Avalanche – Snippet 17
So, I had the clues, I had the theory. Now it was time to put my supposition to the test.
Dennis Lee and Mercedes Lackey
“Run the recording,” ordered Bulwark. “From the beginning,”
The tech nodded, but Bull’s attention was riveted to the screens, which showed several views of Harmony’s cell. Harmony was seated on her cot, which was one of only three pieces of furniture in the transparent cube inside a second transparent cube in the middle of the room. She was wearing standard ECHO prison-issue; gray scrubs with no drawstrings that a prisoner could use as a weapon or means of suicide. Her eyes were open, but she didn’t seem to be looking at anything.
Suddenly, she started, as if in shock, as the door opened, and a small blond figure dressed head-to-toe in brown entered. It looked to Bulwark as if Harmony had been taken completely by surprise–that she somehow had not sensed the presence of a visitor before the visitor arrived–which would be quite out of the ordinary for Harmony, given the range her senses were known to extend to.
The young woman closed the door behind herself and made certain that it was secure. Then she turned to face Harmony.
“Hello Harmony,” said Victoria Victrix, in a completely neutral tone of voice. She stepped forward, and surveyed the prisoner for a moment.
This was not a Vickie Bull had ever seen before. There was no fear, no hesitancy; this woman was focused. She was also…well, gaunt was not quite the word Bull was looking for. Refined, perhaps. Honed down to the essentials. Thinner than he remembered her being; leaner. Then again, he hadn’t been going out of his way to look in on her, and of late she seemed to be spending every waking and sleeping hour in her Overwatch suite.
Harmony had already recovered from her start of surprise, and stood up, arms crossed over her chest. “Operative Victrix, the voice of Overwatch,” she replied in a tone of amused irony. “Do you realize this is the first time we’ve met face to face? To what do I owe the honor?”
“I don’t think I’d be mistaken in presuming you made very certain we never met face to face in the past, Harmony,” Vickie replied, slowly beginning to circle the cube, reminding Bulwark of a hunting cat circling around something it was unsure of. She wasn’t so much walking, as stalking. “You know very well that if we had, I’d have spotted you as being something other than what you seemed. As for why I’m here…probably the same reason why you kept that meeting from ever taking place. Some things just don’t translate to a monitor screen.”
“They never do,” Harmony agreed. “But that doesn’t answer my question. Why are you here, Victrix? And why now?” Harmony was turning in place to face Vickie, her eyes never leaving Vickie’s face, as Vickie finished one circuit of the cube and began a second.
“To answer the last question first, because this is the first time I’ve had a free hour since Tesla was murdered,” Vickie replied, still in that even tone. “To answer the first, it’s because I have a profound dislike for things I don’t understand when they’re in my specialty.”
“Your specialty? I assume you mean the arcane, and not computers–” Harmony shrugged. “Oh, this should be very entertaining. Pray, continue.”
Vickie finished the second round of the cube, and began a third. “It was obsessing me a bit,” she said. “What you did to Bull, that…feeding tube you stuck in him, that I broke…it acted like a spell, but it wasn’t a spell. But it wasn’t a meta-power either; Upyr confirmed that.”
Harmony happened to be facing a camera as Vickie said that, and the close-up of her face showed her pupils flaring and contracting for a moment. “So…you’re the one that broke it. And here all this time I’d been assuming it was the angel that so completely preoccupied Dom.”
“Sera never does anything we can already do for ourselves,” Vickie said flatly. “I knew you weren’t a mage; mages leave fingerprints all over their spells that other mages can read. What you did was clean; it was also more primitive than any spell I’d ever seen before. I couldn’t figure out–how could you pull off something that was like a spell, but wasn’t a spell? So I came here to confirm a few suspicions.”
Harmony turned, and glared at Victrix. “If you seek answers, I am always ready to deal. We could help each other, Victoria. I could do a great deal for you, should I choose to.”
Vickie stopped, back in the place where she had started. She gave Harmony a good long stare, and her brows furrowed. “Cut the crap, Harmony. What you do is like a spell, because it’s magic. You aren’t a magician, but you’re no meta. You’re made of magic; a magical creature like an Elemental. And like an Elemental, your abilities leave no fingerprints. They work at a primitive level. What you did is a natural ability, isn’t it? Never mind, don’t answer that.”
Victrix exhaled, and seemed to relax, though her eyes continued to bore into Harmony. “You don’t conjure anything,” she continued. “You don’t command the elements, you don’t bind energies or seem to focus them. What you do comes from what you are, and what you are seems to be quite rare. I can’t say I’ve come across anything quite like you. That might scare some people. It should. But I’m not scared, and you can tell, can’t you? I’m not scared at all. What I am, is very, very curious. I have a pretty good idea, but I’ve been told in some ways I have the soul of a scientist. I just need confirmation. And if I’m right, I have to wonder…”
Victoria’s eyes grew wide. In surprise? In wonder? Delight? Bulwark frowned, unable to place it. He felt a shudder as it came to him, and was shocked at the stark ferocity of it. The Victrix he knew, that they all knew, was a timid woman–a woman who hid from the world and fought her battles from behind locked doors. He had observed her hiding in the background, desperate to avoid the spotlight, content to exert her considerable influences from the shadows. She had enormous strength, he knew that, but he often wondered if she would ever break free from her self-imposed exile. He had never given up on her, but this was beyond anything he could have conceived. She stood there, not with a newfound strength or courage or determination. It was stronger than that. Her look could only be described as feral. She was hungry.
“Tell me, Harmony,” Victoria said. “Are you the first of your kind, or the last?”
Bulwark watched as Harmony turned away from Victrix and sat down on her cot. She came to rest in lotus position and closed her eyes.
“You can pretend to ignore me all you want, Harmony,” Vickie said, “but I will have answers. I’m a mathemagician. I see magic as equations, and I have over twenty years of learning how to unravel those equations. You can’t hide what you are from someone who can see the math behind the deceptions.” Her lips twitched a little. “Also, while you were distracted, I thrice-ringed you. Once I did that, you lost any protective coloration you had, magically speaking.”
Harmony appeared to ignore the little mage. Vickie’s lips thinned and her chin jutted out aggressively. She crossed her arms over her chest, and became as immobile as a statue. There was a long, long pause during which neither of them moved. Then there was a flash of light; the camera whited-out for a moment simultaneously with Vickie’s gasp. When the camera-view came back, Vickie had raised her hand, interposed between herself and Harmony. Was she shielding herself? Or something else? Magic, notoriously, did not show up on camera, as Vickie had explained long ago–only the bleed-through effects in the real world.
Vickie continued to stare at Harmony, but after a moment her face softened, and she nodded in satisfaction. “Thought so,” she said. Harmony didn’t answer. Perhaps she hadn’t heard what Vickie said, perhaps Vickie hadn’t expected her to answer.
“This isn’t over.” Vickie said at last. “Not while ECHO can use you. You cost us too much to let you die. Besides, blaming you for what happened to Bruno would be like blaming a cobra for striking at what cornered it. Your abilities are primitive, Harmony, and so is your essential nature, no matter how much of a veneer of civilization you put on it. If anyone’s to blame for Bruno’s death, it’s me. And you’re still useful. So I’m not going to let you starve. But, seeing as I can’t let you feed on anyone here either…” She made a series of three swift gestures in the air between them.
There was nothing visible in the monitors as Vickie closed her eyes and bowed her head, but the effect on Harmony was dramatic. She jerked, flung her head back, her fists unclenched and she spread her arms a little, as if she was braced against a welcome wind.