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Humans like to put shine on everything. They shine metal, bits of rocks, even wood – they apply a sheen to whatever they use, a little bit of sparkle. Most of us Fae have a thing for sparkle, but generally we reserve it for magick, wings, and makeup. We didn’t make our everyday items shiny. If I’d been sitting at a human conference table it would no doubt have that glossy look to it, but of course I wasn’t at a human meeting. This meeting was for Fae only.
I set my glass of water down on the decidedly matte block of wood, sanded down and preserved with the softest touch of life magick so that the wood maintained a mold-free healthy color. I resisted the urge to trace my fingers along the patterns in the table, stories of the tree’s life. There was something to be said of our predilection for keeping things in their natural form.
Around me there was chatter. Five people including myself showed up for this conference – Brenna, the IFA coordinator; Cally, the executive of the IFA Western North America Chapter (abbreviated IFA-WNA); Peter, representing the southwest; myself, with the Pacifica territory; and Alexander, with the near-west. Collette would be skyping in, as usual, and Caleb… was late.
Making an entrance, probably. I heard that Caleb was well-liked and nice enough for a muse, but I would imagine that like every other muse from an influential circle, he liked to make an impression.
I took another sip of my water, holding it out like a glassy shield . I wasn’t really thirsty, but it was a good way to keep my mouth busy while I stared out of the many windows in the conference room. There was a beautiful view of Portland, skyscrapers against a backdrop of hills, rivers snaking through the mundane art. Lovely. I wished that I could go outside, anything to escape the awkward pre-business sitting around ritual. After the initial overly cordial introductions the muses went back to talking amongst themselves, a veritable biological clique. The IFA was all about relationships, and I had yet to forge any within this particular group.
When the door crept open a hush rolled through the room. I held my water with both hands, peering over the rim with thinly veiled curiosity. He had finally arrived. I recognized him almost immediately. Every Fae in the northwest – even those who were glade-obligated – had seen pictures of Caleb and his family. His black hair was fashionably unkempt, windswept in a devil-may-care style. Black eyes glittered under a terse brow, his skin strikingly pale. He had a thin, hawkish face, always searching, and wore a most peculiar getup – some kind of black leather analog jacket, boots and heavy gloves. I lingered on his odd choice of clothing only a moment before I was distracted by his wings.
The photos did not do his wings justice. They were like his hair and eyes – black, deep and dark, almost velvety. I’d never seen another Fae with black wings, but then he was a muse, and they were known for shocking wing colors. Impressive as they were, he treated them as if they were nothing special – they lay across his back, casual, like an afterthought.
I was certain he saw me gawking at them when he flashed a boyish grin and briefly stretched his wings, the Fae equivalent of a wink. I managed a dismissive snort in return.
It was no wonder that Caleb’s family was known for inspiring some of the most brilliant minds in Hollywood and industry for centuries. With his celestial (and highly heritable) appearance he put even the most intriguing-looking muses to shame. My father, who was a traditionalist among Fae, would have guessed that he was a direct descendent of Lugh I’m sure. I didn’t agree with Fae line about us being “the walking gods and goddesses,” but Caleb’s appearance by itself was a fair argument against atheism.
I sighed. I wouldn’t be fooled by all of that. He was a muse – a privileged muse. Nice or not, he would always be one of them.
“Caleb!” Peter, the eldest Fae in the room, rose to greet him. Peter had tan skin like a tree Fae, clashing with his once-blonde-now-graying hair and neon green wings. He reached out to clasp Caleb’s hand. “I was getting worried about you.”
Caleb tipped his head apologetically. “Bike trouble. Sorry about all that.”
“Bike?” I blurted, surprising myself and everyone else. I pursed my lips, calling more attention to myself than I intended.
Caleb took his seat, which happened to be directly across the table from mine. “You say that as if you disapprove, Ms. Fletcher.”
Of course he knew my name. I cleared my throat, re-obtaining my composure. “With wings like those I assumed you would prefer flight to pedaling.”
“Motorcycling, actually. It’s a great deal like flying and far less tiring,” he smiled, “you should try it sometime.”
“How…?” I blinked. Motorcycling, out with all the cars right in the trail of their fumes? And was he implying that he’d rode all the way to Portland from British Columbia? Even if it was an electric it had to be painful.
“Extensive environmental PPE,” he answered. “I have an extra set.”
“Of course you do.” It probably cost more than I’d ever made in my life.
“Now that Caleb is here we can get down to real business,” Cally interrupted, walking up to the head of the table near the projector and whiteboard. Her red-and-gold wings fluttered anxiously. She tapped on the television-sized touchscreen behind her and Collette’s image – a dark-skinned muse with dreadlocks and orange mottled wings flashed on the screen. “Can you hear us down there Collette?”
“No problems,” Collette smiled thinly, “good morning everyone.”
The room murmured with ‘good mornings’ all around.
“Before we begin we’d like to officially welcome Amelie to her first regional conference,” Cally smiled and clapped, which caused everyone else to join in, including Caleb who was looking right at me.
I waved a hand to stop them. “It’s great to be here,” I said in my best neutral voice. “I look forward to getting to know all of you better.”
“I’m sure you do.” I didn’t appreciate the glint in Caleb’s eyes. He knew damned well how closed the muse community was, and he was mocking me for it.
I just smiled.
“Yes,” Cally said, already distracted. She motioned widely with her arm. “If all of you would just pull up the agenda we can get started.”
There was a rustling of bags while each of us pulled out our tablets – glass and wood tablets, specially made. They were expensive, too, but luckily it was the IFA who picked up the cost. I’d heard that Caleb and his family were substantial benefactors to the IFA-WNA pool of funds. Finally meeting him with his fancy motorcycle gear gave me a better picture of how the IFA came to afford the things it procured for us. He probably had some line on an R&D facility at one of the big corporations.
I passed a finger over the agenda, skimming it with bored familiarity. I’d read it at least a dozen times the day before while Dy made comical attempts to get ahold of it. There were four major items –
GENERAL BUSINESS: Welcoming Amelie, the new rep from the Pacifica territory. Budget update and personal expenditures (Cally). Scheduling the next IFA budget committee meeting.
EDUCATION: Updates from the Department of Education curriculum meeting (Peter and Collette). Lobbying efforts in the Republican caucus (Brenna and Caleb).
FAE RELATIONS: Updates from individual glades (all). Infrastructure and education progress (Caleb and Alex).
ENERGY: Chicago Renewable-Rail meeting (Amelie). Petroleum and the Northwest – new initiative (Caleb). Lobbying the coal lobby (Peter, Alex, and Collette).
I suppressed a sigh. So much to go through before I would have anything particular to say. I’d been honored to replace Gregory, the muse who came before me from the Pacifica region. His name was well-known (and mostly hated) in the energy community, and as the most important item on the IFA agenda, it was a privilege to represent. In all honesty, though, I was better-suited for the education initiatives given my activist history.
Sadly none of that mattered. I would be a fool to give up the energy piece – it put the Northwest in a powerful position amongst the Fae nationally and internationally. We needed that.
I tried to listen to everything that the others were saying as we went through the agenda, all the while running over what I was going to say in my head. It hadn’t gone poorly, certainly, but I didn’t feel like I’d made any headway. I was still just trying to keep up with Gregory’s shadow.
After much discussion, only a fraction of which I had anything to do with, it was my turn.
“Alright Amelie,” Cally leaned back in her chair, tapping her stylus to her lips. “Would you start us off with the energy section?”
“Absolutely,” I said, more confident than I felt. I flipped my tablet to the page of notes I’d made. “So last week I attended one of the ongoing meetings regarding the renewable-rail initiative to reduce semi hauling. Present at the meeting were myself, Senator Buckley, Senator Reynolds, House Member Ashad, as well as representatives from Steadfast Rail, Exxon, and Iberdrola,” just listing those people made my heart beat a little faster. The people I’d met with weren’t the biggest hitters in this discussion, but they were several heads higher than the people I worked with as a piss-poor activist in the textbook years. “The meeting, of course, focused on cost. The house budget committee and energy and commerce committee aren’t on the same page with us. We’ve made progress with charging stations throughout major metro areas, and they’ve agreed to expand rail cargo in general, but we’re getting resistance with making those system renewable and with getting the requisite number of trucks off the road.”
“How much of a reduction would we get with the current plan?” Alex asked, a middle-aged Fae with light brown hair who leaned over the table on his elbows.
My mouth was dry. “Fifteen percent, give or take.”
A soft collective groan sounded around the table. I jerked when Collette tapped something on her desk, the sound amplified through the speaker system.
“Fifteen is better than none,” Collette said in an admonishing tone. “It’s better than we have now.”
“Fifteen percent is a boon to the traffic problem, sure,” Peter spoke up from beside me, “I doubt it does much for emissions.”
“If we made the upgrades they’re willing to make they say it will reduce by…” I thumbed through my research, provided by some scrappy human interns who worked on our side. “About 5% of the emissions from all major land cargo transport.”
I paused and waited for judgment, but none came. The muses just looked at me, like they expected more.
I swallowed. “Again, the main sticking point here is the cost, at almost one trillion to get cargo and human transport to 50% emissions by-”
“I hope you weren’t using that number,” Caleb arched an eyebrow.
My mouth snapped shut. I regarded him skeptically. “It’s the number I have to work with.”
“That’s Exxon’s number, not ours. With Fae assistance using nature magick we could reduce costs by a quarter. That’s your bargaining position.”
“If you’d asked one of us, we could have told you. Obviously someone thought you knew,” he hesitated, “but then you’re new to this group.”
I wished for a ticking clock to break up the ominous silence. He was baiting me – so much for the kind and amiable Caleb that everyone spoke of. I felt my face flush. “Well, that will be something for me to remember, then, won’t it? Perhaps I should have you go over my notes before I go into the next meeting.”
Caleb shrugged, and his face didn’t change from the relatively pleasant half-smile he’d walked in with. “I just thought you should be aware. You no doubt gave up ground with the senate and house by using those numbers.”
“They did agree to the 5%, which is a start. The next meeting is in a month and I have some ideas about presenting the costs in a better long-term projection. We need to think fiscal, not environmental, if we want to convince the humans on this one.”
“Perhaps they’re just uninspired.”
Hotter. My face was on fire. “Are you saying that the meeting was a failure because I’m not a muse?”
“I’m sure that’s not what Caleb was saying,” Cally said patiently. Caleb had locked eyes with me and showed no signs of letting up, even with Cally’s interjection. “Was there anything else from that meeting, Amelie?”
“Yes, actually,” I said pointedly, snapping my gaze back up to Cally. “I got the card of a young woman from an algal-diesel production in Kansas. She’s interested in talking with the IFA about getting some tree Fae in on the action. Exxon has apparently been very concerned with the scale of what they’re doing, which can only be a good thing for us. I’ll forward everyone her information presently.”
“I’ll have Collette get some of her people on it,” Cally said, nodding back at the skype screen. “Now, as for Caleb, we have some updates on the biodegradable plastic work we’ve been doing…”
Her voice was drowned out by the ringing in my ears. I watched Caleb as he talked with his calm, cool composure. Whatever he said to me, he was going to a lot of trouble to make it not look personal. It certainly felt personal. If muse magick could have fixed our Fade problem, it would have by now. The muses were so wrapped up in the crisis that you would think that they had something to do with causing it – and maybe they had. Muses liked money, and oil certainly appeared to pay, even if it did make us itchy and infertile.
“…I think that you may do well to work with Amelie on that.”
I was startled out of my thoughts by the sound of my name. I hadn’t been listening closely enough to know what Cally could possibly be talking about. “What’s that?” I stuttered.
“The plastic problem. Since Caleb is in town I thought you might be able to take him through the Willamette Glade.”
She was talking about the glade just outside of Eugene where some of the best tree Fae – including my grandmother – lived. Tree Fae were proving quite important in the renewables discussion since they had the magick to make things grow larger, faster, and more abundantly. Unfortunately they were also some of the most sensitive to the Fade, and as such spent a lot of time in near-earth.
Of course, being half a tree Fae and connected to one of the greatest tree Fae glades in the world, I had reasons to be included in the conversation. What I didn’t particularly want was to partner with another muse so soon after showing up. I hadn’t even proven myself – had done quite the opposite, in fact.
Sigh. “Happy to,” I replied cheerfully.
“Wonderful,” Caleb nodded at me casually, the same casual way he draped his exquisite wings down his back. “We’ll talk at the mixer.”
Well, there went my week. I had been planning to use some extra time to visit the gorge, but work came first, no matter how uncomfortable it would be. The ride from Portland to Eugene was long regardless of which method of transportation was used, meaning I would have to spend a chunk of actual time with Caleb.
I smiled, lips pressed together.
“Great,” said Cally, oblivious to our interplay. “I’ll let the two of you arrange that. Now, as for the coal…”