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Curse The Dark
By Laura Gilman
Luna Copyright © 2005 Laura Gilman
All right reserved.
"Next time," Sergei muttered out of the corner of his mouth, not taking his eyes off the security guard leaning against a wall several paces ahead of them, "we're taking a boat."
"Sorry, okay?" Wren said, doing her best not to snap at him.
"I'm trying. I really am." And she was. It just wasn't helping.
Her partner's deep sigh was the only response she got. They'd had variations of this conversation ever since she threw her bag into the cab outside her apartment that morning, and things had only slid downhill since getting to the airport. If they could have gotten through all this quickly, and not given her so much time to think about it
But, well, that wasn't going to happen. And the weird feeling of being stared at, even though there wasn't anyone paying any attention to her, was just making things worse.
The line shuffled in place, people shifting bags and checking watches. Sergei took a small case out of his suit coat pocket, opened it and removed a slender brown cigarette, then put the case away. He rolled the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, then started rotating it end to end, as though practicing for a coin trick he already knew how to do.
Another person made it through the metal detector and escaped into the depths of the airport. There was only one line feeding along roped-off lanes into seven different metal detect-ors, three of which were currently out of service, with technicians standing around them looking puzzled and not a little annoyed. One of the techs did something to a touch pad, and shrugged helplessly.
I hate airports, Wren thought. As though overhearing her thought, Sergei flicked a glance sideways at her, one dark brown eyebrow raised in inquiry over paler brown eyes. After ten years of working together, he didn't have to say anything; the message came through loud and clear. Get it done.
"Right." It wasn't that he wasn't sympathetic. He was. She knew that. But it was her problem and she was the one who had to deal with it. And sympathy didn't actually help. Adjusting her sweaty grip on her brand-new carry-on (finest you could buy on sale on two days' notice), Wren closed her eyes and refocused her attention inward, to where the tendrils of current coiled and flickered within her like snakes in a pit.
She wasn't a good flyer even under the best of circumstances. No, call a spade a spade and admit that she was a terrible flyer. She avoided traveling by air whenever possible. Sometimes, though, it wasn't possible. Sometimes, you just had to suck up the phobia and get on with it.
Unfortunately, the only thing worse than a phobic Talent under stress was a phobic Talent under stress near a lot of electronics. Such as, oh, the one found when going through departure security at a major airport just outside of New York City.
We shouldn't be here. We shouldn't have taken this job. Don't think about it, Valere. Focus. Stay calm. Or everything's going to get ugly.
"The usual mess," a man behind her grumbled to his companion. "And what do you want to bet once we get on the plane we'll be stuck on the tarmac for another hour anyway?"
Oh, God. So much for calm and serenity. Just the thought of that was enough to make her nerves — and the current inside her — roil. The "snakes" hissed sparks of current, seething in her own agitation. Damn, damn and —
There was another snap-ping! noise, and the lights on one of the still-working metal detectors went out, then came back on. The security guard swore under his breath and said something into his walkie-talkie. The seven people in front of Wren and Sergei on the security check line groaned. Wren felt a twinge of helpless guilt, opening her eyes and looking at the chaos she was, however unwillingly, creating. Admittedly, one of the machines had been out of commission by the time they got on line. She was pretty sure she wasn't to blame for that one. But the other two had died in a rather spectacular array of sparks not thirty seconds after they arrived. That was in addition to the meter of the cab that dropped them off, the check-in desk computer that decided to crash in the middle of confirming their seats, and the cell phone of the guy next to them on the escalator.
All those old stories about magic being wiped out by technology so had it wrong. Magic didn't hate tech. It loved it. So much so that a Talent instinctively wanted to reach out and drag all the lovely bits of power floating through the wires and tubes and chips of modern society into his or herself. Especially if she was, even subconsciously, preparing for a worst-case scenario in which she might need all the power she could grab.
Sergei had suggested a sedative when she started to hyper-ventilate in traffic this morning, but Wren was terrified of what she might do if she were too relaxed when the inevitable panic hit.
"Last time I got stuck in security I missed my connection and had to wait three hours for another flight," Wren heard the woman ahead of them say to her companion, more resigned than annoyed.
Oh, God. A muffled whimper escaped her, and sparks danced on the backs of her hands until she shoved them into the pocket of her pale blue linen jacket, bought new for this trip and already stained under the arms with sweat. "I hate airports," Wren muttered. "They're full of planes." She could hear the panic in her voice and hated herself for it.
"Hang in there." Sergei shoved the cigarette back into its case and shuffled in line, moving bags and his laptop case until he stood just behind her, a little closer than the crush of people demanded. At six-two he was almost a foot taller than she, and broad-shouldered into the bargain, creating a comfortable bar-rier at her back. The defense might have been mostly psychological, but it worked. She welcomed the closeness, breathing deeply of the scent of warm spice and musk that was so perfectly and only her partner. She could almost ground herself into it the way she would into rock or soil; emotionally, anyway, if not magically. Not that she thought she was going to do anything stupid, but
Well, they called them phobias because they were irrational, after all.
"I'm here, Zhenchenka," he said. "I'm here, and everything's okay. Just focus. Keep it under control
" It was equal amounts order and a gentle reminder. Sergei might have finally given up that "senior partner" thing he'd been carrying for the past decade, but old habits died hard.
Fortunately, this was one directive she was willing to follow.
She took a deep breath, released it, nodded, and then closed her eyes again, shutting out everything around her: the white noise of the busy airport, the palpable irritation of the people around her, the smell of her own nervous sweat. Last to go was her physical awareness of Sergei, standing guard over her. Narrowing down further, shutting the mental chute, until all that existed was her awareness of her own awareness, and the enticing, invigorating current. Black silk covered with static electricity, jumbled fireworks of a thousand colors. It was beautiful, and tempting, and only with a severe force of will did she keep herself from falling into those fireworks, narrowing even further until all that existed was the current within herself, the natural core that was inside every human Talent.
Excerpted from Curse The Dark by Laura Gilman Copyright © 2005 by Laura Gilman. Excerpted by permission.
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