Illumination 7.10: Zap

“Only ten minutes before it turned back into gloop,” said Ajax, as he and Seth strolled along a corridor. “That’s not very long.”

“It’s longer than most battles against the Awakened,” Seth pointed out.

“But turning it into weapons isn’t important. We can all make weapons.” Ajax considered the adults who couldn’t, and added, “Or otherwise acquire them. Nah, it has to be useful some other way.”

“I’d like to see what Jehane does with it,” said Seth.

“She’s always your guinea pig, isn’t she?”

“More of a rat in a maze,” said Seth, but there was an edge to his voice.

Ajax looked at him, then finally said, “Be careful, man.”

“Or what?” Seth grinned. “You’ll kick my ass? Finally!”

Pushing a hand through his hair, Ajax sighed. Seth added, “Come on, what do you think will happen? You don’t know her any better than you know the rest of us.”

Ajax wondered if the ever-present desire to stomp on Seth’s skull meant he was a friend. The guys at his old school had never been half as irritating. “Not as well as I know you, at least. But Seth, man, you follow me around like a puppy begging for a kick. I think I know you pretty well now.”

Seth looked away, down the hall. “You’re the only person who doesn’t talk about Natalie like she’s gone.”

“Me and your mom, you mean.”

Seth scowled. “She doesn’t count. I couldn’t convince her she was wrong if I presented video evidence. She’s a mom.

Kick him! Grind his face into his ears! But Ajax ignored the little voice— he was getting quite good at it— and tried to think about what Seth said.

Seth suddenly darted down the corridor.

“Hey, where are you—?” Ajax went after him.

They ended up in the Tower core, Ajax barreling into Seth when he stopped suddenly. After a flurry of shoving and Elian’s “Not again,” Ajax disengaged and put a table between himself and Seth. Only then did he see what Seth had been chasing.

Kwan had frozen in the act of helping Savannah, the Prowler, into a chair. They both stared at Ajax and Seth. Ajax did his best to indicate, without pointing any fingers, that it was Seth’s fault, as usual. Then he noticed how pale Savannah was.

Seth threw himself into a chair at the table beside Savannah’s. “And what are you two doing?”

The look Kwan gave Seth suggested Ajax wasn’t the only person with persistent fantasies of hitting Seth, but all he said was, “Perhaps we should go someplace more private, Savannah? Away from long noses?”

Savannah shook her head. “No. Maybe they should hear this, too.”

“Ooh!” said Seth. “Is it a confession? I love confessions.”

“Shut up, Seth,” Savannah said. “I woke up this morning thinking about Hatherly. I remembered that I first got to know him years ago right after I joined the Prowlers. He was thinking about retiring from the Nightlights business, and wanted to take a vacation to explore the land beyond. So he came out with my team on a run, to check on some of the other towers. We went to Tower Di.”

“The first tower that re-activated?” Ajax asked.

“Yes. Hatherly was really interested in exploring the tower, and at one point, he got lost. We couldn’t find him for most of the day. I remembered that when he showed up again, he was… strange. Like he’d seen something, maybe a new kind of monster. But when we asked him about it, he laughed it off.”

“So he found something and he went back for it,” said Seth. “So?”

“It didn’t occur to me before, but— well, we get a basic data dump from the other Towers whenever they’ll let us. It’s nothing deep, nothing that would upset the Tower spirit, just a log of recent activity if they’ll share it. Tower Di usually does. So I went digging. There’s nothing from the most recent trip, of course— he convinced it to delete it or withhold it. But further back, from around the time Hatherly first visited the Tower, I found some things.” She paused, looking down at the table. Nobody said anything, not even Seth.

“It’s chaotic,” she finally went on. “Hard to parse, hard to translate. But there are references to a device. Many devices— Di’s engineering records must have been preserved quite well. But one in particular that Di didn’t like to talk about. It seemed to be designed to intensify light.”

Ajax frowned. “Like a laser? That doesn’t seem related.”

“No, it’s a… a metaphorical light.”

Kwan met Savannah’s gaze, and after a long moment, he said, “Ah. I see.”

“What?” demanded Ajax.

“The Antecessors called the monsters we face Awakened Darkness. The ‘light’ is our anima, or something related.”

“I think so,” said Savannah. “It’s a strange theory and I can’t tell how much of it is the creative interpretation of the Tower Di spirit. But they seemed to believe that there’s a great light hidden behind a great darkness. The light is blocked, but it seeps through cracks in the darkness. And there’s something about… sealing up all the little cracks, and a stronger light will force itself through the big cracks.”

“Light doesn’t work that way,” objected Ajax. “Does it?”

Seth started laughing. “I know a little about lasers.” He pointed a fingergun at Ajax. “Zap, zap. Oh man.” He laughed again. “We’re the lasers. The luminators activate us—” he caught Kwan’s eye and calmed down. “Sorry, sorry. Go on.”

“Somebody could probably make it work as a story but it’s really just a metaphor. And— it’s true. I’d dismiss it all as ravings but he’s got a machine that can partially shut down smaller animas and make, ah, activated ones stronger.” Savannah looked around, meeting everybody’s gaze one at a time. “But the device Di talked about wasn’t designed to make us better at fighting battles. It was designed to end the war. Focus the machine until there’s only one light left, completely shut down all other lights, and that light would be so strong it would destroy the darkness.”

Ajax said, “Uh, would there be anybody around after to appreciate it?”

Savannah shrugged. “Who knows?”

Seth said, “What we need to answer that is an Antecessor. Oh wait! They’re all gone.” He smiled. “Seems to me the question answers itself.”


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