Authors: Jen Rasmussen
by Jen Rasmussen
Copyright © 2016 Jen Rasmussen
Cover Art Copyright © 2016 Christine Rasmussen
All rights reserved.
“As you can see, she chose a different tone from Hexing House.” Thea alighted just inside the heavy iron gate and pocketed her navigator.
“That’s one way to put it.” Alecto landed beside her, glaring at the slate-roofed building ahead of them, as if daring it to misbehave.
The headquarters—as far as Thea’s team had been able to determine, the
quarters—of Fury Unlimited looked more like a haunted hotel than a thriving corporation. Maybe because it wasn’t exactly thriving yet. Set on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the building was four stories high, each of its three wings the size of a mansion. But the brick was crumbling in places, and the grounds were badly in need of landscaping.
It wouldn’t be long, though, before they could afford to spruce the place up. Small though Fury Unlimited was, they’d already landed a few lucrative—if unethical—contracts. Rumor was that they had no Investigations division, and were not looking to start one. Instead they took whatever cases were offered to them, no questions asked.
As far as Megaira was concerned, everyone deserved to be punished for something. How fitting, Thea thought (not for the first time), that their initials were
“There doesn’t appear to be any sort of enchantment or illusion surrounding it,” Thea said. “Just normal forms of security, like that gate. Which as we’ve just demonstrated, isn’t going to keep furies out.”
“Illusions that big are hard to come by,” said Alecto. “My sister’s got some skill with magic, but nothing that would be up to a task like that.”
“They’ve got a couple of guards who patrol in the air at night, but they’re still pretty short-staffed,” Thea said. “We think there are a little over thirty members of the colony at this point, counting Megaira. All defectors from Hexing House. No recruiting so far. They all live and work in the building.”
“Well.” Alecto snapped open her wings. “Let’s go say hello to my a-little-over-thirty former charges, shall we?”
Thea stayed on the ground. “That is not why you asked me to bring you here.”
Her orders had been clear throughout the investigation: find Megaira’s new colony, then observe, but do not engage. When Thea had turned in the final report the day before, Alecto had asked her to deliver it on-site instead, so Alecto could see the place for herself.
Not that Thea was surprised to find that Alecto really had something a bit more confrontational in mind. Nor did Alecto bother to justify it. She just shrugged and flew for the entrance.
They walked unchallenged—it was, after all, business hours—into a lobby that was warm and much more opulent than the sparse style Alecto preferred at Hexing House. Here at last was evidence of some of that money they’d already made. The carpet was thick and richly colored, the walls a deep chocolate brown. The artwork and furniture were conspicuously expensive.
Thea recognized the receptionist from Hexing House, but had never met her personally and couldn’t remember her name. Jan? Joy? Jan-or-Joy sat behind a high, semicircular desk. She wore round glasses that Thea suspected might be just for show; although she knew furies had the capacity for illness and disease, she’d never known one to have poor eyesight.
“Jade.” Alecto nodded at the girl, who looked both shocked and terrified at the sight of her. “We’re here to see Megaira.”
Jade swallowed twice before she finally said, “She’s booked today. If you tell me what this is regarding, I can put you in touch with her assistant.”
“How about we skip all that and you just call her assistant out here right now?” Alecto asked. “Who is her assistant, by the way?”
“Um. Philip. Okay. Hang on, I’ll just call him.”
Thea groaned inwardly as Jade picked up the phone. There was no question of mistaken identity. Furies didn’t use surnames, and assuming Megaira ran her colony the way Hexing House was run, only one living fury possessed a given name at a time, although babies were frequently named after deceased ancestors.
In other words, there was only one Philip. And he wasn’t anyone Thea cared to see.
He came into the lobby a couple minutes later, greasy-haired and smirking, as usual. He didn’t say a word to Thea, although he looked her up and down in a thoroughly insulting manner. Thea felt her fingers burn as her claws tried to come out of their own accord. She forced them back, but she allowed herself a second to imagine, pleasantly, ripping open his throat before he even had time to get that smarmy look off his face.
As for Alecto, Philip showed no shame at facing his old boss, despite having left the colony in the dead of night a few weeks before, carrying a few company-owned laptops, and the data that resided on them, with him. He argued for a few minutes about how busy Megaira was, until finally Alecto cut him off.
“We both know you called her the second Jade called you,” Alecto said, “and that she’s getting herself ready to see me right now. So let’s cut the power games and get to it, shall we? We’ve had a long flight this morning, and I’m looking forward to some lunch.”
Eventually Philip relented and walked them through labyrinthine corridors into the south wing of the building. All the doors were closed, making it feel hotel-like once again. Megaira’s office suite was on the second floor, and big enough for an apartment, boasting a traditional office, a conference room, a small kitchenette, and, bizarrely, a yoga studio.
Megaira herself sat behind her desk, her hair falling down her back in a cascade of tiny braids that matched her sister’s. She wore a charcoal-colored suit and a pleasant smile.
“I was wondering when you’d come to visit,” she said to Alecto. “Sorry I didn’t get home last Christmas, but we’ve been busy. How’s Nana?”
“Are you kidding me with this?” Alecto asked, echoing Thea’s own thoughts. Of all the approaches she’d imagined Megaira taking to this meeting,
pretend it’s a nice family reunion
wasn’t one of them.
Megaira showed no sign of hearing her sister’s question as she moved to a cluster of less formal armchairs in front of a fireplace. She waited for Alecto and Thea to choose seats first, before sitting herself.
“And you’ve brought Thea with you,” Megaira said. “Interesting choice. I’d have thought Langdon or Persephone. Someone on the board. Or…” She glanced at Thea, then turned back to Alecto. “I know you’re hard pressed to retain talent these days, but don’t tell me it’s gotten so bad that the new girl has made it onto the board already.”
“Thea is an Investigator. She headed up the team that discovered the location of your colony,” Alecto said. “I brought her with me because she knows this area now and because, frankly, I thought it would be a good idea to have a witness.”
“And I’m sure the others are busy.” Megaira said. “Has anyone offered you coffee yet?”
“No, but we’re good,” Alecto said.
Megaira gave Thea a slightly impish smile. “Bossy as always, my twin sister, answering for everyone in the room. I bet she orders your dinner later, too. Coffee?”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
It was the first time Thea had spoken since they came into the building, she realized. She sat back in her chair, feeling a bit like a little kid waiting for the grownups to finish talking, and wondered how her boss was reacting to this new, less reserved, almost playful Megaira.
Was Alecto shocked? Hurt? Thea had never heard of any bad blood between the sisters until Megaira betrayed the colony, but she knew a little something about simmering resentment between siblings—or in Thea’s case, cousins. A glance at Alecto told her nothing, but then, Alecto’s face rarely did.
“Well,” Megaira said. “Let’s get to it, then. I have a very full day today. What can I help you with?”
“You can stop developing the superhex immediately,” said Alecto. “You can destroy all related resources and data.”
Megaira laughed. “Is that all?”
“No. You can commit, in writing, to never pursuing this avenue of research further, and submit to voluntary random inspections of your premises to ensure compliance with that promise.”
“And why would I do such a thing?”
“Because it’s in the best interest of both our businesses,” Alecto said. “Developing weapons is outside our scope.”
“It’s inside mine, now.”
“It shouldn’t be. Our livelihood depends on a very delicate relationship with the humans that must be preserved. This research jeopardizes that. You need to think more long term.”
Megaira raised an eyebrow. “Do I?”
“Yes. Start thinking like the head of a colony, if that’s what you want to be. You want to have your own shop? I’ll leave you be. I won’t even argue with you about the personnel you’ve poached. There’s business enough for both of us. But you need to conduct yourself professionally and ethically. Your behavior reflects on all furies, and if your business starts to put mine at risk, I will have to step in.”
“So let me make sure I have this straight,” Megaira said. “You’re willing to indulge me. To a point. But as soon as you find me a nuisance, you’ll discipline me. Is that right?”
Megaira’s voice finally showed its edge. “You patronizing, condescending—”
“While we’re on the subject of ethical behavior,” Thea broke in. She couldn’t disagree with Megaira’s assessment of Alecto as both patronizing and condescending, but she didn’t think going down that avenue would prove productive.
Both Megaira and Alecto gave her matching looks that said she had better be interrupting for a good reason. Thea stopped herself from clearing her throat. Better to sound a little hoarse than appear nervous in front of these two predators.
“As an Investigator, I’m curious about your open case policy,” Thea said. “Do you intend to change that?”
Megaira gave her a slow smile. “Why? Looking for a job?” She looked her up and down, managing to be almost as insulting about it as Philip. “Sorry, but short-staffed as we are, we haven’t resorted to human transformations quite yet. We only hire real furies.”
Thea protracted her claws. “Need me to show you I’m a real fury?”
And just like that, she meant it. For a second, at least, she would have been happy to jump out of her chair and fight.
This had been the way of it lately. She’d become short-tempered. She’d become hard.
Well, what did you expect? You became a
That was all well and good. Thea liked being a fury. She liked being strong. But lately she’d been just the tiniest bit worried that it was getting out of control.
Be that as it may, neither Megaira nor Alecto seemed to see anything threatening in her. They both turned away, dismissing Thea and her bubbling anger in an instant, and resumed arguing with one another. While they went back and forth about Megaira’s business practices, and whether she had the right to run her company any old way she pleased, or whether she had a larger responsibility to the fury population as a whole, Thea had an odd—but almost irresistible—urge to
them look back at her. To show them she was not a force to be ignored.
“I think you’re operating under a misconception,” Megaira said finally. “You seem to think you’re still my boss.”
Alecto shook her head. “No. I’ve come to accept that you don’t even want to be my sister anymore, much less my employee,” she said. “If power is what you want, you’re welcome to it. I’m here as the head of one colony, speaking to the head of another about our mutual interests.”
“I’m afraid that’s still not accurate,” Megaira said. “We are not on equal footing.”
“No?” Alecto asked.
“I think this will be easier if I show you.” Megaira picked up her phone and tapped a few keys. Philip came into the office a few seconds later. Megaira pulled him into the yoga studio and closed the door.
Thea looked at Alecto. “Whatever they’re talking about is not going to be good for us. I’d suggest getting out of here while we can.”
“You want me to
? Like I’m
of her?” Alecto scoffed. “You don’t ever want to talk to me like that again.”
“She’s the one with something to prove, not you,” Thea said. “You don’t need to indulge that chip on her shoulder.”
“Let’s just see what she comes back with,” Alecto said. “Honestly, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of. She’d never dare try to hold us prisoner, if that’s what you’re thinking. No matter what kind of front she’s trying to put on, she does not need that kind of trouble. Especially when she’s trying to get her business up and running. I know how she thinks.”