16: A Crack in the Mask
“Quaint,” said Chris. “Guess the old stuff still has its uses.”
“Indeed,” said John. “As my father would say, ‘lateral thinking with seasoned technology’.”
“Good stuff, lads,” said Theseus, “now, you thinking of hanging ‘round here all day or what? I figure the ol’ tin can’s out for the count. Not that there’s much of a tin can left on him.”
Chris looked down at the unconscious peacekeeper. All that remained of his armour was a fine silver dust. The Foundation classified the Sophists as ‘big on talk, not on tech’, and this fellow had proven it. What that said about the wreckage in the forest, however, was a question for another day.
“Let’s get moving,” said Chris. “A hero’s work is never done!”
Shelley cowered in the shadows. She was no hero. If her mother heard about this, if Endora Eoghan heard that her daughter was too afraid, too weak, too pitiful to stand up against the Sophists, she would disown her. Every thought of failure drove her further into the lonely night.
“Dinnae beat yerself up about it, lass,” said Shuck. “Ain’t nobody expecting ye tae go toe-tae-toe with someone like that.”
But she had to do something. She had to. If she didn’t, Alonie would end up a prisoner, or worse. Too afraid to move from her hiding place, Shelley closed her eyes and pictured the scene below her. She was no seer, and nor would she ever be, but she could at least see the basics, the abstraction of ideas imprinted in the aether.
The seer helped. Her gaze had swept over every corner of the hallway, taken in every detail and imposed it upon the immaterial world. Thanks to her, Shelley could see things she never knew existed, trails of character her friends left behind like footprints, some heading towards the cellar, others upstairs. And there, in this midst of this brilliant nebula of details, stood Alonie Kent, flecks of purple fire twisting around her, a shield against the seer’s words.
“You’re more competent that I expected,” she said to Alonie, her voice filled with a grudging respect. “Proof, if ever we needed it, that our Father has gone too light on you people. This, however, will be the end of that.”
“You won’t get away with this,” said Alonie. “Seelie won’t stand for it.”
The seer laughed, a cruel and haughty sound that reverberated around her winged helmet. “My dear, Seelie doesn’t care what happens to you. They only care for their own selfish interests, nothing more. You can trust me on that.”
“I wouldn’t trust you with anything.” Shelley winced at her friend’s flippant attitude. She knew how well the Sophists responded to disrespect—she could still feel her own bruises.
“No, I don’t suppose you would. Our Father has always said that the arrogance of you arcologians would be your downfall. For your sake, I suggest you accept his offer of rehabilitation. Learn to love beyond yourself, and our community shall respond in kind.”
“I’d rather be dead than a slave.”
“Such narcissism,” said the seer. “Do you not even care what happens to your boyfriend? Look at the poor thing, struggling even to stand. The Agnoia haunts him. Already, its whispers take root in his soul.”
So long as Alonie had a hold of Lance, she could not escape, and Shelley knew there was no way she would leave anyone—even someone as annoying as Lance—to the mercy of the Sophists.
“Boyfriend? In his dreams maybe.”
“So, you care so little you would condemn him? Or was your aim from the start to seduce his heart so you could break it? I had heard this place was once rife with whores, but I did not expect—”
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Alonie is pretty confident…