Chapter 3

Olivier wasted no time. The moment he stepped out of the Wilks’ home he was no longer in Georgetown. With but a thought he traveled from the porch into a warehouse in Seattle.

The warehouse was three stories, blacked out windows, rubberized stairs running from floor to floor in random, haphazard locations. The walls were covered in monitors, the floors heavy with cobbled together computers. Micro-towers, mini-towers, custom cases, stock cases, business machines from the 80s. It was less a shrine than a mausoleum of computing technology. Power hummed through the warehouse, the floor vibrating from dedicated generators housed in the basement. Cables and tripping hazards crisscrossed the space between workstations. Shelves layered the inner walls, heavy with unused components and partially complete systems. A central chamber held modern server equipment blinking and shivering in its climate-controlled encasing.

Ireul, a young Kalanga girl of maybe 14, poked up from a pile of components and wires. Her hair was curly and short save for two swooping box braids —that looked as much like cables as hair could—running from the top of her head to the base of her skull. She wore a loose white-linen tunic over short black shorts. “Knock much?”

Olivier scowled, seething as he pulled out his pocket watch and began adjusting the hour.

Ireul crawled further out of her nest and clucked her tongue. “I’ve offered you a watch that can do that by itself a thousand times.” She moved from playful to exasperated. “Not that you need it. You know what time it is!”

Olivier finished adjusting the antique pocket watch and stomped his foot. The room trembled around him, sparks spit from a dozen computers, shelves twisted, sloughing their contents onto the floor.

“Olivier! I’ll have none of that here. You want to vent, you do it at Azers’ or somewhere in Arizona. Or Mexico. Anywhere it doesn’t cost me days to repair and sort tantrum-damaged items!”

Olivier stomped again. Another wave of darkness shot across the floor, tinged with sparks of melancholy and dread.

Ireul jumped from her nest, floating cross-legged in the air. White light flowed from her in six wispy trails. Her eyes went opaque as she set her jaw. Golden notes set on a white staff flew from her mouth like a javelin and pierced Olivier in the ear. “Quell thy fury. Remember your chosen duty!”

Olivier shuddered as the words penetrated him. He blinked, shook his head, took in his surroundings. The shelves, once cluttered were now bare as they vomited their contents clanging and snapping onto the floor. The power blinked, the hum stopped, spurted, restarted. A sudden silence and then the return of pings and beeps as the lights of a hundred monitors flashed and glowed once more. “One more thing to go on the list,” he muttered.

Ireul dropped to her feet and walked over to him. “Nothing to make up for, as I don’t hold it against you.” She rose into the air again, flashes of light shot through the room, the shelves vibrated, the mess ascended, knitting and molding back into shape before settling. The light faded and the room fell back into darkness punctuated by monitor glow and blinking indicator lights.

She dropped to her feet again. “There, no harm. No offense taken. But… Level with me. What was that?” She bent her index finger and two office chairs shot from under desks to roll next to them. She sat cross-legged in one seat and pointed to the other. “Sit, tell me all about it, I’ll get us some cocoa, if you need it.”

Olivier sat down. “No cocoa. I’m done pretending to eat for the day. I’m done pretending a lot of things for the day.”

Ireul stretched forward, bending over her legs. She planted her hands on the floor, pressing the palms into the concrete before raising up and stretching her arms over her head. “It’s been a long time since you’ve retreated into the woe-is-me. Not even a day in and this case has you backsliding and fracturing. You certain it’s worth pursuing? I can make some other calls, send it up the chain?”

Olivier pulled his notebook out and flipped through the pages he’d written since leaving the park bench.

Ireul placed her hands in her lap, though she was facing Olivier, her eyes darted from one monitor to another in a never-ending loop of shuffling glances and minute nods. “Weird way to stop pretending. Tell me what you found out, short or long, I don’t have a preference.”

He turned to the page he had opened when Laura spoke to him and held it up for her.

She reacted as if she were slapped, whipping her head to the left hard enough it spun the chair round and round.

Olivier put the notebook away. “I’ll elaborate but I assume the short-short hand has sufficed?”

Ireul steadied the chair and focused fully on Olivier. “Enochian certainly carries weight, but I’ve not seen it used so bluntly, so recklessly…” she trailed off.

Olivier nodded. “It did some damage to the neighborhood, a small quake, some busted windows, blew some wards, raised some questions. I would be certain it acted as a beacon if I didn’t know for a fact that it did no such thing.”

Ireul summoned a keyboard to her. She clicked and clacked away for a moment. “Outside of the few humans I’ve been deleting as they mention the girl and the house, nothing else has taken any interest in the spot. No change from when Guriel brought the case forward.” She snapped a few more keys and whisked the keyboard back to wherever it came from. “Even this earthquake you experienced has gone unreported. Normally, I would take the data out of the USGS, NCS, GRSN and a dozen other agencies across the planet, but their instruments didn’t register anything. Was it simply a psychic quake?”

Olivier shook his head. “I know a psychic quake when I’m near it. There was a metaphysical component, you saw the notebook page. There was also a physical one, set off a car alarm, was largely what took out the lights nearby. It was physical and it was dangerous.” He considered the ramifications of Ireul’s update. “If it didn’t trip any sensors, it didn’t permeate. No P waves or S waves, or at least nothing with enough amplitude to propagate. It felt… chaotic? Not like some Infernal churn, but almost as if the Guardian was fighting himself, trying to both send a message and contain that message but without fine control.”

“We’ve seen that happen before.”

Olivier shook his head. “No.” He braced himself, opened the notebook and stared at the infected page. He took it in slowly, resisting the impulse to turn away, to let the sounds and thoughts of the word become material. “It doesn’t add up to Nephilim. It isn’t the girl; it is the presence within her. That presence seems more trapped, more conflicted, than it does controlling.” He shut the notebook and shook his head. “Whatever is going on, it is deteriorating.”

“This unknown Guardian isn’t the only one that is broadcasting a cry for help. We going to talk about that tantrum?”

Olivier stashed the notebook and pulled out the list of names James provided. “The parents frustrated me. That combination of overly proud of what they create but with no sense of responsibility towards that creation. Remind you of anyone?”

Ireul ignored the comment. “Not enough reason to regress this far. Anything else?”

“They also gave me a cup of coffee from one of Israfel’s companies. I’ll need to track him down and ask some questions.”

“You can’t just pop in on him?”

Olivier set his jaw. Sadly, no. I’m not exactly on his white list.”


He handed Ireul the list of names. “Get me details on each of these names and I’ll track them down. The woman on back is most important. Put a trace on her, let me know if she goes near the house. I’ll deal with the Israfel issue later.”

Ireul took the list, looked at both sides and then to Olivier. “You need this for anything else?”


“Fine.” The paper flashed, leaving nothing but ozone. “While I’m tracking down these people, what is your next step?”

Olivier stood. “The Guardian is deteriorating. They can’t maintain much longer. I need to learn their identity before I solve the attack, otherwise we’re likely to lose the girl before I get other answers. I’ll talk to Azer, plumb his annoying esoterica depths for any clues. I’ll also get a lead on Israfel, they’ve been friends for longer than most.” He paused, sighed. “And yes, maybe I’ll vent to him and calm down a little.”

Ireul smirked. “Watch yourself out there. Whatever else you’ve got going on, I fear you’re headed down a path that ends in ruin.” She summoned a keyboard and got to work.

Olivier stepped forward, moving himself from Seattle to a parking lot in New Mexico. The air was bracing. The reprocessed air of the warehouse, artificially warm currents on top of artificially cool ones, was one thing. The desert air was another. Heat baked into the earth radiated up to be met with the less energetic, cold atmosphere. The smells carried a similar depth: brush, dirt, asphalt, a bevy of engine and gasoline odors.

That clash of elements was tame in comparison to the people gathered in the parking lot in which he now stood. A rally was in progress. It brought together the dregs of society, the activists, the hardliners, and the authorities into a simmering, mixed stew. A stage had been erected on the east side of the lot. Union slogans and banners covered the stage. To the north, a machining shop remained silent. Graffiti caked the façade in expletives, slogans, and demeaning caricatures.

The sun was nearly down and the sound of generators kicking on momentarily overwhelmed the blare of music, grandstanding speakers, and shouted chants. Lights flared behind the stage and spotlights lit up the machine shop. A cheer rippled through the crowd as a stencil of an extended middle finger was maneuvered over the entrance.

“They told us to stick it where the sun don’t shine and now we’ve stuck it to them!” the man at the podium roared into a microphone. This was met with a second ripple of cheers. “Fair labor, fares better! Fair labor, fares better!” he chanted. He was young, idealistic, that combination of just enough wealth in his wardrobe to undermine his talking points about the common man and the little guy. The same type of guy seen at these events all over the country and half the world.

He was in the sixth repetition of his chant when he was shoved off the podium by a tall man in his mid-thirties. Lanky but toned. Bare arms showing off intricate tattoos and a button-down shirt under a black vest. Unshaven with long black hair. The newcomer gripped the podium and sized up the crowd before speaking. His eyes were striking, brown with prominent flecks of yellow and red. He rapped the podium hard with his right fist and yanked the mic from the stand. “I see a lot of interests represented here,” his voice layered with smokey husks, “Got the union workers, company suits, boys in blue, the college dropout and college buy-outs, and of course, the bikers.” He paused to allow time for his fellow bikers to rev their engines. Two bikes near the machining shop entrance popped wheelies, traveling in opposite directions to haul a sign up. It came to rest behind the middle finger silhouette. Black foreground on a white background, it transformed the middle finger into a piston. “Union work made America.” He dropped the mic.

More bikers stepped onto the stage. They stood in a ring around the podium, passively denying access to anyone else. The man dropped off the front of the stage, threw up horns and waded through the crowd to the spotlights aimed at the machine shop. He turned back to the crowd, gave them a Bras d’honneur and then smashed the spotlight with his boot.

The crowd erupted, or at least it tried to. The younger people tried to rush the stage or the brash thug but were stopped by a combination of cops and bikers. The union workers stood their ground, cheering as students and punk kids were rounded up.

Olivier moved through the crowd, unnoticed. There were many ways to accomplish such a feat. He could have become ephemeral, intangible, float through the crowd or above them. He could have deleted his presence from their minds or convinced them he was a fleeting memory. Instead, he simply remained unobtrusive, moving where they weren’t and keeping himself from being any specific focus. He arrived on the far side of the mob and greeted the tall instigator. “Never a quiet moment with you, Azer.”

Azer laughed, a hearty, vile chuckle. The kind of laugh you hear when someone has fallen and gotten hurt. “Nice to see you, man. This?” He swept his arm across the mass of bodies struggling against each other in the dark. “This is just a little weekend reading. The union boys hired the bikers to avoid any scab problems with their strike. The suits wanted to get twice the work for half the pay. The kiddos wanted to save the planet by eliminating the work and paying the workers more at the same time. The cops are in the pocket of the suits but also taking threats and kickbacks from the MC. It’s a right mess and I’m all for it!”

Olivier shook his head. “I suspect you also played a key role in each party pushing until it all came to a head?”

Azer laughed again, pointing to the chant leader being pepper sprayed and trussed up by a biker and a cop working together. “That little shit there is the son of the guy who owns the plant. He and daddy haven’t been on speaking terms for a decade, but he’s still owed thirty-six percent of the trust after he graduates. He’ll use that money and this experience to start a company that refurbishes used parts and upcycles landfill into housing. Probably enrich a thousand lives in this city before it’s all over.” He pointed to the podium where the oldest biker was issuing orders over the mic, competing with the bullhorn of a police chief. “Rugger over there needs to hold onto power to keep his upstart lieutenant from going on a petty theft spree that will likely end in some manslaughter.”

Olivier pointed to the factory. “And management?”

“They forked out some campaign cash to a local sheriff and the mayor to get the police presence moving. If this goes on any longer, they lose more money trying to stop the union wage demands than just paying them. Don’t have to manipulate corporate America, you just play the right set of rules.”

Olivier nodded. “Managed to make everything better through violence once again?”

Azer clapped him on the back. “No, no! boss man. I’ve just pointed the violence that was already here towards good ends. The spark didn’t need any help. Just adjusting the fuses to time the right kind of blast.” He laughed again, the same dark, schadenfreude cackle as before. “What brings you this way?”

The pair walked away from the scuffle. Azer lead the way, directing them towards a side door into the machine shop. The sturdy, metal fire exit didn’t have an external handle. This meant little to Azer. He pointed a finger at the jam and made a ‘ch-chack’ noise. The odor of burning metal wafted out and the door blew open from the internal air pressure. “We’ll talk in here. I’ve got one more thing needs doing.”

Azer pushed through the door into the manufacturing floor of the shop. While the outside of the building had seen a lot of activity, the inside hadn’t been used for weeks. No power hummed through the assembly line, the tools sat idle, and dust had accumulated on the workbenches. Azer made his way to a flight of stairs connecting to the observation floor. “You wanna know what they make in this place?”

Olivier shut the door behind him. “Does it perhaps illustrate your point?”

Azer cackled. “Everything illustrates my point, yeah. Over there,” he pointed to the west wing, “they construct parts for harnesses for the US Air Force. Engine trailers, missile slings, all sorts of shit used for maintenance and repair of lethal weapons.” He gestured expansively at the area they were walking through. “Over here they manufacture steel frames for greenhouses, terraces, fire escapes.” He started up the stairs. “Under one roof you have all the tools needed to build or to destroy. To foster growth or curtail it. And out there they’re arguing about how much money people should make. Not what they should build but simply who deserves the most cash.”

Olivier followed along, content to avoid comment. Azer preferred to ask and answer his own questions and it was better to wait for the rant/sermon to conclude than to lengthen it with questions and challenges.

They passed through a doorway into the offices section suspended over the workspace below. “It’s a fitting metaphor, isn’t it?” Azer’s tone always rang with a kind of malevolent pride, a surety bordering on threatening. “The boss and his most loyal money makers sit on high, looking down on those doing the actual work.” The briefest pause. “Not that the workers are any better. They aren’t here to create a better future for anyone but themselves.” He stopped in a cubicle and shoved aside a poster of a ‘hang in there’ kitten. Behind it was a small tear in the fabric of the partition. He reached in and pulled out schematics and sketches drawn on scraps of paper. “Tony here got a promotion six months ago. Went from being a dedicated, but untalented, welder to junior VP of human resources. He was meant to be the bridge between the grunts and the office.”

Azer taped the drawings down on the next desk over. “His promotion was an olive branch. Hard-won in the last round of union negotiations. Management didn’t even need to corrupt him; he came to the position ready to roll over. He stockpiled ideas he was shown by other workers and passed them off as his own. Got his name on a patent or two. Then the workers got wise so he started paying a secondary janitor service to come through and grab things before the real service could shred and burn. Now he pockets the best ideas in his little hidey-hole and takes one in whenever he needs to seem valuable.”

He finished scrawling names on each scrap and turned to Olivier. “In the end, he’s selling out the workers, cheating management, and slowing the advancement of ideas that could reduce costs, improve production, and make better, stronger materials. All because his bank account is the only one that matters.”

Olivier, despite himself, couldn’t help smirking. “That’s the same drum you’ve been beating since we met.”

Azer chuckled, a nasal rumble that rattled the partitions and sent a printer into a fit, spitting out blank sheets onto the floor. “Aint no reason to swap up focus until the one issue gets dealt with. Not my fault it’s central to the human condition. I’m just a guy in a job.”

Olivier nodded. “We either take the path offered or find ourselves tracing a corrupt shadow of it. No other way to go.”

Azer nodded back, mocking the gesture. “You tell yourself that boss-man, and we’ll see if you manage to prove yourself an idiot or a fool.”

Olivier tapped his forehead three times. “I assume you have more to say here. I also want to hear about the last time you saw Israfel and if you can arrange a meet.”

Azer kicked a hole in the manager’s desk, spilling a trove of visas to the floor. “Fine fine, I’ll cut to the chase. The trust fund kid is about to become de facto head when daddy doesn’t quite make it to prison. The sheriff has a lot to answer for in the aftermath of that particular occurrence and is replaced by a dark horse candidate with a view that puts community over kickbacks.” He smashed a wall and pulled a bugged phone cable out of the wall. “Not sure what that will do, only knew it was there.”

“Finally, the union. They…” A twinge of sadness out of the brash man. “They were offered a fair deal in the first round of negotiations. Not every demand, but the ones that matter, the ones that were fair and counted. But union leadership wanted to suppress the deal. Delay, argue, come back in a while and appear to be bigger heroes for securing what they were already offered. Gotta do something to justify the increased share of dues they wanted had already given themselves.” Satisfied with his work, Azer took himself outside. Olivier followed without missing a second.

“This short circuited the production timeline and then management decided to cancel the deal, that forced the strike and here we are.” The parking lot was nearly vacant, save a few trussed protestors waiting for pick up. Cops and bikers shared cigarettes and flasks while the lights of emergency vehicles broke up the post-twilight serenity. “It’s going to be a day before I can get any word to Israfel. Last I spoke to him he was going seriously off-grid. Something about the rhythm of the spheres loosing a discordant tone.”

Olivier pulled the moleskin from his satchel. “I’ve encountered something that fits that description.” He shifted sideways, twenty miles into the surrounding desert.

Azer followed as easily as before. “One of those sorts of things?”

Olivier opened the notebook to the page he’d recorded from Laura. The ground cracked under his feet and Azer blushed with a sudden heat.

“Discordant is right. Was hoping he meant something a shit ton more subtle. I’ll track him down.” Azer stepped backwards out of a circle of glass that had melted around his feet. “You might want to leave that with me. Unless you have a reason to force someone momentarily into their Office.”

Olivier turned to the back of the notebook and tore out two pages. He sandwiched the discordant note between them and handed them over. “I should have picked up on that.”

Azer took the pages. “You aren’t exactly yourself when in Office. All the more reason to keep this out of your hands.”

Olivier smiled, sincerely and purposefully. “I know who I need to speak to next. Thanks for the talk.”

“Fear those that seek confirmation over confrontation. Those are the bastards that drag the chain down a hole,” Azer stated. “That’s rule one, everything else is academic.”

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