Illumination 8.10: Choose Your Fate

Everybody looked at Jehane, and she was reminded of an age ago, when she’d sat at the Council table and lied about knowing who Malachi was. It was long past the time for games like that. Now it was a new game, figuring out how to convey what she wanted to convey in a way they would care about. “We met Malachi. He doesn’t like the situation he’s found himself in.”

“And what situation is that?” asked the Tanist dryly.

“The situation where Savannah has the right idea about Hatherly’s end goal. He said he thought the only way we’d survive is if we were in the Tower. If we hid, and waited. Oh, and he said that Natalie was still herself.”

She watched Ajax’s shoulders relax as he passed a hand over his face, and was glad everybody was looking at her. He’d expected her to say something different.

I believe in Natalie. I believe in Malachi, mostly. It was a mantra in her head. But she wasn’t sure she believed in Ajax, if he fell. If he decided there was no point in having people around, showing him he wasn’t alone wouldn’t matter. Jehane wanted very much not to reach that point.

The Tanist said, “And did he provide you with a timeframe for when they’d like us to stay out of the way?” She sounded amused rather than worried.

Seth muttered, “Oh, this is going to go well,” and Jehane realized that the Tanist thought Malachi was manipulating her.

“Are you being stupid?” she demanded, her voice rising. “Who do you think killed Emily? Why would you think he would have any true loyalty to her murderers? Do you understand anything about people? He worked alongside them when he thought that was all he had.”

The Tanist jerked like she’d been slapped.

“The idea that Malachi has turned against them is the simplest answer,” said Seth lightly. “We haven’t exactly been providing them with a setbacks so much as unparalleled recruiting opportunities.”

The anger seemed to drain out of the Tanist. Quietly, she asked again, “Any sense of a timeframe?”

Jehane shook her head. “Not in so many words. But soon.”

“I suppose we should implement your plan, Elian.”

Seth looked between the Tanist and Kwan. “What’s this?”

“Shutting down exterior operations.”

“I thought we did that once, and then went back to Operation Ignore The Rats In The Walls?”

Elian said, “This time, we shut down most of the emergence points. As far as I can tell, they’re still using those to transport between their base Tower and Earth. And why wouldn’t they?”

The Tanist said, “All of them. That’s the only way we’ll really be able to protect this world. Otherwise, if they have even one portal open, a disaster could leak through to here.”

Elian sounded exasperated, as if this was an argument they’d been having for some time. “There’s been no evidence that’s even possible. The field has been active many times when the emergence point has activated and nothing has ‘leaked’.”

“But it’s a much weaker field than all of my advisors say is coming. Elian, really, it’s your plan.”

“I wanted to restrict them down to using only a few points so we could predict where they’re going to appear.”

Seth looked around, then shook his head. “I can’t believe I’m the one saying this, but— are you actually talking about abandoning Earth to whatever Hatherly wants to do to it? I’m not cut out for being a Nightlight, I know, but that’s… abhorrent.”

“Our friendly neighborhood Echthros, so full of useful tips, thinks our best bet is to burrow. He doesn’t think there’s any way to stop what’s coming, or surely he would have mentioned it?” The diamond glitter in the Tanist’s eyes was more than a little disturbing. Jehane looked anxiously at Kwan, but he was staring at the ground, scowling. “We have the opportunity to make the Tower into an ark. We can guarantee humanity survives, or we can risk everything on an ill-defined hope of stopping them.”

“Or we could do any number of other things,” said Seth. “We could go to the mundane authorities and tell them everything. I’m pretty sure if we did that and used Elian’s plan, they could evacuate a city, wait until they showed up, and nuke the place. Oooh, or make the only remaining exit go to a prison filled with nerve gas. Problem solved!”

The Tanist frowned. “It would be the end of us. The same result, only much slower.”

“You don’t know that. Maybe we’d get government funding. God, just think of what the space organizations would make of this place, and the computer people of Elian.”

“I don’t like this plan,” said Elian flatly.

“You like it less than hiding while six billion people are murdered?” said Seth.

“A false dichotomy,” snapped Elian.

“This isn’t a meteor hitting the planet. It’s a God damned metaphysical bomb going off. Bombs are set off by people, not unstoppable natural forces.”

“Yes, I know! The Tanist’s plan isn’t mine. I—” Elian stopped.

The Tanist rubbed her brow. “We’re the guardians of civilization. We have to figure out what’s best for civilization. For humanity as a whole. Given how much success we’ve had against one rogue Guardian with a long-term plan, it might as well be a meteor.”

Sullenly, Elian said, “I don’t know if this is even relevant anymore, but they’ve moved again. Another Tower has lit up. This one is marked on my records as a materials depot.”

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