Arabian Nights

Chapter 11: The Queen

Dr. Temperance Joy Keenan Brennan stood on the forensic platform. She had swiped her key card to get there and had felt the surge of ownership and accomplishment that often came when the trill of the alarms releasing sounded. Knowing she would be there before Pelant, but not how long he would keep her waiting, she had left the box of teaching bones on the platform. She didn't want to expose actual human remains to the risk that Pelant represented but she was glad enough to occupy herself with reassembling the well worn simulacrum.

The doors whooshed open and she straightened and turned. His face showed the trauma of the gunshot wound but otherwise, Christopher Pelant looked well fed and healthy. He wore jeans and boots, a tee shirt and a rough cotton jacket, messenger bag crossed over his shoulder. Zach had been right. Questing garb, he called it. The messenger bag, the modern day equivalent to a satchel holding oatcakes, a flask, a cloak, a flint, and an amulet or scroll. All he needed was an enchanted broadsword to be the puckish kitchen boy with the destiny of a king.

"Temperance." He smiled at her and spread his hands wide. "Now that you have me here. What are you going to do with me?"

She turned to face him fully and spread her own hands to show that she was unarmed. His eyes, alight with mischief but nevertheless wary, snuck darting looks around the cavernous room, dimly lit around the edges but bright enough on the platform and surrounding area. He was rightly nervous that this was a trap.

He raised his voice, "I won't offend you by warning you against trying to calling the authorities. You will understand that I have taken steps to keep you, or rather anyone who would prevent you from playing this game with me, from doing such a thing. If I do not leave this building alive, well..." His grin got wider. "let's just say I do not think you would be pleased with the results. If what I wanted was to kill you, though, I could have done that anytime." He waited and Brennan did not disappoint.

"Yes, you could have." She nodded slightly. She knew he wanted her to elaborate, to share what she had learned about him. But the desire for acclaim, for recognition of his accomplishments, was not actually his main goal, and she didn't see any reason to indulge him in a secondary one. "Are you ready?"

He looked steadily at her, his grin gone but a small smile still playing around his lips. His arms and hands were loose at his sides, as he imagined a gunslinger's would be, and he took the time, finally, to survey the room, sweeping his eyes across the offices on the ground floor, the balcony above. Not seeing anything amiss, he said, "Absolutely. I am ready."

And stiffened as a number of people moved into his field of vision. They had been somewhere-offices or conference rooms, bathrooms or closets-but to him it must have seemed that they just appeared, moving into the better lit central area of the space. His face shot to hers, angry, and his hand hovered over his messenger bag. Brennan was still calm, however, and she held up her hand to caution patience. Now she raised her voice, so everyone could hear her.

"These people are part of the game. They are not here to hurt you. Just as I am the prize, because reaching me is the goal, I could not also be the obstacle. These people are pawns, and have volunteered to test you as you attempt to achieve your goal. Honestly, I thought you would think it was fitting that you get to test yourself against people you have made your adversaries-"

The figures had stopped in a rough half circle around him, still some distance away from him but not so far away that he couldn't see who they were. Jack Hodgins. Caroline Jullian. Lance Sweets. Camille Saroyan.

"-Angela couldn't be here, so standing in for her is Wendell Bray." Wendell stepped forward into the light.

"And them?" Pelant challenged aggressively, pointing upward where seven more people revealed themselves, standing together on the balcony. Clark Edison, Colin Fisher, Arastoo Vasiri, Daisy Wick, Sam Cullen, Charlie Burns, Genny Shaw

"Part of the feedback system. The best games let the players know in a number of ways how they are doing. To provide you with this information, I have installed a timer." A large digital timer glowed to life on the far wall, a bright red beacon, "as well as an audience, who will applaud if you successfully master the tests put to you. And I have to admit, the idea of having someone bear witness to this game is satisfying to me as its creator."

Pelant wasn't smiling anymore, but he had relaxed when people didn't come any closer.

"Where is your father?"

"With Christine." Her voice was cold now. "Safe."

He just smiled. They were never as safe as they thought.

Brennan continued.

"The goal is simple: to reach me, here on the platform. To get here you have to pass a series of tests, or rather, the same test over and over."

Intrigued despite himself, Pelant cocked his head to the side slightly, hands twitching as if to hold a controller, to tap a keyboard. "Go on."

"May I have Dr. Hodgins approach?" Pelant jerked his head around to the right where Hodgins stood at one end of the rough arc. Hodgins held his hands wide to show he was unarmed but his face was mocking and feral. He was not pretending, not even to the extent Brennan was.

Pelant considered. Any one of them, or rather someone who hadn't shown his or herself, could have shot him at any time. The biggest physical threat wasn't present. He knew exactly where Booth was. Before entering the Jeffersonian, Pelant had seen him with his own eyes, in their house, watching a game on T.V.. Plus he wasn't joking. If he didn't walk out of here alive, they would be sorry. He was certain they believed that.

"Go on." He demanded.

Hodgins turned and wheeled a large table over to Pelant. Pelant recognized the top of the line computer setup, and Brennan narrated. "A game will provide the player with tools to enhance his abilities. You will be allowed the use of a computer and your intellect for this game. The test is simple."

Hodgins moved away from the computer. He was carrying a small briefcase. A movement in his field of vision had Pelant looking to see the rest of the pawns all picking up their own briefcases. He watched warily as they moved to stand in a line between him and Brennan.

"Each briefcase is locked. Each person was asked to choose a word representing what being part of this team means to them and have locked the briefcase with that word. Since you have pitted yourself against us as a team, as well as individually, and since you have used your knowledge of things we thought were private against us time and time again, I would like to see if you know us as well as you think you do." For the first time, emotion colored Brennan's voice and her eyes sparked haughtily from where she stood above him.

She continued. "All you have to do-" Hodgins raised and turned the briefcase so he could see the electronic lock glowing green, "-is find the password and open the briefcase." He flicked his eyes to the computer, and Brennan added, "Angela assures me that very likely you can devise a system or configure your computer to find the passwords, but not in ten minutes. " She reached across to her computer and the glowing red letters of the digital timer set to 10:00. "Especially since we have installed a different locking device on each briefcase."

"What happens if I can't find the password and open the lock?"

"Surprisingly, I find myself hoping you can. Because the last briefcase, of course, is mine." She pointed to where a small briefcase sat on the floor by her feet. "There is a way for you to earn extra tries. Inside each briefcase, I have placed a slip of paper bearing a single word. This word represents what I think this person''s role on the team is. The team members do not know what I wrote there."

And, in fact, several heads had swiveled in surprise at her statement, but Brennan continued. "If you can guess what is written on the inside of the briefcase, what I think this person's role on the team is, before the lock is open, you will earn an extra try at any given briefcase. You must open four out of five to get to advance to the final stage, to attempt the prize."

"What about the first one? If I fail at the first one, I won't have any extra lives saved up." Brennan smiled at this small sign of gamer culture.

"To start the game, you may guess at the words inside the briefcases of the five pawns. The number correct will equal your number of extra tries."

"How long do I have to come up with my answer?"

"Ten minutes." He looked at the six players arrayed before him. Rather than look like a defensive shield, which they were after all, instead they looked like...troops. Deployed by the queen. But that is how he saw her, he had to admit. The piece he had been playing for-against-all along.

"Where is Agent Booth?" He ventured, mockingly, playing for time and hoping to rattle her.

In a bland tone, she stated, "He has seen fit to not inform me of some of his decisions. I did not inform him of mine. As I think you know, and I suspect you have used to your recent advantage, he would protect me at all costs. The chances of him allowing me to play this game with you unimpeded were slim. And," she allowed her face to reveal a small amount of the real emotion she felt, "I would protect him, as well."

"He won't thank you for it."

"No, I never thought he would." Clearly done talking about Booth, Brennan asked him again. "So do you accept the terms of the game?"

"Wait, what do I get if I win?"

Her voice, cool and patient, asked, "What do you want?"

"You don't know?" He sneered. "How are you going to convince me to play, without knowing what I want?"

"I do know."

"Well then. What do I get if I win?"

And now Brennan looked at him with the full weight of knowledge and conviction behind her steady blue gaze. For the first time, Pelant felt the smallest of doubts that he would win. And he reveled in it. Finally, a worthy adversary.

"Another game."

For long minutes he held her gaze and then without breaking it, said, "What do you get if I lose?"

"Your surrender to Director Cullen, and the end of any game you have currently in play...that means any threats made to anyone and any imminent danger you pose to any living being."

"Too much."

Brennan thought for a minute. "Then the latter. I too, am willing to play for another game. Do you agree to these terms?"

Pelant took his time, his gaze sweeping the room, his eyes meeting those of the pawns. His smile never wavered. His arrogance, his ability to show tranquility, even glee, to his adversaries, was part of the game and part of the fun. "I do."

"Are you ready to begin?"

"Let the game begin."


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