Ann had an appointment with Dr. Curtis Gordon, principal of the Woodside Academy.
There were a few exceptions to her immortal unhurried point of view. Immortals could part and meet easily after millennia or lay plans that would take a century or more to mature; at least adult immortals could. "Too soon" was not a concept juveniles understood. Children, human children or immortal children, didn't believe in "just a minute" or "it's not ready yet". When they wanted something, they wanted it now.
On the other hand, especially with children or soft-cooked eggs, being too unhurried could result in an eighteen year-old lifer with three strikes or an exploded very hard-boiled egg with its green, sulfurous, yolk spattered on the kitchen ceiling. Neither result was especially desirable and at least one of them entailed a fair amount of clean-up.
Today, it was time to remind Logan Powell Turner she had her eye on him.
Logan Powell Turner ignored the faint trill from his teacher's desk.
His math teacher touched his computer and frowned at the screen. "Pol, the Head wants to see you."
"He didn't say. Go. Leave the problem set. Take your books."
"I'm not done."
"I'll make allowances. Go."
Pol zipped his back-pack and slouched out the door. He wondered what the Head wanted and why Dr. Gordon insisted on being called the Head. Probably the same reason he wore tweeds, Pol decided. With leather patches, yet. At least with the new No Smoking Anywhere On Campus policy, the student body was spared the smell of the pipe Gordon used to smoke. And the gross noises it made.
He hadn't pulled anything recently and there had not been the nearly inaudible rustle of texting that accompanied unannounced searches, not that he was stupid enough to keep anything in his school locker. He hadn't stood anyone up for the Fall Frolic, hell, he hadn't even gone to the Fall Frolic, so he wasn't being sued by a vindictive and disappointed date like poor Austin Blair.
As for the matter he privately called 'The Spring Blow-Up', nothing had really happened, except for his heart breaking, and no one knew about that. He had smoothed things over, and, apparently, things were staying smoothed. His parents and the police had accepted his story that the Boxster must have been stolen, and ended up somehow in San Francisco. The car had been gone when he came out of the, uh, mumble, liquor store, and he had no idea how what happened had happened... The last part was actually true.
How had Ann Grove immobilized him? How had she sent him away? How did he know her name? How did he know how to find her? How had she known about the Green Door Liquor Barn? He had found himself in the Vodka aisle, a familiar and often frequented place. He made up a cover story that accommodated what he knew of the facts: He had left his keys in the car and he hadn't seen anyone take it. He added that he was sorry about the vodka, and, anyway, everyone bought it.
There had been some minor difficulties: The Green Door was shut down, which was an inconvenience to all his peers at school who had become very annoyed at him when his part in the affair had been known. He lost his fake ID and he hadn't been able to get a new one. He had been sent to a summer penitentiary where he had been subjected to physical and mental torture; and his parents had stopped his allowance, canceled his credit cards, and revoked all his driving privileges. Actually, being driven to and from school and anywhere else he needed to go was not so bad at this moment, since it meant there were no traffic cops after him.
He had no idea why he'd been called to the Head's office.
Simple bad news wasn't likely. Not here, not from the Head. His mother was in Milan or maybe Rome. Pol forgot where exactly she was, but she was watching skinny models with funny hair in ugly clothes on runways somewhere. His father was in either Afghanistan or Jakarta, unless by now he had moved to the job in Singapore. News from his parents as well as news about his parents usually came from the Housekeeper, the Secretary or the Lawyer. The Gardner/Chauffeur never heard from his parents directly and the Personal Assistant and the Wardrobe Manager weren't around at the moment since they traveled with his father and mother respectively.
There was a small (all right, a vanishingly small, but still maybe real) possibility that one of his parents had made a lightning visit back to San Francisco and had nothing better to do this afternoon than visit him. Which, he decided, might be nice. Maybe.
"You wanted to see me, Dr. Gordon?"
"Ah," the Head said, "here's Turner now. Come in, Logan." Naturally, Logan Powell Turner thought, the Head had never realized he'd always used his middle name. All right, he still spelled it the way his Swedish au pair had taught him, which had given him a certain Continental cachet in kindergarten and primary school, but by now he was just used to it.
Pol walked in and stopped in surprise.
There was no doubt at all that it was the same woman he had met in the spring, even though this time she wasn't dripping wet. Ann Grove wore the same black pantsuit and green blouse and her hair was long and smooth down her back, fastened with a simple silver clip at her neck.
She smiled at him.
"Turner, Miss Grove was just saying she would be joining you for Parents' Day next week, since your mother and father are away."
"Like hell!" he started to say, and found he couldn't say anything.
She rose, thanked Gordon, and shook his hand. Her voice was the same, yet different: deep and calm, with a hint of laughter this time. The Head's mouth was open in a silly smile. Logan made sure his own mouth was closed. The woman turned to him:
"Walk me to my car, Logan, and you can tell me if you prefer chicken or salmon for the picnic." She turned and walked out of the office, leaving Dr. Gordon smiling after her.
Pol stood still, trying to protest, to sit down, to yell something.
"Come along," Ann Grove said from the doorway, and he found himself following her.
She made no attempt to talk to him until they were outside in the visitors' parking lot. "Did you think I'd forgotten about you?" she asked.
Turner found he could speak again: "Are you kidnapping me?"
"Whatever for?" She glanced over her shoulder at him for a moment, then kept walking.
He followed. It was not something he had any choice about. "Money."
"Logan! How disappointingly unimaginative. No, I am not kidnapping you. I'm here today so you won't panic all over the place next week and so you can tell me whether you prefer salmon or chicken. I'm coming to Parents' Day and I'm bringing a picnic, with, as the Head said, only discreet alcohol. Which I gather means none for you. Too bad, I make good cider."
"Why are you here?"
She leaned back against her car and smiled. "Because you are an irresponsible juvenile with some money and some power, and you may cause trouble. I don't like trouble."
He was able to stop walking. "That's not any sort of answer. Why are you really here?"
"That will become obvious. Now, do you want me to bring chicken or salmon?"
"I don't want you here at all!"
"You don't get to make that choice. By your own actions, you've lost much of your freedom of choice. You've abused your autonomy and as a consequence, your freedom has been curtailed. Not as much as it would have been if you were arrested for attempted murder, of course, but then any limitation is annoying."
"I'll tell the Head you're trying to kidnap me!"
Ann Grove smiled again, and, straightening up, reached out.
He'd grown more than an inch since last spring and while she was still taller than he was, she didn't have to look as far down to meet his eyes as she had last April. Once again, he found he could not avoid her touch.
She put the tip of one long finger on his forehead. "Sorry, Logan, but you can't tell lies about me. You can tell anyone you like the truth about me, as far as you know it, but you can't make up any stories. Chicken or salmon? No? Then you'll eat what I bring or go hungry."
He opened his mouth, then shut it. She nodded. He stepped back from her.
"It may relieve your mind to know that your parents know I'm here. They even think it might be a good idea. See you next week. Oh, and don't cut school that day or I'll fetch you."
She got in the car, which Pol finally noticed was a Jaguar Racing Green XKR convertible, with dove leather seats, waved cheerfully, and drove away.
Ann left the Jag with Tom Rivera and ported home from his garage in time to receive her litter patrol assignments. There were only a few, and, after the last (a spell designed to bring back a wayward lover had instead created a loop in a one-way traffic grid that kept the caster's ex-lover driving in circles from morning rush hour until just after 2:00 PM, when Ann interrupted it) she looked around. She was on the coast, in Santa Cruz. She had a number of things to think over and she decided to walk home, at least part way. She teleported north and a little east.
She was in one of the rougher stretches of the Santa Cruz mountains where sunny rocky ridges separated cool fog-haunted valleys. Humans had acted to safeguard some of the original beauty of the land. The boundaries of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Cascade Ranch State Park, Butano State Park, Pescadaro County Park and Portola State Park were within a ten mile circle of each other.
She followed the irregular jogs of Big Basin-Redwoods State Park North in a east-by-north-east direction, first down into the central valley and eventually up towards the north ridge. She made poor time, but then, she was in no hurry. The north ridge fell away abruptly into a steep and narrow gully, complete with a small stream and riparian forest. She descended, with slips and skids but no falls; crossed the seasonally low stream and started up. She headed for Portola State Park, situated on the ridge after next.
Off to the east, she could see the backs of a few new houses on the recently denuded hills. She thought the owners would have trouble long before the next earthquake or wild fire. It was already September, the winter rains were coming, and nothing had been planted to keep the disturbed soil in place. Well, at least the buyers and inhabitants could observe erosion in action, which would be instructive. Nature was endlessly patient and didn't mind repeating a lesson time after time, until humans understood it.
On her left, to the south and west, was fenced land, a mix of rocky outcrops and logged terraces. The old coastal redwood stumps were moldering, with maturing regrowth in rings around them. She passed an abandoned cabin, a sort of bastard stone, stucco and half-timbered construction which looked as if it might be termed Rustic Hacienda Tudor, and used its rutted driveway to gain the penultimate crest. She noticed a For Sale or Lease sign where the driveway met a somewhat larger rutted dirt road that ran along the crest. She used the road for a short time, then abandoned it when it turned east.
She walked north, her current problems very much in mind.
If she was correct in her suspicions regarding the probable arsonist, investigating the bookstore fires would be delicate.
Her soi-disant controllers eyed askance any contact between her and anyone powerful, friend or enemy.
There were three major factions represented on her committee, each with its own viewpoint and personal version of their mutual history. There were also additional tensions within each faction. Balancing that many competing demands, sometimes overt but often unspoken, was time consuming. Ann sighed. The only position worse than her own was the President's. Poor Chiyou and Huangdi.
Well, delicate was not impossible. She knew where, in general, and she had an idea how, and therefore who, in general. She didn't know when or why, but she could work around the first and if she was successful, she would discover the other. What she did next would depend on who exactly she found.
Let's do this, Ann thought. She checked for human witnesses, found none around, and ported off to Dai's workshop.
Dai looked up. His seal-dark hair was longer than usual, and he hadn't shaved recently. His workshop was an electronic lab today. He had been bent over a three dimensional web of fine lines floating above his workbench. When he looked away from it, it disappeared. "Hi, how's the little girl like her computer?"
"She complains her guardian likes it too much."
"Get him one."
"An excellent idea. Can you set one up for him?"
"Do you need anything? Anything I can do for you?" Ann asked
"We're fine. Oh, wait. Eventually, I'll need some crystals."
"Of course. Give me a drawing and specifications. Settling accounts is not why I'm here, however," Ann said. "I came about my assignment board."
"Your board giving you trouble? It shouldn't!"
"There have been some things which make me wonder."
"Some Orcas were having problems with loose magic and I didn't even know about it until one of them showed up to complain in person. That can't be what the Committee intended."
"Tell me about that," Dai said.
Ann told him about the ocean dumping of magic ingredients and what had resulted from that.
"I want to see the board," Dai said.
Dai picked up a tool kit, then glanced around as if deciding what else to take. Seeing the way his eyes touched nearly everything in the workroom, Ann took his hand and moved them to her living room. She left him to inspect the map behind the painting while she made tea and set out cups and a plate of tiny quiches in several varieties. She carried the tray out to the deck where, a short time later, Dai joined her.
"There's nothing wrong with your board," he said.
"Would you care for tea? This is Jade Breath." Ann poured a clear, pale green tea into an eggshell cup. As she handed it to Dai, she said, "I have always assumed it has works perfectly."
"Of course it does."
"I'm not so sure about its programming, specifically how it determines what is an incident."
"Yeah, it's specialized, maybe more than you like. What you told me, that wouldn't register. That wasn't human magic."
Ann nodded. "Apparently, I am also responsible for certain instances of non-human magic."
"And they didn't tell you? Typical. Well, you're going to need a different board for that."
"Can I adapt my board to display non-human magic?"
"Bad idea. Don't even try. It would be simpler just to make a new one."
"Suppose I do make a new one?"
"Don't do it here," Dai said. "Two boards that close can heterodyne with each other, explosively."
"All right. What sort of detectors are involved?"
"Sort of a mix. Your committee screwed that up, too."
"They all insist any magic involving half of them is totally different from any magic involving the other half."
"You know that and I know that. They believe otherwise. What this means is that each side has set up independent monitors, some of them side by side and all of them reporting pretty much the same events."
"Yeah. On top of Mount Tamalpais, and Mount Livermore, which was a touchy situation that included a missile battery for a while, and Mount Hamilton, where we had to integrate the sensors into one of the buildings, the monitors are nearly touching. On both Mount Diablo and Mount Madonna, there are monitors in separate loci. Mount Davidson and Mount Saint Helena have one each, but I forget whose is which. Mount Vaca and Mount Umunhum got two each just this century, along with their new TV-station radars."
"When were the others put in?"
"The locals didn't really need monitors. It wasn't until the European strain began settling here in big numbers, five centuries or so ago, that the rest of us even noticed the place. One cult led to another and about two hundred years ago, the population popped. After that, everybody wanted monitors, I think just so they could keep track."
"Are they all yours?"
"I made the two on Mount Tamalpais and one of the pair on Mount Hamilton, a hundred seventy and a hundred fifty years ago. The others were all manufactured in house, and not very well. None of them are as much of a generalist as you are."
Ann was silent for a long moment, sipping her tea. Dai noticed the quiches and ate two, then two more. It seemed likely he hadn't eaten recently. Ann added a bamboo steamer of shrimp and spinach dumplings, a plate of melon bits wrapped in prosciutto, and a small platter of miniature blini with creme fraiche and salmon roe.
"Ah," Dai said, and began on the melon.
Ann resumed considering what he had told her. Finally she said: "If you were going to do it over, do it now, how would you go about it?"
Dai swallowed and nodded. "Hypothetically speaking, if I wanted a base line, just to get a better idea of what was going on here, for the local stuff, I'd use a couple of the new Doppler radar towers and maybe the big TV tower. Three monitors, complete ones, modern ones, like this," Dai handed Ann a strange sphere, "in those spots, would do the same job as all theirs put together."
"Your work gets more and more elegant," Ann said, examining the sphere. It was a little larger in diameter than an American half dollar, with swirls of color and texture moving around it. One of the colors was an amber gold, shading from pale to dark. It was faintly sticky and gave off an elusive, pleasant odor. The other color was pale gray pockmarked ice, shading to dark gray pockmarked ice. The two sections fit together rather like a baseball designed by Escher. The formal name, she remembered, was a three-dimensional monad. It was very light for its size, if one assumed it was either solid ice or amber.
"Thanks. This model is invisible to humans, and paint and bird shit slide right off it."
"That's important for any outdoor installation. Can I borrow this for a day or so?"
"Sure, just let me disarm the traps." Dai brushed blini crumbs off his hands and took back the sphere.
"Boss?" Galley said.
Martin looked up from the multi-colored schedule he was attempting to organize for the next month. It was not going well. "What?"
"We got a guy here, heard we're looking for a bartender."
"No, mostly human. I think."
"Did you tell him what kind of bar we are?"
"Yeah. That's OK, he worked for Wilhelmina Wilson; he listed her as a ref."
"Willy? Very well, I'll talk to him. What's his name?"
"Apparently he goes by Jesse."
Jesse was shorter than Martin, about 5'8". He had dark brown hair with a faint curl and golden brown highlights combed back from a straight hairline above a smooth forehead and coming long down his neck; dark blue eyes under straight brown brows, and medium tan skin. He had a long upper lip shadowed by a curving roman nose, and small neat ears, flat against his skull. His long jaw flowed into an abrupt square chin. He wore flat-front black chinos and a gray turtle-neck sweater, which made an elegant background for a dramatic platinum pendant on a heavy snake chain. He wore a white denim cropped and fitted jacket over the sweater.
"What's the main ingredient in a Villeneuve's Hat?" Martin asked, after reading the recommendation from Willy Wilson.
"Calvados," Jesse said.
"Speak any non-human languages?"
"Zelwash, Bonyia and some Yalit."
"We get a fair number of humans in here, too. Any problems with them?"
Martin eyed Jesse.
Jesse elaborated: "I won't say my best friends are human, but most of them are all right. Thrill seekers are always a problem, no matter what they are."
"We try to get rid of them quietly, even if we don't manage to do it gently," Martin said. "Why did you leave Willy?"
"I couldn't stand another Buffalo winter."
"All right: I had a premonition." Which was one way of describing it, Jesse thought.
When Jesse just nodded, Martin continued:
"No smoking, of course. We're in San Francisco and it's gotten weird in recent years. I have a firm rule: No coats or blankets on the floor or over the backs of chairs and certainly not at the bar. That's what the cloak room is for. I hate a messy bar."
"And an unruly bar. Brawling is not allowed in the Lounge. That's for the downstairs Bar and that's why you'll have a baseball bat."
"I'm not exactly a brawler myself. The last time I tried, I got shot." One hand briefly stroked the center lump of the pendant.
Which was, Martin saw, a slug-like blob of metal, surrounded by black faceted gems and inset gold stars. Interesting. "Your premonitions are erratic?"
Jesse nodded. "Yeah, in strength, immediacy, and accuracy. That little incident took me totally by surprise. My latest was pretty scary, though."
"In any case, here you'd have backup. You'd be the one to make the call, though."
"Well, OK, then."
"How do you make a Green Martini?"
"Never heard of it," Jesse said. "I'd have to look it up."
"What do you think of Scott Beattie?"
"Ginger simple syrup is a great idea, but I think importing branch water from Kentucky is a little extreme."
"Do you read Bartending Today?"
"Only for the cartoons."
Martin nodded: "OK. We work on the book and tips are divided amongst all the staff. I'll give you a quarter's trial; in three months we'll both know what to expect and we can go from there."
Sly did not want to appear as if she was overeager or nagging, so she spent the morning washing her car. That was done by 10:00. That was still too early. She decided to clean her refrigerator.
Eventually, after washing the lunch dishes and all her floors, she called Naldo.
"Yes, it's here. I'm working on it."
"I'll come in."
"Well, it's interesting. Apparently when he looked into the situation at the library, Sr. Rodriques was stonewalled. That 'aroused my investigatory instincts.' He broke out of jargon, he was so excited. Of course, he fell straight into literary clichés, but that easily can happen under stress."
"What else does he say?" Sly asked.
"The digest is that Guzman appears to have stolen two books from the early or rare section — Steve — Esteban said to call him Steve — uses both names for the group of books he also calls the locked room collection. He didn't spend a lot of time proofing this."
"Naldo," Sly said, "what else does he say?"
"Ah, yes. Steve's techs accessed Guzman's computer and read his emails. It would appear that Guzman was suborned by Dyami Chandrapanthi, a Reverend Professor at the Anglo-Sanskrit Theological University at Vallejo, to steal the books and bring them to California."
"Not Raymond Karpinsky?"
"That wasn't the name used," Naldo said. "Although Dyami Chandrapanthi sounds like a fake name, one part American Indian, the other Hindu Indian."
"You sure about that?"
"Hey, I do words."
"Sorry. Please continue."
"Steve sent the emails, which are in English. I haven't bothered looking at them. You want them?"
"Oh, yes. What else?"
"That's as far as I got. Whenever he slipped out of jargon, the translation got a lot slower. I'll keep at it, probably have it for you by tomorrow."
"I'll take the emails and get out of your hair."
In the Inn at San Francisco, a delivery had been arranged and was taking place:
There was a knock at the door. Three of the Singleton Clan's Scribes, Guiscard Singleton, Jere Singleton and Hilarion Singleton looked up. Mildly surprised, Jere Singleton walked over and opened it. All the other Singletons just walked in. Not that many of them visited the computer center.
There was a strange man, not Inn staff, carrying a rectangular carton. The man had an embroidered badge on his shirt which started totally black, then changed to dark red streaks on a forest green background, and slowly resolved to hot pink letters on bright green: Dahji, Senior Sale Representative. The words shifted to: Valex Farimang, Suppliers to Discriminating Mages, in bright green on pink. The whole badge slowly darkened to black again, after which the cycle repeated. "Who signs for this?"
"What is it?" Jere asked.
Guiscard and Hilarion came over and looked over his shoulders.
"Caps," the sales rep said. "Sign here."
"I didn't order this," Jere said.
"The big guy did," the sales rep said. "But you're the only ones up over here, so I guess you can sign for it. Here," he handed the box to Imbert.
"Oh. OK. So what is it?" Jere asked again, signing.
"One gross TarnCap™," Hilarion read.
"One size fits all," Guiscard read the other side of the box.
"Hey," Jere asked, "when did Ethan order this?"
"At the party, yesterday sometime." The sales rep handed Jere a copy of the invoice and left.
"What's a TarnCap™?" Hilarion wondered. He and Guiscard began opening the two foot long box. Inside were two identical columns of stacked billed caps in separate plastic bags. Beneath them were two more plastic bags, also full of caps.
"What?" Jere asked.
"Yeah," Guiscard agreed.
Hilarion opened one of the bags and removed a normal-looking baseball cap. It was very ordinary. The cap was made from a lightweight black twill, the initials V and F were intertwined on the front in the bright green embroidery, there was an adjustable clip in the back, and that was it.
"Why would Ethan want one of these?" He slapped it on Guiscard's head.
"Hey," Jere said.
"What?" Guiscard asked. He reappeared, holding the cap in his hand.
"Interesting," Hilarion said. He put on a cap. "Am I gone?"
Lorant, Maks, and Nansen, the Librarians, and Imbert the Scribe, met with Ranon, Produs and Stap, the Priests, in the quiet dining room on the roof. Earlier this morning, Ethan had been retrieved, carried back to his suite and put to bed. He was still asleep. With that worry taken care of, the literate group were meeting to ascertain if adequate progress had been made to begin actively searching for pieces of the Cosmic Egg.
"I say we send out a search group now just so we have a base line on how long it may take to get all 41 of them," Ranon said.
"We'll have bloody marys all round," Imbert told the waiter. "With a cucumber spear, not celery."
"I say we send out Ethan just so he doesn't go off on any more weird tangents," Stap said.
"If we alarm the piece holders," Maks said, "they may start avoiding Earth, which will make our job just that much more difficult."
"Only the ones who know what they have," Nansen objected. "Many of them have no idea they hold a piece of the Egg, and therefore, they won't be alert."
"We have to begin somewhere," Lorant said. "Sometime. Now seems as good as any I can foresee."
"If Ethan goes, one of us must go with him," Produs reminded the other Priests.
"We can't go," Maks pointed out, meaning the librarians. "Neither can the Scribes. And we need at least one of you here as we move into refining the ritual."
"And apple ginger sangrees with the crêpes," Imbert finished.
"Most of the hunters aren't literate."
"An obstacle to be overcome," Maks agreed. "But if there aren't enough of us to accompany each hunting party, and there aren't, the hunters either must be able to read maps or be willing to accept another guide."
"I think we should send them through the Inn's How to Survive in Modern Society Course," Hilarion said.
"The Innkeeper may know some good teachers," Ranon said.
"Good idea," Nansen said. "Let's ask him."
"Well," the Innkeeper said. "If the hunters want to sharpen their tracking skills, they will need to be literate in here and now signs. Fewmets are not what they were. At the very least, your hunters must be able to read maps and to use a GPS."
The elevator came to a smooth halt and the doors opened.
A bone china serving dish of home-style gravy abruptly froze in place in front of the Innkeeper.
Ranon, who had been listening gravely to the Innkeeper, eyed the gravy boat in some surprise and looked around in time to receive a plate of home fried chicken and mashed potatoes in the face, slightly off center, so that Maks was splattered over the priest's shoulder.
"Hey," the Librarian yelled.
"Enough," the Innkeeper said.
There was a final "Oops," then everyone was still and quiet.
Chasen had been removed from kennel duty abruptly and with no explanation. Once again he was working under the direct supervision of the head of maintenance. He and the rest of the shift's crew were standing around the service elevators when the Innkeeper arrived.
"Chaldun, there's a clean up on the Clansmen's floor."
The assistant manager for maintenance was surprised. The Innkeeper rarely micro-managed. "I'm trying to get the convention bedrooms done before tea. Will it wait?"
"No. They were playing with a box of TarnCaps. A few of them started out in the computer room, but as others joined in, they needed more room. The play expanded to the café-bar next door where they discovered that if one is invisible, one is still discernible if one is covered in marinara sauce."
"While if one is covered in marinara sauce and then puts on a TarnCap, one is entirely invisible. However, in that instance, one should expect to be hit by a dish of gravy. Other experiments were conducted."
"I'll get right on it."
"Thank you. Their playground eventually included some of the corridors and the elevator."
"You three, Dayj'lle, Chasen, Yaniz, to the Clansmen's computer room floor. With full kit."
"We're calling it a day," Guiscard said.
"Where are we drinking?" Hilarion asked.
"We're heading for the quiet bar," Jere said. "But don't let any of the others know."
"I'll be along," Hilarion said. "I need to ask Maks something."
Entering the library, the Scribe courteously detoured around one of the cleaning staff. "I have news," Hilarion told the Librarian.
"You mean something was actually accomplished today?" Maks asked.
"Sarcasm doesn't become you," Hilarion said.
"So?" the Librarian asked shortly.
"That book we went to San José after? The one that librarian Guzman was bringing? A History of Apocryphal Texts? Remember?"
"What about it?"
"It came up on my Google search today. It's here, it's locally available. I found the address just before the fun started. If we still want it, we could go get it tomorrow."
Chasen didn't stop sweeping. Guzman, he thought, sweeping the same area for the third time. The book Mekonnen wanted. If the geeks left the Inn to get the book, he could follow them. Once outside, the Innkeeper's prohibitions against violence would not apply. He would take the book, give it to Mekonnen, get the demon off his back and so be able to stop dusting forever. How could he work this? His eyes fell on the TarnCaps scattered where they had been dropped.
He carefully gathered them up and put all but one on the nearest table. Then he continued cleaning the floor.
Chasen wasn't certain how observed he might be, so he left the TarnCap in the pocket of his dirty jumpsuit until he returned to his room after dinner. Casually, not looking at it, he tossed the cap in the open drawer of the armoire. He tossed the dirty jumpsuit into the laundry bag and nudged the drawer closed.
Well, Dai's comments were always interesting. Ann handled her midnight litter patrol, then returned to the deck outside her bedroom.
Not here, he'd said. Ann assumed he meant not just the living room, but the whole house. She sipped some wine and thought about that.
That could be a problem. She could not use Taz's condo for this purpose. Ann had no difficulty asking Taz to shelter one of her dependents and no intention whatsoever of involving him, however remotely, with her personal troubles, which, after all, arose entirely from her own actions. Where then? She went to bed, still undecided on her next act.
Just after sunrise, she ported back to the dilapidated cabin with the "For Sale or Lease" sign.
Inside, it was small, filthy and cluttered. It consisted of two rooms, a kitchen-dining room-living room and a bedroom; there was a small bathroom, reached via the porch, with a shower in a rough wooden stall and a primitive hole in the ground. Outside, there was a derelict windmill, mostly rusted and lying on the ground where it had collapsed and the burned skeleton of a log barn. She'd lived quite comfortably in less. It would need some attention, but she decided it would do.
Ann appeared in her lawyers' offices at nine. "Hi."
"What now?" Nancy Polias asked warily.
"I need a country retreat," Ann explained.
"I was wondering how long you could endure city life. You're so rustic. However, your committee disapproves of excessive habitation."
"Excessive how, exactly?" Ann asked. "I have no property here, not within the fifty mile limit."
"The Russian Hill house was mentioned."
"But that's their house," Ann said. "I just live there."
Nancy waved one hand, disclaiming the committee's logic.
"In any case, they'll be happy with this little cabin. Very modest, very isolated."
"Oh, all right," Nancy said. "Tell me about it."
Ann spent the rest of the morning examining the small sphere. Nice. Even the traps were elegant. She sent it back to Dai, with a warm thank-you surrounding it. She went out on patrol and returned to find a message from Nancy. She called the lawyer.
"Come to lunch," Nancy said. "There are complications."
"It's an historic site."
Ann was in Nancy's office. They were at a table on a small balcony, looking down at City Center San Francisco. Lunch had been lobster salad, followed by fruit.
"Landmark status? Why?"
"The Smith-Ysidoro feud, in 1837. The climax took place there. Twenty-seven dead."
"Humans," Ann murmured. "Celebrating murder. So what are the limitations?"
"Now, what was listed was the original log cabin, which was destroyed by a fire in 1994."
"The burned one? I thought that was a barn."
"Cabin. Yes. You can't alter it."
"I just leave it there and let it quietly compost? Fine."
"You can't clear it away and you may be obliged to have a plaque. The standing house, which dates only from 1908, can't be enlarged by more than 66% of the current area. At least two of the current exterior walls must remain in place and there is a height limit. At the same time, if you want to live there, the house must be brought up to current county seismic standards. You must pay for your own infrastructure improvements — any new roads, electric connections — things like that. You must dig a new well, and you must meet more stringent disposal restrictions."
"What's wrong with the current well? Using that would be simplest."
"Yes, but it's relatively shallow and goes dry about every 15 or 20 years for a couple of seasons. It has always come back, but they worry."
"Fine, I'll have it drilled deeper. Can I put the windmill back up?"
"Then I see no problems at all."
"Well," Nancy said, "I do. Looking ahead to possible conflicts, I think we all will be happier in the long run if you buy some of the surrounding land now." The lawyer gestured and an image of the stucco and stone cabin in glowing white and gray appeared above one of the empty chairs. The image quickly shrank to a bright rectangle, while surrounding it came up an irregular rectangle tinted pale green. Around the green rectangle, other lines and colors came into being. East, across a red line that appeared to designate the rutted road Ann had walked along, were five pink squares, bordered on their far side by another unlabeled red line. The first red line curved to join the second, which intersected a third red line, this one labeled Shingle Mill Road. West of the cabin was a long narrow triangle, also in pink. "This one," Nancy said, and the long triangle brightened briefly, "is isolated by cabin's lot and the boundaries of the surrounding parks. Currently it lacks an easement and the most direct connection to an extant road is through the cabin's land. I think you should buy it, before the owner pesters you for access."
"Oh, yes. I agree," Ann said.
"If you also purchase these five lots on the other side of the road, you will be able to maintain more privacy. These are scheduled for clearing and development, but everything is held up by a civil suit filed by the Sempervirens Fund against the developer."
"The terrain isn't really suitable for the ditto style of development," Ann murmured.
"Now, I've talked with both parties, and if you agree to keep the land undeveloped, which will satisfy the Sempervirens Fund, they will drop the suit and permit the developer to sell the land to you, which will satisfy him. I believe he has a problem with his cash flow. The Sempervirens Fund will be happy, the developer will be happy, or at least less unhappy, you will have more privacy at a cost of only some human money, which doesn't really matter, and I don't have to worry about you alarming your human neighbors."
"So, urban sprawl doesn't sprawl there; these hills aren't stripped, wide spread erosion does not occur; and I get a quiet retreat. Excellent, let's do it. When can I take possession?" Ann asked.
"Now, if you wish. Sign these." Nancy gestured and a pile of paper appeared in front of Ann. "The single lot will take some more research. I'll let you know when you need to sign for it."
"Thank you," Ann said. She placed her right hand on the stack of paper for a moment, then took the keys Nancy held out to her and disappeared from the lawyer's office.
Ann returned to her cabin.
She banished the trash and the dust. Small, definitely small. She would ask Shen I and O Luchad to oversee the addition and improvements. She wanted another bedroom, power, water and an improved waste water system. That was for later. Now she needed to construct some detectors and a readout device. To start that, she needed new maps.
She ported to Berkeley, arriving in an out-of-the-way corner in the downtown BART station. She took the escalator up to Shattuck Avenue and walked east and south. She found the Map Store near the UC campus, and purchased a dozen medium U. S. Geological Survey maps covering the Bay Area from north of Calistoga to south of Gilroy and from the open ocean west of the Farallon isles to the central valley east of Tracy. She sent her purchase off to the new cabin, then walked east through the campus, unremarked by the students, and uphill, eventually arriving at a viewpoint above the city. She sat quietly for a couple of hours and watched the sun set, noting the birds quieting in the trees and the increasing and then decreasing flow of traffic on the roads below her.
As the darkness grew, she brought her mind to bear on her problem. At midnight, she ported to the house on Russian Hill, checked her assignment board and attended to the few unsettled magic operations her assignment board showed.
From her last task she went directly to the cabin.
Banishing her clothing, she walked around the area, feeling the slow, slow surges of the earth and the quicker movement of water. The breeze stirred her unbound hair. Here, she decided, stopping on a flat rocky outcrop. The emerging rock was on the west side of the cabin, with the stream unseen below and the ocean far off in the distance.
She stamped her bare foot, then turned slowly in place. Around her, the soft animal sounds quieted. She took the roll of her unused maps in one hand and an old diamond tipped wooden compass in her right. Crossing her arms across her chest, she focused her mind on the land that was her charge and her prison.
After a long moment's thought, she flicked both hands up and open as she rose in the air. The maps swirled around her and arranged themselves on the bare rock. The compass descended more slowly, resting one arm at the Marin end of the Golden Gate Bridge, the other extending out into the Pacific Ocean.
Ann stretched out in mid-air, guiding the compass along the shore line of all the Bay.
As she ended, she moved to the center of the map. Whispering softly, she pressed her free hand into the center of the representation of San Francisco Bay. The map changed: The colors of the map inside the line brightened, while the area outside dimmed. She folded the compass and put it away.
She shifted to a cross-legged posture floating above the map and crafted four monitors, not three. This would be her system, not Dai's. Everyone had a different specialty and a different way of magic. Her monitors looked more like sea urchins, or maybe hedgehogs, a contrast to his sleek, elegant, almost Art Deco, artifact. They were almost spheres, with a flat bottom like a glass paperweight, about as big as her hand, with many short rods, each as slim as a dance-card pencil, radiating from the surface. Each rod was tipped with a small crystal hemisphere: Clear, chatoyant and opaque; in red, green, blue, yellow, brown, gray, black and some bicolors like antique swirl marbles.
Ann stretched out above the map and placed the monitors: One on the Mount Sutro TV tower, one on Mount Tamalpais, one on Mount Diablo, and one on Mount Wilson.
She suspended a small diamond sphere just above the center the irregular area for which she was responsible, then positioned herself over the sphere in lotus posture. Softly, she chanted a long and complex bonding spell.
She spoke the final word and bent over to pick up the sphere. She griped it with both hands and twisted, separating it into hemispheres. She placed one half on the map's center, where it first slumped flat, then flowed out to the borders of her territory. Like an ink wash, it sank into the map, leaving only a faint crystalline glitter
Ann wove a net of platinum strands over and around the remaining diamond hemisphere, creating a single earring, which she slipped into her earlobe. Standing for the first time in several hours, she stretched.
She gathered up the monitors, dismissed the map — which rolled up and vanished — and ported north, to the Mount Sutro TV tower. Working in the same order as she had placed them on the map, she installed the monitors. The east was paling as she finished. From Mount Wilson, she ported to the cabin and stretched out on the floor. Conjuring a blanket and a small pillow, Ann slept.
Glen Merrill woke very late in his own bed. He enjoyed meeting fellow collectors and dealers. He enjoyed his family. He also enjoyed waking up in his own bed, in his own home, with his permanent books around him. There were a number of minor tasks to accomplish today — checking on his Alibris account was one — but first breakfast, or more properly, lunch.
He wandered out on the main patio, which faced west and south. His lot was steeply sloped. Over the years, he had adapted to the multi-level living the East Bay Hills demanded. He went down the railroad tie steps to the first terrace to check his automatic watering system. He had cane-stemmed orchids and tomatoes growing in a sheltered southern exposure. Picking several of the ripest tomatoes and some young lettuce, protected from the ubiquitous deer by plastic netting, he made a salad. A spray of scarlet epidendrum went into a tall vase on the table.
Ah, the civilized life.
Sly Corbin slept late, too. Admittedly, she had been up late reading the emails between Guzman and Chandrapanthi, but forgetting to set her alarm was unusual. She didn't wake until nearly ten AM. Umph. At that, she felt better than she had for a while.
After breakfast, she called Dyami Chandrapanthi, at the Anglo-Sanskrit Theological University at Vallejo, and again was answered by the machine. Damn.
On the other hand, Naldo had e-mailed a complete translation of Steve's report.
A History of Apocryphal Texts? The Scroll of Orpmal? She googled the titles. Eventually, she arrived at Alibris. Sly frowned at the Alibris display. A History of Apocryphal Texts, and an anonymous scroll. Seller store: Merrill Rare Books, Berkeley, California.
OK. She called the directory and was given the phone number and address. She smiled. Merrill Somebody, or Somebody Merrill, had the stolen goods that had been in the possession of one of her bodies, if not on the day that body died, then soon before. She needed to ask Merrill some questions. She decided not to call for an appointment, but to just go.
"So we go get it," Maks said to Ranon.
"Taking the money," Hilarion said.
"Are we still sure we need it?" the Priest asked.
"I have no idea," Hilarion said.
"We should get it," Maks said.
"I have the directions ready," the Scribe said.
"Why not?" Maks said. "It's handy, and the asking price is a lot less than we were prepared to pay."
"Oh, go ahead," Ranon said. He went off to the library and Maks and Hilarion headed for the elevator.
Only two geeks this time, Chasen thought, watching as Maks, Hilarion and Ranon talked briefly and separated.
Maks and Hilarion detoured around a handsome swineherd, a beautiful young woman and a small boar. The boar began to walk down the corridor. The swineherd tapped him with his herding rod and kept the boar moving toward the elevator.
"Nice pig," Maks said, politely holding the door for the couple.
"He's new," the young woman said. She held the swineherd's free hand. They smiled at Max, at the boar and at each other. The pig snorted. The elevator doors closed.
"Garage," the swineherd said.
Chasen pushed his cleaning cart into the service elevator and said: "Garage."
Mekonnon might be watching the Inn. Despite its mobility, the Inn's position was always known. He might be tracking the book. Given that the demon hadn't known the title of the book back when he hired Chasen, that would be unlikely. However, given that Mekonnon had access to diviners and tracers, it might also be possible. Here and there, Chasen thought. It looked as if the most dangerous times on this expedition would be the beginning and the end. Mekonnon had no reason to be watching the streets in San Francisco or Berkeley. He fingered the TarnCap in his pocket. Put on the cap, get a car, follow the Clansmen, get the book, call Mekonnon and make the exchange — the book for his safety. You could call that a plan, Chasen thought. Ah, and remember to remove the cap once he was safely away from the Inn, since the SFPD might panic at a driverless car. Right. Now it's a plan.
Ann woke late, and, after a walk-around-breakfast, eating and inspecting the walls and layout of her new home at close range, she ported back to the Russian Hill house in time to receive the day's assignments. After a quick shower, she dressed, then departed to soothe the few mid-week magical surges and knots. When that was finished, she went on to the offices of Shen I and O Luchad, where she explained the situation to the current O Luchad. "Small," she ended, "and private."
"Any humans around won't even know it's there, and they won't want to explore," the O Luchad said. He wore a mature countenance, appearing a weathered and sun-stressed 40, with lines on his forehead and around his blue eyes. His hair was sun streaked auburn, and fell untidily from a center part. "Water?"
"We need to re-dig the well, I don't know how deep. There's a wide seep down slope from the cabin a little. Violets and miners' lettuce are already growing there, and I've seeded some rocket and cress. Please avoid that area. What I want is sleeping space for me and for Taz, a mostly open bathroom along an outside wall, with a hot tub, and a kitchen-dining-living room; all in less than six hundred square feet."
"Small," the O Luchad agreed. "What sort of kitchen do you have in mind? We've been working with induction stove tops. Now, we know you like to have something over fire, a spit or a grill…"
Ann stopped listening: Her earring was sounding. "Sorry," she said to the O Luchad. "Fire in a bookstore. I have to go."
"Turn here," Hilarion said, reading the odometer, the compass and the directions at the same time.
"Here?" the Librarian demanded, turning.
"We're on Poppy something, not Keeler anything," Maks objected.
"You missed a signpost back at the big curve. Park," the Scribe said. "Now!" Hilarion clicked his stopwatch. "Forty minutes over. Damn. I wonder if the map program assumed we would be traveling alone?"
"There was a lot of traffic," Maks said.
"Anyway, we got here."
"Are you sure about this?" Maks asked.
"Yes," Hilarion said, "the directions were explicit and accurate." He pointed at the very small sign:
Merrill's Rare Books
by Appointment Only
Glen heard the bell. Now what? He hadn't finished lunch yet.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"Since we're here now," Maks said, with one of his warm smiles, "we may as well come in."
"No," Glen tried to say. He found himself smiling back at the tall blond man with the crewcut.
The other man, with the queue of long blond hair down his back, also smiled at the bookseller. "We want to buy a book."
Somehow, the door was wide open. "I can help you with that," Glen said. "This way."
The Scribe and the Librarian followed him through the house to his garage office. "What book are you looking for?"
"A History of Apocryphal Texts," Hilarion said. "You listed it on Alibris recently."
"Oh, that thing." The garage was hot, dim and stuffy. Glen flipped on the lights and the roof fan ventilation system.
The office fit into the south-east corner of the house. The Heroes and the bookseller entered from the house and faced the roller garage door in the east wall slightly off to their left and the side door to the driveway directly ahead of them. Glen opened the windows on the south side and opened the small door to get some cross ventilation.
The office had two interior walls: The one with the door to the house supported a floor-to-ceiling bookcase for its entire length, and the wall to the left of the door, as one faced out of the house, had two tall bookcases at right-angles to it, with adequate space between all three bookcases for a large industrial wheeled ladder, now shoved against the left wall between the two free-standing bookcases.
There was a T-shaped desk against the southern outside wall, with wrapping supplies and a computer. There were three fire extinguishers, two on either side of the house door and the third on the file cabinet at the far end of the desk.
"So are you interested in all antique texts or do you specialize?" Glen asked.
"We tend to specialize at the moment," Hilarion said.
Glen opened the cabinet at the north end of the interior wall. He took out two folding chairs. Maks took one, and detoured around Hilarion, who was glancing at a bartenders' guide from the 19th century.
Glen arranged the chairs, then took the book from the Odd Lots shelf. The strange scroll was beside it. He took that, too.
And why had the Heroes stopped here? Was this where they were going? Chasen wondered. It certainly didn't look like a store of any sort.
He drove passed the driveway, then pulled over and parked. He settled the TarnCap firmly on his curly hair.
Very quietly, Chasen got out of the Honda and approached the front door. He found it locked. Damn. He glanced around, looking for an open window or door. The noise of a fan drew his attention to the garage. Very obligingly, someone opened the door beside the large roller door and left it open. How nice. He heard the two geeks and a human male. He could handle them easy.
Maks the Librarian, Hilarion the Scribe, and Glen Merrill sat the table on the south wall of the garage. Maks carefully unrolled the first few feet of the scroll the human book seller had offered.
Maks blinked. "Oh, my. 'Ghling, one of the First, told me, Aoital the Scribe, to write this history.' This is the Scroll," the Librarian told Hilarion, seated across from him.
"You read Karosthi?" Glen asked. The bookseller was seated beside Hilarion, with his back to the outside doors
"I'm a Librarian, I read everything," Maks exaggerated. He gently closed the Scroll, placed it beside HOAT, and took up his aluminum briefcase.
"I was wondering," Hilarion said. "How much are you asking for this?" He held up the 19th century bartenders' guide
"We can offer cash." Max said.
"Please, accept that as a gift. What I'm asking on-line is eighteen-fifty, but we'll call it eighteen hundred."
Maks and Hilarion both frowned. Maks inspected his briefcase. "Is that 18 Franklins, McKinleys, Clevelands or Madisons?"
"Franklins," the bookseller said.
Chasen, standing silent and invisible at the end of the T, decided to go just for the book and not attempt taking the scroll, too. The garage was cluttered, with ladders, chairs, dollies, and he had to avoid knocking into anything which would give his position away. As Maks began counting out eighteen Franklins, Chasen picked up the book
It did not disappear. Speed, then, Chasen thought, and moved around the human bookseller heading back for the open door.
Chasen had overlooked two data: Yes, the Librarian and the Scribe were geeks. However, that was just their subset. Firstly, and most importantly, they were Heroes.
The other overlooked datum was that the food fight could have been classified as a live-fire exercise in the use of TarnCaps. Maks, who had missed the food fight, was briefly bewildered, but Hilarion, who had survived the encounter session relatively un-sauced, yelled and grabbed at the invisible mercenary as Chasen passed him. He managed to catch Chasen by the arm.
Chasen dropped the book, which was caught up by Glen, who rolled under the table with it.
Maks, though slow off the mark, dodged around the table and grabbed here and there, attempting to locate the invisible man who was trying to steal HOAT.
Hilarion and Chasen fell to the floor, knocking over chairs.
Glen rolled out the other side of the table, stood and watched his customers writhing on the floor.
With a loud bang, Mekonnen materialized across the garage from the fight.
Glen, who was the first to see the demon, said, "Yeep."
Chasen looked up for a moment. Maks grabbed one of the mercenary's arms, allowing Hilarion to free one of his own hands and tear off Chasen's TarnCap.
"Chasen!" the demon said, and threw a fireball at his former employee.
The mercenary flattened on the garage floor. The fireball sped over him. The Heroes dodged to either side.
"Wait, wait," Chasen said. "I found the book!" The south side of the garage started to burn.
"I know. I've come for the book," Mekonnen said. "My haruspices tell me that it is here. Where is it?"
"There," Chasen pointed at Glen, who was standing on the other side of the table with his mouth open. "He has it."
"Give me the book!" Mekonnen said.
"Yeep," Glen whispered. He dropped the book, which landed on the table.
"Fool human!" Mekonnen gathered fire in his hand and threw it at Glen, who dived back under the table.
Ann was surprised when she arrived on Keeler Avenue. This didn't look like a bookstore, but it was where her new map marked the appearance of a fireball. Certainly, there was smoke, and also sounds of fighting, both coming from behind the garage door.
She had planned on arriving outside the bookstore, since porting into an enclosed place she didn't know was risky enough, and this place was full of people. Rather surprising people, actually. She could sense a human, two Heroes — both of them Singletons apparently — and what's his name, a mostly human immortal she'd met a couple of hundred years ago. Xe, that was his name. And of course, there was also a demon. As she had predicted to Alice, it was your typical general all purpose powerful demon. What was this particular demon doing in a bookstore? What were the Heroes doing in a bookstore? She'd be sure to ask.
She raised the large roller door suddenly and completely. As she entered the now open garage, her sword appeared in her hand.
Mekonnen glanced around as the large roller door on the east side of the garage seemed to vanish. He recognized the woman with the sword.
So did Chasen, still on the floor. What's Andrée doing here? Well, better her than me, he thought, as the demon focused on her.
"Urmit! Noch dre dindren." The demon added a muttered "Teg, vant."
"Mekonneth!" Ann said.
Mekonnen gathered fire into his hand and threw it at the latest interruption.
Ann sliced the fireball into uneven fourths. The fragments fell to the cement floor and sputtered out.
Xe flattened himself on the floor, but Maks and Hilarion caught each other's eyes and readied themselves to jump the demon. Not now, Heroes, Ann thought. She paralyzed the Heroes, en passant, and focused on the demon again.
"Hey!" Maks said. Ann ignored him.
Maks saw the demon step back. The woman with the sword moved after it.
The outline of a portal suddenly flared. The demon slipped back into the portal. The woman came to an abrupt halt. "Rabiston, Mekonneth. Implax!" There was a soundless shuddering throughout the garage, and the portal abruptly disappeared. The almost-shaking stopped. The woman nodded. "And stay out!" she said.
"Hey!" Maks said again.
"Yeah," Hilarion agreed. "We could have taken him!"
The woman turned back and glanced coolly at them. They were still frozen in their ready-to-leap poses. "Heroes." She shook her head: "If you're still here in a thousand years, you can challenge him to a re-match. Just not around other people. By-standers can get hurt." She put her sword away.
Glen Merrill rolled out from under the table and grabbed one of the fire extinguishers near the door to the house. He pulled the ring and depressed the lever. A thick cloud of yellow powder blanketed the south wall.
A thousand years, Chasen thought. That's what she said and that's probably what will happen. Well, by then Mekonnen may have forgotten all about me. He saw his TarnCap on the floor where Maks had dropped it. I've done enough dusting. He reached out for it. He put it on, stood up and… discovered his feet were frozen in place. Hell! His TarnCap was removed from his head, and Andrée moved around in front of him. Her voice was as calm and as cool as those hard green eyes. "Xe, did you have anything to do with any recent local bookstore fires?"
He was glad he didn't even have to consider lying to her: "What? No, nothing, no fires. None."
"And what are you doing here?"
"I was going to steal that book" — he pointed to the book on the other side of the table — "and give it to Mekonnen so he wouldn't kill me."
"Why did he want it?"
"No idea, he never said. He just hired me to get it."
"Did you summon him here?"
Ann considered Xe. What am I supposed to do with him? Well, since he wasn't mentioned at all in that vague and less than helpful warning, and since he hasn't tried to lie to me, I think I'll let him go. "I live here now. Try not to come to my attention again."
She freed his feet. "Go."
Ann frowned at the baseball cap she was holding. There was tomato sauce, with a hint of anchovies, smeared on its crown. She tossed it on the nearby table.
"Hey, that's one of our tarncaptims," the long haired hero said.
"Your what?" she asked. She freed the two heroes and watched them leap up with athletic grace.
"Tarncaptim," the hero said.
She thought. On the table she found a piece of paper and a felt-tip and wrote: Tarncap™. "Written like this?"
"Yeah, but the C is majuscule too."
"The ™ is silent," Ann said, keeping her face calm. She handed the hero his modern tarnkappe.
Sly Corbin parked her red and white Mini-Cooper on the other side of the street, across from Merrill's Rare Books.
Sly was well trained, even if she was occasionally impatient and sure she knew best. She took the time to record, both in writing and by leaving a message on her home phone, where she was and what she was planning to do. She closed her cell, locked her car and crossed the street.
She passed a vintage Mercedes roadster and saw that the garage was totally open. There was a smell of burned wood and a faint acrid odor that might have come from a home fire extinguisher.
A man, wearing a grimy bathrobe, was seated in a folding chair at a table inside the garage. There was a fire extinguisher lying by his chair and yellow powder everywhere. The south wall of the room was burned in two or three places. The man's hands shook as he took up a glass filled with a pale pink, opaque, slightly opalescent fluid, that fizzed gently as he raised it. There was no one else in the garage.
"Mr. Merrill?" Sly asked.
"I'm a police officer. Is everything all right?"
"I guess. At least the fire's out."
"So what happened here?"
"It's a long story."
Ann had annoyed Maks and Hilarion by taking custody of both the Scroll and HOAT. The Heroes had insisted that they could safely return to the Inn with their purchases no matter how many demons tried to hijack them. Ann had overruled them, citing public safety. They had complained, but she had ignored them, sending both items to her library before ordering the Heroes back to the Inn. She had made sure the fires were out, then had offered poor Glen Merrill a restorative drink before she had departed.
Now, she was giving both the Scroll and HOAT a quick read before she dropped them off at the Inn.
The Scroll was what she expected: a description of the Ceremony of the Beginning. Interesting, but not that helpful. If you had the 41 tianyuan – heavenly elements – you did thus and so, and remade the universe. Well, since Ann didn't want the current universe remade, it wasn't helpful for her, but she could see why the Singletons would view the Scroll differently.
She turned to HOAT and began reading the heavy, compound complex sentences so beloved by 17th century English writers. Most of the passages were re-tellings of well known myths and legends. What caught Ann's attention was an analysis in the chapter discussing The Saga of the Egg:
"Thus it is clear that in order to make a complete restatement of the universal physical laws,
every piece of the Egg of Origin must not only be present
but actively involved,
that is to say consciously manipulated.
Such a restatement, of course, is complete and stable until the next
whenever that may be.
Study of verso 33 and verso 47, however,
especially the parallel statements of lines 45-63 of v33 and
21-39 of v47
demonstrate that a partial and local
of the physical reality,
failing of complete stability
and therefore of only a temporary nature, and
failing also of
of the types of Mankind
(generally interpreted as those creatures of soul)
can be achieved by the active involvement of a simple majority of the pieces,
viz. the twenty-one
Such realignment, successfully achieved, might last for as long as a millennium,
although it is not clear how even such marginal stability could be achieved save by
sacrifices of great power.
Partial realignment? Major pieces?
If Ann had been in the habit of tearing her hair, she would have done so now.
Once she had told Martin Stevenson she always assumed the worst, and she thought she had: She had a piece of the Egg and someone, one or another of the other players who seemed to be gathering on Earth, would sooner or later come after her, offering combat or seduction or alliance. She had assumed she could deal with any of those, which was undoubtedly true. She had not assumed, because she hadn't known the possibility existed, that whoever had control of the Egg would be content simply to remodel the world into a jerry-rigged…what?
Now Ann had her reasons, selfish ones, for preferring the world as it was. Some of her friends, including some vampires, on the other hand, liked chaos and were always prepared to take advantage of it. A little societal disorder, and even strict reform vampires could slip and start viewing crowds of humans as a kind of self-propelled smörgåsbord. Beyond her personal reasons for saving the world, Ann did not want to see her helpless human friends treated like food animals any more than she wanted her vampire friends hunted like mad dogs.
Whether her ruby — a pigeon blood stone in a flat table cut weighing about 4,000 carats — was one of the twenty-one major pieces was unknown; but it was unquestionably a piece of the Egg. By hiding it, Ann had blocked any attempt by anyone to complete a turn of the Wheel. However, if the ruby was not one of the fragmenta major, the way remained open for someone and her twenty best friends to attempt the aberration of a partial realignment. That was a temporary situation according to HOAT, but in any case, probably a disaster for humans, including vampires.
It's pointless to save the world from one disaster only to have it collapse anyway, Ann thought. I'll just have to make sure a partial alignment is not attempted, or if attempted, not successful. Gathering another twenty pieces of the Egg would guarantee no such attempt could be made. Gathering that many tianyuan would probably attract much unwanted attention, in addition to being difficult in the extreme. Ann smiled and shook her head. No, keep it simple. I need to find out which of the tianyuan rank as fragmenta major. If the ruby isn't one, I need to acquire one. I need to do that while remaining within 50 miles of San Francisco Bay and maintaining my litter patrols. That's simple enough.