It is raining on top of the office building, a light rain dancing into an earth made artificial, the garden atop the JetSyne skyscraper existing to make some kind of statement. According to Richard, it is an attempt to be hip, which he said in a deeply sarcastic tone. Richard Brown is as drab as the name, the kind of person almost destined for management at some faceless conglomerate of a company. Though, on the face of it, I probably would be as well if my blandness was not an act of conscious choice as much as a statement of my nature. I have no idea what he did to owe favours to the magician Wu Ming, but he did so and she sent a messenger to me in turn.
Because, as she put it, if she could not destroy me – not even in her own city – then she could well use me. I am not like other magicians: I can wander, and I have bond myself to a creature from Outside the universe who bound himself to be first. Jay has been left in a hotel room with a TV and snacks and is desperately trying to hide his fear from me through our binding. Jay is very, very good at hiding and I’ve borrowed that power to walk through the JetSyne wards and sit in on a meeting about company productivity. Which as near as I can tell involves more work for less pay.
I am starting to think that anyone who wants to attend meetings should not be allowed to.
The current speaker is one Melissa Engelbert, the CPO. Chief Planning Officer apparently means co-ordinating events. It also means making arrangements for the wards and protections the company has against magicians, especially the one who is the city. I could take the wards down from inside and let Wu Ming in; I haven’t yet. It takes an interesting kind of courage to try and close a part of a magicians city from them, even if it only one office tower: there are many reasons to do so, and some of them are even benign.
It is, after all, a very quick way to get the attention of said magician if you want to.
Ms. Engelbert, the ‘Ms.’ thrown out into the room like a drawn sword, is talking about graphs and production values and the company pension plan. I have no idea if it is my being here, or something Wu Ming asked of Richard, but he raises a hand.
“Excuse me, but we import much of our products from China. Whose record in human rights is frankly appalling at best: I am not sure JetSyne can dare to claim that it is going to deny insurance to workers for moral reasons given that. At least not without being duly laughed at.”
She pauses mid-flow. The CEO, one Albert Spencer, lets out a low rumble of laughter from his vast seat at the end of the room. He is quiet, the kind to listen more than speak, and reminds me of a magician as he stirs in his chair. The stirring triggers a memory and I am almost certain I know what he is, which is all the more reason to keep quiet.
“We are about profits and productivity,” Spencer says. “People are a distant second to the accumulation of wealth, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I wouldn’t,” Richard says.
“Ah.” The CEO lets out along breath. “Recently married, are we?”
Richard looks confused but nods.
“That would explain it. It is unwise to let pangs of remorse limit oneself. Continue,” he says, waving a hand to Ms. Engelbert.
She talks about mining operations, though calls it datamining and apparently means the internet. Which is reason enough for a company to not want magicians to be involved in their affairs, but perhaps not enough to go this far. I listen for at least ten minutes to her lecture on a subject everyone else in the room seems to know before a man with no chin stands and begins talking about shareholder return and market value and the need to be trim and lean.
I cough. Heads snap about, suite rustling like scared pigeons. I’m wearing jeans, a cheap jacket, t-shirt. I don’t belong and as far as they can tell I wasn’t in the room a moment ago. I stretch from where I’ve been leaning against the wall and feel Ms. Engelbert draw up power. Practitioners aren’t magicians, but they can use magic. Enough time, enough effort, a large enough source of power and they can do small things in a small area. It took all her skill to make the wards, that and more beside. I feel out her power, and the sacrifices made to bolster it.
“You would solve a lot of issues if manpower and time wasn’t wasted on wards,” I say softly. “Or if half the interns didn’t have their own future drained out of them to help power said wards. There is this saying, you know that we borrow the land from our children. Which means we’re leasing it from them at a rather enviable rate, don’t you think? We are always in debt to the future, especially companies forced to straddle it.”
Ms. Engelbert speaks a Word and the air shudders under it, the other suits spinning to stare in shock. I don’t know how many knew of magic, or even her, until that point. Most large companies have at least one person whose job it is to keep out gremlins, leprechauns and the like. It tends to be uncommon knowledge at best.
I catch the Word and unravel it between my fingers. “I am a magician, Ms. Engelbert. I could unmake all the wards now, let the magician who claims this city know what you’ve been doing here. But you haven’t been doing anything wrong, just being too paranoid for your own good. Being a corporation instead of people. That, too.”
Richard has gone still and pale; whatever he expected of me, this wasn’t it. Neither will be this, I think.
I turn to the CEO and bare my teeth in a smile. “How has JetSyne been treating you, Albert Spencer? Is this an acceptable hoarde?”
He stirs, and for a moment I catch a glimpse of banked fires in his eyes and greed so deep nothing will ever fill it. No one else recognizes a dragon; myth conditions people deeply. They expect scales and wings, not a hunger without end, not glimpses of what a dragon must give up for power. A dragon’s fire can burn a magician to ashes but can’t he hot enough to replace where their heart, their soul, where they used to be. Only wealth touches that coldness, and it’s never enough at all.
“You could kill me,” I say, low and hard, for his ears alone. “But you would lose JetSyne and Wu Ming would kill you in turn. I would wound you enough for that at the least, and I am not without allies who would avenge my death if even my enemies like her failed to do so.”
“Magicians are not welcome here,” he says for everyone’s ears, and nothing more.
“If we were, I would be worried.” I bow to him, and undo the wards about the place. It is easy from the inside, so easy that Ms. Engelbert grips the table to stop herself from crying out as how quickly I undo years of work. I don’t tell her she could have been a magician if she’d wanted it enough; I have no need to be that cruel.
I just turn and walk to the door. “We have no reason to interfere in your affairs, not truly. Your company is not doing anything other companies would not do if they could. But if you push this, I will call in the debts owed to the future and you will learn just how far your hungers take you and to what end they always need. It would help if you have less meetings,” I finish with, closing the door and heading down the stairs.
Security does not stop me when I leave.