I rubbed my forehead. Today was not going well. I had chosen to simply skip my classes in order to get more time for working with Clarke, but we weren’t making much progress. The others were in a nearby room, mostly in case I needed help restraining a sleeper, but also so that Derek could yell at Ling. She had given us all a scare, disappearing like that. Now, of course, she was taking full advantage of Derek’s attentions to drape herself all over him. That might change fast, though. He could get scary in full tongue-lashing mode.
Robyn handed me a coffee, and I thanked her with a nod. I really didn’t have time to think about stupid Derek’s love life. Everyone was alive, that was all that was important. Now on to the matter at hand.
The sleeper who had started the whole mess, Horace Warfield, was dead. We had a few other prisoners, but they weren’t much more helpful than the corpse, since none of them remembered anything.
I glanced around and frowned. “Where’d your dad go?”
Robyn shrugged. “He said he had an idea for the heart and ran off. I don’t think he’ll be much more use on this project today.”
I sighed. Honestly, it was a miracle he had stayed this long. That man had the attention span of a goldfish.
At least he had left me one of his assistants. “Henry, tell them to bring in the next sleeper.” The tech nodded and walked out of the lab, past the room with Derek and the rest.
“Didn’t they find a way to identify sleeper agents before?” Robyn asked, sipping her coffee. “When Malcanthet’s started popping up, I mean.”
“Already tried something like that,” I grumbled. “However these are being controlled, it’s not through any drugs we can detect. That’s how she always did it, so it’s easier to test.” I suppose I could run some tests for a few masking agents just in case, but I wasn’t sure it was worth the effort.
If she had another idea, I never heard it, because we were interrupted by Jasmine Hannesdottir barging into the room.
Jasmine was the can ambassador, and one of the only—perhaps the only—can anthro in the city. There weren’t very many cans in general, since people didn’t really care about crabs all that much, so Jasmine was leader in all but name.
She was covered in an orange shell, thick and spiked, that hugged her body like a second skin. Her right hand was shelled, like she was wearing a gauntlet, but her left was replaced with a massive claw. Her lips were obscured by a collection of small mandibles, and two extra eyes on stalks slowly scanned the room.
“I’m sorry, madam dames,” Henry apologized. “I couldn’t stop her.” No doubt. He was completely baseline, and she was known for using that claw to snap people’s heads off.
“Where is Butler?” the kemo demanded in a surprisingly human voice, supporting my theory that she still had her normal lips hidden under all the crab parts. “I need to speak with him immediately.”
“Calm down,” I said slowly. “He’s resting. Can I help you with anything?”
She looked me up and down in obvious disdain. Her main eyes were still normal, and thus easy to read. She tried to shove me aside in disdain with her mostly-human hand.
I ground my teeth, resisting the urge to scream. I am not good with physical contact, creepy toys notwithstanding. “What do you need?”
The kemo realized she needed to actually pay attention to me. “And who are you supposed to be?”
“I’m Laura,” I explained with all the patience I could muster. “One of the Paladins.”
The crab woman seemed to calm a little. “You’ll do. I am here to speak about my father.”
“Knight Michael Johnsson has been sent back to his clan for a funeral,” I said, thankful that I had been forced to personally sign away his body after all. It had been an annoyance, but at least now I knew for sure what had happened. “I’m sure you can make any necessary arrangements with them.”
Jasmine narrowed her eyes. “Convenient.”
I chuckled. “Far from it. He had information we needed.” I shrugged. “But there was an air strike. A lot of people are dead.”
She pounded on a table with her claw. It split in half under the impact, dumping lab papers and glassware to the ground. That was going to be a bitch to clean up. “Stop mocking me! I want retribution! Who killed my father? I’ll—”
“You’ll what?” I asked. “Kill his family? His clan? His culture?” I stepped closer. “That’s exactly what the Composer wants, you know. He chose the perfect moment to start a civil war.”
Her mandibles clicked furiously, and she stepped forward angrily. “Don’t patronize me, little girl.”
I held my ground. “You’re not much older than me. And clearly less intelligent. You’re a diplomat, you know this is a bad idea.”
She snapped her claw dangerously close to my face. I ignored it. It was grandstanding, nothing more. Like a captured monster that knew it was caught. “Life for life, baseline!”
“And that code has been satisfied,” I pointed out. “The man who killed your father is dead. Now you get to carry on their legacy.”
Jasmine backed up, her mandibles waving slowly. A gesture of confusion. “Wait…their legacy?”
“The legacy your father and his murderer shared,” I said gently. “They both wanted peace and cooperation between the cultures.”
The can roared forward. “THEN WHY DID HE KILL HIM!?”
Exactly the response I was hoping for. I didn’t flinch. “He was hypnotized.”
She blinked. “What?”
“The Composer has some power to control people. To program them, like sleeper agents. During the battle five percent—exactly five percent—turned on their allies at the exact same moment.”
She stepped back again. “That means—”
“It could mean many things. Right now, it means we lost a battle. But we haven’t lost the war.”
She looked around, swallowed any complaints, and nodded. “What do you need me to do?”
“If you have any scientists in your entourage, send them over,” I said. “Other than that, just let us work.”
The can anthro nodded very slowly and headed back the way she came without another word. Henry and Robyn stared at her as she left, then turned to me, mouths agape.
I sat down heavily in a stool, since my shaking legs wouldn’t support me. “Henry, tell them to bring in the next sleeper.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 70)
Jasmine’s stalk-eyes don’t actually work. Oh, they transmit sight information to her brain sure enough, but its only the haziest of images. Like seeing with a good blindfold on.