16: A Crack in the Mask
“Look at the pair of you,” said the peacekeeper, anonymous behind his steel helmet. “You’re an embarrassment.”
“Says the guy in the tin can,” replied Theseus.
“Shut it, farm boy, or I’ll have you shovelling shit.”
Chris kept a step away from Theseus, pretending to mind his own business while calibrating the settings on his quantum pen. He would only have one shot at this, so it had to be perfect. If he chose the wrong frequency, it was all over. He’d always been a gambling man.
“Who’re you calling a boy?” said Theseus. Chris had suggested he stall for time. “I’m seventeen.”
The Sophist shuddered with pent-up rage. “Seventeen? And still playing games with Seelie? You should be out there servicing the community to earn your keep. By the time I was your age, I already had my commission, signed by the Father himself.”
Chris could see the rest of the candle-lit room reflected in the peacekeeper’s armour. John and Amanda had taken shelter behind the mainframe before he had noticed them. They were the backup. Foundation simulations had taught him to take advantage of every possible tool at his disposal—‘on site procurement’, they called it—but he had never thought he would come to rely on inexperienced teenagers.
Not that he would need them. The calibrations were complete. Chris pointed his quantum pen at the Sophist’s face.
“Don’t point that thing at me, you Malkuthian scum!”
“It’s just a scientific instrument,” said Chris, and activated the sonic pulse.
The Sophist cried out, but he should have fallen to his knees in agony. Chris realised his mistake—not accounting for the archaic helmet—too late. Before he had chance to adjust, the Sophist swiped the pen from his hand.
“I know what you pretty-boys are like with your ‘scientific instruments’,” he said, as he tried to snap the pen in two. Failing, he flung it across the room and reached for his sword. “I’ll show you a real weapon, you amateur.”
Theseus was quick, perhaps transhumanly so. He grasped the hilt of the Sophist’s sword and drew it from its sheath before the peacekeeper could stop him. As the two men scrambled for an advantage, Chris spun about in search of his pen. Just as he spotted it, a heavy fist slammed into his shoulder and knocked him down. It didn’t break his bones, but it hurt like hell.
Theseus must have lost his footing, because he was sprawled out near the doorway, stunned, but conscious. The Sophist, meanwhile, was about to recover his discarded sword. He didn’t notice, as Chris did, the swarm of nanomachines scuttling across the ground towards it. As he gripped the hilt, they rushed over the steel blade and reduced it to dust. At the same time, Amanda called Chris’s name and tossed him his quantum pen. Theseus was on his feet as well.
“What—” Before the Sophist could finish, Theseus tackled him from behind, pinning him to the ground so that the nanomachine swarm could turn its attentions on his mask. As the steel fell from his spluttering face, Chris thrust his pen forward and released a second sonic burst. He didn’t make the same mistake twice.
This time, the Sophist clunked to the ground with a whimpering cry.
“Amateur, huh?” said Theseus. He picked up the strip of leather that had once wound its way around the hilt of the peacekeeper’s sword. “This your work, Johno?”
John emerged from hiding. “I took command of the mainframe’s transmutor drones,” he explained. “Though they are designed for construction and repair purposes, I ordered them to consume any steel-based items in the vicinity.”
They had already started work on the Sophist’s armour, revealing a young man no older than twenty beneath it. His ears were bleeding from the sonic assault. Nothing modern technology couldn’t repair.
The poor guy spent three years at the Theatre, but failed to get a place at the Academy, so he threw his lot in with the Sophists instead. All he ever wanted was somebody to notice him…
There was more banter between him and Theseus in the previous draft but, as is often the case with these things, I cut it for pacing reasons. He probably knows one of Theseus’s older siblings, which is how he knows he works on a farm.