Read Hard Magic Online

Authors: Larry Correia

Tags: #Fantasy

Hard Magic (8 page)

He spoke very slowly. “You lied to me . . .”

“I work for the government, son. Deal with it.” Hoover pushed away from the table and stood. He addressed the entire room. “Carry on, agents, and this time, when you let a felon escape, do
not
let it get in the papers. That will be all.” One of his men opened the door, and Hoover turned to leave.

But Sullivan wasn’t done. “Hoover.” His deep voice reverberated through the room, and there was no Mister attached. The crumpled paper floated off the table, and hovered, spinning, in front of his face. Hoover visibly paled, hesitating in the doorway. It was a well-known fact that the man was terrified of magic. Sullivan slowly enclosed the paper in one big fist and took it away. “You lied about Delilah too. I was suspicious that a bunch of Actives just happened to know we were going to be there to catch her. I did some checking yesterday. I’ve got some cop friends in that area, and they say she didn’t kill anybody during any bank robberies.”

That seemed to take Purvis by surprise. Apparently the Chicago agents had been in the dark too. “So who were those dead men in the photographs?” Purvis asked.

Hoover exchanged glances with the agent named Tolson. The taller man seemed baffled. Apparently they hadn’t prepared an answer. Finally Hoover spoke. “That’s not important. Just know that she murdered them. And the highest levels of government want her caught. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir,” all of the agents answered simultaneously.

Sullivan didn’t say a word, but inside he was seething. He just squeezed the crumpled contract in his hand, pummeling it with his Power as Hoover walked out. When Sullivan finally let go, a hard ball of compressed wood pulp the size of a marble hit the floor and rolled away.

 

 

San Francisco, California

 

The room was kept dark,
thick curtains closed. The lights hurt the boss’s eyes, and Garrett also knew that despite what his employer said, the boss was ashamed to let anyone see him closely. He had been a proud man once, an unbelievably strong man, and it hurt Garrett to see him in this state.

“So let me make sure I got this straight,” his employer said from the bed. “A single Heavy fought a Brute to a standstill, caught a dirigible that was already in the
air
, knocked out Heinrich, beat the ever living hell out of Francis, and resisted your Influence?

“That about covers it,” Daniel Garrett replied. It was rather embarrassing to have his entire crew defeated by somebody with one of the most mundane of all Powers. “Every other Heavy I’ve known was employed as manual labor or on a construction job. I thought all they could do was make heavy things light enough to temporarily pick up. This one was different. It was like he had more than one type of Power.”

The General shook his scabrous head in disagreement. Even that small motion seemed to pain him. “No,” he rasped. “There’s only
one
man in the whole world who possesses more than one type of Power. This man, everything he did came from the same Power, the magical alteration of gravitational pulls. He’s just . . .”

“Different,” Garrett said.

“Resourceful.” His employer had to stop for a moment to cough into his towel.

Garrett wasn’t so sure about that. He did not have a head for science, but the tools the Heavy used seemed to go beyond just altering gravity’s strength and direction. His gut told him that something was different about this one.

The General’s coughing fit continued. The sound was painful as his lungs ground and struggled for purchase. The hacking continued for another thirty seconds and Garrett started to rise to get Jane, but his employer waved for him to stay seated. Finally the white cloth came away stained with blood, and the man continued as if the spasm had never happened. “Recruit him,” he gasped.

“Excuse me?”

“Hire him, Garrett. Find this Heavy and make him a job offer.”

“No offense, General, but the new girl threw him through the dirigible. I’m relatively certain he’s dead.”

“No,” he said, gesturing with one skeletal hand at the telegram on the desk next to the bed. “After you reported in I did some checking. Apparently he doesn’t die easily.”

He took the telegram and read it. Finally he whistled. “Impressive.”

“Apparently that power-mad imbecile, J. Edgar Hoover, agrees with you. That’s why he was sprung from jail. Hoover doesn’t understand Powers. He just tries to wield them like clubs. Treats Actives like mushrooms. But
we
could use a man like this.”

After looking over the telegram, Garrett didn’t feel quite as bad about losing to the Heavy. Very few Actives had survived the battle of Second Somme.

“Time is growing short, Daniel,” the General warned.

Garrett didn’t know if he was talking about his declining health or the impending threat of the Imperium. Either was terrible in its own way. “I’ll be on the next flight.”

***

The General must have fallen back asleep immediately after Garrett had left. It was getting harder to remain conscious for any period of time. He returned slowly, aching, eyes burning at even the tiniest bit of light. His body was dying, rotting from the inside out, and he had been in such terrible pain for so long that he knew all he had to do was wish for death and it would blissfully come. He was only alive because of Jane’s Healing magic and sheer stubbornness.

He still had too much work to do.

There was another reason he’d dispatched Garrett to recruit the Heavy. His sources had confirmed what he’d first suspected when he’d heard the man’s name. It had been too much of a coincidence for there to be another Sullivan out there that was that talented a Heavy.

It seemed appropriate to use this man to balance the scales, he thought, but then a new pain appeared in his stomach that distracted him. It was hard to concentrate when your body was falling apart. Whenever the suffering grew too much to bear, all he had to do was recall the memories of Tokugawa, and he found renewed determination. That man would never rest. If he even was, or ever had been, a man . . . the General had his doubts.

His memory was still sharp. The spreading tumors in his brain had left that at least. It had been back in ‘05 when a handful of western military observers had been sent to document the war between the Russians and the Japanese, and he could still recall it like it was yesterday. The Tsar’s forces had been utterly destroyed, fleets sunk in oily flames, and a hundred thousand men had been butchered in the first engagement.

The Imperium was born.

And that had been the day that Black Jack Pershing had met the devil himself.

 

 

El Nido, California

 

The day was like
any other summer day in El Nido—work, work, work. Try to get the hard stuff done before it got too hot so you could take a nap when it was really miserable, and then back to work for the evening chores. Always up way before dawn to milk and feed. Only to dairy farmers did waking up to the cock’s crow at sunrise feel like sleeping in. It had been a long time since the old farmer had slept in. He figured he could sleep when he was dead.

The morning’s work was done. Gilbert and most of the family had gone into town. That just left him and Faye to finish moving hay, but he didn’t mind. The girl worked harder than most boys her age. Better company too.

Usually.

“So I been thinking some more . . .” Faye said as she threw a pile of alfalfa into the feeder. She paused to lean on her pitchfork, wiping the sweat from her face.

“Uh-oh,” he replied, rolling his eyes.

“Is magic
alive
?”

He kept forking the hay over. He thought about it for a long time. “Is electricity alive? Is fire alive?”

“Hmm . . .” Faye frowned. “That’s what I thought. That’s bad then.”

“Why’s that bad?” The girl’s brain was always spinning around about something.

“Because if magic ain’t alive, and it’s just stuck to some people, then why couldn’t it be stuck to some
thing
?”

He froze, pitchfork stuck in the hay. She didn’t seem to notice.

“Why couldn’t somebody figure out how to take someone else’s magic and put it in like another person? Or an animal? Or a machine even?”

“Stop it,” the old farmer ordered sternly.

Faye was confused. “Stop what?”

“Just . . .” How could he explain? He didn’t want to expose this poor girl to what was out there, waiting. But she was just too damn smart for her own good. “Just never mind. Don’t think about stuff too hard. Keep working.”

She sniffed. “Are you mad at me, Grandpa?”

“I could never be mad at you, girl.” He kept working, letting the rhythm of the movement calm his thoughts. After a few seconds Faye went back to her fork. Someday he would explain everything he knew to her, but he wasn’t a man who liked to talk, especially about things like that.

A few minutes later the girl looked up. “Somebody’s coming,” Faye said, pointing at the road. Sure enough he could see the dust of approaching automobiles. “Probably more thieving Okies passing through. I’ll lock the tool shed.”

He nodded. He had taught her well. But these autos weren’t coming from the main road. They were coming from the direction of Potter Field, the little airfield a few miles away.

They’d seen a metal single-wing cargo plane fly that way earlier. The whole family had stopped whatever they were doing to watch. It was quite the sight. There were just a few fabric biplanes at Potter. It wasn’t like they got any fancy planes out in the San Joaquin Valley.

The old farmer suddenly had a bad feeling. “Throw the cows over the fence some hay,” he told her, watching the approaching dust suspiciously. “Do the dry cows first. Go.” Faye hesitated, then did as she was told. He wanted her away. The rest of the family had taken the Dodge into Merced, and wouldn’t be back until it was time to start the 4:00 P.M. milking.

There was nothing else along this road except for his dairy. The cars pulled up the lane and stopped in front of the house in a cloud of white dust. He went out to meet them. He didn’t bother to hose off his boots.

There were four men in each car, and all eight of them stepped out at the same time. Their clothes were fancy-boy city clothes, black or pinstriped suits and nice hats. The farmer didn’t even dress that nice to go to church. He could tell these men might have been from the city, but they weren’t fancies. They looked hard and dangerous.

The old farmer knew right away why these men were here. His wide straw hat covered his grey eyes, and he risked a glance back toward the barn. Faye had done as she’d been told and was out of sight.

The tallest one seemed to be the boss. He was square and thick, one of the biggest men the farmer had ever seen, with a jagged scar crossing half his face that had left one eye a blinded white orb. “Are you Joe?” that one asked. That didn’t mean much. Half the Portuguese men in the world were named Joe. “Travelin’ Joe?”

They had been bound to catch up with him eventually. The old farmer tipped his hat.

***

Faye was sweating, using a pitchfork to toss alfalfa over the barbwire fence to the dry cows. The hay was dusty, collected in her hair and inside her too-large, hand-me-down work shirt, and it made her nose itch. She stopped to sneeze a couple of times, then went back to work.

It was hot. The valley was always extra muggy in the summer, probably from the irrigation, and the sun was always beating down on her head. Her rubber boots were heavy with dried poop, too big, and made her feet sweat.

And she was as happy as she could be.

The Vierras were good people. They were always loud, frantic, and yelling about something, but that’s just how they were. At least here she didn’t get beaten daily for having the devil in her. Grandpa was actually proud that she was different. And unlike her life before, there was always food. Faye liked to work. She didn’t even mind the Holsteins much.

Life was simple, and it was hard, but she was content, because it wasn’t
mean
.

A cow stuck its head through the fence, curious, smelling her. It chuffed and blew green snot all over her pants. She wiped it off with a handful of hay and patted the cow on the nose. She licked Faye with a giant rough tongue and the girl giggled.

A gun fired. The line of Holsteins jerked, ears all cocked suspiciously in the same direction. It had come from the other side of the milk barn. A flock of black birds leapt into the air and flew over the roof. Grandpa was probably shooting at crows, but Faye frowned, since that sure hadn’t sounded like Grandpa’s shotgun. One of the dogs started barking like crazy.

Then there was a whole
bunch
of guns. A giant mad bumblebee passed overhead and it took Faye a second to realize that it was actually a bullet. Something was terribly wrong. She clutched the pitchfork tight and the dry cows bolted from the fence and ran for the far side of the corral.

The Okies are robbing Grandpa!
It was like the bank robbers they talked about on the radio. Still holding the pitchfork, she ran for the barn, big boots clomping, but that was too slow, so she focused on a spot fifty feet ahead, which was as far as she’d ever Traveled before, touched the magic, sent her senses ahead,
clear
, and was just there.

She’d done just like Grandpa had taught, appearing an inch or so off the dirt so she wouldn’t melt her soles to the ground, and hit the ground still clomping forward. Now she could see around the block edge of the barn and there were two black automobiles, and a bunch of men in suits running toward the house and shouting. There was another boom and one of the men fell off the porch and into Grandma’s rosebushes.

A hand landed on her shoulder, and Faye nearly jumped out of her skin. “Girl!” Grandpa whispered in her ear. He had Traveled right behind her. He dragged her back around the corner as he broke open his shotgun, pulled the spent shell out, and fished another one out of his coveralls. He didn’t seem any more upset than when he was dealing with a particularly nasty cow. “Go hide.” He snapped the shotgun closed and pointed with it toward the haystacks, but then he scowled. “Shit. Forgot.”

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