"Okay. This is where we’re at now.”

Athellus crouched down on the cold flagstones and took a piece of charcoal out of his backpack. He started making quick sketches on the floor, some sort of map. It looked like a long, long peninsula, broken in places, jutting out into the ocean.

“This is Nones. We’re currently towards the southern tip, about here.”

Dax knelt down to see what he was drawing. “So which part is Nones in?”

Athellus gestured with the charcoal around the whole peninsula. “The whole thing. Like I told you, the city-state and municipality of Nones covers this entire stretch of land. Here – for scale, the islands where you live are about this big.” He sketched them beside the peninsula.

"Shit,” whispered Dax. With Britain put beside it, he had to readjust his notion of the city up and up. The peninsula was huge, maybe five or six hundred miles long, and a ragged three hundred miles wide.

“And it’s all city?”

“The whole thing, coast to coast,” said Kaire. “So, effectively, the whole peninsula is one gigantic fortress.”

Athellus kept drawing. “You know about Gating energy, right?”

Dax tore his attention away from the drawing. “Kaire gave me a quick rundown. Nones is saturated with it because one of those Guardian things died here, I think. Is that right?”

“Exactly. And that makes life difficult for the Evinthei because it takes a lot of time and expertise to protect their buildings from paradigm flux. Besides, it attracts…stuff."

"Like me."

"Well, yeah. So they had the idea of directing paradigm flux to specific points in the city to protect the others, like a system of lightning rods.

“To do that, they’re building a facility called the Generator Well, which is meant to siphon and store Gating energy from the atmosphere, then transmit it to sites on the outskirts of the city.” Athellus marked points and drew quick lines across the map, lines coming from one point on the map across the river that split the peninsula, and converging at points around the outside of his map.

“That sounds like a good idea,” Dax ventured.

“It would be, but Gating energy doesn’t work like that,” said Kaire. “Storing a large amount of it creates an inversion and causes what’s called flux cascade, where paradigm fluxes happen one after another after another, and invert local space, like the floors of a building falling in on each other and pulling down the outer wall along with it. On the scale of energy they’d be using…”

Dax had got lost about twelve words into this explanation, but he gathered that the gist of what she’d said was ‘no, it’s a bad idea’. “So what would happen then?”

“You mean after the Generator Well explodes and takes most of the northern quarter of Nones along with it?” Athellus scribbled at the top of the map, ominously blocking it out. “Not much, I’d imagine. They think they’ve got adequate safeguards, but they’re not used to handling high levels of Gating energy in a closed concentration. Their dimensional sciences are a little out of date.”

“So your mission is to stop them building the Well,” said Dax.

“That’s right,” said Kaire. “The Greater Powers gave us what information they had and sent us here to stop it. The idea was to go as their envoy and explain the inherent risks to the Evinthei to make them quit the project.”

“But…why send you two if the Evinthei want to kill Athellus?”

"I wasn’t going to be involved,” said Athellus, with a shrug. “I was supposed to be acting strictly in an advisory capacity and stay back out of the Evinthei’s way. If it had gone the way we planned, they’d never have known I was there. We’re partners, Dax: where Kaire goes, I go. And Kaire is the foremost expert on Gating energy that the Greater Powers have. She was the best one for the job.”

“But unfortunately that original plan has gone up in smoke,” said Kaire. “The Evinthei found out about Athellus. And to be honest, the chances of them paying attention to me were fairly remote anyway, even … So we’re left with the cruder option.”

“Which is?”

She grinned. It was the dark, gleeful look of a woman about to throw a grenade in a termite mound. “Good old-fashioned sabotage.”

 

 

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