“What about Vandemeer?” Jansen asked. “Did you do a séance too?”
I shrugged. “I tried. Dry hole.”
“Your file says you’re Tier One. You served in the Arcane Legion for twelve years, over half that in the Special Operations Support Detachment, with multiple combat tours. You couldn’t call him back?”
“I’m listed as Tier One because I have the paper qualifications. Gift-wise, I’m closer to Tier Three now.”
“In layman’s terms, mana is attracted and retained by life. Living flesh, or materials that mimic it. The less meat you have, the less mana you can draw and use. It can be mitigated by training and arcanengineering, but…” I shrugged.
“Why did you have your limbs replaced?”
“How is that relevant?” Greenwald asked.
“If you have to know,” I said, “I was blown up in a hot and dusty place. After I was casevac’d, the doctors had to amputate. They gave me new limbs.”
“And that was when you left the military?”
The Detachment’s combatant roles are open exclusively to Tier Ones and Twos. There’s no place for me there anymore.
“I wanted to try something new.”
“How is this line of questioning relevant to the case?” Greenwald interrupted.
“Fine.” Jansen flipped a page. “What happened next?”
“The sylphs got back to us just before closing time.”
Back at the office, I was doing paperwork on my laptop when I sensed mana gathering around me. Seconds later, Asahail popped out of thin air, appearing in front of the computer screen.
“Hiiiiiiiii!” she said.
“Hey,” I said. “Found him?”
“Yes! Difficult, but we have him!”
“Where is he?”
“On the street! He’s moving. I can show you. But you must hurry!”
I leapt out of my chair. Next to the central table was a pair of gear bags. Mine and Alex’s. I picked both up and flew down the stairs.
“Alex!” I called.
He was explaining the merits of a shotgun to a customer. Alex looked up, first at me, then the bags. “Balloon is up?”
“Yeah. You coming?”
Alex mumbled apologies and handed her off to one of the floor staff. He took his bag, and we jumped into his car. Asahail provided directions, I interpreted, and he drove. The sylph’s directions took us against traffic and through buildings, and a several times I had to call detours.
She led us to the parking lot of a Taison hypermarket, and pointed at a shopper emerging from the entrance.
“There! That’s him!”
He had a cart stuffed with groceries. He rolled up to a black van and loaded it up, using every movement to check his surroundings. Smooth, but obvious to the trained observer. And his aura was strong.
“Thanks,” I said. “Hang back and get ready to back us up.”
“I’ll get his attention,” Alex said. “You can flank him.”
“Works for me. Be careful; he’s Gifted.”
Alex was a mundane, but he’d served twenty years in Naval Special Warfare and we’d run many ops together. He could handle theurgists.
Alex parked the car in the nearest vacant lot. I exited first, weaving between cars to get on the target’s left side. I reached under my shirt, cross-drawing an Autolock baton from my left hip.
Alex shuffled his way up behind the target, closing within arm’s length just as the mark hauled two huge bags from the shopping cart. Alex said something but I couldn’t quite hear it. As I approached the target nodded, his aura spiked and he flicked—flicked!—the bags at Alex’s face.
He was a booster, able to draw mana to amplify his physical abilities. His hands dipped down, drawing and deploying a folding knife smooth as greased lightning, even as he charged Alex.
He was fast, but I was already moving, snapping the baton open. Alex flinched and leapt away, the bags bouncing off his outstretched arms. The knifer slowed and changed direction, buying me just enough time to catch up and slam the baton into his perineal nerve.
His leg froze. Grasping the end of the baton with my other hand, I locked the shaft just above his kneecap and pressed my bodyweight down, destroying his balance. He went down, slamming his head against his van.
He recovered almost immediately, stepping back and swirling around to face me. He chambered his hand for a low-line attack. I backed up, guarding with a series of figure-8 strikes. Which he thrust through.
The baton smashed into his arm, flinging it across his body. His knife skittered away. I stepped in and drove the tip into his gut. He doubled over. Sidestepping, I brought the baton up from under his arm, pressing it against his bicep, and grabbed the tip with my free hand. I spun around and cranked his arm, forcing him down. I felt his mana, a crackling river of energy, and dispersed it into the ground.
Alex moved in, his SIG P850 in hand, and aimed at the target’s head.
“You are under arrest for assaulting a peace officer with a deadly weapon,” he said. “If you use magic again, I will shoot you. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he whispered.
I handed him to Alex, who cuffed and searched him. The target had bought enough groceries to feed a platoon, heavy on red meat, light on vegetables. Werewolves were obligate carnivores, and trolls marginally less so.
The van was empty. I ran the registration plates on my smartscroll, and learned they belonged to a sedan, reported stolen last week. Alex seated the suspect against the front tire and flipped through his wallet.
“His ID says he’s Boris Federov,” Alex said.
“Well, Boris,” I said, boring into his eyes. “We know what you did to Gerald Vandemeer and Stella Rowan. Tell me where the rest of your crew is. Tell me where you hid the laptop and the neural chip.”
He spat at my feet. “What crew? What laptop? What neural chip?”
“C’mon, don’t tell me you bought all that food for yourself. Your crew sent you on a shopping trip. You know where they are.”
“Your mother is whore.”
“Absolutely, but you’re still going to tell us where your friends are.”
“I only speak to lawyer.”
“Yeah? You work for Mr. Gramzin, you can get the best lawyers. But this is no ordinary crime, my friend.”
His eyes flickered.
“We’ve been retained by RKC to find the stuff you took. RKC, they’re everywhere. Gramzin knows that too. We can take you to the station, but it’ll be a long time before your lawyer arrives. When he does, how much you wanna bet you’ll have ‘committed suicide’ in your cell?”
A bead of sweat rolled down his cheek.
Alex removed a photo from Federov’s wallet, holding it up to his face. “Cute kids. Yours?”
“Do you want your girls to grow up without a father? That’s what Gramzin will do to them unless you cooperate.”
He worked his jaw, his eyebrows furrowing. “You can’t…I…”
“I have a friend in the Special Crimes Bureau,” I said. “RKC and Gramzin can’t touch them. You tell me where your crew is, and I’ll make sure the Bureau will protect you and your family.”
“If you don’t,” Alex continued, “you’ll take your chances in the lock-up. So do your kids.”
He snarled. “I’ll talk.”
For more tales of magic, fantasy and high tech, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
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