The jade figurine was handcrafted during the late Zhou dynasty by the renowned Qing Doe. It was of an elephant sitting by her young, and the level of detail was extraordinary. Miraculously, rescue workers found it in near pristine condition in the rubble of the Capital Tower. After they sent it out to a specialist in South Brazil for repairs, they returned it to its rightful place upon the desk of Queen Helena.
All of this, it seemed, so Sakhr could hurl it against the wall. It certainly was a profound way to start off what was bound to be particularly grueling lecture.
Alex stared at the tiny green pieces as Sakhr yelled. He pondered how he knew so much about the figurine. He must have scraped it from an exemplar who scanned whoever delivered it. Distantly, he wondered how easily a modern day assembler could reproduce it. Could they make jade? Would people consider it worthless? Could the machine intentionally make flaws so that people might believe it was actually valuable?
Sakhr still yelled. “How? How the hell could you allow this to happen?”
“You want specifics?” answered Alex. “He was left alone in a room with an assembler. You’d have to ask him if you want more details than that.”
“They’re still hosing his damn remains off the deck.”
“Guess he won’t be that talkative then.”
“You were with him for six goddamn days. Six days. How the hell didn’t you see this coming?”
“He didn’t think of it beforehand. I did see, however, that he was considering killing himself, which was why I said we should keep him in observation.”
“You were supposed to be observing him.”
“Me? Personally? I have way too much going on to babysit an old man.”
“He was within all of your exemplars’ ranges.”
“Look. They’re new. Everything is new. We’ve only been in charge for a week and everything is moving so quickly. Let this slide. No one could have seen this coming. So let’s just look to the future and adjust.”
“Adjust? Our greatest edge was just released to the entire world because your thugs couldn’t recognize an aura of someone up to no good.”
“It wasn’t our greatest edge. That’s the shield, and we’ve got it now, and it’s ours alone. The way I see it, all we have to do is spin this, and we’ll come out ahead.”
Sakhr glared. “How could this possibly be a good thing?”
“First, we make the leak our idea. Paul never identified himself in his post. So why don’t you take credit for it? Tell the world that now that Victoria is dead, you finally had access to these glyphs. Against the advice of your ministers, you decided to release it to the public. It’s wrong the government should have all the power.”
“Why in the world would anyone believe that?”
“Because we’ll have witnesses. A few ministers will recall your saying the glyphs should be released. Now you’ve gone over their heads. You are Prometheus. You have given fire to the people, and it can’t be taken back.”
“The people won’t believe it.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“No, Alex. You don’t get it. We can’t lie anymore. What if they demand these witnesses be scanned? They have that power now.”
“They can’t all scan the witnesses. We’ll delegate the scanners. They’ll say the witnesses are telling the truth. Then we can scan the scanners, and they can be verified too. Honestly, all releasing these glyphs will do is make so people feel like we must be telling the truth, because how could we possibly lie? These glyphs are just giving us another way of convincing people whatever we want.”
“These are just weak justifications to excuse your failure.”
“Doesn’t make it less true.”
Alex had that smile again, the one Sakhr perpetually wished to slap off his face. He always had that grin when he had a point. While Paul was ruining their edge, Sakhr and Alex had been with Sara, the young girl who’s flair was the shield. It had taken two hours and the help of Sara’s brother Bryan, but the girl finally signed over her power onto an ordinary piece of paper.
Sighing, Sakhr circled his desk and sat down. Sibyl stood by his side, forever the ornament.
“We do have the shield,” Alex said. “This means no accidental scannings. We can still control information.”
“We can distribute mind reading glyphs to our military and law enforcement to help quell the rebellions,” Sakhr said.
“There you go.”
“We don’t need the exemplars anymore. We could disband them.”
And Alex’s smile went away. “I mean, I guess. Why?”
“Why do we need them at all if our military can now do the same thing they could? Everyone will have plaques. Our overseas operations will no longer be tied up because of the exemplar shortage.”
“But the exemplars are the only people who actually know our situation. We can count on them to enforce our secret.”
“Can we? The last few batches you’ve replaced weren’t even detainees, were they? You’ve been pulling from prisons.”
“There weren’t any detainees left who were any good. I’m very careful about who I pick. I look for trustworthiness.”
“They’re liabilities, Alex, and we don’t need them anymore. We only got them in the first place because we couldn’t protect ourselves from the original exemplars. Now we can. You’re right. This actually solves many problems. We’ll just dispose of the Exemplar Committee entirely.”
“Let’s not get hasty. We can’t hand out the shield glyph unless we want people copying it for themselves. Trust me, I tried. You can copy a shield glyph. The piece of paper doesn’t protect itself. Our new plaque assembler won’t be done for a few more days, and even then, it takes time to make those things. We can’t just get rid of the exemplars overnight.”
“I’m not proposing we do. We’ll phase the old ones out, like we agreed. We will not surround ourselves with thieves and murderers.”
“Okay. Okay. I will.” His smile returned. He and Sakhr looked at each other across the desk. Sakhr was resting one hand on Sibyl’s glyph, but he saw nothing in Alex’s eyes. Alex was already shielded.
“But first,” Alex said, “I’d like to use the exemplars for a little side mission of mine.”
“Well, it turns out releasing these glyphs had a silver lining. Do you remember those… ugh, flairs that Katherine was supposedly hunting before we escaped? The ones we’d lost all track of in the ruckus? Thanks to Christof’s glyph being everywhere, they’ve turned up. Someone reported them in France.”
“What are their powers?”
“Between them, they can ruin plaques, erase your memory, and… do somersaults or something. No one’s sure about the last one. Between them all, Katherine was having a hell of a time catching them.”
“Memory erasure?” Sakhr asked.
“Memory erasure,” Alex confirmed. “We know where they are. How many there are, and I’ve already got a plan to take them, but I need people for that. Do we send the military after them and have it be public knowledge that you’ve got mind erasing at your disposal? Or shall we send the lowdown no-good exemplars—the ones who’ve been keeping our secrets?”
Sakhr’s look was withering.