Bookburners S02E10: One with the World
by Brian Francis Slattery
5 out of 5
When We Last Left Our Heroes…: The team set a trap for the Network – but got Liam entrapped instead. The Society as a whole came together to rescue him and Liam discovered the missing moments of his memory, but still isn’t sure what the Network is planning.
Case of the Week: The Orb sends out a pulse larger than any they’ve ever seen before, sending the Team (eventually) to a town in Ireland that has become… connected, let’s say.
How It Went: Team Three is gathered in the Archives when the Orb sends out a flash unlike they’ve ever seen before. Not only is it bigger in intensity, it’s ongoing and encompassing the whole thing. And instead of this galvanizing our heroes, the light from the orb just illuminates how at odds everyone really is. They’re all sniping at each other until Sal, good old Sal, pulls them together and sets them to tasks, to find out what’s caused this spike.
Sal, Liam, and Frances head out to meet Nicolescu and Marangoz, the two mercenaries from Season One’s “Codex Umbra” arc. These guys were badasses, both in terms of their attitudes and their abilities… and the fact that they seem scared, or at the very least unsettled, by whatever information they have is definitely a worrisome sign. They all meet at an abandoned Metro tunnel (because, of course they do) and bring with them a third of their own: a creature called The Veil. It appears like a human figure dressed in head-to-toe coverings but it then sort of spreads out around them like mist, effectively hiding them from observation or eavesdropping. Once they’re hidden, the mercs essentially tell Liam that they (and others in the magical community) have been aware of the recent experiments happening around the globe – including, how interesting, one out in the Mediterranean.
Team Three manages to avoid revealing that they themselves were behind that particular event and plow forward, determining that the Network is attempting to, in techno parlance, make some kind of link. To essentially open a door or portal through which magic can flow into the world. The Team is naturally a little suspicious that these mercs – magic users themselves, natural enemies of the Society – would want to help… and it’s here that we get a sense of just how scary this world is becoming. These two guys like their magic and definitely disagree with the Vatican but they also want order. They want a world that makes sense, where there is some magic but also plenty of balance. And the Network, it would seem, desires no such thing.
So Sal, Liam, and Frances return to the Archives with three narrowed down locations: Mexico, Ireland, and China. Asanti, meanwhile, rings up Izquierdo – who reveals that it was he who caused the spike in Mexico and that China… well, China’s pretty shady about their goings on but I also think that we (the readers) know full well who helped spark that particular outburst. So Ireland it is.
Speaking of Ireland, this episode spends more time than the standard ep showing us the person/place/thing being affected by magic – and this raises the stakes tremendously. Think back to the kid in the season premiere: we felt a little bit of a connection to him, bullies suck, etc… but we didn’t really get too deep inside his head. But to spend even just a little more time in the slow build of a magical incursion pulls the reader forward to the edge of their seat, especially as the episode’s running time ticks towards a close.
We’re in a small town in Ireland called Middle Coon (not a real place, ps) and with a young girl called Rory. She’s the youngest of three, desperate to get out of this backwater town and see the world. Typical teenage stuff, you know? One morning, she wakes up with a wicked and inexplicable headache – one that causes her to start acting terribly rude to her family, to see a pink glow around the town, to start drawing odd things in her notebooks, and that gets her sent (with some panic by her teacher) to the nurse’s office at school. It’s only at the nurse’s office that she discovers… well, that she’s starting to melt, I guess. Or morph or blur. Or something. She is shifting, diffusing, and she basically melds into the building and discovers that she is connected to the whole town, as though she has become one with it like Stephen Collins with V’ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Back at the Vatican, Menchú is going another round with Angiuli and Fox… and it is not going well, this time. Angiuli is clearly out of patience, wearied from not only having to defend Team Three but to fight for the job that should easily have been his, and he puts Menchú on the spot, wondering why they haven’t restored full functionality to the Orb. Fox, playing an aggressive offense, pushes further, blaming Menchú and his team for sparking a magical arms race with all their experimenting. And he’s right, which Menchú seems to know: if the Vatican is pursuing magical research, of course those who want to use magic will push harder themselves. But Father Menchú, God bless him, stands up for his team and punches back: “Do you have a better plan?”
And Fox is caught backfooted. It’s an amazing moment and Menchú relishes it, even as it propels this confrontation towards its ultimate endgame – which is statistically likely to be checkmate against Team Three. But Fox and Angiuli okay Team Three’s going to Ireland and basically say that this is it, the first and only true test of this new paradigm. If they fail to control this outbreak in Ireland, it’s going to be curtains for probably the whole team – or at least the team as it’s constructed now.
Meanwhile, back in Ireland, Christina and Opie are deep into this (pun intended, I think) Network test. They’ve cast some protective spells around themselves and then open this book – a book that they’ve created – and they wait. Nothing seems to happen at first until “A girl just flew by.” and Christina gets excited. She wants to go outside and see what’s happening out there, but Opie wants to go with her. The two argue for a while and she manages to convince him to stick around and watch the book… and within seconds of her stepping outside the door, it’s clear that she just played the poor sod. As she hoofs it through the town, she sees the magic starting to connect everyone to everything – and she nearly loses her nerve when she sees a young boy in anguish as his body goes wibbly, but she stays strong and powers on and gets the hell out of dodge because apparently once everything is connected there’ll be a second explosion of magic; basically a self-generated larger outpouring of it, a sort of magical fusion chain reaction.
Cut to the Team on a plane to Ireland and man they’re in a bad way. They’re barely civil, let alone a functioning team. Liam attacks Asanti, accusing her of using them as subjects for experiments, and Menchú rises to her defense. Grace is trying to stay out of it but doing a pretty bad job and Sal just wants everyone to buckle down and get ready for the show – and to shut the hell up on a commercial flight where anybody could overhear them. But if Liam’s reports are correct, the Middle Coon situation is all over social media and quickly headed for being a show bigger than any of them can handle. And he’s scared. They’re all scared.
They make it to the outskirts of the town – a speeding car blowing past (I have to assume it was Christina) – and that fear is quickly brought out into the open. Asanti and Frances mention wishing they had a counterspell or the Orb while Liam and Grace vehemently push back, again bringing up the ‘experiment’ thing. Grace, in particular, is hurt – but Sal steps in and delivers a speech that’s meant to rally the troops. And while it doesn’t solve any of their problems, it does remind them of the task at hand… and so the team descends to the town, which appears fully engulfed by magic now…
Talk about a cliffhanger.
- The Veil is one of the cooler magical inventions I’ve encountered this year. Just wanted to state that for the record / announce that they’re added to my Pokedex of cool fantastical creatures.
- I’m guessing the Sal-Liam-Frances triangle is going to get in the way of something at some point, but I appreciated how Slattery introduced it without making a big deal out of it. It’s not a plot point, at least not yet, but it’s a natural bit of character development and I’m excited to see how it goes.
- When Opus is complaining about Christina calling him Opie, it was funny to see Slattery also call him Opie in the narration. It’s like “nobody cares what you want to be called, dude.” and I find that sort of messing-with-one’s-characters to be hilarious.
- “The elsewhere was coming here, test complete.” Oh shit, y’all.
Brian Francis Slattery is the author of Spaceman Blues, Liberation, Lost Everything, and The Family Hightower. Lost Everything won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2012. He’s the arts and culture editor for the New Haven Independent, an editor for the New Haven Review, and a freelance editor for a few not-so-secret public policy think tanks. He also plays music constantly with a few different groups in a bunch of different genres. He has settled with his family just outside of New Haven and admits that elevation above sea level was one of the factors he took into account. For one week out of every year, he enjoys living completely without electricity.