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Deleted Scenes

© Carole Cummings

 
     
     
     
 

It used to start like this:

 

It only takes about thirty seconds for Bas to understand he really doesn’t want to be here. The hashery itself isn’t the problem—he’s been here plenty of times and knows the food is borderline okay, but the gin is fantastic. Gaslit, glass lamps set high in the ceiling so the smoke doesn’t burn the eyes, and the food is all cooked on stoves that burn wood, though the proprietor says that’s because it gives it a better flavor. Bas tactfully never comments on that.

Rosie greets Bas at the door. Bas tries a friendly smile, but he doesn’t think it works. Not that it stops Rosie. A transTech, Rosie’s in her last year at the Academy on scholarship and working at the hashery for food money because she’s too young for a contract and her parents won’t sign one for her while she’s underage. Bas knows this not because he’d asked or expressed any interest, but because Rosie never fails to mention to Bas that she’ll be looking for a position soon, and wow, what she wouldn’t give to find herself a contract with the Directorate, and would he happen to know where she can send her credentials?

Bas is running out of ways to deflect.

Habit makes Bass look for Willem, though he knows he won’t find him. Willem works lunch and Bas has gotten probably a little too used to exchanging speaking looks over thin, salty soup, though if he doesn’t do something soon, Willem will probably stop looking. Still, Bas knows he’ll never get the nerve to make the speaking looks actually say anything real, but it’s nice to think about sometimes. Not that it matters; this is not the lunch shift, and Bas is not here to see Willem.

Bas is here because his little brother Mo has asked to meet him, and since Mo hardly has the time anymore for anything but his work and his women, Bas agreed. Even though it means he hasn’t had time to go home and change or put his Magic Man illobook—year 1, series 2, issue 1—in the a-little-too-elaborate case Da had built for it.

He finds Mo in the sparse crowd and refrains from grimacing. He hadn’t realized Mo had apparently had no intention of leaving the “women” part of his world out of it for a little bit. Bas hopes this casual “hey, let’s meet for a drink” meeting wasn’t code for “come see the huge mistake I’m going to be exchanging bracelets with.” Mo went into the private sector after the Academy—heedless of Bas’s lectures on his responsibility to the Directorate and the relative safety of contracting with them—and seems to have no problem with the knowledge that most of the women who hang on him do so for the mounds of dosh his various consulting projects amass for him. He says he doesn’t care as long as the exploitation comes with lots of fucking. Bas remains unmoved; he’d given up on being appalled by his brother years ago. He does not, however, relish the thought of standing at his brother’s bonding contract ceremony and having to watch a fucking of an entirely different nature.

“Send someone over with some gin, would you?” Bas asks Rosie and gives her a tight smile as she hustles off.

With a sigh, Bas slouches over to the table where his brother is already seated and drops onto the bench opposite him. Bas tries not to, but he can’t help it—as he adjusts himself on his seat, he side-eyes a glance at Mo and is relieved to see the bracelet on Mo’s wrist without the runes and sworls that say “taken” to prospective suitors. It’s mean and judgmental—Bas doesn’t even know this woman Mo has brought along—but Bas doesn’t care. He knows Mo and has no desire to share a family with one of Mo’s reckless blunders.

A server Bas doesn’t know is right behind him, dropping off Bas’s drink, and Bas gives him a nod and an absent smile in thanks before taking a quick sip.

“Do you always glare like that?”

Bas blinks. He hasn’t even opened his mouth to say “hello” yet.

“He’s not glaring,” Mo drawls with a lazy smile at Bas. “That’s just how his face looks.”

Bas slides a narrow glance at his brother before turning back to the belligerent and apparently quite rude young woman he brought with him. None of which is exactly unexpected, but still.

“Do you always insult people before you even properly meet them?” Bas asks.

The woman’s mouth sets thin. “You’re not a Tech.”

“You’re not a fairy princess. Are we done stating the obvious?”

Mo clears his throat and lifts an eyebrow at the girl. “Resaniji,” is all he says, and since the girl shifts her hostile glance to Mo before huffing and looking away, Bas assumes that’s her name. He thinks she might actually be cute, if it wasn’t for the attitude. Maybe even pretty, if you liked the sort, all petite and pretty—despite the scowl—with nut-brown skin, bottomless dark eyes, and black hair that falls straight and sleek to her shoulders; unfortunately, the widow’s peak points directly down to perpetual frown lines and the curl of a sneer, so Bas’s interest ends before it starts.

Mo rubs at the bridge of his nose. “Bas, this is my friend Resaniji. We were at the Academy together.”

Right. So a Tech, then. And apparently the snobby sort. Yay. Mo had better not have asked Bas here to try to get him to find this latest lay a job or something. Because Bas can tell already—no.

“Well, it seems we’re equally underwhelmed,” Bas says, annoyed that Mo has sprung this on him when he’d really just wanted to take his new book home and ogle it a little, and even more annoyed because when Mo said he wanted to have a drink with his brother, Bas had actually believed him. Bas sets his jaw. “Da says to remind you that you still have parents.”

Mo rolls his eyes. “I just saw Mam two days ago.” His blue eyes flick down to Bas’s book then twinkle just a little. “Not my fault you were monopolizing Da.”

Bas doesn’t say anything. Because he was actually occupying their Da’s time two days ago. Da had made the case for the illobook in anticipation of Bas winning the bid, because Bas is shit at building things and Da is always looking for an excuse to hunt around Bas’s pokey rental for things to fix.

The girl—Resaniji—snorts so loud Bas could swear his gin ripples in its glass. He downs it while signaling the server for another. When he looks back, Resaniji has snatched up his impossible-to-find The Magic Man illobook— year 1, series 2, issue 1—and removed it from its protective cover. Bas tries not to yelp.

“Hey, that’s—”

“You realize everything about this is absurd, right?” Resaniji indifferently flips a few pages then pauses on a particularly detailed fold-out where Magic Man appears to be thumping one of his arch nemeses, Casius Cruel. Resaniji’s sneer morphs into a smirk and her fingers twitch on the page. The letters in the speech bubbles vibrate for a second, then all of the Ls in I can’t let you kill them, Casius march across the page to provoke a shoving match with the W in How are you going to stop me?

Bas restrains himself from snatching the book back only because the server is setting down their drinks and Bas neither wants to spill the liquor all over the book, nor does he want to look like an awkward teenaged virgin in front of a stranger. Bad enough Mo had been there to witness Bas’s awkward—and, sadly, virginal—teenaged years; Bas doesn’t need him bringing up any empirical evidence.

When the server has collected the empty glasses from the table, Bas leans in and tells Resaniji, “You know, it’s exceedingly rude to go playing with people’s brainwaves without their permission.”

Resaniji’s still smirking. “Yeah, and kind of against every contract in the world, too. In, like, ever. Good thing I’m not doing that.” The Ts join the W and pick up the Is to wield as tiny swords, fending off the Ls.

It takes a second for what she said to sink in, and when it does, Bas’s teeth set tight. “You’re not psyTech, then. You’re kineTech.” He’d just assumed because Mo had been a bit of a bastard with the illusions when they were kids, but this is apparently not an illusion. Which means it’s not all an orchestrated distortion of synapses between Bas’s brain and his eyes, which would be bad enough, but—she’s actually mucking with the book itself. Bas puts aside the fact that he’s never seen the kind of precision control she’s wielding—it’s a Class 5 kind of talent, and he hadn’t even known there was a Class 5 kineTech in existence—because some things are just more important.

“Wow,” says Resaniji, tone bland and unimpressed. “Your brother is almost as sharp as you said he is, Mo.”

Mo sighs. “Look, Bas, this really isn’t—”

“We’ll get to what this really isn’t in a second,” Bas cuts him off then slaps his hand over the illobook. The renegade letters squirm beneath his palm, and it’s a little unsettling, but satisfaction at the way Resaniji jumps makes it less so. “This is a first pressrun copy of a first edition illobook,” Bas says through his teeth. “Do you know what that means?” He doesn’t wait for an answer. “It means it’s a collector’s edition. It means that I paid a lot of dosh for it and one day it will be worth more than what you, your future children, and their future children can ever make in a lifetime. And until you started getting your kine all over it, it was in pristine, mint condition. Now.” He pauses and lifts his eyebrow at Resaniji’s affronted stare. “Can you afford to reimburse me for your… custom alterations? No? Then I suggest you put everything back the way you found it and give me back the book.”

He lifts his hand. The Cs have apparently surrendered to the Ts and the Ss have formed a picket around the W. The W is bashing at the Gs with an errant P while the Es are looting all the punctuation.

Bas reflects that it probably says something about his life that none of this actually surprises him. Not only is he used to the weird shit Techs come up with sometimes, he’s also used to his brother keeping company with crazy people. Although, he thinks as he watches Resaniji grudgingly send all the letters back to their respective places—Casius Cruel back to threatening the honest, hardworking citizens of Crosstown and Magic Man grandly thwarting him—he’d thought Mo knew him better than to think Bas actually wants to meet any of them. And then Bas realizes that Mo actually does know better, so once he’s satisfied that all warlike impulses on the parts of illobook letters have been quelled, Bas slips the book back into its cover and narrows a glance at his brother.

What,” he says slowly, “the hell?”

Mo sighs and pats at Resaniji’s hand. “My brother is a collector,” he tells her. “The book is rare and one of—”

“It’s ridiculous,” Resaniji snaps, defensive now. “It equates Tech with magic. It ignores all the science!”

Oh great. One of those.

Bas drags his gaze away from his brother’s stifled grin and over to Resaniji, who—to give her a tiny bit of credit—at least looks pretty earnest now.

“It’s called fantasy,” Bas replies through his teeth. “Ignoring the science is the point.”

“That is not what fantasy is! Fantasy is taking the science and extrapolating elements of it so the—”

“Mo,” Bas cuts in, hand fisted around his drink so tight he might shatter the glass. He waits until Mo looks at him and at least pretends he’s not laughing on the inside. “What. The hell?”

“I’m sorry, this….” Mo trails off and shakes his head, his hand now covering Resaniji’s in a way that implies restraint, rather than comfort. “Look, this isn’t why we’re here.” Instead of explaining further, Mo releases Resaniji’s hand and sits back, expectant.

Resaniji blows out a long breath, shuts her eyes and nods. When she looks at Bas again, there is no hostility in her dark eyes, only something that looks like caution, but Bas doesn’t know her, so he can’t really tell. He braces himself anyway.

“My brother is missing,” is what Resaniji ends up saying. “So is my father.”

Bas frowns and cuts a bemused glance at Mo. Mo only looks back steadily and shrugs.

“And?” Bas prompts.

Resaniji leans forward, arms on the table, hands clasped tightly together. “And my brother is Tech. Isn’t it your job to be at least a little bit interested?”

“No one says I’m not interested,” Bas bites out—he really isn’t liking this woman—and swills his drink. “But, since you’re here and telling me this, I assume it’s because you want help, so you’re going to have to do a little better with your information disbursement before I can give you any.”

Resaniji stares at him, wide mouth set tight, before she looks away and nods, shoulders slumped. “Right,” she says. “Yeah. All right.” It’s small, quiet, and for the first time, Bas sees a crack in Resaniji’s arrogant demeanor. “Have you ever heard of Stanslo’s Bridge?”

Bas blinks, thinking, because despite the jagged turn in conversation, it rings a bell. “Yeah, it’s….” He pauses for a moment before the connection clicks all the way into place. “Yeah, that’s… it’s not a bridge-bridge, more a land bridge.” He peers at Mo, whose expression is an odd mix of encouragement and expectation, then turns back to Resaniji. “It’s a satellite settlement just inside the western border. Riding the skirts of the Consolidated Territories but nobody really cares because it’s also the farthest frontier before the Salton Mountains. More of an experiment, really, from what I could gather. A leftover from the Expansion.”

A smallish agro freehold that Bas only remembers because he’d been assigned the analysis of its worth when two Techs had been reported dead a couple years ago—one of them in his last year at the Academy and apparently a genius, besides a Class 2 gridTech. Until that point, the Directorate had been considering absorption of the Bridge, making it an addendum to the Expansion, regardless of its owner’s feelings on the matter, but Bas’s analysis had changed their minds. Even if the Consolidated Territories didn’t have treaties with just about every other country in the world that might be a threat, strategically speaking, any hypothetical aggressors would have to cross the sea and then get through the Saltons first, which they wouldn’t, and then the desert. None of which would actually be viable, so there was no point in any kind of outpost. Politically and fiscally, there was just nothing there, so why bother.

“Nothing much to it,” he tells Resaniji. “It’s the last halfway workable land before the Wretched Lands takes over. Hard living in near-impossible conditions. No Tech at all, either.” He turns to Mo. “We stopped sending Techs out there after we lost two of them. We’ve only got the one Minister out there in Harrowgate, and from what I remember about the case, he’s….” Bas pauses. He doesn’t necessarily want to admit that he figured the man for a useless waste of dosh and that no one at the Directorate had really listened to Bas when he’d filed his analysis. He settles on saying, “There’s no way to keep an eye on Techs way out there and we didn’t want to risk losing any more.”

Unaccountably, Resaniji’s eyes fill at this and Mo puts a hand on her shoulder. “Know anything about Baron Stanslo?” he asks Bas.

Bas’s eyebrows rise. “Only that he’s not really a baron, he just calls himself one. And he seems like a dick.”

“You’ve met him?” Resaniji asks.

“No.”

“He’s charming. Like a fucking handful of daisies. I couldn’t find a damned thing to hate about him. And I tried.”

Bas doesn’t know what to do with that—because he’s pretty sure Resaniji could find something to hate about a handful of daisies without much effort, but he’s also pretty sure he shouldn’t say as much out loud—so he shrugs. “Whatever. Written contact was necessary during my analysis because there isn’t any scryTech, and his letters came across….” Bas pauses because he can’t really put his finger on it in any way he can explain. “He just seemed like someone I’d want to punch if I met him.”

“Yeah, well, maybe—wait, analysis? Your analysis?” Resaniji’s eyes narrow and she leans in. “You did an analysis.”

Bas gives her a look he hopes communicates his very sincere annoyance and his wish to be somewhere else. “It’s what analysts do.”

“You’re an analyst? Not an agent?”

“Uh… yes? No? Which question am I answering here?” Bas looks at Mo. So does Resaniji, only her expression is several degrees more accusatory than Bas’s.

“You said he could help,” Resaniji snaps at Mo and starts to rise.

“He can!”

“He’s a fucking analyst! What possible good can he do? I need an agent, not some….” Resaniji waves her hand around in Bas’s direction. “I don’t need a bloody math drone Tech-wannabe.

Bas thinks he’s going to be really pissed off about that later when he has time to figure out what the hell’s going on.

Resaniji turns on him and sneers, “Just as well—’Lijah would hate you anyway,” then spins toward the door.

Bas is still blinking through the affront and confusion when Mo snatches at Resaniji’s sleeve before she can storm off like she seems to be intending. “Resaniji, wait—” He snatches again when Resaniji tries to shrug him off; he holds on tighter this time. “Just settle down and wait, all right? He hasn’t even heard the whole story yet, give him a chance.”

“A chance for what?” Bas wants to know, and he gets up, too, only he does it to have a better angle from which to glare at Mo. “What is this, some kind of test? Who the hell is she and what’s this—?”

“It’s complicated,” Mo cuts in, pulling at Resaniji until she at least stops trying to stalk off, but she won’t sit back down. “Look, it’s a long story, but she needs help and the Directorate has closed the case. She has no proof and they won’t listen to her. I figured you’d probably know about the case, or at least be able to find out, but it sounds like you actually worked on it, so you’re probably the best—”

“Look, Mordecai,” Bas grates, jaw set, “I thought we’d been over this when you spent a night in city detention for ‘drunk and disorderly’ back at the Academy. I can’t use the Directorate for your personal—”

“No, you look, Bartholomew,” Mo grinds back, “this is probably the most personal and least selfish thing I’ve ever done in my life, so at least hear the story before you go all high and mighty like the good little Directorate toady you are.”

That’s the thing about having a brother who’s an unabashed opportunist—he knows all the right places to poke. It only makes Bas’s hands curl into fists and his jaw set tighter. He turns to Resaniji.

“I’m sorry if he promised you something I can’t give you. If you need an agent, you should go through the proper channels like everyone else. There are ways to reopen closed cases, and if you’d like to make an appointment through the Directorate’s office, I’ll be happy to walk you through them and point you in the right direction.” He pauses to glare at Mo before looking back at Resaniji. “Next time, make sure a person can actually deliver on his promises before you sleep with him.”

He tosses back the rest of his drink then slams the glass down on the table before turning away. Mo’s anxious “For pity’s sake, Bas, I’m not sleeping with her!” stops him.

God,” Resaniji says, sullen, as Bas turns back slowly. “Fucking analyst,” she mutters, seemingly to herself, and rolls her eyes.

Bas ignores that and peers at his brother closely. “You’re doing a favor for someone you’re not sleeping with.” He doesn’t even make it a question because he’s fairly certain his tone implies his skepticism sufficiently.

“I do have a heart,” Mo says and fiddles with his drink, though the fingers of his other hand are still firmly entwined with Resaniji’s sleeve, keeping her there. “And she’s tried all the right channels with the Directorate, Bas. They’re not listening.”

Bas has no problem displaying his doubt of that one all over his face. “The Directorate doesn’t simply dismiss cases of missing Techs,” he says evenly, because he knows this down to his bones and the implication—no, the downright accusation—pisses him off. “We exist in the first place to protect them. Why would anyone turn away a legitimate—?”

“Because my brother is Kimolijah Adani,” Resaniji puts in, quiet but very firm. “One of the Techs Baron Stanslo reported dead. And this—” She reaches into the pocket of her trousers and pulls out a small metal… thing with wires coming out it and what looks like a tiny shard of brown glass set to its tip. She slaps it down on the table and glares at Bas. “This proves he’s still alive and asking….” With a breathy and too-obviously unwilling whimper, she shuts her eyes tight, swallowing heavily for a moment, until she collects herself and looks back at Bas. “He’s asking for help.”

~~~~

“An explosion, the report said.” Resaniji grits her teeth and shakes her head as she angrily tosses things about on the workbench in her little shop. “A fucking overload, like ’Lijah’s some kind of tweenie moron who doesn’t know more about the Grid and how it works than the goddamned ‘experts’ at the Directorate and anyone else in the world.” She makes an inarticulate, furious ugh! noise and pounds her small fist on the bench before she calms herself and starts rummaging again.

Mo doesn’t say anything, likely out of a rare bit of tact, and neither does Bas, but his silence is a little more selfish. Because he knows very well that gridTech can be a dangerous business, even for the best professionals in the highest classes, and accidents do happen. And since Resaniji very obviously loves her brother and doesn’t seem the sort to listen to reason when confronted with the fact that everyone screws up and makes stupid mistakes sometimes, Bas just keeps his mouth shut and waits to hear the whole story.

Part of him really wants to go home and put his new book in its waiting case, fix himself a bit of supper and go to bed; another part is kind of hoping this is exactly what Resaniji says it is, because he’s been with the Directorate for a couple of years now, and he’s never once had the opportunity to work on a case that was even a little bit exciting. Mostly, it’s been investigating complaints from Techs about contract infringements or subpar working conditions, things that Bas can basically do from his desk, making recommendations to the agents to level fines and revoke access rights and contract privileges when he can prove someone’s abused a Tech. If it turns out that Resaniji is right about her brother and Bas takes the case to the Directorate ministers, they’ll have to let him work on it with whatever agent they assign.

“I don’t know what it’s called,” Resaniji mutters. “Kimolijah called it a portable Grid for a while, but he hadn’t come up with a name for it yet before—” She breaks off and pokes with a little more vigor at the mess of wires and discarded parts littering her workbench.

They’d walked the gaslit street into Poor Side in silence to Resaniji’s father’s shop where she had apparently taken over for him when he died—was reported dead, Resaniji insists—and now uses her kineTech talents to fix things that—if Bas were being blunt, which he isn’t, because he can tell she’s still on edge and, tiny as she is, he thinks she can probably get really mean when she wants to—would be more fitting to a tinker than someone with the kind of talent and precision he’d seen her use earlier.

“I’m officially Class 4,” she’d told Bas when he’d asked, “but I sometimes test at Class 5.”

Which explains the amazing control he’d seen her use, but doesn’t explain why she’s using her talents to fix gadgets and toys in a dingy little shop instead of contracting with the Directorate or the Builders’ Guild. “Because my father will want a shop to come home to,” she’d said to that, “and all of ’Lijah’s projects are here.”

Bas hadn’t asked anything else after that, merely followed her into the shop and shut his mouth. He doesn’t want to be here any more than he wanted to be at the hashery, but Bas is more intrigued now than he is tired and hungry, so he’d agreed to let her try to convince him. Now that they’re here, she doesn’t seem to know how.

She picks up the little thing that she’d tossed at Bas earlier, and which she has apparently decided is proof of her brother’s continued existence. “It’s a power source. That’s kind of all I know.”

Bas eyes the little thing dubiously then lifts an eyebrow at Resaniji.

“It does work!” she tells him, chiding, as if Bas had made the accusation aloud. “This was going to be my brother’s practical theory thesis for his final grade at the Academy, and he’d never say so, but it was going to make him rich and famous, too. This is something that no one else has ever done, ever, and even if they’d thought of it, he’s the only one who could actually do it.” Said with all the pride of the adoring sister she obviously is, though Bas doesn’t say so. With a glance to all sides, Resaniji leans in and lowers her voice, as if the shop isn’t pretty much dark and very much deserted. “He said it would revolutionize the Grid itself. Revolutionize housing. Travel.” She waves her hands around to encompass their surroundings. “Businesses. Communications. Everything.”

Bas looks again at the little… thing. Power source. Portable Grid. Whatever. “Right,” he says and pokes a finger at the other bits and bobs heaped on the workbench. “How?”

“It’s a power source,” Resaniji says, exasperated, and turns to roll her eyes at Mo.

Bas has spent way too long clenching his teeth today. He’s starting to get a headache. “And what does it power?” He tries halfway through to make it less snarly, but only succeeds in hurting his throat.

Resaniji opens her scowling mouth, but Mo cuts in, “Everything, Bas. If it works the way Kimolijah said it would, it could power anything at all that requires power.”

He waves at the dim glow coming from the small light dome hanging overhead. The tight little ball of energy inside it is both inadequate and probably against Directorate regulations. Another time, Bas would be calculating fines and contract infringements. Now, he merely looks from the fixture that’s most likely hooked illegally into the Grid and then to the little “power source”. He lifts a dubious eyebrow and thinks maybe it’s time he stopped humoring them and just went home.

“Show him, Resaniji,” Mo says, giving Bas a look that says he knows exactly what Bas had been thinking, and he hadn’t even needed his psy to read him. See, even if Mo hadn’t been a Tech, he’d still be annoying to have for a brother.

Resaniji doesn’t say anything, just looks from Mo to Bas then nods. With quite a bit of grumbling, she shuffles through the junk on the bench, muttering to herself and picking up then discarding several things Bas doesn’t recognize, before settling on what looks like a little toy cart about the size of Bas’s hand.

“You can’t use just anything,” Resaniji says, squinting at the little device she hasn’t let go of and then disengaging the thing that looks like a small chunk of brown glass from its tip. “Crystal,” she says, “I’ll explain that later,” then she turns her attention to the rear of the tiny cart.

Bas doesn’t really need her to explain crystals to him. He’s not an idiot. And he knows the difference between a crystal and a dynamic crystal, and he’s pretty damned sure he’s looking at a dynamic crystal. They’re rare and very heavily regulated, and he’d kind of like to know how she’s managed to get hold of one, but he doesn’t ask. Nothing shuts people up so quickly as someone from the Directorate—even a lowly analyst—asking them questions about their probably illegal activities, and he’d still really like to know what he’s doing here.

Resaniji spins a wheel on the toy with a flick of her finger then starts winding a wire from the “power source” to one of the metal tines sticking out of the cart. “This was a training device that I had when I was little, when I was first learning how to use the kineTech.” She finishes with one wire and starts on the other. “I used to have to push it about without touching it, and then turn it and… well, you know. Basic stuff. ’Lijah added the mechanics to it, because he says you can’t just attach power to something and expect it to do anything except sit there and hum. Or catch fire.” She snorts, smiling a little at a memory she doesn’t share. Shaking her head fondly, she flips the cart over to show Mo and Bas the series of copper metalwork gears and cogs spanning its belly and stretching out to its wheels. “You have to build one with the other in mind, he said. And since he’s the genius in the family….” Resaniji trails off when her voice wobbles a little, and she seems to spend more time than necessary attaching wires that are already attached. “Goddamned stupid bloody genius,” she says, too quiet, really, but the shop is deserted and Mo and Bas are watching silently, so they hear it, whether they were meant to or not. Mo gives Resaniji a look heavy with sympathy that she doesn’t even look up to see; Bas just shifts uncomfortably.

When Resaniji sucks in a deep breath and finally looks up, her dark eyes are clear. “All right,” she says with a nod as she sets the cart down on the workbench, frees a path through all the bits and bobs, and holds the crystal ready in her fingers. “Watch.”

Carefully, she sets the crystal back into its tiny cradle on the power source and snatches her hands back when the cart takes off. It’s quick, wheels spinning and undercarriage giving off a hazy blue glow as it whips along the path Resaniji made.

“Whoops, shit!” she yelps, and before Bas can even register what he’s seeing, she leaps along the length of the workbench to intercept the toy before it can zoom over the edge and crash to the floor. She catches it just as it goes over, yelps again when it zaps her as she fumbles it belly-up. Its wheels whirr and its workings whine and pop with tiny jags of blue static, then she grins over at Bas and Mo. “See? No Tech involved. Well, except the crystal, but that’s kind of the point. Or it was ’Lijah’s point, anyway. It’s Tech-powered, but it’s not Tech, if you know what I mean.”

Bas shakes his head. “I really don’t.” Despite the fact that she’s been fairly unpleasant to deal with since the second he met her, Bas feels kind of bad when Resaniji’s broad smile falls. “I mean, it’s impressive,” he assures her, because it really is, and he hasn’t even begun to think of the possibilities yet, but he can’t help adding, “provided it didn’t have any kine help from you.” Which Bas doesn’t actually believe, because he knows all about dynamic crystals, but he still has to ask.

Resaniji’s scowl is back, along with the getting-to-be-too-familiar roll of the eyes. “No, it didn’t have any kine help.” She looks at Mo with a wave of her hand at Bas, and snipes, “Really?”

“He’s an analyst, Resaniji,” Mo says, admonishing, “it’s his job to analyze.” Before Bas can muster up surprise at the display of almost brotherly comradery, Mo turns to Bas. “That crystal”—he points to where Resaniji is in the process of pulling it from the little power device, the whirr-hum of the wheels dying down and the blue glow dissipating as soon as she disconnects it—“Kimolijah charged it somehow.”

Bas gives him a doubtful look. “What the hell does that mean?”

“It’s gridTech, Bas. Inside the crystal. It’s gridTech. Like he put his Tech inside it.”

“That’s….” Bas looks at the tiny little bit of sparkling rock held carefully between two of Resaniji’s small fingers and shakes his head. “That’s not even possible. You can’t direct gridTech like that, that’s what the Grid is for. You can’t just….” He waves his hand, knowing full well he’s arguing against something he’s just seen with his own eyes, but he can’t reconcile it yet with what he’s hearing. Grid power inside something other than a Tech—“It doesn’t….” It doesn’t make sense is what he was going to say, but he knows the science of Tech—he’s not an expert, but he knows more than most people—he knows the mechanics of the Grid, and he remembers all the hoohaw about the dynamic crystals when they were first discovered and promptly started killing Techs, so… it kind of does make sense in a way that’s still unconnected in his head, but the elements are all there, and if he sits down and really thinks about it….

“Have you ever seen a Class 2 gridTech run an entire building’s power for a week with just one short burst through the wiring?”

Bas snaps his glance up at Resaniji. “Class 2 can’t do that. It’d be a stretch for a Class 5 to do it for even a day. That kind of—”

“Except ’Lijah can and he did.” Resaniji waves her hand around the shop. “This place was lit up like daylight for more than a week. We couldn’t even damp it at night. The goddamned neighbors complained because the lights were shining through their windows and they couldn’t get any sleep. And ’Lijah couldn’t figure out how to shut it all down before the charge died, so he had to disconnect everything from the Grid wiring and then promise odd jobs and little gadgets all around to make up for it. And then he had to explain it away as a glitch in the surge bafflers when a Grid auditor came from the Directorate wanting to know if he was experimenting without a license. Which he was. But he couldn’t tell anyone what he was really doing before presenting his thesis and then reporting the new technology to the Directorate. He was hoping they’d let him keep the rights—that’s why I introduced him to Mo. We thought, with Mo’s connections, he’d be able to give us an idea how agreeable they’d be.”

Bas rolls his eyes at Mo, because he has no doubt who the “connection” was meant to be. Bas imagines he must have been surreptitiously interrogated at some point, and spares a little annoyance to wonder what his answers had been, but he can’t recall the conversation. Because Mo is that good, which is why he’s making so damned much dosh right now. Bastard.

Mo is smirking on the inside, Bas can tell, but all Mo says is, “The contract with the Directorate would’ve been… well, massive. Unprecedented.”

Bas doesn’t say anything out loud, but he has to agree. If what Resaniji seems to be saying is actually true. And that one he just can’t keep to himself.

“It’s been tried before,” he says. “You can’t direct Tech, especially gridTech into… well, anything.” He holds up his hands when both Mo and Resaniji open their mouths. “I know, I can almost see the science behind what you just showed me, but people have tried and failed before. It’s why we have the Grid in the first place.”

Because people had not only tried and failed before, they’d failed in huge ways and died in the trying. The debacle with the medTechs experimenting with dynamic crystals had been bad enough; the repercussions for gridTechs would be exponentially worse. You don’t direct gridTech; you wire yourself up and let the Grid absorb it—safely and sensibly—or you end up like one of the past hopeful “pioneers” with your brain melting out the sockets where your fried eyeballs used to be.

Resaniji sets the toy cart back among the debris littering the bench. “It can be directed, you just have to know how. Like bleeding, ’Lijah told me once. You cut your hand and you’ve got blood leaking down your arm. You can’t really aim it, right? It just sort of dribbles out and goes the path of gravity and least resistance.” She takes a step closer, gaze intense. “But what if you opened an artery? Instead of dribbles, you get a geyser, and then it’s not about controlling the flow anymore, it’s about directing it.” She flicks at the little cart and sends it rolling on the workbench. “’Lijah can open an artery and aim.”

That’s… Bas shakes his head. It’s almost too much to take in, except again, it makes sense in a way, unbelievable and theoretical or not, he knows he’ll understand completely once he sits down and thinks it through. And again, the implications are pretty goddamned massive. The Grid works by hooking hundreds of gridTechs to the central station, massive spiderworks of wires absorbing the power and distributing it along more wires. It hasn’t replaced gas lighting or coal heating yet because there are never enough gridTechs to give it that kind of power. It’s a difficult, dangerous job—the percentage of gridTechs who’ve burned out or accidentally electrocuted themselves has gone down over the years because of careful study and strict safety measures, but it still happens—so the Directorate pays accordingly. A gridTech could feasibly retire comfortably by age forty, if they make it that long.

The thing is, there’s a lot of wasted energy in the process, a lot of uncontrolled power zapping around that the wires don’t capture, which is why the individual stations at the Central Grid itself are cordoned off and guarded heavily. You don’t walk into an active Grid station unless you’re a gridTech and already wired in, and even then there’s a danger you can fry yourself with your own Tech.

But if there were a way to take the Tech and put it into these crystals, take a Class 2’s power and turn it into something beyond even Class 5, no wires, no burning out, no accidental deaths….

Bas shifts and tries not to look like he’s kind of reeling on the inside. “All right, say it’s true.” He looks at Resaniji. “Could you do the same thing? Load one of those things up with kine and—”

She’s already shrugging. “Probably. I don’t know. ’Lijah thought so. He tried to teach me, but I never really got it enough to use it. Except to test in a higher Class sometimes. I mean, obviously I can direct the Tech at things, but I can’t direct it into things and make it stay, no one can, except—” She shakes her head. “He was working on designing something to convert it—a conduit, you know? Something that would just take the Tech and do the directing for you. He figured that if he handed over his project diaries and all the math when he was through with it, the Directorate would be able to follow the logic and figure out how best to teach it, but for him it was just… he just did it, you know? It came naturally, and he’s never been good with putting things into words, so he….” Her eyes get bright again and she looks away. When she turns back to Bas, her face is earnest. “He was working on this for years. Since before he even started at the Academy. I mean, he doesn’t just think things up—he thinks things up and then he builds them, and if the parts to build them don’t exist, he builds them, too. If he thinks there’s a need for kine in a crystal, he’ll figure out a way to make it happen, but he’s gridTech, so….” She waves the little toy cart around. “So he did this.”

Present tense. All of it. If he thinks and he’ll figure out. She really does believe her brother is alive.

“The possibilities, Bas.” Mo is practically vibrating. “Hook it up to anything that connects to the Grid and it’ll go until the charge runs out. Modify any machine to run on it instead of the Grid or steam or coal or whatever and it just goes and goes until the charge in the crystal dies.”

There’s silence for several long moments, everyone turning that over in their own heads, before Bas says, “Okay,” because it seems like Mo and Resaniji are both expecting him to say something, but there are too many implications here to settle on any one thing, so that’s kind of the best he can come up with right now. “Okay, that’s great.” He holds up a placating hand at Resaniji’s suspicious glower in response to the absurd understatement. “I mean it really is—it’s pretty fucking amazing, is what it is, really, but….” He frowns and rubs at the back of his neck. “It’s kind of useless without….” He doesn’t say kind of useless without your brother here to finish his experiments and present it to the Directorate, because that’s pretty obvious. What’s not really obvious, at least to Bas, is how any of this has anything to do with the death—or, all right, disappearance—of Kimolijah Adani. “How… I mean, you brought me here in the first place to… what I mean to say is that none of this….”

How to put it delicately?

“It doesn’t prove ’Lijah’s alive,” Resaniji says for him, and she doesn’t even look angry that she had to say it. “No, it doesn’t. But this”—she holds up the little power source between her fingers—“this is the only one in the whole of the world. My brother invented it because he’s a goddamned genius and could build a machine to take you to the other side of the world and back if he thought it would be interesting enough. Which isn’t the point but it’s so fucking true that I could cry sometimes, because he’s so brilliant in some things and so stupid in others.”

She shakes her head then turns to the overburdened stack of papers and more junk that turns out to be a desk from which she extracts a single slip of paper from a folder in the middle. She waves the “portable Grid” at Bas again.

“This is the only one in the world and only Kimolijah, me and our father knew of its existence. And this”—she shakes the paper in her fist, jaw set and eyes going bright and angry—“is a parts requisition from Stanslo Enterprises in Stanslo’s Bridge.” She waves the little device again and her mouth quivers. “Can you guess what part it’s requisitioning?”

Bas stares. And then he sucks in a long, heavy breath. He really doesn’t have to guess. And now he has to consider the possibility that if Kimolijah Adani is actually missing and not dead, it may well be because that’s the way he wants it. Going off the Grid is not unheard of, after all, and it’s not Bas’s job to hunt down Techs who choose it. Maybe he sold his invention to this Stanslo out of sight of the Directorate and disappeared with the dosh. Then again, if that was all there was to it, why fake a death? And why take his father with him? Especially if this portable Grid thing really does work. A dead man can’t sign a contract for his amazing invention, and he can’t collect the dosh it would bring him, either.

Bas tilts his head. “If it’s from your brother, why didn’t he just send you a letter or something?”

“Because he can’t!” It’s loud and fraught, and this time, Resaniji doesn’t seem to care. “And it’s not exactly from my brother, it’s from Stanslo Enterprises, but it came through the requisitions office of Harrowgate. Do you know where that is?” She doesn’t wait for an answer. “It’s the end of the rail line, the end of the goddamned world, and the last stop to anywhere west unless you’re going to Stanslo’s Bridge. And I’m telling you, the fact that this requisition exists is a message and that’s from my brother. The goddamned thing’s in code. Look.” She walks swiftly up to Bas and holds the paper out where he can read it. “It was sent to the student workshop at the Academy and Professor Gage didn’t know what it was, so he brought it to me—like Kimolijah knew he would because he called it an Adani Power Pack, for fuck’s sake”—she points to a line on the requisition form—“right there in the order itself, and goddamn him, he—” She breaks off, voice choked, and shakes her head. “He was taking a huge chance, I’m sure of it, God, he must’ve been desperate, but it worked, Professor Gage brought it to me and….” She clenches her fist, crushing the paper. “Goddamn him! Smart enough to figure out a way to get a message to me, but not smart enough to listen to me in the first place when I told him not to go, I told them both, the contract was only a prelim, the Directorate hadn’t even seen it yet, and it wasn’t even for ’Lijah it was for my father, ’Lijah had no protection at all, but what the fuck do—”

“All right, all right,” Mo soothes and takes Resaniji’s balled up hand and pulls her close. He looks at Bas.

Bas stares back for a second, kind of stunned at the display of contained hysteria, then rubs at his temples. That creeping headache has officially pounced and begun chewing away just behind his left eye socket.

He looks down at the illobook still in its protective cover in his hand. There’d been a Magic Man plotline a few years back—year 17, series 4, issues 1 through 5, if Bas remembers correctly—in which Siren had seduced Magic Man then cast a spell over him so he couldn’t use his magic; she held him prisoner through four entire books, trying to drain his magic so she could use it for herself. It had been a great read at the time, but not really memorable enough for it to be one of his favorites. So he can’t pretend he doesn’t know why it comes to mind right now.

“Right,” he mutters, because wow, this is going to be a giant steaming pile of fuckery, he can tell already, but that tiny little device in Resaniji’s hand is actually pretty bloody huge, and he can think of all kinds of reasons now why someone might want to get hold of the person who built it. Can even think of all kinds of reasons why someone might want to actually kill that person, but can think of even more why they might want to simply pretend he’d managed to accidentally kill himself and keep this all to themselves. And that sort of thing is, after all, Bas’s job. He scrubs a hand through his hair and sighs at his brother with a why do you do this shit to me roll of his eyes then he looks at Resaniji.

“Show me the last thing he was working on.”

~~~~

It turns out the last thing Kimolijah Adani was working on was a train. Or, at least, Resaniji insists that the little block of copper strips and nickel plates and wheels and wires sitting on tiny little tracks nailed to a work surface is a train.

It’s a lot less cluttered in here, Bas notes as he takes in the small room in the back of the shop where Kimolijah Adani apparently studied and experimented and, if the cot in the corner beside a small clothespress is anything to go by, slept. There are shelves almost overflowing with parts and wires and books and ledgers, but there’s an order to them if one looks, and the worktop itself is pristine but for notes scribbled onto the surface itself and only faintly obscured beneath a layer of dust. Tools are neatly stored in padded baskets and leather rolls; plans and blueprints are tacked with ruler precision above the drafting table against the opposite wall; little vials of metal oils are lined up and labeled on their own small shelf; rolls of different types of wire are stuck through with a dowel and tacked above the bench. Parts and more parts of which Bas can’t even guess the uses are sorted into their own little wooden boxes and tagged with names like current crimpers and soldering sleeves, and one labeled extra shit that makes Bas smile. He notes the presence of at least three grounding wires in different locations in the work area, attached to regulation bracelets, and approves. Whether her brother proves to be either brilliant or stupid as Resaniji alternately claims, it seems he was at least meticulous in his work and careful with his Tech.

By contrast, the corner of the room where the cot sits looks like someone had tried on every bit of clothing they owned, discarded them all one by one, and then abandoned them on the floor. The bed is unmade, sheets going dusty, and there’s a small spray of illobooks poking out from under it—nothing of any value, from what Bas can see from here, just a few of Magic Man and one or two of The Denizens series at which he tries not to curl his lip. There’s a crossball stick with torn netting propped askew against the corner of the bedframe, and a dartboard—pocked with small screwdrivers instead of darts—hung beside a shelf full of what look like Tech Theory texts and books on steam engines. There’s a small collection of animal skulls and bird feathers and a little cup full of marbles, and those more than anything else make Bas set his jaw and square his shoulders.

All of it together reminds Bas that he’s been thinking about this Kimolijah Adani as if he’s a potential case, something exciting to work on, maybe get Bas a few stripes closer to a promotion to agent. And yet, Kimolijah Adani was a young man—not much younger than Bas himself, actually—who apparently loved his family, was loved by them, excelled in his studies and was still in some ways just a kid.

Is just a kid, Bas makes himself think. Not was. Is. Because he’s gone from automatically disbelieving an obviously distraught sister to deciding that Kimolijah Adani’s case is worth another look, at the very least.

“I had to, um… put some things away,” Resaniji says quietly from the doorway. “He doesn’t like it when people move things around on him, but I….”

She doesn’t finish, and Bas is just as glad.

His throat’s gone a little tight so he clears it. “So he was working on a toy train, then?”

Resaniji snorts and shakes her head. “He was building a scale model.” She waves at the worktable and lifts an eyebrow at Bas. “For anything bigger, he’d need a lot more crystals, but if he could get this one to run, even out the flow of power so it didn’t jump its tracks or electrocute anyone standing next to it, if he could prove that it was safer and more practical than the Grid….”

Bas nods and peers at the equations and notes and drawings jotted all over beside the miniature tracks on the table and wishes he had more of an education in spatial math and relative science so he could figure out how Kimolijah went from an apparently brilliant, earnest student to potential kidnapping victim. He’d apparently headed out to Stanslo’s Bridge under the dubious protection of a prelim contract, and though no one would ever dare to outright break a contract—worse even than kidnapping, when you got right down to it—there were thousands of ways to twist words and hide loopholes. Bas should know. But if no one but Resaniji, Kimolijah himself and their father knew about any of this, how did Kimolijah manage to catch the attention of someone who might—

Wait.

Shit.

“Where was he getting these crystals?” Bas asks Resaniji slowly, knowing the answer already, but holy shit, this is even worse than he’d been thinking.

Resaniji’s mouth twists in what might be a bitter smile but looks more devastated than anything else, and she gives him a long, slow blink.

She doesn’t answer the question. She doesn’t have to.

~~~~

The logic goes like this:

Crystals are not rare. Well, dynamic crystals are rare. Which isn’t generally an issue on which the Directorate entertains proposals for change, regardless of breakthrough hypotheses, because they’ve pretty much decided the uses for dynamic crystals in Tech are limited, unpredictable and dangerous. No other Techs but the scrys use them, and even the scrys for whom they work are relatively few. Copper plates and even clear water in heavy granite bowls are more practical and effective. There was a small upswell—some years back while Bas was still at the Academy—when dynamic crystals were first discovered and a handful of theses started coming through about the possible uses for medTechs. But that went away very quickly when too many experiments went wrong and the Directorate stepped in. Too many unexplained deaths on the Tech side and almost no actual healing on the patient side, and when the safety of Techs is involved, the Directorate doesn’t fuck around. Contracts were revoked, careers were ruined, and ministers were sent for reeducation at various detention centers. The Prime Minister of the Consolidated Territories placed the regulation of dynamic crystals under the purview of the Directorate and, other than cutting off the insignificant flow of something still experimental and not really in demand anyway, no one outside the government Tech divisions really noticed.

So, mundane crystals are not, in fact, truly rare, but they’re not exactly in hot demand, either, so it doesn’t tend to matter. There’s jewelry, of course, because if it’s sparkly and precious, someone will eventually make something bangly out of it. And that’s pretty much it. From what Bas can tell—and his lack of interest is, admittedly, a bit of a handicap here—jewelry made from crystals is every bit as lovely as that made from diamonds or emeralds or any other precious stone. Were it not for the fact that, with the proper paraphernalia and knowledge, a person can actually grow their own crystals, they would likely be just as dear as diamonds. Mined crystals are, of course, more expensive than grown crystals, but they’re lucky if they reach semiprecious status as opposed to their precious cousins.

They’re not in demand. And nobody cares.

Except you can’t grow dynamic crystals, or if you can, no one has yet figured it out. And again, nobody cares enough to put in the effort. The Directorate makes sure of that.

There is, therefore, one working mine in the Consolidated Territories that produces dynamic crystals, the mine which, in fact, discovered them in the first place and the administrator of which is now the Directorate. The Directorate tells the owner how much he can mine and to whom he’s allowed to sell the dynamic crystals. Since the Directorate only really allows the mine to sell to the Directorate—and the Directorate probably only buys several dozen dynamic crystals a year—the “working” mine is actually, for all intents and purposes, not working at all.

 Which has no relevance to anything, Bas thinks. Except for the fact that the mine sits just outside of Harrowgate—the end of the goddamned world, as Resaniji had put it, and last western point of civilization before Stanslo’s Bridge chokes into desert.

So it stands to reason that, if a young student were experimenting with dynamic crystals—crystals which are considered dangerous and are therefore heavily regulated for Tech use by the Directorate—he would find the Directorate somewhat uncooperative in handing any over without a full investigation as to their intended use and the ability of the young student in question to use them without accidentally killing himself. And since this student was, as Resaniji admitted, unwilling to release any breakthroughs in Tech he might have made until he’d secured his final grade and then the rights to his work, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suppose that this student might skirt the Directorate entirely and go right to the source for the necessary dynamic crystals.

That source being the Harrowgate Mining Company. Which, again, Bas thinks, has no relevance to anything. Except that the Harrowgate Mining Company just happens to be owned by Stanslo Enterprises.

~~~~

Mo walks with him most of the way to Bas’s poky rental. They’re quiet—Bas because he’s thinking, mind clickety-clacking away in seven different directions that all seem to spiral down into one; he’s not sure why Mo’s not his usual verbose self until Mo stops beneath a wavering gaslight, eyes on the stones of the walk and hand on Bas’s arm. Damn it, Bas is only less than five blocks from home, too. He really wants to get there and get warm, take a headache powder, forage for some dinner and see what the new illobook looks like in its case, in that order. But Mo obviously has something to say, and he asked for Bas’s help on this, and since Bas really wants to encourage any altruistic inclinations on Mo’s part—because Bas has despaired over the years of Mo even having any—he lets Mo pull him to a stop to hear whatever it is Mo needs to say.

A woman with two whining children gives Bas a Tch! as she angles around where they’ve stopped rather in the middle of things. Bas looks up to see that he and Mo are standing in front of a sweet shop, and the glare the mother likely wants to direct at her bratty children instead gets leveled at Bas. Bas merely tips his head in not-quite-sympathy—because it’s not his fault she decided to reproduce, nor that she apparently allows her small son to call her a cow and get away with it—and gestures for her and her spawn to step back into the flow of foot traffic and be gone. When they do, with sneers from both the mother and the boy, Bas turns to Mo and waits.

It’s not late, exactly, but it’s well into the dinner hour and Bas is hungry and tired. The stink from the ironworks at the edge of the city of Overlook has drifted over the rest of the northern wards and latches itself onto the low-hanging fog that seeps overland from the canal. The chatter from the shops and the walks is somehow muffled and resonant at once, the clip-clop and lurching mutter of wooden wheels on cobbles of the taxis in the street both too close and weirdly distant. It’s heavy and cold, and the whistle from the trainyards over to Brentley sounds strangely hollow in the twilight.

“You’re analyzing already,” is what Mo ends up saying, and there’s a quirk at the side of his mouth, blue eyes catching the flaring sputter of the gas lamp and bending it fond.

Bas smirks with a shrug. “I’m an analyst,” he echoes Mo from earlier. “It’s what I do.”

Mo grins at that, wide and warm, which is, Bas knows, apparently lethal to the virtue of any woman in Mo’s personal blast radius. It’s not fair, Bas thinks, though there’s no bitterness, really. He knows he and Mo look fairly alike—same dark hair, same blue eyes, same basic build and features—but Bas has never had the magnetism Mo has, has never been able to get someone to do as he asks simply because he asked it and smiled while he did it. There had been resentment and animosity when they’d been younger, especially when their years at the Academy overlapped, because when Mo was in his second year and Bas in his fourth, Mo had already had more sex than Bas will probably ever have in his lifetime, and it had burned. Mo is somewhat dashing, where Bas is merely awkward; Mo is friendly and garrulous, where Bas is more reserved and cautious. Bas can’t account for the difference and the injustice used to sit sour in him enough to wonder if Mo used his psyTech to his own ends and made people like him better.

He knows that was only teenaged sullenness and it still shames him that he’d ever even considered it. For all Mo’s recklessness, he’s a good Tech and would no more abuse it than Bas would allow anyone else to.

“You think she’s awful,” Mo says, eyes narrowed in that calculating way he has, but he’s smirking a little, too. “Resaniji, I mean.”

“I knew who you meant.” Bas can’t help the way his mouth purses. “I think she’s a little pushy and… abrupt for someone who’s asking for my help.”

“That’s because you’re brilliant at facts and analysis but utter shit at people.”

Bas would scowl, because it isn’t really true, but Mo thinks he knows everything, so there’s not really any point. Bas gets people; he has to with the work he does. He just doesn’t like very many of them.

“But you’re going to do it anyway,” Mo says—a statement, not a question, and it’s not arrogance, it’s just that he knows Bas, so Bas can’t really get pissy about it. Mo shakes his head. “She’s not… all right, I can see that she seems bitchy, but that’s because you’re only looking at what she’s showing you.” He pauses, the moist foggy air haloing around him in the spill of light from the lamp. “She’s scared, Bas. And she’s not doing anything you wouldn’t be doing if you were in her place. Because you and I, brother, we both know why you do what you do.”

Bas opens his mouth then closes it, strangely embarrassed. Because yeah, all right, he pursued the contract at the Directorate because he’d wanted to be Magic Man when he grew up, and when he realized that was never going to happen, he’d decided he’d get as close to it as he could. He renews that contract every year because of all the people who can be made vulnerable because they have what another might want. People like Kimolijah Adani. People like Mo. And apparently Mo knows it.

There are a lot of things Bas should say, things he and Mo don’t really ever say to each other because they just don’t do the whole loving-brothers-and-best-friends thing. There are times Bas really wishes they could and wonders if this is one of those times he should just open his mouth and say something. Except all he can think of is, “You’re really not fucking her?”

Mo laughs, surprised, a sharp bark of it, and his eyes crinkle up to crescent moons. “I’m not fucking her.”

Well. All right, then. Bas supposes he can acknowledge the chivalry in what Mo’s trying to do for the Adani family. Not out loud, but still.

“It all….” Mo trails off and rubs at his mouth. With a heavy push of breath through his teeth, he waves his hand around before jamming it into his trouser pocket. “All of this, Bas—now that I see it from your… I mean—” He cuts himself off and shakes his head. “I’m not sure now I should have involved you. Looking at it now, I’m thinking….” He clears his throat and stands up straight, his gaze earnest and worried. “Bas, this could be dangerous.”

Bas snorts. He doesn’t mean to—and the look on Mo’s face makes him wish he hadn’t—but he really can’t help it. “Not for me,” he tells Mo. “The only danger to me will come by way of paper cuts, Mo. Though I won’t deny that we might do well to spare some worry for whatever agent gets the case when they assign it.” If they assign it, Bas doesn’t say, because he still doesn’t know if all the data will come together like he thinks it might, and if it does, if they’ll listen to him this time. He analyzes, files a report and makes a recommendation; what the Directorate does after that is just not up to him, whether he likes it or not. “If this turns out to be what it’s looking like,” he goes on, “I’m not sure I trust this Stanslo to simply comply with an investigation. And people can be dangerous when their back’s against the wall. But it’s not a danger I’ll be seeing up close.”

Mo lifts his eyebrows, but doesn’t say anything. There isn’t much to say, really. The man they’re talking about may have simply been caught in circumstances that appear bad on paper, or he may have already kidnapped or killed a young man and his father for what might very well be the discovery of the century.

They’re quiet for several long minutes, people still weaving around them on the walk, taxis still clopping by on the street and fog still building into a soupy stench as Overlook settles in and stretches its shadows into night. With a long sigh, Mo finally tips a sharp nod and straightens from where he’d slouched against the lamppost.

“Resaniji hid all of her brother’s experiment notes from the Directorate during the investigation. That’s what she meant when she said she had to put some of his things away.” He holds up his hand when Bas opens his mouth to curse her in absentia. “I know, but she swears none of it was pertinent to what happened to him when they’d thought he’d just blown himself up, and she didn’t want any of it to… well. She didn’t want it—”

“Stolen, Mo, just say ‘stolen’ already, we both know that’s what she meant.”

God, Bas hates the distrust some have for the Directorate, especially when it comes from Techs. It exists in the first place to protect them, for pity’s sake.

“Yeah, well.” Mo just shrugs again and looks at Bas straight. “Apparently with good reason. The shop was robbed a couple weeks after she got the letter from Stanslo’s Bridge.” His mouth is set tight and he lifts an eyebrow at Bas’s surprised look. “She doesn’t think it was the Directorate, though, so your honor is unchallenged.”

“What does she think, then? Stanslo himself?” Because Bas has to admit that it’s the first thing that came to his mind.

 “She doesn’t know, but you have to admit it looks… suspicious.” Mo peers at Bas closely, and when he apparently sees what he was looking for, he goes on, “She’s bringing all the notes and such to me tomorrow. She’s asked me to only give you what I think you need to find out what happened to him, but you’re the analyst, yeah? I’m thinking you’ll probably need it all.”

It nudges at something inside Bas, something warm and affectionate and… brotherly, he supposes. “Likely,” is all he says, though he lets his mouth pull into a grin like it wants to.

Mo grins back. “Come over tomorrow night, yeah? I’ll cook.”

“You can’t cook.”

“I can… well, all right no, but my landlady can. And I’m really good at messing up the kitchen and pretending the roast and gravy was all my doing.”

Bas laughs this time and gives Mo a light swat behind the ear. “Fine. And I’ll pretend I don’t know you almost burned down Mam’s kitchen trying to make coffee.”

“That doesn’t count,” Mo retorts and though he doesn’t take his hands out of pockets, Bas feels a retaliatory swat behind his own ear, a weirdly nostalgic reminder that he’d grown up with a psyTech for a brother. “Mam’s stove is evil and doesn’t let anyone near it unless you sacrifice puppies to it to sate its immoral appetites for flesh.”

“Are you saying Mam habitually sacrifices puppies to her stove for the sake of regular meals?”

“I’m saying Mam is the only one who can glare it into compliance without the benefit of ritual sacrifice.”

Bas nods, still grinning, because yeah, Mam could glare anything or anyone into compliance, even recalcitrant stoves. He doesn’t care even a whit that they’re getting strange looks from eavesdroppers in their periphery, apparently horrified at the idea of puppy sacrifice, but he’s had stranger conversations with Mo—compared to the memorable tale of the prostitute and the river otters, this is nothing. He slaps Mo on the shoulder and pulls away.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Bas,” Mo says and grabs Bas’s arm before he can turn and start home. Mo’s mouth works for a few seconds, words forming and scattering, before he sets his jaw and lets go of Bas with a sigh. “Just… just be careful on this one. All right?”

Bas puts out his hands and starts walking backward, grin still quirking at his mouth, but with the uncharacteristic sincerity and worry in Mo’s gaze, it pulls into something not quite genuine. He’s got a feeling about all of this, and it isn’t a good one. He wonders if Mo’s picked up on something, too, because Mo is psy and why wouldn’t he? There’s nothing to be done, though, because Kimolijah Adani might be out there somewhere, in trouble, and if he is, it’s Bas’s job to make sure the Directorate finds him.

“I’m an analyst, Mo,” he says, “I’m always careful,” and he flicks a look over his shoulder to make sure he’s not about to walk into anything. When he looks back, Mo is just standing there with his hands in his pockets, still worried and fond, but trying to look just as rakish as he’s always been. “Just an analyst,” Bas tells him then throws, “What could happen?” over his shoulder as he turns for home.

He rolls his eyes and shakes his head when Mo yells, “Famous last words, brother-mine! You’re not Magic Man!” Bas doesn’t turn back, but he lifts a hand, over his shoulder and above the crowd of pedestrians, and waves his illobook in farewell.

Because of course he’s not Magic Man. Magic Man doesn’t have nosy brothers. And if he did, he’d at least be the better-looking one.

 

 

       
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