8FOLD: Mancers # 2, "Company Man"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Mon Jul 16 06:46:39 PDT 2018

Theirs is the midnight war - theirs, the twilight destiny! Kissed by
Venus, conduits for eldritch forces beyond mortal understanding, are
they the last best hope for the Earth, or the instruments of its

.  .
|\/|.-. .-..-.-,.-..-
'  '`-`-' '`-`'-'  -'
 # 2 [8F-177] [PW-24]


-------------DRAMATIS PERSONAE-------------
MAILE AKAKA, age 19. Aeromancer.
The Company's top field agent and assassin, her memory has been wiped,
and she now believes herself to be the leader of an anti-Company group
of mancers called the secret circle.

LIEKE VAN RIJN, age 26. Doppelmancer.
Split into two autonomous bodies. Members of the secret circle tasked
with gaining Maile's trust.

DAVID COLLINS, age 30. Mnemonomancer.
An agent of The Company. Unbeknownst to him, he is in actuality a
member of the secret circle working deep undercover.

David sees the woman's face, but he doesn't remember it; as he's
looking into her eyes, he's forgetting them. He's tried to explain the
dream to Trini, but he can never get it across, this sensation of
forgetting something as you're looking at it, of hearing her voice but
not recalling the words, let alone the way her voice sounds.
   At the end of the dream, he feels like he's falling, and that
sensation carries through to the waking world. His body jerks and his
eyes bolt open. He's once again in their bed, in their apartment, in
Chicago. He turns his head toward the clock, and reads the red digits.
Two in the morning. Great. He never gets back to sleep after the dream
with the woman's face. He doesn't know why. It just makes him
restless, just makes him twist and turn. And all that does is wake
Trini up. David might not be able to get back to sleep after this one
dream, but once Trini wakes up, that's it, she can't get back to sleep
at all.
   He twists his head the other way, and peers through the darkness.
She's still asleep. He'd like to keep it that way. He slowly inches
himself to the edge of the bed, and then brings his legs to the
precipice, letting gravity pull them to the floor. He's careful to
pull the door almost-closed behind him as he leaves the bedroom, so
that the light in the hall doesn't spill in and wake her.
   The question, of course, is what he's going to do with all the wee
hours of the night. He's between books right now: he just finished
"Jonathan Strange" for the second time and it left him (pleasantly)
exhausted, and unwilling to jump right into another book. He had
started a few books, books which were perfectly good on their own
merits, but only ever gave each of them a few pages or chapters before
losing interest. He'd come back to them later, he knew, and would fall
deeply in love with them. David was always falling deeply in love with
books, but "Strange & Norrell" was less like a fling and more like a
marriage, and it would be unsightly to take up with another so soon
after their amicable divorce. He had faced pretty much the same
situation two months ago when he finished reading it for the first
time, which is why he immediately started reading it again the next
day. But if he was to pick it up again a third time it would start to
feel a bit like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.
   Without a book to fall into, David's thoughts turn predictably to
work. Specifically he thinks about the question Bill asked him
yesterday, and just how royally he flubbed it. He knows now what he
should've said, and how he should have said it, and he finds himself
now silently mouthing the words, and hearing Bill's response, one that
is much more complimentary than the one he received the first time
around, and now he's responding to Bill, again mouthing the words, in
preparation for a conversation that will never actually happen without
a time machine. Or a memory wipe.
   David smiles; wiping the boss is his peculiar version of the
fantasy of quitting your job in a spectacularly bridge-burning
fashion. He would never do it though, and even indulging the fantasy
reminds him of Trini, and that night two months ago.
   They got into an argument, one of those meaningless loose pieces of
string that you both keep tugging at against your better judgment, and
just when things reach detente, you pull at it again, until the whole
thing is a tangled mess that can't ever be put straight again. The
sort of argument that could end everything they had built together. In
a panic, he stole the hour from her. She forgot about it, though she
wondered for the rest of the night why her throat was so raw, and why
her eyes were so red. She forgot, but he remembered. Sometimes when he
looks at her, he gets overwhelmed by the guilt, and he wants to make
himself forget, so he doesn't have to keep living with it. But he
holds onto it instead. He remembers it on purpose, so that he'll never
do it again. She deserves better than that.
   "Well," he says to himself sourly, "this is going to be one of
those nights, isn't it?" That's when his phone rings. Crap. That'll
wake Trini up for sure. He should've put the ringer on silent when he
got up. But of course he didn't expect anyone to be calling at three
in the morning on a Saturday. He answers the phone in the kitchen.
"Who is this, and do you know what time it is?"
   "It's Bill, and yes."
   "Oh my God, I'm so sorry, Bill. I didn't recognize the number."
   "That's because I'm calling from home. I have to go to the London
office. I need you there too. We need to process a couple of
   "Sure thing!" says David eagerly. Perhaps a little too eagerly,
given the circumstances.
   "Also, stop in Asia for me, bring me a durian while you're at it?"
   "Not a problem," says David. "See you then. Venus protect us."
   "Venus protect us," says Bill, hanging up.
   David returns to the living room. Trini's standing in the hallway
without a stitch on. David's eyes migrate, as they often do, to the
mancer's mark on her abdomen, just above her fuzzy muffin. Groggily
she wipes the sleep from her eyes.
   "I'm sorry, sweetheart," says David. "I didn't want to wake you."
   "Sounds like you're going in to work?"
   "Yeppers. They need me in the London office."
   "That's weird," says Trini. "Doesn't London have its own mnemonomancer?"
   "Yeah," says David. "Yeah, they do. Huh. That is weird. I guess
they want me in particular for some reason or another. That's a good
sign, right?"
   "Well, I think I told you on Tuesday or Wednesday about how they're
supposed to be merging Q and A across the board. Maybe they're giving
the London crew the boot."
   "Or they could be prepping me for when Bill moves up, so I can take over."
   "That'd be great," says Trini. He can't tell if she's just tired,
or if she's just not particularly enthused. "If that's what you want.
If you like what you're doing, in Q and A."
   David frowns. "I don't like it. Of course I don't like it, Trini.
It's a dirty job. If I liked it, if I enjoyed it, if it all sat well
with me, I'd be some kind of monster. But. I am good at it. And it
needs to be done, to protect The Company, to protect us. And I do it
humanely. I only take the memories that need to be taken. Is this what
I wanted to do with my life? No. Is it something I can live with
doing? Sure. For us, I can do this thing. And if I can move up, get
more pay, not get my hands so dirty, then sure, I'll do that too. I
want to do that. I'm working toward doing that. For us."
   "For us?" says Trini. "Gee, thanks. 'I'm going to be a corporate
drudge because I love you, Trini. I gave up on all my dreams and
aspirations, because I settled for you.' For us."
   "I didn't say that."
   "What did you want to do?"
   "When you were a kid, what did you want to do when you grew up?"
   "Does it matter?"
   "It does," says Trini. She touches her abdomen with her fingers.
Before she came to work for The Company, she was a surgeon. But then
she was kissed by Venus. The police are still looking for her. "When
you give something up for someone, they deserve to know what it is."
   David doesn't remember, of course. Pretty much everything before
the car accident is a swirling, hazy blank. But Trini doesn't know
that, so he lies. "You're being ridiculous. This is ridiculous. I
wanted to be a spy, okay?"
   "Like James Bond?"
   "More like George Smiley. Look, it was dumb and I was a kid. I
didn't work toward it like you did, I didn't go to school for it.
There's no great existential tragedy in me not being a spy, okay? And,
you know, I do like working for The Company. They see me, Trini. They
really see me, and that I have potential. No one else ever has."
   "I do."
   "I know you do," says David. "And I wouldn't have met you, and you
wouldn't have met me, if not for us both working for The Company.
Confidentially, I got the better end of that deal." He smiles, like
it's a joke, but he knows it's true; they both know it's true; he's
seen it in her eyes when she thinks he isn't looking. "You've changed
my life profoundly. You've changed who I am. So, when I say that I can
do this, and that I can do this for us, that's not me settling, or
giving up on what I want to do with my life. Because this. You, me.
This is what I want to do with my life. This, right here, right now.
This is what matters. This is all that matters." He kisses her cheek.
   She kisses him back. "You better get going."

Ten minutes later, when he gets to the London office, David is asked
to wait in a tiny little room with a bare white table and two folding
chairs. Well, that's weird, but okay, whatever. It's very warm in the
room. He's alone in there for a good ten minutes, sweating like a pig
while holding a fruit that smells like raw sewage. The door finally
opens again, but it's not Bill. It's someone he doesn't recognize at
all. She's very polished, uber-professional: long black hair tightly
coiled into a bun, dark green jacket and skirt that improbably matches
the color of her umbrella. The white gloves are a little much, makes
her look a little stiff and formal, but there's a fair number of
employees whose magicks are activated by touch (David's included), and
some folks don't have the same level of control that he does, so it's
not an out of the ordinary part of an ensemble.
   "Hello," he says. "I'm David."
   "I know who you are," she says. She waves her hand in the air, and
the door slams shut behind her. "Do you know why you're here?"
   "Bill said..."
   "Well, Bill's not here," she says.
   "I brought him a durian."
   "It was actually for me," she says. She waves her hand, and the
fruit slides itself across the table. "It tastes like custard. Do you
know why you're here?"
   "Impromptu pizza party?"
   She looks confused for a moment, then gives a little nod of relief.
"Oh, you're trying to be amusing and ingratiating. I see." She smiles,
as if trying to smile for the first time in her life, and decides that
she doesn't like smiling. "You can stop doing that, then. Do you know
Maile Akaka?"
   "Of course," says David. Everyone in the Company knows Akaka.
   "Have you worked with her?"
   "Not exactly, not directly. Sometimes she drops off a subject for
reconditioning, and then I do my thing. I think I've said about six
words to her, and she's said half that to me. What is this about?"
   "Have you ever touched her?"
   "Whoa, whoa, whoa, what?"
   "It's a simple question, David."
   "It's a loaded question. No. The answer is no. No, I've never
touched her. I would never touch her."
   "You didn't touch her yesterday?"
   "You seem to think I did."
   "You're being very confrontational, David."
   "I'm being confrontational? I don't even know who you are and
you're asking me... wait, why don't I know who you are? I should have
asked you right when you came in the door. Why didn't I ask you?"
   "Mild glamour effect, with a smidgen of authority for flavor," she
says. "Confuses the senses. Good for interrogations. You're actually
about to forget about it all over again."
   "I've never touched Maile. I barely even spoke to her."
   "Let's talk about something else, David. Have you ever experienced
a loss of memory?"
   "What do you mean?"
   "Have there ever been periods of time that you've forgotten?"
   "No," says David. "This is silly. How can I remember forgetting something?"
   "You'd be surprised. Do you know what darkness is, David?"
   "That's... that's a legitimately creepy question."
   She shrugs with her eyes. "I don't think so, no. Are you afraid of
the dark, David? ...No, you're not. It's... jellyfish? Have you even
been in the ocean before, David?"
   "No," he says.
   "Because there's jellyfish in the ocean?"
   "Exactly," says David. "Because there's jellyfish in the ocean."
   "Lots of people are scared of the dark, of course. But that's
silly. It's silly because of the answer to my question. Do you know
what darkness is? Nothing. There's no such thing as darkness. It's
only the absence of light." The white walls of the room start to glow.
Claire is glowing too. (Her name is Claire. How does he know that...?)
   "And forgetting," she continues, "is merely the absence of memory.
You can measure the darkness by looking for light. You can measure
your amnesia by trying to remember."
   "Well, this is all very disorienting and very Zen," says David. "I
don't know if this is the best use of my Saturday morning." He gets up
out of his chair and walks around the table, and opens the door. Then
he's sitting down, and the door is closed.
   "Maile Akaka has run away," says Claire. "She became extremely
disoriented. She forgot who she really was, and forgot how to control
her magic. Several of our anti-men died trying to protect her from
   "That's awful," says David. "But you can't think I had anything to
do with it. People have gotten amnesia long before I came around."
   "Rarely," says Claire. "Almost immediately after she ran out into
the open, she was captured by the enemy. They were waiting for her.
That makes me think that it wasn't just a coincidence. That it was
planned. And as the only mnemonomancer working yesterday in Detroit...
well, you can see my concern."
   "But I didn't do this!" protests David. "I never touched her! I
never would! Ask Bill, ask anyone; I'm loyal to the Company. You've
given me a sense of purpose that I never had before! Why would I throw
that away?"
   David suddenly feels another mouth pressed against his. Claire's
mouth, only she's over there, on the other side of the table, staring
at him with that same cold bemused expression. His agitation fades
away immediately. He feels calm and sleepy.
   "I don't think you would throw it away," says Claire. "No; by all
accounts, you're our man through-and-through. My thinking is that if
you are involved, you're involved against your will."
   "But I'd remember that," says David.
   "Not if you wiped your own memories," says Claire. "So, I will ask
you again: are there periods of time that you can't account for?"
   David stares at her, then nods.
   "I thought so," says Claire. "Have you had any strange dreams?"
   David nods. "A woman," he says, and suddenly, inexplicably, he
feels an overwhelming guilt. The way he felt when he wiped Trini. But
why? What did he owe the woman in his dreams? "I can't remember her
   "Even in the dream. Even when you're looking right at her, you're
forgetting her."
   "Yes," says David, surprised. "Yes, exactly."
   "This isn't your fault, David," says Claire. "You're the victim
here, as much as Maile is. The Company is going to fight on your
behalf. I'm going to fight on your behalf. And I think you'll find
that I'm a great person to have in your corner."
   "Thank you," says David.
   "Unfortunately, we can't let the enemy know that we're on to them,"
says Claire. "So, I'm going to need to wipe this entire conversation
from your mind. I'm sure you understand." Suddenly, she's touching his
forehead, or maybe she's always been touching it, and he only now
became aware of it.
   David is vomiting on the floor. He drags himself back up into the
chair and wipes his mouth on his sleeve. "I'm sorry. So sorry. Must've
been something I ate."
   Bill smiles. "Don't worry about it."
   "What were we talking about again? I'm drawing a blank."
   "I've just accepted a promotion. I wanted to encourage you to apply
for my old one. Assuming you're interested."
   "I'm very interested," says David, beaming. "Venus protect us."
   "Venus protect us."

Lydia finds Claire standing in her office. Claire carries her umbrella
in one hand, and has her jacket folded over one arm.
   "Well?" says Lydia.
   "I have Samson following the car, but it's a dead-end. Only an
idiot would try to make a covert getaway in a three million dollar
car. And the circle isn't made up of idiots. This is all too
well-planned for that."
   "And David Collins?"
   "It fits," says Claire.
   Lydia tugs at Claire's bun, letting the long silken threads cascade
down. Idly, she runs her fingers through her hair. "So, I guess my
question is, why are we letting him live? The obvious solution when
someone is working for the enemy is to eliminate him. Before he does
it again. Before he does it worse. Umbrella. Now."
   Claire reluctantly tosses her umbrella onto the small sofa in the
corner of the office. Without it, she's unable to draw on the mystical
energies of other mancers; she's utterly powerless. She tries not to
focus on that. "If he is a long-term sleeper agent, the enemy is
unlikely to use him again so soon. Because that will set up a pattern,
and draw attention to himself. They still think they got away with it.
They have no idea we're on to them. That gives us an... edge." She
shudders as Lydia's fingers brush against her breasts.
   "And what are we going to do with that edge?"
   "First, we need to find out what kind of edge we have," says
Claire. "We need to find out if he is long-term. We need to find out
further if he's that leak we've been trying to plug."
   Lydia unzips Claire's skirt, then tosses it on the floor.
   Claire continues. "Pursuant to that, I'm going to apply some
leverage to," but here she stops. Lydia has touched the side of her
face, and Claire feels a familiar tingle as her muscles become
magically paralyzed.
   Unlike "true" paralysis, there's no collapsing as the muscles
refuse to work. Instead, she's frozen in place, statue-like, her legs
just so, her arms just so, her eyes half-open, her lips parted and her
tongue against her teeth. Neither is there any loss of sensation;
instead, her nerve endings are intensely aware, intensely awake to
Lydia's hungry fingers.
   It's hard to breathe like this. Claire can't flare her nostrils,
and her lungs won't expand fully. Instead, only a thin, shallow wheeze
of air passes through her nose. As Lydia gets to work, and Claire's
pulse quickens, her rate of respiration only gets faster and
shallower, making her more and more lightheaded. Colors and shapes
crash and warp around her.
   She wants to sigh, to shudder, to hum and to moan. To laugh and to
giggle. To scratch the itch. The itch that demands to be scratched,
and scratched hard. But she will get no relief while her body belongs
to Lydia, no matter how desperately she wants it. She knows that.
   When Lydia's sated, she walks out of Claire's point of view. Claire
can hear the squeak of Lydia's chair, and the tippy-tappy of her
fingernails on her computer keyboard.
   Claire's pulse and respiration begin to slow, and with it, the
giddiness. What remains behind is a mild, sweet anxiety, and a lovely
blush of shame.
   After ten minutes, Claire feels her muscles return to her own
control. "May I move now, Miss Black?"
   "Hmm?" says Lydia absent-mindedly. "Yes, go ahead."



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