“You know what I’d like to do?” Jack leaned in to Peri, his hand curving suggestively about her waist, and she breathed in the faint scent of ozone and aftershave like a balm. Under it was a hint of gun oil, and Peri was hard-pressed to decide which one intrigued her more as they stood outside her apartment door with their carry-ons, glad they had the next week off. “Mmmm, I like games,” Peri said as she tapped her key card to her apartment door pad. It disengaged the lock with an almost unheard click, and she turned to him, seeing the bound heat behind his sandy hair and blue eyes as he leaned to nuzzle under her ear. The tips of her short black hair tickled her neck along with his lips, and she stifled a quiver. “I’d like to be there tomorrow when they find that ball of wax you left them,” Jack whispered. “That’s all. What did you think I meant?” Peri exhaled in annoyance, giving him a little shove as he pulled back and took up their bags. Eyes rolling, she pushed open the door, her faint smile widening as Carnac, their cat, came out to weave between their feet, threatening to trip them. “Hi, Carnac. Did you miss me more than Jack is going to tonight?” she said, scooping up the orange tabby and cuddling him as she followed Jack into the spacious apartment they shared. It was dark, and Detroit’s neon-draped skyline sparkled through the wide glass windows. The lighted masstransit rail circled to touch upon the city’s hot spots to look like jewels on a necklace, and she let Carnac slide from her. It hadn’t been a strenuous job, but the timing had been meticulous, requiring several days and multiple dry runs. She was mind-weary and ready for some downtime.
“Lights up,” she said, to shake the apartment out of extended leave, and the glow brightened to show the comfortable mix of her and Jack among the modern open-floor plan, everything angled to take advantage of the view of a glittering new Detroit. “Sure is a pretty thing,” Jack said as she dropped her coat and purse on a chair and went into the open kitchen to give Carnac some soft food. “The accelerator?” she asked, seeing that he’d taken it from his pocket and was holding it up to the spotlight over the gas fireplace. The walnut-size, meticulously engineered crystal was one-of-a-kind, and it caught the light like a disco ball, sending wavelengths too short to be seen ricocheting around the apartment to make her back teeth hurt. She’d held it briefly before giving it back for Jack to carry. It gave her the willies, the orb’s facets feeling warm and malleable even as they pricked her skin. Jack lowered the glittering crystal. “Hard to believe something this small is worth an entire city,” he said as he put it back in his pocket. Hard to believe you can hold it like that in your bare fingers, she thought as she ripped open a pouch of cat food. “When it’s plugged in, sure,” she muttered, watching Carnac weave between her feet as she set the bowl on the floor and fondled the cat’s ears.
“Right now it’s giving me a headache.” The small orb was Event Horizon’s latest wonder, fracturing wavelengths to allow information to be sent out on a particle, instead of an entire wave. In layman’s terms, it was like having a single bandwidth hold a hundred thousand conversations instead of one, and it would revolutionize how information was handled. Whoever held it would own the world. And it’s in Jack’s pocket , she thought as she seriously considered sleeping with it under her pillow tonight. It would go to Opti in the morning, and from there, returned to Event Horizon, the company that had developed it. It bothered Peri how often corporations stole or patented technology just to shove it in a drawer so their older technology would remain viable. The pop of a wine bottle brought her head up, and she smiled at Jack, loving him. The accelerator had been in a research facility outside of Cincinnati, and they’d done well to get in and out with no one the wiser. Preparation and skill had meant there’d been no need for her to draft, transposing a small part of time and space a few seconds into the past in order to erase a mistake.
Content, Peri gave Carnac a last fondle about the ears and went to join Jack in the living room. It had been months since she’d needed to draft to rub out what could have been a fatal error, and she enjoyed feeling normal. “Oh, please tell me you’re joking,” she said as Jack turned on the TV and settled back into the cushions, eyes riveted on the menu as he loaded his latest fix. “Ja-a-a-ack . ” she moaned as opening credits flowed over the flashing images of an athletic girl and her sidekick parrot, doing a magic spell and catching the sexy vampire. “Can’t you fall in love with something remotely possible?” Jack’s ears reddened. “Stop making fun of my entertainment. Come sit with me. Have some wine. I got a white this time.
We need to expand our palate.” Brow furrowed, she stood between him and the TV. “You just threaded a technological fence that rivals the Pentagon’s, and you want to watch Dungeons & Dragons?” Jack tugged her out of the way and down to sit beside him, his eyes never leaving the screen as the slim blonde with her long flowing hair chatted with her vampire girlfriend in a coffee bar. Behind them, two raggedy men with beards growled. Werewolves, apparently. “It’s not Dungeons & Dragons,” Jack said as he shifted closer to her. “This takes place in contemporary America. Cell phones and computers. You’d like it if you’d give it a chance.” “Computers and cell phones with witches and vampires?” she moaned.
“It’s worse than snakes on planes or giant crocs in Lake Placid. That at least has some plausibility.” He flicked a cross look at her. “It’s not any more unbelievable than you being able to replay thirty seconds of time,” he said, letting her know she’d pushed enough and any more would hurt his tender male ego. “Besides, they aren’t really vampires and witches. They are metaphors for drug kingpins and cops. Everything you like. Sex on a vampire stake.” “I can draft forty-five seconds into the past. Don’t shortchange me,” she said, peeved as she reached for the wine and filled the waiting glasses.
“What is this?” she asked, noticing it was a new label. The show went to commercials, and he let them run, turning the sound down instead of fastforwarding through them. “It’s called Pentimento,” he said as he took up his glass and held the clear white to the light. “Which is a term for when a painted-over part of a picture begins to resurface and show itself. The guy said it packs a punch.” Peri eyed the glass, watching how the wine clung to the side as she swirled it. “Can’t be worse than absinthe,” she said, her gaze rising to Jack. He shrugged, downing half his glass. He eyed her for a moment, then shuddered. “Try it,” he said, voice husky.
“Damn, that’s good. I think I found my newest best friend.” She didn’t like his long-running love affair with sensation, but he never drank when they were working, so she could overlook it. Breathing deeply, she took a sip, letting it linger for a moment before swallowing. “It tastes like any dry white wine, a bit smoky, though.” “Wait for it,” Jack warned, and her eyes widened as the flavor shifted, the faint hint of smoke blooming into a tartly acidic fire. It was like having swallowed a warm, glowing piece of amber. “Wow,” she said as vertigo hit her, the alcohol so smooth that she hadn’t even felt it going down. She took another sip, enjoying the mutation in her mouth. This could be addictive, she mused as she set her glass aside to take up the bottle.
“Where did you get this?” “Cincinnati.” Jack settled in beside her, his glass in hand. “I picked it up while you were in that yarn shop. For an hour. God, Peri. An hour? It was in the local wine rack.” “You’re kidding.” She spun the bottle around to read the label, and Jack shrugged, turning the volume up as the program came back on. “Potent.” She set the bottle out of his reach, knowing he’d drink it all and fall asleep if she let him.
Jack was warm against her, and she relaxed, feeling just those two sips take a grip on her as she tried to get into Jack’s show. But then her disbelief was plucked, and she stiffened. “No way!” she protested, wiggling to tickle his ribs and make him grunt, his hand rising to keep his wine from spilling. “Jack, they’re floating in a circle to summon a demon!” “It’s not that bad!” he said, laughing as he set his glass safely down. “Apart from the floating thing, it makes perfect, sympathetic, logical sense. See? They have a salt circle to contain the summoned. And candles to serve as a medium between the real and theoretical.” Peri tucked in closer, her fingers searching to try to get him to turn off the TV. “Lit for the first time while making love, I suppose, to make them even more powerful?” she questioned coyly, looking at her own candles scattered about. “And then .
” He stood to get the bottle, pulling himself away from her and making her pout. “You have your wine.” He wove on his feet, tipsy. “Which is magic in itself. Wine and salt moved the ancient world, Peri,” he said, bottle in hand. “Wine and salt. You think that’s just coincidence?” he said, lurching and accidentally knocking his glass. “Whoops!” Jack exclaimed as he reached for it. The glass hit the table with a crack, wine spilling. His reflexes were better drunk than most people’s sober, but Jack hissed as he cut himself on the broken rim.
“Ow,” he said flatly, looking at the blood seeping out his finger, smearing it on the chipped glass as he refilled it. Peri shook her head, dabbing up the spill with the cloth he’d wrapped around the wine bottle. “See what happens when you try to summon demons? You hurt yourself. I’m not going to draft to fix it,” she said as she leaned back into the cushions and took a sip of her own drink. “Not when I’m . this buzzed.” Blinking, she looked at her glass. “Wow, this stuff is strong.” “But I haven’t finished,” Jack said, still standing with his chipped wineglass in hand. “I haven’t said the words of power yet.
” “Fine,” she said, laughing. “Impress me with your . summoning skills,” she said, having just heard the words on the TV. Jack pulled himself into a dramatic pose, raising his broken glass. “Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again,” he intoned. Peri snorted into her wineglass. “No fair, no fair!” she protested. “You can’t use old Simon and Garfunkel lyrics.” She kicked her boots off and drew her feet up onto the cushions as Carnac jumped onto the couch, wanting her lap.
The cat was still licking the last of his dinner off his whiskers. Jack looked fantastic against the sparkling backdrop of Detroit, even if he was weaving somewhat. “As I settle with my alpha bitch,” he improvised, “who’s going to help me satisfy an itch?” he sang. Peri beamed. “At least it rhymes,” she said, encouraging him. “Who keeps making fun,” Jack sang, “of what I like. To watch. On TV?” He drooped his head and drew his chipped glass to his chest dramatically. “So cruel to me. I summon you in silence,” he finished.
Arms spread wide, Jack looked up at the ceiling in expectation, and Peri laughed, holding Carnac on her lap. “Come back, Jack. I’ll watch your lame show, but you owe me.” “Wait! Wait. I forgot my magic stone,” he said as he dug in his pocket, and, giggling, the man capable of killing a person in three seconds dropped the crystal into his glass, the blood from his fingers staining the wine a faint pink. “Abracadabra!” Jack exclaimed, taking a sip and lurching backward, arms pinwheeling as he lost his balance. “Whoops!” Peri saluted him, choking on her drink when the lights went out. Eight feet away, the TV popped and went dark. Carnac leapt from her, claws digging deep. “Ow!” she shouted, her mind suddenly clear.
“Stupid cat!” The apartment was dark, lit only by the ambient light from the city. “Very funny, Jack,” she said, waiting for his evil chuckle and possibly a nuzzle on her neck. He wouldn’t tease her forever. But Jack’s voice was concerned, not playful, when his shadow moved, setting his glass down on the nearby table. “We lost power. Looks like it’s just our building, though. Hold on. I’ll get the flashlight.” Peri settled back in the cushions, content to let him stumble about, wondering if she should light a candle. The lighter was right there.
“Ow!” Jack exclaimed from the kitchen, and she cocked her head at his apparent affront. “Peri? Hey! What the fuck, woman?” Peri froze when an unfamiliar voice echoed in their apartment, feminine but hard. “No one summons me,” the voice said. “No one. And not when I’m out with Trent!” Peri sat up at a thud and crash. Jack groaned, and Peri slid to the floor so her silhouette wouldn’t show against the lighter windows. “Do you have any idea what it takes to get four hours alone with Trent?” the woman said, and Peri tensed when the shadow turned to her. The hazy lassitude of the wine soured in her gut. Someone is in our apartment. Someone followed us? “Jack?” she whispered, her thoughts going to the accelerator, just sitting in his wineglass on the table.
“And you,” the intruding woman said, her shapely curves obvious against the glittering skyline as she moved forward. “You I’m going to pull inside out. How did you get my summoning name?” Emboldened, Peri stood, not liking that she had no shoes on. “I don’t know who you are, but I’m going to light a candle,” she said. “Don’t move.” The shadow gestured, hand going to her hip in impatience, and, fingers steady, Peri lit one of her candles, then another. Her eyes flicked to the chipped glass on the coffee table. It still held the accelerator, and, brow furrowed, Peri looked at the woman standing in front of her in a tight, glittery black-sequined clubbing dress. She had long red hair, frizzy and free about her shoulders, and was tall, looking like a Viking Wonder Woman in heels, her makeup tastefully applied to accent her cheekbones and wide eyes. A rival agent wouldn’t wear that to a task.
“Who are you?” Peri said, feeling small with the coffee table between them. She must have been here before they got home, because she sure as hell hadn’t come in after. But the woman only shifted her weight to her other hip, big hoop earrings that went out of style in the eighties brushing the top of her wide shoulders. “My God,” the woman said condescendingly. “You didn’t even make a circle. How do you expect to stay alive?” Jack was on the floor, knocked out or simply passed out. She didn’t know which. He was breathing, though. She tensed, ready to go for the accelerator. “I hope they’re paying you overtime, because I’m not that drunk.
” The woman’s eyes narrowed. “My bitchy trumps your ’tude, girl. I ought to give you to Al. A hundred years as his familiar will teach you something.” The woman strode forward and reached for Peri, not the accelerator. Submitting, Peri let her get a grip, grasping the woman’s arm and spinning to flip the larger woman over her back. But the woman was wise to this move, and she hooked her foot behind Peri’s and gave a tug. Whooping in surprise, Peri went down, landing on her back to look up at the woman bending over her beaming a bright, toothy smile. Hand splayed over her chest, Peri smiled back. “Oh, this is going to be messy,” Peri wheezed.
“You’ve no idea.” The woman’s hand moved in some weird sign language. “Detrudo!” she exclaimed, her expression becoming shocked when nothing happened. Gut clenched, Peri rolled into her. The woman yelped, staggering to find her balance. But Peri was up, jumping onto her back and wrapping her arm around her neck. The woman’s fingers dug into her arm, and Peri hung on, legs wrapped tight around her as the woman dropped to the floor, slamming the breath out of Peri again. “What the Turn did you do to me?” the woman gasped, fingers prying at Peri’s grip around her neck. Back hurting, Peri hung on, knowing if she could last a few seconds more, she had the bitch. “It’s called a choke hold, lovey,” she rasped, wincing and tightening her grip when the woman thrashed wildly, knocking them into the table.
The glass with the accelerator hit the floor, sending the crystal rolling under the couch. Carnac fled, his eyes wide and tail bristled. “Not that,” the woman rasped, then rolled, rising up with Peri still on her. “What. Did. You. Do to me!” she exclaimed, slamming Peri into the wall with her last words. Stunned, Peri let go, gasping for breath as she fell to the floor. I can’t let her get the accelerator, Peri thought. Knowing she was down, she reached her mind out, finding a still-point of motion five seconds in the past.
Her mind would buffer itself by forgetting everything she’d changed the moment she caught up with the present, so she would change very little, and with a curious side step of mental gymnastics, she pushed a two-block area five seconds into the past. The woman stiffened as if feeling it, and Peri held her breath, watching the flames from her candles flash blue. The tint jumped from molecule to molecule, the room hazed blue . then cleared . And suddenly Peri wasn’t gasping for breath on the floor, but still on the woman’s back. “Let’s try this again,” Peri muttered , her memory of the next five seconds very clear—for the moment—and she dropped of before the woman could smash her into the wall. Teeth clenched, Peri grabbed the woman’s long red hair and spun her, flinging her into the wall. The woman hit with a thud and fell. “Ow . ”