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Authors: Eileen Wilks

Tags: #Fantasy

Mind Magic (10 page)

BOOK: Mind Magic
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“Tom is and will remain an invaluable part of our team,” Smith said firmly. “Now, Greg tells me he’s completed testing the results of Tom’s magical cleanup.” He nodded at the younger man who’d come to get him. “If you’d let the others know the results?”

Greg spoke in crisp, jargon-rich sentences, ending with, “. . . all negative, in other words. Tom has done exactly what he said he would. No one will find any sign that the files were altered.”

There were grins, a few words of congratulations. “This is it, then,” Carrot-top said. “Are we green to go?”

“If the girl follows through on her threat,” Carrot-top said worriedly.

Smith brushed that off. “I am confident she will, but if I’m wrong, it’s hardly a disaster. The public pressure will be less, but you can trust me to see that Eric acts.”

Carrot-top grimaced. “I suppose so. Still, he’ll be more motivated if the reporters are screaming. I guess we can count on her to remain a traitor, but she’s also a coward. What if—”

Smith spoke with sudden sternness. “She’s not a traitor.”

“Oh, come on. She turned on us. She puts those weirdos of Sharon’s above the good of the country. If that’s not—”

“The children are not weirdos!” Sharon snapped.

“Enough.” Smith rapped the table with his knuckles. “Demi is misguided and squeamish. Her actions make her our enemy, but that is not the same as treason. If we delude ourselves into thinking that those who oppose us are traitors, we will fail. We will fail because we won’t understand our enemies’ goals and motivations.” He looked around the table, holding each pair of eyes briefly. “Most civilians aren’t capable of putting the country first. They aren’t capable of making the hard decisions. They need us to do that, whether they realize it or not. We’re their protectors, and if we must do much of our work in secret, so be it.”

Heads nodded. Eyes glowed with fervor. Greg murmured agreement.

Tom Weng looked sardonic. “So would you say that Target Prime is an enemy or a traitor?”

Smith stood. “Oh, he’s both. No question about that. Ruben Brooks is very much our enemy. He is also a traitor to this country. We’ve known that for some time. People with nothing to hide don’t go to such extremes to make sure we can’t listen in on their calls.”

“That drove me crazy,” muttered Chuck. “I still don’t know how he blocked me on some of his calls.”

Smith waved that away. “It hardly matters now. Thanks to Tom, we know what form his treason takes. And soon everyone else will know, too.” He smiled. “It’s time for me to give Eric a call.”

EIGHT

THE
piercing alarm made Demi scowl and pull her pillow over her head. It didn’t help. Muttering to herself, she threw the pillow off, reached out, and slapped the button on the cheap clock. She sat up on the edge of the narrow bed and rubbed her face.

One forty-five. Time to get up. She’d hadn’t even tried to go to bed until six this morning, keeping herself busy by playing online games and reading posts in the forum and at her favorite fan site. She’d needed something to do in between checking over and over for a response that hadn’t come.

Today it would. It had to. Today was the last day for Mr. Smith to respond. If he didn’t, the first file was going out, and he couldn’t afford to let that happen. She’d sent him part of that file so he’d know she meant business, that she could take him down if she had to.

Her stomach hurt. Slowly she stood, wishing she liked coffee. That had to be a nicer way to wake yourself up than with a jolt of fear. Though fear did the job pretty well.

The twin bed opposite the one she slept in held a pile of dirty clothes and a top-of-the-line MacBook. Oh, shoot. She’d forgotten. Her favorite screensaver was showing, the one that switched among her collection of Rule Turner photos. Usually she didn’t leave that up because she was being a guy now. If anyone saw it, they’d think she was gay. She wouldn’t care about that if it weren’t for the “getting beat up” aspect. Lots of people in high school and college had thought she was gay, which she wasn’t . . . and why wasn’t it okay to wear a pin saying “I’m straight”? She’d thought that was a great idea, but Nicky talked her out of it. He claimed it would send the wrong message, which made no sense. Apparently she was sending the wrong message without the pin.

The Aspies in the forum thought pins were a great idea and that everyone should wear one: “I’m straight,” “I’m gay,” “I’m bi,” or “I’m asexual.” They couldn’t agree on if trans people should modify their pins—“I’m trans straight” or “I’m trans gay” or whatever. Most of the gay and straight Aspies thought it depended on whether or not you’d had the full surgery; to them, it was only fair to let a possible sexual partner know up front if you didn’t have the type of genitals they expected. The bi’s thought it was unnecessary to announce a variance between appearance and identity, since there were plenty of workarounds. And the asexuals didn’t care.

Demi thought the reason they couldn’t agree was that none of them were trans. Aspies weren’t good at imagining themselves into other people’s feelings. They all agreed that pins would work for most people, though.

Normal society did not see it that way. Normal society liked to make things complicated. And unfortunately, some people in normal society liked to beat up on gay guys. Demi usually didn’t leave her Rule Turner screensaver up.

She moved to the bed holding her laptop and sighed. He was so pretty, but looking at him didn’t make her feel one bit better today. She hurried through the security protocol and checked for flags. Nothing. She logged into the IRC server . . . several new messages, but nothing directed at her. Her heart pounding, she hopped over to the gardening forum where she’d directed Mr. Smith to post a response.

Still nothing. How could there be nothing?

The forum wasn’t down. There were new messages on other threads, but nothing on the one she’d started. The one where Mr. Smith was to respond by two o’clock today. It was 2:05.

She didn’t understand. She’d planned for all sorts of possibilities, everything she could think of. Everything except silence. How did silence make sense? Mr. Smith was a terrible person, but he wasn’t stupid. He had some reason for not responding, but for the life of her she couldn’t figure it out.

He’d be trying to find her. That much she was sure of. But he’d been trying to find her for eleven months and hadn’t managed it . . . except for last March. He’d come close then. Way too close. Maybe he was close again. Close enough that he thought he didn’t have to answer her.

But he shouldn’t think that. She’d told him. If she didn’t send a certain code, the first file would be released automatically. The others would follow on a preset schedule. Grabbing her—even killing her—wouldn’t stop that.

Why hadn’t he answered?

When Demi’s stomach growled, she realized she’d just been sitting there, hugging herself and rocking. She let out a shaky breath. Bodies were weird. How could her stomach be upset and hungry at the same time? It was, though.

At least today was Sunday. She took a deep breath, stood, and stepped carefully around the fan that was trying valiantly to cool things off. She liked a lot of things about the little Airstream trailer that was home for now, but not the lack of air-conditioning. At least she’d be at work by the time the interior temperature hit “oven.”

The bathroom was only a few steps away. She’d decided years ago that sleeping naked was more efficient, so she didn’t have any pajamas to deal with. She turned on the hot water, emptied her bladder, then adjusted the water temperature in a shower designed for munchkins. Demi was five feet, ten inches tall. She hadn’t fit under the original shower head, so she’d replaced it with a handheld.

Not that her landlord knew about the alteration. The old witch would have a hissy fit if she found out, though it was clearly an improvement.

Mrs. MacGruder was the other thing she didn’t like about her current home. The woman had mean eyes, a mean mouth, and a cold heart. Otherwise, the place suited Demi. It was cheap, close to the gas station, the utilities were included in the rent, and there weren’t any roaches. Give Mean-Eyed MacGruder that much—she was a demon for clean. The little trailer might be old and worn, but it had been spotless when Demi moved in. And it was nice outside. Mrs. MacGruder’s property was right on the edge of Whistle, and if the ground between Demi’s trailer and her landlady’s home was more weeds than yard, it had looked really pretty in the spring with all the wildflowers. They’d stopped blooming now and the mix of grass and weeds looked tired and dry, but the woods that bordered the land on one side were green and soothing to look at.

Almost everything in the trailer worked. One of the two burners on the stovetop was out, but that wasn’t a biggie. Demi only cooked twice a week, on her days off: a pot of soup on Saturday and a pot of beans on Wednesday. She fixed rice to go with the beans, but that could wait until the beans were done, so making do with one burner wasn’t hard. She didn’t have an oven, which was a shame; she’d like to be able to make cornbread. But otherwise, she was set up okay here.

Especially when it came to Wi-Fi. Her landlady’s old frame house was over seventy feet away, but Mrs. MacGruder had a really strong router and no imagination. Her password was one, two, three, four, five. Demi snorted at such stupidity and toweled off.

She brushed her teeth, humming the alphabet song to time it, then took the six steps that put her in front of the vanity tucked next to the closet opposite her bed. She ran both hands over her cheeks, frowning at her reflection. Her skin was slowly reverting to its usual smooth, hairless state. For the tenth time she considered getting more of the testosterone gel she’d used when she first went on the run. For the tenth time, she voted it down. Too risky. In Cumberland she’d been able to steal it . . . poor Jake. She spent a moment in sympathy for the man who’d been her boss at the warehouse. Jake hadn’t been that much of a jerk. And even if he had, she told herself virtuously, that didn’t make it right to steal from him. Necessary and right were not the same thing.

But she didn’t know anyone here she could steal the cream from. She could get some online, but you couldn’t be sure what you were getting from those places.

She grabbed a clean pair of tightie-whities. Even without the testosterone, she thought she made a great boy. Some people thought she was younger than the eighteen she claimed, and they were right, which was funny because when she’d been a girl . . . well, she still was a girl. When she’d publicly been a girl, a lot of people had thought she was older than she was.

People mostly saw what they expected to see. When she’d been just herself, people had expected her to be older because she was in college. Now she wore boy’s clothes and walked differently—that had taken a lot of practice—and worked at guy jobs, so people expected to see a boy. Not once in the eleven months she’d been on the run had anyone guessed that she was a girl. It helped that she had narrow hips and no butt, plus her voice was kind of deep for a woman.

Demi wrapped the wide elastic bandage around her chest. She’d never grown beyond a double-A, so it was easy to smush her boobs all the way flat. Then she pulled on a pair of baggy jeans she’d bought at Goodwill, an equally oversize T-shirt, and her shoes and socks. She didn’t have to do anything to her hair. Now that she was being a guy, she just kept it really short, which meant twice-a-month visits to Faylene’s at $10 a pop. Faylene’s was the only place in town to get a haircut, so both men and women got their hair done there.

She was ready, yet not ready. She stared at her computer. Maybe she should send the code to delay the release of the first file and try to contact Mr. Smith again. Maybe he was in the hospital. Maybe he’d died. Maybe . . .

Maybe she’d better do exactly what she’d said she would. This was why she’d broken the data up into three files, after all. She hadn’t expected Mr. Smith to stay silent, but she’d planned what to do if he pleaded for more time.

Demi grabbed two dog biscuits and a bag of M&Ms and headed for the door. The M&Ms went on the rickety front porch behind a pot with a dead plant. No sign of Harry, but there usually wasn’t. The biscuits were for Samson and Murphy. Samson was a bulldog mix. Murphy was just a mix, a charming clown of a dog with ears just like Zipper’s had been—one all perky, the other flopped down. Having to wait and wait and wait to have a dog of her own again was hard. Visiting Samson and Murphy helped.

She hummed the theme song from
Frozen
as she set off down the twin ruts that passed for a driveway along the east side of Mrs. MacGruder’s half acre of land, heading for Elm Street. Three blocks up Elm, then she’d turn onto Main. Two more blocks and she’d be at the Tip-Top.

Now that she was up and moving, she felt better. The sky was a bright, bright blue. She’d made the right decision about the file. And today was pancakes day.

Five days of the week she ate her first meal of the day at the Tip-Top Café. Monday was oatmeal with blueberries. Tuesday was an omelet. The Tip-Top didn’t offer a lot of options for vegetarians, but Frank made excellent omelets. She skipped Wednesday because it was her day off and one of her cooking days. After that came grilled cheese and fries on Thursday, the special on Friday, skip Saturday, and pancakes on Sunday. The pancakes were pretty good, but the syrup wasn’t. She’d asked once if it would be okay if she brought her own syrup, but Jamie had given her one of those looks, so she let it drop.

BOOK: Mind Magic
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