Afternoon, May 12, 2017
Coming from the edge of my consciousness, a faint voice:
[Thou shalt not krill]
The organizing soul within me – the kabbalists would have called it the neshamah – awoke, even as my body dozed on the hotel bed.
[Thou shalt not commit idolphintry] I answered, but I knew deep down it was a second-rate attempt.
[Weak,] said Ana. [Where are you? Are you safe? Are you okay?]
[I spent the morning kayaking with a pretty girl, and then she invited me back to her hotel room and handcuffed me to the bed.]
[Really?] asked Ana.
I opened my eyes, taking care not to break the hypnopompic trance that smoothed the telepathic link between us. The clock told me it was early afternoon. Jane was nowhere to be found. I still had a gag in my mouth to prevent me from speaking any Names, and I still had my hands cuffed to the bedposts to prevent me from taking off the gag. I’d asked Jane why she carried a gag and handcuffs with her in her luggage, and she hadn’t answered. Too rushed to restrain me so that she could run out and search for her precious Beanie Baby.
[Really,] I said, and sent Ana my memories of that morning. Speaking the Vanishing Name right under Malia Ngo’s watchful eyes. Escaping the Strategic Angel Reserve with Jane. The frantic search for her missing Beanie Baby, no amount of pleading inducing her to offer an explanation. Then her restraining me so she could expand the search to the rest of the city. [And you! What happened to you? You were with me in UNSONG! And then you learned a Name! Where are you? Are you safe? Where is Erica?]
[I’m on a boat,] she said. [I haven’t seen Erica, but she’s not dead. The link from the partial marriage ceremony would have told me that, I think. I keep trying to telepathically ping her, but I’ve never been able to feel her as strong as you.] Then she sent me her own memories. Sarah appearing mysteriously in her hotel room. San Francisco. The Comet King’s ship.
[So you don’t have the computer?]
Everything I’d been doing up until now had been predicated on Ana having Sarah. If Ana had Sarah, the plan was still intact. She would become mighty. She would rescue me. We would be rich and important. If Ana didn’t have Sarah, then the error correction was our only hope. Otherwise, I’d be back to being nobody. The thought was somehow worse than being a fugitive, worse than being cuffed to a bed. I could take a lot if I was somebody. The thought of falling back into my cog-in-the-machine status filled me with dread.
Ana felt my worries. [As soon as we reach a friendly port,] she said, [I’ll find the error correction books. Or if I can get in contact with Erica, I’ll try to get her to read them and send us the information we need.]
I sent her a burst of grateful encouragement.
[In the meantime,] she asked [do you need rescuing?]
Jane didn’t seem evil in the same way as Ngo. And Colorado was a good place. But the handcuffs on my wrists reminded me that she probably didn’t have my best interests at heart either. And exactly because Colorado was a good place, it was the sort of place that she would reassure me we were going, even if she worked for the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire or somewhere further afield. I noticed that she had told me we were going back to the Biltmore to meet her transportation back to Colorado, then left on her search without expressing any worries that she might miss said transportation. Jane didn’t seem evil, exactly, but she was suspicious, secretive, and maybe crazy.
[I think I might,] I said.
[Then when we reach our next port, I’ll get off and try to find you. I don’t think these people will try to stop me. They seem nice.] I felt no fear in her mind. Yes, Ana had the Spectral Name and potentially the element of surprise. That was a pretty deadly combination. But still. No fear. I sent her a burst of positive emotion. [One more thing,] she added, and she sent me the Airwalker and Zephyr Names.
[Who do you think got the computer and gave those to you?]
[Honestly?] asked Ana. [God.]
[You think God directly intervened in the universe to help you and your friend when they were in trouble? Don’t they warn you against that kind of thing in Theodicy 101?]
I didn’t get to hear her answer. The jingling noise of a key turned in the lock.
[Jane’s coming back,] I said. [You tell your mysterious billionaire sailor friends to keep you safe.]
[You tell your psychotic spy girl friend to keep her hands off you,] she thought back. [You’re already kabbalistically married!]
I sent her a burst of the most positive emotions I could manage just as Jane flung open the door and turned on the light, breaking my trance. I startled fully awake.
Jane looked a little sweatier and dirtier, but the permanent scowl on her face had only deepened.
“I got you some food,” she said, putting a bag of McDonald’s on the counter, “and some clean clothes. Get dressed. We’re going to Las Vegas.”
“Las Vegas?” I asked, after she had taken the gag off.
“The manager doesn’t know who took my dragon. The cleaning staff all say they didn’t take it. No toy store in the whole city has a replacement. But they all say there’s a big specialty store in Las Vegas that will. So we’re going to go to Vegas. Get dressed.” She unlocked the cuffs.
Jane was nothing if not efficient. Less than five minutes later, we were on our way out. I grabbed the bag of food and a bottle of Apple-Ade from the mini-bar.
She glanced at me as I took the drink, but said nothing. Which was just as well, considering.
“Jane,” I had asked her very gingerly, earlier that morning, as she was nearly tearing the room into pieces, “what do you need seven toy dragons for?”
She’d rounded on me. “You shut up!” she snapped. “You know too much already! If you hadn’t screwed everything up on the Angel Reserve we wouldn’t be in this mess! Mind your own business!”
Then she went back to searching like a madwoman. She went into the other room of the suite, and I could hear her opening and slamming the colors.
I walked over to the dresser, looked at the six purple dragons inside. I was no expert on Beanie Babies, but they looked pretty normal. I shook one. It felt like there were regular beans inside. Very carefully, I squeezed it. Nothing happened.
Behind the dresser I saw a glint of purple.
The seventh Beanie Baby had fallen through the back of the drawer, and was wedged in between the dresser and the wall. I reached my arm in and grabbed.
“Jane!” I called.
From the other room, again, her voice. “Shut up! I swear by the Most High, if I have to tell you to shut up one more time, I will burn your tongue out. You think this is funny? Just. Shut. Up!”
Then more slamming.
Atop the dresser was a mini bar; in the mini bar was a plastic bottle of Apple-Ade tinted an almost opaque green. I poured the Apple-Ade down the sink, stuffed the seventh Beanie Baby into the bottle, then put it back on to the bar.
Why had I done it? I wasn’t sure, now. I was being treated like an infant. And I was being kept in the dark. I hate being treated like an infant and kept in the dark. I was sick of reacting; I wanted to act.
But the more I thought about it, the more I approved of my previous choice. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something terrible would happen when she got that seventh Beanie Baby, that it would complete whatever arcane plan needed a book from the angels’ own library, that there would be something very final about her getting it.
And now we were going to Vegas. A dark place, to be sure, but not Jane’s place and not on her terms. If Ana was coming to rescue me, I’d rather Jane be off searching for a Beanie Baby in Vegas than doing whatever she would be doing when things started going her way.