14 – A Few More Steps
Agent code was beautiful, glorious and the most complex thing she’d ever seen.
Stef stared at the single segment she’d pulled from the code at random, which hung in the air in front of her, thanks to her HUD glasses. Electric blue numbers and letters, line after line of a language she was going to spend decades understanding, described just part of what went into blinking her left eye.
Without much effort, she highlighted a section of code, copied it and pasted it into the notes window she’d pinned to the actual window in her office.
As she’d spent more and more time with the practice HUD, two modes of usage had emerged. One was “workspace” mode, which, although it had depth, really treated her field of vision like a computer monitor. Things stayed in relative positions no matter where she was looking and was how she spent close to seventy per cent of her time using her HUD.
The other was akin to an AR mode, where you could virtually place things into real spaces. Her notes window stayed pinned to her office window and would only be visible when she was in her office unless she remotely changed its position or snapped it back into workspace mode.
General usage of the HUD formed a natural mid-point. Tooltips and menus would appear attached to people, places and things, and more image-heavy or text-heavy apps running in your workspace.
Sometimes, though, it was fun to toggle off workspace and just look at code floating in the air. To draw shapes that hung where she created them, or to wiggle her fingers and watch particle effects stream around them.
Somehow, she’s found herself in a life where she was using tech created by magic to simulate magic. And it felt more magical than literally conjuring a cookie.
She required a cookie and scrolled further through the wink code.
Her code had been finalised. The three-point-seven version of the operating system. Selected recycled bits from a bunch of previous agents. Everything needed to do an ordinary augment from human to agent.
Bug fixing and updates and tweaks – not to mention the scary-long list of things she had to do with Combat would come after, but the important thing, her starting point, had been decided.
The problem was there was one very obvious wrinkle, one shiny difference between her and a regular human getting augmented.
But, thanks to Ditto’s collection of mutants, and various bits of Agency experimentation over the years, there was something approaching a procedure for augmentations involving mirror.
She slipped off her HUD glasses and laid them on the table beside the hard drive that contained her base code.
If things went right, she’d be an agent by the end of the week, and all it would take was one wish. One very, very specific wish, but one that had worked in the past.
All she had to do was touch her mirror and wish to become the code on the hard drive. This specificity, coupled with the mirror’s ability to interpret intent, usually resulted in a successful mirror-augmented-agent.
Afterwards, Jonesy would make additional accommodations for her mirror, conditions that would protect the thing that was literally holding her soul.
There was very little that could go extremely bad and wrong. If she didn’t make the wish right, they could try again, and with how much mirror she had, there was probably a sufficient margin to allow for a couple of wishes.
Wishes were to be saved for the very, very last option. This had to be a one-time exception because nothing else could happen without it.
Without risking one wish, there could be no forward progress, and her life would remain the few walls that she was contained to, just the same as some of Ditto’s mutants.
The phrase “there’s no risk if there’s no worth” bubbled to the top of her brain, and she let herself stew in it for a moment.
For twenty-something years-
Twenty-three, Spyder, you’re twenty-three.
For twenty-three years, over two full decades, she’d been a shit-covered barnacle stuck to the hull of a super yacht. Been a thing that people had distanced from at the first opportunity, held at arm’s length, and tried to look away from.
But…that wasn’t true anymore.
Now, people wanted her around. Now, people willingly spent time with her. Ryan loved her with the kind of big dad energy usually reserved for cartoon characters. Jonesy kept dropping not-so-subtle hints that he might steal her from Field eventually. Curt gave her space to fuck up without each mistake marking the end of their nascent friendship. Even Magnolia, someone she’d barely spent any time around, didn’t seem to view her as a waste of space.
For the first time, she wasn’t alone. For the first time, she wasn’t unwanted.
It still took a conscious effort to think about everything she had. Still hadn’t become normalised yet. Still wasn’t the first thing that came to mind when she thought about her circumstances.
It would take more than a couple of weeks to wash away feeling like an unwanted guest. To stop feeling like the place she belonged was the guest quarters in the far wing, rather than one of the rooms where “proper” family stayed.
But that time would happen. Hopefully.
And it still felt like someone could yank the rug from under her feet at any moment, and she’d be alone again.
There was a knock at the door that connected her office and the lab. The knock was easy to recognise. ‘Come in! And stop knocking; you’re always allowed in!’
Ryan stepped through, a couple of slim folders tucked under his arm. ‘I will continue to do what is polite, Miss Mimosa.’
‘Sigh,’ she said, then cleared a space at the table for him. ‘We’re doing,’ she lifted a page to make sure of the thing she’d already checked at least twenty times. ‘Part three, right?’
He nodded. ‘Yes, ideally, we’ll come to an agreement today. I’ve done my own research, seen what is normal for people roughly in the same position as yourself, but I’d like to see what you’ve come up with first.’
Of the parts of the project that weren’t directly involved in transmuting her stupid flesh body into nanites and magic, part three was the one that was going to impact her the most day-to-day…as it concerned what her day-to-day was going to look like.
It was going to be a strange position that she was in, but not a unique one. Rank without seniority made her position on the hierarchy chart come with a bunch of asterisks. And footnotes.
In practice, Ryan had said it would put her in a somewhat similar position to an aide – able to order the other recruits with ease, but anyone in a higher position than that would be tricky. Theoretically, she could order aides around, but if it was seen that any of those orders had been in error, then messiness might occur.
It would be easier, Ryan had said, to treat aides like peers and listen to those who had been in the job longer. Easier not to rock the boat, upset the apple cart, or disturb any other metaphor.
What she had apparently failed to indicate through wide-eyed anxiety alone was just how unlikely it was that she would give orders to anyone about anything.
Hopefully, they’d be able to massage part three into a shape that meant that she was in charge of as few decisions as possible, and from what she’d seen, that was going to be possible.
‘I think- I don’t think it’s going to be any great surprise that I’d like to aim for something close to scenario four.’
Section three listed ten examples of duties taken on by full augments. Scenario four amounted to primarily continuing the duties of a recruit but being present – if not always consulted – for higher-level decisions.
It would mean, if she was extrapolating right, continuing to work with Curt as though she hadn’t been an idiot and gotten herself killed in her first week, but then also attending meetings with the other agents and aides; and sometimes representing Field at events of low-importance.
‘I felt that was the most sensible idea,’ Ryan agreed. ‘As to actual schedules, I’ve got a few suggestions.’ He opened one of his folders and laid out a few sheets of paper. ‘For the first few months, I’d like to keep things relatively simple, act…almost as though-’ He cut himself short and gave a sad smile. ‘As though many things didn’t happen. After that, I thought we could begin to incorporate some short courses at the Academy, cross-training with Tech, or maybe working towards a specialisation.’
Even before the panic could begin to set in, he had laid a hand on hers, and she felt herself centre.
‘I have no intention of putting more on your shoulders than you can handle. I have no intention of bringing misery into your life. I want to see you thrive, to find something you love, that you can throw all of your energy into.’
She stood, wrapped her arms around his neck and clung to him. ‘I’m gonna try, cause you’re here to- I love you. Thank you.’ She plopped back into her chair and looked at the first sample schedule. ‘How’s all the cover story stuff coming?’
‘There’s very little we really need to do, and I can’t imagine many people will question it, this situation is so common as to be unremarkable. And it’s barely a lie. You’re my daughter, I just didn’t raise you.’
Warm fuzzies washed over her. ‘I’m also a fan of saying “I was raised by my mother and her husband,” even if it’s nicer than anything he deserves.’
‘Nothing will change legally,’ Ryan said, ‘if it needs to, we’ll deal with it then.’
‘Shouldn’t be a problem. I might as well be dead to everyone I share blood with anyway.’ She tapped her foot against the leg of her chair. ‘Was there, um, like an automatic death notice or anything in the paper?’
Ryan shook his head. ‘As your status was…unknown, nothing like that was processed.’
‘Good, cause there’s probably still life insurance on me somewhere, and those fucks don’t need any more money.’ Ryan’s face took on the same sad cast it did every time she mentioned how shit her family was. ‘We’re immortal, right? Give me a few years, and I’ll be able to purge out at least some of my family baggage.’
A small, neutral smile replaced the “your family is garbage” face. ‘Let’s work through a few of these schedule options. I’d like to submit the first draft along with the part three agreement by the end of the day.’
Next: 15 – Paranoid Procedure