Steve Dimond frowned at the door. “Tango?” he called. “Is that you? You really don’t have to knock.”
“But I might if I’m not Tango,” a muffled voice pointed out, and Steve jerked upright, practically falling out of his chair. He knew that voice!
As the door swung open, bounced, half closed again, and hit Steve’s elbow before finally coming to a stop, Constance Illian-Sims watched with a huge grin, stroking the miniature golden dragon on her shoulder. Steve stared at her in bewilderment, unable to persuade his mouth to form any words.
“Well, hello to you, too.” Constance peered into the Response Centre. “Oh, I see you’ve redecorated. Tango’s influence?”
Steve looked around at the red-painted walls, the soft white carpet, the children’s paintings in their frames. “How could you tell?”
Constance snorted. “You haven’t changed a bit. Can I come in? Good.” She brushed past him and perched on the arm of the sofa, her pet fluttering its wings for balance. “Your son not around?”
“Sons,” Steve corrected, and smiled at Constance’s raised eyebrow. “Luden’s four now, and Jason’s two. And no, they’re in the Nursery. I think my sister’s taking care of them, actually.”
“Oh, yes, the blonde with the not-quite-dead thing going on.” Constance thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I guess I can’t really pick, considering… but I’m not here to gossip. This is serious.”
“I figured that,” Steve agreed, closing the door and leaning back against the console. “Otherwise you’d have shown up sooner than three years after last time.”
“Well, I’ve been busy,” Constance pointed out. “Tanfin’s pretty self-sufficient by now, but Jasmine’s still incredibly needy, and as for Bella and Daphne – well, you know how babies are, I’m sure.” She touched her stomach, which Steve now noticed was slightly rounded. “I just hope this one’s better behaved than some of his sisters.”
Steve nodded seriously. “I can tell this is an incredibly important conversation,” he said. “It’s a good thing you’re not getting distracted by gossip.”
“Oh, hush, you. Don’t you know it’s mean to pick on pregnant women?”
“So I’ve been told. Then I think Ontic told Tango that was sexist, and Elanor - who’s also pregnant now – suggested that maybe it should be ‘never pick on someone who can probably cripple you for life’, and the conversation moved on to maiming.” Steve shrugged, waving an arm to indicate the console, the RC, the whole of HQ. “Life in the PPC, you know?”
“Well, I have a fire lizard, and I’m not afraid to use her, so you’d best be cautious either way.” The tiny dragon in question lifted her head and let out a noise halfway between a purr and a chirp. Constance laughed softly and reached up to stroke her pet’s chin. “No, you can stay put for now, Hera,” she said. “I think he’s learnt his lesson.”
“Definitely,” Steve assured her, trying surreptitiously to back away from his visitors. “I’m very good at learning lessons from Constance - I've had lots of practice.” Hera chirped again with what sounded like amusement, and settled down to watch him.
Constance chuckled, still idly rubbing Hera’s chin, but her smile quickly faded. “No, but really. Things out in the Multiverse have been getting… tense. Do you know anything about that?”
“Things are always tense,” Steve pointed out. “There’s an infinite host of Mary-Sues sweeping through the Word Worlds, remember?”
Constance scowled at him, and even Hera gave him a distinct Look. “I meant tenser than normal. Agents have always left us alone before – you know who I mean, all the retirees living in the ‘Verse – but you’ve started stopping us, questioning us. It’s like you think we’re a threat of some sort.”
Steve frowned, leant forwards, then realised what he was doing and straightened up again. “You personally? I mean, I know you’re a dangerous person, but…”
“Me, Dafydd, some of our friends – heck, Tanfin got interrogated a few days ago, and he’s only seven! It’s ridiculous.”
“Um. I think I might know what that’s about.” Steve ran a hand through his sandy-brown hair, spent a second trying to work out a tangle and failing miserably. “Do you remember Kayleigh Leonard? She’s in Bad Slash.”
“The really weird one?” Constance nodded. “I remember you sneaking off with her at Jay’s leaving do, at any rate.”
Steve blushed. “Yes, well. Um, she’s got some sort of theory about there being an organisation out in the Worlds trying to destroy canon – sort of an anti-PPC, I think. She’s been spreading rumours and making waves – you know how she is.”
“Well, I knew about the ‘spreading’ part,” Constance agreed, and Steve’s face grew even redder.
“Well, anyway, people have been getting a bit twitchy about strangers in the Worlds. That’s probably why they’re bothering you.”
“Hmm.” Constance drummed her fingers on the back of the sofa. “Any truth in the rumours?”
Steve shrugged. “I haven’t seen anything, and I haven’t heard of anyone who has. “ He nodded backwards at the console. “Everything on the network seems to stem from Kayleigh... but on the other hand, she usually has some foundation for her theories.”
“Hmmmm.” Constance’s gaze stayed defocussed in thought for a moment, and then she stood up abruptly, almost dislodging Hera. “Right. Thank you, Steve, you’ve been… well, moderately helpful. I’ll try not to leave it three years this time.” She crossed the room in a few steps, pulled the door open, and strode off into HQ.
Steve shook his head. She hadn’t changed a bit, apparently – same old Constance. She-
“One more thing!” Steve jumped as Constance’s head reappeared around the doorframe. “What did you say this anti-PPC was called?”
“Um, something about plates?” Steve offered. “No, peace… oh, that was it: Ispace.”
“Thank you! See you eventually!” And she was gone.
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