02 - Mirrorheart

46 – Decisions

Missed a Chapter?Content Warnings
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With ten minutes until Crawford was due to arrive, Ryan left, giving her one last “good luck”.

 

They had tidied the office area, making everything as presentable as possible. Ryan had assured her she looked fine – and a quick trip to the bathroom mirror backed up his words, showing her that she was probably as presentable as was possible.

 

Stef looked at the clock. Five minutes to go.

 

She opened the requiring app and set up a carafe of water with a few glasses – there was no knowing if Crawford was going to bring company. It wasn’t what she’d been told to expect, but it was better to be prepared.

 

She placed her phone to her left, a notebook and pen to her right, and sat with her hands folded in her lap. An attempt to be the perfect stationary NPC, waiting for someone to interact with her.

 

When the clock struck the hour, a business card appeared in front of her on the table.

 

At the top, it read “From the office of Enforcer Crawford”, then below an embossed silver line, a message written in blue pen.

 

{Please join me in my office. Tear this card to activate a shift.} Below was a scrawl that presumably Crawford’s signature.

 

She quickly slipped her phone into a pants pocket, grabbed her notebook and pen, then stood.

 

‘Hm.’

 

“Tear this card” brought to mind a very specific image – ripping it directly down the middle, like you’d do with a business you never intended to deal with again.

 

But experimentation was always a good idea.

 

She tore a very small corner from the card.

 

The world went sideways.

 

When the world settled, she was looking at an office.

 

If there was a sliding scale, where Ryan’s was the most straightforward kind of basic, James Francis “fuck off and die” Mimosa’s was premium, then this had to be some kind of ultra-deluxe.

 

To a lot of people, it would simply look…fancy, but there were so many details that spoke to it belonging to someone old, powerful, rich, or all of the above.

 

She dug deep and yanked on some of the Stephanie levers, ensuring her posture was as good as it could be, her face as polite and bland as a doll, and movements were such that they’d cause the least wrinkles.

 

She was alone in the office, which led to the first decision.

 

The chair behind the desk was obviously out. There were a couple of guests chairs in front of the desk – those were a distinct possibility.

 

Like Ryan’s office, there was a small meeting area – an expensive couch and two high-backed chairs. On the wooden coffee table that had probably cost a year of her apartment’s rent sat an open cigar box with a small selection of cigars and cigarillos.

 

‘Hmm.’

 

Across the office, on a wall that mostly shelves. Some books, some pieces of art, a few photos – sat both a humidor and a drinks cabinet.

 

Thoughts raced as possibilities were calculated.

 

Stop overthinking.

 

Have you met me?

 

Enforcer Crawford wasn’t there, so – if she were being paranoid, and it hadn’t often paid to be otherwise – then everything about how the office had been staged to be his first introduction to her.

 

When you could set up auto-cleaning routines, boxes of cigars didn’t get left out.

 

It could indicate that he wanted her to sit in this section of the office. He could be testing to see if she would take it as an invitation, and doing so would make her seem too casual, or too forward, or-

 

Or sometimes a cigar was just a cigar.

 

It was like the recruitment tests. Had to be. The test itself wasn’t important. What was important was how you went about it. What tactics came to you first, what attitude you adopted.

 

Or she was reading entirely too much into something innocent.

 

She sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk, her notepad resting on her knee.

 

As measured by the antique clock on the wall, four more minutes ticked by, then the door opened.

 

Jumping up would look unprofessional, so she rose slowly, measured her pace, and met him in the middle of the office. ‘Enforcer Crawford, I presume?’ she asked as she extended a hand. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you.’

 

A touch of her mother had come back into her voice, in cadence if nothing else. Measure, precise, the right word in the right place.

 

Crawford held onto her hand for a moment too long. ‘You didn’t introduce yourself,’ he said as he released it.

 

‘To do so would be redundant,’ she said. ‘You know who I am, my name, my rank, my situation. You can call me Stef if you wish.’

 

Ryan looked somewhere in his forties but seemed older than the look betrayed. However, the idea that he was over a century old was something she had to remind herself about.

 

Crawford, on the other hand, who was only a few decades older than Ryan, immediately gave off the vibes of a world-weary warrior who had seen everything the world was, good and bad.

 

This was a guy who had deserved the fear and respect that came with the rich, old and powerful impressions that the office gave.

 

It was easy to feel worthless around Ryan. To this guy, she couldn’t be more than an ant.

 

Crawford sat behind his desk and indicated to the chair nearest her notebook. ‘If I were to tell you that there’s an asteroid heading to Earth-’

 

‘Without hesitation.’

 

‘I didn’t finish my sentence, Recruit.’

 

‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘but I mean, there’s very few ways you could end that sentence that don’t approximate to “extinction-level event” and then ask if I’d be willing to sacrifice myself – my mirror, really – to save the world. And I gave you my answer. Without hesitation.’

 

‘All right. I’m listening.’

 

‘I’m probably putting a pessimistic spin on things, but I mean, there’s got to be a reason for the apparent contradiction between “no wishes ever, ever, ever” and allowing the mutants to exist. I’m genuinely, absolutely, sure that some of it is out of the goodness of the Agency’s collective hearts, but- But it also kind of sets the precedent for having some ambulatory weapons of mass destruction around, doesn’t it? You get the bonus out of that mutant’s time as an agent or recruit or whatever, but when the shit hits the fan, you’ve got a resource you can call on.’

 

‘Most eventually do come to that realisation. Fewer start with it.’

 

‘Realism has never been my issue. I’d also imagine there’s a fairly decent correlation between the amount of mirror a person has as compared to how readily they imagine that they’re a stockpile waiting to be used.’

 

‘I can’t say that most people are so blase about the idea.’ He poured water into a cut crystal glass. ‘It’s not as mercenary as you make it sound, though. First and foremost, those that join the gang of – I wish they would find a name other than “mutants” – are people we first and foremost value as Agency personnel.’

 

She nodded – that made sense. It couldn’t be every person who had some encounter with mirror would be afforded entrance into the mutant group chat. Some were probably…dealt with quietly.

 

‘And it is only in end of the world scenarios that such considerations are made.’ He smiled – his first since entering the office. ‘And those crop up far less often than you may imagine.’

 

‘You’ve got my answer,’ she said. ‘I’m already into overtime, so whatever extra I get, I’ll call that enough.’

 

‘You realise that as an agent, there are certain freedoms that you’ll lose, and that-’

 

Agent.

 

He stopped talking as her eyes started to twitch.

 

‘I have to assume you knew this was a possibility.’

 

She schooled her face back to neutral, threaded her fingers together, and drove her right thumb into her left palm, a little pain to concentrate.

 

‘I didn’t-’ She swallowed. ‘I didn’t expect you to drop it so casually.’

 

‘Is it an outcome that you’re opposed to?’

 

HUD NOW PLZ

 

Keep your inside voice.

 

BUT HUD-

 

Spyder.

 

‘No, not at all. I- I think it would be amazing.’

 

‘The process has several steps, and not all of them are pleasant. Your mirror adds some complexity, but it’s something we’ve managed with several of your peers. There’ll be a few – more than a few – particulars you’ll have to agree to. Still, if in principle, this is something you’re happy to agree to, I’ll get my people on the paperwork.’

 

What if I’m a disappointment?

 

Ryan wouldn’t have allowed for this outcome if he didn’t think you could handle it.

 

‘I was only a recruit for a couple of days,’ she said. ‘Won’t that cause an issue? Isn’t it jumping the queue or- Something?’

 

Crawford nodded. ‘I see where you’re coming from, but no. Mirror aside, this isn’t entirely uncommon – a lot of agents with children ask for them to be fully augmented once they hit adulthood. What essentially happens there – and with you – is that you have a person with rank but not seniority. Particulars will become clearer over time, but agents in your category often are treated like a variant of recruit. You’ll have more privileges and responsibilities than a regular recruit.’

 

‘Like an aide?’

 

‘Similar enough,’ he agreed. ‘And may I be honest with you?’

 

‘Of course.’

 

‘This decision isn’t entirely altruistic, even aside from the points I’ve brought up regarding your mirror. During your-’ Pause. ‘Absence, there was an audit performed on your Agency, and Ryan was one of the areas found lacking. He’s appointed a temporary aide, which I hope will be made permanent, but issuing him a secondary agent in addition to that aide will give him some more support.’

 

‘I’ll be happy to give whatever help I can.’

 

Crawford rose from his chair and extended a hand. ‘Then that’s all we need to cover right now.’

 

She stood and shook his hand. ‘Thank you for seeing me, and thank you for the opportunity.’

 

He nodded. ‘I’ll be shifting you back unless there’s anything else?’

 

She shook her head, and the world slipped, replaced a moment later with her office.

 

Immediately, she reached into her pocket for her phone to call-

 

Ryan was standing by the window with a slightly worried look on his face. ‘How did it-’ he started, before she slammed into him, matching the energy of the hug he’d given her on resurrection.

 

‘It went well, I take it?’

 

She held onto him for a moment longer, then stepped back and stood straight. ‘Soon-to-be-Agent Mimosa reporting for duty.’

 

‘I was hoping that this would be the outcome,’ he said. ‘From the moment you figured out what agents are, it’s been obvious how excited you are about the intersection of magic and technology.’

 

He pulled a small rectangular leather box from an inside pocket and presented it. ‘Here’s the technology,’ he said.

 

She popped open the box, and inside were a pair of cufflinks – small, square, each with four lines of binary embossed with teeny-tiny ones and zeroes.

 

The translation was easy. It was one of the first words she’d committed to memory.

 

S-T-E-F

 

‘I love them.’

 

‘And this is the magic,’ Ryan said as she started to fit the cufflinks into her sleeves. He set a piccolo wine bottle on the table, then poured small equal measures into two stemless glasses.

 

The gesture was nice, but immediately she baulked at the idea of drinking.

 

‘I haven’t had a drink in a long time,’ she said as she accepted the glass.

 

So many bad memories. So many unhealthy memories. Self-medicating was always a bad idea. Self-medicating with booze as a young teen was an even worse idea.

 

This was a safe place though. Safe surroundings. Safe person. This was a tiny glass of wine to celebrate. This wasn’t taking a shot before class to keep her inside voice in. This wasn’t vomiting on the quad because she hadn’t learned how to manage the dose.

 

This wasn’t her father threatening to institualise her unless she sobered up and stopped making trouble at school.

 

This was her dad, proud and wanting to celebrate the start of her new life.

 

And for the first drink in years, the first drink had for joy, rather than sorrow, she could make an exception.

 

‘Sit first,’ he said.

 

‘I’m not that much of a lightweight,’ she said but sat anyway.

 

‘This isn’t ordinary wine. It’s unicorn wine. Take a sip..’

 

She did and analysed the taste. Wine had never been on her list of drinks she’d used to get shit-faced and silent, so that was another step away from the bad memories. It was red, old, tasted expensive. And-

 

And Ryan was glowing, just a little bit.

 

He held up a hand, and a coffee cup appeared there, plain white, but…sparkling like there was some weird outline filter on it.

 

He moved it from side to side, and a faint blue trail followed it.

 

He placed it down, and the blue sparkles settled and slowly faded.

 

‘Am I high?’ she finally managed.

 

‘You’re seeing magic,’ he replied. He disappeared, shifting away, but left a Ryan-shaped collection of sparkles in the air, and another as he shifted back in, the sparkle trail following him as he sat across the table from her.

 

‘It’s beautiful.’

 

‘It’s more effective in Faerie, where you would see a hundred different kinds of magic anywhere you look, but I thought this might be a nice first experience.’

 

She dragged the cup across the table, then ran her fingers through the ever-dimming trail of magic.

 

‘Unicorn wine isn’t produced anymore, so those that have any keep it for special occasions. Weddings, anniversaries, significant birthdays, that kind of thing. I have a few bottles in storage and-’

 

He paused and looked at her with a solemn expression.

 

‘I don’t want one thought in your mind to be that I’m wasting this or that this occasion doesn’t warrant celebrating. Wine sitting in storage means nothing. Having reasons to celebrate. Having people to celebrate with. These are things I haven’t had for a long time. I don’t think you realise how significant a change you’ve made in my life, Stef. I love you, I appreciate you, and this is the first of a thousand moments we’re going to celebrate.’

 

She lifted her glass, raised it, and he clinked his against hers. ‘Cheers,’ she said softly, a lump in her throat. ‘All of that, back at you.’

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