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The Bulgarian ambassador is found eviscerated in his London quarters, and Major Sonja Slade of the Prussian Army searches for his killer while trying to forget her own ties to the dead man.

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Wednesday
Aug282013

Week 31

Kitty, The Cub Reporter

The strange, hairless man stroked my back for a while. I lay in a useless lump like a pile of filthy rags. I quivered and sniveled and felt very, very sorry for myself.

But such misery can't last forever. When I drew myself up, the man — my teacher — gave me a glass of cool water. I took a sip before stopping to think if it might be poison, but after I thought of it, I drained the glass. Maybe poison would be a change in the right direction.

After a while, and against my best intentions, I felt a little better.

The man motioned for me to sit in the circle. I did so without a fuss. Once positioned, he handed me a flip book labeled "Exercises for Beginners," with tattered and blood-smeared pages. The words inside were written on it in plain block type, very straightforward and businesslike. I couldn't make out their meaning, but it seemed filled with guttural sounds — it must be in a Slavic language, I thought.

He touched the words on the first page, and then he touched my mouth.

"You want me to say it out loud?" I asked. My voice sounded flat.

He nodded, smiling, and gave me a kind pat on the knee.

I began to read in my dull voice. The words weren't as strange and foreign as I had thought; as I read, the shape and cadence of them were familiar, but I couldn't quite place why or how.

My teacher nodded his approval and turned to another page. I read that one as well. He looked around, rubbing his fingers across his pate. The corners of his mouth turned down, just a little. It made him look like a particularly stern bulldog I had once seen.

He took the book from me and flipped through several pages, scrutinizing each one and rejecting it. Eventually, he found a page somewhere toward the end of the book and gave it to me to read again.

I sighed and started to read.

I knew this, I knew it, but — wait, there it was wrong. The words on the page were wrong, just slightly wrong, but I knew what it should say instead. I paused and frowned — how could I know?

Memory came flooding back: I was in pigtails and a pinafore, nestled into my father's chest, and he was teaching me a song. "It's a special nursery rhyme," he said, "from the country where your grandmother was born. Don't tell your mother, but these are secret magic words. If you are ever, ever in trouble, say them and I'll come find you and keep you safe." We said the words together, again and again, until I knew them by heart.

I stopped reading from the book. I said the words my father had given me.

As I spoke, the light in the room changed. It shifted and brightened. The walls became transparent. A look of sheer horror dawned on the man's face; he snatched the book from my fingers, but it didn't matter. I knew the words, I knew the song, I sang them. I don't think I could have stopped even had I wanted to.

And then I was as big as the sky, and I could see forever.

There were nexes of power surging all around the edges of Midway, like the tide. They were blind and starving, and I could hear them muttering to one another. They were speaking my father's name. I knew they were looking for me, and wondered why they could not see me.

Somewhere, far away, a very small, angry woman rushed into a classroom where a hairless man sat, terrified, watching a girl. The girl was familiar —

I looked beyond the man and the woman in the girl in the classroom, beyond the powers prowling just outside Midway, and toward the east, where the sun burned on the horizon.

—No, not the sun, but another power, and a — a ship, I saw. There was a name on its prow. I bent to read it: Lassere.

Somewhere, far away, I heard a voice. "What has she done?" demanded the small, angry woman.

My mouth shaped the word, Lassere. And then, just like speaking it, I was there on the ship. There was an Englishman here — dark-haired, soft of face, rumpled and in desperate need of a shave. He ran clean through me as though I were a ghost. I gasped at the shock of it.

The bright power was here, too. It was a ravening beast, all whiptails and oil and unbridled horror. As I watched, it took a sailor by the neck and tore it in half. It raised its shining maw and tasted the air. It slithered toward me.

I screamed and closed my eyes. Words escaped my mouth: "Help me."

And then I heard my father's voice in my bones, deep and warm and sad. "Not that one, not yet," he said. "Someone else can help you. Find him. His name is Hausmann." I had a brief glimpse of of an unmemorable face, but that didn't matter. My father's voice faded to nothing, replaced by a thrumming sense of where this Hausmann was, where I would find him.

Somewhere, far away, there was a woman and a man and the familiar girl in a room. I collapsed into her with something like relief, becoming something infinitely smaller than myself. The nexes of power vanished, the Lassere was gone; only a vague sense of Hausmann remained.

The Lieutenant's voice was grim. "She'll be punished for this," she said. She kicked me in the ribs. "If her damn father weren't dead, after this I'd kill him with my own hands."

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