Stormy Note: So I’m going to go through the scratch I have for IOI, and upload the pieces that are closest to being done – it won’t make it a proper and full book, but it’s something while this hiatus is going on.
Note for this chapter: Time wise, this takes place a little bit after the last chapter.
The conference room was bright, sunny, and seemed to be made of everything Stef knew she wasn’t. Stupid, useless hackers didn’t sit in places like this – they were supposed- She- was supposed to be hiding in her wardrobe, coming out to pee or get a snack.
Nothing in the trajectory of her life had ever said that she was going to end up in a place like this. Or- Or be happy that she was there.
There was still a gulf of a million light years between what she was supposed to be, what the Agency expected of someone with her rank, and what she was.
Hopefully, this meeting would bridge the gap just a little bit.
Transfer form. The proposal for Jones. The proposal for Ryan. All documents she’d created and written on Frankie that now sat in a slim blue folder, the mere process of printing them somehow making the situation far more real than she’d ever expected.
There was a gentle knock on the conference room door, and then it opened, and Ryan walked in.
Ryan – her boss, her dad, the only family who had ever wanted her, smiled his small, narcy smile, and took his seat across from her.
She’d never considered their positioning around the table – in a full Brisbane meeting, there were the three department heads, Agent Clarke, her, Mags and Curt.
For the first meeting she’d been invited to, she’d ensured that she would be early – looking too keen was better than being late, and she’d chosen a seat on the windowed side of the room, at the end of the table. Jones had sat beside her to her right, closer to the head of the table, and when Ryan had arrived, he’d sat across from her.
He’d wordlessly invited her to to sit beside him, motioning to the chairs either side of him, but she’d brushed him off, IMing that she was happy where she was, and he’d accepted this, as it made it easier to share meaningful glances when Clarke was being pompous, or Taylor was being his own brand of ridiculous.
It had all been about appearances and social engineering. – Something that both of her parents had drummed into her was that appearance could trump everything. The right look, the right suit, the right gesture at the right time, everything could bring you closer to the power and position that you desired.
It would have looked weak for her to sit next to Ryan. By giving that small separation, she was trying to show the other agents – particularly Clarke – that she didn’t always need her daddy to protect her.
‘I know you don’t get randomly freaked out,’ she said, ‘so going to a meeting probably doesn’t bother you, like it would some people.’
‘I’m intrigued more than anything,’ he said.
She lifted her hands away from the file, and let them rest in her lap. ‘Okay, but I still want to say this, just so I know I’ve allayed any fears that you probably don’t have. I love you, and there’s nothing wrong. I’m just- This is- I’m just trying to be closer to the person that you think I can maybe be.’ She quickly reached up to her face and brushed a tear away. ‘You think I can- God, you actually think I can do anything. I’ve never had anyone think that of me before.’
‘It’s not hard to believe in you,’ Ryan said, ‘if one actually looks at your talent, at your capabilities, and does not dismiss you out of hand for not being neurotypical.’
Stef hung her head forward, and a tear slid along the length of her nose, hung on the tip for a moment, then dropped onto the blue folder.
‘I had expected to be all sensible about this, to talk to you, father-to-daughter, then director-to-agent.’ She smiled, and looked up at him. ‘Best laid plans, right?’ She folded her arms across her chest. ‘Don’t hate me, yeah?’
‘I’m not a field agent, dad.’
She expected…something. A big, awful reaction. Retractions of his offer to be her father, denouncing her to all and sundry, telling her that she was the absolute worst person to ever worst.
Instead, he simply tilted his head to a slight angle. ‘I’m assuming there’s more than that?’
‘I get why you kept me, you told me you fucked with my test scores. You were afraid-’ she looked away, embarrassed at ascribing the word to him.
‘I was afraid I wouldn’t get to know you,’ he said, ‘and so much has happened because of that selfish decision, that-’
‘This isn’t a meeting for recriminations!’ she interrupted. ‘I’ve already forgiven you a hundred times. I don’t hate you, I never could.’ She gave him a wobbly smile. ‘I think we’re stuck with each other as family now, forever, no matter what.’
He smiled. ‘I would hope that’s true.’
Stef lifted her hands from her lap, placed both of them onto the blue folder, and slid it towards the middle of the glass-topped table. ‘Director Ryan, I’d like your permission to apply for the position of Technical Department Aide.’
She pulled her hands back, letting her fingertips slide across the glass, the nervous sweat making them drag slightly. Once her hands were back in her lap, she hunched her shoulders, and slowly raised raised her head, forcing herself to make eye contact with her dad.
His posture was relaxed, and his eyes were shining. ‘Where do I sign?’ he asked as he extracted a pen from an inner pocket of his coat.
‘You- You didn’t even read- You didn’t ask-’ she faltered, flustered.
He lifted his hand and indicated to the empty seat to her right, where Jones usually sat. ‘May I?’
Ryan lifted the folder, then stood and pushed his chair in. He rounded the table and slid into Jones’ seat. He laid the folder in the space on the table between them, pushed her chair so that she was facing him, leaned over, and hugged her.
After a moment, he let her go, kissed the top of her head, then pushed her to arm’s length, his hands lightly holding her upper arms. ‘I’d have to be an unobservant father not to notice how geeky a daughter I have. And I would have to be a fool as a director to waste such a potential asset to one of my departments.’
‘You’re not mad?’
‘Stef, I couldn’t be more proud of you.’
She started to sob, but each breath was cathartic – they were the tears for a wedding, for a new baby, for a beginning, not for an ending. She choked herself to a stop after a moment, pressed her hands to her face, then refreshed her skin, clearing away the red blotchiness that always came with crying. And the snot that inevitably came with tears.
Stef slid the folder back towards him. ‘I had, like, a whole thing prepared, can I go over it? I worked hard on it, and I don’t usually work hard on anything, except, yanno, modding code that I write.’
He slid a glass of water to her, then opened the folder. ‘Of course we can.’