79. Just Fifteen Seconds

Alexander and Sibyl were seated before the newly finished assembly machine. Robotic arms inside of it worked frantically to assemble security devices on frames bearing glyph wafers. One was a new plaque for Sibyl, complete with all exemplar standards and a shield. Two others were shields for Christof and Sakhr. Alexander had sketched the glyphs from a hacked plaque and his own ink-and-paper shield glyph.

The arms attached pressure sensitive bulbs, light diodes, caustic chemicals that react with oxygen, and back up explosives on a separate battery pack.

“Katherine was a paranoid woman, wasn’t she?” Alex said. “All that just to keep one little chip safe.”

“Mmhmm…,” Sibyl replied.

“Not that I blame her. I’d do the same too if it were me. It’s too bad Paul had to let the glyphs into the wild. We still have the shield glyph though,” Alex said. “That’s the one that really matters.”

She nodded.

Sibyl didn’t care much to talk with Alex. He knew damn well how she felt about him. He’d seen enough of her mind over the centuries. For her, she was here because Sakhr ordered her here. As soon as she had the plaques, she planned to be out the door.

Eventually, three plaques slid into the machine’s dispenser tray. Sibyl gathered them and turned to leave.

“Hold it,” Alex said.

“Yes?”

He held out his hand. “Your paper glyph?”

“What?”

“Your paper shield glyph. You don’t need it anymore, and keeping it around is a security risk. All someone would need is twenty seconds alone with it and the shields would be in the wild just as much as the other glyphs are.”

“Oh. Right.” Sibyl fetched a slip of paper from her coat pocket and handed it over. Alex tore it neatly in half. Sibyl again turned to leave.

“Just one last thing,” Alex said.

She paused, though she fidgeted.

Alexander walked to a lit glass cabinet and opened the lid. “Could you put the plaques in here for a second?”

“Why?”

“This is a plaque holding case. Exemplars are able to leave their plaques inside of these without them self-destructing. Before Katherine had shields, exemplars would have to store their plaques in these before entering her presence so they couldn’t read her mind. The case keeps them secure, and keeps them from self-destructing. Christof will need one, unless he wants to replace his plaque every every time he talks to the glyph breaker. I had my boys set this up, but I wouldn’t trust them to remember their own names, so I need to test it..” He nodded toward the plaques in her hand.

Sibyl placed Christof’s and Sakhr’s plaque inside.

“Sorry.” Alex picked up them up and set them aside. “Not those. Yours. Their’s aren’t activated yet. I need to make sure your plaque can be in here while you walk away.”

To her credit, Sibyl hesitated. Alex doubted she actually suspect anything. Perhaps her flair had picked up on something despite Alex’s shield, since he didn’t think her tiny, trusting brain would have actually notice how orchestrated their exchange was.

She placed hers inside.

“Now come with me.” Alex guided her. “We have to get five meters away.”

They did so.

“Is that good?” Sibyl turned to head back.

He stopped her. “We’ll know in a moment. If the case isn’t working, the plaque should beep soon. Then it would pop after another minute. If the case is working, then the plaque should be fine.”

“Okay.”

They waited.

“Sorry you had to come down here,” said Alex. “Christof has been a little upset with me lately.”

“It’s fine.”

Alex sighed. “It’s this whole Paul thing. He thinks I went overboard.”

“Hmm.”

“I don’t know what to do. We needed that glyph. So Sakhr ordered me to do what I had to. Then around Christof, he’ll pretend what I do disgusts him. He thinks I don’t know he does this. Am I wrong? Every time I’m not around, he’s disparaging me, isn’t he?”

Sibyl shifted uncomfortably. “No. He’s just… under pressure.”

“We’re all under pressure. This empire is falling, and we’re all busting our asses to keep it upright. We’ve got Katherine out there, the military deserters, and a whole world rebelling against us. I’ve been running back and forth juggling Paul and the exemplars. I’m just trying to make this work.”

“Yes, I know.” Sibyl frowned. Confusion? Could she sense her own aura changing? He slowed down on his Sympathy flexing, but not by much.

“I just don’t think they’re being fair to me. If Sakhr had such a problem with how I do things, he should do it himself, but he doesn’t. He orders me to do whatever needs to be done, and then he and Christof hate me for it.” He shrugged. “I’m starting to feel like he’s setting me up. He’s got my power now. Pretty soon, he’s going to get rid of me and wash his hands of all the shit he’s making me do. I’m his scapegoat.”

Alex stared at the ground feeling sorry for himself. Did he overplay it? He had never complained before, especially not to someone as vapid as her. Even she might detect his odd behavior.

But then a hand was on his shoulder. He looked up to see her staring at him.

“He won’t do that to you. He’s loyal to his own. You know that.” She smiled timidly. “I could say something to him.”

That was just fifteen seconds of Sympathy. Where would two minutes get him? Where would ten?

“No,” he said meekly. “It’s just nice to talk about it.”

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