Chapter 41: Explosive Salutation
Vin approached me by the fire that evening, fully dressed, speaking low, “Time to shine, Davie. Stuff’s in our trunk.”
It took me a second to realize what stuff he was referring to, but I nodded in realization, and we took off down-canyon in mi burro, a vehicle entirely at ease on sand. I enjoyed the gentle breeze over my bareness from our crawl down-canyon, the vinyl bench seat cool on my buns.
When I saw the arsenal he’d hauled down from Salt Lake, I told Vin, “I don’t think I sent you this much money.”
“You didn’t,” he informed me. “Jess chipped in.”
“I’ll have to thank her.”
“No need. I was very, very nice to her. I earned this.”
“How are you two coming along?”
“I love her, Davie. Simple as that.”
“Does she know it?”
“I think so.”
“If you want to keep her, be certain of it. Jess is aspier than the two of us combined. I suggest telling her upon your knees while offering up a double caramel macchiato. Let her get several sips in so the caffeine starts working, then explain your feelings in the most grandiloquent fashion you can manage; dig deep into the Scrabble tournament dictionary, my son,“ I advised. “Set up a symbolic mathematical identity for her: Vin equals Coffee equals Love. She’ll have to make the connection then.”
He laughed as we began transshipping enough black powder over to mi burro to satisfy a Civil War reënactment battalion.
We drove the arsenal slowly — and very, very carefully — out through the desert, around and atop the bluff overlooking the camp site.
I suppose Vin dressed not on the slim chance that we had to pull over in sight of another driver, Moab’s Jeep trails being largely deserted after dark, but more out of a wish not to have his calves scratched up while running around through sagebrush in the moonlight.
I had a different risk profile, being able to weave through the brush and sticks blind if need be, able to go invisible if we encountered strangers. Clothing had no other use in the summer’s night air, still well over what our modern air conditioned society presumes to call “room temperature.” I kept cool as we unloaded the fireworks while Vin sweated, even as lightly clad as he was.
After we set up on the cliff, we sat for a while, Vin cooling off as we enjoyed the sight of the small beings down in the wash below, all still nude, needing clothing no more than I did, protected within the canyon, the firelight permitting them to move about safely in their skin.
As Vin lit the first firework, I spread my awareness into an air cylinder a few hundred meters tall, its diameter stretching to encompass the far wall of the canyon, Vin’s heavy mortar tube at its center, the hissing fuse chasing Vin away.
I was fully entranced before the first visceral fhup, using my control over the air to guide the flying shell in a subtle curve over the canyon floor, timing it well enough that it was nearly centered over the campfire when… BAM! It burst into a sphere of sparks, which I pulled into an inverted teardrop, funneling them down towards the startled wedding party.
After a few shots, I began experimenting, soon finding that my magic could also touch the cardboard and charge to an extent, belatedly sparking the realization that fireworks are very old tech, so I could move the fragments directly, rather than indirectly, aerodynamically.
Fhup! went another, then BAM! I pulled this one into a more swirling shape, a sort of tornado of fireflies.
Fhup!…BAM! A peppermint stick on fire.
Shot after shot, Vin lit ’em, I sculpted ’em.
My air envelope kept the sparks and litter contained, funneling the paper and burn byproducts into a gentle fall of carbon dust gobbled in quiet crackles by the hungry campfire.
After the show, we sat on the cliff above the camp, legs dangling over, my bare butt on the rough sandstone, Vin still in his jeans, the wedding party’s applause rising to meet us, Vin said, “I was kind of expecting something out of The Lord of the Rings there.”
“Gandalf lived for thousands of years in Middle Earth, some amount of which he must have used to practice his art, but I’m still a newbie. I’ll get better. Meantime, be fair: that was still pretty awesome.”
“Yeah it was,” he admitted, then shared a fist-bump with me.
“That was amazing!” gushed Jess after we rolled back into camp. “I especially liked the heart-shaped one. That came out really well, much better than they normally do.”
I’d had to guide the air rather carefully to adjust the trajectories of the shell’s fragments into the ideal version of the shape, rather than the lumpy one the unassisted firework would have given us. I’d even tilted the shape a bit to point it down toward the canyon. I was rightly proud of that one, but I just said, “Thanks, Jess!”
Next up was Ann Johannsen, who’d arrived with Miguel and Carmen. “Oh, Davie, that was such a lovely show! I think I liked it even better than the city fireworks!”
“Very kind of you,” I told her.
She added, “Well, just had to say that, because it’s time for an old lady to get to bed. No way am I camping out here in a tent tonight! I’m off!”
Just realizing that they’d parked at the canyon mouth with the rest, I told Miguel, “Take mi burro, so she doesn’t have to hike back. The keys are still in it.”
Carmen was staying the night. It’d been an iffy thing, her being so hugely gravid, but Miguel swung the deal by bringing a tent only a Bedouin sheikh would consider small, furnishing it wall-to-wall with cushions and mattresses.
Sherry Richardson waited for Ann and her driver to get out of earshot, then quietly pointed out, “You do know that fireworks are illegal on BLM land, right, Mr. Bhat?”
“Ms. Richardson,” I replied evenly, “if you send someone out here tomorrow to look for evidence that such a thing occurred here tonight, they will not find a thing. No scorched plant life, no cardboard tubes, not even any bits of brightly colored paper littering the ground.” I didn’t tell her that I’d magically gathered all of that up before Vin and I had left the bluff top, reducing it all to carbon dust and water vapor.
Poulsen knew I was a mage, so he walked smoothly up behind her, enfolded her in an embrace, and whispered down into her ear, “Let it go, Sherry-dear.”
She looked up into the eyes of the most law-abiding man she knew, and she nodded up at him, then returned to mine and said with a small smile, “Thank you for the show, Davie.”
With a small smile, I replied, “The one you completely failed to witness?”
“Yes, that one.”
I told her, “Thank Vin and Jess. They’re the ones who absolutely did not bring any fireworks out here tonight.”
After she walked away, presumably to take my advice, Poulsen said quietly, for my ears only, “She’s just doing her job.”
“I know,” I replied. “Those laws were written to reduce brushfires and litter, but there was no danger of that with us. The law can’t fully encompass what we mages can do. Not yet, at least. To the law, we’re fictional.”
“Indeed,” he rumbled, then remained there beside me on the outskirts of the party, watching the guests.
Intuiting the reason for his silence, I told him, “I know you’ll let me know if I cross a line that matters, Officer.”
“I will indeed.”
I clapped him on the back, and we rejoined the party.