“It’s not what I would have imagined from a war machine, after what you told me,” said Dax, staring moodily into the coffee.

“Each of the Engines was designed precisely to kill a specific Guardian,” explained Athellus, sliding another piece of wood into the fire. “The Seventh Guardian had very powerful psychic abilities, so the Ancestors designed the Librais to attack it that way. So I suppose if a city’s got endless miles of wires and cables and computer junctions, that must be the closest thing to home territory that the Librais could find. Without an operator, it’s probably spent the last hundred years sitting around, reading every kilobyte of data that passes by.”

“And this is your ‘back door’ into the Evinthei computer network?” Dax asked, incredulously. “This is ‘safer’ than going and looking for the power grids ourselves?”

“Yes.”

“Well, safer for you, maybe. Jesus! Kaire’s your partner, and you just let that thing…” The image of Kaire wrapped in those ominous, sticky appendages and pinned down defied description. “You just handed it an operator, and you didn’t even try to save her! She risked her neck to save you on Lailenus Street, and this is how you repay her? By abandoning her?”

Athellus’ eventual reply was quite calm, and almost pleasant. “Dax, you have no idea what you’re talking about. So I suggest you sit down and shut up before you embarrass yourself any more.”

Dax hadn’t even realised he had got to his feet. Slowly, he sank back down again, his cheeks burning from mixed anger and shame.

“Kaire is her own person, and it was her idea to use the Librais, not mine. I hate even being near this thing. But she agreed to do it, for the sake of our mission. She’s one of the few… people with a mind strong enough stay sane while she hooked up to it, and she’s just spent three days communing with the People Upstairs to make doubly sure. Once she’s got the data she needs, she’ll disconnect herself from the Librais and we’ll be on our merry way. In the meantime, all you and I have to do is wait.”

But there was blood, Dax wanted to say. One of those cables hit her in the back, and there was blood on her mouth. How can she possibly ‘disconnect’ herself from it?

He sat in miserable silence for a while, watching the fire. Athellus put on more wood, then took out his throwing knife from its scabbard and started to sharpen it. Ordinarily the sound would have annoyed Dax, but he was too upset to notice. His imagination kept trying to show him what could be happening behind those pale walls.

Though at this point he might have welcomed the distraction, he was completely unaware of the fact that, from one of the ruined buildings nearby, a sniper rifle was pointed exactly at the back of his neck.

 

 

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