Orphic Phantasia

41: Unmasqued

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It was Sohrabarak al-Hakim who stepped forward to answer him, still dressed in that same smart suit he wore when entering the Sultan’s palace, but hair now wild and free. His fists crackled with sparks of electricity. “On the contrary,” he said, his voice loud and commanding, filling the arena without help from microphones or speakers, “if I might point your attention to section four, paragraph seven of our contract, you will find it clearly states that we are permitted to take whatever action we deem necessary to protect our personal interests, including all individuals under our care. You are familiar with our contract, yes?”

The Sultan held his gaze a moment more, then stormed from his balcony without another word.

As the crowd, confused and disappointed, began to disperse, Mr al-Hakim turned his attention to Dante. “Quite the day you’ve had,” he said with a smile. “Let’s get you patched up before it gets any worse.”

The two Seelie officers helped Dante to lie down on the beach, then started tending to his injuries, Ms Espinosa dabbing his various cuts and bruises, Mr al-Hakim prodding at his chest and leg, then securing both with a supportive coat of nanomachines.

“You’ve a couple of broken ribs, but your leg isn’t too bad,” he said, helping Dante to his feet. “Just don’t put too much weight on it and you’ll be fine.”

Ms Espinosa put her arm around his shoulders. “I’m sorry I didn’t step in sooner,” she said, throwing her commander a sharp glare.

Despite their animosity, the two Seelie officers helped Dante over to one of the arena elevators, where a flustered Byron was waiting for them, alongside Lance and — Dante had to check to make sure he wasn’t seeing things — another Ms Espinosa.

A third was waiting inside the elevator.

“Any news?” asked Mr al-Hakim as they stepped inside.

“Commander Thorbjorn believes Emily has fled to the outside world,” she replied. “She also left a message with her cellular.”

“What message?” asked Byron, the urgency in his voice overwhelming his usual pretentious prose.

“One she wanted to share with you,” the third, blue-eyed Ms Espinosa replied. “Once we’ve returned to the surface, we’ll pass it along.”

As the elevator began its ascent, Mr al-Hakim stroked his chin. “In the meantime, I think I might head outside and see if I can track our wandering initiate down. I doubt the Sultan will give her up so easily, and all the Sidhe magic in the world won’t protect her from that gestalt.”

Dante froze; he’d heard that term once before. It was burned into his memory, along with everything else that happened that night.

“I probably owe my life to that bloody gestalt,” his mother had said. To that man in the forest. The man Dante and Emily had decided an agent of Pleiades, an embodiment of the Erebus.

It was Lance who asked the question Dante couldn’t find the strength to voice: “What’s a gestalt?”

“I guess you could call it a kind of secret agent,” replied Mr al-Hakim. “Some people call them ‘G-Men’. They’re autonomous machines that can change their shape at will. Awfully polite fellows, if a little dull, but also very, very dangerous.”

So, not the Erebus, but some kind of artificial machine intelligence. Either way, it was the work of Pleiades and confirmation that they were as much involved in these events as they had been with those six years ago. Dante shivered. It was as if all the colds of Antarctica had descended upon him.

History repeated.

~*~

Dante is half Donaran on his father’s side, so obviously Natalia has a bit of a soft spot for him. Sohrabarak, on the other hand, has lived through some pretty horrific wars where soldiers had access to technology enough to rejuvenate dismembered limbs, amongst other things, so he sees a couple of broken ribs the same way you might regard a papercut.