Kyle blinked a couple of times and tried to switch mental gears. “You mean the Children of Atlantis have contacted us?”
Jessie nodded. “They were a bit coy, but the DHS flagged an email from an anonymous account that asks if we were going after the communications research and then hints that we share an ideology with them. It even mentions a couple of crimes the DHS had linked to the children.”
“Sounds solid, what’s next?”
“Charles is videoconferencesing in and wants to plan this meeting.”
“Charles, not Sandborn?”
Jessie shrugged, “Apparently they already talked and Sandborn doesn’t have anything new for us. He’d like us to go to the meeting and learn all about these nefarious evildoers, but he can’t really ask us to do so because we’re civilians.”
“I guess that makes sense in a SNAFU kind of way.”
Kyle waved a hand, “Geek speak, never mind. Merv, you’re dismissed.”
Merv looked at Kyle in a serious sort of cat way, then stood up, extended his tail, and walked out of the room. Kyle and Jessie followed.
* * *
“You’ll need a cover story, of course,” Charles said.
Kyle raised his eyebrows, “I thought we had one. You archmagi are hiding a bunch of knowledge that could benefit the world and I’m angry about that.” A little tension in his voice hinted that such a cover wasn’t going to be that hard to fake.
“Not that part, my idealistic young friend. I’m talking about why Jessie is there with you. She used to work for you, but that’s not a good reason to join underworld cabals. Unless your original want ad listed requirements considerably beyond the norm.”
“He never posted one, I went to him.”
Kyle and Jessie were sitting in the media room of the rental house. Until Jessie had led him in to speak with Charles, Kyle had thought the room was just what you came up with if you were really rich and really liked movies. It was that, it had a huge TV screen on one wall, LCD blackouts for the windows, and a bunch of comfortable recliners, and high end speakers, but apparently it doubled as a communications system if you turned on the lights and the camera set above the TV on which Charles now appeared at nearly life size.
“Anyway,” Charles pulled out the word dragging them back onto point, “If you’re going to fight the threat of the Archmagi together you need some sort of backstory, so I propose you’re engaged.”
That took Kyle by surprise. Jessie as well, apparently, because she spoke up first, “What?”
“You should pretend that you are engaged to be married. You’re affianced. What do people call it these days? You’ve got the hook up.”
Kyle blinked a couple of times, “What? No, that’s not what that means at all.”
“But hooking up is a relationship thing right?”
“Um, sort of.”
“And people say they’ve got the hook up.”
“Then it seems like I should be right. I don’t run in the proper circles to discuss relationships casually, so I’m getting it all from TV, but it’s not like I’m being unreasonable here. Surely you understand what I mean.” Charles sounded annoyed, which was out of character for him. Then again, Kyle thought he understood the old wizard’s problem. Charles knew at least a dozen languages, being confused by the drift of the vernacular in his own language must be both confusing and frustrating. Kyle wondered if maybe he could get some consideration on his Greek lessons by teaching Charles slang.
Jessie broke in, “First, we do understand what you mean. Second, no; ‘hooking up’ and ‘having the hook up’ are absolutely wrong, please never say them again. Third, you want us to pretend to be engaged? Really?”
“With the Children of Atlantis, yes. Our mutual friend feels it’s a good cover story. Both of you have talents that will contribute to the investigation. Kyle is the main target of the Children’s interest, and Jessie has…”
“…superpowers,” Jessie supplied.
Kyle raised an eyebrow at her.
“What? I’ve got magical superpowers. I’m not going to pretend it’s not cool.”
Charles cleared his throat, which must have been something they taught you to do in the 18th century; Kyle thought it might have been the first time he’d heard it done in real life. “I was going to say, ‘Previous espionage experience.'”
Jessie frowned slightly, and her eyes widened in surprise. It passed quickly, but Kyle noticed anyway. Apparently, the comment hurt a little. That kept Kyle from laughing.
“At any rate,” Charles continued, “a romantic connection between the two of you would explain why you’re still working together.”
“Well, it’s easy enough to pull off anyway, I just need to get her a ring and a cute nickname.”
“What,” Jessie asked.
“I don’t know, pookie? J-babe, no that’s terrible. J-sweetie? Sweet-j? That sounds like a drug, or maybe something people would drink in the south.” Kyle trailed off scratching his head.
“Alright, so first, you never get to give me a nickname. Like, wow… However, why do I need a ring?”
“Because we’re going to pretend we’re engaged. It wouldn’t need to be real or anything. They’ve got some pretty nice fake ones, what with synthetic diamonds getting so cheap. Set that in a sterling silver band and…”
“Oh my gosh! Do you have a subscription to Modern Bride or something? Are you going to pull out your hope chest next? What I mean is why do you think I’d want a piece of jewelry just because we’re getting married. Maybe I’m not that kind of girl.”
Kyle blinked, Jessie seemed slightly insulted and he wasn’t sure why. “I wasn’t saying you’re greedy or something. Engagement rings are pretty common. It’s what people do, a visible sign of commitment. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“Oh sure, it’s fine. But you know the whole ‘tradition’ is basically artificial, right? Diamonds sold really poorly until the big mining concerns banded together and came up with the engagement ring thing. A slightly more individual expression of romance just seems more genuine. You know, something personal.”
Charles did his big early American throat clear from the screen again, “You know, this is a very important discussion for a young couple. A real young couple that is! Can we move this along? I have another meeting.”
Kyle and Jessie shot each other a mutual awkward look. “Of course,” Jessie eventually answered.
“How are you intended to make contact,” Charles asked.
Kyle wondered about that as well. Jessie had just told him they could meet with the Children but not how it was to be accomplished.
She leaned forward and grinned her eyes sparking a little. “Oh that’s actually really cool! They invited us to meet in a shared dream space. As we fall asleep we focus some magic and then repeat, ‘Pilan Kai gho’. Apparently, that’s Balinese for ‘lie on sweet dreams’. Then, when we fall asleep, and the spell makes that easier, we’re in a shared dream. Why don’t either of you guys ever do proper magic like that?”
Charles looked offended. “I do proper magic all the time. That’s just classic magic, and I know a number of similar spells.”
“Sure, but if you did it when we fell asleep we’d enter dream space call waiting and then we’d have to enter our conference code.”
Kyle thought about that for a minute. Actually, a conference code made a lot of sense. Otherwise wouldn’t everyone doing the spell show up in the same dream? Maybe the spell was more complex than that and it could pluck who you intended to talk to out of your mind. That or it wasn’t a popular spell.
Charles didn’t respond to Jessie’s jibe, which made Kyle think the spells he knew did include some sort of connection targeting component to their trigger. Instead he said, “Let’s assume you’re on for that for tonight, but I’ll task a research team to make sure the spell is safe.”
“You mean it might be one of those things where if we die in the dream we die in real life?”
“As far as I know, no such spell exists. It wouldn’t be a rational way to put together magic. It’s just something television shows do when they have extra special effects budget and they can’t figure out a good way to spend it all given their normal set. I’m more interested in the possibility that the Children are wise to your game and it’s a trap of some sort. It might send you into a permanent coma, for example. Alright, if no one has any more questions…” Charles leaned forward toward something out of his camera’s view.
Kyle stopped him by raising a hand, “You told me to take magic on the terms of the people who invented it and not try to apply my own logic.”
“I’m glad you paid attention. And?”
“What if the people who invented the spell thought you could die in a dream and it would be permanent? Lots of cultures have considered dreams and visions very important that way.”
“Ah, well, fair enough I suppose. If you enter the dream, try not to die.” Then with that comforting thought, he signed out.