Ghost Talkers@Mary Robinette Kowal

Chapter One

16 JULY 1916

“The Germans were flanking us at Delville Wood when I died.”

Ginger Stuyvesant had a dim awareness of her body repeating the soldier’s words to the team’s stenographer. She tried to hold that awareness at bay, along with the dozens of other spirit circles working for the British Army. Even with a full circle supporting her, she ached with fatigue, and if she weren’t careful that would pull her back into her body. It wouldn’t be fair to force Helen to assume control of the circle early. The other medium was just as exhausted. Around them, the currents of the spirit world swirled in slow spirals. Past events brushed her in eddies of remembrance. Caught in those memories, scent and colour floated with thick emotion. The fighting at the Somme had kept the entire Spirit Corps working extra shifts trying to take reports from the dead, and the air was frigid with souls.

The young soldier in front of her had been with the 9th Scottish Division, 26th Brigade, the Black Watch. Technically, Pvt. Graham Quigley was still a member of the Black Watch, until his unfinished business was completed and he could cross beyond the veil.

Belatedly, Ginger realized what he’d said. “So you could see the Germans? You know their positions?”

His aura rippled black with remembered pain, but a flash of amber satisfaction shot through it. “Oh, ma’am. Don’t I just. The shell that got me made it clear as all that I’d not live through the day, so I had the boys prop me up.” Quigley grinned. “I saw the Huns set their guns up not fifteen feet from where I lay bleeding.”

“When did you die? The time. Did you see the time?”

“Eleven forty-seven.” His spirit winked at her. “I had one of the blokes hang up my watch so I could see the time. Remembered my training, I did.”

Most soldiers came in within a few minutes of their death, but sometimes their confusion, or the sheer number of them, meant that their report didn’t come until hours later. Knowing when they died was vital. Ginger’s shift would end at noon, so Quigley had only been dead for a few minutes. “Can you show me their positions?”

“Aye. That I can.” The amber of his pleasure suffused and buried the dark pain of dying. If the Spirit Corps did nothing else, it gave these young men some meaning for their deaths.

“Give me a moment.” Her circle, well trained as they were, made the necessary changes to their configuration. Taking care not to break contact with her, Mrs. Richardson, on her right, slid her grip up Ginger’s arm so that her hand was free. An aide, seated in the centre of the circle, positioned the drawing board in front of her. Edna had already clipped a map of the village Longueval and Delville Wood to the board. Neither woman had the Sight, so to them the soldier was only a dim shadow, and only that much when they were in full contact with the circle. Without it, they’d feel nothing more than a spot of uncanny cold where he stood. But while the circle was in effect, with a strong medium to lead, all six of the sitters could hear him, and the countless drills they had done stood them in good stead.

If Quigley had seen where the Germans were, the command centre could hopefully find a way to stop those guns. A cluster of other ghosts waited, crowding the warehouse until another circle was free to take their report. Dimmer flashes of living people walked through the room carrying stenographers’ reports or updated orders as the casualties poured in.

Ginger reminded her body to take a breath before she turned her attention back to the soldier. She pushed her soul farther out of her body. The relief sighed through Ginger as her mortal weight lessened. Her soul blended with the radiance around her, but there was not time to permit herself to drift in the spirit plane and delight in the tangible flow of ghosts. “Show me, please.”

She reached out for Quigley and let his soul wrap around hers so she could drop into his memories.

He is leaning against a wall trying not to look at where his legs used to be. The pain is not as bad as he’d thought it would be, but he’d give anything for a drink of water. He is so thirsty. The blasted Huns have overrun their position and are setting up their guns