Her father’s office was never a place where she’d been welcome. It was a place to avoid when he was at home. A place she was only summoned to when she was in trouble. Somewhere that she snuck into when he wasn’t around, as he’d refused to put the good astronomy books in the larger library.
There was something already comfortable and homely about Ryan’s office. He’d welcomed, not just accepted, her setting up her laptop in the seating area of his office, offering advice while she worked on introduction modules. The fact that the coffee table was the perfect height for using a keyboard while sitting on the floor. The carpet that was soft enough to nap on.
Everything was good, even if she wasn’t sure if she deserved it.
Stef looked up from the video showing how to fill in a request for time off. ‘So, permission to ask a stupid question?’
Ryan nodded at her from behind his desk. ‘Of course.’
‘So, tonight. Mirrorfall, right?’ He nodded. ‘What actually- I mean, are we expecting a big flaming planetary core to crash like a meteor?’
Ryan shook his head. ‘No, it’s far calmer than that. The mirror itself doesn’t cause any damage, it’s what people choose to do with it. Every piece of mirror is a wish, and we have to prevent as much of the mirror getting used as we can.’ He gave a sad smile. ‘As much as some would like our policy to be different, it’s easy to understand why it is the way it is.’
‘Something something butterfly effect, right?’
‘A careless wish could create a weapon, or spark a war, or rip a hole in the world. It could damage an ecosystem, or wipe out a species, or spread a plague. Solstice could use it to weaken or destroy the Agency. Blue Earth would try to integrate more magic into the world. Power-hungry fae could change the political landscape. Not all wishes are made with good intentions.’
‘And a lot could end the world.’
He nodded. ‘But other powers don’t have the rules that we do. We can’t stop people going after it, and we also can’t arrest civilians who try to obtain a piece. The majority of what we’ll be doing tonight is damage control, using crowd control measures and actively trying to discourage people from pursuing the mirror. That, at least, isn’t too difficult. Desperate people will ignore our advice, there isn’t much someone wouldn’t do to save a loved one, but the treasure hunters and opportunists will generally wait until the next day.’
She looked at her fingers and tried to think about the logic of the situation. ‘But it’s one piece, right? “Mirror”, singular?’
‘Most commonly, they get shattered. People fight, or someone sets off an explosive. It spreads the risk but lowers the danger, as there’s a proportional relationship between the size of the piece of mirror and the potential it contains, the size of the wish it can grant. One large mirror could end the word, a thousand grains of sand…not so much.’
She nodded, and filed that under “important shit to know”.
‘Any pieces we get, we have to destroy. The temptation is hard to resist, most people have things they would wish for.’
‘Don’t worry about me, I’m safe. Look at the stories. The fallout from wishes can be worse than leaving the situation as-is. Aladdin’s a street rat; add wishes, and now he’s stuck dealing with political intrigue for the rest of his life.’
He gave her a curious look. ‘You really wouldn’t be tempted?’
A wish to be normal. A wish to work properly. A wish not to be crazy. A wish to bring Peter back from Neverland. A wish to start life over with a better family. Wishes made a hundred times, a thousand times, on first stars and shooting stars and with pound coins flicked into fountains.
Wishes of a child.
Wishes of someone too cynical to really believe that anything would happen. Wishes of someone who still wished on every star anyway.
And now the thing she’d always wanted, family, had happened without the intervention of a genie.
She shrugged. ‘Am I gonna lose my ability to require cookies?’
‘Then what would I need wishes for?’
‘You’re rather strange, Recruit.’
‘Keep me around long enough, and I’m sure some of it will rub off on you.’ She watched as he pulled another folder from the seemingly-endless pile. ‘Seriously, can’t you get in a bloody temp to do some of that for you?’
‘I could,’ he said. ‘But I would prefer to–’ He paused for a moment. ‘I’d prefer not to involve someone in the process who wasn’t part of this agency. There are…idiosyncrasies that an outsider may not appreciate.’
‘And no one has offered to be your aide?’
‘I’ve had a few offers,’ he said as he pulled the next folder from the pile. ‘But I’ve had my reasons for rejecting each application.’ He gave a quick smile. ‘And I don’t have other commitments, as some agents do, so there isn’t an issue.’ He paused. ‘Is Curt preparing another application?’
A promise was a promise. ‘How the hell would I know?’ she asked lightly and looked away. ‘I can barely keep on top of my own paperwork right now.’
‘Don’t tell him I told you,’ she said. ‘It’s just- If you could give me some pointers, I’d have some conversational ammunition instead of just being the stupid newbie who doesn’t know anything.’
‘You aren’t stupid,’ Ryan said.
She stared at the floor. ‘So, any hints?’
‘There wasn’t anything wrong with his last application,’ he said. ‘Submitted a little too soon, and his knowledge was lacking in a few areas, but still an application worth considering.’
‘So it’s the Solstice thing, and he’s wasting his time no matter what he does?’
‘An agent needs to be able to trust their aide,’ Ryan said. ‘And I don’t trust him.’
‘You trust him with me.’
‘His history aside, he’s a model recruit. Trust is something more than that though.’
‘You didn’t really answer my question.’
‘I don’t trust him, but I trust his motivations. If he is reformed, as his image suggests, then I have no reason not to have him assist with new recruits. If he’s a long-term mole, then his goal is something other than murdering a single recruit.’
‘Your brain is kinda scary.’
He smiled. ‘For what it’s worth, I think you’re safe. I won’t have him as my aide, though. I’ll just reject his application as last time. I’ll reconsider it when his probation has expired.’
‘How come you’re telling me this?’
‘Because I trust you.’
She dropped her head and grinned, then looked back up. ‘I’ve been here three days. There’s still a chance I’m a bad guy.’ She wiggled her fingers in his direction. ‘Boooo, and such.’
‘Are you trying to be a ghost?’
‘I don’t know what noise bad guys make!’ She made a finger gun. ‘Mostly it just seems to be boom!’
‘What you can tell him,’ he said after a moment, ‘is that he needs to shore up his knowledge of inter-agency cooperation practices. It’s not something we deal with a lot, but it’s an area where he lacks knowledge.’
She smiled. ‘Thank you.’ She stared down at Frankie’s keyboard for a minute. ‘Can I come tonight? I know I’m probably acting- It’s not my place or whatever. But I’d kind of like to see this thing through to its conclusion.’
It probably wasn’t where she belonged, but it would feel…like an incomplete story if she simply went to sleep that night. A jump cut, turning to the last page to find out how the book ended.
‘It’s dangerous,’ Ryan said. ‘It’s not something I can recommend in good-’ He paused. ‘I can understand your desire though.’ A longer pause. ‘I do have to be there myself though. Do you promise to follow every instruction I give you, immediately and without question?’
‘Yeah, of course.’
‘Then I would ask you to familiarise yourself with the mission area.’ He pointed, and a folder appeared on the coffee table beside Frankie. ‘There are the locations of viewing areas we have designated for fae, as well as any natural blackout zones or entrances to Faerie.’ There’s also a code if you want to examine the area in a sim.’
She nodded and started to pack up Frankie. ‘Okay, I’ll go study.’
‘Promise me you’ll be careful. This isn’t a situation I want to take a new recruit into.’
‘I promise. I’m not an idiot.’