Archive for the Private Thoughts Category

Gods Above, I’m Getting Too Old For This

Posted in On Guard, Private Thoughts on December 2, 2012 by Author Jennifer Quail

Physically, I am only slightly older than I’ll admit. By the standards of my day and my then-chosen profession, I’m certainly getting up there. Of course I’ll never face the further degeneration of the body and mind I would have, the increased weakness of the bones and muscles with the decreased sight, hearing, all the drives that make life worth living. Instead I’ll remain the specimen I was the moment it all nearly stopped (and in some ways it did). Until one day when I finally am too slow, not quite ruthless enough, or simply not paying attention, and then it will end quickly.

Mentally, I am of late feeling every single year I’ve actually seen and then some, and it is entirely the fault of two people I am supposed to protect. I wonder if they would accept an interpretation of ‘protect’ that would involve their not being permitted out without an escort. If necessary I’ll enlist Nicodemus, as soon as I can find him, though my honey-sweet has that serene, smug, I-know-something-you-don’t look she usually gets when the cards have told her he’ll be turning up. If she or he thinks we’re in for a repeat of that business in 1889, they have another think coming unless they’re very persuasive. Or by some impossibility I’m very, very drunk.

There have been times of late I wish I could get drunk. I don’t miss the headaches and nausea afterwards, but the blissful oblivion Bacchus can provide would make my work lately much easier. Alan is not in fact that difficult to keep an eye on, as he’s distressingly predictable, but I have the very distinct impression he is not enthusiastic about the idea of having a protector, or even an adviser. Strangely enough he is less resistant to my Nadia’s attempts at mothering. My poor love is feeling the emptiness of the nest more acutely, I think, now we’ve had these reminders around, and in fairness, besides her compulsive need to cosset the ‘children’, Alan does seem to rely inordinately on fast food and pre-made items from the supermarket, so letting her feed him serves a dual purpose: makes sure he doesn’t die of malnutrition, and allows me to observe without him complaining. Plus it spares me loitering around his coworkers, whose latest entertainment during their weekly happy hour has been teasing Alan about his new ‘girlfriend.’ I can tolerate many things, but that kind of inanity is no longer one of them.

Elaine won’t handle it well, either.

I’m told, via Alan, she’s home safe and at the least no less sound than when she left us. That does not make me feel better about letting her go that far away. True, the odds are long that either of our surviving friends will follow her, and there are only two of them–but then again weeks ago I would have said there were none of our Mages left in the world, either. The worst part is I understand–I understand her reticence, her need to keep this compartmentalized, and I sympathize, but it also means she’s not exactly helping me protect her. I don’t know how much longer I can, and I don’t want to waste that time, before her powers are truly developed, with her hundreds of miles away. And of course there’s the possibility she will decide the simplest solution is to never come back. To ignore the call and do her best to pretend it never happened. Or even to finish the job she first came to D.C. to do. Though somehow I don’t think so–Elaine was considering that route because she thought she was useless, and now she knows there’s the chance, at least, she has a purpose, one no one else can do. I doubt she’ll be any more amenable than Alan to my keeping a close eye on her, though without a job and living so close, she may have a harder time avoiding it. But I am increasingly sure that Elaine will come back.

First, when she left, she kept the Key.

Second, I still have her gun.

Remember This E-Mail is Subject to Review

Posted in In Harm's Way, Notes From The Hill on June 10, 2012 by Author Jennifer Quail

From: Alan Graves, Legislative Assistant to Senator Cannon
To: Elaine Gates

Hi, Elaine,

Just wanted to make sure you got home all right. I was checking out USAJobs and saw a few positions at Dept. of the Navy that might be interesting.

Let me know when you get back.

Alan

*

From: Alan Graves
To: Elaine Gates

Did you get my last e-mail? I thought I’d send it from my google account since sometimes the Senate address has trouble. And you’re not on Facebook?

*

From: Alan Graves
To: Elaine Gates

Just checking in….

*

From: Elaine Gates
To: Alan Graves

Alan,

You sent that first one twelve hours after I left. The train wasn’t even to Chicago yet. I’ve barely been home for five minutes. You’re worse than my mother.

No, I’m not on Facebook. Or YouSpace or MyFace or Twitterbrained or any other “social-networking site.” But I’m home. And no, I wasn’t attacked by anyone or any thing on the way.

Elaine

*

From: Alan Graves, Legislative Assistant to Senator Cannon
To: Elaine Gates

I’m glad. I mean I’m glad you weren’t attacked. I haven’t been, either, not that I could be with certain people following me all the time. I don’t SEE Val but I swear I can feel him watching me. Everyone in the office is starting to think I’m paranoid the way I keep looking over my shoulder.

I checked out the jobs site again. If you want I can ask around, too. I don’t know many people who work with engineers. If you want to still be an engineer. You probably qualify for veteran’s education benefits. I could look into that. You could get a doctorate, even. Like I said if you stay with me you don’t have to worry about rent so there’s no real rush to decide or anything.

Alan

*

To: Alan Graves
From: Elaine Gates

You’re not paranoid if there actually is a vampire following you.

*

From: Alan Graves, Legislative Assistant to Senator Cannon
To: Elaine Gates

If that was supposed to be reassuring, it’s not.

I’m attaching links to a couple of the universities in D.C., and the ones pretty close in Maryland and Virginia. I don’t know what makes a good engineering program, not that you’d have to study engineering. Like I said, you don’t need to worry about rent once you get back, so if you’d rather look at schools than jobs I’d be fine.

*

From: Elaine Gates
To: Alan Graves

Would I not have to worry about e-mails every five minutes?

My Partner Clearly Thinks I’m An Idiot

Posted in Enthralled on June 9, 2012 by Author Jennifer Quail

That’s unfair, I suppose. Val doesn’t think I’m stupid, he simply thinks he’s just that sneaky. I know when he’s been gone-even asleep, I can tell when he’s there, and when he isn’t. It was just the once, the night Elaine went home (temporarily, she assures us) and I know he wasn’t hunting. If he had been, he’d have either bragged about finding that blond vampire and finishing him off, or he’d be going out every night. This means it was another one of those “meetings” he thinks I don’t know about.

Val might be my love and my life, but I do think sometimes he just still has that Roman patriarch’s take on women. You’d think someone who actually saw Livia in the flesh would know better.

Admittedly I don’t know who he seems to answer to or why, but I suppose if it’s ever desperately important he’ll tell me. Usually Val keeps things quiet for one of two reasons: it’s something he’s not particularly proud of, or it’s something he thinks he needs to protect me from. I’d be a bit insulted, except that things which fall into the latter category he usually keeps from Nicodemus as well, and if he shares the former with Nico, it’s not as if Nico doesn’t have his own list of things he’d prefer to keep to himself.

Speaking of our jack of diamonds, I wonder just how far out the cards were projecting? He’s someone Val wouldn’t mind taking along on a vampire hunt, although I must confess that blond one was rather sporting, all things considered. That or just a thousand times more sensible than his allies, which is perhaps more likely. Setting aside my fractured wrist (hardly worth the fuss Val made, breaking his arm like that) he fought fair, as fair goes, and he certainly knew when to retreat. I think we can credit our new Lord with that, though. After the firestorm I think even Val is giving Alan a bit more respect. Not that poor Alan appreciates it; I don’t think I’ve ever met a Mage who’s so naturally talented and so ambivalent about using it. Once he gets more practice and control, I’m sure he’ll be more at ease.

Of course there’s Elaine to consider, too. I don’t know quite how to view her…unorthodox solution to the standoff. Or whether or not to take her word for it that she’ll move back to D.C. just as soon as things are sorted with her family. Val, on the other hand, while displeased that she’s going is certainly more confident than am I of her intent.

For some reason this annoys me quite a bit.

A Recounting of Recent Events (Forthcoming)

Posted in Enthralled, Private Thoughts on January 12, 2011 by Author Jennifer Quail

Anything I may have said in the recent past about wishing for more excitement? I think I would take it back, if Val weren’t disgustingly chipper about the entire situation.

Much, much more detail to come shortly (after I’ve had time to think things over.)

Counting Cards

Posted in Enthralled, Private Thoughts, Up Street and Down Alley with tags , , , , , , , on July 23, 2010 by Author Jennifer Quail

It’s been a long time since I’ve resorted to reading cards. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to rely on fortune-telling for much of anything, be it earning a living or getting some glimpse of things to come. Val can say what he likes about my prognosticative skills but I don’t always get more than vague hints. If I had more natural Talent–but then if I did I wouldn’t be who I am, and we wouldn’t be here, would we?

I sat down tonight with my old deck and considered our problem. Matters in the store are getting worse, not better. Practically every item we have with the Capitol on it has fallen or been taken off the shelves (and considering where we’re located that is quite a few) and then what had to be the last straw.

“Honey-sweet,” and though Val often uses that endearment sincerely, this evening I could hear the edge to it, “did you happen to look in the back room today?”

The back room of the shop was, at some point, probably a study or a pantry or some other tiny room when this house was simply a house. We use it as a catch-all space for items that don’t really fit a particular category, such as kitchenware, books, or clothes. As such it’s filled with all the sorts of flotsam you expect in a thrift shop or the kind of antiques store that’s more a junk heap. To be fair, Antiquitas Veritas is somewhat our personal attic, filled more with things we find amusing or which we’ve inherited than objects we actually expect to sell. But at our ages, what do you expect?

There had only been four or five customers in the store today, and with Val spending part of his time manning the counter instead of stalking our visitor Elaine, nothing could really have escaped our notice. His hearing’s exceptionally acute, naturally, and between that and Val’s chronic boredom it makes shoplifting from us an interesting sport (for us, at any rate.) So the chances of someone sucessfuly rearranging anything without our knowing are slim at best. Which is why I found it quite surprising when Val walked me into the back room, and I saw what had been done.

Every piece of glass or mirror or shining reflective surface was turned out, dangling off shelves, propped against cases, anything so it might catch the light. It was like a bizarre display of fairy lights, reflections glittering over every surface, bouncing back at each other, and in the middle whoever had arranged the room had made a neat platform, almost an altar, out of our display cases, and placed a blue glass bowl in the center. The bowl was half-filled with water, or at least a clear liquid that looked like water, and there were leaves and petals of some sort in it.

“This isn’t some sort of bizarre pagan ritual of yours, is it?” I knew it wasn’t, as Val was superstitious but not observant by any stretch when it came to that sort of thing. “Some appeal to the Good Goddess to get whatever’s haunting the place out?”

“Don’t be silly, darling. For starters I can afford a few doves or a lamb if I wanted to try that.” He was only joking, for the most part. I think in all our years together I’ve seen him actually make an offering once, though he does like to talk about it to disturb the Christians. “Books leaving notes for us and pictures scattered all over the shop are one thing, but apparently it believes we aren’t getting the message.”

“It really ought to be clearer about what the message is, then.”

You would think, as long as we’ve been at this, I would know better than to say things like that. The scattered lights were suddenly moving, as if all the mirrors and glass were being turned by a breeze. On that breeze, I caught the faintest scent of ocean and marsh-grass and sun-heated rocks. Then I realized the surface of the water in the bowl was trembling. That quickly changed to tiny whitecaps as the water grew wilder, darker, flinging the leaves and petals over the edges and sticking to the sides. Something was flickering in the water, a red and gold glow drawing up into a miniature cyclone. I started to hear a fine, faint ringing sound, and if it was just audible to me it had to be a shout to Val–

His arms were around me and he was crushing me against him, one hand pressing my face against his chest. I squeezed my eyes shut at the unspoken warning and felt the stinging shards of glass and ceramic spattering against my back. I felt a rush of heat, too, not hot enough to burn but enough to grab my attention. Val held me a minute longer, until the noise subsided and we dared to look up. The bowl had shattered, spraying water and glass across the room, but at the center, there was a charred mark on the wood floor and a few curled wisps of charred leaves, swirled by a faint breeze.

Val stepped away, and we both looked carefully at the disaster area. He wasn’t shaking like I was, naturally, but from the way his lips pressed together and his fists clenched he was just as rattled.

Finally, he looked up at me. “Wind, Water, Earth, and Fire.”

I stared down at the debris again, and saw what he meant.

Venitias.They come.

“It can’t be.” I looked up at him. His expression was impassive, neither unconvinced nor unnerved. “They’re dead.”

They have died before. Replacements always came along then. Why not now? What else could the books and the . . . messengers . . . be trying to tell us? What else could be worth this kind of fireworks?” Val picked up a razor-thin sliver of glass. “And there’s your boy.”

“And your girl.” I closed my eyes, and recalled Val’s shared memory of this Elaine, surrounded by the rich blues and soft golds of the Peacock Room. Had all that brilliant color simply been the antique paint? And ‘my boy’, Alan, bathed in what might not be sunlight after all, with the very stones of the Capitol practically singing around him? “They certainly don’t appear to be Mages.”

“Unless there’s some secret pool of survivors holed up training potentials somewhere, they’re certainly not.” Val studied the miniature rainbow the broken glass cast on the floor. “But there’s no reason they can’t be . . . what this seems to be saying.”

I felt a sick, sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach. “If they are . . . ye gods, they’re all alone.”

“If they are, hardly.” Val tossed the broken bit back into the pile of debris. “They’ll have us, won’t they? Gods help them.” He looked around a bit more pragmatically. “Well, one thing we have to do is clean this up. And then, hie I back to my computer. There must be something in their backgrounds I’m missing. As for you . . . have you thought about seeing what the cards say?”

Which is how I came to be sitting with the elderly deck, one of the few things I have that predates Val arriving in my life, shuffling and cutting as I tried to find the quiet mental place I need to be for them to work. Finally, I managed to clear the last cobwebs, and thought of Alan while I flipped the top card. King of Hearts. Elaine. Queen of Spades. I shuffled again, and this time laid out a short version of my own, personally-created spread. Two at the top, three beneath, and a single card at the middle. Nothing complex.

The bottom cards came out King of Diamonds, Queen of Diamonds, Jack of Diamonds. In every reading I’ve done since we met, these have always been Val, me, and Nicodemus (who argues that he really ought to be the Ace, but I told him to take it up with the powers that guide the cards, not me.) “Together again, eh?” I murmured.

The top cards were the King of Hearts and the Queen of Spades. In one respect, no surprise. Whoever they were Alan and Elaine were obviously deeply involved in whatever was happening. In another, how? Neither had ever set foot in our shop, so why was the inventory so determined to grab our attention? My mind wandered to Sophia’s bookcase, and David’s long-forgotten astrolabe. How would they know they’d found new owners when those new owners had yet to come within a mile of them?

And, more worrisome, if they were what today’s tantrum suggested, why now? What else was coming?

The last card’s chequered back glared up at me, and I shook away the wandering thoughts and flipped it.

“Oh, now you’re just having me on,” I said to the darkening room and whatever was lurking invisibly in its corners, as the caricature of a Joker winked up at me from the table.

Out of Options

Posted in In Harm's Way, Private Thoughts with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2010 by Author Jennifer Quail

Hey, Dad,

Please don’t show this to Mom. If she asks, you didn’t get an e-mail from me. You know what she’s like and I’ll never hear the end of it.

I appreciate your both wanted me to have a vacation to someplace I’d like and where I could relax, and I am trying, I really am. I’ve visited museums and I saw Arlington Cemetery and tomorrow I’m going to go look at the World War II and Korea memorials and depending on how my leg feels, the Vietnam Wall. I also visited the Navy Yard, and I did make calls to the Academy and the War College in Newport, and I visited both our Senators and our Rep. Tomorrow I’m going to see if I can get in touch with Pete Congreve at Pax River and find out how things stand with the brass there, if there’s someone who’ll listen.

I know what you said. I know what the doctors at Bethesda and in Ann Arbor have all said. I realize that I don’t HAVE to have my commission and active duty status to work for the Navy in some capacity. But if I want to fly, I need them back. If I can’t have them back, I can’t fly, and if I can’t fly, I won’t be in flight test operations. I have thought this through and I am prefectly rational. The entire point of all the operations was so I could live a normal life, wasn’t it? All that therapy and PT and everything is supposed to let me be normal, right? Well, normal is flying. Normal is creating the best planes and the best pilots and going higher and faster and farther. If I can’t do that I’m not normal and they didn’t fix anything. I would understand if they’d cut my leg off (and after how my hip felt walking around Arlington I almost cut it off myself) or if I were in a wheelchair or I’d lost an eye, but they’ll let me drive a car. My anthropometrics are the same. I can still see, hear, think, react but they won’t let me do it in a plane. If I get more no’s I’m ready to ask the Russians or the Chinese if they’re less picky. (I know, I know. Don’t work for Russians or Baba Helena will never speak to me again.)

Don’t tell me I’m supposed to relax. I can’t relax when people tell me to relax.

I suppose I should write to Mom, too. I’ll do it later. There’s a sushi place up the street from the hotel I want to try. Remind me to tell her, though, stay out of my closet. And my dress blues aren’t missing, I have them here.

Love,
Elaine

PS-If you’re only doing tourist things, it’s not odd to see the same person on more than one day in different places, right?

Absit Omen

Posted in On Guard, Private Thoughts with tags , , , , , , , on July 8, 2010 by Author Jennifer Quail

For clarification: I am not stalking this woman (her name is Elaine, I’ve determined.) I’m simply curious.

I don’t have special senses, you see. At least not beyond what you’d expect, all things considered. Nadia is the psychic of the family, prone to dreams and visions and those portentous feelings. I’ve suggested more than once she start paying better attention to the flocks of sparrows and doves that are common to any city park, as I’m sure an auguries she drew from them would be far more accurate than those of the political, paid-off priests were. I don’t have any abilities in that regard. I don’t sense things like power, either, and I’m not even all that subject to sudden drafts, which is why that moment in the galleries is utterly nonsensical.

This Elaine isn’t especially pretty. A bit of work with the computer shows she’s Navy, graduated near the top of her class at the Academy, aviator, test engineer, decorated with some very high honors for reasons kept behind encryptions even I can’t break, and discharged for medical reasons with a small service pension. Her family is what I would call middle class–all self-made money and only recent Americans. More than comfortable, even if their eldest chose a university that paid her and committed her to a career the upper classes of today have come to look down on. Not that the army was any great honor in my day, but even among my sort a commission was nothing to be ashamed of. Unmarried, no children, no paramour in evidence, traveling alone with no apparent schedule and wandering past the normal tourist traps as if she doesn’t even see them. Exactly as the cliche says, no visible means of support.

The only surprise thus far is, besides wandering in cemeteries, she seems to have a taste for Asian art. After Arlington, she went back to the Freer and Sackler Galleries and this time spent an inordinate amount of time in the Peacock Room. It’s the entirely too-ostentatious dining room from Charles Freer’s home, paneled floor to ceiling in peacock green-blues and gold filigrees. She’s a very pale person, this Elaine Gates, but to my eye in that room something about her seemed to glow.

Every instinct I have says to follow her. Not in any perverted sense (again, I’m quite a contented man in carnal matters) but since I saw her, so soon after Sophia’s book told me someone is coming, I’ve felt as if I’ve been given a message. This is the one. The one who is coming. Prepare. Protect her. From what, I don’t know, though in the bowels of the Sackler (one of one only Mall museums that’s in fact underground) I thought I saw a shadow, though whether it was attached to her or to me I can’t say. It’s not a good thing. Our lives have a bit dull, I suppose, and if it’s her, if I’m not all who’s following, then it’s starting again and it will not be dull. We’ll be back to worrying again and that nagging sense every parting is a final one. Some part of me hopes I’m wrong.

But some part of me very much hopes I’m right. Danger or not, there’ll be a purpose. All of a sudden, after all these years, I have a job again.

Of course, the book said venitias. Plural.

I suppose I’ll have to ask Nadia where she’s been all day.