Mélanie stepped closer to Jasper and surveyed the area. There were people everywhere. More than half of them hadn’t seemed to notice the shouting at all. A few of them were looking across the market. A few more were looking at Jasper.
Was she going to have to do Workings again? Was she even allowed to?
Jasper waved enthusiastically with one arm, balancing the packages with the other. “George Ridges! I haven’t seen you in forever!”Continue reading →
In retrospect, Mélanie thought perhaps she ought to have expected a question like that. Dressing her in silk, treating her like a partner – she shouldn’t have been surprised that he asked her if she wanted anything. Wanting her to want things, wanting to get her things, seemed on par with everything else that he’d done so far.
That it took her completely by surprise was a sign she wasn’t paying attention.
Chitter squealed as she was dragged into the back seat, but the moment Erramun was cradling her, she stopped complaining. “I’m—” She smushed her face into Erramun’s chest.
“Easy, my young friend, easy. There’s always going to be more that you can learn. There’s always going to be more that you can do. But you can only grow so fast, and you can only do so much. It’s a hard lesson to learn, I know—”
“It’s a stupid lesson,” Chitter muttered. Ezer kept his face forward and drove, but Senga could see him peering in the rear-view at them.
“It is,” he agreed, “but we all have to learn it at some point. So. I’ll help you get the education you need, but you have to accept that it’s okay. You made a mistake, yes, but nobody got hurt-”
Jasper was still laughing. Mélanie was staring at him with something between horror and worry. Had she broken him? Was he going a little mad? Was this what happened right before he finally got angry with her?
“Easy, easy,” Jasper managed through a chuckle. “Oh, my dear, easy. Telling me that you think I’m doing something wrong. Being a little difficult? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have laughed at you.” He draped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to him. “I do apologize. I know you were serious. And I take it seriously — I do! — that you feel strongly enough about this that you’d tell me you thought I was doing something wrong. I know that’s hard for you.” He squeezed her a little more firmly. “It’s just that if that’s what it takes to get you to give me your opinions more often, it’s tempting to go find the nicest little old couple I can find and bilk them out of their life savings.”
“Don’t do that!” Mélanie twisted in his hold to stare at him. “No, don’t — please, I mean —”Continue reading →
The tension in the van was slowly receding. Ezer looked pleased with himself.
“Chitter, good job as always on getting into their systems, and your little bugs are the shit,” he kept on. “Love ‘em. Allayne – you patched Erramun up so fast, I didn’t even get a chance to see the hole. Thanks. And Senga and Erramun, you guys definitely held their attention and kept to your roles the whole time.” He looked back in the mirror at them. “Try not to get so bloody next time, all right? It makes me techy.”
Without a word, Chitter passed him a candy bar. Ezer snorted. “Fine, fine, it makes me bitchy. I don’t know, Chitter, anything out of that security guard?”
“Allayne triggered something, not an alarm, some sort of tertiary back-up. Yes, I know I should have caught it, yes, I feel like an idiot for not catching it, but it was really well hidden. It was – look, here, see?”
Once again, Mélanie was in the wagon, this time back in the front. Once again, she was leaving the House behind. She waved as they left; two of the shutters on the second floor clacked back at her in what she was going to assume was a wave.
The horses seemed to like the trip to town. Their ears were pointed forward and their clip-clopping hooves seemed happy, like they were going someplace they knew and liked.
Jasper caught Mélanie looking more than once. “You can still talk to them if you want,” he encouraged her, the third time he’d smiled at her as she’d turned away blushing. “They like the apples the carter in town feeds them, I think, but I don’t really talk well to them.”
“I can?” She leaned forward happily and muttered a Working, slipping into their contented minds. They liked going this way. This way came with happy places. They was way easy, and the Human was happy when he left here.
She chuckled. “Aw. They like you, I think. They like you being happy.”
The ride back was tense. Nobody spoke a whole lot, except Allayne, murmuring quietly over the wound in Erramun’s back, pulling out the bullet and healing the muscle and sinew and skin. Ezer muttered at traffic, Chitter muttered at her cameras – including the tiny button camera and mic Senga had planted in the desk, including the one Erramun had planted on a pillar, including the clever little skimmer they’d managed to get on the guards’ computer. Erramun was silent as his name.
Senga was steaming with anger and twitching with worry and said nothing at all. She held Erramun’s hand, even though he obviously didn’t need it, and the way that his fingers traced over the back of hers told her that he knew, too, that she needed it.
“There,” Allayne breathed. They were nearly to the garage. “All better. Damn, are you telling me you don’t have a Man of Steel Working in your repertoire?”Continue reading →