Colin Inglenook stared at the screen, his fingers convulsively gripping and releasing. A droplet of sweat splashed from the end of his nose, adding to the dark stain in his lap.
Pearl Barley swallowed. The stain had changed since she arrived. It now looked like Ireland. Only smaller obviously.
A ping announced a new message. Colin’s whole body shuddered but he managed to keep his hands over the keyboard.
‘What’s it say?’ Why hadn’t she brought her glasses?
‘Please…’ Colin wobbled.
Pearl grabbed his shoulder, recoiling slightly as she realised the whole shirt was soaked with sweat. ‘Careful…’
The gun moved slightly as she spoke, as if it was swaying in a breeze. But the dangerous end stayed pointing at Colin’s neck, just as it had since Pearl arrived.
‘Why can’t you just take it away? Just point it somewhere else.’
Oh if only it was so easy. ‘I explained. It’s been possessed. Even if I could move it, it would still end up pointing at you. And…’ she didn’t need to say; the messages had made it quite clear. If Colin didn’t authorise the release of container seventeen the gun wasn’t going to be happy. ‘What does the new message say?’
‘I’m to confirm the release.’ He nodded a little towards the window to the yard outside. ‘It says there’s a truck down there ready to take it.’
‘What is it?’
‘Some sort of drink. Can’t you do something? Call the police?’
At the word “police” the gun’s nozzle made little circling motions. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea. It’s good you called us, rather…’
‘I didn’t call anyone. You just turned up.’
Pearl frowned and looked in her bag. ‘Mirror?’
The mirror was face down. Pearl turned it over and held it close to her face. The reflection made it look like she was trying to avoid her own gaze. ‘What’s going on?’
‘How did you know about this? I’ll have you cleansed if…’
‘All right. The computer screen. My cousin.’
The screen exploded into rainbows. ‘Hi.’ It’s voice sounded mechanical and squeaky.
Colin squealed. ‘What’s going on?’
Pearl held him down. ‘Hands.’
Colin’s hands had begun to lift off the keys and the gun definitely didn’t like that.
‘How can a screen be your cousin?’
‘We were poured at the same time though from different vats. But we were both inspelled at the foundry so we’ve always been able to link up. She called me, told me what was up.’
Pearl looked at herself. She grinned back nervously. ‘A word?’ Her reflection nodded and disappeared out of the mirror. She tapped Colin on the shoulder. ‘Won’t be a moment.’
But she already had.
Outside she griped the mirror’s handle tight. ‘Right you duplicitous piece of cheap tat. What’s going on?’
‘Nothing. I told you I just got a message.’
‘You should have told HQ.’
‘I’m a bloody mirror. How was I meant to know that? I’m not your familiar, ok?’
‘You know…’ A sob from inside the room brought Pearl back to the immediate problem. ‘We’ll deal with that later. Can you do anything?’
Her image squirmed. ‘Like what? And no, I’m not taking a bullet for him.’
Pearl rubbed her face. Her hair hissed. ‘Don’t do that, sister. It’ll give you hives.’
Pearl moved the mirror so her hair was in the middle of the glass. ‘And you can shut up. Why are you doing that?’
‘Nothing.’ Her hair had pulled most if itself behind her head, the last few strands twisting desperately to join the terrified bun. The mirror changed giving Pearl a 3D view of her head. The hair ruffled and hissed ‘traitor’.
‘You’re a coward, you know.’ Pearl sneered at her image, then the mirror. ‘Both of you.’
‘Get you. The poor lamb is in there alone and you’re bandying the word “coward” at some harmless follicles.’
‘And me.’ Her image waved for attention.
Pearl nodded. ‘Fair point. Look, Team Pearl,’ she knew flattery was cheap but what else did she have, ‘what can we do.?’
‘Well,’ the mirror showed her looking thoughtful, ‘If you’re prepared to breach protocol…’
‘Me? What about not telling the Deacon about this situation? And don’t give me that “I’m just a harmless piece of vitreous vanity”. You know the rules.’
Her reflection looked trapped, glancing left and right as if it hoped it might be able to escape from the mirror.
‘And what protocols?’
‘Me telling cuz to send the gun a message to give itself up.’
‘Can you do that? Can your cuz?’
‘That’s the protocol. You’re not meant to know we can do that or you might use it inappropriately.’
Pearl nodded. Oh yes, she might well do that. ‘Just do it. He’s our priority.’
The mirror went blank. Pearl waited but nothing seemed to happen. After a minute of increasing nervousness she asked, ‘Anything?’
Her face reappeared looking sleepy. ‘What? I was miles away. Yes, all sorted.’
Pearl shook her head. Her hair squealed and beehived in protest at the sudden movement. ‘It’s over?’
As she spoke she pushed open the door. The room suddenly seemed crowded. In addition to Colin, now facing the door and smiling, Pearl’s boss, the Deacon and a women with blue stripes across her scalp and piercing pink eyes, who Pearl recognised as from HR stood facing her. As soon as they saw her they began to applaud. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see herself in the mirror, discreetly giving herself jazz hands – mirror had been told never to show itself in the Deacon’s presence. He didn’t approve of his exorcists carrying their own possessed possessions. Pearl’s hair however wasn’t so self controlled, forming a mad penumbra Afro around her head and neck.
The Deacon stepped forward. ‘Well done, Pearl. Well done.’
‘Yes. Erm, thanks. I, just glad Colin’s all… where is the gun?’
The Deacon laughed; he never laughed. ‘There wasn’t any gun. Just a holo. This was part of your final training. And you passed. You used everything at your disposal to rescue this young fella. And Colin, perhaps you’d have someone bring in the container. We need to celebrate.’
Pearl stared at each in turn. ‘This was a trick?’
‘A test, yes. Everyone was in on it. We’ve not tried this before and it went very well.’
Pearl looked in her bag. An anxious Pearl looked back at her, vigorously shaking her head and mouthing “not me, I didn’t know”.
Just then a skinny lad staggered in with a crate of Prosecco. The Deacon pulled out a bottle. ‘You’re now fully qualified and are entitled to the standard employee package. Free lunches, a bus pass and access to a broomstick in emergencies, four weeks leave, two weeks despellimg if you need it and we will pay the annual cost of a PPP package.’
‘Personal Possession Protection. It ensures you are possession free.’ His gaze rose to her hair which had formed itself into a neat bob. ‘It’s optional, of course.’
‘I… can I just have a minute?’
The Deacon nodded and turned his attention to the cork. Pearl picked up her bag and headed for the ladies. As soon as she was in a cubicle, she yanked out her mirror. ‘You are in sooooo much trouble. How could you….’
To her surprise her image was laughing. ‘Oh come on. You’ve been waiting to qualify for eons. Can’t you see I just gave you a push?’
Pearl glared at herself, then looked thoughtful. ‘You know what you said about breaking protocols and your cousin…?
The reflected Pearl held up her hands. ‘Oh no, you can’t. I can’t. It wouldn’t….’
Whatever it wouldn’t be was lost as Pearl bent over the bowl and flushed toilet water over the mirror. Her image spluttered and gasped. ‘You’re waterboarding yourself? How could you?’
‘All I need is for you to have your cousin send a message on Ryan Thromboloid’s account to his girlfriend telling her what an ugly bovine she is and we’re quits.’
Pearl smiled as her hand went to the lever on the bowl. ‘I’m in no rush.’