Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 12

    Laughing when something goes wrong is a natural human reaction. It’s a line of defense for our sanity and it can diffuse a many different calamities. The downside is it also makes us look guilty as sin.

    “What the hell was that? And what are you smirking about?” Stone screamed at me.

    “The gunshots? I’m guessing that the guys who blew up my building are here to finish the job. Very interesting that they’re willing to kill you too though.” I said.

    Whoever the boss of the secret society hit squad was, they apparently didn’t care about offending the biggest, most powerful gangster in the city. Or they thought a surgical strike could take Stone out before he became a problem. I thought back to how angry Madelaine Deckard had been after Stone had brushed her off earlier in the evening. Angry enough to kill him if she was the society’s leader? That would depend on how crazy she was. Secret society’s don’t usually put a premium on sanity though so “full on fruit loops” wasn’t an unthinkable possibility.

    “Interesting is it? You bring this kind of trouble into my house? You’re going to learn what interesting is. After I take care of them, I’m going to come back here and make you sing your lungs out.” Stone said as he backed away.

    “If you go out there, the attackers will kill you.” Way said, her voice calm but firm. She was speaking to Stone but looking at his bodyguard.

    “My club, my town, my rules! Nobody tells me what to do!” Stone yelled and reached into his pocket to draw his gun.

    Only to discover that it wasn’t in its holster.

    What? He’d been standing two feet away from me, paying no attention to where my hands were! It would have been criminal not to steal from him!

    He fumbled around for a moment, and then looked wildly around the room as though the gun might have jumped out of its holster on its own. It took him several seconds to notice that I was holding the battleship sized cannon he had been toting around.

    As Way predicted, his bodyguard was quicker on the uptake than his boss. He’d drawn his own hand cannon and leveled it in the direction of my head before I even saw him move. Since she’d been expecting that, Way had the gun that I’d given her drawn and trained on the bodyguard just as quickly.

    A silent moment followed the appearance of the deadly hardware as all parties took stock of the situation. Since he was the one person in the room who lacked a firearm, Stone was at the greatest disadvantage, so of course he was the first to speak.

    “You ain’t got the guts to…” he began, all bravado and contempt.

    I pulled the trigger.

    Or rather, I pulled the trigger after pointing the pistol at one of the uglier vases in the room.

    Before the barrel cooled, I pressed the end of it to his forehead. It wasn’t hot enough to burn him, but the heat helped drive home the point the thunder of the shot had made.

    I glanced over at the bodyguard. He knew what I was doing. This was negotiation. Stone knew it too. That helped a lot. The moment when we all decided to murder each other wasn’t here yet and both Stone and his bodyguard knew they were better off waiting for the situation to change in their favor.

    “Look in my eyes Eddie.” I said, just to make the point crystal clear. “Am I just some ‘normal dame’?”

    There’s nothing magic about my gaze. Not on Earth-Glass at any rate. When Eddie Stone looked into my eyes all he saw were irises and pupils. People convince themselves that they can read more in those than they actually can. “The eyes are the window to the soul”, or so goes the saying. In Eddie’s case, he was very lucky he couldn’t see my soul, or anything else that I hid behind the dark of my eyes.

    What he could see was how I held his gaze. Calm and steady. Unafraid. I felt the world groan a little at that. “The Amazing Jin” hadn’t been exposed to the sort of mayhem that would leave her blaise about holding a gun on a gangster. I was letting a little too much of my real self bleed through which in turn made my “Amazing Jin” act less convincing. Within limits that was fine. People can be all kinds of surprising in stressful situations. So long as I didn’t go over the line and show Eddie one of the sides of myself that absolutely couldn’t exist on Earth-Glass, the world could grumble all it wanted.

    “No. I guess you ain’t at that.” Stone said, releasing some of the tension from the room.

    “Good. I’ll put our cards on the table then. We came here to find out what you were up to. With what we’ve discovered, I can tell you’re not the guy we’re looking for, but you’re mixed up with him somehow. That’s lucky for you. It means Way and I have a reason to help you stay alive.” I said.

    The idea that Eddie Stone was the dreamweaver we were looking for had been a long shot. How he reacted under stress had confirmed the impression I got from questioning him. He was dangerous, but only in a very mundane sense.

    “This is you keeping us alive? I’d love to see what it’d look like if you wanted us dead.” Stone said, the anger in his voice replaced with cocky self-assurance.

    “No. You wouldn’t.” Way said. She and the bodyguard were glaring at each other. There was no anger in their expressions. No kindness either. At best you might call it professional respect.

    “Unless I miss my guess, we need to get out of here immediately, and not through any door they can see.” I said.

    “You think I’m gonna let anybody shoot up my club and get away with it? You might as well just shoot me now.” Stone said.

    “They’re not going to shoot this place up Eddie. Just the guys that were left guarding it. Once they got a clear path to your basement, they’re going to make for your boiler.” I said.

    “The boiler? What do they care about the boiler for?” Stone demanded.

    “You know a lot of folks right? Guys in the fire department too? You know what happened to our apartment? These guys aren’t regular crooks. They’re organized and they’ve got at least one guy on the payroll who likes setting fires.” I explained.

    “Oh no! Oh hell no they are not burning down my club!” Stone swore.

    A violent bang shook the building and nearly knocked me off my feet. Stone tumbled into the cushioned chair that was behind him Way and the bodyguard twitched slightly but never lost their aim.

    “Apparently that’s exactly what they’re going to do. We have to leave right now. Where’s your secret passageway out here.” I asked.

    Stone ignored me and got up to run to the door. He would have run out and fought with tooth and nail if he had to, except that his bodyguard stopped him.

    “Boss. They’re right. I can smell smoke already.”

    “What?” Stone looked bewildered. He wasn’t used to bad nights like this anymore. As an aggressive jerk, he was almost always the one making the first play and causing other people grief. I had to suppress a smile at the thought of cosmic justice catching up with him (not that it actually existed as such in Earth Glass’s reality, but sometimes random chance could do a decent impression of it).

    “Boss, anybody who could get through the boys like that and bomb us that quickly? They’re good boss.” the bodyguard said. I saw what Way meant about not fighting him. He looked like the only thing between his ears was more muscle, but he was intuiting what was going on the same way we were, and we had more experience than anyone ten times our ages should have had.

    “So we just give ‘em the club?” Stone yelled. I could hear it in his voice though; he knew his bodyguard was right. He knew to trust him. He just didn’t like it.

    “The rest of our guys are all out , I think we round them up, come back and hit these jokers hard. Make it a real Red Christmas!” the bodyguard said.

    “Don’t think we can shoot our way out?” Stone asked.

    “No.” the bodyguard said.

    “What if we use the skirts here as cover?”

    “They’ll shoot through us and keep shooting until none one is moving.” Way said.

    “Oh, well we wouldn’t want that then now would we.” Stone said.

    “It would be inconvenient.” I agreed.

    “So tell me why I shouldn’t just leave you here to burn.” Stone asked.

    “We’ll skip the human decency angle and go right to what really matters. You’ve got nothing on these guys. The only people you had who laid eyes on them stopped breathing a couple seconds later. With how good these guys are you know your boys in the field are going to turn up nothing on them.” I said.

    “I got boys everywhere. They’ll find these guys just fine.” Stone said.

    “Really? You think guys like this just rolled into town today? They knew how to find out who we were and where we lived. They knew how you worked well enough to wait till you sent out most of your men looking for them. Smart money says these guys have been here a few months at least. And you didn’t hear anything about them that whole time did you?” I asked.

    “You don’t know what I heard.”

    “Eddie, come on, like you would let a bunch of killers set up shop here and not pay tribute to you? You’re a lot of things Eddie but you’re not stupid. Don’t think I’m going to make the mistake of assuming that you are.” I said.

    “Ok. Fair enough. But you ain’t gonna try to tell me you know these guys are ya? That a stage tramp’s got a line on them when my best boys ain’t seen hide nor hair of ‘em?”

    “I don’t like insults Eddie. Don’t make me start shooting off body parts to remind you. And, yes, you’re going to believe that we know those guys. Seeing as how they’re pretty desperate to kill us, seeing as how they’ve blown up two buildings so far trying, and seeing as how we’re not dead yet, you’re going to take the safe bet and assume that we’re just a little more on the ball than they are.” I said.

    “So what’s that do for me?” he asked.

    “You want these guys. I believe you were mentioning a ‘Red Christmas’ right? No matter what happens to us, you’ve got to make an example of them if you want to stay in business. Do you think I’m going to mind what you do to them? You know, given that they’re trying to kill me? Or do you think I’ll hand them to you on a silver platter so that you can do the dirty work that you do best and I can walk away with lily white hands?” I asked him. It was a risky question because neither alternative was the truth, but the smile that I saw blossom on his face told me he’d bought into it.

    Without waiting for any more discussion, Stone moved over to one of the less tacky statues in room. It was a small bust of Napoleon which rested on a table that was covered with various bottles of alcohol. He turned it’s head around and flicked a small tab on it to reveal a key that had been concealed inside.

    The key fit into the lock of a safe that lay behind one of the paintings in the room. The safe in turn contained a mechanism that unlocked a large tile in the floor. The bodyguard raised the tile to reveal a plain looking tunnel underneath. For as elaborate as the entrance was I’d almost expected  there to be a rocket propelled getaway car waiting for us, but alas, Eddie Stone didn’t go in for that kind of extravagance. If we wanted to get out we were going to need to hoof it.

    “Wait, how did you know about this?” Stone asked as he got on the ladder to descend to the tunnel.

    “The private room of the city’s most powerful gangster? If you didn’t have a secret way out of here I’d have shot you for incompetence.” I said, only half joking. In truth, I wouldn’t have shot him , I just would have put him back on the list of possible reality cheaters since no one that incompetent could have made it to Stone’s position without some kind of supernatural aid.

    “Funny.” he said and headed down the ladder.

    I headed down next, followed by Way and the bodyguard.

    “This little stand-off we have going here ain’t going to work when we make it to the street. Gimme back my piece and we’ll leave like civilized people.” Stone said.

    “I wish I could Eddie, but somehow I can’t shake the impression that you’d be just as happy to shoot me as the guys who burned down your club.” I said. I was under no illusions about the damage I’d done to his ego. Eddie Stone wasn’t an idiot but people with damaged egos can do the most idiotic of things no matter how smart they are otherwise.

    “But I need you, don’t I?” he said, all fake sincerity in his voice.

    “Since when has that stopped you from icing somebody who mouthed off to you?” I asked. The bodyguard, of all people, cut short a chuckle at that. Stone frowned and looked at him with a silent sneer.

    “You are too smart for your own good sister.” Stone said, still frowning.

    “I get that a lot from guys like you.” I said. It wasn’t helping the situation in terms of defusing him, but the banter was keeping both Stone and the bodyguard’s attention on me, which left Way free to watch our flanks.

    “How secure is the other end of this tunnel?” Way asked.

    “Why?” Stone asked.

    “Because we have company.” Way said.

    We went quiet as church mice. For a moment silence reigned and then from around the next corner came the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked.

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 11

    The quiet moments leading up to a conflict are interesting. There’s a sense of impending doom that can scramble your thoughts or focus them or do both at once. People in power count on that, whether they’re aware of it or not. Their confidence allows them to approach a conflict without being burdened by the fight or flight response. Fear and adrenaline can amp up your physical abilities but it’s calm that enhances your most powerful weapon. Being able to think when those around you are driven to stupidity can make all the difference in how a conflict plays out.

    Often, the powerful don’t even need to do much thinking. They know what they want, and experience and confidence tell them they’re going to get it. They may have a set of strategies they employ to make that happen with a minimum of fuss, or they may just bull through encounters by sheer force of personality. Either way though, their minds aren’t chewed up by worry. Worry is for the little people. Or so the theory goes.

    In practice, on at least some level though, everyone is aware of how small they really are. As the top gang boss in Los Diablos, Eddie Stone was the most powerful man in the city, and one of the most powerful men in the state. For all that power though, anything from a single bullet to bad plate of shellfish could still spell the end of him. If that thought didn’t keep him up at night, there was the more obvious problem that the power he held was largely given to him by his supporters.

    A guy who got to the top by backstabbing, double dealing and cheating the system couldn’t help but be aware that his empire of “loyal guys” would be loyal right up to the moment when it benefited them more not to be. Some gangsters let that make them paranoid. Some lived in denial. Some did both.

    Boss Stone had developed his own form of craziness to get through the day. Where some gangsters hid what they were, Stone erected monuments to his sins. The Chimera Club was more than a popular night spot. It was an invitation for the law, his rivals and anyone else who thought they were up to it to attack him. In place of security he had cigarette girls, in place of locks and fences, Stone had the main doors permanently wedged open. It was a declaration to the world that Stone was ready for anybody who wanted to try taking his place.

    I had to wonder as we walked into the dim entryway if there wasn’t a part of Stone that regretted that arrogance at times like this.

    Shurman’s death had drawn attention to the club, but much worse than that it had brought chaos to it as well. Eddie Stone could handle attention. From the police, from the media and from high society. He lived for it. Chaos though was another matter. Chaos threatened to destroy the illusion of control he held.

    If Stone has shot and killed Shurman on stage that would have been fine (in Stone’s eyes). It would have shown that he was brutal, but in charge, which was pretty much exactly the image he liked to convey. That someone in Stone’s “house” had been murdered without Stone’s approval though showed that he wasn’t in charge. That things could happen that Eddie Stone had no control over whatsoever.

    Like many men of power, being reminded that he was weak was the one thing “Boss” Eddie Stone could not tolerate.

    “Looks like Mr. Stone is in a meeting.” I said as the two thugs that were escorting us lead us into the auditorium. The theater crowds had gone home for the night when the police closed the club down for their investigation. A new crowd had taken their place though, one that was made up of tough guys, thugs and other low level gangsters. Stone stood on the stage along with his giant bodyguard. The men in the audience were silent and still as church mice. Stone on the other hand was pacing and swearing like a sailor with ten stubbed toes. These were the minions who had failed him, who had let chaos catch him unawares, who had allowed him to look weak. He hadn’t had a good night, so they were going to have a miserable one.

    He was on a roll with his cursing but it didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular.  Seeing us enter shook him out of whatever train of thought he’d been riding and brought him back to focusing on the people he was chewing out.

    “So this is what we’re gonna do. You all are gonna put the word out. Let everybody know that I want this guy and I want him alive.” Stone said to the assembled gangsters.

    “What are ya gonna do to him boss?” someone called out from the crowd. Directions to go make someone else’s life miserable were exactly what this audience was waiting for.

    “I don’t know yet. I’m thinking I’ll get…creative. Maybe have us a Red Christmas and decorate the Dwan.” Stone said with a big cruel smile. The ‘Dwan’ was one of the bridges that led to Fairbanks Island. The image of a “Red Christmas” made it all too clear what they’d be decorating the bridge with if they could catch the shooter.

    I remembered to recoil from that idea after a second. It wasn’t always easy to remember to be a human. There were parts of me that could have given Stone lessons in “creative cruelty” which would have melted his mind. Even on a world like Earth Glass I knew how to hurt people more than they could believe. That wasn’t who I wanted to be though. Ever.

    It was hard to keep hold of that resolution when dealing with people like the assassins who were after us though. They’d shot at me and, worse, at Way. They’d killed someone who I knew was at the very least a decent man, and possibly a pretty good one. And they’d burned down a building with families inside it. Part of me was quite on board with Eddie Stone’s plans for the shooter.

    I was a dreamlord though and that part of me was one that I had a responsibility to control. Eddie Stone’s options were limited. Violence and cruelty weren’t the only tools he had, but they were the ones he understood best. Even limited as I was on Earth Glass, I had a lot more available to me, both in terms of options and understanding.

    So I tucked away my bloodlust and frowned at “Boss” Eddie Stone as he looked to the back of the auditorium where we stood. We were too far for my expression to register but my body language threw him off enough to do a double take. Apparently he was expecting us to be cringing or cowering or in some other “girly” pose. Anyone who knew how to fight could take one look at Way and know from how she moved that she wasn’t the “cowering” type. As for me, a room full of thugs wasn’t even enough of a threat to register on my danger scale given the things I’d faced in the last four years. I didn’t project the same quiet, deadly competence that Way did. I think I just read as unnerving and inhuman when I was in a bad mood.

    Stone waved the two goons to take us into one of the rooms that adjoined the back of the auditorium. Apparently we weren’t going to questioned in front of the group. That was good for us and for Stone, given how I expected the conversation to go.

    “You two wait here.” the thug who’d driven us to the Club instructed as he shut us into a lavishly decorated private suite.

    “I take it you’re planning to interrogate the gangster?” Way asked after the two thugs left.

    “We might have it all wrong. Stone might be our dreamweaver. It would explain how he built his empire so quickly.” I said.

    “Possibly. There are a lot of ‘disappearances’ that can help explain that too though.” she said.

    “You’re probably right. I’m not seeing any reality fractures here, so odds are he earned his money via good old fashioned “murder”. He’s tied up in this though, so even if he’s not our dreamweaver he may know something we can use.” I said, passing a table topped with elegant crystal knick-knacks that had been set up as an attempt to add a touch of class to the environment. It, along with the rest of the decorations in the room, failed in that endeavor and instead screamed that the decorator had more money than artistic sense.

    “His bodyguard might be an issue if we need to leave before we’re invited to.” Way said as she settled onto one end of a small couch in the center of the room.

    “He is pretty big.” I agreed as I settled down into the couch beside her.

    “He’s a fighter too. Don’t tangle with him if you don’t have to.” she warned.

    “Are you calling dibs this early?” I asked her.

    “You get to have your fun chatting with the big bad gangster.” she reminded me.

    My attempt at a witty reply was cut-off by the door to the room opening. Stone and the wall of muscle that was his bodyguard entered, still talking to one of his underlings.

    “Yes I want you to talk to the cops. Talk to everybody! I want this guy delivered to me before my morning paper gets here!” Eddie Stone bellowed. The underling he was talking to fled without asking another question. I clucked my tongue and shook my head.

    A guy who was in charge of as many people as Eddie Stone was should have been better at people management than that. Leadership through anger bred subordinates who couldn’t think for themselves and were paralyzed with indecision in any but the simplest of situations. If we hadn’t been otherwise engaged, it would have been fun to take the cities gangs away from Stone by simply training up a replacement who had some actual people skills.

    “So do you dames know why you’re here.” Stone asked after his bodyguard closed the door.

    “Your boys said you liked our act and wanted to give us a job as the headliners for the show.” I said. No harm embellishing a little.

    “Like your act? Yeah, I liked your act just fine. Right up to the part where somebody dropped a stiff on my stage.” Stone said, pacing forward to loom over us as he spoke. He wrinkled his nose in disgust as he got close. It took me a second to figure out where that came from; I still reeked of smoke from the burning building I’d been in.

    “That bit wasn’t part of our program.” I said, looking up into Stone’s eyes without flinching. He wasn’t a big man, but since we were sitting he managed to loom over us.

    He held my gaze a couple of long moments before breaking away to start pacing the room again. Before he turned his back to us, I saw a scowl of confusion and irritation on his face. We weren’t behaving how he expected us too. We weren’t terrified by his mere presence.

    “From what I hear, it didn’t seem to bother you much though.” Stone said.

    “Should it have?” I asked.

    “Most broads would at least bat an eye at a dead guy.”

    “We’re not most broads.”

    “Yeah, so who are you then? Cause how I see it? It looks like you knew the stiff and I can’t see how that’d be true for a pair of no name stage girls working tryout night.” Stone said, waving his cigar at us so violently that he shook its ashes all over the room.

    “What makes you think we knew him?” I asked. I kept any trace of concern out of my voice, but I was interested in the answer. If Stone was our untrained dreamweaver he’d have some wildly improbable story to support how he’d found out about our connection to Shurman.

    “Don’t play dumb with me. The stiff was a P.I. and you were in his office not an hour later when a beat cop got shot in the head there. So tell me, you been going around offing private dicks and cops tonight?”

    “Wait, how could you know that? About the office I mean?” I asked. I didn’t care about covering up our involvement with Shurman. If Stone was a dreamweaver than it was worth revealing secrets more dangerous than that to find out. If he wasn’t then we could deal with him in a lot of ways.

    “How could I know? I got people on the force, I got people in the dispatchers office, I got people in places you don’t even know there are people. I know everything that happens in my town!” Stone yelled not two feet away from my face.

    That’s when the first gun shots erupted outside the room.

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 10

    When Kari had first approached Way and I to look into what was going wrong with the world she was tending, we’d put together a plan. It had taken over a week to come up with the right identities and craft them, slowly and gently, into their place in the world. Then we’d done fate weavings to get positions as the representatives of Windy Springs. That had given us an excuse to be looking into Guy McIntyre’s whereabouts. From there we’d laid out a nice intricate strategy of moves and alternatives to cover the possibilities we could see arising. Since we were waiting for our apprenticeship assignments to begin we’d made the whole scheme fit within a three week time frame and that was more rushed than either of us preferred.

    “Can we do this in two days?” Way asked after Professor Haffrun left.

    “It’ll be almost impossible.” I said, offering her a smile of reassurance. So many people had called us “impossible” over the years that we wore it as a badge of honor. It was also literally true but we didn’t dwell on that aspect as much.

    “As impossible as getting any service here?” Way smiled and nodded over to where the waiter had found yet another customer to deal with rather than us.

    “The longer he takes, the longer we can freeload here and see if our assassin friends work up the nerve to take another shot at us.” I pointed out.

    “True. I don’t know if I feel like sleeping in this booth though if they take all night though.”

    “We need to come up with some new plans. Both for the assassins and for tracking down McIntyre.” I said.

    “You think there’s any chance the one isn’t related to the other?” Way asked.

    “Any chance? Maybe. If we’re right about there being a nascent dreamweaver, they could be drawing in all sort of craziness as a side-effect of the changes they’re forcing on the world.” I said.

    “All sorts of craziness like us?”

    “We’re the best kind of craziness, and, yeah, that didn’t escape me either. If Kari got snared in someone else’s fate weaving, it could be drawing us in just by pulling on her.”

    “Should we go back to the Parliament to check? I didn’t think to look for that last time we talked to her.” Way said.

    “I didn’t either but let’s hold off for now. You’re anchored here and on my world right?”

    “Yes. It would take me a little while to transit back to the Parliament.” Way said.

    “Same for me, and I’m betting we’ll have some more questions for her once we talk to a few people.” I said.

    “So we’ll tackle things here first. I think we’ll have to throw away our original plan though.” Way said.

    I sighed.

    “I suppose you’re right. There’s no point getting a job at the Chimera Club at this point. We don’t have time for subtle investigations anymore.” I said. We’d hoped to parlay the exposure working at the Club would bring us into invitations to a number of upcoming “high society” parties. That would have let us meet some of the people at the center of the fate weaving under circumstances that wouldn’t raise their awareness (and potentially induce more reality warping on their part).

    “Agreed. Though it’s a shame. I liked the routine we’d put together.” Way stopped herself with a small frown, disappointment and something else playing behind her eyes.

    “I did too. If we’re going to save Kari’s project though we’re going to need to talk to Eddie Stone, Madelaine Deckard and Cranston Smythe as soon as possible.” I said.

    “The gangster, Mcintyre’s assistant, and the developer. If we assume the assassins who tried to kill us are the same ones who killed Detective Shurman, then we can rule out that they were working for Stone.” Way said.

    “Yeah, Stone’s flunkies wouldn’t have ruined his show for him. He doesn’t seem like the ‘multi-headed monster tattoo’ type either. If those guys aren’t part of a secret society I’ll eat the rabbit in my hat.”

    “The question is who’s leading the secret society and why did they want McIntyre out of the picture?” Way said.

    “Madelaine Deckard maybe?” I suggested.

    “Why her?”

    “She’s McIntyre’s assistant, so she would have known the most about where he was going. Easier to set up plans to take out a shy recluse when you know his whole itinerary. She’s also in the best position to take advantage of his disappearance.”

    “And our dreamweaver?” Way asked.

    “Smythe would fit. Kari arranged for the grant to be awarded to the city on the contingency that a project plan for urban renewal be submitted within three months. Smythe had one drawn up in less than a week.”

    “That suggests that we should pay a visit to Mr. Smythe first then since he’s our primary target.” Way said.

    “Only we’re not going to do that.” I replied.

    “Because if we do we’ll lead the assassins that are tracking us right to him.” Way said, following my train of thought.

    “And if we try to fight a group of prepared assassins with a nascent dreamweaver around…” I began.

    “…there’s almost no chance he won’t awaken.” Way finished for me.


    “That works out for us. We’ve already got a pretext for seeing Ms. Deckard.” Way said.

    “Yeah, however reclusive and hard to reach Guy McIntyre is supposed to be, it won’t look too weird if we barge into his penthouse suite since we’re trying to save Windy Springs.” I said.

    “And if Ms. Deckard isn’t there?” Way asked.

    “Then she won’t mind us searching the place for any clues on what happened to him.” I grinned. If I was right and she was the one behind the assassins then we might find evidence of that too. It’s amazing how quickly secret societies become a lot less secret when you throw the right fate weaving at them. Once they didn’t have the veil of secrecy that would be the end of them. The police in Los Diablos might be a largely corrupt organization but that wouldn’t stop them from arresting the hell out of a bunch of bozos with snake tattoos who thought shooting a cop and burning down a building were great ideas.

    “Looks like someone’s finally paying attention to us.” Way observed, gesturing towards the door with a nod of her head.

    I glanced behind me and noticed that the waiter was engaged in conversation with a pair of new customers who had walked in the door. We stood out by being women. The new guys stood out by being well dressed. I was surprised by that for a moment but their posture and size told me all I needed to know about why two guys in suits would be in a place like this.

    “Leg breakers?” I guessed.

    “Yep and here for us.” Way said, watching them from behind her menu.

    “The next set of assassins?” I asked.

    “No. These work for Stone.” she said.

    “How can you tell?”

    “They’re comfortable here. The assassins are out of towners based on their attacks. From how they’re talking with the waiter, these guys are locals who moved up.” she said.

    I risked another glance over my shoulder and saw the two thugs heading towards us.

    “Are you da ‘Amazing Jin’?” the broader of the two asked when they reach our booth.

    “Only when I’m on stage.” I told him wearily.

    “Yer coming wit us then.” the other thug said.

     I looked at Way and cocked an eyebrow. She replied with a small shrug. These guys were big, strong, and tough. We were sitting in a booth. If it came to a fight they’d have us at a disadvantage. That didn’t bother Way at all, so she was willing to play it however I preferred.

    “Sorry there crusher, you’re not my type.” I told him.

    “Boss Stone wants a word wit you.” the first thug explained.

    “Oh, why didn’t you say so. Did he like the show?” I asked, still not rising from the booth.

    “Yeah, he liked it just fine. Wants to ask you some questions about it.” the second thug said.

    “A magician never divulges her secrets. But maybe he wanted to make us a job offer?” I asked.

    “Sure. Sure. He’s got an offer for ya.” the first thug said.

    “It’s pretty late. Maybe I’ll talk to him about it in the morning .” I said. I didn’t have any reason to antagonize the brutes. I was just being ornery because I don’t like being pushed around. Way noticed and gave me a look that asked if it was “fighty time” yet. I shook my head. For as rude as the ‘invitation’ was, getting a chance to talk to Boss Eddie Stone on what he thought were his own terms was potentially convenient.

    “He wants to talk to you now!” the first thug insisted.

    “I guess a nightclub owner keeps late hours. Ok, can’t turn down a chance at a good paying gig I guess. You two bring a ride?” I asked.

    They had.

    I’d seen tanks that wished they were as big and sturdy as the gangster mobile these guys drove. They “let” us sit in the back, which wasn’t surprising given that the door locks were controlled from the front seats. I had to chuckle at that. They wanted to be sure we couldn’t escape, but they hadn’t given any thought to how they’d be able to get away from us. The scarves I carried worked just as well as garrotes after all and we had easy access to their necks. They probably figured we wouldn’t try anything and that if we did the pistols they carried would dissuade us from getting out of line.

    I passed Way the gun I’d pick pocketed from the first thug, while slipping the one I got from the second thug into a hidden compartment in my satchel. I was more than happy to talk to “Boss” Stone, but there were limits to how understanding I was going to be.

    “So have you fellas worked for Stone for long?” I asked. I would have preferred to talk to Way but the kind of things we needed to talk about weren’t for the ears of guys like these thugs.

    “Yeah, been a couple years now.” the thug who was driving said.

    “He pay good?”

    “Why you know wanna know?” the other thug asked. I couldn’t blame him for being afraid to answer questions. He wasn’t all that bright from the look of things and the number of things he could say that would get him trouble far outnumbered the things that were safe for a guy in his line of work to talk about.

    “We’re going to talk to him about a job right?” I asked.

    “Oh yeah, the job. Uh, he pays real good.” the driver said.

    “He pays us real good.  Dames like you? You just need enough to get by till you find a man right?” the other thug said.

    “Yeah, we’re just looking to find a man.” I agreed with a smirk. It was surely some joke of Fate that he could be so technically right while being so very wrong in every other respect.

    “That’s what I figured. Just like all the broads out there.”

    “Not all the broads.” Way said and flashed me a quick smile.

    I thought about bending these guys with a little bit of dream magic, like I had with the crowds outside the Blue Star but decided not to. Dream magic was great, but it was hard under the best of circumstances to see all of the ramifications of changes that you made. Even something simple like a fate weaving could have unintended consequences, as Kari, Way and I had all learned the hard way. Our meta-awareness could mitigate some of that but with my magical awareness clamped down tight, it wasn’t wise push the boundaries where I didn’t need to. If my guess was correct, I’d have plenty of need to be pushing boundaries over the next few days.

    We pulled up to the Chimera Club which was strangely deserted. Granted it was late, but that was traditionally when the club was at its busiest. It seemed weird that a little thing like a homicide on the premises would deter “Boss” Stone from trying to turn a profit.

    Unless that is he was on the warpath.

    As we walked into the club I noticed that while its outside lights were off, there were plenty on inside. Not to mention plenty more gangster mobiles in the parking lot.

    This was going to be a fun little meeting.


The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 9

    There’s something inherently spooky about someone you’ve never met knowing your name. I suppose if you’re famous it’s the kind of thing you get used to, but my powers haven’t put me in the spotlight that much. Even at the Parliament, where I can use them freely, I’m not anyone particularly unusual. If someone I didn’t know walked up to me there and called me by name I would have been surprised and possibly confused. On Earth-Glass, hearing the name “Jin Smith” was borderline terrifying.  “Jin Smith” was a girl who didn’t exist there which meant none of the natives could possibly have met her.

    “I’m sure I don’t know…” I began to say as I looked up to see who the man who’d said my name was. The coveralls of a dockworker might as well have been a cloak of invisibility for how normal they made him appear. It was only the smirk on his lips and the knowing gleam in his eyes that caught my attention. I’d seen that smirk and those twinkling eyes too many times over the last four years not to recognize them instantly.

    “Professor Haffrun?” I hissed in a shocked whisper.

    Professor Lynn Haffrun had been my first contact with the Parliament of Time. She was a dream walker, someone with the power to move themselves from world to world. She’d been sent by the Parliament to keep an eye on my Earth and had ultimately been an essential element in keeping it from being wiped from existence on the day that I “woke up”. In the aftermath of that conflict, the Parliament had made open contact with my world and “Agent Haffrun” had been replaced by a formal ambassador. Lynn could have continued as a special agent but had instead chosen to return to teaching, just in time to be saddled with guiding Way and I along in our studies.

     “That’s ‘Mr Haffrun’ to you.” the man said as he motioned me over in the both so that he could sit with us. I pushed in to make room and noticed that Way had the same nervous expression that I was wearing too.

    Technically, worlds like Earth-Glass were interdicted by the Parliament. In the case of Earth-Glass, that meant that dream travelers of any kind were not supposed to venture there without special permission (which we had) and to leave at the first signs of reality fractures (which we had kind of omitted knowing about in our application). That Professor Haffrun was here suggested she’d noticed what was going on. The open question was whether she’d let anyone else in the Parliament know about it too.

    “You seem surprised to see me.” Professor Haffrun observed. His smile wasn’t malicious. It was instructive. Which was worse. Malicious people want to cause you trouble. Instructive people want to cause you trouble and make you learn from it.

    “You’re burlier than usual.” I pointed out. That was a weak excuse. Dream walkers, like dream lords, create new identities for themselves when they travel to a new world. The age, gender, race and all other physical characteristics of the identity are based on nothing more than the whim of the dream traveler. I usually choose to be a girl of the same age and appearance as my homeworld’s self. It feels more comfortable and it’s more convenient for being able to move easily from one world to the other because it resonates with who I see myself to be.

    Professor Haffrun was a more practical sort. On Earth Glass it was easier to work in society as a man, hence he chose to be a man here. I tended to think of Professor Haffrun as female because she had a mild preference towards presenting herself that way, but I’d seen him present himself as a man on several occasions and seem totally natural in those roles as well. In terms of what her “real” gender was it came down to a “a little from column A, a little more from column B” as far as I could see.

    “We’d thought you were on vacation this week too…Mr. Haffrun.” Way said, catching herself before calling him Professor.

    “Oh, I am, but you know how behind I get. I was using this week to get caught up on the backlog of issues that my students have brought to me. And do you know what I found?” he asked us.

    I glanced over at the waiter to see if the timely arrival of a native could interrupt what was probably going to be a conversation I’d regret having. Unfortunately the waiter was busy dealing some of the other customers.

    “Our request for expedited access to an interdicted world.” I said. It wouldn’t do any good to play dumb at this point I decided. We’d filed the request with Professor Haffron’s office but since she’d been on vacation it had automatically been forwarded to the Dean of Students office which gave it a more cursory inspection than Professor Haffrun would have before granting it.

    “Yes. And do you know what else I discovered?” he prompted.

    “That it was the same interdicted world that Kari had been assigned to for her project on fate weaving.” Way answered.

    Fate weaving is a very small form of dream magic. Rather than changing anything overtly, fate weaving focuses on making subtle alterations to the probabilities of events. Instead of striking a tyrant down with a bolt from the sky, a fate weaver might make it more likely that one of his guards was disloyal while at the same time strengthening the probability that the guard would wind up in a romantic relationship with a member of the resistance. The tyrant winds up deposed either way but with a fate weave in effect the world has no reason to think that any magic has occurred at all.

    “I notice she hasn’t completed that project yet.” Professor Haffrun said.

    “No. She hasn’t.” I agreed.

    “Would you care to explain what is going on to me then, or would you prefer we continue this conversation back at the Parliament?” Haffrun asked calmly. It wasn’t a threat, although it sounded like one. There were things that it was dangerous to talk about on a world like Earth-Glass. People can pass all kinds of conversations off as “crazy talk”. An in-depth discussion of a Parliamentary project would sound insane to most listeners but if they had the right kind of imagination, and could corroborate what was said, they could wind up “awakening” and being able to use dream magic themselves. I had a worrisome history of awakening natives on previously normal worlds. If that happened here, Earth-Glass probably wouldn’t survive it.

    “Kari contacted us during her assignment. From her reports, her fate weaving was progressing well. Too well. She noticed that the changes she was trying to introduce were happening too rapidly and easily.” I said. No one was close enough to us to overhear what we were saying and people at the Blue Star tended to make a point of ignoring strangers in order to stay out of trouble so it seemed safe to continue.

    “She was concerned that there might reality fractures forming.” Way said.

    “She looked for them herself, but she wasn’t able to pin any new ones down.” I said.

    “She did find the scars of old fractures though, ones that had been small enough to seal over on their own. They weren’t active, but they did suggest that concern was warranted.” Way said.

    “Then one of the major players in the weaving Kari was making disappeared.” I said.

    “That’s why she came to us for help.” Way said.

    “I see, and you didn’t come to me with this because I was on vacation.” Haffrun said.

    “Yes.” Way said.

    “And because you wanted to see if your friend’s project could still be salvaged so that she wouldn’t have to repeat it next semester.” Haffrun added.

    “Yes.” I admitted.

    “Despite the risks to this world?” Haffrun asked.

    “No. Or, I mean, we haven’t seen any signs of the reality fractures yet. We promised Kari that if we found anything active we’d bring you and the rest of the Parliament in. She was being cautious, rightfully so, and we didn’t want her to feel like that was the wrong call. Getting a second opinion on it before shutting down the whole project seemed like a good idea.” I said.

    “The project itself is a worthwhile one too.” Way said.

    “Tell me where’s she at with it. I know the general parameters I haven’t seen any reports on how she has been progressing.” Haffrun said.

    “Her task was to create a fate weaving that would affect at least a million people. This is where she chose to center the weaving. On Fairbanks Island.” Ways said.

    “Her thought was to build up the community here. This is one of the worst sections of Los Diablos. Changing Fairbanks would change the whole city and that’s well over a million people.” I said.

    “How was she going to build up the community?” Haffrun asked.

    “She worked with Jin and I on that. There’s a lot of people here who are unemployed so we focused on the sort of jobs they would be able to perform.” Way said.

    “There was a construction boom a decade ago. When the boom went bust, a lot of the workers lost their jobs. That left the city with a skilled work force who are good at building things and nothing for them to build. Fairbanks is also the site of a civil war era shipyard, but the company that ran it went out of business due to some monumentally stupid investments. Lastly there was a pending federal grant for ‘urban renewal’ that was slated to disappear into the pocket of a local gangster named Eddie Stone.” I said.

    “Kari’s plan was to nudge that grant to go towards rebuilding the shipyard and the rest of Fairbanks.” Way said.

    “But something went wrong?” Haffrun asked.

    “More like something went right. A developer stepped forward right away with a plan for the improvements. Then another investor showed up, a man named Guy McIntyre. He offered to match the federal grant with a long term, low interest loan and to purchase some of the more dilapidated properties for his own development.” I said.

    “Even the involvement of the gangster looked like it was going to be eliminated because the work on the grant was being opened up for national bidding.” Way said.

    “This all happened in the space of less than a week.” I said.

    “She overworked the fate weaving?” Haffrun asked.

    “I don’t think so. There weren’t any fractures in her apartment. If she was pushing things too hard and fast there should have been some, right?” I asked. Professor Haffrun had been working with the Parliament for a lot longer than I had. I knew he wasn’t looking for an explanation of what had happened so much as why I believed what I did about what had happened.

    “That’s correct, though if she worked the fate weaving somewhere else, somewhere that you didn’t check, the fractures might have been hidden. On the other hand if Kari had done that then she wouldn’t have called you in.” Haffrun said.

    “The speed events were developing at concerned her but what motivated her to call us in was when Guy McIntyre went missing mysteriously.” I said. “He’d been on a pleasure cruise that left from Los Diablos but before the boat reached its destination, he vanished. Kari tried to go to his office to see what the story was and that’s when she found traces of fractures.”

    “She said they were small enough that they were closing on their own. Definitely not big enough explain the disappearance of someone, especially not someone as central to a fate weaving as Mr. McIntyre was.” Way said.

    “So you’re searching for him?”

    “Peripherally. We think there’s a dreamweaver here. Probably a nascent one.” I said.

    “We thought that if a native was using very low levels of dream magic naturally it would explain both the small fractures and the extra force that got caught up in Kari’s fate weaving.” Way added.

    “It fits but a dreamweaver, even a nascent one, is very dangerous in a world like this.” Haffrun said.

    “We know. Our plan isn’t to confront him. We just wanted to confirm our suspicions before going to the Parliament with them.” I said.

    “I see.”Haffrun said and then paused for a moment, considering the implications of that. “If there is a native dreamweaver here, and Kari’s fate weaving turns him up, without damaging the world, then that’s an automatic pass for her. If not then she would be free to continue her weaving.” Haffrun said.

    “Right!” I agreed.

    “Wrong. The fractures that she saw had a source. Even if they were small and fading, Kari can’t continue her fate weaving until the source is understood, and very likely not even then.” Haffrun said, his voice still low enough that no one could overhear us but with enough force to make it clear that he took the issue seriously.

    “Then we’ll find the source even if it’s not a dreamweaver.” I said.

    “That’s a job for a fully qualified inspector.” Haffrun said.

    I slumped in my seat, crestfallen. As I’d been fearing since he got here, Professor Haffrun was going to play things by the book and bring in the Parliament officially. That mean we’d be out of it, Kari would be given a deferment on her project and she’d need to take the fate weaving class again next year. It wasn’t quite the same as being held back a year in school but it still left the taste of defeat in my mouth.

    “I’ll file a report with the office when I get back.” Haffrun confirmed.

    “What should we do Professor?” Way asked.

    “I happen to know that nearest Inspector is on vacation as well. She’ll be returning in two days though, and barring unforeseen circumstances, this matter will be on the top of her list.” Haffrun said.

    “That means we can keep investigating?” I asked, hope blossoming in my heart again.

    “You have two days. I suggest you make the most of them.” Haffrun said.

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 8

    Adrenaline is an amazing thing. So is anger. Put them both together and you can perform awe-inspiring acts. Unfortunately in a lot of cases that will turn out to be “acts that are awe-inspiringly horrible for your body.” Running from the fire proved to be one of those “horrible acts”.  

    My lungs were a wreck from the smoke that I’d inhaled but I was too pumped up to notice. I raced across the street to the fire escape that Way had used and nearly flew up the stairs to follow where she’d gone. It wasn’t until I hit the roof and paused to catch my breath that I found I couldn’t.

    With the oxygen in my lungs used up, my vision started to swim and my balance went right out the window. The world spun and I discovered I was too dizzy to stand when I felt my shoulder hit the roof. By the time I was able to suck some much needed air into my lungs Way was by my side.

    “Easy, just breathe.” she said. She had my feet propped up on the top step of the fire escape and was cushioning my head with her right arm.

    “What happened? Did you find him?” I gasped out. Blacking out, or even coming close like I had, feels awful. My body had been perilously close to running out of a necessary resource, so it was going to make sure I was miserable enough not to push myself like that again all too soon.

    “Yes. Take a second and get your breath back though.” she urged me.

    I sighed and let myself relax. The medical facilities of this world were primitive compared to what I was used to. Worse, I couldn’t just dream myself up a fresh set of lungs. What I could do though was argue a bit with the world on how badly damage I was.

    Any exposure to a fire is bad for your lungs, I reminded the world. Also for all my physical fitness I hadn’t trained in low oxygen settings. I was used to working with a nice rich air. It made sense that even a little smoke in my lungs would knock me for a loop.

    As I breathed in I felt the tightness in my chest loosening. My lungs weren’t singed, and as fresh air replaced the smoky air I’d breathed in I felt the strength returning to my limbs.

    “I couldn’t get them all out.” I told Way.

    “I guessed. I felt your magic. You were pushing it close to a fracture but it looks like you backed off in time.”

    “How about you? You caught the shooter?” I asked.

    “I did. We fought and I disabled him, but he had a partner.” she said. The distance and chill in her eyes spoke volumes about why she didn’t have him in tow.

    “I heard a crack while I was in our building. That was a gunshot wasn’t it?” I asked.

    “Yes. A second shooter. He was watching the other side of our building. When he saw that I’d disabled the gunman on this building, he shot him.”

    “To keep him from talking.” I guessed.

    “I’m sorry.” Way offered.

    “It’s not your fault. There shouldn’t even be one professional assassin in this mess, much less a team of them.” I reached my hand up to cover hers. “I take it the second shooter got away?”

    “I believe so. Once he’d shot his partner, I took cover and he didn’t take any more shots. I think he may have fled immediately once he was sure he’d hit his target.” she said.

    “Why didn’t he shoot at you?” I asked.

    “I don’t think he had a clear shot. I was holding his partner up. There weren’t any clear angles from the building he was on, so he went with the next best option.”

    “We should get out of here before he comes back with more help, or the police get here and start asking questions.” I said.

    “Are you ok to travel?” Way asked.

    “I’ll have to be.”

    “I could carry you?”

    “It’s not as easy as it looks.” I told her, thinking of the struggle I had with carrying the woman out of our building. “You need your hands free too, in case we run into the shooter again. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. ”

    “Ok, but we shouldn’t go back down the stairs you came up. Too many people can see them. There’s another set over here.” Way said, leading me to the adjacent side of the building. The stairs there lead to the back alley that ran behind the apartment building. Apart from some trash and probably a rat or two,  it was empty.

    “Wait, before we go, there’s something you should see.” Way said, and lead me to side of the building that overlooked our still burning apartment. I saw fire trucks arriving, but that wasn’t what Way was directing my attention towards. She was pointing at the body that was slumped behind a small shack that stood on the roof.

    “Shot in the chest?” I asked, looking for the bullet wound.

    “Yes. With the available light it would have been the best shot. I searched him for a wallet or any IDs but his pockets were empty. What I did find though was this.” she reached down and pulled back the sleeve of his coat to expose his wrist.

    An intricate tattoo had been drawn on his forearm well above where the cuff of his shirt would cover. The tattoo showed seven snakes, their tails all joined at a point from which they radiated outwards to form a circle. Each serpent’s body was twisted to form a question mark shape with the head of each biting into looping body of the next one over.

    “It looks like a weird variant on the Ouroboros.” I said, thinking of the image of the snake swallowing its own tail.

    “Want to place a wager that the second shooter had the same tattoo?” Way asked.

    “I’d give a hundred to one odds in favor of that being true.” I cursed. “So we have an insane secret society to worry about too.”

    “They might not be related to the dreamweaver.” Way said, though it was clear she didn’t believe that anymore than I did.

    “I think we’re going need to deal with them whether they are or not.” I said. I looked towards the ruin of our burning building to underscore my point. Way grimaced and nodded.

    It wasn’t part of our (quasi-official) mission or our general mandate to interfere with the purely mundane problems on Earth-Glass. We were able to looking in Mcintyre’s disappearance because the dream lord who had noticed it as important, our friend Kari, had discovered that there were reality fractures relating to it. They’d been tiny ones, but even small cracks could lead to big problems. If the secret society the shooters were a part of was related to the fractures then we could take them apart however we wished. If they weren’t, we’d be treading on thin ice if we disrupted what they were doing.

    I looked at the burning building again. Sometimes it was walking on the thin ice.

    Turning away from those thoughts, and the dead body, I followed Way to the stairs down to the alley. We descended at a more leisurely pace than I’d climbed the building, which helped prevent any further dizzy spells.

    “I don’t suppose you have any more disguises?” Way asked when we reached ground level.

    “No, but if we tuck the cloaks and masks away we might not need one.” I said.

    “Where do you want to go next?”

    “Off the streets, whoever these guys are they seem pretty determined. Let’s not make it too easy for them to pick us off.” I suggested.

    “Someplace public?”

    “They don’t seem to be concerned about collateral damage.” I pointed out.

    “The Blue Star then? It’s public enough that we’ll be able to see them coming, and the people there aren’t the sort that its wise to draw a gun on.” Way said.

    The Blue Star was one of the “all night diners” on Fairbank Island. Despite its reputation, Fairbanks wasn’t actually the lawless wild west, except in certain places and at certain times. The Blue Star at night was one of those places. We were going to draw attention going into there, but we had two things in our favor. First we were dressed like locals, so it would be clear we weren’t looking for trouble. A pair of young women aren’t expected to be looking for trouble though so that would only take us so far. The second thing in our favor was that if trouble found us we were each more than capable of putting it in its place.

    It took us a little while to get to the Blue Star. We traveled by alley as much as possible to stay out of the line of fire from any of the buildings we passed.  When we arrived we were greeted with the expected crowd of drunk men horsing around in the parking lot.

    A liquor license was beyond the reach of a place like the Blue Star. That didn’t stop from them from serving it however; it was just billed as a “health tonic”. From the swaggering and excessive volume of the crowd, the Blue Star had been doing a brisk business in “health tonics”.

    “Want me to get us in?” Way asked.

    “Let me. We want any hitmen who come looking for us to have to go through them first.” I said as we left the alley and headed towards the Blue Star’s entrance. We made it across the street and two steps into the Blue Star’s lot before someone noticed us.

    “Look at this. Who ordered the entertainment?” a drunk guy the size of a linebacker said. The rest of the crowd was too busy watching another pair of drunks argue loudly that “city hall just don’t care” to notice us though. I couldn’t blame them. The argument was fascinating to listen to. From their tone and volume it sounded like they were ready to tear each others’ heads off. Their words were just the opposite though. I hadn’t run into people being in “violent agreement” often but the drunk debate was a textbook example of the phenomenon.

    “Girls, somebody sent for girls!” the drunk who’d noticed us said, smacking a guy beside him on the head. The promise of “girls” was more effective than the smack on the head. More than a half dozen heads turned to face us and the argument died down in favor of a new sport; us.

    “Looks like we got some lost little sheep here.” a brown haired drunk with a chin like a shovel said. He rolled his shoulders and pushed off the post he was resting against to lean forward and leer at us. I scanned the crowd observing their body language. His interest in us was mirrored by all the rest of the men there. None of them were shifting to back him up though. There was a distance between the loud mouth and the guys around him that was telling. He had the crowd’s voice for the moment, but not their loyalty. In fact, I told the world, there was a decent chance more than few in the crowd would enjoy seeing him brought down a peg.

    Looking at the assembled faces I could see what they expected. Two girls, alone and unprotected, read as ‘prey’ given the way women were still regarded on Earth Glass. They expected us to be nervous. We’d either not say anything and try to hurry past them or insist that we weren’t lost, letting them control the direction of the conversation. Either way they’d keep pushing and escalating until they were sufficiently “amused” or something else distracted them.

    That wasn’t how the game was going to play out though. The moment he started speaking, I whipped my head around and looked Mr. Shovel-chin directly in the eye.

    “We’re only lost if this place is out of ‘health tonics’. You fine gentleman leave any beverages for the rest of us?” Language can act as both a weapon and a shield. It’s not usually terribly effective at either when dealing with drunks or idiots but even a dull knife can be dangerous if used well.

    “Well that depends sister, how are you going to pay for ‘em” Shovel chin said as he swaggered to intercept us. He looked at me, briefly, when he spoke, but his eyes were fastened on Way. To be fair, she is a lot prettier than I am, but in this case it was as much as matter of racism as anything else.

    “Got a pocketful of wooden nickels.” I told him, stepping in front of Way and not backing down. “Think they’ll take ‘em or would the teeth of a guy who hassled us be better?”

    That got a few chuckles from the crowd. None of them took the threat seriously, but a little girl like me mouthing off to a big lunk like Shovel Chin was amusing enough to keep them entertained. Even Shovel Chin was in a good mood, if not a particularly smart one. I pushed on that a tiny bit with dream magic, suggesting that the alcohol and the camaraderie had left them as “happy drunks” rather than mean ones. They weren’t “nice guys” so I couldn’t push that too far though.

    “Ain’t safe to travel with money around here. You should let us hold onto what you got.” Shovel Chin suggested. Because being a “happy drunk” for him meant merely suggesting robbery rather than yanking my satchel away directly.

    “You’re already holding my money for me.” I told him.

    “What do you mean?” he asked all drunken confusion. The crowd wavered too. This didn’t fit how they’d expected the exchange to go.

    “Come here I’ll show you.” I told him.

    Drunk and confused can be a nightmare to work with. Drunk, confused and suggestible though? That was a joy. I pulled out a change purse, opened it up and turned it upside down and inside out to show there was no money in it aside from a single wooden token.

    “Here, hold this.” I told him and placed the wooden nickel in his left hand, folding his finger closed over it. “That’s my special nickel so don’t lose it.”

    “What’s so special about it?” Shovel Chin asked, thankfully not too drunk to take the obvious bait.

    “As long as you have that, you never run out of money.”

    “That’s impossible!” he said. The other drunk guys had gathered closer to see what was going on. Way, meanwhile, had stepped back to give me room to work, and to keep the crowd from getting to any of the spots where they could see through the routine I was setting up.

    “No it’s not. Turn your right hand over and make a fist.”

    He did, staring at his hands like they were going to turn into lumps of gold.

    “Now say the magic words.” I told him.

    “What’s that? Alakazam?”

    “What? Hell no. Try ‘I need a beer’.” I said. That got another round of chuckles.

    “I need a beer.” he said flatly. Nothing happened.

    “Pff, that’s magic words to you? Say it like you mean it!”

    “I need a beer!” he bellowed at me. I slapped the back of his right hand as he said it and put my left hand under it to “catch” the two coins that fell out. The clink of the coins hitting each other drew everyone’s attention.

    “This enough for a beer around here?” I asked, flourishing the two shiny coins.

    “Waitaminute! How did you do that?” Shovel Chin asked.

    “Do what? You’re the one who wanted the beer.” I said.

    “Do it again! Do it again!” the drunk that had noticed us first said from the audience.

    “Sure. Close your hand.” I told Shovel Chin.

    “I Want A Beer!”, he shouted as soon as he closed his fist. I was ready for that – audiences can be fairly predictable sometimes – and had the next two coins ready for the second “drop” in time. It still amazed me that all it took was the clink of coins for people to think they’d fallen into my hand. They wanted to believe though and some of them were too drunk to see straight which helped a lot.

    “Oh my god! You can make money!” a balding drunk said, pointing at Shovel Chin.

    “Again! Again!” came the cheer from the crowd.

    “I WANT A BEER!” Shovel Chin screamed.

    I hit his hand again and this time nothing came out.

    “Huh, gotta be careful using magic while you’re tipsy boys. Stuff can wind up in all kinds of places.” I said turning his hand over and back as though I was looking for where the coins were hidden.

    “Ah I bet I know.” I said and cuffed Shovel Chin on the side of the head. I had my other hand near his opposite ear to “catch” the coin that came falling out.

    “How come there was only one in there?” Shovel Chin asked. He didn’t think to question that there was money falling out of his head, just that it wasn’t as much as he’d been hoping for. So very human. Fortunately it was the perfect lead-in to the big finish.

    “Oh, they can wind up all over the place.” I told him. “The good thing is, you can use one to find the other.”

    I started waving the coin around him like a dowsing rod. It flicked up and down slowly around his head, then a little faster around his chest until I brought it down to his waist where froze and pointed at his right side.

    “Ah, here it is!” I said and yanked at his belt to drag forth a long stream of cloth which unfurled into a pair of white boxers with pink hearts on them.

    “Well that’s daintier than I would have guessed.” I said and produced the “missing coin” from the top of boxers waist band. That got a full on round of laughter from the crowd. Shovel Chin actually blushed in embarrassment despite the fact that he had to know I wasn’t holding his boxers.

    “You guys can try it out now. I going to get that health tonic.” I told them as I slipped a few more coins into Shovel Chin’s pockets so that they’d have something to find to keep the magic trick going.

    “Or you could let the nickel rest for a bit. It gets tired sometimes. Usually needs a good night sleep after that before its lucky again.” I added, thinking ahead to when the coins ran out.

    Predictably none of them cared about that. They started lining up for a chance to slap Shovel Chin’s hands and collect their loot. Or his face, or whatever. They weren’t going to beat him to a pulp and he was drunk enough that slapping him silly wouldn’t take long either. The important thing was they were all focused on him and his Lucky Magic Nickel. That left us free to head into the Blue Star without further hassle.

    The patrons inside the Blue Star weren’t much different than the ones loitering outside it.

    “What do you want?” the middle aged waiter who was working behind the counter said when he saw us.

    “Food, and something to drink.” I replied.

    “Pick a table or a seat and I’ll get to ya.” the waiter said.

    The Blue Star was less than a quarter full so there were plenty of options, including a booth that was towards the back of the “L” shaped diner and away from the other patrons. Way and I settled into it and opened the pair of menus that had been left on the table. I’d eaten breakfast on my Earth, but “The Amazing Jin’s” belly hadn’t benefited from that.

    “That was some interesting magic you did out there.” a man who stepped up to our table said.

    I assumed he was another waiter and replied without looking up at him.

    “Just some simple sleight of hand.”

    “That’s not the magic I was speaking of Ms. Smith.” the man said.

    I felt my heart freeze in place. The Amazing Jin’s last name was “Lee”. No one on Earth-Glass should have known who I really was. Or the kind of magic I’d really been working outside.

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 7

    Sometimes there are coincidences in life. As humans, we’re wired to see patterns in everything, even where those patterns may not exist. Sometimes the things that go bump in the night really are just the house creaking and a prickly feeling on the back of your neck is nothing more than your nerves getting the better of you.

    Even something as extreme as coming home to find flames leaping from every window in your apartment building isn’t a sign that someone’s out to get you. Unless, that is, you’re me.

    The fact that we’d crossed paths with a professional assassin earlier would have been enough to make me suspicious of the blaze. I could think of half a dozen reasons the killer would want to burn our building down ranging from simple murder if they caught us in it to denying us a safe hideaway if we happened to be away. Beyond that though there was the fact that Earth-Glass sort of wanted to kill me.

    As a dream lord, I could make things real or unreal. Earth-Glass wasn’t the kind of world that was happy with that sort of thing.  It wasn’t the sort of world to have a conscious “Gaia spirit” watching over it though, meaning it didn’t have an active champion like my Mom defending it. Instead it relied on skewing chance and probability against me. For events in my immediate area that wasn’t a problem. Making things “normal” was the one sort of dream magic I could get away with using. Anything outside my awareness was a different matter. If an assassin had needed some lucky breaks to set my home on fire, Earth-Glass would be happy to provide them, no matter how many innocents might be harmed.

    “We need to help the people who are still inside.” I said. Even from across the narrow end of the bay that the Bella bridge spanned I could see the flames were picking up in intensity. I breathed out carefully and nudged the world. Fires look dramatic but there could still be survivors inside the building. In fact with the boiler being on the side that we were facing, it was possible that we were seeing the very worst of the blaze.

    “It’ll take too long if we wait for the bus. I can see traffic backing up ahead of us already.” Way said. There hadn’t been a lot of traffic since we were past office hours for most of the local businesses. What cars were ahead of us were slowing to a crawl though.

    With a wordless nod we rose and walked to the front of the bus.

    “Can you let us out here?” Way asked the bus driver.

    “Sure thing.” the weary driver said with a shrug and opened the door. We’d already been stopped due to the traffic which meant Way and I were able to make our way to the bridge without any danger of getting run over.

    “The shooter could be waiting for us.” Way cautioned as we ran.

    “Disguises then?” I asked.

    “What do you have?”

    “Our performance cloaks and some scarves.” I offered, rummaging around in my (depressing normal sized) bag as we ran.


    “We’ll tie them around our faces. It’s not much but it will help a little with the smoke too.” I said, knowing that ‘a little’ wasn’t going to do much to save our lungs if we weren’t careful.

    Putting on a cloak and tying a scarf on while you run isn’t an easy task. On the other hand quick changes are somewhat second nature for folks in the stage magic biz, so we managed it a bit more easily than most. By the time we were halfway across the bridge we were two running figures in dark flowing cloaks with bandit-style masks hiding our faces and hoods obscuring our hair. I was sure people noticed us running by but with the darkness, the confusion and our makeshift disguises I was also sure their chances at identifying us were non-existent.

    The smell of wood smoke filled my nostrils well before we reached the end of the bridge. I thought the running was making me warm but, the closer we got, the more I could feel the heat from the fire reaching out to bake my exposed skin. That left me to imagine the kind of inferno the inside of the building would be. Going in there was not going to be fun.

    “If the shooter’s here, where would he be?” I asked as we ran. There was a crowd gathered around the building but the heat of the flames was keeping them well away from the burning structure.

    “Rooftop. The nearby ones are all the same height, he’ll have the best shot and the best chance to escape.” she said.

    “Can you get to one?”

    “What about the people in the building?”

    “I’ll help them. You make sure no one shoots them once they’re outside.” I said.

    Way looked at me, a debate raging behind her eyes and then nodded.

    “Be careful.” she said “I don’t want to have to try to finish this mission without you either.”

    I smiled and nodded my agreement before she changed course towards the fire escape of the building across the street from ours.

    I had several options available to me from there. Our apartment building sat on the intersection of the road which ran around the perimeter of the island and one of the streets that lead to the island’s center. The crowd had gathered at the front of the building, which was the closest side to me since the building faced the water and the bridge. I could have avoided them by following Way and swinging around to the backside of our apartment building. With how the building was constructed that would have been the smart move too.

    The front of the building had been a later addition and was built from cheap wood that was all-too-eager to burn. The back half of the building was an older, brickwork construction. That didn’t mean it was fireproof – the floorboards and roof would still burn quite nicely but (thanks to my dream magic tinkering) the fire hadn’t spread there quite as quickly. It would be a lot safer to retrieve the people who were still alive in that part of the building before the fire got to them.

    The only problem was that would mean giving up on anyone who might still be alive in the front apartments and despite the limitations on my power I wasn’t willing to accept that.

    So instead I barreled through the crowd and hit the door with a flying kick, shattering its flaming wreckage over the main foyer.

    I don’t usually design my other identities with much in the way of physical skills. As “normal Jin” I spend most of my time sleeping and the rest solving problems with magic, so I’m not exactly the world class athlete that my brother James is. Since Earth-Glass was cranky about letting me use my magic though I figured having some physical talents to fall back on would be a good thing. As a stage magician that came in handy too. A lot of stage magic is misdirection and timing, but there are some effects that require a hefty amount of strength and speed too.

    That all served me well enough in knocking down the front door. Surviving the inferno I’d hurled myself into was another matter though. The air was so hot I could barely breath, and so smoke filled that I couldn’t risk getting much into my lungs in the first place. That severely limited the amount of time I could afford to spend looking for people.

    I sent out another whisper of dream magic. I couldn’t cheat and simply sense where people were but the crash of the door could very reasonably elicit cries for help from anyone who was still alive.

    It took less than a second before I heard a child’s screams coming from the floor above me. Being careful to stay low, I gritted my teeth against the searing heat and crawled to the stairs.

    I directed another whisper of dream magic as I climbed the stairs. The bomb used to set the fire was in the boiler room, I told the world, since that’s at the front of the building and also the easiest source for a fire that would engulf the building quickly. That meant that the people who lived in the apartments in the old brickwork half of the building would have heard the explosion and had a chance to evacuate on their own. Even the stubborn ones would have seen the smoke and the flames and there’s nothing like fire to motivate the recalcitrant.

    But, the world whispered back to me, there were all those people in newer section. All the ones caught in the bomb blast. None of them could have escaped.

    It had to be a small bomb, I countered, or else the building would have collapsed. Also what kind of assassin carries sticks of dynamite around with them? It had to be something clumsy and improvised.

    Even so, the world wordlessly sent to me, the ones in the new side wouldn’t have had any warning. The flames would have caught them unaware.

    The night was still early, and many of the people who lived here worked two shifts. They could have been out, I argued.

    Some of them, the world agreed; some but not all.

    I reached the second floor and sighed.

    Some but not all.

    I could feel the world shivering at the gentle alterations I’d managed to make in saving some of the people in the building with dream magic. Any deeper changes and I’d have a reality fracture to deal with and that was not a fight I could afford to have yet.

    “HELP! Momma! Help!” a young boy screamed from the room near the stairs. The door to the room was cracked and open. It looked like the initial blast had shook it loose from it’s cheap hinges. Similar damage was obvious on the rest of the floor.

    With the windows shattered, the toxic gases would be able to escape too, I reminded the world. Not that they’d escape entirely but the lower the concentration, the better the chances anyone had of getting out of the building alive.

    I crawled into the room, keeping in mind that whatever poisonous gases were here would be strongest at the ceiling. Inside the apartment, I saw a woman collapsed on the floor and a crying young boy huddled over her.

    “I’m here to help.” I told him as I moved over to inspect the fallen woman.

    She was still breathing, which was good sign, but she was also unconscious, which was a bad one.

    “We need to leave right now. Is there anyone else here?” I asked the boy.

    “No. Daddy’s at work. You gotta save Momma!” the boy said. He was rocking back and forth and couldn’t even bring himself to look at me. That was really bad. I definitely couldn’t carry the two of them outside on my own.

    “I’m going to save you both.” I told him. “Here, you need a magic scarf like I have to keep you safe. Want me to find one for you?”

    “Find one for Momma!” the boy insisted.

    “Ok.” I said and reached over to his ear, pulling out a long blue scarf as I did so. The boy’s eyes went wide with amazement. It was pure stage magic, but it achieved its desired effect.

    “It is magic!” he screamed as he stopped rocking at looked me straight in the eyes.

    “And here’s one for you.” I told him, and pulled a bright yellow scarf out of his other ear. “Put it over your mouth, while I fix up your Mom. Then follow me.”

    I could have told him to grow wings and fly away at that point and I’m pretty sure he would have made an effort to. The scarves weren’t going to do much for any of us, but they did make me feel a little better when I lifted the boy’s mother into a fireman’s carry.

    Physically fit or not, even as “The Amazing Jin” I wasn’t a particularly large girl and moving a full grown woman was not an easy task. I got her up onto my back without dropping her though and then turned to her son.

    “Hold your Mom’s hand ok? She needs you to stay with her.” I told him.

    Their apartment wasn’t as engulfed in flames as the foyer was which meant I was marching the two of them in the scariest possible direction. Despite the roaring flames, the little boy stayed with me, clutching his mother’s hand like a lifeline.

    Together we moved as quickly as we could but by the time we reached the bottom of the stairs I thought the fire was going to completely overwhelm us. The heat was unbearable, the stench of the smoke made me want to vomit and the brilliance of the flames made it hard to even see.

    I heard a crack that sounded like a beam splitting and prepared to dodge or run but I couldn’t see where the problem might be. What I did notice a moment later though was that the front doorway wasn’t burning any longer!

   “Let’s go!” I told the little boy and started sprinting (as best as I was able) towards the exit.

    I saw a splash of water hit the door post as we ran towards it and got another splash full into the face as we burst out into the night air. The cool water and the rush of oxygen felt so ridiculously good that I tripped and fell. Two pairs of strong hands caught me before I tumbled to the ground though.

    Blinking to clear my eyes, I felt the woman I was carrying being lifted off my back. All around us I heard a group of people in motion. When my eyes cleared, I saw that the crowd that had been watching the building had formed a bucket line and was passing water up from the bay to throw on the blaze. It was too late to save our building, but the apartments that were around it were in danger if the blaze ran unchecked.

    I tried to speak but my lungs spasmed into a racking cough.

    “Get them air!” I heard one of the people around us yell and the three of us who’d escaped the burning building were lead back to the end of the bridge where there was a bus stop to rest at. I looked over at the woman I’d carried and saw she was conscious again, though bleary eyed.

    “Are you ok?” a young man, one of the people who’d helped me walk over to the bus stop, asked me.

    “I’ll be fine.” I told him and got back up. There were still more people in the building.

    “Where are you going?” my helper asked.

    Before I could answer him, I heard a terrible shattering followed by an immediate yell from the crowd as the front half of the building collapsed. The flames roared as though the falling building was a bellows.

    Some but not all.

    That was all I could save.

    I turned to the man who’d helped me.

    “To find the person who did this.”

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 6

    When I was little I had a few close friends in school. I thought we’d be “Best Friends Forever”, but the “forever” part only turned out to be till we were ten. Mom was a single widow by then and she had to go where the jobs for a research chemist were available. My friends and I promised that we’d write and keep up with each other but it didn’t last. I guess we just weren’t that close.

    Without them, I sort of floundered through middle school. I didn’t feel betrayed by my friends; I was as much to blame for not keeping up with email as they were. At the time I didn’t think it had anything to do with losing my Dad, but in retrospect I have to wonder if my apathy towards making new friends was driven by the accumulated belief that I couldn’t count on the people I cared about to stay in my life.

    Whatever the case was, everything changed in my freshman year of high school. That’s when I met Way and a whole new set of friends. Becoming a dream lord destroyed the girl I’d been. That wasn’t a  bad thing though. In fact, I was luckier than words can express. From the ashes of who I’d been I was able to call forth a new me and get to work on becoming the person I wanted to be.

    That’s why it felt so uncomfortable to be wrestling with the same old fears and worries in terms of being parted from Way. I’d thought I was better than that.

    “I’m not sure about the apprenticeship yet.” I told my Mom.

    “Oh? Did something come up with it?”

    “No, but it’s kind of a long commitment. And I’d need to be away from home for most of it too.” I said. Dream worlds don’t have actual distances between them – they’re not ‘real’ in regards to each other. That said it could still take a dream lord time to move from one to the other. Kind of like how it can take time to shift mental gears from one activity to another, only a bit more difficult since, to enter another world, you need to sync yourself with what it means to be real in that world. I was a stage magician on Earth-Glass because that was the closest I could come to who I really was. By making “The Amazing Jin” similar to plain old “Jin Smith”, I could ‘travel’ between Earth-Glass and my homeworld faster. In truth I wasn’t traveling at all, I was in both worlds simultaneously, but adjusting my awareness from one to the other felt a whole lot like I was moving between worlds.

    Part of the apprenticeship program was that our mentors would take us to worlds we’d (literally) never dreamed of. Attuning to alien landscapes was difficult enough that ‘commuting’ back home every night wasn’t an option. That’s why Way and I couldn’t simply meet up in our dreams as we normally did. We’d be so “far apart” conceptually that we wouldn’t even be able to grasp where the other would be.

    “I remember being worried about the same thing when I was your age.” Mom said.

    “You had to choose between living on an alien world for years or staying with…” I paused and came up with “…your family?” instead of what I’d been thinking. Mom’s expression told me my “expert” rating for deception skills did not apply to her in the slightest.

    “You could say that. When I left for college, my parents seemed to think California was as far away as the Moon. I knew I was going to need to do post-graduate work to have any success in my field too so I knew I wouldn’t be coming back home for years and years.” she said.

    “Did you have to leave anyone behind? I mean aside from Grandpa and Grandma? Anyone special?” I asked.

    “I thought so. My boyfriend was a year younger than me. He promised he’d come out to California once he graduated.” she said.

    “Did he?”

    “Two weeks after I left he started dating your Aunt Susan.” Mom said. Whatever pain that had caused her was long since gone leaving only a sardonic smile as the ghost of her anger.

    “That must have been a fun Christmas.” I said, imaging the epic battles I’d heard my Mom and her younger sister engaging in.

    “I don’t know. I didn’t come home for a year after that. And then I met your Dad. Who I must say was much more handsome and charming and in every way an upgrade. So it worked out for the best I suppose.”

    “Wait, didn’t you dye Aunt Susan’s puke green hair while she was sleeping?” I said, remembering a story I’d overheard while they were reminiscing.

    “Yes, but that was just because she was Susan. We hadn’t quite outgrown our childhood rivalry by then.”

    “Weren’t you like twenty five when you did that?”

    “Well, your Aunt Susan managed to avoid me for several years. But we’re past that now.”

    “Because you got the last licks in?”

    “Because we both have children, so there’s no need for more insanity in our lives.” she said and flicked a small cloud of flour at me.

    “So what do you think I should do?” I asked. I could be far wiser and more mature than my eighteen years would normally allow. All I had to do was channel a version of myself who was old and wise. This didn’t feel like a problem for any of them though. This was my problem as “Jin Smith”. Part of hanging onto her, of hanging onto who I’d been, was to live my regular life as her. It wasn’t always fun or easy, but that’s what made it real.

    “Well, I went to college and fell in love and learned more than I ever would have imagined. But that’s what worked for me. I think you might have rearranged the order on those.” she said. She put aside the ingredients she’d been working with for the pineapple upside cake and came over to hold my hands. Looking into her eyes I could see understanding and patient acceptance.

    “I don’t know…” I began, feeling uncomfortable under her all-too-knowing gaze.

    “You don’t know if you’ve learned more than you ever imagined you would? What have they been teaching you at that Parliament of yours?” she asked.

    “No, I mean…” I squirmed and felt even more uncomfortable. I talked to my Mom about all sorts of dream world related things. And she knew Way and I were close. I’d just never told her how close.

    “Oh you don’t know that you’re in love with Way then?” she asked. Because, apparently, I didn’t need to tell her that for her to figure it out.

    “No, I know that too.” I said, not quite able to meet her gaze. I felt a blush spread to my cheeks.

    “Then do you know that she loves you?”, she asked gently.

    “Yes.” my voice was just above a whisper. One of the things about the dream speech that Way and I shared was that we could communicate what we were feeling without the need to put it in clumsy, limited containers like ‘words’. So we didn’t bother to very much. I felt her tenderness and her joy at being with me directly. Saying that she was my girlfriend felt, I don’t know, redundant? Saying it to my Mom, even having my Mom openly aware of it, felt even weirder somehow.

    “Then maybe you should talk about this with her.” Mom suggested, her voice still gentle.

    “But I don’t want her to give up on this just to stay with me. I mean, it’s a really good opportunity and she’ll be so great as a Guardian.” I said. It was easier to tell Mom that than it would have been to say it to Way. I could talk to Way about anything. I trusted her. I just didn’t trust myself. I knew if I talked to Way about what I was feeling I’d wind up as a tangled mess of wanting her to stay and hating myself if she did.

    “You think the time apart will help you both to grow?”

    “I don’t know. I can’t see the future. Which sucks.” I complained. I was whining. I knew I was whining, but that’s one of the things Mom’s are good for. Acting as a sounding board for their daughter’s insanity.

    “I’ve spoken with a number of precognitives. It sounds like much less fun than you’d imagine no matter how they manage to see the future. Either way though, I think this is a decision that you need to work out for yourself. There are a lot of ‘right’ answers here, only you can decide which one is right for you.” Mom said.

    I sighed. Sometimes the right answers don’t help at all.

    “You know what would help?” I said, shoving my worries down into the back corners of my heart.


    “Cake batter!” I said with a big smile. Uncooked cake batter is terrible for you and also so very delicious.

    “This was all a ploy to get the bowl when I’m done with it wasn’t it?” Mom asked, returning my smile.

    “Yep, all’s fair in love, war and Mom’s cooking!” I lied. It was easier to pretend to be happy than to mope on something I couldn’t do anything about. At least for the moment. And I was still hungry.

    “You haven’t eaten anything yet today. You need some real food. Get me the frying pan and I’ll make you some scrambled eggs.” Mom counter offered.

    “Cake batter has eggs in it though!” I pointed out.

    “The frying pan.” Mom said, pointing at the cabinet it was kept in. It wasn’t a debate I was going to win, though if I was lucky she’d set some of the batter aside for me for later.

    I spent the rest of breakfast catching up on what she was involved with. The sewage treatment plant design (not the best breakfast topic, but also not the worst we’d ever shared) was a modular design. She’d be traveling all over the world for the next few years to supervise the treatment plants’ construction so that they would mesh with the eco-systems they’d be installed in. Each would be custom designed to take advantage of the local conditions and be easy to maintain given the environment. That would mean a lot of onsite work but, unlike me, she’d be able to “commute” thanks to being Gaia’s Chosen champion. The upside to being unable to leave the Earth was that she could appear anywhere on it she wanted to in seconds.

    Our conversation drifted through a handful of more mundane subjects as I ate my scrambled eggs and toast. We were talking about her plans to expand our living room (I’m not the only one in the family who can multi-task) when I noticed Way kiss my forehead on Earth Glass to “wake me up” there. I felt a little bubble of delight at that as well as a sinking drop of despair at the thought of the lonely years to come.

    “I need to get back to work.” I told Mom.

    “Ok. Say hi to Way for me.” she said and flipped her holo-computer display back to the sewage plant designs.

    I tromped back up to my room and stretched a bit before getting back into bed. Breathing and stretches didn’t do much to make my tension go away so I cast a spell of “Repose” as I settled into the mattress. It was essentially a “Sleeping Beauty” spell. I fall asleep just fine without the aid of magic, but it was handy to leave my normal body in a light state of suspended animation so that I wouldn’t need to attend to any biological functions on my homeworld while I was otherwise occupied on Earth Glass.

    The “trip” back to Earth-Glass felt like I was rising up through the clouds only to go plummeting down into the bus where I was sleeping beside Way.

    “Are we almost there?” I asked, blinking my eyes open.

    “Not yet, but I think we need to change our plans.” Way said.

    “Why’s that?” I asked.

    Way pointed out the window. We were descending down one of the hills that lead to the bridge over to Fairbanks Island. On the far side of the bridge I could see the apartment building that we’d rented a room in.

     It was engulfed in flames.

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 5

    Kids can be adorable. Not all the time, but when you find a four year old hiding in your closet and staring at you with wide open eyes its hard not to find them at least a little cute.

    “Good morning Peri!” I said, sitting up on my bed.

    “You sleep a lot.” my sister said with perfect seriousness. Her expression said she’d just noticed this and had decided it was the most important thing in the world. From past experience I knew that would last maybe a minute at most before something else caught her attention.

    “I have really good dreams.” I told her, matching her seriousness and fighting to keep a grin off my face.

    “No. I had a nightmare.” she replied, reminding me that she wasn’t at the age where she’d fully worked out how a conversation was supposed to flow. Also, at four the world more or less revolved around her, at least in her mind.

    “Those aren’t fun are they?” I asked.

    “No. It was bad. And now I got a monster under my bed.” she said.

    “Did you tell Mom or Dad about it?” I asked.

    “Mommy said I could sleep in here.”

    “That’s ok. But I don’t know how comfy my wardrobe is. Why don’t we go talk to the monster and see what he wants?” I suggested.

    “He wants to eat me.”

    “Oh they say that but they’re lying. Kids taste terrible. You’re too bony for them.”

    “I don’t wanna.” she said, unconvinced by my explanation.

    “How about if I ask the monster under my bed to go talk to your monster then?” I asked.

    “You have a monster under your bed?” Peri asked. She leaned out of the wardrobe, looking to catch sight of it.

    “Sure. Who do you think keeps me safe at night?” I said. I leaned over the bed and peered under it. “Belle, can you come out and say hi to Peri, I don’t think she’s had a chance to meet you yet.”

    In response to my request a small puppy made of shadows and smoke wiggled out from under my bed. With it’s floppy ears and wiggly tail, the shadow puppy gave Peri a serious run for her money in the adorable department.

    “Hi Peri, nice to meet you.” Belle said in a diminutive voice that matched her tiny stature. “You’re back sooner than I expected Jin. Are things going ok?”

    Belle wasn’t really a “monster under the bed”. She was Way’s “familiar”. Way had formed Belle from a piece of herself to act as her loyal attack beast. Like Way though, Belle had become something more once the two of them were freed to grow as they wished. Their relationship had grown too, from
“master/servant” to “big sister/little sister” with Belle taking the role of the protective older sister. Her relationship with me had changed as well, although in that case it was more from “predator/prey” to “co-conspirators” (since we usually teamed up to make sure Way was taking care of herself).

    “Yeah. Way sends her love and thanks for watching over me.” I said, passing along the sentiment Way had expressed earlier.

    “You have a puppy!” Peri screamed. I winced in response to that. I’d known Peri was puppy crazy for a bit but I thought she’d gotten that out of her system when she started to fixate on ponies. I guess nearby puppy cuteness beat out hypothetical pony cuteness though.

    “I’m not a puppy. I’m just in disguise.” Belle said, saving me from my faux pas.

    “You look like a puppy.” Peri said, insisting on the reality she saw in front of her.

    “Do you want to see how else I can look?” Belle asked.

    “Yes.” Peri said. For someone who was sleeping in my wardrobe because she was afraid of the monster under her bed, there wasn’t much in the way of fear that I could see in her eyes.

    Belle drew in her breath, inflating her puppy chest until she looked so full she might burst. Then she sneezed. The jerking spasm of the sneeze shook her from her puppy body to the body of a girl not much bigger than Peri. Where Peri’s skin was a lovely dark brown, like my step-father and brother, Belle’s had the same black of darkness and smoke as her puppy form.

    “Ooo. Do it again!” Peri squealed.

    “Belle’s not a doll Peri. And you’re supposed to be say ‘Please’ remember?” I told her.

    “PLEASE!” Peri insisted.

    “It’s ok if you want to take a break Belle.” I offered.

    “No, it’s ok. You’re awake now, so I can take care of Peri for a bit. How long will you be here?” Belle asked.

   “A little over an hour I think. We’re taking a bus ride back to our apartment and I’m snoozing for the trip.” I told her.

    “You’re not snoozing. You’re awake.” Peri said, understandably confused at the direction the conversation had taken. Belle was aware of my mission on Earth-Glass with Way. Peri on the other hand was a little young to fully grasp the kind of things I could do. On the other hand there were some simple ways to describe it.

    “Yep – I’m awake here. We’re talking about a pretend place.” I told her.

    The idea that I was in two worlds at once was something I’d seen adults struggle to grasp. I think the only reason I didn’t have a hard time with it was because I’d experienced it before I had to think about it too much. Technically I wasn’t limited to two worlds, but I didn’t have much talent at fragmenting my consciousness so I tended to focus on just one place at a time. That meant that I effectively spent a lot of time “asleep” at home, but as a teenager that wasn’t unheard of. Where I lost out on social time on my “Earth”, I made up for it by making friends on other worlds and being awake, somewhere, at all hours of the day. That was sort of counter intuitive given that I was a “dream” lord but I’d grown accustomed to a lot weirder stuff than that.

    Peri, on the other hand, was still in the process of figuring out how one world worked.

    “Can I go to the pretend place?” she asked.

    “Sure, there’s a lot of old guys there with cigars, just like grandpa.” I told her. Psychological warfare against a four year old used to seem cruel and unnecessary. That was before I’d spent my first five minutes with one. Experience has taught me that using any and all tricks I’d picked up as part of my diplomat training was completely fair game when it came to dealing with children and family members in general.

    “Yuck! I don’t wanna go there.” Peri announced.

    “Aww, but they’d love to pinch your cute little cheeks!” I teased.

    “No! No! No! I’m not going to go!” she said and pulled the door to the wardrobe closed.

    I met Belle’s eyes and giggled silently.

    “I’ll keep her entertained when she comes out.” Belle said.

    “Are you sure it’s ok?”

    “Yes. I feel better when I have something to do.” she said. “Maybe we’ll look into the monster under her bed too.”

    “Monsters under the bed” were, for the most part, just kiddie stories in my world. We had all sorts of weird things, but by and large the world was more mundane than the news made it out to be. Alien invaded fairly often for example but a lot of people had never even seen one much less had to fight against a ‘Reptoid from Beyond The Stars’ (one of the aggressor races that kept coming back for rematches a lot).

    I nodded my thanks to Belle and slipped out of bed to head downstairs. I might be a super powered, reality altering dream lord, but my body on this world still needed to eat unless I wanted to patch it up with magic constantly. That was doable there were as many consequences to eating magic as there was to eating regular food and food tasted better.

    I shuffled into the kitchen in a zombie-like search for sustenance and found my Mom working on a design for a new sewage treatment system on her holo-computer while she mixed the batter for a pineapple upside down cake. How those two thoughts lived together in her head was something I didn’t really want to think about.

    “Oh, you’re up! How are things going with Way?” she asked.

    Early on I’d thought I’d have to take the classic approach of hiding my powers from my parents. That particular bit of idiocy hadn’t lasted longer than 24 hours though. The first day I’d had my powers had been an eventful one. By the end of it, my Mom knew who I was and had accepted me for what I’d become. As simple as that sounds, I’m not sure I could have made it through the years that have passed since then without the simple act of her standing with me that day.

    One of the nice side benefits of being open with her, was that I could keep my Mom in the loop on the things that were going on in the dream worlds. It felt a lot less like I was living a double life when I was able to share all that was happening to me with the people that I loved.

    “She’s doing pretty good. I’m sleeping on her shoulder now actually. We had a bit of break in the case we’re working on.” I said.

    “You’re trying to track down a missing person right?”

    “Missing or possibly dead. Though I’m beginning to think it might be ‘dead’ unfortunately.”

    “Why’s that?”

    “I hired a detective to help us and someone killed him. Then they tried to kill us.”

    My mother stopped her mixing and turned away from the hologram where she was reviewing the sewer plans.

    “I can’t tell you how weird it is to hear your daughter say that and know that you don’t need to worry about her.” she said looking at me like she expected to see fresh bullet wounds somewhere on my body.

    “I know. Though, to be fair, James could say the same thing.” James was my brother, also known as the superhero Aegis. He was Athena’s Champion on Earth and was, for the most part, invulnerable. We weren’t actually competing to see who could get shot at more often but my Mom seemed convinced that we were.

    “His powers I understand a little better than yours.” she said.

    “Says the Champion of Gaia.” I retorted. Like I said, the first day I had my powers had been a little hectic. Among many other unexpected events, I’d wound up bearing Gaia’s Sacred Laurels, the emblem of her chosen champion. Then I’d passed them onto my Mom for safe keeping. I hadn’t actually meant to make her the champion of the planet’s raw life force but sometimes crazy things like that just happen.

    Being Gaia’s Champion had turned out to be a fairly simple deal. The Earth reacts slowly to change, so there wasn’t much day to day work to be done. Gaia’s Champion was needed to stand against any cosmic level threats to the planet but there was a long line of heroes that those threats would need to get through first. Including my indestructible brother James and me.

    Since neither of us had any interest in seeing our mother get into a knock down, drag out brawl with world destroying super villains or alien invaders (and since we had the power to prevent that from happening) Mom’s life as Champion had been reasonably peaceful. She wasn’t one to “rest on her laurels” (James made that joke far too often) though so she’d turned her attention to improving the global systems we had in place for dealing with humanity’s impact on the world.

    Gaia, as the personification of all life on the planet, didn’t actually care much about humans one way or the other. We were a tiny species that hadn’t been around all that long in the grand scheme in things. We could render the planet “uninhabitable” tomorrow and life would change and adapt and largely forget we’d ever existed. There weren’t many Earthlings that wanted that to happen, but there also weren’t many who could see how to prevent it either. With Mom’s help that was changing.

    Complex interactions were something she’d been trained to understand as a chemical engineer. With the mantle of Gaia’s Champion to help feed her information and connections to research labs around the world, she was steadily improving our ability to mitigate the impact we had on the planet. It wasn’t about “being one with nature”. We’d always been “one with nature”, it was one of the most complex technologies that existed and it surrounded and permeated our lives. Mom’s view was that the key lay in understanding that technology and learning to work with it rather than ignoring the consequences of what we did and assuming the biosphere would sort it all out on its own.

    “It sounds like you’re close to wrapping the case up?” Mom asked.

    “Maybe. We still haven’t found who we’re really looking for though.” I said.

    “The missing person?”

    “No, there’s a dreamweaver there. Or a nascent one. That’s why Kari asked us to look into it.” I said. To say Kari was a classmate would have been correct but to say she was the 3rd Musketeer along with Way and I would have been more accurate. I’d met Kari two years ago and had helped her develop her powers as a dream lord. Peri was my sister by blood, but Kari was my sister by choice.

    “That’s like what you are right?”

    “Not exactly. You have dreamwalkers. Those are folks who can travel between world but not change things. Then you’ve got dreamweavers. They can’t travel from world to world under their own power but they can edit reality on the small scale. Then you’ve got dream lords. We’re basically just limited by our imaginations.” I explained.

    “That still seems hard to believe. It makes it sound like you’re God.”

    “Not even close actually. I’m simplifying things a lot too. There’s plenty of stuff that is difficult for me to do or has consequences that I’m not willing to endure. Honestly most of my training with the Parliament over the last few years has been teaching me when not to use my powers and the other ways that I can work out problems that I run into.”

    “I still wish I could go with you and see you in action. It’s strange to see you sleeping so peacefully and then hear later how you were fighting for your life against a sea monster or something.” my Mom said.

    “Well, I’m usually not fighting for my life. Usually it’s other people I’m trying to keep alive. Though I’m not doing a great job of it at the moment. One person dead and another nearly killed.” That had rattled me a bit, but with my meta-awareness in full effect it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. “The Amazing Jin” was a “tough as nails adventure girl” so I could draw on her innate mental fortitude while I was playing that role. As normal Jin, the violence I’d been exposed to was a bit freakier. On one level it helped that I knew I was inherently safe and on another level I had meta-awareness to see that while Shurman’s life was over, his spirit endured. Without those resources to draw on, I knew I would have been a basket base long ago.

    “And even though its a dream, they still seem real to you don’t they?” Mom asked.

    “As real as anyone here. To them, we’re the impossible dream, the fairytale land that they could only find in comic books, just like to us they might as well be in a black and white movie.” I said.

    “Are you going to be ok? Not physically, but, I mean, this seems like a lot to put on two girls your age, even if you do have special powers and training.” my mother said.

    “I think so. I’m hoping we can get out of there as soon as possible actually. We can’t really talk there like we can normally and it feels weird.” I said. My Mom looked at me with appraising eyes. She couldn’t actually look into my soul, but it felt like she was doing a good job trying to.

    “How are things looking for your next semester with the Parliament? You’re going on to your apprenticeships next right?” she asked.

    My heart dropped past my stomach and into the bottom of my feet at the mention of that. Apprenticeships are a part of the Parliament’s advanced curriculum. They’re a chance to learn about the roles that you’re interested in via actual experience. Way and I had both been accepted into the program based on the academic and practical work that we’d done leading up to it. Our “grades” on both were pretty high and we’d managed to get connected with two very experienced and well regarded mentors.

    And that was the problem. Way’s interests and talents lead her towards the Diplomat Corps’ “Guardian” program. They were the ones who acted as security and enforcement for the worlds that were under the Parliament’s protection. My own talents pointed in another direction though. I was bound for the “Envoy” program. We were the ones who dealt with nurturing worlds that weren’t yet ready to join the Parliament and coordinating with worlds that knew of the Parliament but chose to remain outside it.

    It wasn’t uncommon at all for Envoys and Guardians to work together and that was exactly what we planned to do. There was just the small matter that the apprenticeships usually ran for four to six years, during which time we’d be traveling far and wide. Forget seeing each other every day, we’d be lucky if we saw each other once a season, or maybe even once a year.

    I hated it.

    A part of me didn’t want to go through with it. I didn’t want to be apart from Way for that long. Another part of me though couldn’t bear the thought of holding her back.

    Way had grown so much since I’d first met her. I knew if she had the chance to become a full fledged Guardian, she’d blossom into one of the best that there’d ever been.

    For an impossible girl, I hated feeling like I was in an impossible situation, but for all my power the one thing I couldn’t change was who we were. And so I sat caught in a trap of my own making, feeling like I was going to split in two without the aid of a magician’s box or a giant sawblade.

The Imperfect Mirrors – Chapter 4

    Fighting an unseen enemy can make for an interesting mental puzzle. You look for the tell-tale clues, small sounds, or ripples in the environment that give them away and when you find them, you pounce. That tends to work better when you can actually fight back though. When one side has a high powered sniper rifle and the other is unarmed, it makes for a less than enjoyable contest. At least for the unarmed people.

    Way was having the same thoughts I was and solved the “unarmed” problem by liberating Officer Smith’s gun from his belt. Stealing from a cop is not generally the brightest of ideas, but under the circumstances we were short on better options.  She checked the gun and then nodded to the door. I crawled over to it with her and, just before she got up to leave the office, I turned off the light. She moved the instant darkness returned and there were no further shots to greet her departure. Either the killer was patient, or they were already on the move. Neither of those prospects filled me with joy.

    Guys who work as guns for hire tend to be meaty and prone to thoughtless violence. Those qualities are great for someone who needs to be intimidating but they’re not optimal for an assassin. Whoever the killer was, they weren’t making the kind of mistakes I’d expect from a typical leg breaker. They’d only shot once for example, and only when they had a clear view of their target.

    That made me think of the room I was in. It was a wreck, but someone as careful as the shooter could have searched it without leaving any trace that they’d been there. So either someone else vandalized Shurman’s office or the killer wanted someone to know they’d been there.

    Frowning at yet another puzzle piece that didn’t seem to fit, I applied pressure to the gash that the bullet had cut in the side of Officer Smith’s head. I’d made sure he hadn’t received a lethal wound but any kind of head injury was dangerous. He’d need medical attention and probably a dozen stitches at least. The problem was he was a beat cop working alone. No one would think to look for him until the shift change and my guess was that wouldn’t be until morning.

    That presented some problems. I couldn’t leave him alone and uncared for, but I had other responsibilities to attend to as well. Add to that the fact that being around me hadn’t been all that safe recently and I was forced to conclude that I needed some help. Looking around for inspiration, I noticed the phone sitting on Shurman’s desk. I almost hadn’t recognized it and had to remind myself to expect technology to look like something from the age of the dinosaurs as long as I was on Earth-Glass.

    Whatever model phone Shurman had invested in didn’t look like any of the “Olde Tyme” telephones I’d ever seen pictures of. Fortunately, it didn’t look terribly complicated either. I fished it off the desktop, being careful not to expose myself to a clear line of fire from the window. In the dark it was harder for anyone to see me moving but not impossible, the street lights were still illuminating the room pretty well. On my world I would have been a sitting duck but Earth-Glass’s ancient technology worked in my favor there. I didn’t have  to worry about the shooter having night vision goggles or computer-aided targeting optics or “Jin seeking missiles” (the way some Mad Science types on my homeworld would).

    “How may I direct your call.” a woman said a few moments after I lifted the phone’s components off their stand.

    I tensed my throat muscles in an odd and slightly painful way.

    “Connect me to the precinct. This is Officer Frank Smith. I’ve been…” I paused. One of the ‘tricks’ I knew as a stage magician was mimicry. I hadn’t heard much of Officer Smith’s voice but I was banking on the same being true for the operator. I let the pause stretch on for an uncomfortable moment and then spoke again. “I’m at 6 Lamont avenue. I’ve been shot. Feeling a little…light headed. Maybe you should put me through to the hospital. Which one’s close to Lamont? I’m going to sit down for a second here. Maybe you should call me an ambulance. I’m just going to sit down here.”

    My acting was a bit over the top, but the operator wasn’t familiar with the idea prank calls and the situation I was describing was sufficiently serious to push her past questioning me too deeply. She called out to “Officer Smith” a few times before I heard her turn to one of her coworkers for help. I mumbled something unintelligible back to her, as though Officer Smith was just barely conscious still. It didn’t take them long to decide that calling both the police station and the hospital was the correct procedure.

    “I’ll buy you a new shirt after this over.” I whispered to the unconscious Officer Smith as I tore off his sleeve. It made a longer bandage than the swatch of dress that I’d been using. I tried to be careful as I wrapped it around his head, but not so much that it looked like someone else had arranged it for him.

    As I fastened the makeshift bandage around his head, I heard a trio of shots ring out. The acoustics of the building prevented me from making out which direction they came from. Another pair of shots came a few moments later and then silence reigned. I held my breath waiting for some sign of how the battle had gone. Instead of that though I heard the operator talking to her coworker about hearing something. She hadn’t been able to make out the gunfire exactly, but she knew something was happening on the other end.

    Officer Smith chose that moment let out a pained groan. In one sense it was perfect. The operator heard it clearly and I could hear her telling her coworker to have the ambulance hurry. On the other hand, I also heard footsteps in hallway drawing closer to the door and the chatter from the phone was sure to draw attention. Leaving my injured patient propped up against the wall with the phone in his hands, I crawled over to the door and peeked out.

    I breathed a sigh of relief to see Way advancing carefully down the hall. She didn’t speak until she was close enough to whisper to me.

    “I winged him and I think he’s fled for now.” she said.

    “Where was he?”

    “By the time I got out there he was on the street and heading towards the door we went in.”

    “You’re sure it was him?”

    “Positive. He still had his rifle.”

    “Did he see you?”

    “Not clearly. That door is pretty well shadowed. He was ready for trouble though. He snapped a shot off at me as soon as I looked out the door.”

    “He missed?” I asked, looking her over in the dim light to see if I could spot any wounds.

    “Just barely. For a snapshot he had good aim.”

    “And the other shots I heard?”

    “I fired back but he had too much cover from the garbage bin at the end of the alley. He tried to fake me out by opening and closing a door on one of the parked cars. That’s what brought about the second exchange of fire you heard. He tried for an ambush shot but I clipped him in the arm and ruined his aim. I guess that’s all he had the stomach because he took off on foot after that. I was going to chase him, but it would have been too easy for him to double back and get here before I could.” Way explained. She’d prioritized me over stopping the killer, which I couldn’t necessarily disagree with. I wanted to express my thanks for it and assure her that I was ok and that she could let me take some risks too but words failed me.

    As dream lords we have methods of silent communication that can impart a whole lot more information than simple words. Unfortunately, Earth-Glass was fragile enough that it was risky to use that kind of communication. I frowned. Nothing important would be gained by risking dream speech here, Way already knew I was grateful for what she did and that she could trust me to hold my own. I didn’t need to tell her but I wanted to anyway and I hated that we were being kept apart like that.

    “How’s Officer Smith doing?” Way asked.

    “Still out of it. The bullet rung his bell pretty good. He’s bleeding too. Nothing life threatening yet, but I called for an ambulance to come for him.

    “You’re thinking we’ll wait with him till they arrive and then slip out in the hustle and bustle that follows?” Way said.

    “Yeah, it sounds like the shooter won’t be back, at least not right away, but I don’t want to take chances. And if he is waiting for us, it’ll be easier to pass unnoticed with a crowd of people to hide in.

    “What about this?” Way asked, gesturing with the gun that she’d taken from the policeman.

    “Wipe your prints off of it and give it back to him. I’ll shatter the window out a bit more, make it look like he fired back at the guy who shot him. The neighbors will remember the gunfire from the fight you just had so they’ll report multiple shots fired. If he was shooting out the window though it’d be really hard to find where the bullets would have landed.”

    “How long till the ambulance gets here?” Way asked as she unloaded the remaining rounds out of the pistol. Handing an unconscious man a loaded pistol was a recipe for disaster but an empty pistol would be both harmless and believable for the scene that the paramedics and police would find.

    “Five to ten minutes I would guess. Might see a police car show up first though.” I said as I poked out more pieces of the shattered window so they’d fall to the street below.

    “Let’s assume the shooter isn’t going to come back. He’s a pro. He won’t want to risk a fight against an armed and alert foe when he’s wounded.” Way said.

    “That makes sense. He’ll probably try to figure out who we are first and then hit us when we’re not expecting it.”

    “I don’t think he got a good look at me, but if he was watching the room he probably saw you pretty clearly.”

    “Yeah. That’s not so good. I’m a bit distinctive. It won’t take him long to figure out who the Chinese girl in the stage magicians outfit is.”

    “Maybe. You had your coat closed until you started making bandages. He probably knows what you look like, but he may not have a sense of what you do.”

    “Except, he was at the Chimera Club tonight. He didn’t know I was the one who hired Shurman then or he would have shot me there. Seeing me here too though? He has to have connected those dots.” I said.

    “Think its safe to go back to our rooms then? It wouldn’t take him long to find out where we live. Plenty of people in the stage crew at the club know.”

    “They know we live in Fairbanks, but they don’t know our exact address.” I said.

    “That wouldn’t be that hard to get either.” Way said, her smile suggesting an idea had occurred to her.

    “So we set a trap?” I said. I can’t read her mind, but when you know someone as well as Way and I know each other it’s not always that hard to guess what the other is thinking.

    “If we can catch him, he might be able to tell us what happened to Mcintyre.”

    “It’ll be trickier without our magic.”

    “But not impossible.”

    “Shame it’s not, then it’d be right up our alley.” I said with a small smile. Way smiled back in agreement. More than a few people, often enemies we were fighting but occasionally friends as well, had observed that we were impossible girls. We took some pride in that, even (or especially) when it was driving other people crazy.

    “Can you open the door across the hall?” Way asked.

    “Yeah, let’s head over there. The ambulance should be here any minute.” I replied.

    The Art of Disappearing, as well as much of the rest of stage magic,  revolves around understanding and guiding the flow of attention. In other words, the easiest way to “disappear” is to not be where people are looking. That sounds simple, and it’s made easier by the fact that people are much less attentive than than they’re aware of, but it can still be nerve wracking.

    Picking the lock on the door to the office across the hall was trivial. Waiting for the ambulance crew on the other hand was semi-agonizing. Intellectually I knew they wouldn’t look in the dark room we were in when there was a nice brightly lit room with a gunshot victim in it to draw their attention (we’d turned the lights on before we left the room). Until I heard them go into Shurman’s office though I kept imagining them throwing open the door to the room Way and I were crouched in and calling a gang of police down on us.

    In the end though they rushed in to Shurman’s office and were none the wiser as we slipped out of our hiding spot and then out of the building.

    We caught a bus about a half hour later and roughly a mile away. The meant a lot of extra stops before we reached our apartment but that was ok by me.

    “Quite a day.” I said, slumping against Way’s shoulder.

    “Why don’t you catch a quick nap while we head back.” she suggested. “We’ll need to be alert later for the trap if we’re going to set it up.”

    “That’s not a bad idea. Wake me up when we get close to the apartment ok?” I said.

    Way nodded in agreement and I slipped down into the welcoming embrace of darkness. A moment later I opened my eyes and stretched feeling somehow both groggy and refreshed. I gazed around and found everything in my room just as I’d left it. Everything except for my wardrobe which had a door cracked slightly open and my little sister peering out from the darkness within.