Kyle had woken up early, or at least he had woken up early by the standards of the Children of Atlantis. He couldn’t really help it. He’d gotten out of the habit of sleeping past ten at some point during his first full-time job, starting his own business, and taking up an apprenticeship with Charles. He hadn’t even really noticed it happening but when he was presented with the opportunity to sleep until noon he didn’t take it.
As such, he was awake when Jessie and Alexander walked into the kitchen both rubbing sleep from their eyes. Jessie walked over to him and gave him a smooch on the forehead. They were still pretending to be a couple. They could have dropped the act when the other more important secrets had come out, but there wasn’t any reason they had to. They’d never explicitly told anyone at the FBI they weren’t a couple, and revealing the deception to the Children would give them one more thing to resent Jessie and Kyle.
Besides, it might help at some point. Somehow. Possibly. And maybe neither one wanted to drop the act.
“You’re up early,” Kyle said by way of morning greeting.
Jessie shrugged then gestured at Alexander, “We’re going to go for a run before it gets too hot.”
Kyle felt a small stab of jealousy, but he suppressed it as quickly as possible. Presumably, Jessie was just still working the plan, getting close to the Children, and trying to learn their secrets. Still, he couldn’t keep a bit of irritation out of his voice when he said, “It’s not that early.”
“Well, yeah, you snore.”
“I do not!”
Jessie threw her head back and let out a fake snore that was almost loud enough loud enough to wake the still sleeping members of the group. After a moment she stopped, looked back at him, and smiled looking a little more awake, “It’s like that.”
“Whatever Captain Knees.”
Alexander snorted from across the room. “How long did you say you’d been together? Was it months or decades?”
“Her knees are like razors. I don’t even know how it’s biologically possible to have such sharp knees, but she’s always jabbing me. You should watch out, it might make her more aerodynamic.”
Alexander snorted again but didn’t respond. He also didn’t glower at Kyle which was a nice change. Of the members of the group Alexander, and Murrow had been the slowest to come around. Jessie jogging with Alexander probably added another layer to the complicated half deception, half truth they were now pursuing. She’d jog slowly and it would help hide her true abilities. Jessie and Kyle weren’t certain how much the Children knew about that. Neither of them had explicitly mentioned it to the FBI, but Charles might have, and Bob had seen Jessie in at Pando, but he might have missed her features in the dark or simply failed to make the connection between the ninja he’d seen there and the rather more placid woman he was now sharing a rental with.
After they left Kyle remained sitting at the table. Normally he would have walked away to work with Merv, but he knew Alison would be the next one to wake up, and he wanted to talk to her. It was time, he thought to use his theory about what she’d actually been studying in and around all the Greek and general magic. As such, he set at the table sipping coffee and reading on his phone.
When Alison made her appearance about 45 minutes later she looked like she was showing up for work. She was fully dressed, her hair was styled and dry, and she wore her usual make-up. Alison always looked like that in the morning. Kyle assumed she was either uncomfortable with letting people see her in pajamas with bed-head, or she was trying to project authority as the leader of the little group.
Either way, he kind of sympathized.
She stiffened slightly when she saw him, but then relaxed almost instantly. Kyle would have thought he imagined it, but if so he’d been imagining it a lot when Alison caught sight of him where she wasn’t expecting him. “Good morning,” she said.
“‘Morning. I was hoping to bump into you. There was something I wanted to talk about.”
“Oh,” she said, making it a question.
“Yes. You’re working on an Impossible Room. I’d like to help you find it.”
Alison didn’t stiffen this time, she had a really great poker face, but it was all too smooth and her response wasn’t really a denial, “What makes you think that?”
Kyle didn’t answer, ‘Well you just confirmed it, didn’t you?’ That was what he thought, but he didn’t think admitting he’d just deliberately tricked her would put Alison in the best of moods. Instead he listed the clues she’d accidentally dropped before that morning. “What got me considering it, was this was never the right sort of place for your organization. You want to rework how magic is used and distributed, fine, I get that and believe it or not I’ve wanted to do the same thing for a while now. But why here? Maybe you weren’t getting the sort of traction you wanted on campus, so fine you leave and work directly with people. The problem with that is this isn’t an especially rough neighborhood. There are far worse places to live, and that’s just in the states. If you take it to other countries…” Kyle trailed off.
Alison shrugged. “There are plenty of other reasons this could be the right place for the group. There’s industry and politics to name just two.” She shrugged again. Though her face was smooth, Kyle thought the repeated gesture was probably another tell. “That or there might not be any reason at all. You’ve got the same problem Sherlock Holmes always managed to avoid: you’ve taken a small amount of evidence and extrapolated it along the most logical path, but what if I didn’t follow the most logical path? Maybe I had a boyfriend in the area, or a sick aunt.”
Kyle actually hadn’t thought of that, but his enthusiasm wasn’t too badly damaged. “I suppose, but that’s when real cops go looking for more evidence, isn’t it? I came up with the theory that this wasn’t your real headquarters at all. Instead, it’s just a temporary stop while you put together something better.”
“OK, and that’s the Room? Kind of a big jump.”
“More like ‘something magical’ which is not so much of a jump. I paid attention to what you and Fern were researching. Jinn and the bottles Solomon was said to have sealed them in, the legends of Baba Yaga’s moving house, gateways into underhill, the pattern is pretty clear.”
“Well, so? Impossible Rooms and Hidden Doors are really significant historical and legendary magical archetypes! They show up in nearly every culture from C.S. Lewis to the Arabian Nights and I’m a student of classical magic. I mean, just because I left my program behind it doesn’t mean I need to leave my interests behind as well.”
Kyle raised a single eyebrow skeptically and Alison sighed then said, “OK, fine, give me a moment.” She turned her back on him, walked back toward the coffee maker, poured herself a cup and spent a couple of minutes doctoring it to her liking in silence before she walked back to the table and took a seat next to him
Alison returned and sank into a chair. “You’re right. Fern, Jen and I have been working on an Impossible Room.” She slid a chair out from under the table and then sat down next to Kyle and took a big drink of her coffee then fixed him with a look. Kyle couldn’t have said exactly what sort of look it was. Her mouth was twisted a bit at the edge, but not enough for him to tell if it was a smile or a sneer, and she had her eyebrows raised a bit. As expressions went it seemed to hold a lot of challenge and she spent a rather long moment directing it at him letting the silence between them stretch out uncomfortably.
After a moment he caved and broke it, “If I’m going to help you, I’ll need a bit more than that.”
“Is that what you want to do,” She asked.
“Yes! Of course, I’ve been telling you that for ages. I want to see magic used to help people and I don’t approve of everything the Archmagi do. I’m not sure how many times I need to repeat that.”
Alison leaned back in her chair. “You know, I think I even believe that. I mean, it’s not a stretch, really if that’s all your committing to. No one really ‘approves’ of the Archmagi. I mean, they don’t seek approval. Do you ‘approve’ of a mountain, or the framers of the constitution? Of course not, there wouldn’t be any point. They shape the field and then we play on it. And everyone wants to see magic used to help people. Hell, there are people weaponizing spells right now, as we speak, who would tell you they want magic to see magic used to help people. Of course, their spells will help people because they’ll be used by the weak against the strong or the good against the evil or the whatever.” She set her coffee down and stretched out her hands as though she was presenting some vista for him to observe.
“So you’re saying you doubt my motives?”
She laughed. “No, in fact, at the moment I’m not saying that at all because I don’t have to. Let me tell you just a bit more about our door. Jen is the one who realized it might be here. When she joined our group she wasn’t in a magical program of any sort. She was a history major working on her masters. However, her masters was on uses of magic during the civil war. We met when… Well, listen, I’ll make a long story short. We met, we tried to do some good on campus, we realized a bunch or rich students and professors who had it fairly soft weren’t a good audience for our efforts, and we moved on. When it came time to do that she suggested this location, this house in fact, because of her masters research. This apparently use to be a stop on the underground railroad. In fact, it use to be a terminus on the underground railroad even though we aren’t out of the reach of slave trackers here. We think that was possible because there’s a door, or a room, that connects to this place magically.”
Kyle thought about that, but still wasn’t certain where Alison was going. “Well, OK. I trust she has good evidence of the Room.”
Alison wrinkled up her nose in a slightly pained look. “Mounds! She’ll go over it with you if you’d like, but I recommend you take a pass. None of it gets more specific than that this building, or at least an older building that was once on the same site, was part of the railroad.”
“Alright,” Kyle hesitated and then caved a second time. “I guess I don’t see what it means.”
“It means, the Room leads somewhere else.” She grinned, “Actually, we hope it leads everywhere else. Some Rooms do, you know. You can enter or exit them through any door, for example, and in those mounds of research there’s evidence this is one of those. So what I’m saying is I don’t have to doubt your motives. If we’re right and you hand this door over to us then you could be Death on his pale horse and you’d have still put a very powerful tool in our hands.” She leaned back, smiled, and took a big drink of her coffee.
“Right. Maybe you need to think about it? See, I’ve decided that what I think is you’re not much of a team player. Maybe I should say, ‘not much of a follower’. I respect that, I really do, the world needs critical thinkers. There also comes a time when you do get behind something. So, if you can actually find the door, the real question is, ‘Do you trust us?'” Alison didn’t wait for an answer. Instead she rose and walked out of the Room, leaving Kyle to think.