortunately, void mutations rendered most of them…easily dealt with. The leeches believed Mrs Lambeau to be an incarnation of their world’s god, and agreed to follow her. An operation was planned, and they were all destroyed, and Agent Lambeau recycled. Several sections of mirror were recovered from Mrs Lambeau and placed in deep storage, in case there were repercussions. Only myself and the director know this, as well as the agents who have accessed this file, total now: forty-seven. Your access date has been recorded. Further information can be found in this file’s attachments.’
‘Require: physical copy of file, discard from current search.’
He opened the third file. A glassy-eyed tech agent stared out into the mainframe. ‘The following is a compilation of information gathered from Solstice sources and raids. It deals with their experiments with the mirrors. This file is best viewed in physical format, because as lovely as my voice is, most of it is charts and dates. It’s worth noting, however, that to our knowledge, none of these experiments were successful. Peace out.’
‘Require: physical copy of file and all attachments. End search.’
He concentrated and exited the mainframe, and surfaced from communication mode. ‘Sorry,’ he said to the body as he shook his head. ‘Sorry, Stef.’ Standing, he glanced briefly at the tall stack of reports on the desk – it would at the least give him an excuse to avoid Emma – research for a future mirrorfall so that he could do a “better job”.
Looking back down at Stef, and knew what had to be done. He rounded the bed, bent down and pulled her up into a sitting position, he required more pillows so and rested her back against them. He finished unbuttoning her shirt and vest, dropping them to the side of the bed. He required a wet washcloth and wiped away the obvious dirt and dust. He cleaned the cuts on her hands, and bandaged them – presumably, they’d begin to heal when she woke up. If she woke up. When she woke up.
He required another washcloth and dabbed at the fresh scar – where she’d been stabbed. It was true that those who had died and come back often sought the peace and clarity again, and that it was rarely a good idea for them to take on “dangerous” jobs, since they would find themselves accident-prone or in situations that others would have escaped.
He ran a finger over the scar. It didn’t stand out against the others, just another in the collection. It was different from the other thought, she’d done it for him. She had willingly placed herself in a position to be injured – or killed – just to protect him. He was an agent, he was supposed to be the protector, and he’d laid prone whilst she had put her life on the line, he’d shown his cowardice, and for that, he was ashamed. He could have fought, even with a bullet in his lung, it would have been a short and pointless fight, and it mostly certainly would have led to his death, but he could have done it. He should have done it.
He’d been selfish, he had taken her, despite her test scores being that of a tech recruit. She’d remembered him, against all odds, she’d remembered him. She was living- She had been living proof that something that he had done something good. She also hadn’t been afraid of him, she hadn’t listened to the other recruits, when they’d said he was unstable.
All the recruits feared Taylor – but that was his intent, and made no protestations. He liked recruits to be scared of him, he felt that it kept them in line. Jones…well, it was hard for them to be seen as scary, and Jones loved the recruits – befriending them, and treating them as equals.
His recruits, however, saw him as far too serious, far too severe. They heard the rumours and expounded on them, no matter what was done to stem them – mercy killings were seen as cruel executions, his by-the-rules interrogations were seen as “oooh, ok, he’s the bad cop”.
And certain memories were never forgotten. “Oh, did you hear? His girlfriend went crazy and he killed her.” The facts were incomplete, the incident classified, the memory painful and the truth devastating, but that nugget remained in the mortal memory, passed from recruit from recruit. “Man, if he could kill her, how safe do you think we are?” Ugly rumours and the human habit of siding with their own kind made it hard for him to connect with his recruits.
He smiled at Stef – supposing that it was the fact that she found it hard to get along with the rest of the human race that had given them something in common.
He gently rolled Stef onto her back, brushed her hair out of the way and plucked a few splinters from the cuts. He then dressed the small cuts, and got to work on the ugly jagged cut from the mirror – it was no longer protruding from her back as it had done when it had killed her, but the cut had remained. He cleaned it as best as he could, then covered it with gauze and taped it down.
He unclasped her bra, dropped it into the pile with the rest of her clothes, and required an Agency-blue pyjama top and puled it over her, one arm at a time, feeling as though he was dressing a child. He quietly buttoned it up and placed her back against the pillows. He moved down the bed and removed her dirty shoes and socks – still unconvinced that it wasn’t somehow a fae power.
Tearing open the left leg of her pants, he dressed a small cut, then quickly replaced them with a pair that matched the pyjama top. He removed the extra pillows and covered her with the blanket. Now, now she just looked like she was asleep.He required away the dirty washcloths, then placed her dirty clothes and shoes into an evidence bag, and placed it in the wardrobe – just in case they were needed for later.
Snapping his fingers, he snatched her file from midair and read over the information he’d already viewed a dozen times over. There was no close family for them to contact – not even any currently in the country. The usually submitted obituaries would freeze her bank accounts and they would do their own searches as to where to put the funds, the rent was covered, and the utilities weren’t something to worry about.
There was no publicly submitted will, and she had no lawyer on file.
It seemed that after death, she was simply going to cease to be. No will, no bequests, no requests. No funeral arrangements.
She’d simply cease to be. Like a dead agent. Like a world after a mirrorfall. No imprint on the world after the memories faded.
He tucked the doll under the blanket with her. ‘I’ll remember you,’ he said. ‘It’s the least I can do.’