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    I blinked. Scott had said something along those lines recently. It worried me a bit that she hadn't said anything about how we shouldn't have a budget at all yet.
    "The irony of a corruption within our own police bureaucracy being masterminded by the organized crime cartels within Boston is something that makes my blood boil. And therefore steps need to be taken NOW." Another pause. "I can't help but notice," she turned toward me, "that Needle of the Revolution is here. Needle, how are you?"
    "I'm doing quite well today, Holly, how are you?" Our tones were close to identical—cordial, even cheerful, yet somehow not hiding how little use we have for each other.
    "Just fine. You're here overseeing this weapon's last days within our community?"
    "Yes, I am."
    "Tell me, do you think that the security that it's been kept under is sufficient for a weapon of this magnitude?"
    "I'm sure the police are doing everything they can on that ground. We've been keeping an eye on it, too." I stuck to my tactic of being as vague as possible in anything I said to her. Hell no, I wasn't happy about how it had just been stuck here, but I wasn't about to tell her that.
    "And I'm sure the people of Boston are happy to hear that," she replied smoothly, her eyes icy. "However, hopefully, in the future, more trained eyes will be on these weapons and their wielders." She turned back to Mike while I was contemplating her failure to deliver a follow-up attack with some bemusement. "We can keep that bit, I'd like to go back and go over it. How much longer are you going to be here?" she asked me.
    I considered getting away from her while I could. "Just until they take it away."
    "And how much longer is that?"
    I checked my watch. "About four minutes."
    "Could you back out of the shot again? I want to go through this again."
    "Sure," I said hesitantly. Maybe someone finally convinced her to see someone who wrote her out a prescription for Prozac? The second shot turned out to be better, since they were pulling the truck away as she finished her speech.
    "Okay, good, we're set," she announced when done. "All right, Mike, thanks for everything. Needle," she gave me a cool nod. "I'll see you later."
    Mike packed up as she retired to the van. "Thanks for helping out with the shot, and everything," he told me.
    "Anytime." Anytime, that is, I can't avoid it.
    "So, what were the names of the guys in the chopper?"
    "PITS. The Rhode Island guys. Can't remember what it stands for. They're professionals," I assured him, since he looked a bit worried.
    "Do you... expect anything to happen?"
    "Yes," I replied baldly. That truck has 3,000 miles to travel, and its existence is far from secret.
    "All right. I won't tell Holly that," he added.

[Aside: Aboard the Black Helicopter]

September 11, 1987

[Aside: Thunderbolt]

Thunderbolt banged on my door in his boxer shorts at about five o'clock this morning.
    "What?" I mumbled.
    "We just had a little visitor."
    I cursed, got up and threw on my robe. Newton, naturally, assumed this meant he was getting breakfast and nearly tripped me on my way to the door as he rubbed around my feet. "Who was it, what's going on?"
    "Our old friend Mr. Ketch."
    It took me a moment to place the name. "Oh. Shit."
    "He was apparently looking for Lucky, and found me instead."
    "That would make sense; they didn't get along very well." And Thunderbolt has her old room now, too. "Did he just disappear?"
    "He knocked me unconscious first."
    Damn. "How long ago was this?"
    "Between five minutes and a half hour. He could still be here, he could be long gone."
    We did a rapid search and found nothing, but that didn't come as a surprise, given who we were dealing with.
    He has to be in town for a reason, and he probably isn't alone; Thunderbolt says that Mind Lazer doesn't give him a very long leash. There are about twenty-five in the League, half and half divided between the scary folks like Kymrik and lesser threats such as Midas, all of them working toward Mind Lazer's goal of destroying the ruling families of Europe and bringing the continent under a common flag in order to make it a true superpower. I tried to call Reilly, but he wasn't in yet, then made some coffee while Thunderbolt tried to find out what the League could want with Boston right now. He's probably used to getting up at the crack of dawn to go run twenty miles or do a thousand pushups or something; I inhaled coffee and read the computer screen over his shoulder for a while.
    There's no one in town that they'd want to kill, as far as we know. There had been a visit planned by members of the English royal family, but that got cancelled due to an illness. That means they probably plan to steal something. Mind Lazer's technology is good, about thirty years ahead of the rest of us, but they do at times find other peoples' designs useful. There are people in this country who sympathize with them. One of those is Cornelius Mort.
    Yes, that Mr. Mort. I groaned, and told Thunderbolt the story. (See Issue 17, Iron Butterflies.)
    "This could be delicate, huh?" he said when I was done.
    "Good luck," I wished him cheerily. No way the man would let me into the house after what happened last time.
    I called Reilly and let him know that the League was back in town (although he missed their first visit, while he was away in Chicago), and they should keep their eyes open for anything that seemed at all out of the ordinary, up to and including Kymrik carving up pedestrians downtown. He was less than thrilled, but so am I.
    Assuming they have a theft in mind, there are two possible targets that we can think of: Silverblood, and the Egyptian technology over on Mariner Island, which was due to get moved over to the Museum of Fine Arts today. (For once, probably not the gene sequencer, and Sleipnir is somewhere around Illinois at the moment.) Since we had no idea where Silverblood might be, I headed over to warn J.T. and company that there might be a more serious brand of trouble on the way than that posed by Manta Master. I found the boss running laps around the island with twenty-pound weights strapped to his arms and legs.
    "That's not safe, you can hurt yourself doing that," I noted. "Bad for the joints."
    "I could hurt myself not doing this," he returned, not noticeably out of breath. "How do you think a man my age manages to pick up and throw barrels around?"
    "I've been wondering about that, actually."
    "Did you need to borrow some orange juice?" he asked.
    "No, we wanted to let you know that the League of Nations is in town, and might be after your equipment."
    He stopped, shed the weights, which crashed to the ground.
    "I figured I'd just hang out and make sure that it gets to where it's going safely."
    "I'd appreciate that," he nodded. "Do they have any other possible targets?"
    "One, but we have no idea where it is." Don Vincent has been keeping his head down. Unless that's him tapping our budget—assuming Holly and Scott (and who'd have though I'd ever put those two in a sentence that way) are correct about that happening. I'm sure it would amuse him to no end to do it.
    "So, if explosions start happening, we can go there and check it out?"
    "Yeah." I don't like the approach much, but our resources are limited.
    "Why don't you come in while I get the men together." We headed for the main building. "League of Nations, hm? Can't say we've ever tangled with them." He cracked his knuckles.
    I gave him a look that said, you're good and all, but... I'm sure there are some members of the League he'd do just fine against, but in the main my money'd be on them. He apparently took exception to it.
    "Is this going to be one of those lectures about how we can't fight variants on our own?"
    "Heavens, no." For one thing, he might take it into his head to demonstrate on me, and no matter how that turned out it wouldn't be good. Scott would never speak to me again.
    He walked over to the intercom. "Attention, Windjammers, we have a potential variant threat. That's right, a potential variant threat. Get your butts out of bed, we're having a fun day!"

[Aside: Thunderbolt]

    Thunderbolt showed up when we were about three quarters of the way to the museum. I'd spent most of the day so far in a state of high alert, and nothing had happened. People crowded around, made curious by all the security around the two trucks of artifacts. One of them wanted to know who this "Witchfire chick" was; I ignored him, scanning for auras of intangible people and anyone else who might be a threat.

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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson