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Authors: Eileen Wilks

Tags: #Fantasy

Mind Magic (9 page)

BOOK: Mind Magic
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“Of course.” She laid her garment bag on top of the suitcase. Her eyes lit up. “Hey, that’s an M4. Or an M4A1?”

“It’s the A1,” Ruben said.

Which meant it was capable of switching to fully automatic fire. After the incident with the dworg, Lily had announced a “don’t leave home without one” policy for submachine guns. Fortunately, her boss had seen the need as well.

Ruben could, on a whim, call out the Army, but obtaining submachine guns for his field agents turned out to be more difficult. However, FBI SWAT teams already used M4s, which meant most of the
i
’s had already been dotted, the
t
’s crossed, for those weapons. Ruben had made bureaucratic magic and gotten the automatic version of the rifle approved for use by Unit 12 personnel. The M4A1 was not, Lily had informed Rule firmly, a true machine gun. It was a carbine rifle capable of firing an average of 825 rounds per minute when set to automatic fire—which sounded like a machine gun to Rule, but he hadn’t argued.

Lily had qualified on the weapon two weeks ago, but hadn’t been issued one yet. She gave the one in the trunk an approving pat. “I don’t suppose you’ve gotten approval for the grenade launcher attachment.”

“Not yet.”

“Pity, but I am very glad to see this.” She closed the trunk and slanted Rule a glance. “I don’t know about you, but I feel better.”

He spoke dryly. “I’m hoping you won’t need a machine gun.”

“Well, sure, but it’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around. Not that the M4A1 is really a machine gun. Leaving aside the kind of ammo used, it’s not designed for the kind of sustained fire that . . . oh, hi, Charles.”

The Wythe elder had apparently decided to see Lily off, too. He wagged his tail once, sat next to Lily, looked at the car door.

“I guess you heard that I’m leaving?”

Charles nodded.

Ruben wanted Lily to sign a form accepting receipt of the weapon. Deborah wanted Lily to know that she planned to install asters and other plants whose names Rule didn’t recognize—a treat Lily was invited to share if she got back in time. José wanted Lily to know that while he and Carson could carry their weapons in Ohio due to the reciprocity agreement that state had with California for concealed carry permits, the Leidolf guards wouldn’t be able to.

Rule wanted everyone but Lily to go away.

Lily signed the form, hugged Deborah, then just looked at Rule. Apparently now that they came down to good-bye, she didn’t like it, either. After a moment his mouth quirked up. “You’ll do fine. I may be a wreck, but you’ll do fine.”

She hugged him without speaking. It was hard to let go, but he did. She turned and opened the car door. “Hey!”

Charles had brushed past her and jumped into the car. When he lay down, he didn’t leave much room for Lily. He was a very large wolf.

She shook her head. “Charles, I’m sorry, but you can’t go with me.”

Charles laid his head on his paws and lowered his ears—a submissive posture, but he didn’t follow through by obeying her.

“Charles,” Ruben said sharply.

Charles twisted around and grabbed tip of his tail with his teeth.

Oh, shit, Rule thought.

Lily said, “Is that supposed to mean something? Because it doesn’t. At least not to me.”

“It looks like he’s trying to make the sign for the Lady,” Carson said. “Normally he’d curve his body so that he shaped a circle to stand for the moon, but it’s hard to do that in the backseat.”

“I know you’re excited that I’m Lady-touched.” Lily sounded exasperated. “But you can’t go with me.”

Rule fought a brief but fierce battle with himself. One of the them won. “Ruben, I don’t wish to intrude on your business, but with your permission, I’d like to ask Charles a couple of questions.”

“Very well.”

Lily gave him a questioning glance, which he ignored. She moved aside so he could bend down and address the stubborn elder. “Charles, you made the sign for the Lady. Were you referring to the fact that Lily is Lady-touched?”

Charles let go of his tail and shook his head.

He did not want to ask the next question. “Are you saying that the Lady wants you to go with Lily?”

He nodded.

“Is that what you feel she wants?”

The wolf shook his head.

“Did she speak to you?”

His nod this time was quick and definite.

“Did she tell you specifically to go with Lily?’

Another nod.

Rule sighed and straightened. That’s what he’d been afraid of.

Lily watched him with a small frown. Ruben’s frown was more pronounced. “You believe that?” he asked.

“Sometimes the Lady speaks to an elder in his waiting time.”

Ruben exchanged a look with Deborah—the kind outsiders couldn’t interpret. “Is this something I’d know if I’d been born lupus?” he asked.

“Probably. Many elders experience the Lady’s presence in their waiting time, sometimes quite keenly, but few actually hear her voice. Those who do . . .” Rule paused, remembering Gregory Lawson, who’d died five years ago. Gregory never would repeat what the Lady had told him. When Rule asked, he’d just shaken his head and smiled, but that smile . . . Rule could only hope that, if he survived to reach his waiting time, he would be as fortunate as Gregory. “Those who receive the blessing of her voice don’t always reveal what she said, but some do. The Lady often uses that moment of clear communion to acknowledge an elder’s service in some way.”

Ruben’s frown lingered. “I should have been told about this possibility.”

“I’ve never heard about it, either,” Lily said. “They’re forever forgetting to mention stuff. Partly that’s because they’re so used to keeping secrets, but also once you’ve been clan awhile, they don’t realize that no one’s told you this or that because it’s something that ‘everyone knows.’” She tipped her head, looking at Rule. “You believe Charles. You think the Lady told him to stick with me.”

“He wasn’t lying.” Rule had been close enough to smell a lie.

“And you don’t think he’s fooling himself?”

“You’ve heard the Lady’s voice. Could you mistake anything else for that?”

She shook her head. She looked wistful.

“We hear the Lady’s song carried on the moon, and we . . . I think . . .” He stopped, struggling for words. There were no adequate words for the Lady’s song. “Hearing her song is not the same as having her speak directly to you, but it’s still her voice. I can’t imagine any lupus could confuse her voice with anything else.”

Lily’s gaze went to the huge wolf in the Mercedes’s backseat. “Looks like I’ll have four-legged company for the drive.”

SEVEN

THE
office was large, but far from plush. The desk was large, too, but old and battered. Not the space or the furnishings of a mover and shaker, not in this town, where appearance counted for so much.

The man seated behind the desk fit his office. He was pale and plump and looked like any modestly successful bureaucrat on the shady side of fifty. His head was round, bald, and shiny in the glare of the overhead fluorescents. His glasses were round, too, and rimless. His navy tie matched his slacks and the suit jacket hanging on the coatrack just inside the door. The white shirt he wore was the one hint of personal extravagance, being made of especially fine Egyptian cotton.

He was tapping away at the keyboard in front of him when the office door opened.

The man who entered was seven inches taller and twenty years younger. Something in his carriage suggested the military, though he was dressed much like the older man. His hair was dark and thick, his skin swarthy, suggesting a Mediterranean heritage—Spanish or Italian. “I had a feeling you hadn’t left yet,” he said with a small smile.

“What time is it?” The round little man glanced at one of the computer screens and shook his head. “Six o’clock already. I should let Helen know I’m running late.” But for all the distracted regret in his voice, he was smiling, too. “I suppose Mrs. Ellison has gone home?”

“Yes, sir. I thought I’d see if you want to check out the latest tests on the Prism system.”

“Oh, are those ready? Certainly.” He pushed his chair back and stood.

The two of them left the large, ordinary office. As they headed down the hall, they chatted in a mix of tech-speak and bureaucratese about Prism, which apparently had something to do with cell towers. Most of the offices opening off that hall were dark, but a couple held people working late. Their conversation turned more personal as they reached the elevator. The younger man asked the older one about Helen’s recent foot surgery. They discussed bunions as they rode down four floors.

When the elevator stopped at the ground floor and the doors opened, neither man got off. Instead the younger man inserted an unmarked key card into a slot. The doors closed and the elevator descended again, although the indicator stayed on the ground floor. When the doors opened a second time, they stepped off.

There was no hall this time. They stepped directly into a large room where a couple dozen people sat at workstations watching displays. About two-thirds of the stations were manned; the displays at the unmanned stations were dark. Several of the workers wore headphones. The two men spoke about text messages again as they skirted the perimeter of the big room, stopping at one of the doors along that perimeter. The younger man used his key card a second time, inserting it into a slot where a doorknob would normally be. There was a faint click. He pushed the door open.

Three people sat at the round table inside—two men and a woman. The woman and one of the men wore versions of the bureaucratic uniform. She was blond; he had carroty red hair. The third man had at least one Asian parent. His jeans and black silk shirt set him apart from the others, as did the way he lounged back in his chair. A large screen hung on one wall.

No one spoke until the door closed. “We’re tight,” the woman announced. She was watching at a handheld device that resembled a touchscreen phone.

The younger man pulled out a chair and sat. His superior remained standing as he addressed the others. “The curtain goes up tomorrow,” Edward Smith told them. “Chuck, please bring everyone up-to-date on your end.”

“Yes, sir.” The red-haired man pointed a remote at the screen, which lit up. A flowchart appeared. “As some of you are aware, we weren’t able to create the optimal routing due to the unexpected addition of magical protection on Target Duo’s accounts. Weng believed he could disable those protections, but couldn’t guarantee he could do so without being detected, nor was he able to determine what would happen if the ward was triggered. It was decided that the risk was unacceptable.”

The two looked at the Asian man, who shrugged. “Hey, Seabourne’s good. Not as good as me, but it’s always easier to set a ward than to eliminate one without getting caught.”

“Wait a minute,” the blond woman said. “You’re saying he warded a bank account? How is that even possible?”

Tom Weng’s upper lip lifted in a sneer. “And of course magic can’t be used on electronic records. Otherwise we’d be able to do things like, oh—maybe change the history of how funds were moved through a particular system.”

The woman flushed with embarrassment or anger. “A ward by definition is fixed. Electronic data is fluid.”

Tom shrugged. “Obviously this isn’t a conventional ward. I call it that because it serves a similar function, not because it’s constructed along conventional lines.”

“But how—”

“Give it up, Sharon. Nowhere in my contract does it say I’m obligated to instruct you.”

The woman smiled unpleasantly. “Meaning you don’t know how Seabourne did it, either.”

Smith broke in before the discussion could devolve into an outright argument. “Since we weren’t able to implicate Target Duo directly, we’ll be using the secondary plan. I’m not going to brief you on that right now, but it’s proceeding as planned.”

“And Target Tres?” she asked.

“Remains on sick leave and so not our concern, though we will assist Tom if he chooses to act. At this time, he does not require our assistance.” He looked at the Asian man. “Tom, please apprise the others of your implementation of the attack on Target Prime.”

He shrugged. “I did what I said I would. Your geeks implanted the changed data, and I made all traces of the tampering go poof and spread the changes around.”

“That’s not a briefing,” Carrot-top complained. “It doesn’t come close to explaining anything.”

Tom looked bored. “I’m not obliged to explain. If I tried, you wouldn’t understand one word in ten. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you do know something about the effect of trans-zero substitutions on immaterial matrixes.”

Carrot-top scowled. Before he could speak, the woman did. “Don’t bother, Chuck. He’s being obscure on purpose. He doesn’t want us to know how he does what he does, just in case one of the kids might learn how to do it, too, and then where would he be?”

“Still employed,” Tom drawled, “since none of your kids have or ever will have a clue how to make the potion.”

The woman lifted her chin. “You’re sure of that? We know what the key component is.”

“You probably know the key component in a nuclear bomb, too. Doesn’t mean you can make one. Though you could do that long before you could duplicate my potion. Unless,” he added so politely it registered as sarcasm, “you’ve managed to locate a kid with the Sight and haven’t mentioned that to the rest of us?”

BOOK: Mind Magic
4.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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