Monday, July 13, 2009

A Daimone-Haunted World: Emily

Carrying on from where we left off... (and the beginning, etc., yes.)

A bit over two hours later, I sat across the table from Emily. She was - oh, about 5'8", dark-haired, had vision-correction built into her oversight-lenses, and furthermore, I was informed, kept a pair of contacts for emergencies. She was the thaumaturgy expert for the Io police force - not all that impressive a distinction, considering that there were all of four active-duty police covering all of Io, but still probably the third-best thaumaturgist on the planet. (In my opinion, that is. Her view of the matter placed her somewhat higher... we'd agreed to disagree.) I'd known her for most of a year, now - long enough to know the look on her face that signified mischief.

"Vat-grown sandwiches?" she asked me, her tone mocking. "You sure know how to show a girl a good time." Her contempt for my choice of lunch didn't stop her from taking large bites whenever she wasn't talking - seemed like she was hungry.

The first time I'd met her, I'd made the mistake of taking her insults seriously. This time, though, I was prepared. "I'm so sorry you didn't tell me we were going on a date," I told her, holding my face straight as best I could. "If you had, I would've given you the works - the filet mignon, fine red Sonoma wine, and a little caviar to top it all off. But - well, you didn't, and so we'll both have to do without." I shook my head sadly, and then took another bite of my sandwich.

Emily leaned back thoughtfully. The establishment in which we ate was more like a cross between a deli and a cafeteria than a proper restaurant, but its owner had managed to scrounge up some fancy, rolling, padded chairs, which were guarded fiercely. The owner claimed that they were the secret to her success, and I'll admit that they made me more likely to eat there than cook up something at home. But I digress. Emily leaned back thoughtfully, that look of mischief still in her eyes...

"I could do with some filet mignon one of these days," she said. "Think I could get it from Earth, special order?"

"And how would they ship it to you?" I asked. "Pretty much every ship that comes off the lines is put onto the Earth-Mars route, or Ganymede if not that. I guess they could slingshot it to us, but that'd take... a few years..."

"Why not just summon a magical star fairie for the purpose?" she asked, her tone completely serious. "That could carry the filet to me straight as an arrow, no delay!"

"And then they could summon the Immortality Demon to grant the filet eternal life - so it wouldn't go bad en route!" I suggested.

"Oh - oh - and to protect it from Jupiter's radiation-belt, they could put it in a pocket dimension, just its own size!" Emily said enthusiastically.

We continued in this vein for some time. But - eventually the sandwiches were finished, and the conversation turned towards the subject I'd managed to keep out-of-mind for the duration of the meal - the reason I had asked for this lunch meeting.

"The daimone," I said.

"The thing - whatever it was you saw," Emily corrected.

"You don't believe me?" I asked, sounding somewhat plaintive. "I'm certain that the thing - whatever I saw - wasn't human. I had my oversight attuned, and it glowed..." If she, too, denied there'd been anything there, I'd have started to lose trust in my own senses.

But she didn't. "I went over the site earlier today, with Kim there to check my readings," Emily said. (Kim was another of the Io police. I didn't know him well.) "There was certainly something there - strong thaumaturgic residues, all over the place. But they weren't clear to begin with, and what I'm assuming is the wake of you putting up Sight and a ward blurred them further. At this point, we don't have enough information to say what the thing you encountered was."

"Did you try following the thaumaturgic wake?" I asked, leaning forward. "See if it led somewhere?"

Emily was already shaking her head. "Standard protocol," she said, "and a dead end. The trail led to the roof. Wherever the thing went from there, it went by air, and without a single aircraft on Io, we can't follow it."

"I could summon an air-manta - " I suggested helpfully.

"What would a thaumatological-trace detector read on the back of a summoned creature?" Emily asked me.

Chagrined, I shrugged. "So - what now?" I asked.

"Right now, I want you to help me with some spec," Emily said. "I've been mulling over a few possibilities as to what this thing could be. One thought is that it's a lurker. It was motionless when you saw it, vanished quickly - "

I shook my head. "No. Lurkers are always inanimate objects, without exception. Lamp-posts, yes. Drop-boxes, yes. Women - no matter how still - probably not."

Emily shrugged. "All right. It could also, as you suggested, be a daimone."

"But," I prompted.

"But it didn't act like a daimone," Emily said. "Daimones are just about the most destructive creatures we know of - I mean, even recently, you heard about the accident in Chicago, on the T." It'd been all over the news, a few weeks ago. "How do we explain the fact that it just - ran away?"

"It could've been intimidated," I suggested.

"By you," Emily replied flatly. She looked me up and down.

"I put a ward up quickly - the vast majority of people wouldn't have been able to act so quickly, or so efficiently," I argued.

Emily shook her head. "Let's call it an abnormality, for the moment. The last candidate creature I was thinking of was an assassin-demon."

I was skeptical. "It didn't exactly look like a killer - though I suppose it could have been disguised. But it didn't make any aggressive moves -"

"In this case, I am willing to believe that you might've intimidated it," Emily said. "Assassin demons strike from stealth, right?" I nodded. "So when you noticed it, and put up wards, it vanished - waiting for a better time to strike."

Reluctantly, I was forced to concede her point. "But - who would have sent an assassin after me?" I asked.

Emily shook her head. "I don't know. But it seems like the most likely possibility for the moment. If I were you - I'd watch your back."

A chill ran down my spine. It was bad enough when I thought I'd encounted a daimone on the loose. But that - that was an indiscriminate threat. An assassin-demon, hunting me, waiting for a vulnerable moment...

"I've gotta go," Emily said, rising to her feet. "Work to do. This and other things."

"And I'll see what I can find out about the creature, and who sent it, if it is an assassin," I said, following Emily out the door. "I've got an idea about what I can do..."

But for the second time that day (I never had downloaded that paper!), my plans were tragically interrupted, for on the way down the street, heading back to my house, I got a call.

"Who is it?" I asked, surprised at the absence of video.

"Look up," a male voice said.

But even as I did so - and, with a start, saw the ship coming in, flame spouting downwards from its belly (the supply ship was scheduled for today, some small part of my mind reminded me), I was coming to grips with a greater surprise. I knew that voice - and did not expect it here.

"Great-Uncle Roshan!"

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