That was the feeling, Predericon realised. That was what was so familiar about it. The frozen feeling of a trapped animal – the same feeling that she had felt in Odium’s brief presence.
“Odium,” she repeated blankly. Her blankness was quite genuine, although it was shock rather than lack of recognition. She was nevertheless absolutely convinced that the human was seeing through her effortlessly. Because it’s not a human, she thought wildly. It’s a Demon. What were they called, the other two Demons on Earth? Mercy, and Fury.
“Hmm,” Mercibald said thoughtfully, smiling and studying Predericon’s face. Then he continued smoothly in Latin. “You don’t look old enough to have been floating around the solar system since the cataclysm,” he said, “and yet you clearly recognised the names – Cursèd, Odium.”
“Lelhmak,” Predericon managed to speak with a mouth that felt dry with panic, “he was … very old. He told us about the worlds as they used to be, and about the – the immortals and the undead ‑ ”
“And did he also teach you Latin?” Mercibald asked mildly in English. Before she could finish berating herself for such a foolish oversight, he went on – this time in Xidh, which he apparently spoke even more fluently than John did although it was still slightly archaic. “And did he mayhap grow you and Gyden in an alchemism?”
“We were in the near-Cursèd environmental envelope, performing research,” Predericon abandoned any attempt to deceive the Demon, and told herself it was practicality rather than terror. “The flatworlds reconfigured into spherical planets and moons, and our vessel crashed. We waited for rescue and attempted to send word, and spent extended periods in stasis. We eventually gave up on waiting, and constructed an escape pod from what remained of our ship. Capable of sustaining us on a one-way flight to the only planet we identified with life and a technological signature – this one – the ship carried us here and crashed on atmoplanic – atmospheric insertion.”
“Enter the intrepid men of the United States military,” Mercibald concluded.
Predericon nodded. “I did not reveal these details to the humans here,” she said, “as I judged they would be considered fabrications or at best irrelevant. But you are not human,” she said, “are you?”
“I’ve never seen a grey Molran before,” Mercibald said. “Is that a new thing? A result of your stasis, perhaps?”
“We are … phobic preservationists,” Predericon said. “Phobes. It is a cultural and emergent physiological subcategory of our species, most common in The Centre. We are not exactly phobic as is classically understood, but we practice dietary and exposure guidelines that … well, suffice it to say that it makes more sense in Capital Mind, but we are not averse to travelling.”
“I hope our food was to your liking,” Mercibald said mildly.
Predericon smiled faintly. “I have no complaints.”
“Except that you would like to see your colleagues.”
“I am sure that can be arranged,” Mercibald said. “First, though, we are going to get to the bottom of your adventures in the outer solar system these past nineteen centuries. I am pleased to sense that you’ve told the truth – or much closer to it than previously – but I feel there is more you have not told us,” he took a half step towards her, then seemed to hesitate. His head turned as though he was listening to something, but even Predericon’s ears couldn’t pick up any sound from outside. Abruptly he turned, and strolled towards the door. “I will have food sent,” he said. “Gather your strength.”
Mercibald was as good as his word. Lagos arrived no more than half an hour later with a tray. This time, when the door to her cell opened, she heard the muffled and distant sounds of raised voices, harsh alarms, and booted feet running. If there was an emergency taking place, however, it was several rooms or floors away.
Lagos’s hands shook as he set the tray on the bed.
“Thank you, Lagos,” Predericon said. “What is happening?”
Lagos darted a look at her, eyes wide. “Nothing,” he said, “can’t say.”
Just before he turned to head back towards the open door with its usual shadowy armed guards, Lagos murmured under his breath, “Gyden is dead. Don’t eat the […]. It’s got a sedative in it. One that’ll work even on you.”
Then he retreated, leaving Predericon staring at the tray and wondering what exactly “[…]” was.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while on the bus.