‘Godwin's Law’, Curtis C. Chen

Illustrations © 2015 Miguel Santos

 [ Agents, © 2015, Miguel Santos ] “Welcome back, Professor Kawasaki,” said the gargoyle as Michael stepped through the security gate. He nodded at the creature, not meeting its bottomless gaze, and retrieved his keys from the stone dish in its claws.

Michael walked to the memorial wall. The flags were as he remembered—USA on the left, CIA on the right—but the field of black stars floating above the white marble had multiplied since the last time he’d seen it. He now counted more than a hundred stars, each one representing a Company employee who had died in the line of service.

He stepped closer and looked at the Book of Honor, framed in steel and glass below the starfield. Less than half the gold sigils painted in the book’s pages had names written next to them, either in English or Runic.

Is your name in here, Linda? Are you one of these stars?

“Michael,” said a gravelly voice behind him.

Robert Denford didn’t look like he’d aged a single day since Michael left the Company. The two men shook hands coolly.

“How’ve you been?” Denford asked.

Michael glanced back at the wall. “You said it was a matter of historic importance. That’s the only reason I’m here.”

“Let’s go to the archives.”

Michael followed Denford into an elevator. Denford pushed a button.

“I hear you made deputy director,” Michael said as the doors closed.

Denford shrugged. “War is good for business.”

Before the elevator reached the basement, Denford pulled out his access talisman and opened a portal in the back wall. He and Michael stepped through the glowing circle and into a dim cave. There was no way to tell where this archive was; CIA had secret underground caches all over the world.

The two men walked down a long aisle of bookshelves that looked as if they had grown right out of the rough-hewn rock walls. Michael watched Denford pull one shelf out from the wall and unfold it into an impossibly large space. They stepped inside, and Denford parted another set of shelves.

Michael saw labels reading MIDWAY and MARSHALL ISLANDS on his way into a closet walled by what looked like multicolored curtains, but were actually floor-to-ceiling file volumes. He looked around in awe. The Company hadn’t used curtain files since—

“World War Two?” Michael asked.

Denford tugged a cloth line, and the material poured into his hand and became a hardbound book. “This is why we’re here.”

Michael read the book cover. “Hitler’s daughter. You’re joking, right?”

“The old man wants complete discretion. That’s why I called you.”

“I’m retired,” Michael said. “You can get someone more expert to tell you, authoritatively, that this is a crock. Something the Third Reich made up to scare the Allies as a last resort.”

“So you’ve heard the stories.”

“Yeah. Nazis raping Jewish and Romani prisoners, trying to breed supernatural talents into the master race. It didn’t work.”

Denford reached into his jacket and pulled out a modern file folder, bordered in red-and-white eyes-only logograms. The symbols shifted and moved over the paper. “There’s evidence that it did.”

“If you actually had convincing proof, you’d be talking to the JIC.”

“You’re right,” Denford said. “It’s promising, but not convincing. We need someone to run it down. Quietly. The old man trusts you.”

“And no one would suspect an elderly college professor.”

Denford smiled. “Everybody fights.”

Michael took the file. “Nobody wins.”

He opened the folder and was surprised to see a black-and-white photograph of some kind of protest rally, with one woman’s face highlighted in a red circle. Under that were photocopied pages from an FBI surveillance file. “Emily Watanabe?”

“Half German, half Japanese,” Denford said. “She’s probably got a different name now. Ran with violent radicals back in the day. Still wanted in connection with several domestic terrorism incidents.”

“So she’s an Axis super-baby?”

“Not exactly. You know about Operation Wechselbalg?”

Michael frowned. “I don’t speak German.”

“It means ‘changeling.’” Denford tapped the book he was holding. “Hirohito wouldn’t donate any women for medical experiments, so the Krauts started copying them on the sly. Diplomats’ wives, Generals’ geishas, duplicated using thaumaturgy and then impregnated by German soldiers—”

“Yeah, I’ve read the briefs. But those doppelgängers never lived long enough to give birth,” Michael said. “And even if they had, how would one of those children end up in a civil rights march at UCLA?”

“There is evidence,” Denford said slowly, as if choosing his words carefully, “that certain Germans eluded capture at the end of the war. We’re still looking for some of them today.”

“Right.” Michael shook his head. “Godwin’s Law. Mention Hitler and you get funding.”

“We recovered documentation from a dig site near Auschwitz. The records indicate the Nazis moved people through portals, out of Europe, before the Allies rolled in. Some of those people were children. And some of them ended up in America.”

“The records have been authenticated?”

Denford nodded. “By sensers from three different agencies. If you still had security clearance, I’d offer to let you touch the pages yourself. But you might not want to. One of them’s signed by Mengele.”

Michael shuddered. “Why wouldn’t they have just killed the children? Why send them away?”

“If you were babysitting Der Fuhrer’s daughter, what would you do?”

“Fair point.”

“We’ve already cross-referenced with US adoption and medical records.” Denford pointed at the file folder. “Emily Watanabe is a changeling. We need to know what kind of power she might possess. The old man’s retiring soon, and he wants to tie up some loose ends.”

“Go out on a win, you mean,” Michael said. “So what do I get out of it?”

“We’re prepared to double your pension—”

“I don’t care about money.” Michael swallowed the lump in his throat. “You know what I want, Robbie.”

Denford folded his arms. “I can get you a meeting with the old man, but it’s up to him whether you get the information.”

“Fine. Get me the meeting.”

“After you find the woman.”

“I’ll find her.” Michael opened the folder again. “She’d be in her sixties now?”

“Yes. You’ll find a computer-aged photo in there.”

“You don’t have anything more recent than—” Michael read the caption on the protest photo. “1970? She’s been off the grid for forty years?”

“Can’t blame her. Read the FBI file.”

Michael blew out a breath and closed the folder. “This might take a while.”

“That’s why the old man wanted his Bloodhound.” Denford pressed the book against the wall, where it became a line of cloth again, and gestured toward the exit. “Two more things. One, you’re authorized to use Transit—”

Michael stopped in mid-stride. “You’re giving me a stone?”

“No. That’s the second thing. We’re issuing you a gargoyle.”

Michael climbed out of the Metro Rail station drenched in sweat. He had entered the Transit portal dressed for winter in Virginia, not sunny California. He pulled off his scarf and overcoat and tried not to think about how much his magical shortcut had just cost the taxpayers.

“Keep up, Rocky,” he called over his shoulder.

The gargoyle followed Michael up the steps, wearing the glamour of a thin young academic. “Perhaps you could call me by a less conspicuous name, Professor.”

“Relax. That illusion could withstand a nuclear blast.” It was true; even Michael had to focus hard to sense through the Company’s concealment spell. “You can drive a stick, right?”

After picking up the rental car, their first stop was a small cottage in Canoga Park. The little old lady who answered the door had a face like a dried apple and a thatch of gray hair covering her forehead. She reminded Michael of his late grandmother, right down to the two cats always swarming around her feet.

Michael bowed and said, “Gomen kudasai, Fujita-san.”

“Irasshaimasse,” Mrs. Fujita replied.

Michael handed her a business card. “I’m Professor Michael Kawasaki, and this is my research assistant, Rocky.”

“Hello,” said the gargoyle. He had stooped down to pet a black-and-white cat who had been sunning himself on the porch.

“We’re conducting a research project on mid-twentieth-century Japanese-American genealogy,” Michael continued.

“Columbia University,” Mrs. Fujita said, reading his business card. “You’re a long way from home.”

“We received a very generous grant. May we ask you a few questions?”

“Of course. Please, come in.”

He had been hoping that she’d offer to shake his hand before inviting them in, but Mrs. Fujita deftly avoided all physical contact for several hours, despite serving Michael and Rocky a multi-course tea of various biscuits, crackers, and cookies. Michael had to use one of the fake questionnaires prepared by the Company and sit through all of Mrs. Fujita’s long-winded answers. He got some signals off her photo albums, but they weren’t enough.

She finally shook Michael’s hand as she was saying goodbye to him and Rocky. Michael concentrated while his fingertips touched her skin, searching out any memories which might link to Emily Watanabe. It took more effort than he remembered to make contact. He felt lightheaded as he walked back to the car.

“Are you well, Professor?” Rocky asked.

“I hope these interviews don’t all take that long.” Michael opened the glovebox and pulled out a spiral-bound report. “I’d like to finish this op before I die of old age.”

He said it to Rocky’s face, but he wasn’t saying it to Rocky. All the Company’s gargoyles were linked—what one saw, the others also saw—and Michael was sure Denford had another stone sentry back at Langley recording everything that Michael was doing.

He closed his eyes and ran his thumb across the edge of the report, flipping the pages slowly. It had been a long time since he’d done this kind of paper-scrying, and he wasn’t sure he still had the knack. But he was not going to venture back into Mrs. Fujita’s house. He’d pick the next name at random if he had to.

A sharp sensation in the tip of his thumb, halfway between an electric shock and a pinprick, told him he hadn’t lost his gift. Michael opened the book where his thumb had stopped, took the hand which had touched Mrs. Fujita, and moved it down the list of names until his fingertips pulsed.

“Suzume Miyahara,” he read. “If she has cats, I’m faking an allergy.”

Mrs. Miyahara did have cats, but she did not invite Michael and Rocky into her house. She seemed deeply suspicious of everything.

“What kind of research project, did you say?” she asked, her eyes narrowing behind her screen door.

“Genealogy,” Michael said. “Our records indicate you were born at Manzanar in 1942—”

“Whose records?”

Michael struggled to keep smiling. “The university has access to federal documents from the World War Two era,” he said. “I believe there was a Freedom of Information Act request involved. Isn’t that right, Rocky?”

“Yes, Professor,” said the gargoyle. He had found another cat in the driveway to befriend.

“Well,” Mrs. Miyahara huffed, “I was only three years old when they closed down that terrible place. I really don’t remember very much about it, thank goodness.”

“Do you remember a girl named Emily Watanabe? She would have been born about the same time you were, in the camp.”

“Why do you want to know about Emily?”

Michael felt a surge of optimism. “So you did know her.”

“She disappeared. Many years ago,” Mrs. Miyahara said. “After all those bombings downtown. Probably she ran away.” She peered at Michael. “Who did you say you are?”

Michael offered a business card. Mrs. Miyahara opened the screen door a fraction of an inch to snatch the card. Her finger brushed against Michael’s for only a split second, but it was enough for him to get a read.

“Professor,” Rocky said as he drove them to the next address, “I have a question.”

“Can this wait, Denford?” Michael said.

“I am not relaying a question, Professor,” Rocky said. “I wish to ask you a question.”

“Oh.” Michael wondered if gargoyles could be offended. “Go ahead.”

“How confident are you that Emily Watanabe is still living in the greater Los Angeles area?” Rocky asked. “It would seem reasonable for a fugitive to relocate as far as possible from the scene of her crimes.”

“These are her people,” Michael said.

“I do not understand.”

“How much do you know about the Japanese-American internment camps?”

“After the attack on Pearl Harbor, individuals of Japanese descent on the west coast of the United States were relocated to detainment facilities for several years.”

Michael shook his head. “No. That’s the encyclopedia entry.” He felt a piece of Mrs. Miyahara’s memory fluttering against his consciousness. “Most of these people were American citizens, and they were forced from their homes and sent to prison camps. They lost their jobs, they lost their property; many of them didn’t have homes to return to when the war ended.”

Rocky merged onto the freeway. “It is supremely regrettable, Professor. But I do not see how this is relevant to ascertaining Emily Watanabe’s current whereabouts.”

“She grew up in a country which incarcerated her parents without due process and dropped two atomic bombs on her ancestors’ homeland,” Michael said. “She’s not going to trust anyone except her own people to hide her.”

After a pause, Rocky said, “I understand.”

Their next interviewee was Kenji Sato, and the only thing he wanted to talk about was baseball, especially after he learned Michael was from New York. Rocky, distracted by an orange cat who curled up in his lap, was completely oblivious to Michael’s non-verbal cries for help. It took nearly two hours for Michael to extricate himself and Rocky.

Things went on like that for another two days. Michael had expected this to take a while; if the FBI hadn’t been able to track down Emily Watanabe for forty years, he didn’t expect he’d be able to do it overnight, working alone.

The internment camps seemed to be the common thread linking Emily Watanabe to all these people. They hadn’t all been at the same locations, but they had all been imprisoned and treated as less than human for years. That shared experience had bonded them together.

I could have been in one of those camps, Michael thought as Rocky drove down yet another freeway at sunset on the third day. Grandpa could have taken that job in San Francisco, moved the family out west, and we could have all ended up at Manzanar…

With Hitler’s daughter. He chuckled. It still seemed completely absurd.

Michael reminded himself why he was here at all. He didn’t care who this woman was; he just needed to collect the bargaining chip to use as leverage against the old man. So Michael could have a chance to learn the secret over which he’d resigned from the Company.

Where are you, Linda?

“We have arrived, Professor,” Rocky said.

Michael blinked and looked around. They were in yet another southern California suburb, full of single-story houses, manicured lawns, and palm trees towering above the street.

And another black-and-white cat on the sidewalk.

Michael sat up in his seat. “We’ve seen that cat before.”

Rocky looked over. “Many cats have similar appearances.”

“No.” Michael opened his door and stepped out. The cat blinked at him. “I recognize its stripes. That’s the same cat we saw at Mrs. Fujita’s house. What’s it doing on the other side of the Valley?”

He knelt down and stretched out a hand. “Here, kitty. Good kitty?”

The cat blinked again. Michael wondered for a moment if it might be a bakeneko, but you’d have to be crazy to keep one of those monsters as a pet—or even allow it within the city limits. This was definitely the same cat he’d seen two days earlier, though.

Michael concentrated on sensing the animal’s true form, peering through any supernatural layers that might be disguising its true appearance. He had been one of the best sensers in the Company, in his time. It helped that most people still thought the ability was unusual for people of East Asian descent. They didn’t expect him to have the sense; it was more likely that a Nikkei would be a shaper or—

The image of the cat rippled, and for an instant, Michael saw the face of a woman with dark eyes, framed by billows of long, black hair.

The cat yowled, leapt, and broke into a run across the street.

“Hey!” Michael jumped up and ran after the cat. She slipped into the long shadows of sunset, but now that Michael had seen through to her true face, he could follow the trail of her aura with no problem.

He ran to the end of the block, turned right, and stepped on something hard and slick. His foot flew out from underneath him, and he landed hard on his backside and elbow. The impact—and pain—vibrated through his bones.

Michael cursed silently, teeth clenched and eyes watering. I’m way too old for this crap.

Rocky ran up, knelt down behind Michael, and put a hand on the side of his neck. “Professor! Are you injured?”

Michael wiped the tears from his eyes and peered down at his own aura. He saw scarlet lines of pain shooting through his torso, but none of the yellow-white starbursts that would indicate broken bones. “No. I’m fine. Just had the wind knocked out of me.” He sat up and took a few deep breaths. “What the hell did I slip on?”

Rocky placed his hands on the sidewalk. Michael saw something flat and round glinting in the sunlight. “It appears to be ice.”

“Ice?” Michael crawled forward, not yet ready to attempt standing, and ran his fingers over the translucent disk. It felt cold to the touch, and his fingers came away wet. “It’s sunny and seventy-five degrees out here. Where the hell did a patch of ice come from?”

“Perhaps it is supernatural in origin,” Rocky said. “Did you sense something unusual in the cat?”

“Yeah. That was not a cat. That was a human, a shaper. If it was the same person we saw at Mrs. Fujita’s house—and if she’s got a rainmaker friend hiding around here—” Michael looked around. The cat’s aura trail had already faded, but a rainmaker’s area effect might show as residual mist or steam. He saw nothing. “There’s something weird going on.”

“Should we continue with our interviews?”

Michael tried to stand up, but his right leg refused to cooperate. “Let’s start again tomorrow. Help me up.”

There was no sign of the black-and-white cat when they returned the next morning. Michael looked around carefully before approaching the house and ringing the doorbell.

The interview started as all the others had. Jezebel Arai answered the door, Michael introduced himself, she invited him inside without a handshake, he walked through his fake genealogy questionnaire while searching for an opening to touch his fingertips to her skin. Halfway through his first survey page, a middle-aged Japanese man walked out of the kitchen.

“Hey, Ma—” He stopped and bowed. “Sorry, I didn’t know you had company.”

Jezebel introduced Michael, then said, “This is my son, Ichiro.”

Ichiro frowned at Michael. “Is everything okay?”

Michael knew he was staring. He had seen something surrounding Ichiro the moment he walked into the room. There was a ripple outlining his body, almost certainly a glamour, and if Michael concentrated, he would be able to sense through it and see—

“Your aura,” Michael said. “It’s very distinctive. I’ve seen it before.” Yesterday, in the shape of a cat.

Ichiro took a step back. “Excuse me?”

Michael stood up, and so did Rocky. “It’s hereditary, you know. Like so many other things—”

Ichiro turned and ran back into the kitchen.

“Rocky!” Michael shouted. The gargoyle leapt over the coffee table and ran across the room after Ichiro.

“What’s going on?” Jezebel demanded.

Michael grabbed her wrist with one hand. “You’re not his mother.”

“How dare you!”

But Michael wasn’t listening. He reached into Jezebel’s mind, searching for anything linked to Emily Watanabe or the black-and-white cat. A civilian like Jezebel shouldn’t have had much in the way of mental shielding, but something blocked Michael from connecting.

“Professor,” Rocky said.

Michael opened his eyes and looked at the gargoyle. “Where is he?”

“I do not know.”

“Did you look for a cat?”

“I did not see any cats.”

“Dammit.” Michael turned back to Jezebel. “Just give me a minute here.”

“Let go of me!” Jezebel said.

“You heard the lady,” said Ichiro.

He was walking down the stairs to the front room, holding a shotgun. There must have been another way upstairs. Maybe a tree that a cat could climb. Michael chastised himself for being sloppy, but who would expect an elderly Issei—someone who grew up in Japan, where even holding a handgun was illegal—to keep a firearm in her house?

Rocky stepped between Michael and Ichiro. “Do not interfere,” the gargoyle said.

“I’m going to count to three!” Ichiro said. “Then I’m going to—”

Rocky reached out for the shotgun. The weapon discharged, filling the house with a deafening sound and spewing a cloud of black pellets at Rocky. He didn’t even slow down, just closed his fist around the barrel of the shotgun and crumpled it. Ichiro released the weapon, and Rocky tossed it aside.

Michael returned his attention to Jezebel, felt her concern for Ichiro, slid down that emotional judder, located a dimple in her defenses, dove through—

Michael slammed up against something impenetrable. He couldn’t remember ever sensing a block that dense in anyone’s mind. But he could see what was all around it, even if he couldn’t see inside it. And he recognized the face of the woman he was searching for, drifting there among the echoes of thoughts long forgotten—or erased by supernatural means.

“Where is his mother?” Michael asked, pointing at Ichiro.

“I am his mother!” Jezebel said.

“His biological mother!” Michael said. “Emily Watanabe!”

Nobody spoke for a moment. Then Ichiro said, “Ma, do you know what he’s talking about?”

Jezebel glared at Michael. “Who are you?”

“I’m the guy with an indestructible friend and a lot of questions. Now the rest of this conversation can be very long, or very short.” He squeezed Jezebel’s wrist. “Your choice.”

“Okay! I’ll take you to her,” she said. “You can talk all you like. But don’t blame me if you’re disappointed.”

“We’re all going,” Michael said, nodding at Ichiro. “You drive, Arai-san.”

There was no mistaking the face or the aura of the old woman in the bed. It was the same one Michael had seen in Denford’s file, in her fellow detainees’ heads, and in the black-and-white cat last night—or so he thought at the time. He stepped forward, as if getting closer might make a difference in the truth.

Emily Watanabe—or, as she was registered in the nursing home, Amy Wu—stared off into the distance, her eyes glassy and unfocused. Her mouth hung open, occasionally moving slightly and making a soft noise that could in no way be construed as intelligent speech.

No wonder nobody could find her, Michael thought. We’d never believe an Issei would use a Chinese name, even as cover. Too much bad blood between the two countries in that generation.

Her cousin, Jezebel Arai, and Jezebel’s adopted son, Ichiro—Emily’s biological son—stood behind Michael, watching. Rocky stood on the other side of them, blocking the door. Not that there seemed much need for that now.

“She’s been going downhill for five years now,” Ichiro said. “First it was her memory. Then her fine motor control started going. Couldn’t feed herself anymore. After that, it just accelerated.”

“How long has she been like this?” Michael asked.

“About four months,” Jezebel said. “She comes out of it now and then, but her lucid periods have become shorter and less frequent.”

“But she still has power.” Michael looked at Ichiro. “You have power.”

“Yeah, I can grow a full beard and some chest hair if I think about it really hard. Big whoop,” Ichiro said. “You know how this works. Even the people who can do magic have mostly useless abilities.”

Michael looked at Jezebel. “Why didn’t Emily raise her own son?”

“She was on the run for so long,” Jezebel said. “She couldn’t risk settling down, but she wanted Ichiro to have a normal life.”

“What about Ichiro’s father?”

Jezebel shrugged. “Who knows? It was the sixties.”

Michael sighed. He couldn’t deny the evidence before his eyes. Then again, this wasn’t the worst result he could have imagined. He’d located the wild goose for the old man, and so what if she wasn’t what he had hoped for? Why should the old man get what he wanted, when so few people ever did?

“Professor,” Rocky said, “are you ready to go?”

Michael heard the unspoken message in the gargoyle’s words: Touch her and you’ll know for sure.

He reached out a hand and placed his fingertips on Emily’s palm. He pressed down, feeling her bones through her sallow skin.

There was a mind there, but just the shadow of one. He could feel memories, thoughts, and stirrings of emotion, but everything was faded, like a poster bleached by the sun. Michael felt like an intruder wandering a deserted homestead.

He was about to break the connection when he noticed something very faint resonating low in the depths of Emily’s hollow brain. A less practiced senser might not have felt it. Someone who had not been trained by the Company in resisting interrogation might not have recognized it. But Michael saw it, and he knew what it was.

A back door.

“We’re done here,” he said, releasing Emily’s hand. “I’m very sorry to have disturbed you and your family, Mr. Arai, Mrs. Arai. You’ll be compensated for the damage to your home and property.”

He hustled Rocky out of the building and back to their car.

“Drive,” Michael said.

“Back to the hotel?” Rocky asked.

“Just drive. Stay off the freeways.”

They hadn’t gone four blocks before a police cruiser appeared behind them, lights flashing. The siren blared two short bursts.

“What the hell?” Michael said.

“I have obeyed all traffic regulations,” Rocky said.

“Just pull over. Window down, keys on the dash, both hands on the wheel. Let me do the talking.”

“Yes, Professor.”

Rocky pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car. Michael waited for the police officer to approach, but the uniform just sat there in his cruiser.

An unmarked police car screeched around the corner from the opposite direction and skidded to a halt facing Rocky and Michael’s car. Two plainclothes detectives stepped out and walked up to the car, one on either side.

“This seems bad,” Michael muttered.

“I must agree,” Rocky said.

The detective on the driver’s side, a burly man with a thick mustache, slapped the top of the car and leaned into the open window. “Good morning, gentlemen. LAPD.” He flashed a badge. “Would you like to step out of the vehicle and show us some identification, please?”

“What’s this all about, officers?” Michael asked in the most helpless voice he could manage. If he had to look like an old man, he might as well play the part.

“Detectives,” corrected the man on the passenger side. He had short, spiky blond hair and pale blue eyes. “Get out of the car, both of you.”

Michael and Rocky stepped out and stood on the sidewalk. They handed over their wallets and didn’t say a word when the detectives frisked them roughly.

“All right, turn around,” said the burly detective. “What do you two eggheads want with the Arai family?”

“What are your names, detectives?” Michael asked politely. “And your badge numbers? I believe you’re required to notify us before administering a pat-down, and I’d like to register a complaint.”

The detectives exchanged a look, and then Burly stepped forward and breathed the smell of cigarettes and coffee into Michael’s face. “No, I don’t think you will. Because you’ve been tiptoeing around the Valley all week, running down dozens of people about to be indicted by a grand jury, and my guess is you don’t want anybody to know what you’re up to.”

“What’s your beef with the Arais?” Blondie asked.

Michael considered his options. However ham-handed these local cops were, they were right about one thing: Michael couldn’t bust them without exposing himself, and he wasn’t counting on the old man to rescue him this time. But the detectives had told him something new and interesting.

“Please, detectives,” Michael said, doing his best confused-old-geezer act and faking a slight tremor, “We’re just doing genealogy research for our university. Surely you saw our credentials in our wallets.”

“Genealogy,” Burly repeated. “You expect me to believe that this is just a coincidence, you two tagging all of the Valley’s major crime families in a single week?”

This is just embarrassing, Michael thought. If you two had been on the West Berlin station, the Stasi wouldn’t have needed to send any spies over the Wall. “I don’t know anything about that. We were simply interviewing families who had a common background, some kind of connection to the World War Two internment camps. Either they were children born there, or their relatives spent time there—”

“Actually, that does make sense,” Blondie said.

Burly handed back Michael’s and Rocky’s wallets and looked at his partner. “You’re buying this crap?”

Blondie shrugged. “Remember what the OCID guys said? The Oyabuns had to all meet somewhere.” He murdered the pronunciation, saying it like OY-ah-buns. “The camps make sense. Really could just be a coincidence.”

Burly looked over Rocky and Michael for a moment. “So you’re telling me you don’t know anything about the Nickel Yakuza?”

Jesus, why don’t you just drop your pants and bend over? Michael shook his head, meaning to keep his mouth shut, but his curiosity got the better of him. “I’m sorry, Detective. Did you say ‘Nickel Yakuza?’”

“Yeah,” Burly replied. “Is this ringing a bell now?”

“No,” Michael said. “I’m just… a little confused. How did these criminals get that name? It doesn’t sound very threatening.”

Blondie shrugged. “It’s some kind of code word they use with each other. OCID picked it up on wiretaps. Nickel this, nickel that.”

Something tickled Michael’s mind. He massaged the syllables of “nickel” in his head, remembering how badly Blondie had spoken Japanese earlier. “Begging your pardon, detectives, but could they have been saying ‘Neko?’”

Burly looked at Blondie. Blondie shrugged.

“Sure, coulda been that,” Burly said. “Mean something to you?”

“It’s Japanese,” Michael said, “for ‘cat.’”

“That makes sense.” Blondie snapped his fingers. “They’ve always got all those cats running around. Remember the meeting we busted up last month at the docks? There was a ton of strays living in that warehouse.”

“Probably some weird Asian superstition,” Burly said.

“Japanese consider cats to be good luck charms,” Michael said.

“Hey, you know who’s good at finding cats?” Blondie said.

Burly smiled. “Dogs.”

Shit, Michael thought.

“Who cares why they bring the cats everywhere?” Blondie continued. “As long as the dogs can find ‘em—”

The detectives walked back toward their car, seeming to have forgotten all about Michael and Rocky. “Call Dispatch,” Burly said. “Tell ‘em to roll every K9 unit they can muster. We can end this whole thing tonight.”

He whistled at the uniform standing next to the cruiser and made a circular motion with his finger in the air. All three police got back in their vehicles and sped off, leaving Michael and Rocky standing alone on the sidewalk.

“Shit!” Michael said out loud.

“That was quite peculiar,” Rocky said.

Michael ran back to the rental car, ignoring the pain in his leg. “Come on. We need to wrap this up before the Keystone Kops trample all over everything and send Emily and her friends into hiding for real.”

They got into the car. “Where are we going?” Rocky asked, starting the engine.

Michael tapped one finger on the dashboard. “She was at Mrs. Fujita’s. There must have been a reason. Let’s try there first.”

Rocky steered the car through LA traffic with inhuman precision, and they arrived back at Mrs. Fujita’s cottage within minutes.

“I will go first,” Rocky said as they got out of the car. “You have no weapons.”

“No argument from me,” Michael said.

Rocky led the way up to the house. The front door was slightly ajar. The gargoyle pulled the screen door open—Michael winced as he heard it squeak—and tapped the inner door with one hand. It swung open slowly.

Michael looked around Rocky and into the house. All the furniture was there, just as it had been when Mrs. Fujita had served them tea three days ago, but she was nowhere in sight. Neither were her cats. The entire house stood silent and still.

“Mrs. Fujita?” Rocky called, walking forward into the house. “Are you home? It’s Rocky and Professor—”

The gargoyle seized up, all its limbs and joints locking into place, and then began emitting a buzzing noise. Michael had just drawn a breath to ask what was happening when Rocky exploded in a shower of rock and steam.

The blast knocked Michael backwards. As he fell, something icy slid over his skin, and then his eyes stopped working.

Michael knew exactly where he was. He had aced the audio maze portion of his field agent exam, where he had to identify the path taken through a city by sound alone, and he had never fallen out of practice. It made for a good party trick: make an audio recording of your cab ride over here, and the Professor’ll tell you which intersection you came from.

The block of ice that encased Rocky’s shattered remains and Michael’s body had hit the ground with a thud, and then a single person—male, judging by the footfalls—had come along and levitated the whole mass around to the back of the cottage and into a detached two-car garage. The garage door had rolled shut, a panel in the floor had opened, and Michael had descended into a hidden underground chamber.

He guessed his captors couldn’t move him too far, for fear of suffocating him; if they’d wanted to kill him, he would have been dead already. Just like Rocky.

Seconds after Michael’s lungs began burning, the ice turned to water, and he fell backward onto a packed dirt floor. He coughed, struggling for breath. All over his face and hands, a million tiny gashes cut by sharp, stony projectiles screamed with pain.

He ignored all that and sat up. Rocky’s remains lay scattered throughout the dirty puddle on the floor, a few fist-sized chunks of granite sitting atop countless smaller pieces. A small black-and-white cat sat before Michael in the center of the room. Other cats and humans sat around the perimeter, maybe thirty beings total in the garage-sized space.

 [ Cats, © 2015, Miguel Santos ] The center cat took a step forward, shimmered, warped, and changed shape into an elderly Japanese woman with pale skin and billows of long, dark hair. A man stepped forward and draped a bathrobe over her. She pulled it closed around her and nodded at Michael.

“Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu,” he said, “Watanabe-san.”

She smiled, crinkling the liver-spotted skin at the edges of her pitch-black, almond-shaped eyes. “Who are you?”

“The police are coming,” Michael said. “They’re bringing dogs. They’ll—”

“My family thought I should just kill you,” Emily said.

“Thanks for the veto.”

“We haven’t decided yet. But first I wanted to know what kind of crazy person was searching so hard for me. You’re obviously not law enforcement, and nobody recognizes you from another family.” She cocked her head. “Is this personal? Did I do something to your people?”

Michael glanced around the room. He saw most of the locals he and Rocky had met that week: Ichiro, Jezebel, Mrs. Miyahara, Mr. Sato. “No. Like I’ve been telling everyone. It’s a genealogy project. And you certainly have a unique family history, don’t you, Watanabe-san? You’re a shaper and you’re a rainmaker. That’s how you killed Rocky, right? Steam and ice?”

Emily smiled. “It’s all about timing and temperature.”

“Plus you’re a leader, and you’ve got a whole extra body lying around—you’re a real Renaissance woman. What other talents did you inherit?”

Emily gazed at him impassively. “Whoever you’re recruiting for, Professor, I’m not interested.”

“My interest is purely… academic.” Michael risked a chuckle. “I’m fascinated by your unique abilities and how they came to be. I’m curious.” He licked his lips, tasting blood and dirt. “Do you know who your father was?”

She moved faster than he expected. The force of her slap knocked Michael’s head sideways.

“I don’t care who that bastard was,” Emily said. “He violated my mother, in more ways than one, and now he’s dead. That’s all I need to know.”

“Presumed dead,” Michael said.


“The Allies never found a body, did they?”

Emily frowned at him. A low murmur traveled around the room. Everyone looked confused.

“Wait.” Michael’s stomach churned. “Wait. You know who your father was?”

“Yes,” Emily said. “He was a US Army thaumaturge conducting illegal experiments at Manzanar. He secretly duplicated dozens of detainees, including my mother, and did God knows what with them. My family discovered him and ended him. But first we took his abilities.”

She gestured behind her, and a small, stooped, white-haired woman stepped forward, gave a little bow, and stepped back.

“Junko is a learner and a teacher,” Emily said. “She taught us all how to shape ourselves into Neko. We used thaumaturgy to make the decoy form you saw in the nursing home.”

Michael’s head was swimming, and not because of the physical trauma he’d just undergone. No. You don’t know who your father was, he thought. Your father is still alive. Your father knows how to sacrifice a scapegoat and tell a convincing lie.

Your father is an old man who keeps secrets.

Anger flared in Michael’s belly. And he doesn’t deserve to know you.

He raised both hands and sat up straight. “Listen. I wasn’t lying about the police. They are coming, and they’re bringing dogs. You all have to get out of here.”

“How do you know?”

“They pulled me over for a traffic stop. I heard them talking about canine units on the radio.” It was close enough to the truth. “It’s only a matter of time before the dogs sniff you out.” I should know. I’m a Bloodhound.

Emily flicked a finger, and two of the cats standing around them darted off. She leaned forward and studied Michael. “Why would you help us? We’re criminals.”

So am I. “I don’t care about that. All I wanted was to do was research family histories, and you’ve given me what I need—more than I need to complete my project. I know the injustices you’ve all suffered, and I don’t blame you for doing anything you thought was right.”

Emily leaned in closer. “You are Sansei.” She said it like an accusation. You’re third generation immigrant.

“I’m as Japanese as you are,” Michael said.

They stared at each other for a moment. Michael wasn’t sure how much longer it might have continued—or how long he could stare into those impossibly black eyes before blinking, or weeping, or both—but they were interrupted by the return of the two cats who had left earlier.

Emily turned to face the returning messengers. The cats shifted and grew, their shapes shimmering from feline to human. Two young, nude Japanese men stood and bowed to Emily. She bowed in response.

“He’s right,” one of the cat-men said. “Lots of activity on the police bands. They’re combing through West Hills first, but they’ll be here soon.”

“We already dusted the body in the nursing home,” said the other cat-man. “We all need to clean up and clear out. Half an hour at most.”

“That’s not enough time,” Emily said.

Several people started talking at once, circling around Emily to confer with her. Michael looked at his hands. It would take weeks for all the tiny cuts to heal, and there wasn’t really a plausible explanation he could give his students and colleagues back at Columbia. Maybe Denford would authorize some healing spells.

Or maybe he’ll cut me even deeper, Michael thought.

His gaze settled on the jagged chunks of stone resting in a muddy grave. Maybe somebody back at Langley had been watching when it happened. A retrieval team was probably already on its way—

A thought crystallized in Michael’s mind.

Rocky was dead.

Nobody was watching.

And there was a Transit talisman on the floor.

Michael scrabbled at the debris in the dirt. He should be able to tell which chunk of rock held the talisman; it would feel light for its size. He lifted a long, gnarled piece of rock and hefted it in one hand. Definitely light. He positioned it above another, jagged rock, and smashed the long piece down. It crumbled, and a flat, blue, crystalline oval tumbled out into the mud.

Michael grabbed the Transit talisman and stood up, holding it out. Everyone was staring at him. “I can open a portal.”

“What?” Emily said.

“A portal.” Michael showed her the talisman. “My gargoyle had the crystal, but I know how to use it.”

Someone behind him shouted, “Are we seriously going to trust this guy?”

“You can verify the portal before anyone goes through,” Michael said. “You have a scryer, don’t you? Or at least a senser?”

Emily raised her hand, and two young women stepped forward.

“This is insane!” someone else shouted. “We’re going to leave everything behind and just go?”

“Everyone here has a choice!” Emily said, raising her voice. The commotion subsided. “Nobody will be forced to go, or to stay!

“We knew this day was coming. We knew we couldn’t do this forever, and we knew there would be consequences. But each of us gets to choose what happens now.” She looked around the room. “Anyone who wants to stay, you’re free to go home and wait for the dogs. We won’t tell you where we’re going. Tell the police anything you want. Make whatever deals you can. But don’t try to contact the rest of us. We say goodbye here.

“Those who are coming with me, we leave right now. Nothing from your old life goes through the portal. You’ll have a new home and a new identity. Nothing can be the same—not even our family. We’ll have to split up.

“The only thing I can promise you is freedom. That’s enough for me. That’s more than our parents had in the war. You have to decide if it’s enough for you.

“I won’t choose for any of you. But you must choose now.”

A long silence followed. None of the humans or cats moved. Michael didn’t imagine for a second that anybody would stay behind. If he didn’t have unfinished business at CIA, he might not have stayed.

Emily nodded at Michael. “Open the portal. Somewhere outside the United States.”

He walked forward to a clear spot on the plywood wall, grasped the Transit talisman in his left fist, and pressed his knuckles against the wood. With his right hand, he traced a series of runes in the air, ending with two Arabic numerals.

The talisman glowed. Light crawled across the wall and blossomed into a view of a jungle inside a glowing white circle. A murmur rippled through the crowd. Michael wondered how many of them had never seen a portal before.

Emily waved the two scryers forward, and the girls stretched out their arms and hovered their palms just this side of the portal. After a few seconds, they both turned back and nodded.

“South America,” one said.

The other one looked at Michael. “Peru?”

He nodded. “Head north. Follow the road to the first gas station. Ask for Keiko and tell her—” he racked his brains for the name; it had been a lifetime ago—”Say Carlos sent you.”

Emily nodded. “Who is Carlos?”

“My brother,” Michael said. It wasn’t a complete lie.

Emily and Ichiro hustled their people into the portal. They were the last to go through.

Before she went, Emily held out a hand to Michael. He shook his head.

“I’m a senser,” he said.

“I know,” Emily said. “I’m offering you the answers you came here seeking. You can see everything I saw.”

“No. Thank you. I know enough.”

Emily nodded. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

Michael looked away from her dark eyes. “Me too.”

“Goodbye, Professor,” Emily said.

She took Ichiro’s hand and stepped through. Michael watched them join the group next to a palm tree, and then he tapped the talisman, resetting it. The portal vanished.

He heard dogs barking in the distance. He closed his fist around the talisman, touched the wall, and drew a new set of runes.

A security team was waiting for Michael when he stepped through to Langley. He spread his arms and legs and opened his hands, palms up, as the commandos approached. They took the Transit talisman and silently guarded him until Denford burst through the doors into the quarantine area.

“What the hell happened out there?” Denford spat. “I send a retrieval team to your last contact location, and they find nothing but gravel! Not my agent, not his target, just a bunch of local PD sniffing each other’s butts! You want to tell me what’s going on, Bloodhound?”

Michael considered a variety of responses before settling on the most direct.

“I report to Director Godwin,” he said, “or I don’t report to anyone.”

Denford, incredibly, combined a smile and a snarl into one facial expression. “The old man’s going to rip your head off.”

CIA Director Theodore Godwin was an old man. He had been old when he took over the Company, nearly forty years ago, and he was positively ancient now. For as long as anyone could remember, he had been “the old man.”

Godwin peered over his bifocals as the doors to the director’s suite closed, leaving Denford outside. Michael walked into the hushed chamber—the thick carpet and sound baffles lining the walls and ceiling deadened any echoes—and sat down in one of the two chairs facing Godwin’s desk.

Michael always thought the old man’s brown eyes had a distinct reddish tinge to them, making them always look either bloodshot or demonic. Maybe it was just Michael’s imagination.

“Michael,” Godwin said.

“Director,” Michael said.


Michael shook his head. Godwin retrieved a glass from his sideboard, held his hand over it, and made three ice cubes appear out of thin air. They fell into the glass with a clink.

Rainmaker, Michael thought. Like father, like daughter. But she has her mother’s eyes.

Godwin poured himself a Scotch. “Was your operation successful?”

“And then some.”

Godwin nodded. “Good. What did you learn?”

Michael leaned forward. “Tell me about my daughter. Then I’ll tell you about yours.”

Godwin regarded Michael coolly for a moment, then threw his head back and laughed.

“Very good, Michael,” Godwin said. “You never should have resigned.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” Michael asked. “Why the whole ‘Hitler’s daughter’ smokescreen?”

Godwin shook his head. “Too many people have reasons to hate me. They might not support an operation that reeks of personal, emotional involvement. Might even use it against me. But say the magic word—’Hitler’—” He smiled. “You know how it goes.”

Michael nodded. “Godwin’s Law.”

“Do people still call it that?” Godwin chuckled. “I guess that’s a legacy I can live with.” He sipped his drink. “When did you figure it out?”

“The internment camps,” Michael said. “That’s what they all had in common. All the leads you gave me to run down. All the Japanese-Americans who might have known Emily Watanabe and who might have kept in touch with her after she went underground. They all spent time in those prisons.

“The government didn’t call them ‘concentration camps,’ but that’s what they were. Complete with grotesque medical experiments on live humans, performed without their consent or knowledge.”

Godwin’s smile had faded. “Is there a point to this, Michael?”

“We ran our own Operation Changeling, didn’t we, Director? Right here in the United States. It was an arms race, as much as the Manhattan Project was, but with people instead of bombs. Everybody wanted their own shapers for espionage and infiltration. But only people of Japanese descent ever seemed to manifest that power, and this was decades before we understood how the genetics of magical inheritance worked.

“So we learned from the Nazis. If they could use thaumaturgy to copy a few women to use as breeding stock, so could we. And we had an advantage. We didn’t need to go sneaking around overseas embassies or military bases. We had over a hundred thousand Japanese-Americans, already herded into convenient pens. And plenty of horny young male volunteers willing to screw a Jap in the service of their country. Present company included.”

Godwin put his drink aside, folded his hands, and stared back at Michael. “You don’t understand how bad it was then,” he said. “We all did terrible things. Monstrous things. All of us. Axis, Allies, soldiers, civilians—everyone. We thought the world might not survive the conflict, and we were willing to do anything necessary. We were OSS before we were CIA, and we operated with a single purpose: win at any cost.”

“You say that like you think I give a shit,” Michael said. “Tell me about my daughter.”

Godwin bristled. “There’s no need for that sort of language in my office, Michael.”

“I’m talking to a fucking war criminal. I’ll use whatever kind of language I damn well like.” Michael gripped the arms of his chair to stop his hands from trembling. “Tell me what happened to my daughter, or I walk out of here and straight to the Washington Post.”

Godwin sat frozen for a moment. Then he unfolded his hands, opened a drawer, and pulled out a faded old file, its cardboard cover worn at the corners. He placed it on his desk and put both hands on top of the file, as if sanctifying it.

“This is the after-action report from Sergeant Linda Kawasaki’s final mission in Afghanistan,” Godwin said. “Officially, she is MIA, presumed dead—”

Michael stood, yanked the folder out from under Godwin’s hands, and opened it. Large sections of the text on every page were blacked out, and he struggled to make sense of the fractured descriptions.

He saw a faint distortion rippling across the surface of the paper. At first he thought it was the fatigue of the past few days catching up with him, or maybe some after-effect of being cut by gargoyle-stone, but then he saw through the veil.

Michael hurled the file over Godwin’s head. It hit the edge of a bookshelf and fell apart into a shower of loose pages.

Godwin didn’t move. “That will make it harder to read.”

“I’m insulted, Director,” Michael said. “You tried to fool the best senser you ever had with a simple glamour?”

Godwin was starting to look annoyed. “Nothing simple about it. A dozen sorcerers worked around the clock for three days on that. Perhaps you could demonstrate where they failed—”

“FUCK. YOU.” Michael jabbed a finger at Godwin. “You want to know about Emily Watanabe? It’s all up here.” Michael tapped the side of his head. “I don’t get what I want, you don’t get what you want.

“No more files. No paper. You give me actual, physical evidence, or I walk out of here. Give me her remains, give me her uniform, let me shake hands with her last bunkmate. I want something I can sense for myself.”

“Michael, let me explain—”

“You really think talking some more is going to help at this point?” Michael said. “I lost my family. I resigned my job. I have nothing left to lose, Director! What do you have to lose?”

Godwin stood up slowly, then turned to Michael’s left. He waved a hand, and the world map covering the wall faded away to reveal a line of six hexagonal safe doors. Godwin dialed in a combination on the fourth safe, then inserted his access talisman into a slot and turned it.

The door creaked opened, and a creature made from ribbons of black smoke emerged and said something in a language that hurt Michael’s ears. Godwin replied with a croak. The smoke creature retreated into the safe, then returned bearing a small golden box. Godwin took the box, closed the safe, and walked back to his desk.

“This is TS/SCI, handled as Omega,” Godwin said. “No one is allowed to divulge the existence of this artifact, much less its substance. I am reading you in on my personal authority as Director.”

Michael remembered the acronyms. Top Secret, Sensitive Compartmentalized Information—why is my daughter’s death a matter of national security?

Godwin placed the box down at the edge of the desk.


Michael opened the reliquary and touched the bones inside.

The sense was always stronger, more vibrant, more immersive when Michael had close blood ties to the other person. He remembered this, but did not anticipate the magnitude of the difference it would make. It had been so long since he had connected with any of his family in this way.

He saw his daughter, Linda, in combat fatigues and full gear, riding across a sandy plain in a military Humvee. He smelled the conglomeration of sweat and grease and dust in the air, felt the motion as the vehicle rode over rocks and bumps toward a low hillside.

He saw a shimmer in the hill, and then the vehicle slowed, passing through a series of glamours and wards into a dimly lit tunnel. The tunnel sloped down, and the air cooled as the Humvee continued forward.

She was working a Mideast cache, Michael thought.

He fanned his perception out, skimming the edges of the memory for things that Linda might have seen but not given much attention. Michael caught glimpses of signs on the walls—armory, chemical eye wash, radiation hazard, laser warning. They passed a clock. Michael did a quick time zone calculation.

Jesus Christ. We’ve got nukes under Iran. No wonder CIA needed to hide this.

The vehicle stopped, and Linda got out and walked down a corridor into an argument. Two Army Captains. She knew them. Didn’t like one of them. There was a door behind them into a holding area. Linda looked through and saw—


She didn’t have the sense like her father did, but even someone with mildly heightened perception could hear the creatures crying out. It was deafening, heartbreaking.

Linda stepped back into the argument. She was the CIA station officer; she had authority here too.

They had found the creatures while digging new tunnels. Weren’t sure what to do with them. One Captain thought they should be destroyed. The other thought they should be sent back Stateside for examination.

Linda knew better. She was about to explain why they should free the creatures when an explosion rocked the base.

The next part of the memory was confused. Men and machines moved through the narrow corridors and tunnels, evacuating to hardened safe areas behind blast doors. The holding cells were outside the safe zone.

They knew what was coming, and they were leaving the creatures out there to die.

Linda refused to leave. She secured her Company files—always duty first, always—and then went back into the kill zone with the holding cell keys.

The others didn’t wait. They sealed the doors behind her. Linda opened the cells, freed the creatures, watched them burrow away into the dirt, chittering their thanks into her mind.

The roof above her exploded in fire. She shut her eyes.

Tears were streaming down Michael’s cheeks when he closed the box again.

“She refused,” he said. “She refused to kill the children.”

“We are at war,” Godwin said. “She violated the chain of command, and she jeopardized the operational security of the entire theater.”

“They were children,” Michael said. “It was an illegal order.”

“They weren’t even human!” Godwin actually raised his voice. “If we require our soldiers to avoid every jinn and ifrit on their way to the battlefield, we might as well just tell them to stay home and wait for an invasion!”

She was a good person, Michael thought. Better than I will ever be. He didn’t waste any breath saying it aloud. He knew the old man wouldn’t understand.

Godwin snatched up the reliquary and took it back to the safe. The smoke creature seemed to sense something, and turned what might have been its head toward Michael.

He inclined his own head at the creature. “Thank you.”

The creature screeched something in reply. The sound didn’t hurt Michael’s ears this time.

“I have fulfilled my part of the bargain,” Godwin said. “I told you what you wanted to know about your daughter. Now tell me about Emily. What did you sense in the nursing home? How did she manifest as both human and animal simultaneously? Did she display any other powers?”

Michael wiped wetness from his cheeks. “You want to know if Operation Changeling was successful.”

“I want the woman. Alive, if possible,” Godwin said, “but her DNA will be enough. What did you find out? Where is she now?”

Michael looked into the old man’s burning red eyes.

Definitely a demon today, Michael thought. And I don’t care anymore.

“I’ll tell you about your daughter, Director.”


“She’s gone,” Michael said. “Vanished forever, never to return.”

Godwin glared. “Michael.”

“Seems fair, doesn’t it? I can’t get my daughter back, and you’ll never meet yours.”


“We’re done here.”

Michael stood, turned, and walked away, ignoring the shouting behind him.

© 2015 Curtis C. Chen

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