When Seth emerged from the gymnasium locker room, running his fingers through his damp hair, Jake was waiting for him.
“Hey, Dad,” said Seth. “I’d ask what you’re doing here, but I’ve got to run. A study date, you know.”
“And after I’d gone to all this work to corner you. You’ve been avoiding me, Seth.”
“You’re a busy guy, Dad.” Seth turned away to one of the mirrors, inspecting the healing scar on his cheek. His father looked at the back of his head.
“I wanted to talk to you about what you did with the Tanist.”
“Aren’t you proud of me? Taking responsibility for my actions like that?”
Jake moved past Seth to lean against the mirror. “Should I be?”
“Well, it’s all due to your great parenting, Dad.” Seth walked across the gymnasium to the exit. Much to his annoyance, his father fell into step beside him.
“That’s certainly what you told the Tanist.”
“No, I just let her think that. Have you ever noticed how she gets an idea in her head and she just can’t let it go? I figure, why bother trying to change her mind on the unimportant stuff?”
His father gave that sigh Seth was so familiar with. Seth clenched his fist and smiled. “Don’t worry, Dad. You were useless when she cut me, but you get to make up for that by helping her think I’m reformed. Is this actually what you wanted to talk to me about?” He leered. “Or are you jealous?”
This failed to drive Jake away. Instead he said quietly, “I wanted to apologize. I’m sorry, son.”
Seth took three long steps ahead, then whirled around. “You know who apologizes a lot, apparently? Ajax’s dad. Because apologies are cheap. They’re a lot easier than reacting the right way at the right time.”
Something steely glinted in Jake’s eyes. “So noted. Were you thinking about that when you apologized to the Tanist?”
Seth waved a hand. “I was just thinking about the future.” Jake looked at him for a long moment. Seth jammed his hands into his pockets. “What?”
“Since you’ve had so much success at, ah, influencing her already, and you’re so concerned about the future, you can help me redirect her some more. She’s worried about the wrong things.”
Seth’s eyebrows shot up, despite himself. “That doesn’t sound like you. Don’t you usually support everything she does?”
Impatiently, Jake said, “You’re smarter than that, Seth. You think you’re discovering something new about her, when you put your feet on the table, then smirk and obey when she demands you take them down?”
Seth found himself re-evaluating his father’s relationship with his boss, and made himself stop.“Wow, twisted. So tell me this. Why don’t you just replace her?”
“The Council doesn’t replace leaders in a crisis, unless the leader causes a true disaster or resigns. It’s a tradition. And who would replace her if she did… resign? Nobody I’d trust to do a better job.” Jake shook his head. “No, that’s not going to solve any problems. Get your mind away from that direction and help me. What’s your take on her current focus?”
Seth spread his hands. “She’s worried about all the cambions running around. Where are they coming from? Who? If each person makes one when they fall, how many people are falling? Where are they coming from? Why do they hate us so much?”
Jake nodded grimly. “Certainly an issue, but not the biggest one. She’s worrying exclusively about protecting the Tower.”
“After almost losing it, that seems kind of reasonable,” said Seth, because he had to argue.
Jake pulled a newspaper out from under his blazer, and handed it to Seth. The headline screamed, “Bioterrorist Attack on Major Cities Worldwide.” The story beneath talked about the unknown ‘incapacitating agent’ introduced to the listed cities, and how the governments were reacting globally. While two countries claimed that a minor event had been greatly exaggerated, many others were locking down their borders with a vengeance, acting as if the attacks were a declaration of war by either an unknown or a long-term enemy.
“We’ve been avoiding Earth-based authorities for a long time, for a variety of reasons,” said Jake. “It’s clear that Malachi and his crew don’t share those reasons.”
A line near the end of the article caught Seth’s attention. “Huh. I thought these were just experiments, but there’s something here about robberies that took place during some of the attacks.”
“I saw that. I don’t know if it’s related or not. I’ve got somebody looking into it.”
“Has the Tanist seen these papers yet?”
Jake blew out his breath. “She sees everything in terms of the Tower’s survival. She’s worried about Malachi and his army of cambions invading again. Making her see these papers for what they are— that’s our task.”
“And what are they?”
“We can’t just wait until we’re attacked. We might be able to win in a siege, but we have a world to defend, and if we hide, we lose.”