“At a shut-down church?” Harvey said, as he stamped on the brake.
“It isn’t. Check.”
Harvey did, and then did an almost comical double-take. “Shit,” he swore. “Never would have caught it.”
“I was always a bit stronger than Adrienne. She’s a bit better at subtle. Wards, don’t-see-me’s, frozen alternatives, that sort of thing.”
Adrian Brézé opened the door almost before the car had pulled up against a stuccoed adobe wall across from the building—illegal parking on a narrow one-way street originally laid out by burros carrying loads down to the Plaza market. He could feel Harvey’s tiger alertness, the solid weight of the coach gun in his hand, and a like keenness woke in him.
Part of it was instinct: No other hunter on my ground! Kill!
Part of it was an old, old hate, like the background music of his life swelling to a pounding chorus.
He walked forward, looking upward at Ellen’s second-story apartment. It was only half-past seven, but the night was nearly moonless. The darkness didn’t bother him. His breed saw much better in it than humans even with the body’s eyes. Beside him Harvey drifted forward and leaned inconspicuously against a car, his hand inside the skirt of his leather coat.
“What is it?” he asked. His head went back and forth. “I can see the building now—two-story stucco, vigas, corner balcony, flat roof. But I’m getting... I’m not sure. Something more.”
“It’s—shit! Freeze! Don’t move!”
Adrian struggled for words to describe the construct he saw as glinting planes of light, shifting in and out of existence. Possibilities interlinked, ready to fall out of might into the is.
“It’s like a house of cards as high as a skyscraper. A probability cascade. Touch any part of it and the rest falls down before you can switch the causal paths out.”
“House of cards? That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“The cards are giant Gillette razorblades. They’d tangle any mind they hit in feedback loops—cut and rewire all the connections randomly.”
“Oh. That sounds pretty fucking bad.”
He didn’t mention the taste of it, the wrenching horrible pleasure. The vivid delirious meatiness of pain-soaked blood, the exultant carnal musk of mind-and-body rape, the desolation of death seen coming while bound and helpless. The power of it.
If she’s killed Ellen, I’ll... Then the humor struck him: I’ll kill her just the same as I would anyway.
“Shit!” he said aloud, as his awareness expanded.
The flicker of ordinary human consciousness, disturbed without knowing why.
“The Lopez’ are in; the family on the ground-floor. Get them out, Harv; nobody’s going to stay alive underneath this stuff when it comes down. Powerless or not it’ll slice their minds into sushi. Man, woman, three kids. Get them out now. I don’t know how long I can hold this. It’s like juggling knives with my eyes closed. She had hours to build it, and I’m out of practice.”
“Can’t you back out? Is Ellen in there?”
He shook his head, and beads of sweat flew into the chilly night, the smell rank in his nostrils. White puffs showed his breath.
“She was, Adrienne used her to source it, but I can’t tell if she’s still there. And we’ve already triggered it. I’m holding the whole thing up. It was unstable anyway. Shit, this could fry brains a hundred yards away when it goes. Worse than that. There could be energy release right out here in physical-reality land! Nobody could have done this ten years ago, the world wouldn’t have allowed it.”
He took stance, feet and arms spread, and began to move his fingers. Luckily the lights were out and there wasn’t any through traffic on this street as he shouted:
“Shz-tzee! Ak-tzee! Tzin-Mo’gh—”
The blood’s borrowed strength poured out of him, but the ancient tongue built his rage, made it fimbul-cold, a living presence in his skull like a fanged smile of bone. Lights crawled across his vision, patterns that repeated inside themselves, spinning away into the heart of a universe of ice and ash and winds like swords.
Beside him Harvey muttered:
“Oh, how I love it when you talk Mhabrogast to me, darling... This is gonna hurt inside a silver suit. Here, ol’ buddy?”
“That’s it, that’s the fracture line of the square we’re in. Hurry!”
The older man holstered his pistol, stripped off his gloves and held the thumbs and forefingers of both hands together above his head. Then he whipped them downward and punched clenched fists forward, as if drawing a line down the joining of two panels and smashing them apart, speaking:
“I am the Opener of Doors. I am the Watcher at the Crossroads. a-ia-tzin!” Then, hissed: “Fuck me that hurts.”
And he was running towards the door, drawing the coach gun again. Yells, crashing; figures flying past in terror. Push here. Command there. Convince his hindbrain that this could happen, then make the universe know it could—
Harvey was pulling at him; he realized he’d fallen to his knees without knowing.
“Get me out,” he wheezed.
“Oh, yeah. Pretty soon the local heat are going to be looking for a crazy old Anglo in black leather who chases people out of the house waving a big badass gun.”
He was half-conscious of his arm pulled across strong shoulders, and the smell of tobacco and Old Spice; even the burn of silver-pain beneath his armpit was faint. Harvey pitched him into the back seat, where he lay in a shaking fetal ball. The Toyota jeep roared and skidded away, tossing him back and forth. Onto Paseo de Peralta, onto Cerillos road, into the narrow entrance to the Whole Foods parking lot, then behind the store. Shoppers with their recyclable-paper bags of ultra-expensive organic shitake mushrooms and hand-made bratwurst and garlic-cured artisinal olives stopped to stare; one jumped out of the way with a yell.
Adrian scrabbled at the Styrofoam cooler on the floor behind the passenger seat and pulled out another plastic blood-bag. The cold sticky contents poured down his throat. It was even worse than the last time; he had barely swallowed the last of it before he shoved open the door and vomited it onto the pavement in a rush of red and the yellow liquid remnants of his afternoon breakfast. Another, more slowly; this time he managed to keep it down, like a stomach-full of hydrochloric acid. But the strength seeped out into him, making the shaking stop and taking the fog away from his senses.
“Oh, hell. Shield, Harvey. Shield for all you’re worth. I think I persuaded it to fall in on itself but there’s going to be a backwash.”
His own arms went around his head, in a gesture as instinctive as it was futile. An impact like an impalpable thud struck him, as if padded clubs were beating from head to toe, and a wash of heat that wasn’t really there.
“Oh, the bitch. She primed the whole place like a match, too,” he said. “But there wasn’t anyone alive in the building.”
He couldn’t see it from here; there wasn’t any smoke yet, either. But there would be. He could feel the energy release, like a blowtorch pointed at the sky.
Harvey grunted, hunched over the wheel. “Yeah. Mr. Organic Carbon Molecule, meet Ms. Free Oxygen; on the word of command, screw like bunnies!” Then: “Incoming. From somewhere close.”
Reality faded. Ellen! he thought.
In her best white evening-dress, with a silvery fringed alpaca shawl over her shoulders. Standing in some no-where, with Adrienne behind her, arms around her, head resting on shoulder. The brown-gold eyes glinted at him beside her fixed blue gaze.
“I driiiink youurrr miiiiilkshake,” the hot-velvet voice of his sister crooned.
Her lips peeled back from her teeth, and her head darted aside for Ellen’s throat.
That was a security guard, and reality was back. Adrian came upright, wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his denim jacket and reached into a pocket. The man tensed, then relaxed a little as his hand came out and fanned four crisp fifty-dollar notes.
They vanished, as neatly as the Power could have managed it.
“It might be a good idea for your friend to take you home, sir,” the man said. “I’ll clean this mess up, but you may have had a little too much. Maybe you should see a doctor too. There’s blood in it.”
“Or maybe I haven’t had enough,” Adrian said as he sank back and closed the door.
The next container of cold blood went down a little less harshly; he only had to struggle against nausea for a half-dozen breaths, and was never in serious danger of losing the battle. Harvey clenched the wheel as if it was a life-buoy on the deck of the Titanic as he navigated the awkward entrance, waited for his moment and drove across the divider to head south past the Deaf School.
“Where are we going?” Adrian asked after a gray pause.
“Albuquerque. It’s the closest place with a real airport. One we can use. I just figured something out.”
“Tell. I’ve decided I don’t know shit about anything, me.”
“You tell me something. Do you fly standard commercial flights when you have to travel?”
Adrian blinked. His mind was functioning again; he was in command of his body. He just wished he was unconscious.
“Not if I can avoid it. Shadowspawn—”
“—don’t like crowding, yeah,” Harvey said. “So what do you do, now that the Brotherhood isn’t making you account for all the receipts?”
“I usually charter a small executive jet if one’s available. If not, I buy first-class and get sozzled. I drive whenever possible. Trains, in Europe.”
The streetlights flickered over Harvey’s rugged features as they crossed Rodeo; the I-25 was just past there.
“Now, does Adrienne Princess of Darkness Brézé need to buy tickets and take off her shoes and walk through the scanner like the rest of us common sweaty human-cattle peons?”
Something went click behind Adrian’s eyes. “She’ll have her own plane. She travels more than I do, of course, and she’s got a lot more money. It’s meaningless to her, she can spend like a government. Name of a black dog, of course she’ll have her own jet! Which could fly out of Santa Fe airport—the runway’s long enough for medium-sized ones. It would be waiting for her all day, ready to leave at a moment’s notice.”
“Yeah. She wanted us to catch her on the Sunport surveillance cameras and assume she’d come in that way.”
“This is all some sort of long-term game,” Adrian said.
“We could just refuse to play,” Harvey said.
“Ellen,” Adrian replied, as if that was a comprehensive answer.
Which it is, he thought.
“She’s alive. We know that now. And Adrienne doesn’t kill her lucies all that often. At least not right away.”
“Yeah. Thanks to me, Ellen’s been kidnapped, tortured, raped, bled, and that and worse is going to go right on happening to her until I bust her lose. And if I stop trying, Adrienne will have no reason not to kill her.”
“You didn’t do any of that, Adrian. She did.”
“I put Ellen at risk. Anyone close to me is at risk.”
“She the only girl you’ve been involved with since you told the Council and the Brotherhood you were off active duty and they could both go fuck each other?”
Harvey’s voice was sharp. Reluctantly, Adrian answered: “Well... no.”
“And nothing happened to any of them, right?”
“Apart from them deciding I was an asshole even if I was rich, and dumping me? No.”
“You are an asshole, ol’ buddy,” Harvey said, and Adrian felt his mouth quirk. “But then, every woman I was ever involved with dumped me, too, so I suppose you learned it at my knee. At least you didn’t marry three of them.”
The older man went on: “Adrienne decided to come after you for her own reasons in her own time. Ellen just got in the way. And at least she has someone trying to rescue her. What do you think Adrienne has been doing for kicks and food all these years you’ve been sitting brooding on a mountaintop? Playing video games and eating tofu?”
“I... try not to think about that.”
“I’m sure that’s a big help to the victims.”
Adrian flushed, started to speak, then barked harsh laughter. “Getting me angry to get me back on my feet, eh?”
A shrug. “Worked, didn’t it?”
“Mais oui, mon vieux.”
More gently, Harvey said: “Look, I’m sorry it’s your girl. But it’s always someone’s girl, or guy, or child or mother or brother.”
“She’s not my girl. I wish she was, but it’s nobody’s fault except mine she stomped out last night. Ellen has... issues. I thought we could... be together. And I really like her. But I didn’t think it through well enough, and I never told her the truth. I couldn’t.”
“Then let’s get our asses in gear. We rescue the girl, we kill the evil witch. And we find out what the hell she’s playing at.”
He turned onto the freeway, the hum of the tires growing as he pushed the Landcruiser up to the speed limit and change. It was dense dark out here, as Santa Fe faded behind them; the traffic was light even for a weekday evening. The red lights of a Railrunner passenger train came down the tracks that ran between the strips of highway, swelling and then flashing past.
“You got a cigarette?” Harvey asked.
“Sure,” Adrian said, lit two, and drew on one himself as he handed the other over. “You know, Harv, you should stop smoking. I can’t get cancer or emphysema or heart disease. Or get addicted. You can.”
“Oh, hell, I can probably cure any of that—my Wreakings are good enough for little shit. Or if I can’t, I’d just get you to do it.”
“Now I’m your enabler?”
“This has just now occurred to you?”
After that, silence fell until Adrian flicked his butt out the window.
“She was waiting for the cascade to fall,” he said, his voice coldly rational. “Somewhere fairly close, close enough that she could monitor it. She felt me trigger it, went off to her Gulfstream or whatever it is, and up, up and away. Taking Ellen with her. Nyah, nyah, can’t catch me. She actually used to say that when we were six and playing hide-and-seek. It made me crazy.”
Harvey nodded. “That’s the advantage she’s had so far, being a couple of steps ahead. Let’s not let that happen again, shall we? We’re living in a world run by monsters. You don’t give them anything if you can help it. We’re far enough behind to start with.”
“I wish I knew what she’d been doing while we charged into her trap, though. I don’t think she was lying on a rooftop, somehow. Not her style.”
“Yeah. What was she doing at five thirty, when we were setting out to charge her electrified windmill?”
Copyright © 2009-2010 by S.M. Stirling <email@example.com>