‘I can see why they sent you here,’ Milla said as she walked along the edge of the railing, teetering unsteadily dozens of meters above the grounds. Stef stared at the girl, at the absolute lack of fear she had, despite having fallen twice in the last half hour, with little more complaint than about her spilled drink.
‘Why?’ she asked the recruit.
‘Well, we’re the weirdo Agency, so they send us all of the weirdos.’
Where are you going with that sentence, Spyder?
‘Oh yeah you are,’ Milla said, doing a clumsy, amateur pirouette, ‘so just admit it.’
‘I am.’
‘S’ok,’ Milla said, ‘you’re far from the weirdest that has come through. I mean, we’ve had some of those statics come through-’
‘Some of those what?’
‘Billy generally calls them “the best of us” with the “us” part being agents, not the everybody kind of “us”, agents who are agents but forgot to be people.’
‘Oh yeah, them,’ she sipped her shake, ‘not sure I’d want to meet one of them.’
‘Because they wouldn’t approve of you?’
‘I didn’t mean to lose it in the lobby, but I’m still getting used to this whole secret identity thing. I’m not exactly Batman.’
Milla shrugged. ‘AJ thinks all agents are crazy anyway, and I already knew.’
‘You knew?’
‘Billy told me. He never keeps anything from me. Unless it’s for my own good, and I don’t think you’re the dangerous kind of thing that needs to be kept from me. Are you dangerous?’
She shrugged. ‘Probably not.’
‘You’re lucky your Ryan’s a Billy and not a static. If he was a static, you’d still be a corpse. And probably gross.’
‘You’re close with Billy aren’t you? How long have you been his recruit?’
Milla shrugged. ‘Only a couple of years, he wouldn’t let me be official until I was eighteen, he wanted to make sure I was old enough to make the right decision.’
‘So what, you were rocking it up in the lobby before you were eighteen asking for application forms?’
Milla slurped on her drink, then jumped down from the railing. ‘I know your secret origin story, want to know mine?’
‘Okies, sure.’
‘A demon attacked my street, and sent all the grown-ups insane. They picked up their cricket bats, and their rakes, and they all started to kill each other. It didn’t affect the kids so much, except cause they had to watch, and that was probably kind of worse. It sort of affected my sister, cause she was fifteen, and I think she might have been the one who killed our mum, dunno though, I was asleep for the most of it, I had the flu.’
Holy fuck…
‘Someone,’ she continued, ‘threw a…one of those bombs made with a liquor bottle?’
‘Molotov cocktail?’
‘Yeah, one of them, through my window, and that made me wake up, so I grabbed my teddies and ran out of the house, just like we’d practiced. It wasn’t my job to get the phone and call for help, I just had to stand outside, and make sure that I wasn’t on fire.’
‘But there was a body where I was supposed to sit, and I kinda realised something was wrong. And there wasn’t a lot of fire in the house, so I ran back in to get the phone, cause nobody else had come out yet.’
‘How old were you?’
‘Eight,’ Milla said, then paused for a moment to take a long drink. ‘Got the phone, but then I saw Cindy. She was shaking on the floor, and all covered in red. She saw me, and tried to hit me, but then just started screaming. I pulled her out, I think I might have pulled out some hair, dunno, she didn’t seem to notice. Some cops showed up, but the grown-ups killed them too, they didn’t see us, or we weren’t important, or something. Cindy got up, knocked me down, and…well, ran off, but I didn’t see it, cause I hit my head really hard.’ She pointed to a scar on the side of her head. ‘And then Billy was there. He just picked me up and then I was safe. I woke up in the infirmary with Doc Holiday, and I’ve been here ever since. The Agency’s my home, and Billy’s my family.’
‘You parents?’
‘Both dead. Cindy killed our mum, and Billy killed my dad, not that he was my dad anymore, he was just some crazy person that needed to get put down.’
‘He killed your dad?’
‘If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t be talking now. My dad was going to bash my head in with a cricket bat. And…it’s ok, he took over the job, well, as much as he could anyway. Agents make good parents. Cindy’s ok though. Mostly.’
‘She’s in Madchester,’ Milla said, ‘and it’s visiting day tomorrow. Not that it’s ever a whole day, for some people it is, but not with us, she doesn’t like to be taken away from her duties.’
‘What does she do?’
Milla smiled. ‘She’s the queen of bees.’
‘That’s an official Madchester job?’
‘Not by a long shot, Agent,’ Milla said, ‘she’s not staff, she’s a resident, if you know what I mean. The crazy, it didn’t go away, they tried with a few of the kids, and the few adults that survived, but nothing they did could make them less crazy. They aren’t even…ok, let me put it this way: Madchester exists so you don’t have to live in a rubber room, you’re allowed to walk free, or lie around, or hide from the things that aren’t there, just so long as you aren’t a danger to anyone else – and even then, they’ve got ways of calming down people who want to hurt others. The people from my street, they’re in rubber rooms in Madchester. They aren’t even people, they aren’t functional, and if they’re awake, they’re still trying to kill people. They’re locked away, and everyone does the best to make sure that they remember that they tried to help.’
She stared at the recruit, not wanting to push, not wanting to pry into something that was none of her business.
‘Cindy…’ Milla continued, after fetching yet another sandwich from her briefcase, ‘Billy would take me every week on visiting day, just so I could see her. She’s the only family, human family, I mean, that I have left, so I just wanted to see her. I was eight, I just kept thinking that if I kept visiting, if I kept talking to her, telling her I loved her that…the world would be all Disney, and that she’d be ok.’
‘The world’s suspiciously free of happy endings,’ she said.
‘I wrote a letter to the Queen,’ Milla said, pulling a piece of lettuce from the sandwich and tossing it over the side of the roof. ‘And in return, she sent an invitation for me, had a Courtier pick me up, escort me through, afforded me all the pomp and respect as she would an adult, and she treated me no differently to any other visitor, except that she served me milk instead of wine.’
‘Was her name always Madhe, or is that just because of what she does?’
‘She was born a goddess, so you couldn’t say her real name anyway, not even with an agent voice box,’ Milla said. ‘And it’s not the first name she’s had, but it’s close enough to her favourite name, and the name that most people know her for, kind of like how you’re an “agent” but people still think of “agents” as “angels”.’
‘What was her old name then?’
Milla bit into her sandwich. ‘Mab.’
She dropped her shake.
‘What?’ the recruit asked, ‘surprised?’
‘Yeah, just when I think the world can’t do that anymore, here we go, another wham episode. Mab? Really?’
Milla nodded. ‘Really really.’
‘Fscking hell, I’m impressed. I mean-’
‘You want to hear the rest of the story, I’m almost done, and then I can show you the schedule for tomorrow.’
‘Sure, sorry, go ahead.’
‘I told her what I’d told her in my letter, that I wanted my sister better, that I wanted her better, whatever it took. I was a kid, I didn’t have much to give, but I wanted to give whatever it took to make her better.’
‘What did you give her?’
‘Humans…we’re really easy to manipulate, and I’m not just talking about one person cheating another, I mean, every bit of us, our minds, our bodies, our souls, all of it can be strip-mined if you’ve got the right tools, or the right powers. That’s why people like you can exist, because…we’re just so easy to use. You can shatter your life, you can sell your memories, or have them stolen, you can give up your ability to walk, we’re so easily compartmentalised.’ Milla smiled. ‘I gave up a little of my sanity, a little bit of myself, so Cindy could stop screaming to herself at night.’
‘How does that make her the queen of bees?’
‘They were my favourite animal when I was a kid, I loved how they were so organised, and how they all had to follow the orders of a girl. I used to pretend I was a queen bee sometimes, and that all of my toys were my minions. Somehow…that got taken as well, it gave the little bit of sanity I gave her a kind of structure, a…mold to base her stray thoughts around, something like that, it’s all madness, I don’t understand it.’
‘Do you regret it?’
‘She’s my sister, Agent,’ Milla said, ‘there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her. I also lost a lot of memories of our parents, but that’s ok, whether they were payment, or they went to Cindy, either way, I don’t care. Those that are lost, are lost, you have to focus on those that remain, and that’s what I did.’
‘Doesn’t it hurt to see her?’
‘Compared to the wreck she was before I helped her? Billy would take me every week, and I would see her, try to talk to her, and she wouldn’t even hear me, and I’d come back here and cry for three days. Now…she can hear me, she can sleep at night, and she’s…happy. It’s the best I can do for her, so I look forward to seeing her every week, not that I can stay long, a queen has a lot to do.’
‘And it’s tomorrow?’
Milla nodded. ‘I always go see her about lunchtime, so I talk to her for a bit, then go grab her meal from the restaurant, bring it back, then say goodbye and let her eat.’
‘And they don’t mind? You visiting I mean, even though you’re a recruit?’
‘Of course not, so long as you enter humble, and don’t stir up trouble, everyone’s welcome during visiting hours. I mean, certain members of other Courts maybe not, but there’s no problem for Agency people.’