Chapter 19:

Much Ado About a Photo

Mylo and the Summoned Hero


In Mr. Morin's mansion, in the room with the safe, a duplicate, ghostly safe appeared, occupying the same space as the original. Every object in the room had its own soft, glowing doppelganger. By the door, Mr. Morin sat and watched a pale phosphorescent image of himself stride in and pour the midnight glass of bourbon he'd enjoyed two weeks ago, but at double speed. And when his old self set down the decanter, its outline sat a little to the left of its current position.Bookmark here

On the table opposite the safe perched a fluted gray crystal. Normally disguised as a fancy vase with the aid of some convincing fake snapdragons, the crystal accepted a steady blue thread from the station's day-shift foreman, and the inflow of mana lit it like a star.Bookmark here

This was going to take a while. An eidolon crystal could only fastforward so quick. Push it, and your very expensive security measure would overheat and crack.Bookmark here

Mr. Morin popped a butterscotch lozenge into his mouth, and pulverized it between his teeth before his tongue could register the flavor.Bookmark here

But Mr. Morin could wait. His enemies had waited ten years before sending someone to embarrass him. It was one of them, it had to be. After all his time in exile, the moment the Count gave Mr. Morin a chance to prove himself, they struck. Well, by moment, he meant a one month window of opportunity, but still. He could not consider coincidence.Bookmark here

Just when Mr. Morin was packing for his triumphant return home, too. He would find out who did this.Bookmark here

A month though, even at two time's speed, is a long time to sit and watch. Evening and the town hall meeting drew near. As a leading man of business, naturally, Mr. Morin had to attend. And there would most certainly be a few complaints about the continuing power outage—someone had to reassure them it would all be back to normal soon.Bookmark here

One final glance at the safe, daring some ghost to show themselves toying with the dial. One more butterscotch, crushed and swallowed untasted. Then he left the task to his butler and the day-shift strobilus, and left the house, bound for town hall.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

The town hall's atrium accounted for half the building. It was traditional for town meeting spaces to be open air, but at this latitude, with it deep winters, a warm interior was needed.Bookmark here

With all the summer tourists gone, nobody had to squeeze together to make room. Plenty of pinewood folding chairs were set up in sloppy arcs around the podium, and the potted scale-bark trees which normally filled the space having been lined up against the walls.Bookmark here

Mr. Morin draped his jacket over the back of a chair on the west side of the hall, just behind the front row. People trickled in, a few of whom came to ask him how soon they or such-and-such a building would have power back. He put on a genuine smile and assured them that it would be soon—some of the pipes had already been unkinked, and they'd begin rebuilding the station early tomorrow, once the reinforcing scaffold was in place. A week tops, for most of Edule to have power again.Bookmark here

It wasn't an empty promise, he had a complete repair itinerary and was already a bit ahead of schedule.Bookmark here

"Everything's going to go back to normal, and soon," Mr. Morin promised.Bookmark here

Ezre ducked in just before the Mayor was to take the podium. She looked around, scanning the crowd. Nobody had a newspaper. With a little puff of relief, she hurried into a chair near the back on the atrium's east side.Bookmark here

As the Mayor, gray and severe, strode to the podium, the crowd to a soul expected the usual response to a disaster—remembrance of those lost to the quake, sympathy for the survivors, a promise to rebuild, maybe some philosophizing. Formulaic, yes, but what people needed to hear.Bookmark here

While the Mayor got started, Ezre got curious. She saw a fair few of her employees mixed in with the crowd, but where was Mylo? Maybe it was enough that she'd gotten rid of the incriminating photo, but an empty chair stood between her and the outer aisle with its potted tree.Bookmark here

Was it greedy to hope he'd dash in fashionably late and find his way beside her?Bookmark here

No, I haven't seen him since he was laid up in the healer's hammock. Ezre blushed hard at the memory. I promised I'd train him to be a better strobilus, but we haven't had a chance to arrange that yet.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

"Hey, Paul." Mylo poked his head into Paul's apartment unannounced. "Have you seen Pelgram? There's something I need to tell her."Bookmark here

Paul stood in front of his mirror, dressed to go out in his old charcoal gray inspector's robes, flexing his fingers into the gloves. They were just the sort of clothes for moving around unseen at night. Mylo hadn't seen him in them in a long, long time.Bookmark here

He wasn't a detective for nothing. Paul saw the hope in Mylo's smile and eyes, heard the vague phrasing of his words, and deduced accordingly. Paul was proud of him, or wanted to be. It was about time this young man bloomed, but Lady Wode's comment the other day loomed like a thunderhead. If Pelgram was the summoned hero, as Paul suspected....Bookmark here

A sour frown spread on Paul's face. "I told you to keep an eye on her. What happened?" Then true alarm broke across his features. "And what happened to your clothes?"Bookmark here

"I sorta...fell into Old Edule and broke my wrist."Bookmark here

"So that is how."Bookmark here

"No, that's just the clothes. Then Kasumi dropped me off at the healer's place and skipped while I was waiting."Bookmark here

Paul facepalmed.Bookmark here

"So...why the old detective kit?"Bookmark here

"Making sure it still fits. Find Pelgram. But not in those...rags."Bookmark here

Paul dragged Mylo into the second bedroom, which now served as a closet for clothes that just wouldn't sell. It was also where Paul kept his old ironing board, from back when he didn't have a shop or tailoring spells. He selected a summery blue shirt and white pants and threw them at Mylo.Bookmark here

Mylo felt the soft linen between his fingers. "And here I thought you wouldn't let me wear a light bottom with a dark top."Bookmark here

With an exasperated sigh, Paul shoved Mylo behind a curtain.Bookmark here

"Just get out there and find Pelgram. You must make sure she does not level up."Bookmark here

A muffled, "Why not?" called back.Bookmark here

The old detective gave no answer. When Mylo emerged, complaining about the fit, Paul took one look, declared it perfect, and shoved him out the door.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Back at town hall, the Mayor finished up talking about the manaquake itself and shifted to the rebuilding.Bookmark here

"It is my understanding that that Count Callawea, who owns the mana pumping station, has already petitioned for the Jagai's treasury to cover the cost of repairs in full. But others have floated more radical suggestions." The Mayor gazed out at weary faces. "Some, pointing out the role of the pipes in the damage, propose we remove the grid entirely."Bookmark here

Mr. Morin's smile didn't slip. Such backward attitudes were easily beaten.Bookmark here

"Others," the Mayor continued, "suggest the station should be nationalized—operated and maintained by the state for the public good. But since Edule remains neither a nation nor a city, I guess you could call it 'townalized.'" She waited a moment—utter silence—then sighed for her fallen joke.Bookmark here

Now Mr. Morin scowled. Ezre sat up more alert. This, in very different ways, was what they'd both been waiting for.Bookmark here

"Now, I believe the station's manager is present. Mr. Morin, would you like to come say a few words?"Bookmark here

With heavy, plodding steps, Mr. Morin walked to the podium.Bookmark here

Normal. The people like normal stuff.Bookmark here

"Good evening. I am Mr. Morin. I manage Edule's mana station for the Count. We're honest, hardworking people, like you fine people, from our floor crew on up to the Count himself. It's true we've had a trying few days, as have you."Bookmark here

"I know some people are angry with our pipes. That's fair, they made this worse. But I hope you'll remember that Edule's system was installed 70 years ago, when aragonite induction was poorly understood. This is a solved problem."Bookmark here

From the crowd, a voice which totally wasn't Ezre Lafferty trying to sound like a gruff noodle seller shouted, "Why hasn't the Count fixed it, then?"Bookmark here

Mr. Morin squinted, trying to see through the stage lights. Whoever said it kept their head down. He sailed on smooth as he could.Bookmark here

"A fair question. Tearing up pipes is expensive work, so the Count planned to insulate the whole network with gutta percha installation when the grid was expanded to the whole of Edule, which I remind you, could have happened two years ago, had that year's modernization vote passed."Bookmark here

Mr. Morin felt like he was flying. And he was only sort of lying—the Count would have paid to insulate parts of an expanded grid, not the whole thing. Now he'd taken the Count's penny-pinching and magically turned it into the voter's fault and responsibility to fix—every politician's dream, right there.Bookmark here

Mr. Morin droned on about how unfortunate it was that his own dear employees, who were practically family, got hurt. And before this incident, how reliable and normal the service had been. He had the crowd in his pocket and he knew it. His smug smile tied a knot in Ezre's stomach.Bookmark here

Ezre had hoped that the printing shop would do an afternoon edition of the paper—one with a different picture of course, because she had stolen and beaten the plate for the one of her carrying Mylo into a sphere. But Ezre had misjudged their speed and the lead editor's perfectionism—the latter of which had the whole Edule reporting team locked in the printing shop until they found the missing plates, or found the missing negative to make new ones.Bookmark here

I'm such an idiot. Ezre buried her face in her hands. Knowing she'd suppressed the report hurt. Bookmark here

But what really burned was the knowledge that everyone in town reading it in full probably wouldn't have been enough. Mr. Morin was too slick. He knew how to deflect.Bookmark here

Say the station was understaffed? Mr. Morin would point out how the Callawea's operations are expanding faster than they can hire. Overworking his employees? A temporary necessity, due to aforementioned staff shortages.Bookmark here

They could take the stage, speak out. Who was she kidding? Ezre was the only one willing to risk her job like that right now. One disgruntled employee wasn't enough. Ezre folded.Bookmark here

Someone in the crowd interrupted. "Didn't this morning's paper say something about the Count running that place ragged?"Bookmark here

Silky smooth, Mr. Morin asked, "Can you show me these allegations? I have to know them to rebut them."Bookmark here

The crowd waffled. Few had seen it, and no one had a copy.Bookmark here

Ezre was so bent out of shape that she didn't even perk up when the atrium door opened. When she heard Mylo's name though, she skewed around in her chair.Bookmark here

She could barely see him over the crowd, but there he was, talking with a member of the town guard. Telepathy spells were expensive, so Ezre tried brute force. Sit here, sit here, sit here, sit here....Bookmark here

The guard asked, "Mr. Bract, there was supposed to be a paper this morning. Did you see it?"Bookmark here

"Oh, you mean this?" Mylo handed it over. Blocked by the librarian's bald head, Ezre didn't see the hand off.Bookmark here

Sit here sit here sit here—not that way, yes this way. Once Mylo seemed to have chosen a direction, Ezre turned back toward the podium.Bookmark here

Mylo found most of the end-row seats filled. The thought of asking someone to scoot over for him made Mylo uncomfortable. But then he found a familiar face, and an open seat, too.Bookmark here

"Hi Ezre."Bookmark here

"Oh, hey Mylo. I didn't see you come in."Bookmark here

"This seat taken?"Bookmark here

Yay! He chose me!Bookmark here

"Oh, sure, I guess you can sit here."Bookmark here

"Thanks."Bookmark here

Ezre felt a little better. Sure, she'd lost hope of a victory tonight, but there was still the long game. And as consolation prizes went....Bookmark here

She allowed herself a glance. V-neck that shows some collarbone? Nice. Good shade of blue for him. And the pants that hugged his contours, those were dangerous.Bookmark here

Meanwhile, the guard had brought the newspaper to the Mayor, who had shoved Mr. Morin aside and gave a summary of the main article.Bookmark here

The member of the crowd who piped up earlier cried, "Yeah, that's the story I was reading! I put it down on my dining room table to make coffee, and when I came back the whole paper was gone!"Bookmark here

Ezre snapped back to reality. Eyes widening with horror, she turned toward the newspaper, which the Mayor was holding aloft for all to see. Oh no. Mylo's here. He'll see the picture—Bookmark here

It had been cut out.Bookmark here

Ezre put her hand over her heart. Was some kind soul saving her from embarrassment? Or did someone mean to blackmail her with it later? Either way, she felt safe for the moment.Bookmark here

More reports surfaced of newspapers being snatched, off restaurant tables, from second story balconies, out of someone's desk drawer.Bookmark here

And who could possibly benefit from this exposé being covered up? To the Mayor and the crowd, it was obvious.Bookmark here

The Mayor brought a steely gaze to bear on Mr. Morin. "I think we've heard quite enough of the Count's side of the story."Bookmark here

Mr. Morin's eyes went eggy with confusion. What the hell had happened? He specifically told Wilkins not to pull any stunts—an order which had clearly been followed, because they spent most of the day together scrutinizing the eidolon crystal's projection. Mr. Morin could brush off accusations of negligence, reason away alleged exploitation of his workers. But a bold cover-up? Daylight robbery? House breaking? Each of which would benefit no one but himself and his employer? All the plausible denials he'd been feeding the crowd suddenly became poison—his words conniving, a fraud most foul.Bookmark here

Someone had framed him, and got him good.Bookmark here

"But I didn't—"Bookmark here

"Not another word. Guards, escort Mr. Morin to his seat, or better yet: the door. I'm calling a referendum to nationalize the mana pumping station and all its associated infrastructure."Bookmark here

Ezre marveled at the turn around. The fact that her own desperate attempts to hide a picture from Mylo had made this victory possible wouldn't sink in for hours. When the vote wound its way over, her "aye!" was the loudest.Bookmark here

The Mayor's gavel came down and declared the motion passed—not unanimous, but pretty close.Bookmark here

Is this a dream? I could kiss Mylo and find out.Bookmark here

People were starting to stand and stretch.Bookmark here

Maybe somewhere less public, Ezre decided.Bookmark here

"Oh, I'm not done," the Mayor said, hooking the gavel over her shoulder. "The same person who suggested we nationalize our mana has another, more sweeping plan for Edule. But I'll let them tell you." Bookmark here

She looked over to the door of a conference room that branched off the atrium. "Pelgram, are you ready?"Bookmark here

Supersession
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Marshall Eastman
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