You’d think they’d practiced it, the way they moved to the bus. Lina’s dad smiled at them and hugged her one-armed. “You made it. Some people here said there was some inter-Organization difficulty-?”
“My aunts.” Ethan made a face. “They were, ah, pushing people to do something else, or to, at least, push us to do something else. They’re, I don’t know. Maybe they’re still waiting for the Old Wise Sage who’s going to save us.”
“There’s a proverb about that somewhere,” Lina’s dad commented. “If you wait for the right person to save you, you may find yourself drowning while the wrong person saves others. Or something like that.”
“Well, here I am, the wrong person.” Lina smiled. “I can live with that.” She hugged her father again so she could whisper in his ear. “Dad… Dad, people are expecting me to fail. Dad, what if I do? What if I can’t do it?”
He squeezed her very tightly. “Then we come up with something you can do. But my buttercup, you’ve already done it. You can do it again.” He raised his voice. “Come on, bus leaves in one minute. All aboard who’s coming aboard!”
“Not you,” Ethan added, gesturing at the woman who’d just been bothering Lina. “The lady said.”
“You need all the help you can get,” the woman protested.
“Speaking of sayings,” Jackson put in dryly, “‘with friends like you, who need enemies?'”
“I am your friend! Just because you’re too naïve to see it, that doesn’t mean -”
“That’s enough, Joanne. Catalina said what she wanted, and this is her show. We’ll see you when it’s done.” Her father spoke firmly, in something still softer than his Business Voice, and ushered the four of them onto the bus.
This was no school bus; it was a swank bus meant for wine tours and other ridiculous things. There was a four-person set up with a conference table near the front; Lina’s father gestured them there.
She sat next to Jackson and found herself pressing against him. The bus was full. There were even a few people standing.
The moment she was sitting down, the bus started moving, and she pressed even closer to Jackson. She didn’t dare show how nervous she was. But on the other hand – – on the other hand, she was terrified, and no matter how much she pretended something else, she was still going to be terrified.
Jackson cleared his throat. There was a notepad and pen in front of them – her dad’s thinking or the bus line? The snacks were probably her dad – who was standing, holding on to the support bar, right there, although in a light conversation with someone younger than him but older than Lina on the other side of the aisle.
“All right. The power plant. There’s been some lowkey controversy about it, because the truth is, nobody in the public knows what’s going on with it. Now, that’s not going to be helped at all by it, uh, blowing up.
“But the good news is, it’s not radioactive. I did a bunch of digging. It’s – urm. Sort of magic. Or at least, it’s magic being ineffectively controlled by someone.”
“It’s not people, is it?” An old comic flashed into Lina’s mind: the Flash, running forever and ever on a hamster wheel to power the country.
“Not as far as I could tell. It’s more like… uh. Probably the reason Dylan and Ethan don’t have powers.” He cleared his throat. “If you read the old annals of the Organization, a much larger percentage of the population had power before our generation, and we were all born around the era that the power plant came online. I think, as far as I can tell, that it’s run on the ambient potential for magic.”
Lina took comfort in the fact that she was not the only one staring at Jackson in confusion and horror.
“Wait.” Ethan leaned forward over the little table. “Wait. You’re telling me,” he hissed, “that they are powering the city with souls?”
“Not souls!” Jackson huffed. “Seriously, where were you when we went through this with Lina?”
“Kneeling,” Ethan muttered.
“This isn’t quite the same thing,” Lina pointed out softly. “I mean – is it?”
“It’s not, and it is.” He cleared his throat. “I mean, it’s the same overall power. That is, if you look at cosmological theory, every person has a magical force within them. If you – most studies think it’s something like if you have enough but some people think there’s just, uh,a channel for how you process it that some people do differently than others? It’s not very scientifically studied, unfortunately – but if you have magic, you usually use magic. But if you don’t, and if you’re not serving as the power for someone else, like, uh, we are, then your magic sort of sheds off of you, like skin cells or hair. You just give off a sort of aura of magic.”
“Tesla wrote about that.” Ethan squirmed as they all looked at him. “What? Tesla’s cool, okay?”
“Tesla’s cool,” Jackson agreed slowly. “I want to read that, later. But uh. This power plant, as far as I can tell from patents and some stuff I wasn’t supposed to be reading, figured out a mechanism that sucks in all of that, ah ‘magic dust’ and uses it to power the city. I’m not sure what happened with this explosion, but either they screwed something up in the pulling-in or in the way they have it running turbines, or magic just has opinions on matters.”
“If it’s a form of energy, can it have opinions?” Lina rubbed her arms. Every time she thought she understood things, something yanked the rug out from under her. “I mean – well, that is what I mean, i guess.”
“I’m not honestly sure,” Jackson admitted, “but it could be slightly more erratic than expected, or it could have fluctuations they didn’t know how to control. Or, in a really ironic twist, it could be that having all of the Organization gathered here did something to the magic pool – either pulled or pushed it, I’m still not sure – and that caused the explosion.”
“A self-fulfilling prophecy.” Lina made a face. “It’s bad enough that the prophecy is why I’m here to do what the prophecy said I’d do. If it hadn’t been in existence, then what? Would someone else have done it?”
“Would the Organization even have existed?” Dylan countered at a whisper. “If not, would you even have been born? Or me, or Ethan, or any of us. There’s so many things that happened because there’s a prophesy.”
“I’m not sure that makes it any better. I’m pretty sure it makes it worse, actually,” she muttered. “But. But – could we just send the Organization away? Jackson, wait, wait, if it could be having us all gathered to fight it, is that-?”
She trailed off into a whisper.
Jackson shook his head. “Not if I’m understanding what happened properly. At this point, it’s already going, so there’s no stopping it, it’s just a matter of containing it. That means we can’t make it worse, either. It’s, uh.” He waved his hands. “I don’t know for sure exactly what’s happening, but I think it’s a sort of splash effect.”