Listen, my children, I’ve a tale to tell
Of wishing on pennies in deep wishing wells,
Of sticks and stones and ice cream cones
And tolling Cathedral bells.
— From An Ode to Childhood, by Annalise Phenix
[Koishikawa Korakuen Garden, Tokyo, Japan — Marie]
Marie knew the willow-green dress was wrong the moment she saw the blood-red bridge. She stepped to her left, off the path, and vanished into the overhanging willow branches. Thomas was an idiot if he thought that bridge was a good location for a swap.
Too open. She’d make an easy target.
Fear would get her killed.
Opening a mental closet, she shoved the terror beast inside and slammed the door, bolting the lock. Mentally, she went through the steps for cleaning and loading her gun, allowing the familiar rite to calm her. She repeated the exercise until her psionic abilities were under control.
She searched the surrounding area mentally. Lots of people. That could be good.
When the contact changed the meeting place from the Full Moon Bridge to the Tsutenkyo she hadn’t realized how utterly void of cover she would be. Short of diving head-first into the rocks below, the only way on or off that bridge was exposed.
A bullet-proof vest would be good right about now. Wouldn’t draw much more attention. Oceans of green in this garden, and the contact picks a red bridge.
So much for being invisible.
A couple strolled the path only a foot from her, their minds too full of each other to notice anything. A woman crossed the bridge pushing a baby carriage and Marie smelled the faint scent of jasmine that always reminded her of Dana. A group of school children explored the distant rice paddy. Her contact was just entering the garden.
There was a threat, but she couldn’t get the direction. Perhaps it was just her own fear echoing back at her. She didn’t want to get in a shoot out around this many people.
Time to move. She had to be in place before the contact arrived.
Standing on the bridge, feeding the fish in the pond far below, she sensed the focused attention of those nearby. Their minds echoed with images of how picturesque she looked. She resisted the urge to hunch over the rail to make a smaller target.
Despite the tingling along her left temple, she couldn’t find the threat. Of course, if the shooter were a psi-nil, he’d be imperceptible.
She followed her contact’s movements through the traditional Japanese garden, could see him in her mind as clearly as the swarming koi below. She sprinkled the last grains from a small paper sack onto the silent sea of hungry mouths just as the well-dressed man moved to stand at her shoulder. He was a hyped-up ball of nerves, his head springing from side to side, watching for any sign of attack.
He spoke the right code phrase, an inconsequential greeting in Japanese. His voice was low, soft, his tone even and respectful, but his thoughts were clouded, paranoid.
She crumpled her empty sack.
The contact bowed and traded his full bag for hers before dashing away down the steep slope.
She pocketed the bag and strolled down the opposite side of the bridge. Her right hand slipped into the false pocket she’d sewn in her skirt. Her fingertips brushed the textured grip of the gun she wore strapped to her thigh.
She tasted the moist air in an attempt to expand her range, locate whoever was targeting her. Jasmine again, and to her right, a psionic emptiness.
Marie heard someone scream her name inside her head. She knew the voice, knew the terror.
And she knew Dana’s scream came from the other side of the planet.
Time slowed. With a practiced motion, she whirled, ducked and came up, gun in hand, her eyes locating the attacker’s weapon just as the blinding flash exploded.
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