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The DC Metro train pulled through Pentagon City station. Tom had never seen so many military officers in one place before. Ron, Wendy and Matt seemed to take it in stride so Tom tried to look bored.

"Next stop's the Pentagon," said Ron. "Remember, this is a multi-agency meeting. People will be there from DOD, Justice and other branches. So don't just launch into a big stream of acronyms and expect everyone to keep up."

Matt elbowed Tom. "Just let me do all the talking. You're here as our technical backup. Answer whatever questions you can and say, 'I'll get back to you on that as soon as I can' if anything else comes up."

The train stopped at the Pentagon station. The four of them and about another dozen people got off there. They headed through the turnstiles and up the stairs to the metal detectors and ID checks.

"Vincent, how can this young man help us? He can't even control his powers," asked Elizabeth Rose-Smyth. They sat in the "office" of Aurum's hotel suite at the Ponchatrain.

"Exactly, dear Elizabeth. He is immensely powerful. He astrally projects completely unconsciously. If I can tap that power, I can use it. Otherwise, imagine if you trained him. Think how powerful an astralist he could be."

"Yes, I suppose. Should we really try to add him to the Cabal, though? He is the son of an enemy of yours, perhaps he is fated to defeat you again."

"Perhaps. But where can I better keep an eye on him than within my own school of magic? Additionally, there is a certain sweet irony in using Robert's son as part of the group he stopped from forming twenty years ago."

"What exactly was it between you and this Robert Victor?"

"Many years ago I was building a Cabal. I based it on the Invisible College of England of hundreds of years ago. Robert Victor was one mage I recruited. He and I fought about what our cabal's aims should be. He was interested in mystical research for its own sake. I thought we should use our powers to build the world we wanted to see. He convinced many of the members that I was power-hungry and the Cabal broke apart. I silenced him, but it was too late."

Vincent continued. "I suppose in a way he was right. I am hungry for the power that magic in its purest form can provide. That power can shape nations. I believe there is a True Language of magic and each person gifted with magic knows a few of the words. I wanted to learn them all, but I need other mages to teach me what they know. When the Cabal broke that first time, I lost so many of them."

"I have no idea what you're talking about. I don't know any 'magic words' except the chants and rituals I use."

"Ah, but you do, Elizabeth. The words are written on your heart and in your mind. We must find them and record them. I am a linguist. Words are power, Elizabeth. They are the expressions of idea. Somehow, when someone uses magic, they form something from nothing but an idea, a thought. Any thought can be expressed as a word. Perhaps not in English or any earthly language, but a word nonetheless."

Aurum stood up and looked out the window into the morning. "I want to learn this language. Right now, I can only speak a few words, perhaps form a simple sentence. Imagine if I could write a paragraph, or even a page! The power I could wield! I could bend the universe to my will! I just need to know the words to write."

Tom had been to the Pentagon once before, when he was much younger. He thought it was huge then. It still was. Ron was walking in front of the group, obviously sure of where he was headed. He'd been in the Pentagon many times before. Too many, he'd probably say, but that was just Ron.

"Ron," came a voice from behind them. They held up for a second. A short thin man in a navy blue suit joined them. "How's life?" he asked.

"Pretty good, I suppose." Ron shook hands with the stranger. "Bill, this is Wendy Herschel, Matt Pauls and Tom Victor. Everyone, Bill Whitehall. I first met him when he was Major Whitehall in our legal office. How's SIRECOM treating you these days?"

"Very well. For one thing, I get to wear nicer clothes to work. I think I'm in the same meeting as you are."

"Next hallway, room 3E344?" asked Ron. Whitehall nodded.

The five turned the corner on the outermost ring of the Pentagon and headed for a conference room. Two Marines stood by the door. and checked everyone's ID. After they were all cleared for entry Ron opened the door. There were about twenty people in the room, but it would hold fifty easily. As Tom walked in he saw the notices posted on the outside: SECRET and NO FOREIGN NATIONALS.

"Hi, Harv," said Ron, walking up to a tall, balding man.

"Morning, Ron. Have a good flight?"

"It didn't fall out of the sky. That's good, I suppose. Dr. Harvey Faldon, these three are from AATRDEC with me. They're Ms. Wendy Hershel, Mr. Matt Pauls and Mr. Tom Victor. This slimy lawyer-type is Bill Whitehall."

"Ha, ha! I know Bill already. These SIRECOM guys are everywhere. We'll start as soon as General Harmon and Admiral Torkels arrive. Ready? You are the featured speaker."

"So I hear. I assume everyone in the room is cleared to Secret level?"

"Yes, but make sure you ask anyway."

Tom looked around the crowd. It was pretty evenly split, military to civilian. Most of the military were Army colonels or Navy captains, with a couple of one- and two-star generals and admirals seated at the main table.

"Let's go. We sit up front, along the wall," said Matt.

'Yeah, like we're facing the firing squad,' thought Tom.

Just then, every military person in the room stood up. A four- star general and a full admiral (and staffs) walked in.

General Harmon said, "At ease, everyone. Let's get started. What do you have for us today, Harv?"

Vincent Aurum was wary as he exited the elevator in the parking garage. One of the guards had been stabbed only a few nights ago. Normally, he would have Michael accompanying him but Aurum's assistant was ill. Besides that, it would be awkward to have Michael around for tonight's meeting. He was meeting one of his students, Ms. Juarez. She was the one who had first noticed the astral disturbance that had turned out to be Thomas Victor.

Aurum hoped that a meeting outside his office would prove more conversational. He'd like to use Ms. Juarez' mystical skills to find some more information about Victor and the others who were with him. 'Plus, it has been a long time since I've had been out with an attractive woman,' thought Aurum as he unlocked the door of his black Cadillac Seville STS. He climbed inside and started the car. In a few minutes he was driving out of the parking structure.

Across the parking garage sat a green Taurus. A man stepped out of the shadows near it. He had watched Aurum drive away. It was odd for him to go anywhere alone. This was an opportunity to complete the assassination that Silver Slayer could not afford to miss. He switched on the tracking device he'd hidden earlier on Aurum's Cadillac. He could follow him anywhere and kill him later in the evening. The sooner Aurum was dead, the sooner Slayer could be out of Detroit and back in New York, or maybe take a break and head to Florida. He started the Taurus and drove to the freeway, following Aurum northwest, towards the suburbs.

Wendy, Matt and Tom landed at Detroit Metro airport just after eight. Ron had stayed over for more meetings tomorrow. "Good night," said Wendy as she found her car.

"See you tomorrow," said Matt. "Well, Tom, going home early or do you want to go out for a little while?"

"I'm starved, so wherever we go better have food. We could jump off in Royal Oak and go to Monterey or B's." Royal Oak was the suburban restaurant and club district, quite a way north and east of the airport but on the way to the towns that Matt and Tom lived in.

"OK. I'll meet you at Mr. B's." Matt climbed into his truck and started it. Tom walked over to his car and threw his briefcase into the back seat. Soon they were both headed for the payment booth and then to the expressway. It was late so I-94 was nearly empty. It would only take about half an hour to get to the restaurant.

Tom picked up his cellphone, feeling like yuppie scum. Every once in a while it was handy, though. He dialed Jenny's phone number.

It rang twice. "Hello?"

"Hi, Jenny. It's me. I'm back from DC."

"How did it go?"

"I don't know. We made our presentation and left. Except Dr. Carr, he had to stay for some meeting tomorrow. Anyway, Matt and I are going to meet at Mr. B's for a late snack. It's not too far from your house. I could come get you, if you want."

"No, I'm studying. The semester just started."

"OK. See you tomorrow?"

"Sure. How are you doing about everything else?"

"Dr. Svetsky helped me a lot already, but there's some other things I need to work out. It'll probably do me some good to talk about it. I'll give you a call at work."


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