“Nobody can claim to understand the many layers of reality.”
“We have to stop her!” Zane forces the words out of his mouth, clearly desperate.
“Why?” I lower my hand to his shoulder and cast the strongest healing spell I know. Then I return my attention to the scene which is playing out beyond the blast door of the hangar. “Look. She is doing such a good job at evading our anti-air defence and the Mirai airships. Hm. Maybe I shouldn’t make it too easy.” I instruct one of the force cannons to graze the fighter with a short stream of projectiles.
The fighter’s protective barrier is weak, but it should be more than enough to handle a few small projectiles. I didn’t design the small ships to take a lot of punishment. Instead, I focused on speed and manoeuvrability. Nonetheless, it should give Carmen a good shaking and add to the thrill of her escape. I don’t want her to think that I engineered her escape.
Just as intended, the barrier of Carmen's fighter lights up with blue energy and the vehicle is wildly thrown to the side. I applaud when Carmen gets the machine back under control in record time. “Did you see that? She is a good pilot. Does the Alliance have similar artefacts? I can’t believe that it’s her first time handling a fighter jet.”
Then the fighter shoots past the last Mirai airship and escapes while staying close to the ground.
Several healers arrive. They immediately hurry to Zane’s side and start taking care of his injury. The poor man is too dazed to do anything. Well, I can’t blame him. I wouldn’t do any better if I had to deal with that degree of blood loss. Ugh, he is almost white, like a corpse, even though his skin colour is a little darker than mine.
But Zane refuses to be carried to the infirmary. “What happened? You allowed her to escape?”
“Obviously? Didn’t I tell you that I would use her to send the Alliance a message?” I gesture at the open blast door. “We had to tip her off somehow. I wanted her off Illum before we rescue the fairies and go to the World Assembly. What’s better than to use you? I hoped that you would start your own investigation and cause her to take action.”
“But...” He gestures wildly. “The command ring! The attack fighter! Aren’t they very important artefacts? You used me! What if I had died!?”
“I watched from the moment you got wounded. Illum automatically alerts me when my subjects get injured. If things had gotten dangerous, I could have stopped her at any time by raising a barrier between you and her.” I huff and wave a hand to calm him down. “Don’t worry. She got nothing she wasn’t supposed to get. In fact, I was a little disappointed about her escape route and that you allowed her to wound you like that. Didn't I warn you? I guess the male brain simply switches off when it's about dealing with a female.”
I cross my arms in front of my chest. “The rings only work for their intended users. I had to improvise when she grabbed it. Somehow, I hoped that she would have her own means of escape. Giving her that attack fighter was a little tricky, but I assumed that she'd want one. She was very interested in the hangar when I made it public. I also gave you the means to access it, because she is affiliated with you. Seriously, I thought that she would bed you to steal the ring and get the information. Or that you would get a soft heart and smuggle her off Illum. Stabbing and drugging you... that was a little outside of my expectations.”
He gapes at me, swaying. “But they will learn about your technology!”
I sigh. “They will get a lot of information which would’ve become public sooner or later. Don’t take it as an insult, but you didn’t carry any secrets of the state. What’s with that expression? You and your people joined us less than a month ago. Nobody who is in her right mind would give some newcomer vital information.”
Tilting my head, I look down at him. “Then there is the attack fighter, which will power down and turn completely useless when she reaches the Alliance.” Including its power core. It will melt into unrecognisable slag right when it lands. There is no way that I would take the risk of sharing that technology with anyone. “The fighter will be an example for the truth of the claims which I made in front of the Alliance’s council: Nobody but I can handle my artefacts. They will marvel for months over the runes and enchantments on the fighter, but without the power source, it will be essentially useless to them.”
I use a finger to draw a circle into the air and go on to the next point. “Then there is the ring. They will study it and find out how Illum’s control interface works. Something which I anticipated all along. Giving out control keys is always a risk. Sooner or later, they are bound to get lost. If our enemies decide to launch an operation to take control of Illum, they will experience a nasty surprise. And we'll reveal that it was a trap all along. Humiliated like that, they will think twice before they take another action against us.”
Reaching into my pocket, I bend down and take Zane’s hand. Then I place another ring on his finger. “Don’t lose this one so quickly, okay?”
His face turns red, despite his anaemia. He is clearly angry. “I lost the ring because of you! Do you have any idea what I went through? Why didn’t you tell me anything?” He tries to get up, but the healers force him down onto a stretcher which they brought with them.
I roll my eyes. “Because this was a test for both Carmen and you. Congratulations. You passed. She didn’t. Now I am a lot surer of your loyalty. I wasn’t able to include you in my plans because I wasn’t sure of Carmen’s abilities. Torture, a truth serum, reading thoughts. All of those possibilities made it impossible to tell you anything. At least, now she thinks that she got away before I used her.”
Zane tries to jump up, but the healers restrain him and take him away. He is simply too weak to oppose them.
I watch their departure until they are out of sight. He was clearly furious about the fact that I used him. It can’t be helped. I'll just have to find a way to appease him. I reach for my pocket and pull out the kitten in order to pet it.
Maybe an invitation to my bedroom?