There was change from without and change from within.
Both were valid, and both expressed themselves in different ways. Both meshed in an infinite feedback loop. One causing the other which rolled and twisted and-
She still recognised the person in the mirror.
Stef splashed her face again, dried off with a required towel, then required a fresh uniform.
On her first morning in the Agency, she’d hidden in the bathroom. She’d been unable and unwilling to face how things were supposed to go – but Ryan had adjusted for her, simply throwing her at Curt instead of insisting that she meet an overwhelming number of new people all at once.
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
She smoothed back her hair, adjusted her sleeves, tidied her shirt cuffs, then left the safety of the bathroom.
It was getting easier and easier to navigate the dull, undecorated halls of the Field floors – a lot of it was just down to the simple-for-some process of paying attention to the world. Being present in the world and the moment was still hard, navigating by the numbers on the doors was easier.
Ryan’s office door was open, and he stood staring out the window, the blank expression on his face telling her he was more interested in his HUD than in anything going on outside the window.
For a moment, it was the silhouette of her father in his office. The imposing figure against the window, phone to his ear as he worked on what was ostensibly a day off. A guard dog to sneak past if she felt brave, or one to avoid – to double-back and use the other stairs to get down to the kitchen.
So far, Ryan hadn’t shown any signs of anger for the mere crime of being in his field of vision.
As awful a father as James was, Ryan was that good of a person.
After standing awkwardly for a moment, she walked forward, then rapped on his desk to get his attention.
‘Are you ready?’ he asked as he focused on her.
She tried to stand straight. ‘If you’re still willing to take me.’
He nodded, and the world blurred.
They were alone when they reintegrated – there was the anticipated rough concrete of the roof of an industrial building beneath her feet, but none of the civilians she’d expected to see.
Stretching out from where they stood was a small sea of tin roofs and flat concrete roofs. Everything was in darkness, aside from some small security lights and the street lamps.
It would have been serene, if not for the sounds of fights.
‘No observers showed up?’ she asked.
‘More than we expected, actually, but we’ve had some unexpected help,’ he said. Ryan walked towards the low fence of corrugated metal that ran around the edge of the roof and indicated to what looked like a roof covered in trash and pallets. ‘The Lost are providing shields and cover for the observers. Kelly and Darren are acting as-’
There was a rush of sound and light. Ryan spun, his gun appearing in his hand. A blond man in a tie-dyed shirt appeared, a relaxed expression on his face. Ryan’s hand immediately dropped, as did his head.
Panic slid into her – the change from attack mode to meekness had been so sudden, it almost seemed like he’d been turned off. She moved forwards, but Ryan’s hand shot out and grabbed her.
‘Hey, Ryan,’ the man said, with a smooth drawl that belonged to a cartoon hippie. ‘Where’s the observation area?’
Ryan kept his head bowed for another moment, then straightened and pointed to one of the buildings across from them. ‘You’ll need to step through the Lost’s illusions to find it, but you’re welcome to join them,’ he said, in a quiet, respectful voice. ‘And I won’t bore you with the usual warnings, sir.’
‘Thanks, man.’ The hippie disappeared with another rush of sound.
‘Do I get to ask “What the fuck?”’ she asked.
‘He’s a god.’ Ryan went back to scanning the road and the buildings.
‘To–’ Ryan coughed, his voice clearing. ‘To be precise, he’s a diminished god, but we still afford him all the respect that his kind demand.’
‘That hippie was a god?’
Thunder rolled, and static electricity filled the air.
Everything went still as if moving would bring the lightning strike.
But that’s backwards, thunder comes after…
There were no more sounds of fighting. No more…anything. The world seemed to have taken on the air of a library or a graveyard, where sounds weren’t just not expected but were…rude. Sacrilegious. Against the natural order.
There were no sounds, and for the moment, that seemed right.
She jumped as something touched her hand – Ryan. She looked to him, then followed his gaze towards the sky.
There was a hole in the clouds. It looked funny, almost unreal, like the image of a sinkhole in a metropolitan area. Something not right and probably shopped. The edges of the sky seemed to rush into the hole as if it were some sort of upside-down sink. A blob of silver fell through, and the hole closed as quickly as it had opened.
‘That,’ she tried to find her words, fight against the unnatural silence. ‘That’s the-’
The blob moved strangely, like a liquid in zero-G, and began to descend from the clouds.
There was a gunshot, and that seemed to break the spell that was holding the world silent.
‘You gonna shift up and grab it?’ she asked. ‘Doesn’t this make it game over?’
‘Watch,’ he said.
A dozen dark shapes moved towards the mirror. They seemed to be unable to touch it – some passing through it, some bouncing back as if they’d hit a force field.
‘The mirror is fickle,’ he said. ‘And now things get even more dangerous.’
The shapes in the sky began to turn on each other and fight in mid-air.
‘I need to reiterate,’ Ryan started slowly. ‘Because I say this to everyone, not because I don’t trust you. The mirror is not to be used; it’s to be destroyed. If you find yourself unable, call me, and I’ll do it for you.’
‘I remember.’ She watched as two winged people clashed and fell towards a distant rooftop. ‘Would– Would you wish for anything? If it wasn’t against the rules?’
‘I have very few needs that can’t be taken care of by requirements,’ he said. ‘There are some fairy foods and drinks I enjoy, but I have money enough to fill those wants. Other than that…’ He paused for a moment. ‘Words I wish I hadn’t said, decisions I wish I hadn’t made, but I don’t think I would actually wish them away. They’re part of my life.’
She stared at the ground. ‘Are you lying, like me when I said no?’
He squeezed her shoulder. ‘I am.’ He paused again. ‘There are things I wish for, but even if given a choice, I’m not sure I’d be able to make the wish. Like I said before, a wish is one thing; the fallout of the wish is something completely different.’
‘Butterfly effect?’ she said, echoing their conversation from earlier.
He nodded. ‘I almost envy the conviction that it takes for a person to-’
Someone started to scream, a desperate scream-or-die shriek that rose above even the amalgam of sounds in the surrounding area.
‘Ready?’ Ryan asked.
She nodded, not trusting her words.
He put a hand on her shoulder, and they shifted towards danger.