03 - Mirrorshades

21 – Scars

Curt opened his eyes as his alarm went off.

No nightmares, at least nothing that had survived the transition into the waking world. A small grace, and one he tried to always spin into a good omen for the day. A good start. A good day. Putting good thoughts out. Intentionally starting with a good mood. Whatever worked.

He pulled his Genie phone off the charging plate to check overnight messages. One from Carmichel – a series of gifs and personalised reaction images expressing frustration at the contractors doing the overhaul of his holiday home.

The frustrated images stopped, with a short message indicating he was going to have a beer with a project lead to try and sort out the issues. Then silence overnight. Then a message that had arrived a minute before Curt’s alarm had gone off, of Carmichael, shirtless, sipping juice with another fae man.

{He’s cute, plin. Enjoy breakfast.}

Carmichael had been calling him kallabrae for ages. Still, he’d never had a term of sibling affection to use in return. It was weird – when you were in a relationship, you could ask your girlfriend what pet names she preferred. With friends, you tended to go with pre-existing nicknames.

With his relationship with Carmichael, it was a lot harder. Technically speaking, “Carmichael” was already a nickname. You couldn’t just walk up to someone who had assigned themselves your big brother and ask what they wanted to be called.

That was the kind of behaviour that would morph the verbal noogie of “kallabrae” into a physical one.

So it had been his project to find the right word. He’d deemed it his homework for the informal language lessons that Carmichael gave him. So many options, so many histories and connotations to each word. “Bro” was different to “dude” was different to “mate”. In addition, you had to multiply that complication by about a hundred when you were dealing with fae languages, when you were an outsider looking in, someone painstakingly figuring out all the context on Faerie-wikis.

Plin was a slightly obscure word, though one that had come back into vogue and was almost a perfect counterpart to kallabrae. Almost. Plin was the form of the word used from younger siblings to older, whereas kallabrae had no age context in the history or spelling.

Plin, plainly, meant something along the lines of “I admire you, don’t let it go to your head”. Playful and teasing, just like kallabrae.

Carmichael’s typing dots appeared and disappeared a few times, then just sent a green heart.

Curt checked his Agency phone – nothing of importance. A few Aide tasks he could get to once he got Stef organised and at least nominally on task.

He showered, dressed, checked his loadout, and then checked the pen Stef had gifted him to ensure she hadn’t sent a coded message in its engraving. Nothing. As it always did, it had reverted to its original, simple Field logo.

A final check in the mirror to make sure his Recruit Curt – Aide Curt – mask was in place, then he headed off towards the lab.

One elevator ride and a short walk later, he knocked on the door to the lab – no answer. Not surprising. He tapped his ID against the card reader and let himself in – the lights were still in night mode.

Almost all the lights. There was one group of lights on over one of the monitoring stations. But only those lights. Like someone had shifted in, stood there – and only there – then shifted away. It wasn’t Stef – she was still asleep in her tank.

‘Weird,’ he muttered but dismissed it. It had probably been Jones, deciding to check in, in-person rather than look at a remote feed.

He walked towards Stef’s tank and tried to reconcile how strange his life was. He woke up every morning in a building made of magic tech and shared breakfast with a girl who was temporarily spending her nights in a tank of blue goo.

The tank would be the norm for the new phase of getting her ready to enter the world as an agent. Augments tended to be difficult, so it was protocol to have them spend long periods in the huge tanks of blue. Long, deep scans overnight would ensure that all their code was mapping correctly.

Still, his friend was unmoving in a tank of liquid, making it hard to turn down “oh shit, Newbie’s drowning” thoughts.

Stef floated roughly in the centre of the tank, buoyed by the relative density of the blue, and looked like a photo of a person mid-fall. Arms outstretched, left leg hanging at an angle, right leg slightly raised.

He hated how still she looked. How dead she looked.

He reached up and knocked as close to her head as he could. He smiled at the “baby on board” sign someone had stuck on the glass wall of the tank. A sneaking suspicion told him Parker-2, as it didn’t seem like something either Ryan or Jones would do. Though why Two would be visiting when One was her primary was-

In the tank, Stef turned over, limbs curling in a clear “five minutes more” plea, but uncurled when they failed to find the purchase of the bed that her unconscious self was clearly expecting. Her head shook, and she opened her eyes.

She floated for a moment, then disappeared from the tank, appearing next to him. None of the blue had followed through the shift, and she was as dry, despite having slept in goo.

At least she was in pyjamas for once. Full-length blue flannel pyjamas that looked at least one size too large. But it was still a step up from sleeping in her uniform, which she seemed to do all too often.

She made grabby hands at him and the usual Newbie-waking-up-brain-initialising noises.

{Require: Macro: Newbie morning coffee}

A large travel mug full of her preferred ridiculously, inhumanely sweet black coffee appeared in his hands, and he handed it over.

‘Coffee makes the Steffie go,’ she mumbled and zombie-walked towards one of the benches.

She sat down, booted up some piece of weird tech, peeled an electrode from her temple and dropped it onto the flat bed. He sat opposite her and began to go through his emails as she did her impenetrable tech work.

After a few minutes, she pulled her pyjama top off, the movement making him lift his head. She froze and clutched it to her chest, even though she wore a T-shirt underneath.

A quick requirement dropped an opaque divider screen on the table, shielding her from his sight.

This was new – or at least a variation of her shyness he hadn’t seen before. She was…really weird about her boundaries in a way that was a little hard to navigate. A blanket rule to absolutely not talk about sex unless it was necessary and was easy to follow. No touching without warning and consent, equally easy to do.

But then there were things that seemed like they should have flowed from that – like, in her non-tank days, she didn’t seem to have a problem with him sitting on her bed while she woke up.

He’d seen her in non-uniform clothes, so that wasn’t it – she’d been completely unbothered up until right now. So it had to be something less obvious.

‘Tell me what I need to know, Newbie.’

The only thing he could hear from the other side of the screen was the slight squeak as she twisted her seat side to side.

Even after a full, phone-clock minute of silence, he didn’t repeat his question. It was hard, the want to know what he’d done wrong or how he could do better, but if he pushed, she could lock up and-

There was the soft sound of her shoes on the floor.

Slowly, the top of her head and finally, her eyes peeked around the divider. ‘Can I?’

‘It’s there for your comfort, Newbie.’

Blue flannel shirt still held to her chest, she sat on the stool beside him and twisted to face him, knuckles white on the top like a safety teddy.

She looked up at him, met his gaze for a moment, and then looked down at the floor, slowly folding the pyjama top into a neat square. When it was done, she placed it with shaking hands onto an empty space on the bench.

She crossed her arms and slowly extended a finger to point at a curved scar that extended down from under her sleeve. ‘When I wear short sleeves, I feel like it’s the only thing people can see.’

‘You didn’t have to show me,’ he said, keeping his focus on her face. ‘You’re not obligated to show people things that make you uncomfortable.’

‘You’re going to be stuck as my babysitter, so you’ll probably see my arms at some point.’ She waved vaguely at her body. ‘The rest are easy to keep hidden.’

Parker-2 had offered, so many times, to erase his tattoos. Surely doing something similar would be even easier for an agent – they’d just rebuilt her entire body, after all. But those had to have been options presented.

If there was any kindness in the Agency, which did thankfully seem to be the case where the Director’s new daughter was involved. So if she’d chosen to keep them, there must have been a reason.

And he definitely hadn’t earned anywhere near enough Friendship XP to ask anything about it.

‘Do you remember how we did your loadout?’


‘You can set similar parameters for civilian clothes too, Newbie. Like, dig around, and you’ll be able to set, like, minimum sleeve lengths or whatever. Really super easy to do. I can look up the exact-’

Her eyes were blank – the look of an agent doing something in their HUD.

‘Found it!’ Her shirt shimmered and settled, the sleeves now reaching down to her elbows. ‘Thank you.’

‘Yeah, of course.’

She looked from somewhere just past him, to her knees, to the folded shirt, and let out a short breath. She fixed her eyes on the spot just past him that was “Newbie doing the less-taxing version of eye contact” and slowly slid her sleeve up, exposing the full, wobbly-C shape of the scar.

She counted to three under her breath, then dropped her sleeve. ‘It’s- Probably the one I mind people seeing the least. I always tried to convince myself it looked like a crescent moon. I named most of my scars. I don’t even know what kind of trauma processing that is, but this one’s Usagi for-’

‘You don’t need to be a weeb to know Sailor Moon,’ he said gently. ‘Now, breakfast?’

The door to the lab opened, and he looked up to see Magnolia, in a state of awake that usually meant she’d been pulled out of bed at three AM to deal with some emergency. As she walked closer, the gentle bulk of freshly applied bandages under her camisole added weight to the theory.

‘Morning,’ Stef said and moved back to her side of the table to continue pulling electrodes off her skin.

‘Mimosa,’ Mags said with a smile. ‘O’Connor.’

‘We were just going to have breakfast,’ he said. ‘If-’

‘Could we swap schedule blocks?’ she asked. ‘We only need her for three hours, and Taylor and I are already up. It’d be a favour.’

He looked across the table. ‘Newbie?’

‘I didn’t even finish my coffee yet.’ She paused. ‘But I can drink in my dumb terminal. If I can have like-’ She tapped something on a tablet. ‘Two minutes to set this up, then yeah, we can do murderin’ time.’

‘I have the weirdest life,’ he muttered. ‘Deal.’ He opened his calendar and swapped a couple of things around. ‘Can you text me when you’re about twenty minutes from done?’

Mags nodded, so he said his goodbyes and headed out of the lab.

On autopilot, he punched the elevator button to head back to Field, but as the doors slid closed, he stared at the illuminated number.


He hit the cancel button, selected the main medical floor, and felt the elevator head upwards.

It was strange how this hadn’t even been a conscious decision. No series of active thoughts that had formed a plan, just something that had bubbled fully formed out of some deeper part of his brain.

The doors opened, and he walked down the very short hall to the wide infirmary doors, which slid open at his approach.

Off to his left, Parker-1 was treating Hewitt, stretching and flexing his arm, investigating its range of movement.

‘Where’s your worse half?’ he asked as Parker-1 turned to look at him.

‘Behind you,’ Parker-2 said, so close that fight-flight-and-“shit pants and die” all tried to activate at the same time.

‘Asshole,’ he said as he turned to face the doctor.

‘Good morning to you too, Shithead. You’re not bleeding, so I assume you have some beautifully fucked up sexually transmitted fun.’

‘So help me god, Doc,’ he said as he followed Parker-2 towards the infirmary’s office. ‘If you start talking about dick mushrooms again-’

Parker-2 sat behind his desk, ticked a few things on a chart before dismissing it, and then pulled a beer from what Curt was sure was designed to be a blood fridge. ‘Well, if you’re not here to spice up a morning omelette, how can I help you?’

Curt closed the door to the infirmary – there was little chance they’d be overheard, but there was no point in even taking a small chance. ‘It’s about Stef,’ he said as he sat in the doc’s visitor chair.

He could almost see Two stop himself from making another crude remark before settling into what passed for professionalism on the “scary twin’s” face. ‘I’m not her primary, and she’s mostly under Jonesy’s purview, so what can I do?’

Two was one of the very few people – and only agent – he didn’t have to be Shiny Perfect Recruit Curt around, so he let his mask drop. Next, he tried to figure out the best way to say what he needed to without sounding like a blunt asshole.

‘I know the Agency knows a lot more about me than I’m probably aware. I don’t know how much of my family history is in there. I had a sister. She was mostly non-verbal, amongst other things.’

‘Go on,’ Two said.

‘So I’ve got experience, some experience, dealing with that kind of thing. The problem is, I know every person is different, and as much as I know I was as good as I could be, I was a kid, and human memory is fallible at best.’ He threaded his fingers together. ‘You’ve got to have some kind of psych profile on Stef. I am not asking you to tell me anything that’s on that.’

‘I would have lost all respect for you if you had.’

He met Two’s eyes. ‘I’m going to be her partner going forward. That’s already established. So, it’s practical. I also want to be a good friend. And I can only do so much on instinct.’

‘So what are you asking for, Recruit?’

He shrugged. ‘Textbooks? Papers? Some sort of something I can use to have a basic grounding so when she has a bad moment I don’t make things worse?’

This got an approving nod from Two, and for a moment, he felt a sliver of the same puppy-dog happiness Stef seemed to feel whenever she spoke to Ryan.

Two leaned forward, and a 101 textbook appeared on the table in front of Curt. ‘That’s the first thing given to any recruit doing anything psychology related at the Academy. Start there. I’ll take some time out of my day and put something together for you.’

‘With a focus on the practical, please.’

Two nodded. ‘I’ll keep that to the fore.’

‘Thanks, Doc.’

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“He reached up and knocked as close to her head as she could.”

Pretty sure the antecedent to the final pronoun is Curt?

I know you're thinking something, Recruit...x