Modern Crusaders: Adeptus Major
For disclaimers, see Chapter 1
"Eldest of the Gods, you who made me; and you Gods whom I have made: look upon mankind who came into being at a glance of my Eye; see how men plot against me; hear what they say of me; tell me what I should do to them. For I will not destroy mankind until I have heard what you advise."
Then Nu said:
"My son Ra, the God greater than he who made him and mightier than those whom he has created, turn your mighty Eye upon them and send destruction upon them in the form of your daughter, the goddess Sekhmet."
"Even now fear is falling upon them and they are fleeing into the desert and hiding themselves in the mountains in terror at the sound of my voice."
"Send against them the glance of your Eye in the form Sekhmet!" cried all the other gods and goddesses, bowing before Ra until their foreheads touched the ground.
- Egyptian Myth of the destruction of Man
Ally heard the whispered argument before she saw the two people who were speaking in low tones. She couldn't hear the exact words, but they seemed to be very emphatic. Hesitantly approaching the open door the study, she peered around the doorframe. Inside, she saw Evelynne talking with the Master of her Guard. Sir Arthur's back was to the door, but Ally could see the princess' expression, and it was… stormy, to say the least.
Not wanting to intrude, especially when she was still uncertain of her relationship with Evelynne after the previous day's events - not to mention the evening's revelations - she tried to back away without giving away her presence. Unfortunately, Evelynne spied her as she was attempting to make her escape.
"Ally!" the princess called. Glaring at her bodyguard, she hurried around the big man towards the door. "Wait!"
Ally reluctantly made her way back, halting just inside the doorway. "Hi," she said softly. She took in Evelynne's slightly flushed face, which made her red hair seem even more so, a visible sign of the princess' anger and passion. Despite her trepidation over Evelynne's uncertain temper, Ally thought the other woman looked beautiful. She was relieved when Evelynne's expression softened as she came closer.
"Good morning," the princess replied. Her tone was admirably level. "Did you sleep well last night?"
Behind Evelynne, Sir Arthur ignored the quiet conversation with practised ease.
"Actually, yes," Ally admitted. "I was completely out of it. I usually am after I've… you know. Especially when I… overexert myself."
"Oh. That makes sense, I suppose." Evelynne hesitated. "How are you feeling this morning?" She hated this forced politeness, but was the events of the previous day - which had spilled into the early hours of this morning - had left her still feeling uncertain.
Ally lowered her eyes. "Um… okay, I guess. Physically, anyway. Mentally and emotionally?" She shrugged, the vulnerable expression on her face pulling at Evelynne's heart.
"Oh… Well, I managed to get maybe two hours of sleep last night. You could say I had a lot on my mind." The princess smiled wryly at the double meaning of her last statement, but Ally remained solemn. "And then I came down and found that my bodyguard had made certain… arrangements without discussing them with me." She shot a disapproving glance at the Guard, and Ally was glad that Evelynne was not the one who possessed psychokinetic abilities. If she had, the unfortunate Sir Arthur would have been a large flat spot on the wall.
Overhearing, the Guard in question sighed and said, "Your Highness, I had no choice. My duty as you protector requires me -"
"- requires you to inform your superiors of the possible ramifications of yesterday's events," Evelynne completed. It was obvious that she had been discussing the matter at some length and had heard the phrase several times before. "Okay, fair enough, you had your duty. What you could have done was wait until you had talked to me first!"
Ally had felt a cold ball of fear settle in her stomach at the words "inform your superiors", and couldn't help but ask in a tight voice, "Who exactly did you tell, and what exactly did you tell them?"
Sir Arthur turned to the young woman, and was briefly concerned that she might faint. Her face was deathly pale, and had the expression of someone actually watching a bullet come towards her. "As per regulations, I reported directly to my immediate superior, General Danun of the Common Guard, and informed her of my direct, personal observations. I also submitted the reports of the Guards under my command, who had previously submitted them to me. At her request, I also speculated on the nature of my observations. She was… concerned. Your Highness, this is my job. I am bound by honour and duty, and also by personal choice, to protect you from any and all threats to your person." He cast another glance at Ally, obviously uncertain of the risk she might now pose. All he saw, though, was the same attractive young woman he had begun to know and even like over the past months. "If necessary, I can and will call upon any and all resources necessary to carry out that task. That may include seeking advice from other experienced personnel."
Evelynne had not missed the covert glance. "Ally is not a threat!" she exploded. "She is my friend!"
"Frankly, Your Highness, because she is your friend, she automatically compromises your objectivity. Personally, I also consider Dame Tretiak a friend." Ally was startled. "However, I do not have the privilege of allowing any sort of personal relationship interfere with my job. Which is one reason I am required to report to an unbiased superior." He did not mention the fact of the General's previous suspicions of Ally's actions.
Evelynne looked about ready to explode again, but Ally forestalled her by saying, "So what is going to happen?"
"The General wishes me to escort you to the Guard Headquarters for an… interview. The results of that interview will be taken into account for her next decision. I will not speculate on what that decision might be."
Ally nodded, and wished she didn't feel like she was going to throw up at any moment. The morning was turning into something from out of her worst nightmares. First there was Evelynne's obvious discomfort, which seemed to have seriously shaken any chance at rekindling their relationship. Now she was about to be taken to be interrogated by a member of a powerful government security agency, who probably had the power to completely destroy any chance she had for a normal life. And not just Ally, but her family and friends as well. I should have followed my original decision and just stayed away, she thought dully. Now my secret is out, and the person that I risked it for can't even touch me. Ally wallowed in her misery for a moment, then gave herself a kick. Okay then, the only thing I can do is deal with it. It ain't gonna be easy, and it's gonna hurt like hell, but there's nothing else to do. I know how to make a sword… The beginnings of an idea, which she had occasionally considered for an occasion like this, began to take shape in her mind. "So when do we go?" she heard herself ask.
Evelynne looked shocked, and even Sir Arthur appeared mildly surprised at her sudden capitulation without a struggle. "Er… Immediately after breakfast," the bodyguard said.
"Ally, you can't… You don't…" Evelynne stuttered.
"Yes, I do," Ally said softly. "Even you wouldn't be able to shield me forever, which means that sooner or later I'd be up before the firing squad. Figuratively speaking, of course… I hope." She sighed. "Right now I'd prefer it to be sooner." She looked into the princess' eyes. "Remember, I'm not totally without resources of my own." Ally managed a crooked smile.
"Very well, Dame Tretiak," Sir Arthur said. "I will go and make the final preparations for our journey." Saluting briskly, he left the room, leaving behind the tension that resonated between the two women remaining behind.
Refusing to meet Evelynne's eyes, Ally made her way to a chair and sat down, the stress of the morning already making her back ache. The princess watched her as she did so, then moved to close the door. She came back and, after a moment's hesitation, sat back on her heels on the floor in front of Ally and folded her hands in her lap. She seemed to be searching for words, and Ally let the silence stretch, her own gaze locked on her own hands.
"I… spent a long time last night… thinking," Evelynne started haltingly. "I won't lie to you and say that I've worked everything out, but… I came to a few conclusions."
"Oh?" Ally asked, when the other woman didn't seem about to continue.
"Yes. I think the biggest thing was… well…" In a quick, surprising move, Evelynne rose to her knees. The move brought her within inches of Ally's body, and before the taller woman could react, the princess had ducked her head under Ally's hanging one and brought their lips together in a hard kiss. At the same time, her hands shot out to grasp Ally's shoulders in a light grasp.
At first, Ally was too shocked to react, but then instinctively relaxed into Evelynne's embrace, the kiss softening, becoming less fierce and more passionate and loving. Her arms snaked automatically around the princess' body, drawing it in between her legs. For several long minutes they stayed like that, lips moving against each other, until Evelynne drew back with a soft gasp. Ally reluctantly let her go.
Evelynne felt the heat in her own flushed cheeks, and saw that Ally's face was equally red. Both of them were panting slightly. After a moment to regain her composure, Evelynne reached out to rest her hand against Ally's cheek. "I love you," she whispered. "That's the first thing I wanted to tell you."
With a soft sob, Ally buried her face in Evelynne's neck, and the princess felt, rather that saw, the tears that dampened her skin. "I love you too," Ally murmured into soft skin. "So much."
Evelynne held Ally as the storm passed, and mused on the contradictions in the woman she loved. Despite her discomfort with crowds and social situations, and her preference for solitary pursuits, Ally was still desperately lonely, and craved the support and approval of those around her. Despite her obvious intelligence and poise, not to mention her beauty, she still had serious doubts about her own worth, and was usually genuinely surprised when someone praised her on any aspect of herself. And now with this latest revelation, despite all her extraordinary abilities, she was just as fragile and vulnerable as anyone else. Evelynne thought back to the previous evening, to the image of Ally lying in her arms, blood pouring from her nose and nearly unconscious from pain after bending the metal beam. And now Ally had opened herself up completely, revealing her greatest secret, willing to accept whatever decision Evelynne made concerning their future. And not only her own secret, Evelynne thought, but those of her parents and friends. I could utterly destroy her with what I know now, and I know she wouldn't lift a hand against me. She might run, she might hide, but she would never strike back. She turned to press a kiss to the head beside hers. Thank you for this gift, Ally. I won't throw it away.
Finally, Ally pulled back, sniffling. Evelynne pulled out another handkerchief, the way the action mirrored events of the previous night not going unnoticed. "Thanks," Ally murmured.
Once she was done wiping away her own tears, she gently removed those that had stained Evelynne's neck. The princess closed her eyes and leaned into the soft stroking, disappointed when the cloth was taken away. "No matter what, I'll always be here for that," she said. "I don't pretend to know what's going to happen with us, or even what today is going to bring. But I love you. I don't know exactly what to think about your abilities, or how they relate to me. I'm not sure what to think about this bond between us. One night isn't really enough time to work all that out."
"I understand," Ally said in a more normal voice. "Believe me, I understand."
"I suppose you do. You had to do this with Annie, didn't you? I mean, did she…?"
"She knew," Ally confirmed. "I told her after we'd been going out for about six months. Believe me when I say you're reacting better than she did. She didn't even talk to me for two weeks. But she accepted it eventually. Although apparently not as fully as I thought at the time."
"Isis… That's why she broke up with you, isn't it?"
Ally shrugged nonchalantly, but her expression gave away her feelings about the painful memory. "I don't really blame her. She was brought up Catholic, and they're not exactly known for their liberal views on paranormal phenomena. Of course, she did go against her faith by admitting she was a lesbian. Sometimes I wonder if she didn't accept me because of a similar rebellious impulse."
Evelynne couldn't stop the surge of jealousy, but it was quickly eclipsed by the anger she felt at the almost offhand manner in which Ally put herself down. "I don't think so," she said. "I think she just realised what she knew all along, that you're smart, funny, beautiful, charming… and she would be an idiot to let you get away. And whatever happened afterward, you never stopped being those things."
Ally blushed. "Well… when I talked to her a while after we broke up, she admitted that she wouldn't have been able to deal with it if I was just a cop. She wanted 'someone she could be sure would be there at the end of the day'."
"There you are, you see? And as harsh as that is, it is a valid concern. Some people can't handle things like that. Why do you think that police officers have one of the highest divorce rates around? So it was never any fault of yours." Evelynne smiled. "And, selfish as I may be, I happen to be glad that Annie let you back into the market. It gave me a chance to snap you up."
Ally smiled too, and managed to chuckle sheepishly, embarrassed by Evelynne's enthusiastic defence. "I'm glad too."
"Now, one of the perks of being your girlfriend -" Evelynne broke off. "That sounds strange. Girlfriend. Hm. Strange but nice." She shook her head to clear it. "Anyway, one of the perks is that I get to stick to you like glue. So I'll be there today when you have your 'interview'."
"Evelynne, you don't have to -"
"Ah, what did I say? It is my prerogative to go anywhere you do. Besides, you wouldn't be trying to argue with the Crown Princess of Atlantl, would you?"
"What about the Life Debt thing?"
"Hm. Good point. However, on consideration, I think that the Girlfriend thing overrules the Life Debt thing. So there."
Ally chuckled. "I can see who's going to wear the pants in this relationship."
Evelynne looked puzzled. "What do you mean? What does wearing pants have to do with it?"
"It's… Never mind, I'll explain it to you later."
General Danun stood as the group made its way into her office. Alleandre entered first, followed by Major Nixon, Evelynne, and Sir Arthur. The General observed the first person intently, but saw only a perfectly impassive face, with no emotions showing at all. The young woman's cane and slight limp gave the impression that she was particularly harmless, a deceptive image considering the events of the past couple of days.
"Dame Alleandre," she greeted, successfully keeping the suspicion out of her voice. "Your Highness." This time faint but clear disapproval could be heard. "Please, take a seat."
There was silence for a few moments while Ally and Evelynne did so. Major Nixon stood alertly by the right wall of the office, while Sir Arthur took a post near Evelynne's right shoulder.
"Your Highness, it was not necessary for you to come yourself. The purpose of this meeting was to have a short interview with Dame Alleandre." The General's eyes flicked briefly to Sir Arthur, a subtle chastisement for allowing the princess to come along.
"I'm sure it was, General," Evelynne replied calmly. "However, every Atlantlan citizen being… interviewed by any government representative is entitled to legal counsel, should they desire it. As Dame Alleandre's immediate liege lady, and her Lady of Justice, I may act as her counsel under any circumstances if I so choose. I am simply exercising that privilege. In fact, under the terms of out treaty with Canada, a Canadian citizen is also entitled to have a representative of the Canadian government present as well. Dame Alleandre has chosen to waive the latter right."
"I see." Another quick glance at the Master of the Heir's Guard got a subtle shrug in reply. Apparently his charge had used that argument on him, and he had had no choice but to comply. "Very well, Your Highness," General Danun conceded. "As you were also a party to the recent events, perhaps your presence is appropriate as well."
Evelynne noticed the General's attempt to regain control over the proceedings, and chose to let it go. It would not do Ally any good to antagonise the commander of Atlantl's internal security agency. "Certainly, General."
The General turned her attention to Alleandre, who was still sitting impassively. "Dame Alleandre, first of all I wish to inform you that this is an informal discussion. Even so, you are forbidden from discussing what occurs here with anyone other than your legal counsel." She looked at the princess. "Revealing what occurs here, or what you see in this building, will subject you to prosecution for espionage, with a sentence up to and including the death penalty. Do you understand?"
"I do." Ally spoke for the first time since entering the room. She couldn't recall observing anything on the walk through the Common Guard Headquarters to this windowless room that would be classified as state secrets. Instead, the place had simply resembled a fairly typical office building, if one with more security than usual. Somewhere, she supposed, there were the rooms dedicated to code breaking, satellite surveillance, and covert communications, but she had not even had a glimpse of those areas.
"Good." General Danun was silent for a moment. "We are here because Sir Arthur's report of yesterday evening's… extraordinary events has raised some questions that I simply cannot ignore." She looked at a file on the surface of her desk. "What I would like is for you to describe those events yourself."
"Before I do that," Ally said, "I have two questions of my own. Who else is aware of these… 'extraordinary events'? How many people have seen that report?"
The General looked at her intently, then shrugged her wide shoulders. "Sir Arthur, of course, as the author of the report. Major Nixon's observations are also included." She indicated the thin bodyguard standing nearby. "The report was submitted directly to my office, and I can guarantee that I am the only person to have read it. So, barring an witness who has not made himself known, only those of us present in this room suspect that something unusual occurred." She noticed that Ally had been staring at her with a penetrating gaze while she spoke.
"Okay," Ally said. The other woman was telling the truth, or at least believed she was. A very light scan had revealed none of the emotions associated with someone knowingly telling a lie. Of course, that could mean that the General was simply very good at lying, or controlling her emotions somehow, but Ally couldn't see why she would. It wasn't as if the older woman was physically hooked up to a lie detector. "My second question is whether this conversation is being recorded. If it is, then I have nothing to say."
General Danun considered briefly. "No, there are no electronic recording devices in this room. The work I do is too sensitive to allow anything of the sort. And my office is also swept for bugs at least twice a day."
Ally nodded. "Alright. So what do you want to know?"
"Start from the beginning. From when you first arrived at the site."
Ally started to speak. As she continued, General Danun was struck by just how detailed the recounting was. Conversations seemed to be replayed word for word, as thought Ally was somehow watching a movie of the events as they played out in her head. After a time, the General commented on it.
"I have a really good memory," Ally admitted. "Eidetic, actually." At least I do now.
"Interesting," the General said, motioning the other woman to continue.
Ally continued until she got to the events of the accident. Then she seemed to hesitate. "The rescue workers had things under control," she said. "They were busy trying to help the people who had fallen in the lift. Sir Arthur had sent most of the Guards to help. He and Major Nixon stayed behind." She paused uncertainly. "That's when I… became aware that the crane operator was still alive, although he was in trouble. He had been overlooked by the rescuers. They were concentrating on the bulk of the workers, and even if they thought of him, they might have assumed that he had already been killed in the fall. Anyway, I ran over to the crane's cab, which was about twenty metres away from everyone else. The cab was partially crushed by the fall, and a piece of metal from the crane had fallen across it and was trapping him inside. With the help of Sir Arthur, Major Nixon, and Ev… Princess Evelynne, we managed to move the bar and get him out of there. I, um… overexerted myself and kind of… passed out for a while, so I'm not sure what happened next."
The General nodded. "I see." She consulted the report on her desk. "What you have described generally confirms the bulk of the Guards' observations. Except for the last part of it. According to Sir Arthur, the piece of metal you described was in fact a beam of solid steel almost three metres long and ten centimetres thick. And yet, he also reports that you grasped it and proceeded to begin to bend it with nothing more than your bare hands. This, obviously, is the fact that has piqued my interest. How do you explain what has been reported?"
Ally sighed. "I don't suppose you'd accept an adrenaline spurt, would you?"
Evelynne coughed to cover a laugh and even the General evinced a ghost of a smile. "No, I wouldn't."
"I didn't think so. Adrenaline couldn't do it anyway, despite all the stories of mothers lifting cars off their babies. The muscles and tendons of the average human body are simply physically incapable of withstanding that kind of stress without tearing, with or without adrenaline. That's a physical and biological fact." Ally was aware that she was avoiding answering the question. Years of hiding her abilities had made it second nature. "What those women actually do is activate a latent ability that exponentially increases their lifting power while bypassing the conventional muscular action. It's a form of psychokinetic ability. And what they can only do automatically and uncontrollably, I can call upon at will."
"I see." All traces of humour had vanished from General Danun's face, leaving her regular stern, unsmiling mask. "And how much exactly can you… lift with this ability?"
"The most that I know of for sure is about three hundred and fifty kilograms," Ally replied. "Possibly more, but that is the amount I know of from my own experiments. Actually, that beam was certainly more."
"Isis," Evelynne murmured. "That's well above the world record for weightlifting for someone of your weight." She looked at Ally again, taking in her slim build and lack of obvious muscles. "Isis."
"And I'm assuming that simply lifting incredible amounts is not the only thing you can do."
"No, I can do other things that would be considered… superhuman." This time Ally didn't elaborate.
"And I assume they are also… equally impressive."
"I suppose so."
"I see," the General said again. She sat in thought for several moments. "I will be blunt. The fact that you can do these things would concern me under any circumstances. They make you difficult or impossible to control should you decide to use them against this country. As well, you have a close relationship with both Princess Evelynne and the rest of the Royal Family. Frankly, all of these factors make you a clear and present threat to security. Tell me, why should I allow you to remain at large and not eliminate you altogether?"
Evelynne opened her mouth to object, but Ally was already acting. She had caught a hint of the General's intentions, and while the older woman was speaking, Ally had been mentally preparing for her next move.
Concentrating on the most likely threats, she had begun to create the right though-forms, spinning them deftly into her consciousness, but not activating them yet, like a juggler preparing to toss her batons into the air. One. The thought slid into place. Two. Another lay waiting and ready. Three. A mental 'hand' reached out. Four. Another was poised to act. It was difficult, like trying to think of the lyrics of four songs simultaneously, but not impossible. The moment the General stopped speaking, Ally channelled energy into her foci, feeling the exhilarating thrill as her mind obeyed her commands.
She noticed with interest that a full second before she moved, Sir Arthur did, instinctively grabbing Evelynne and shoving the princess behind him, guarding her with his wide body. A part of Ally nodded at the confirmation of a theory.
Rising swiftly from her chair, Ally thrust out both arms, fingers spread, as though pushing against some obstacle - which she was, even though her hands touched nothing. Her right arm pushed forward, towards where General Danun sat behind her desk, while the other pointed to the side, where Major Nixon had begun to move an instant after Ally had. Ally's first and second thoughts responded instantly. With one part of her mind she pushed forward, and the General's heavy desk moved backward with a loud shrieking and scraping, catching the surprised woman behind it in her chair, and continuing until it had pinned her, still sitting, against the far wall. The second thought reached out like a giant invisible hand, grasping Major Nixon before she could move more than a few centimetres and pushed the Guard back until she was pressed, spread-eagled, against the wall. The bodyguard's feet hung suspended a foot off the floor.
A moment after those two women had been incapacitated, Ally's fingers, on both hands, twitched, and she released her third and fourth foci. These ones required far less energy, as they reached into General Danun's jacket and the holster at Major Nixon's side, and sent the guns holstered in those places flying across the room to land in Ally's outstretched hands with a pair of audible slaps.
There was silence for several long seconds, broken only by the sounds of the General Danun gasping for breath against the edge of the desk pressing into her chest, and the faint struggles of the Major as she attempted to free herself from her invisible bonds.
Looking at Ally with stunned eyes, General Danun whispered, "Adeptus!"
Then Ally became aware out of the corner of her eye of Sir Arthur, his weapon drawn and pointing directly at her head. When she turned her head, Ally could see Evelynne behind the bodyguard, gaping at her with a shocked expression on her face.
"Alleandre, put the guns down now." Sir Arthur's voice was calm but firm, with only the very slightest hint that its owner was at all shaken by the events which had just taken place.
Ally looked at him for another few moments before slowly and calmly bending down to place the two guns on the floor. Rising, she turned to the still trapped Major Nixon and released her hold, gently lowering the bodyguard to the floor. She quirked a brief smile of apology at the Guard who stood tense and uncertain near the wall. Then Ally walked over to the edge of the General's desk, now several feet further back from its original position. Channelling once more, she grasped the edge of the desk in one hand and proceeded to drag the heavy piece of furniture back to its proper place.
The room's occupants spent the next few minutes regaining their composure and positions. Eventually they resumed the positions they had occupied previously, although Major Nixon was now visibly tense and uneasy, and Sir Arthur had positioned himself so that he stood between Ally and the princess. Ally simply sat, outwardly calm, but inwardly frightened, examining her hands in her lap.
"Well," General Danun said, breaking the uneasy silence, "I think you've made your point with that… demonstration. However, you have also shown just how dangerous you could be."
"Maybe," Ally said. "But I actually had two points to make. One was, quite obviously, that I would not be easy to 'eliminate', should you decide to try. Or the other point, I'd like you to notice that I only… restrained you and Major Nixon."
"So you did," the General noted. "Why did you not… restrain Sir Arthur as well?"
"Because I knew what his reaction would be, and I was going to do nothing to interfere with it. His very first thought was to protect Evelynne. You and the Major would have tried to confront me. He would have done everything he could to protect her. I will do absolutely nothing to threaten Evelynne's safety. That is the second point I was trying to make. I want you to know that I will do nothing to act against Her Highness, her family, or the Atlantlan government."
"I see. However, despite this demonstration, we must still take your word on that matter. You are obviously a very dangerous woman, even more so that I originally suspected. How do I know for sure that you can be trusted?"
Ally shrugged. "For now, you don't know. And before you even consider it, don't even think about threatening my family or friends to try to control me. Oh, don't worry, I'm not reading your mind." Right now. "I'm just aware of how vulnerable they could be. It would be logical for you to consider using them to control me. Not smart, but logical. Let me be honest and put my cards on the table." She leaned forward. "If anything happens to anybody I care about and I find out you or anyone in your organisation is responsible, I can and will take this entire building apart." Ally smiled coldly. "If my parents happen to die in a car accident, or my Dad has a heart attack, so be it. Accidents happen, and even I can't stop them all. But I will investigate the matter very thoroughly, and the person or persons responsible will end up being very sorry if it was done on purpose. As will be their superiors. And just in case you think you could get away with hiding it…" Ally paused, staring at the General. "Who did you sleep with last night?" she asked abruptly.
"What?" General Danun asked, surprised, but Ally was already nodding in satisfaction.
"Interesting," she said. "And not your husband either." Everyone gaped at her, Major Nixon's eyes darting back and forth between Ally and the General. "Don't worry, I'm not going to tell anybody who it is, and I'm sure nobody else here will discuss it either." Ally sighed, suddenly exhausted, and rubbed her eyes. "It may seem like I'm threatening you… and I guess I am. But I want you to know that I really don't want to cause any problems. Not only is Evelynne my friend, and I don't want to compromise her or her eventual rulership, but I also like this country. I'm an Atlantlan citizen now, and I'd like to protect it. So basically the way I'd like it to work is this: assuming that nobody threatens my parents or my friends, the worst that will happen is that I will remain neutral. I will not do anything to threaten the Guard or the Atlantlan government. I will neither aid nor hinder their operations. On the other hand, the best that might happen is that I might offer my services to help you in some way. I might not do everything you ask of me, but I will at least consider it. As my Sponsor and Liege Lady, Evelynne can order me to accept any assignment, and I will if she does so. If not, as I said, at worst I will maintain a non-interference policy." Ally sighed again. "So that's my offer. The only other option is to order me to leave the country, which I will do if Evelynne tells me to."
"You are not leaving the country," Evelynne said immediately. "Until and unless you choose to do so."
General Danun nodded distractedly, obviously thinking about Ally's statement. "You put forward a… persuasive argument," she said cautiously. "What kind of… aid can you provide?"
"I have certain… abilities in both a support and information gathering role. In fact, I have already helped Atlantl in both ways, although nobody has suspected it yet. A few months ago there was the small manner of several large drug shipments which somehow came to the attention of the Customs agency."
"That was you?" Evelynne asked. "You're the one who provided all the times and locations?"
"How did you do that?" the General demanded.
"I was staying in Outremer at the time," Ally said. "Once, when I was… in town, I noticed a dealer selling drugs to kids outside one of the high schools. I considered just reporting it to the police, but then decided to try to find out who the supplier was also. So I followed him. I have… ways of not being noticed. When I found the supplier, I thought that I might be able to work my way back at least as far as the source on Atlantl. It took a while, but finally I did. With a bit of special… eavesdropping when they were discussing incoming shipments, I was able to compile a list of dates, places and names. Then I just sent the list anonymously to the proper authorities. They took it from there."
"I see. And what about the 'support' you mentioned?"
Ally shrugged, embarrassed. "Because I knew where and when the busts would take place, I stuck around to see what I could do to help. It was still the police and soldiers who did the real work. I just tried to provide a little… luck."
"The Angel," Major Nixon breathed. When everyone looked at her in question, she explained. "I have a friend who was part of the operation, and he told me that all sorts of bad luck seemed to be hitting the smugglers. Their guns would jam, they would trip and fall, things would fall on them, that kind of thing. The squads figured there was an Angel watching over them."
Ally blushed. "Well, I don't know about the Angel part, but yeah, that was me."
"Isis," Evelynne said. Suddenly something seemed to strike her. "Oh gods, the bounty!"
General Danun, Sir Arthur and Major Nixon appeared startled, then speculative, while Ally remained baffled. "The what?" she asked.
"The bounty," the princess explained. "By Altantlan law, anyone who reports a criminal act which leads to a conviction receives a reward. It's proven to be an incredibly powerful incentive. In the case of smuggling, it amounts to five hundred tali or one per cent of the total value of the seized goods, whichever is higher. Most of the time it gets paid out to lesser criminals who decide to sell out their superiors, but this time… The last I heard, the Justicars overseeing these investigations estimated the street value of the drugs seized at approximately eight billion tali." She looked to the General for confirmation.
"I believe that is correct." The older woman nodded. "However, they have also confiscated and impounded four of the cargo ships that were involved, and seized the assets of at least two companies fronting for the smugglers in this country. According to a report I just read, they have chosen to add those assets to the bounty calculation. Of course, nobody has come forward to claim it yet. At least, nobody who can back up their claim."
"I guess one per cent doesn't seem like a lot, but…" Ally made a quick mental calculation. "Jesus, on eight billion, that's eighty million! That's almost a hundred and sixty million dollars!"
"It is," the General confirmed. "And with the cargo vessels and company assets added in, the value would increase even more." She looked at Ally, who seemed dazed by the information. The young woman's reaction actually helped alleviate some of the General's mistrust. She does not seem the sort to do things only for money, she thought. And she did provide the information without knowing about the reward she would receive. General Danun grudgingly found herself beginning to respect the young woman. And I believe her when she says she won't tell anyone exactly who I was with last night. At least as long as I keep my end of the bargain. Thinking of something about the drug seizures, she asked, "Exactly how much did you know about the drug shipments?"
"Well… basically just the time, place, and approximate amount. Pretty much all the information I provided to Customs."
"So you didn't know anything about… other shipments?"
Ally looked confused. "Um… no. I don't think so. Why?"
General Danun considered for a moment. "One of the shipments - the last one we seized, in fact - did not actually contain drugs. Instead, it consisted of a very large consignment of weapons, bound, we suspect, for the Hy Braseal Liberation Army. You did not… hear anything about it?"
Evelynne gasped audibly, and Ally looked startled. "No, nothing like that. None of the people I… overheard thought it was anything other than drugs."
"Paka," the General swore softly. "That fits with what we've learned through our interrogations of the people we arrested. Apparently someone is funnelling weapons to the HBLA and using our domestic organised crime to do it. And without them being aware of it, either." She swore again. "I have all these bits and pieces that tell me the HBLA is planning something big, but I have no idea what it is. Weapons smuggling, assassination attempts, unbreakable codes…"
"Codes?" Ally asked.
"Yes." The General considered how much to reveal, then decided that the basics wouldn't hurt. Besides, if she really wants to know, I'm sure she can find out, she thought sourly. "We have been intercepting messages from an unknown source directed to the HBLA. Unfortunately, we have been almost completely unable to break the encryption. Finding out what they're saying would be priceless. You don't happen to have a… gift for code breaking, do you?"
"Nooo…" Ally thought briefly. "But I might know someone who does." She cast a glance at Evelynne.
"Oh," the princess said, "you mean…"
"Yeah." Turning back to the woman behind the desk, Ally said, "If I do suggest this person, I would consider them to be under my protection. That means all of the same things we talked about earlier. No coercion, no threats. It will be up to them to accept or deny any offer you make."
"I have a friend who has… call it a gift for languages. This friend's abilities also extend to a very impressive aptitude for such things as word puzzles and translation. In my opinion, there's no reason why it can't be extended to code breaking. After all, when you encode something, all you're basically doing is taking a statement and writing it in another way: another language, in effect. What you need is a translator. And my friend displayed an ability to learn new languages literally from scratch, and regardless of prior knowledge, in weeks."
"Really?" General Danun's tone was speculative. "How do you know your… friend can break this code?"
Ally shrugged. "I don't, not for sure. But it seems to make sense to me. If you want, give me a sample of something you've encoded and I'll see how my friend does. Nothing critical, obviously. Heck, encode a bunch of Shakespeare's plays. That way you have absolutely nothing to lose."
"Okay. Suppose I do that, and suppose your friend does show this ability. How will I know he or she is willing to work for us?"
"My friend will tell me, I'll tell Sir Arthur, and he'll tell you. From there you can arrange to meet."
"I see." The General smiled crookedly. "You know, Dame Alleandre, you have a knack for espionage. You seem to understand code breaking, chains of contact, covert operations… blackmail. Is there any chance I could hire you myself? I could certainly use someone of your… talents."
"Nope." Ally shook her head vehemently. "I would absolutely hate it. And while it may seem selfish of me to avoid helping this country like that, I do have some more philosophical objections. While I believe that you, and most of the people working for you, are honourable and decent, what happens if someone with less… admirable qualities takes over? What would they do with someone with my abilities? Today I showed you that I could take out every person in this room without touching a soul. If someone found the right leverage to force me to work for them -" She carefully did not look at Evelynne. "- would you want me unleashed on the world. So, no. Instead I will be guided by my own set of ethics, which I personally believe are fairly decent, if not stellar. So I will help you from time to time, should I think it appropriate, but I won't do it full time."
"Fair enough," General Danun said. "I thought you would answer that way."
"Do you mind if I ask a question now?"
"Of course, go ahead."
"Earlier, when I was… you know… you said something. Adeptus, I think it was. What did you mean by that?"
"Ah. You may not know this, but I am a knight as well. I am a member of the Order of the Eye. There are certain legends in the Order of members who had the ability to move things with their minds, read thoughts, summon spirits, create fires, and so on. Magicians, in fact. Of course, my Order is hardly unique in this. The Templars were persecuted and driven from Europe because they were accused of practising magic." She indicated Sir Arthur. "That was the official reason, anyway. In reality, of course, both the Church and various monarchs at the time wanted to get their hands on the Templars' vast wealth. In any case, the word used in my Order to refer to people with your… gifts is Adept. Or in Latin, Adeptus. They are further divided into the Adepti Major - those possessing greater power - and the Adepti Minor - those with only limited ability."
"Oh, okay. I never did come up with a name I liked for what I could do. For a while I thought of myself as a Mage or Wizard, but that just didn't sound right."
"You did not have a teacher or peers?" When Ally seemed disinclined to answer, the General said, "No, that is alright. You don't completely trust me. I can understand that. To be blunt, I don't completely trust you. However, I believe you when you say your primary goal is to protect your family and friends. Fair enough. My primary goal is to protect my country from any and all threats to its security. We are also both very powerful people. I hope that as long as our goals do not contradict each other, we can at least share a respect."
Ally smiled genuinely for the first time since entering the room, and a small portion of her anxiety fell away. "I think we can do that."
Continued in Chapter 22