‘Welcome Director, you can call me Ditto.’
Ryan nodded to the young man and followed him towards the elevator.
So far, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the research facility – it wasn’t in an ordinary Agency. Still, he hadn’t expected it to be.
In general, there were two types of Agency research centres – those hosted within Central itself. Central research centres tended to focus on agent – or agency – development, things classed as “internal”. “External” research tended to be things that involved magic other than blue – whether it be fae, time, or…mirror.
Due to the ability of these magics to disrupt blue, potentially harm agents if things went wrong, or just pose security risks, these experiments tended to be in independent buildings so that the possible harm to Agency staff was minimised.
In this case, this facility was disguised as an apartment building in New York. A secured front with a doorman indicated that visitors weren’t welcome – but it was also a carefully-curated amount of neglected to not unnecessarily draw the eye.
Ditto selected a high floor in the building, ran a hand through silver hair, then turned to look at him. ‘Director, I don’t know how much interaction you have with your techs or scholars in general, but- Forgive my people if they aren’t overly formal. Central tends to leave us alone. Pound for pound, we’re one of the most valuable assets the Agency has, but functionally…not so much.’
The elevator door slid open and led into what looked to be a ballroom retrofitted into half-lab, half-lounge.
A couple of dozen people loitered around – some at computers, other relaxing on various pieces of soft furniture reading, talking or playing with phones.
‘This isn’t everyone, of course,’ Ditto said. ‘I figured with your situation, it wasn’t worth calling in our dusties.’
‘You didn’t mention he had an accent,’ a young man at one of the computers said. ‘You know I’m weak for an accent.’
‘Tread carefully. He’s a Director. He’s not here to play.’
‘Pout,’ the recruit said, then pouted, then went back to his work.
‘Forgive Andy. He’s terminally flirty with any accent that moves.’ Ditto cleared his throat, straightened his red tie, and tried to work the flustered look off his face. ‘Ahem. Right. Dusties. Not everyone associated with this project has any significant amount of mirror in them – some have what amounts to dust. Those that have had wishes made on their behalf can also fall into this category. Dusties – unless they’re a recruit – just have tracking blue and monthly check-ins. They rate being in the group chat, but mostly they’re left to lead their own lives. With the quantity of mirror involved in your case, Director, I figured you’d want to talk to some of our more heavy hitters.’
‘That was considerate, thank you, Recruit.’
‘Can I go first?’ a young woman asked as she walked up to Ditto, ‘I’ve got other stuff to do later, and I practically have a verbal macro for this.’
For the briefest flicker of time, he wondered if Stef had a sister. Before him, the young woman bore many similarities to his own sleeping child – short, lank brown hair and roughly the same shaped face.
Even though they were inside, a large pair of sunglasses obscured her face, though, through the glasses, blue eyes stared back at him.
‘Go ahead, April,’ Ditto said, ‘but you owe me.’
April playfully threw the middle finger at Ditto, then smiled and headed toward a long wooden bar in front of a bank of windows.
She slid onto a black stool, dumped her bag beside her, then sipped from a freshly-required glass of water. ‘Did someone under you fuck up, did you fuck up on behalf of someone, or is this all just platonic curiosity?’
Ryan carefully considered the words. ‘Of those options, ah, “on behalf of someone”.’
‘Then may god have mercy on your soul, Aussie, and I hope they don’t hate you for it in the end.’
‘I truly hope that as well.’
‘Okay. Me. Picture’s worth a thousand words.’ She lifted a hand to her glasses, her fingers trembling just a little. ‘Sorry, this is like stripping for a new Rose hookup.’ She wrapped her fingers around the arm of the glasses, then pulled them away.
The blue eyes he’d seen through the smoked glass had been an illusion. Where human eyes would usually sit were two oversized, multifaceted jewels – clear but with shifting rainbows inside with every subtle movement of her head.
‘There are experiments that you can do on humans that you can’t do on agents,’ April said. ‘You need to control a lot of variables and factors, and blue’s a huge factor, especially when you’re playing with other types of magic. So you need a test subject whose blue level you can control. You also don’t necessarily want a recruit’s head to explode, so…you recruit from an expendable pool.’
April nodded. ‘Don’t worry, I’m reformed, but these were my ticket out of a cell. They’re an exploration of melding blue with mirror, seeing how far one little bit could go. This started as a dustie-level experiment. Basically, the idea was to do be able to do a detailed analysis. To see more than an average recruit or agent could see, even with every scanning mode engaged.’
‘By your tone of voice, I’m guessing it wasn’t so successful?’
‘Without a system connection, the amount of concentration versus the amount of data coming in makes it nearly useless. With a system connection, my operator can remotely direct scanning types, and let me tell you, that’s a fucking weird dance to get used to. Try taking a step, looking at things normally, then suddenly, everything flicks into infra-red. Functionally, I’m a less-functional drone than your average pigeon.’
‘So why haven’t they ended the experiment?’
‘Something you’re going to get used to when talking to the Freakshow-’ she paused, ‘and that’s Freakshow in the affectionate, for clarification. We know what we are, and most of us love it.’ She sipped her water. ‘Mirror doesn’t always do exactly what you want it to do. Or do something exactly the way you might expect. To a degree, the nature of which we will argue about until the heat death of the universe, it’s alive. And living things are never predictable.’
‘I’m afraid I’ve already experienced some of that unpredictability.’
‘So two things they didn’t expect. One, useless drone or not, I’m a lucky charm for the field teams I work with. It’s not what I can scan. It’s that…I’ll get drawn to look at someone maybe no one else has noticed. A fingerprint out of the CSI scanning area, someone acting suspicious, a look of guilt that no one saw. Second, and this is the weird part, these-’ she pointed at her eyes, ‘act like collectors for lost bits of mirror dust. So every once in a while, I have to get my eyes shaved. And that’s a sentence you probably never expected to hear in your life.’
‘Frankly, no,’ he admitted.
‘You’ll find a lot of wishes work like that.’ She held up a hand. ‘Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t like a sinister genie thing, like, a deliberate misinterpretation of intent, it’s just…sometimes a little left of where you might expect things to go.’ She played with her half-empty water glass for a moment before the water was replaced with a fruity cocktail. ‘What was your wish, Agent?’
He hesitated, and she saw this.
‘Safe space, man. If you’re here, and people know why you’re here, then you don’t have to fear talking about it. If people don’t know why you’re here and you’re messing with mirror, then, Christ, the size of your balls.’
‘This is all, ah, above-board,’ he responded. ‘Sanctioned.’
‘So?’ April prompted.
‘For someone to come back to life.’
‘Oh.’ Her answer was barely more than a breath, and she spent a moment with her cocktail. ‘Serious shit then. How much mirror?’
‘From what-’ he paused on the strange name, ‘Ditto has told me, it’s considered the high end of the scale.’
April took a look around the room at her companions with their own reflective qualities and stories. ‘I know Ditto doesn’t get much of a chance to show us off, but there’s a lot of people here who aren’t approaching the level of shit you’re dealing with.’
She required a tablet, held it in both hands, and panned slowly across the room. ‘Sec,’ she said and busied herself with it for a few minutes.
‘Okay, here,’ she said and pressed it into his hands. ‘This is everybody here.’ On the screen was a list of the people present. Each with an official Agency ID photo and some quickly-typed notes beside them. ‘Generally speaking, there are a few ways we’re categorised, and I’m not going to bore you with that, but the alphas and gammas should get the least of your time. Some are great people or have fascinating origin stories, but all of their mirror amounts are on the left side of the bell curve. Betas and deltas, for today, that’s where your focus should be.’
‘Thank you, Recruit.’
Previous: 35 – Waiting for Indigo