Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts 11:“I'm not in the shade trade.”

Jake went to the wall of switches and flipped several. The red beams of light went out. Karin was lying curled on the floor. I wanted to take a closer look at her. There weren't any chairs, so I sat on the floor, leaned back against the wall, closed my eyes, and walked out of my flesh.

Karin's spirit form was just coalescing, her mind going from the induced unconsciousness to ordinary dreamstate. Good. I had assumed that the spell would fade once we got her out of Nivose.

Her dreaming form was becoming solid and clear, showing the disciplined mind of an accomplished magus even while asleep. She was disoriented, though, looking around in confusion.

I went to her and touched her shoulder softly. “Time to wake up, Karin.”

She directed her attention to me. “Where am I?”

I squatted down beside her. “You're in the power plant. It's okay, you're safe now.”

She looked around, her eyes wide. “How did I get here?”

“That's a long story.” I told her. “Best to wake up now.”

A long look at my face. “Who are you?”

“I'm Sam. I'm a friend of Marji's. Wake up and I'll explain.”

My body was being manhandled, so I hurried back to it, got inside, and opened my eyes to glare up at Jake.

“I said,” I told him angrily, “I'm fine!”

He jerked back in surprise. He'd managed to peel off my blood-soaked coat and shirt. My skin underneath was smooth and unmarred, of course.

I got to my feet. My clothes really were disgusting. I needed an incinerator, a shower, and my wardrobe, in that order. Jake was still looking at me, confused.

“See to Karin,” I told him more gently. “She should be waking.”

Karin was sitting up, shaking her head and frowning around the room. “What is going on?” she croaked. She tried to pull her robe closed and noticed that it had been clawed to ribbons. She looked up. “Jake? What the fuck?”

“You were in Nivose,” Jake explained. “You were in an enchanted sleep for three days.”

Karin scrubbed her face in her hands. The spell shouldn't have any long term effects, but right now she would be disoriented and dehydrated, like a bad hangover.

There was a coat tree with some white lab-coats on it. I grabbed one and tossed it to Karin. “Put this on.”

I grabbed another for myself. It wasn't long enough to cover my legs, so I kept my dungarees on. My blood was drying, the fabric getting stiff and sticking to my legs. I bundled my shirt and coat, looked around for a trash can and then decided to hold it until I could dump it someplace else. No sense in leaving bloody clothes for the lab's cleaning crew to worry about. I realized that I had brought the gold-handled cane back with me, too. I stuck it under my other arm. A souvenir.

“Come, on,” Jake told Karin gently. “Marji's here, in my office. Let's go there and then we can talk, okay?”

Karin nodded slowly, looking around the room. “Am I in the power plant?”

She had paused in the act of putting on the lab-coat, her slim body clearly visible through the remains of her robe. Looking embarrassed, Jake helped her to cover herself. “Yes,” he said, eyes on the floor, “we used the high-energy development equipment to affect a transit.”

His reaction to Karin's near-nakedness made me remember what the lizard-man had said just before Jake blew his head off. Did Jake like to watch? He wasn't acting like it. But if he did, did I care?

I couldn't spare the energy to think about that right then. Besides, it looked like it was a touchy subject for Jake. I could probably survive being shot in the face, but it wouldn't be much fun.

We must have looked a sight, Karin with a hem of tattered silk below her lab-coat and me with my pants soaked with blood. Fortunately we didn't run into any guards on the short walk from the lab to the administration building. The offices were dark and locked, Jake let us into a side door and down a short dim hallway to an elevator. On the top floor the hallway lights were on and a door at the end of the hall was open.

Marji came out of the office as we got off the elevator and ran to Jake and Karin. She reached to hug them both, one arm around the girl's slim shoulders and the other across her husband's massive ones. The three of them stood like that for a long moment.

Then Marji looked over them to me.“You did it,” she said, and let them go, moving to hug me. I accepted an embrace awkwardly, with my arms full of bloody clothes and walking stick.

“It wasn't me,” I told her. “Jake did it. I was just along for the ride.”

Marji looked over at Jake.“Tell me everything,” she said.

Jake inclined his head to his office. “Let's go sit down.”

“Can we get something to eat?” Karin asked in a small voice. “I'm starving.”

Of course she was. Stupid of me not to have realized that earlier.

Marji shot Jake a look.“Is the commissary open this late?”

He nodded.“All three shifts. I'll go get something.”

“No, let me,” I said.“Just tell me how to find it.”

Jake frowned.“Ground floor of the main plant building. You can't get anything without a plant ID, and you wouldn't be able to get back in this building. I'll go.”

I followed him to the door and as he headed down the hallway I caught his arm. “We've got to talk,” I told him. “Later.”

He nodded grimly and agreed, “Later.”

Then I joined Marji and Karin in Jake's office. It was a new office, I realized. A very nice one, a corner office on the top floor. Engineer Karnes was in the big leagues now.

Two of the walls were floor to ceiling windows. One of the others was covered with a huge chart showing the status of various projects. His desk was an oak monstrosity that held two telephones, a typewriter, and a calculating engine of some kind. Across from the desk was a couch and a pair of armchairs. There was a door behind the desk, open and showing a private bathroom.

Marji led Karin to the couch and sat her down, fussing over her. I took one of the armchairs.

“I'm okay,” Karin said, “Really. I'm just hungry. And thirsty. And confused.”

“Oh, you poor thing,” Marji said, reaching to touch Karin's face.

Karin smiled and closed her eyes. “Did you miss me?”

“I was so worried,” Marji replied. “You just disappeared.”

I filled a water glass in the bathroom and brought it to Karin. She took it and drained it. “Thank you.”

She looked at me, frowning. “You said your name was Sam?”

I nodded. “Samhain Jackknife. I'm an old friend of Jake and Marji.”

“Oh,” Karin said with a grin. She clearly recognized my name and I wondered what Marji had said about me. “Nice to meet you.”

Marji seemed to really look at me for the first time. “Oh, my, Sam—what happened to you?”

“I'm okay,” I told her. “Just ran into a little problem. I'll go wash up.”

As I went into the bathroom I heard her call after me, “Is that your blood?”

“Not anymore,” I called back over my shoulder. “I'm done with it.”

I rinsed the dried blood off myself as best I could in the sink, using up a whole roll of paper towels in the process, but leaving both myself and the sink relatively clean at the end. My pants were hopeless. Fortunately they had started as dark brown, now they just looked black. From a distance they'd be okay.

I could hear Marji and Karin talking in the other room. Karin seemed to be getting agitated, once her initial confusion wore off. When I came out Karin was dressed in a simple green dress. I guess that Marji had brought it from the studio.

Just then Jake came back with a big cardboard box in his arms. He started pulling packages out of the box and setting them out on his desk. Karin held out a hand. Jake handed her a toasted cheese sandwich in waxed paper.

Jake looked at me.“Help yourself,” he said. Then to Marji, “Want anything?”

Marji shook her head, then changed her mind and grabbed a cardboard bowl of soup.

I looked in the box and selected an apple.

Jake sat next to his wife on the couch.

“Now,” Marji said. “Tell me everything.”

Jake filled Marji in on our trip to Nivose. He told it fast and concise, without a lot of detail. He left out the offer that the lizard-man made and was consequently a bit vague about how the fight started. If Marji noticed she didn't press him on it.

“I can't believe that I was asleep for three days,” Karin said.

Jake reached into the box and pulled out a newspaper, handed it over silently. Karin took it, frowned at the date on the masthead.

“What do you remember?” I asked her.

“Last night—,” Karin began, then shook her head. “Whatever night it was. You had that steering committee meeting for the Parks Department all day,” with a look to Marji, who nodded. “I was in my studio, and I was working on some sketches, but they weren't going very well. I had been over at the old boarding house during the day, and I got into a fight with one the girls—Svetlana. It was just a stupid thing about this man she was seeing and I said some ill-considered things. Anyway, I kept thinking that I should go back and apologize and then thinking that, no, she had started it and she should apologize. I kept going back and forth like that and my art was crap. Just total crap. So I had a couple of drinks and went to bed.”

“What did you dream?” I asked her.

“I had a bad dream,” Karin said guardedly. “About somebody I used to know.”

“Someone you knew back when you were in the shade trade?” I prompted.

I could see her thinking it over. She looked at me, then at Jake, who nodded encouragingly, and finally to Marji.

“We'll get you through this, Karin,” Marji said, “but you have to be honest. We have to know what we're facing.”

“Okay,” Karin admitted at last. “Yeah. I used to be freecaster. Years ago, when I was a kid. But I swear to you I left all that behind me. The guy I worked for got sent up and I walked away. Never looked back.”

Marji's look was warm and sympathetic, but her words were practical. “But it didn't walk away from you, did it?”

Karin looked down, her expression grim. “No,” she said simply. “I guess not. It's been years. I never figured on seeing any of them again.”

“Any of whom?” I asked. “Your gang?”

Karin looked at Marji, jerked her head at me. “How is he part of this?”

“I asked Sam to help out, and he agreed,” Marji answered.

“You a straight magus?” Karin asked me, “You with the blinders?”

I shook my head, uncertain what she meant.

“The cops,” she clarified.“You a witchfinder?”

“Sam's not a cop,” Marji said, indignant on my behalf. “He's a musician.”

I shook my head. “No, I'm an oneiroi.”

Karin let out a bark of laughter, then her expression grew serious. “No. On the level? You're a demon?”

“Oneiroi,” I repeated.“Yes, I am. I am a child of Nightmare.”

Karin was staring at me, frowning. “You're no morauxe. What are you, a rashling?”

“No,” I told her. “My father is Lord Fellmonger of Messidor.”

Karin still looked like she wasn't sure if I was conning her. She looked to Marji, then Jake, then back to me.

“Okay, then, Your Lordship,” she said, “what's your angle? What's a Knight of Hell want with a sewer kid like me?”

“Karin,” Jake said sharply, “I don't think that's a very helpful attitude.”

I held up a hand to him.“It's a legitimate question.”

I turned back to Karin. “I agreed to help you because Marji and Jake are friends of mine. I'm not a cop, and I'm not working for my father. I'm just a private citizen, a registered resident alien in the City. Maybe I can help you, maybe not. But if you're not comfortable talking about your past in front of me, I'll understand. No hard feelings.”

“No, no, it's not that. It's just...” Karin scrubbed her face with her hands. “I'm still kind of overwhelmed.”

“Understandable,” Marji said. “Just tell it in your own words.” Marji spared a sharp glance at me and Jake. “We won't grill you.”

“Okay,” Karin said, and sighed. “Just give me a minute.”

Jake nodded. “Sure, take your time.” He ginned, “Right now we're in one of the most secure facilities in the Midworld.”

He got up and went to his desk, opened a drawer and came up with a bottle. “Anybody else want a drink?”

We all did. Jake poured, and we sipped. It was fine whiskey.

Then Karin set her glass down carefully. “Remember how I told you I did modeling on the side to pay for my art classes?” she began.“Well, I did, but that's not all I did.

“There was a teacher at the institute, Leonid Vetch, who took a real interest in me. He said I had real talent, and he wanted to help me. Said he knew a way I could make some extra money. I was thinking—well, you could guess what I was thinking.” A shrug. “And I would have been okay with that, at least with Mr. Vetch. Enough so that I wanted to hear him out.”

She smiled at the memory. “He took me out to dinner. A nice place.” A laugh. “Real tablecloths, and the food didn't come out of a coin operated cubbyhole in the wall. I was wearing my one dress—my graduation dress, the one the home gave me when I left. He told me, 'Order whatever you want' and I had a steak.”

She looked down at her hands, still holding a bit of bread. “I kept waiting for him to give me, you know, The Talk. About how he could do me a lot of good, and if I'd be nice to him, he'd be nice to me. I liked him. I figured I could do worse than be his doxy. Maybe even get out of the damned rooming house I lived in. But it didn't go that way. Instead he wanted to talk about my dreams, and where I got my ideas for my pictures.”

“He saw your talent,” Jake prompted.

“Yeah,” Karin agreed.“He saw it before I did. I just thought I had weird dreams. It took me a while to figure out what he was getting at, mostly 'cause I was expecting something else. For the longest time I thought he was just nerving himself up for it. Like maybe he had some peculiar kind of 'being nice' in mind.”

Another laugh. “Instead I became his apprentice. He taught me how to focus my mind, how to project myself into the dreamworld.” Karin sighed, looked at Jake. “You use calculating engines here, right? To set the resonance?”

Jake nodded.

“In the empty boxes we set up—you know, underground transit gates—I was the resonator,” Karin said. “I had a big sheet of copper and an iron pen hooked up to the generator. I'd visualize Nivose and draw patterns until what I was looking at through the gate looked like what was in my head.”

Jake was shaking his head. “That could have burned your brain out of your skull.”

Karin gave him a sharp look. “Yeah, wizard, I know. I was working one night a month, for a couple of hours, and making more money for it than I'd make in a year doing anything else. I knew the risk.”

“Always to Nivose?” I asked.

Karin nodded. “They brought through a dozen or so boxes, big wooden cases. Empty going over, full coming back.”

“Drugs,” Jake suggested. “Tigerberry or maidensbreath or some such.”

Karin shrugged.“Probably. I didn't ask.”

Marji leaned forward, her expression intent. “And you swore a binding oath to this Vetch character?”

Karin shook her head.“Not to him. To the leader of the clan.”

“Who was that?” Jake asked.

“I don't know,” Karin said. “I never saw his face. He wore a black mask. We just called him Magus.”

Marji looked shocked. “You let yourself be magically bound by someone who never let you see his face?”

“I was a kid,” Karin said angrily. “I was dirt poor and I had money for the first time in my life. My other options were sweeping streets and whoring. Yeah, I let him bind me.”

Marji looked contrite. “I'm sorry. I wasn't judging you. I was just... I'm so sorry that you were in that position. I can't imagine what it must have been like. You and Mr. Vetch and the Magus—it was just the three of you?”

Karin nodded, “That was it on our side. In Nivose we deal with a morauxe we called Grandmother Wolf.”

“Grandmother Wolf?” I asked quickly.

Jake leaned forward and asked intently, “An old woman with a wolf's head?”

“Yes, that was her. She always wore a red cloak. Vetch said that she soaked it in the blood of her victims. I don't if that was true, but she always smelled like blood.”

Jake sat back. “Son of a bitch. That had to be her.”

“Yeah,” I said, then to Karin, “Was it Grandmother Wolf that you had the bad dream about?”

“Yes,” Karin said. “Was she one of the morauxe you fought with when you rescued me?”

Jake nodded grimly. “The one that got away.”

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Somehow you managed to drive a story with this much dialogue. And how you did it is very impressive. Time to catch up with the rest of the series. Upvoted and following you for more.

I hope you like the whole thing.

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Thank you. I like getting feedback, even when I'm not entirely sure what it means.

Story told so expertly. That was really good. :)

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