Larry Correia

Hard Magic


One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die. The appearance of esoteric and etheral abiliites, magical fires and feats of strength, in recent decades are the purest demonstration of natural selection. Surely, in time, that general law will require the extinction of traditional man.

– Charles Darwin,

On the Origin of Man and Selection of Human Magical Abilities, 1879 El Nido, California 'Okies.' The Portuguese farmer spat on the ground, giving the evil eye to the passing automobiles weighed down with baskets, bushels, and crates. The cars just kept coming up the dusty San Joaquin Valley road like some kind of Okie wagon train. He left to make sure all his valuables were locked up and his Sears amp; Roebuck single-shot 12 gauge was loaded.

The tool shed was locked and the shotgun was in his hands when the short little farmer returned to watch.

One of the Ford Model Ts rattled to a stop in front of the farmhouse fence. The old farmer leaned on his shotgun and waited. His son would talk to the visitors. The boy spoke English. So did he, but not as well, just good enough to take the Dodge truck into Merced to buy supplies, and it wasn't like the mangled; inbred; garbage dialect the Okies spoke was English anyway.

The farmer watched the transients carefully as his son approached the automobile. They were asking for work. They were always asking for work. Ever since the dusts had blown up and cursed their stupid land, they'd all driven west in some Okie exodus until they ran out of farmland and stopped to harass the Portuguese, who had gotten here first.

Of course they'd been here first. Like he gave a shit if these people were homeless or hungry. He'd been born in a hut on the tiny island of Terceira and had milked cows every single day of his life until his hands were leather bags so strong he could bend pipe. The San Joaquin Valley had been a hole until his people had shown up, covered the place in Holsteins, and put the Mexicans to work. Now these Okies show up, build tent cities, bitch about how the government should save them, and sneak out at night to rob the Catholics. It really pissed him off.

It always amazed him how much the Okies could fit onto an old Model T. He'd come from Terceira on a steamship, spending weeks in a steel hole between hot steam pipes. He'd owned a blanket, one pair of pants, a hat, and a pair of shoes with holes in them. He'd worked his ass off in a Portuguese town in Rhode Island, neck deep in fish guts, married a nice Portuguese girl, even if she was from the screwed up island of St. George, which everybody from Terceira knew was the ass crack of the Azores, and saved up enough money doing odd jobs to come out here to another Portuguese town and buy some scrawny Holsteins. Five cows, a bull, and twenty years of backbreaking labor had turned into a hundred and twenty cows, fifty acres, a Ford tractor, a Dodge pickup, a good milk barn, and a house with six whole rooms. By Portuguese standards, he was living like a king.

So he wasn't going to give these Okies shit. They weren't even Catholic. They should have to work like he did. He watched the Okie father talking to his son as his son patiently explained for the hundredth time that there wasn't any work, and that they needed to head toward Los Banos or maybe Chowchilla, not that they were going to work anyway when they could just break into his milk barn and steal his tools to sell for rotgut moonshine again. His grandkids were poking their heads around the house, checking out the Model T, but he'd warned them enough times about the dangers of outsiders, and they stayed safely away. He wasn't about to have his family corrupted from their good Catholic work ethic by being exposed to bums.

Then he noticed the girl.

She was just another scrawny Okie kid. Barely even a woman yet, so it was surprising that she hadn't already had three kids from her brothers. But there was something strange about this one… something he'd seen before.

The girl glanced his way, and he knew then what had set him off. She had grey eyes.

'Mary mother of God,' the old farmer muttered, fingering the crucifix at his neck. 'Not this shit again…' His first reaction was to walk away, leave it alone. It wasn't any of his business, and the girl would probably be dead soon enough, impaled through her guts by some random tree branch or a flying bug stuck in an artery. And he didn't even know if the grey eyes meant the same thing to an Okie as it did to the Portuguese. For all he knew she was a normal girl who just looked funny, and she'd go have a long and stupid life in an Okie tent city popping out fifteen kids who'd also break into his milk barn and steal his tools.

The girl was studying him, dirty hair whipping in the wind, and he could just tell…

'Fooking shit damn,' he said in English, which was the first English any immigrant who worked with cows learned. He'd seen what happened to the grey eyes when they weren't taught correctly, and as much as he despised Okies, he didn't want to see one of their kids with their brains spread all over the road because they'd magically appeared in front of a speeding truck.

Leaning the shotgun against the tractor tire, he approached the Model T. The Okie parents looked at him with mild belligerence as he approached their daughter. The old farmer stopped next to the girl's window. There were half a dozen other kids crammed in there, but they were just regular desperate and starving Okies. This one was special.

He lifted his hat so she could see that his eyes were the same color as hers. He tried his best English. 'You… girl. Grey eyes.' She pointed at herself, curious, but didn't speak. He nodded. 'You… Jump? Travel?' She didn't understand, and now her idiot parents were staring at him in slack jawed ignorance. The old farmer took one hand and held it out in a fist. He suddenly opened it. 'Poof!' Then he raised his other hand as far away as possible, 'Poof!' and made a fist.

She smiled and nodded her head vigorously. He grinned. She was a Traveler all right.

'You know about what she does?' the Okie father asked.

The old farmer nodded, finding his own magic inside and poking it to wake it up. Then he was gone, and instantly he was on the other side of the Model T. He tapped the Okie mother on the arm through the open window and she shrieked. All his grandkids cheered. They loved when he did that. His son just rolled his eyes.

The Okie father looked at the Portuguese farmer, back at his daughter, and then back to the farmer. The grey eyed girl was happy as could be that she'd found somebody just like her. The father scowled for a long time, glancing again at his strange child that had caused them so much grief, and then at all the other starving mouths he had to find a way to feed. Finally he spoke. 'I'll sell you her for twenty dollars.'

The old farmer thought about it. He didn't need any more people eating up his food, but his brother and sisters had all ended up dead before they had mastered Traveling, and this was the first other person like him he'd seen in twenty years, but he also hadn't gotten where he was by getting robbed by Okies. 'Make it ten.'

The girl giggled and clapped. New York City, New York The richest man in the world stepped into the elevator lift and looked in distaste at the gleaming silver buttons. The message had said to come alone, so he did not even have one of his usual functionaries to perform the service of requesting the correct floor. Rather than soiling his hands or a perfectly good handkerchief, he sighed, tapped into the lowest level of his Power, and pushed the button for the penthouse suite with his mind. Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant, billionaire industrialist, could not tolerate filth. A man of his stature simply did not get his hands dirty.

He had people for that.

The steel doors closed. They were carved with golden figures of muscular workers creating the American dream through their sweat and industry under a rising sun emitting rays as straight as a Tesla cannon. He sniffed the air. The elevator car seemed clean. The hotel was considered a five-star luxury establishment, but Cornelius just knew that there were germs everywhere, disgusting, diseased, tiny plague nodules just itching to get on his skin. Cornelius understood the true nature of the man who was staying in this hotel, and he must have ridden in this very car. Cornelius shuddered as he squeezed his arms and briefcase closer to his sides, careful not to touch the

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