Chapter Twenty-Two– A Willing Slave
In the evening, we found ourselves convened in the HQ. Umi, whether or not it had saved my life, had be relegated to guard duty on the Stoneclad shuttle as it seemed to be the only one of us capable of harming the pilot. Peadry was uncharacteristically quiet and hadn't even ordered any food upon our return, but Dupine and I both ordered stiff drinks to settle our nerves. We both ordered them straight; no messing around.
"Is everybody here?" I asked, looking around. There didn't seem to be enough people in the room. Dupine and Peadry, Pargeter and Falconi. That was everyone. I hadn't realised it before but Umi was a presence. It didn't do much during our meetings, but I found it odd that I missed him when he wasn't there. Missed it when it wasn't there.
"How was Shiva?" asked Pargeter. "I've had a bit of luck while you were gone; a name that might be worth investigating; Ronove. They're said to wear humans as a kind of mask; they're possessors, using the bodies of humans in order to pass messages on from their world to ours."
"And you think the body of a baby that can't speak is the best way to do that?" asked Dupine, who was in no mood for any such nonsense.
"We caught one," I said, flatly. I had had enough of diplomacy. They were each well respected in their particular fields of expertise, but their methods were too slow and cautious for city copper. Whatever it was we were up against had attacked us on home ground, and then very nearly killed us when we tried to retaliate. I was not used to playing defence and didn't intend to stay in that position any longer than I had to.
"Caught one what?" asked Falconi. He was unusually lucid tonight, as though he realised we had reached a milestone in our investigation; a turning point that required his complete attention.
"A demon," I said. "We caught a demon on Shiva. Damn near wiped us out, but we got it."
"You're joking," Pargeter said, with a look of incredulity on his face. I would have thought he, of all people, would have been over-joyed at the prospect of coming face to face with an actual demon. If nothing else, it validated his entire life's work, but instead he looked unimpressed, as though the very idea of us coming in contact with such a creature was laughable.
"He's bloody well not," said Dupine, hitting the table and, accidentally or not, ordering us two more drinks.
"Umi has it locked up in a shuttle outside," I said. "The robot is the only one even halfway strong enough to put up any kind of fight against it."
"Are you seriously expecting me to believe this?" Pargeter laughed a laugh of derision, bordering on panic. I couldn't understand his reaction, at first. Here was solid proof that everything he had been working on his entire career was real. Palpable, irrefutable proof,and he was acting like we were children making up fairy tales. And then it hit me; the reason for his reaction. He was a con artist. He didn't believe in any of the lod he preached. He'd been using ghosts and goblins to make himself a small fortune, safe in the knowledge that they didn't exist. Now he was faced with the truth, he didn't know how to handle it. He had always believed he was full of lod, and now it turned out he wasn't. Must've been hard to take on board.
"I don't just expect you to believe it," I said. In truth, the fact that he was a fake didn't matter. He was a good fake. He was such a good fake, in fact, that he had unwittingly become an expert on the very subject he believed to be nonsense. He had all the facts in his head; he knew everything there was to know about demonology. That he didn't believe any of them was neither here nor there; he was still our best shot at figuring out what was going on. "I expect you to examine it and find out what it is, exactly, we caught."
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A burned-out Watchman from Autolycia is thrown a lifeline by a mysterious magnate from Galene; the richest planet in the Boxer. She is convinced her baby is not, in fact, her baby, despite all medical evidence proving otherwise. Is she crazy? Or is...