Faille frowned at the elusive script. “Mmph.”
“Still not making any sense?” Brevan looked up from the workbench strewn with crystals and fine manipulation devices.
“Not as such,” Faille said in disgust. “You know, I'll be going back to the Academy tomorrow. I think I'll show it to Nyan.”
“This isn't a language thing then?” Brevan said, applying an input to the golden crystal socketed into the test stand in front of him. A variety of responses flashed across the screen at his elbow.
“I don't think so,” Faille told him. “I know what it says. It's what it means that's eluding me.”
“What does it say?” her husband asked.
Faille wondered fondly whether he was really listening or was just responding on autopilot, but she translated the phrase, “the- uh, something- carried the -something- child? larva? within-”
Brevan gave her a baffled look. “Maybe Nyan can make something of it.”
Faille laughed and got up to go pack, kissing the top of Brevan's head in passing. “Yes, dear.”
Faille walked into the research academy thinking it seemed awfully quiet for the middle of the day. A small cluster of students looked in her direction and then moved as a unit and disappeared into a side corridor. Faille turned a mildly puzzled look after them. Sure it was her imagination that they had looked specifically at her.
As she turned into the corridor leading to Callin's office, she vaguely registered the appearance of a man standing outside. She was signaling for entry before she realized what bothered her. He was too old to be a student, and not a member of the staff. Too well dressed to be one of the building service people. Why-- then a voice-- not Callin's-- said, “Enter” and she pushed aside the door.
She froze two steps inside at the sight of a cold-faced woman in the distinctive uniform of the Soldiers of Purity. The senior scientist was seated behind his desk wearing a carefully blank expression, though Faille thought she detected a gleam of warning in his familiar dark eyes when she met his gaze. Another man in plain clothes quietly closed the door behind her. “I'm sorry, sir,” she said to Callin. “I didn't mean to interrupt.”
“Scientist Faille, I believe,” the woman said. “One of the rising stars of the Hidden City project.”
“You're very kind,” Faille said warily. She didn't recognize the Purity rank markings, but this woman exuded a decided air of authority. And how did the Church officer know who she was?
“I believe you are a friend of another of the junior scientists here, one 'Nyan',” the soldier continued.
Faille could see little point in denying it. “We are acquainted, yes.”
“And do you know where he is now?” the woman asked her.
Where he is? Had Nyan disappeared? And yet it could not be just that to bring one of the Church's inquisitors to question Callin. Keenly aware that her surprise and dismay were probably clearly visible on her face, she said, “No.”
“You have no idea?” the woman's voice chilled down.
Faille shrugged helplessly. “At this time of day, he'd probably be in his office if he's at the academy. But he could be in the field looking for prospective dig sites.”
“You were not aware that he had found one?” the soldier prodded.
Faille decided that her best defense would be apparent candor. “Do you mean Fire Valley?” she asked. “I know he wanted to dig there, but the academy did not approve his petition.” She ventured a question of her own. “What's going on?” She felt almost queasy with fear. Naturally there were no public reports, but everyone knew that the Purity made people disappear.
“Your friend is in a great deal of trouble,” the soldier said. She looked from Faille to Callin. “You both are going to have to come with me.”
Faille wet parched lips and hated the smug fatuous face of the latest interrogator across the table from her.
“I ask you again-- tell me about Nyan's dealings with Optrican spies,” he said in a bored tone.
“And I tell you again,” she said in a husky voice that sounded unfamiliar to her own ears. “I don't know anything. Nyan never had any dealings with Optricans that I'm aware of. Politics bore him.”
They'd taken her chronometer, so she had no idea how much time had passed. They'd given her nothing to eat or drink. The interrogators had changed several times but Faille had had no such relief. She was exhausted, starving and unbearably thirsty.
“Tell me about Nyan's dig in Fire Valley,” the man said, exactly as the other three had.
Her eyes swam in sudden shameful tears. “I told you. And the man before you and the man before him! Nyan was looking for a primitive village dating from before the Upheaval. That's all I know!” Hot tears spilled down her cheeks and she wiped them angrily away.
A knock came at the door. The interrogator got up to answer it and was handed a message. His eyebrows went up as he read it, and and he turned to Faille and ordered, “Come with me.”
When she stood for the first time in hours, the blood left her head in a rush and she was momentarily so dizzy her vision grayed.
The interrogator must have seen her pale, because he took her elbow ungently. She flinched away from the touch and moved to the door. She was led through the halls of the Church headquarters to a lift and up several levels to a room furnished as a reception area. She was heartened and surprised to see several familiar faces there--Callin looking older than he had the day before, and her friend Tamon, who was flushed and angry with a chain of bruises visible on his face.
Before she could even greet them, someone else was shown in, and Tamon's gaze went past her in dismay, “Malin?”
The two guards more or less holding her up let go and Tamon darted forward to support her as she slowly sank to the floor.
“Oh, Malin,” Faille reached out to touch the younger woman's hair.
Malin seemed barely aware of her. She wrapped her arms around her knees and rocked back and forth silently-- tiny controlled motions that did not conceal her nearly continuous trembling.
Faille turned to Callin, sitting on one of the chairs with an air of utter fatigue. “Are you all right, sir?”
“Just tired, Fai,” he told her. “Just very tired.”
She thought he looked worse than that, but didn't pursue it. “Does anyone know what in the name of Nefertum's holy garden is going on?” she asked.
“They said Nyan disappeared,” Tamon said, sounding puzzled. “They think he was in league with Optrican spies.”
“I gathered that much,” Faille said dryly. She looked at Malin but the girl was lost in her own world.
A man came in flanked by two guards. He waved them off at the door. One was bold enough to protest, “Chancellor--”
“Leave us,” the man ordered.
Faille's eyes widened at the title, but even without that, she thought she would have recognized him. He had something of the shape of Nyan's face and the line of his jaw. “Chancellor Nyaral,” she said cautiously. “To what do we owe the honor?”
“Scientists Faille, Tamon and Malin,” his gaze lingered on the girl trembling on the floor. “And Senior Scientist Callin. You are all friends of my nephew Nyan, I believe.”
Tamon took two belligerent steps forward. “Nyan has done nothing wrong!” he insisted.
The Chancellor frowned.
But Tamon continued stubbornly, “And neither have we. And no matter how much your thugs badger us, we won't say different.”
Faille felt a chill and wondered if that were true--if the Church interrogators were truly trying to make them confess to something as opposed to trying to make them give up information, she wasn't so sure they could have resisted.
“On the contrary,” Nyaral told them rather wearily. “Nyan has at the very least assaulted several provincial soldiers. Though I am inclined to believe whatever tale the Optricans spun him, he was as much a victim as anyone.”
Faille couldn't believe her ears, “Nyan assaulted someone?! I find that hard to believe.”
“I know you do,” Nyaral said. “And I'm also inclined to believe you when you say you've told us everything you know. That's why we're letting you go.”
Faille's mouth fell open.
Tamon expressed his surprise more vocally. "That's it? You arrest us, question us for hours about something we know nothing about and then just let us go?”
The Chancellor's demeanor cooled. “No. You are not to discuss this with anyone, not even one another. If anyone asks you about Nyan, tell them the police are investigating and they should contact them with any information concerning his whereabouts.”
Faille opened her mouth to reply but was distracted by a faint sound from Callin. The senior scientist was ashen and his left hand trembled. He was trying to say something that might have been Faille's name, but the words were slurred and only one half of his face seemed to be working properly.
Tamon and Faille rushed to support him.
“Callin?” Faille asked, feeling for a pulse. To her horror, it was racing. “Oh, Nefertum. He needs a healer.” She turned an imploring gaze on Nyaral.
The older man was watching the man on the chair with an angry expression. When he heard Faille's plea, he turned and walked out. But he must have summoned a medic because a team of emergency responders were there long minutes later.
They put Callin on a litter and told Tamon to lead the still trembling Malin out after them.
When Faille stepped at last into the sunlight, Brevan was waiting anxiously outside the gold glass doors of Purity headquarters, stubbornly ignoring the stares of passersby.
The medical transport was already pulling away from the curb when she was folded into her husband's arms. “Are you all right?” he asked her anxiously.
She clutched him tightly, his heat soaking into her chilled bones. “I'm not sure. But I want to go away from here. Please.”
Brevan shifted his tight grip so they could walk, but didn't let go. They walked slowly away.
Tamon had been staring after the transport carrying Callin and Malin. As they turned down the street, he came forward to walk closely by Faille's other side. 'You are not to discuss this with anyone, not even one another,' rang silently in her ears. What had happened to Nyan? She wondered, shivering. And what was going to happen to them all?