‘I hope this was-’ Ryan started.
‘You don’t have to keep saying shit like that,’ she said, ‘or apologising, or whatever. I don’t think you know how far above the baseline of every single fucking person in my life you are.’ She pulled the crinkled silver packet of coffee beans from her pocket. ‘Why’d you get these?’
Ryan blinked and looked a little surprised at the question. ‘Well, in the time I’ve known you, you seem to have drunk an inordinate amount of-’
‘Cause you know I like coffee. Exactly. You got me something you thought I would like. And, to reiterate, I did. Last birthday present I got from my family? Diamond earrings.’
‘I’m operating at a disadvantage, but I would wager they’re not your style?’
She smiled and raised her eyebrows. ‘Worse than that. C’mon, Mister Narc, let’s see if you can see what’s really wrong with it?’
The answer came almost immediately. ‘You don’t have pierced ears.’
‘Mm-hmm,’ she said and flicked one of her earlobes. ‘That’s what my family is like. You give presents because you’re expected to, even if you don’t like the person you’re giving them to. So, for everyone on the shit list, some employee gets a name and a budget, and gifts approximately suitable for your age and gender show up via courier.’ She crinkled the plastic. ‘So this means more than a hundred little green boxes, okay?’
‘I do have something else for you, though you’ll have to thank Jones as well.’ He stood and retrieved a small control tablet from near the light switch.
She’d seen it when looking around the room but had assumed it was to control the air conditioning and-
There was a brilliant sunset over a perfect ocean out the window.
The ocean slid to the side like it was in a slideshow, and became a swirling nebula, then a redwood forest, then the bright lights of some city, then finally, back to the view of early evening Brisbane that it had been the rest of the party.
‘That’s not a real window,’ he clarified as he pressed the tablet into her hands. ‘As we don’t know where your office or suite will end up, they’re currently in placeholder positions without real views. Speaking of which.’ He pointed off to the side, at a door she hadn’t taken any notice of.
She wiped her mouth with a napkin, pushed back from the table, then walked across the room to open the door.
It led into what seemed to be a copy of the recruit dorm room he’d given her on the first night in the-
Frankie sat on the bedside table.
‘Is this my original room? Like, unlucky thirteen?’
He nodded. ‘We’ve replaced that room with a fresh dorm and simply moved this one to attach to the office space outside.’
She tilted her head at him. ‘I had like, four things in that room. That seems like a lot of effort.’
‘It’s less effort than you might imagine. And for all the changes and upheavals you’ve gone through, I thought any small part of familiarity might do you good.’
She pulled open the fridge and found the last remains of the fae candy she’d gotten as a recruit. ‘Nice!’ she cheered quietly, then laid the coffee bean packet beside them – both could serve as a midnight snack later.
Ryan retreated from the room, then returned a moment later with the phone that Jonesy had given her. ‘You will get your ability to require back,’ he said. ‘Probably tomorrow, there are some precautions to be taken to ensure that everything works fine with the mirror. Until then.’ He handed over the phone, and there was an app labelled as “Requisitions” open.
Largely it looked like a chat interface, with a dropdown box above the chat input box. ‘We use this with some contractors and others who can’t be given requiring rights for various reasons. Put your need in here, and it’ll be processed relatively quickly. Common items can be found through the menus. For custom items, describe it to the best of your ability. It won’t be as bespoke as personal requiring, as it’s simply designed as a stopgap measure. Give it a try.’
She clicked on the dropdown arrow, which opened a list with a search feature.
She adjusted her thumbs and typed in “water”. The list revised itself, giving popular results at the top, then the start of an alphabetical list of every pre-programmed requirement containing the word “water”.
She clicked on the option for a bottle of water, then the request icon.
The bottle appeared on the bedside table next to Frankie four seconds later.
‘For small objects,’ Ryan said, ‘they tend to appear on the closest solid surface. Larger objects will appear on the ground within a one-metre radius of the person requesting it, unless otherwise specified.’
‘I know all of this is a lot,’ he said, ‘is there anything you need me to answer, anything you need- Well, anything you need?’
‘It was a lot,’ she said as she sat cross-legged on the bed, passing the bottle of water from one hand to the other. ‘Like, a lot, a lot. But- But the further I get from it, minute by minute, it starts to seem like a dream. Like, you know the biggest, weirdest dream you can have, and when you wake up, you think about it for hours, imagine a movie franchise or doorstopper trilogy about it, then you like, walk into another room, and suddenly it’s all gone?’
There was a strange look on his face.
‘I said something so weird it broke your programming again, didn’t I?’
He sat beside her. ‘Not quite.’
‘Then what?’ she asked as she started to scroll through the option for “cookies”.
‘I haven’t dreamed in decades. No agent has.’
She spun a finger clockwise in the air next to him. ‘Rewind, expand and elaborate.’
‘The simple version for now,’ he said after a moment. ‘We’re generated – born – with the ability to dream. But, a long time ago, the world was threatened. A being, a force so old, so colossal it could wipe out the world without effort. It needed to feed. Instead of consuming fae and humanity, the Agency offered itself up. A-’ his mouth twisted in distaste. ‘…meal, like that, substantial as it was, wouldn’t have been enough to satisfy Sol for long, so instead, with the assistance of the Lost-’
‘Another time,’ he reassured her. ‘A way for it to subsist on dreams was devised, and from that day until it dies, the dreams of every agent will fuel him.’
‘And that’s the simple version?’
He nodded sadly.
She hugged his closest arm. ‘I could tell you all my weird and fucked up dreams if you like.’
He gave her an inscrutable look that she was sure was supposed to be the polite, silent version of “abso-fucking-lutely-not”.
‘I’m sorry though,’ she said as she rested her head on his arm. ‘That’s got to suck.’
‘There was one more element to the deal that was harder,’ he said. ‘As a show of good intent to honour the deal, both the Lost and Agency had to give several hostages over. Permanently asleep, permanently dreaming. My director, the real director of this agency, was one of those chosen in the lottery. So it may be a long time, if ever, before you get to meet your-’ there was the slightest pause. ‘Grandfather, I suppose, though I think he would abhor the term, with the reasoning that it makes him seem old.’
That was the first real time the topic of family and titles had come up. Somehow its importance easily eclipsed the fact that there was some temporarily satiated Galactus-level threat.
‘Grandfather,’ she echoed. A hundred ways to broach the following words surfaced, then got sucked back under and drowned.
She uncoupled their arms and resumed passing the water bottle from hand to hand. ‘I know what you said before I accidentally offed myself, and- And-’ She whispered a tiny “fuck” under her breath and stared down at her hands. ‘You know what I’m- You’ve had weeks to reconsider if I’m too much trouble, or if- Maybe you just felt really sorry for me in the moment and didn’t mean-’
She’d said two words when she’d first opened her eyes. “Hi, dad.” Two words that had felt so very true had encompassed the world and everything she’d wanted to say.
But maybe he wanted to back out. Didn’t want a problematic child. Didn’t want-
But he’d said “grandfather” without prompting.
But she still needed to know.
Needed to hear it in plain, uncomplicated words. Needed to guard her heart in case she needed to withdraw back into herself again. Be alone again. Be-
‘Throughout all of these weeks, whenever it mattered, whenever I felt it could give you any help or advantage, I asked that you be treated as my daughter.’ A warm hand laid on hers, and she dropped the bottle into her lap. ‘Because that’s what you are, Stef, if you still need me.’
‘Of course I fucking do,’ she said around tears. ‘I just wanted- I still don’t get what you see in me.’
‘And if I do my job right, one day, you’ll stop asking that question.’