The door to Remert’s private office snaps back into the pocket behind the armoire and the Director’s hurried exit is blocked. The Deputy Director is an unwelcome obstacle to egress.
“I have business elsewhere,” Remert says.
“I’ll bet you do.” H’seven appears unwilling to step back out of the doorway. He speaks an abbreviated command to the media wall and excerpts from the incident at the Sandia Pueblo fill the multiplex projection.
“I do not have time for this now. I am needed…”
The door has sealed again behind H’seven and he leans against it, pointing at the montage of images. Remert’s sense of urgency stymied, he gives way with a scowl and turns in frustration to see the woman in white disappear with the young police officer.
“You had them bound in chains when I first saw them,” H’seven says. “If she’s able to pull shit like that, why do you suppose she didn’t?”
Remert’s thoughts are distant, attempting to process a rush of discordant, troubling possibilities. The Call, unexpected after all this time, will change everything. Exactly what, how much, and how soon will be known after this inconvenient episode has concluded.
He returns his intention toward the door and his apostate Deputy. “I can extrapolate two plausible reasons.”
“So can I. They were playing you from the jump.”
“Your hindsight is flawless.”
“What the Hell are they?”
“They have the potential to invite a level of trouble the likes of which we have not seen before. I trust you are following these events and individuals with diligence. I will be prepared to entertain your progress report when I return. My business now is urgent.”
“Where ya goin’?”
“My responsibilities here are not yours and I have imperatives that do not require your attention or participation. Let me pass.”
“It pisses me off when you try to lie to me, Stretch.”
H’seven strides forward. Remert takes two steps back and bumps up against the media wall.
H’seven sits in the chair that doesn’t touch the floor and says, “I think you’re developing a dangerously cavalier attitude toward our relationship. Your kind prides itself on its ability to absorb and incorporate the impact of important lessons. Odd that you’ve failed to do so. Maybe this place has rubbed off on you. Still, it has been some time since our little understanding, hasn’t it, D’kin?”
The use of Remert’s honorific sounds disrespectful, striking a defiant, scornful note. H’seven’s stare becomes a perturbation in the aether between them. Remert tries to look away and cannot.
He feels his pulse dancing, skipping, leaping. His heartbeat has doubled, tripled, but it isn’t pounding; it flutters like a bird on the ground, unable to rise. A sensation of lightheadedness is followed by a crushing weight in his chest and a rush of agony. His groan is stifled, reshaped into a few words of a familiar litany by an effort of intention only Mong and this grievous creature will ever witness.
A spear twists in his entrails, wringing a strangled cry. He gulps air like a fish and every muscle in his body tries to contract at once. He pitches to the floor screaming out his last breath with barely a sound.
Eyes wild, unseeing in a mask of terror, Remert experiences the crystalline recognition that all his single-minded purpose and sacrifice have come at once to nothing, his goal beyond his grasp, his commitment unfulfilled.
Writhing. Helpless. Dying.
Like a bubble popping, the pressure in his chest, the auger in his intestines, the bone-shattering contraction in his limbs… gone, nothing more than a phantom of pain and a blistering memory not to be touched again. His heart rate is accelerated, as dying in anguish is likely to do to anyone, but its rhythm is strong and vital. Quaking, drawing convulsive breaths as if he’d just run kilometers, Remert drags himself to a sitting position against the media wall. Stone against his back feels somehow reassuring. The damp squishiness in his trousers, not so much.
H’seven is sprawled in Remert’s chair. His voice and face are cheerful.
“How’s that for perspective, Remmy? Will that do you for a while, or would you like to go again?”
Remert raises a trembling, dissenting hand. His relief at being alive has overshadowed his studied Methodic aplomb, but the brutal truth is this: his life, his survival, and the furtherance of his efforts to fulfill his mandate to Lord Shiric is bound by a tenuous thread of compliance and faithfulness to this being whose existence may well be beyond the vast comprehension of Mong Himself. If that be heresy, may Mong Himself prove him wrong. And soon.
“All right, then,” H’seven says, claps his hands, and rubs them together. “Let’s get back to business, why don’t we? I was asking you to tell me about these two Blacks with the halfblood. I need to know what they are.”
Remert’s tremors have not subsided. His protruding Adam’s apple works up and down. Twice. His voice quivers. “They are of the Aca’chi Aht-U’chah, known everywhere on Hevn as the Fayneem Bloch—Fayne’s Hammer. The Faceless Ones. A warrior caste nurtured by and unquestionably obedient to The Fayne and no other.”
“What the fuck is a fain?”
“A glorified jailer and a despot. He is far from here, imprisoned by his responsibilities, and no threat to either of us.”
“I’m sorry. Perhaps I stuttered. Give me a straight answer, Remmy, or I swear to—what’s his name? Mung?—I’ll give you some more perspective until you shit yourself hollow.”
Remert swallows his instinctive wave of fear and compresses his fury until it looks and sounds like compliance. “According to excerpts from ‘The Book of Turns’, The Fayne is the emissary of the Tu’chah Aht-T’sungahn, the so-called ‘Lords of Order’. To place it in a Terran framework, he is the marshal in town and the Fayneem Bloch are his sworn deputies.”
“And these two are significant why?”
“They are progeny of Hevn’s Black Lands and exhibit the physical characteristics of their kind. How they came to be in company with the Fayneem Bloch is a puzzle only less confounding than how they have come to be here. Nevertheless, these are The Fayne’s minions. As such, in addition to any individual innate gifts either of them may possess, The Fayne has doubtless granted them augmentation. If allowed to gain proximity, these two could present a formidable imposition to our plans.”
“Two people? Don’t be stupid.”
“They are NOT ‘people’. They are thinking weapons of extraordinary capability.”
H’seven stands, towering over the Director. “I’m not exactly ‘people’ either. Pick your nasty ass up off the floor and get yourself cleaned up. Take care of your ‘imperatives’. I’ll meet you there.”
“I think it’s time I introduced myself to him, don’t you?”
“Introduce… “ Remert realizes that somehow his mouth is hanging open again. “To HIM?! No… I think that is an incredibly dangerous idea.”
“Yeah, I know, that’s why I like it.”
“No! I forb…” The Director is astonished to discover he is unable to complete his pronouncement, unable to make a sound. He tries anyway.
The door snaps back into the pocket behind the armoire and the Deputy Director steps aside.
“You get along now. I’ll catch up to you.”