So far, the mirror hadn’t granted her any magic powers – no ability to point at a thing and zap it with a laser or to portal through bathroom mirrors.
It did heal her, though.
Papercuts disappeared immediately, and stubbed toes and clumsy shins never bruised.
It was quick and represented one of the many wrinkles with this process.
Stef stood as still as she could as Parker-1 unzipped the little square in the chest of her wetsuit – one strategically placed to preserve her modesty, and sprayed her skin with something cold.
‘This will numb you,’ he said. The bottle disappeared from his hand and was replaced with a scalpel. ‘Try not to throw me across the room again, alright?’
She managed a small smile, but she could see Ryan position himself behind Parker-1, ready to catch the doctor if there was still some kind of automatic protection system around her body.
Ryan had shown her the memory – one advantage of being a computer-person was readily-accessible POV footage of anything an agent had witnessed.
In the first moments after Ryan had brought her body back to the Agency, Parker-1 had rushed to treat her. As soon as he’d gotten close, a giant, shimmery bubble had thrown him back, a forcefield made of iridescent light.
There was a general consensus that it had been Ryan that had caused it. Some part of how he’d been connected to the mirror, to the wish that had brought her back – proven by how there hadn’t been another bubble-forcefield when Jonesy had examined her.
Parker-1 cut into her skin, but like at the dentist, there was pressure but no pain.
He cut a thin oval, just wide enough for her to jam her fingers into her chest, and stepped back, bloody gloves disappearing as he did.
Now, it was all up to her.
And nothing was scarier than having anything relying on her, let alone something as big as-
Breathe. Just breathe.
She sat, blue sloshing around the shallow tank as she did. Jones pushed the table closer to her right hand, so she could grab the magic-legal scroll she’d put together.
Her left hand rested at the edge of her hole Parker-1 had cut – already, the blood had stopped flowing, though it hadn’t begun to close.
She pressed her fingers forward, realising that this was the last moment she would be left-hand dominant.
Goodbye, my sinister life.
She could feel the mirror even before she came in contact with it. It was like…a corona around a sun, the waves of warmth, even far from a flame, except so much different and so much harder to describe.
Old. New. Young. Sparkly. Stars before the birth of the universe. Contradictions and colours never imagined.
Finally, two of her fingers touched the cold surface of the thing she had instead of a heart. And everything was just so…big. Her mind seemed to breathe, the edges of ideas ebbing and flowing like tides. Waves that were nothing but the chance for ideas and dreams.
Potential begging to be explored.
She lifted the scroll and started to read her carefully-chosen words.
You were supposed to keep your mind clear and focused when making a wish to cut down on side effects.
Her mind had never been either. And hopefully, by speaking her wish out loud, the universe could extend a little grace.
Even the crazy deserved things to go well sometimes.
Word by word, she made her way through the wish, each bringing her closer to her new life, to the first thing in her life that she’d chosen, to the first place she’d never been able to call home.
A million years ago, she’d met Ryan by chance.
She wasn’t supposed to remember him or anything about the day she’d died. He’d skipped wiping her memories because he’d expected some shiny thing to distract her. To file her death and rescue away, something to be forgotten as she grew up.
And maybe, with a normal child, that would have happened.
A normal child wouldn’t have sought comfort in those memories. Wouldn’t have held a china doll close, not fully able to understand why it brought such comfort, wouldn’t have stared at navy blue, not knowing why it felt like safety.
Any loved child wouldn’t have needed to create the ghost of a guardian angel. Wouldn’t have been so desperate for love and connection that they’d recognise that angel’s – agent’s – voice two full decades later.
A properly-adjusted adult wouldn’t have broken inside at receiving the smallest of compliments. Wouldn’t have been so afraid of kindness. Wouldn’t have flirted with the idea of going back to misery and loneliness because it was better than hope.
She risked a brief look up at- At her dad, then looked back down and kept reading.
Maybe it was okay. Maybe even not being okay was okay.
Ryan was…maybe it was rude to call him messed up, but maybe he was. He’d been just as lonely as she’d been, which meant they were perfect for each other. If she’d been more normal, more guarded, maybe he would have mirrored that, and they wouldn’t have gone from strangers to inseparable in world-record time.
And now she had a home. Had a family. Had friends.
“Please” was the last word on her scroll, and it had seemed…right. There had been a wish made for her, but the mirror still felt somehow separate, not really part of her. Something so old and so powerful that it seemed fitting to ask politely for a boon rather than demand it.
After all, fairy stories always proposed politeness as the best policy.
She closed her eyes. ‘Please.’
There was pressure against her fingers, and she withdrew them from her chest – and there was a weird, tingly feeling as the hole that Parker-1 had cut closed.
Her fingers glowed for a moment like she’d dipped them in starlight, and an electric blue outline started to run up her arm, making her stand out, like she was just a little too real for a moment. A noticeable special effect in an aging movie.
To her left was a shiny silver cabinet, its surface too imperfect for a proper reflection. Still, enough to see her head haloed in pulsing light as each strand of hair was encircled with agent blue.
Her vision…popped, that seemed to be the best way to describe it. A TV trying to decide what resolution to display a video, stretching and morphing at the edges, zooming and retracting, becoming sharper and clearer than ever before.
In the distance, in a way that she immediately knew wasn’t “real” but rather far away in her HUD, a small circle appeared, the round grey circle that represented the Agency as a whole. It blinked a few times and finally came closer, settling into the comfortable middle distance.
To the lower left, there was a notification that installation was starting.
Jones stepped into her field of vision and turned a tablet towards her. ‘It’s starting. You’re probably to pass-’
She floated, aware and unaware, asleep and awake. Everything was comfortable, safe, and peaceful.
Nothing was wrong.
In the rainbow world of her not-death, there had always been a background radiation of liminal-ness. That it was something destined to end and that it wasn’t necessarily going to be a happy, fun time while she waited for things to play out.
Here – whatever here was – was…just good.
She could think if she wanted, but there were no demands. No one was disappointed in her. No crushing negative thoughts, barely held back by a sensible voice. Just…peace. The best kind of rainy day, under a duvet, playing an old game.
Someone, somewhere, somewhen. All concepts she understood in theory.
Someone probably wanted her attention. She was probably supposed to be somewhere. But for the moment-
She floated, happy and content.
There was no tension in her body, no distress in her mind.
She took in a deep breath and felt as light as air.
Time, because time was probably still a thing, passed.
A circle appeared, the Agency logo again, and this time, when it came to the middle distance, things finally started to come into focus. Nothingness became clouds, became clear blue – blue, she was suspended in blue, but not the little tank she’d been in, this was-
The general Agency logo flipped and turned into the Field logo, and with a light chime, her HUD initialised.
Everything was exactly as she’d left it, pixel-perfect to how she’d set it in her glasses.
In the right third of the HUD was a contact module she’d been testing out – a prettier skin than the default – and it showed notifications from both Jonesy and Ryan.
Something drifted down in front of her, and she focussed on the real world – sinking slowly towards the bottom of the tank was a chocolate chip cookie.
She lunged forward, grabbed the cookie, the kicked towards the surface. Overall, the tank was probably just over two metres tall, big enough for any agent who wanted to have a splash. Unless they were in the habit of hiring Slenderman’s cousins or giants.
One more kick brought her to the surface and the small platform there – where Ryan sat next to a plate of cookies, jacket off, legs dangling into the tank.
‘You’re getting your uniform wet!’ she said, unable to keep her horrified look off her face.
‘No, I’m not,’ he said calmly.
She grabbed onto the platform’s edge with one hand and then pointed at his legs. ‘Are.’
‘How’s your cookie?’
She looked to the cookie she’d rescued, and despite it sinking through several feet of- It was fine. Not soggy. Not broken. Just fine.
Experimentally, she grabbed onto the leg of his pants and lifted it a little, bringing submerged fabric into the air – fabric that was instantly dry.
‘Oh, cool,’ she said and reached up to touch her hair, which should have been sopping, but was dry and perfect.
Without being able to stop herself, she cupped a hand and scooped some blue into her mouth.
It tasted disappointingly like nothing.
‘A lot of tanks do have water-blue mixes,’ he said, then indicated to the ladder so she could climb out. ‘But for this, it was felt that a tank of pure blue would be best.’
She sat on the other side of the plate of cookies and munched on the one that he’d dropped into the water. Wet or not, he offered her a towel, which she gratefully slung around her shoulders.
‘How do you feel?’
Another bite of cookie. ‘One day, you’ll get sick of asking that. But- Good.’ She ran a hand in front of her face, and her HUD reacted just like it had with the glasses, if ever so slightly faster and…more real. ‘It was…really nice in there,’ she said, staring out at the surface of the blue and the ripples made by her kicking feet.
Jones sat beside her, also dropping his legs into the blue. ‘We weren’t sure if you’d- That calm before your software comes online, not all augments get to experience that. I’m glad you did.’
‘Are you all right to move on to the next steps, or do you need some time?’ Ryan asked.
She leaned across the cookie plate to bump her head against his shoulder. ‘I’m good. Really. It’s weird to feel good, but I think I’m gonna have to get used to that.’
He ruffled her hair. ‘Then I’ll leave you in capable hands. But later, I get to teach you to shift.’ He kissed the top of her head. ‘Thank you, Jones.’
‘My pleasure, Director.’
Ryan shifted away, and then Jones made grabby hands towards the cookies. She handed the plate over.
‘Updates now,’ Jones said, selecting one of the smaller cookies. ‘Most of this, I don’t need your input for, so I’ll get you to run through some recalibration modules to make sure your HUD goggle settings came over just fine.’
She smiled, thinking of some of the initial calibrations she’d done when using the glasses. ‘Match-three games?’
‘Oh, definitely,’ Jones said. ‘Like I’ve said, familiar makes the unfamiliar easier.’