“Allison Savant is from an upper-middle class family. Her father is a doctor. Her mother didn’t work outside the home. Her friends say she seemed a little cold toward them, but not in any dramatic way. She’s smart: high test scores across the board, and consistently good grades. She doesn’t have a criminal history, or any obvious antisocial personality traits. She majored in Classical Magical Studies as did a couple of other members of the group.”
Sandborn moved forward again. His new slide was titled, ‘Relocation & Outside Influence.’ “The string of minor criminal activity had sent flags up to the DHS:TMT and we were keeping track of the group through public channels. After the assault is prevented we see some changes we really don’t like. Enmass, the remaining members drop out of school, they make a couple of big purchases without an obvious source of funding, and then they drop off the radar. That suggests they’ve connected with some third party and they’ve really committed to their cause. Not good with a side of even worse.”
The presentation’s final slide was titled, ‘Current Status.’ “Since then, we haven’t had much good intel. We’ve had the members of the group on watch lists and we’ve tried to track their finances, but that hasn’t been very productive. We think they’re using digital crypto-currency and keeping a low profile. Our biggest break came from Charles, do you care to explain that?”
“Sure. “Thank you,” Charles said. “I suppose I should start by pointing out that my specialty is natural magic.”
He got a round of confused looks at that, with only Kyle seeming to follow. Charles had explained some of this to Jessie when he’d sent her out to Pando, and for that matter Kyle had once explained it, but she didn’t have the relevant magical background to really understand. It was like any advanced science; important to the scientists, “pretend space and time are a rubber mat” to everyone else.
Still, Charles had a smooth patter. “Magic is a natural force. It is not different from, or even wholly separate from any of the other fundamental forces. Therefore, we see magic in natural systems the same way we see electricity in natural systems. Anything, human or otherwise, that processes information can focus magic and use spells. For example, Children of Atlantis recently attacked the Pando magical generation station. Pando is a vast quaking Aspen, the world’s largest single genome biomass, in its ever changing reactions to the local environment it processes an almost inconceivable amount of information. In its DNA it has a symbolic system suitable for triggering spells. Natural magic.”
“Of course, the Pando Magical Generation station drains off most of this energy and plugs it into the human magical grid. That’s done for two reasons. First, the energy is very valuable. Second, the spell Pando likes to trigger is a massive firestorm that wipes all other trees in the area out.”
Richard raised a hand, looking oddly like an oversize school kid. “Wait, it’s a tree that sets forest fires?”
“Pando can rapidly regrow from its massive root system. Competing trees in the area aren’t so lucky. Pando loves forest fires.” Charles grinned. “These days, we think of magical generation as the primary goal of the infrastructure set up in the forest. It was actually put in place by the park service after the locals got sick of the whole area going up like a bomb.”
Richard shook his head, but didn’t say anything.
“Anyway, I study this, and I make my living at it. This facility is focused on isolating useful spells in the DNA of one plant and moving them to another or replicating the magical effect via a human trigger, or even mundane means. As such, we work with a lot of rare plants and rarer magic. We had a theft a little over a year ago. We traced it back to a recent hire, and the Children of Atlantis. Ever since then, I’ve been coordinating with the DHS and working my own industry contacts to find other attempts to access these biologicals. It’s been slow going, but an observant park ranger tipped us off to some individuals who had been illegally harvesting sap from Pando. We set up a sting and managed to capture several members of the Children.”
Charles nodded at Jessie and she had to smile a little. It was nice to confirm that what she’d done meant something.
Sandborn took the floor again, “Which basically brings us up to date. Capturing three members of the Children was a significant victory. They were lower level members, “We didn’t gain as much intel from the capture of the Children at Pando as we would have liked. They were able to tell us a location for the group, that we’ve since investigated and found to be empty, and some of the group’s upcoming plans. There is apparently research on magical communication, of interest to the group, being done at the New Mexico State University. They’re interested in stealing the research, destroying the notes, and kidnapping the the lead researcher as a means of either controlling or suppressing the technology.”
He gave a small tight smile, “Since we know what’s going on we can prevent that. However, if we move the researcher to protective custody we tip our hand and lose the opportunity to take down more of the group. That’s where we’d normally set up covert surveillance. In this case, there might be a better option.”
Sandborn looked at Kyle, “You?”
Kyle looked uncomfortable, “How so?”
“You were recently part of a fairly high profile scandal involving an Archmage. As such, you’ve got good reason to make common cause with the Children, but no way of contacting them. We feel, if you ‘steal’ the same research the Children are after they may contact you. You’d then be our inside man, and you could gather all the information we need to bring the whole organization down in a single shot. Most importantly, you might even be able to give us access to their secret financial backer.”
Now Kyle looked even more uncomfortable. Actually, he was starting to look a little trapped. Jessie felt kind of sorry for him. This had all been sprung on him unexpectedly. “So I’d, what, bust into some lab somewhere, grab some files, set a fire and run?”
“That’s the shape of it. Although, nothing so permanent as a fire, please. We’re still law enforcement after all.”
“Then I just sit back and hope the Children of Atlantis contact me? How do they know it’s me, or how to contact me?”
The DHS agent smiled, “The modern digital age in both cases. You’ll get yourself caught on tape by a security camera and we’ll make sure the fact that it’s you gets airtime in the news. Then you’ll post a public statement through the Internet and we’ll monitor replies for something that seems like a legitimate contact from Children of Atlantis. Of course, this is entirely voluntary. We can’t order, or even ask, you to take this kind of risk.”
Kyle looked over at Charles. Charles raised his eyebrows and something passed between the men. Jessie thought maybe the DHS couldn’t ask, but the master to Kyle’s apprentice could. Kyle still didn’t quite bite, “I’ll need to think about this.”
Sandborn smiled broadly. “I wouldn’t expect anything else.”
The meeting sort of fizzled out after that. That was good, if they’d kept it up much longer Jessie would have been chewing on the table. Once they were free Charles had been able to suggest a good steak place.