36: The Scrying Game
Dante never took his eyes off the man Emily introduced as ‘Jonas’. It was obvious, from the moment he set eyes upon him, that he could not be trusted. He had the snivelling, silky-smooth voice of man who could charm his way out of any situation, and his self-pitying story about synthetic uprisings sounded like something out of a video game. Emily, however, thought otherwise. He was a victim, she said. They had to help him. She had to help him.
Right now, she was hidden beneath his mother’s cloak as Jonas led them through Bolventor’s back streets, down the passageways between the struts and columns and slums of the underground town. Six years ago, Ophelia Orpheus had surrendered herself to Arided and Pleiades. Perhaps she had trusted them, too. Dante had to make sure Emily didn’t follow in her footsteps. He was the only one who could.
“Chip?” Lance Algar thrust a wad of vinegar-drenched paper in his face. Dante waved it away. The takeaway’s food did not agree with him. “Ah, cheer up, dude,” said Lance, leaning close and lowering his voice. “You can’t let it get to you. You just gotta smile and move on, you know? Like they say around here, there’s plenty of fish in the sea!”
Chris glanced over his shoulder. “Plenty of plankton, maybe,” he said. “Fish? Not so much. Unless we’re talking an artificial ocean, of course. Or, indeed, artificial fish. Do you deal in marine synthetics, Jonas?”
“Very occasionally,” he replied, his tone sharp and impatient. “We lack the appropriate facilities to handle more than one or two at a time, and they rarely provide adequate entertainment. You do have to keep your audience happy, after all. Ah, here we are.”
They had arrived at the very edge of the cavern, where unchecked foliage had run wild beneath the glare of the artificial sunlight, snaking its way up the walls in some desperate hope of reaching the surface. After checking to see if anyone was watching, Jonas prised apart the vines as if they were a curtain. Behind them lay a narrow passage and, at its end, a lone, metal door.
“You understand this area is security locked, of course,” he explained as he gestured them to follow. “We won’t be going anywhere unless you have the proper authorisation.”
“Authorisation?” Emily’s voice spoke out of nowhere, though Dante could tell — or, at least, feel — that she was hovering over Jonas’s shoulder, almost as if to wrap her arm around his, as she would have done with Dante. “You can deal with that, right?”
“I can try,” Jonas replied, stepping up to the doors and gesturing at a panel on the wall. “I have certain … privileges that the Sultan doesn’t know about.”
Speaking of melodrama: here’s Dante!