It only took us two days to find Linda Tavier again. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman in Kenya was not the most difficult quarry once we knew what to look for. After we discovered where she was staying, it was a simple matter of making observations, recording her habits, and extracting a few key memories from a few key people.
I was getting better with my implant. I couldn't experience the memories the way Raina could in the reliquary, but I could use a specific concept as a sort of filter to select what memory I extracted. Not nearly as precise as it had been when I was working for the Church and the memories were given willingly, but I made due.
In truth, I needed those two weeks. Uncovering the Church’s deception had affected me more than I’d realized, until Raina had confronted me about it. I needed that time to work through it, with her help.
But that was over, and we were standing outside Linda Tavier’s apartment on the top floor of a high-rise in the heart of downtown.
Raina looked up at me, and I at her, for several seconds. She said nothing; she didn’t need to. She pressed her thumb to the biometric lock on the apartment door.
The solid wood panel slid to the side with a breathy rasp, revealing a vast open room. The outer walls were almost entirely glass, affording a breathtaking view down onto the surrounding sprawl of Nairobi. A dozen wooden pedestals formed a sort of hallway down the middle of room, six on each side, which each held an artifact of some kind. A jade sculpture, a marble bust, a bowl that might have been carved from ivory. I was no art historian, but they looked old.
At the other end of the art hallway, just in front of the largest window in the room, was a massive oaken desk. A computer display took up most of the surface, which was currently showing dozens of graphs and charts.
Linda Tavier stood up from the desk and turned toward us the moment we entered the room.
Everything about her was cold. The eyes, the hair tucked up in a pristine bun, the angles of her delicate nose and razor-sharp jaw. For the briefest moment, I wondered if the windows were in fact made of ice.
“How the fuck did you get in?” She said, and her high, precise voice echoed strangely off the windows. She did not sound surprised, simply folded her arms casually across her chest and shifted her weight. The way she stood made me think of a marionette with strings too tight.
“I added my thumbprint to your building security account,” Raina said with an air of casual indifference, “Using access codes Raul pulled from the security manager’s head.” She gestured offhandedly toward me, smiling. In reality, it had been a great deal more difficult than that, but Raina’s relaxed demeanor and the exaggeration of our skills were part of the plan, to throw Linda off balance. The smile was not, though it did serve to set Raina even farther apart from the frosty blonde.
“Ah,” Linda responded, looking thoughtful. “That simplifies things, then.”
I took a sharp breath, nearly a gasp at the woman’s non-reaction. We’d expected incredulity, denial, surprise, anything but passive acknowledgement. Raina, much more composed, merely allowed her lips to twitch.
“I am surprised Arturo didn’t tell you more about me,” Linda said, “It would have made this meeting easier on you, I think.”
I glanced questioningly at Raina. “The Bishop,” she said softly. “His name is -- was -- Arturo.”
Linda stepped to the side and gestured behind her to the red marble orb she’d been standing in front of. It looked nearly identical to the reliquary back at the hotel room.
“I am very familiar with your organization,” she said dryly. “Perhaps even more so than you are.”
Raina glanced at me and the look on her face told me she was thinking the same thing I was. We were rapidly losing control of the situation, if we’d even had it to begin with. “Who are you?” she asked.
“A better question,” said Linda, taking a few steps toward us, “is who was I? And I was Fabienne Ramos, before the Church decided they wanted what the Lord of Thoughts gave to me.”
“Ramos...you invented the implants.” Raina looked skeptical.
“I did not. The Lord gave me the knowledge. I was merely a conduit.” She took a few more steps toward us, until she was just three or four meters away, and spread her hands. “So you see, you aren’t really here to take a memory from me. You’re here to take a memory from the Lord of Thoughts.”
“Why should we believe you over the Bishop of the Church?” Raina said.
“You shouldn’t. But if you like, you can tap in to my reliquary, and I will show you.”
Raina and I looked at each other for a few seconds, and she nodded. “All right,” she said, and walked with Linda back to the desk. I followed dumbly, feeling overwhelmed and useless by turns.
Raina reached out for the reliquary, but stopped just short of touching it. “If she tries anything...” She let the sentence hang in the air.
I nodded my assent, hoping the uncertainty and mild nausea I was feeling didn’t show on my face.
Raina grasped the marble orb, and her eyes got that far-away look that they always got when she was inside the reliquary. For my part, I watched Linda intently, waiting for any sign of betrayal. Not that I knew what one would look like, exactly.
“I should very much like to study you … Raul, was it?” she said after a few minutes of silence. “Compatibility with the advanced model is exceedingly rare -- about one in a hundred -- and I was not able to discover why before my … departure.”
My blank look must have conveyed my lack of understanding, because she laughed softly. “I’m sorry, this must be so new and strange for you.” I hadn’t realized until now, but her manner had gotten progressively warmer since Raina and I had first stepped into the apartment. Now she seemed almost friendly.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re not much of a conversationalist?” She asked after another minute of silence. I caught a hint of a smile at the corners of her mouth, and I couldn’t help but chuckle.
Raina came out of the reliquary, and her eyes immediately focused and widened. She whirled to face me. “She’s telling the truth.”
“How do you store memories in a reliquary?” I asked, turning toward Linda. “Did you take an acolyte with you when you left?”
Linda shook her head, looking amused. “I made modifications to the Keeper implant,” she said. “Mine allows me two-way access to the reliquary. I can’t pull out another person’s memory, but I can store and retrieve my own whenever I wish. With much higher clarity than normal, as well.”
“That’s impossible,” I said, frowning. “The acolyte implant co-opts the speech centers of the brain to handle the encoding. Even if you could add that functionality to the Keeper implant, how are you able to speak?” I glanced at Raul, who was absent-mindedly rubbing his throat. No doubt he would be interested in this answer as well.
She looked down at the polished wooden floorboards. “You aren’t going to like this,” she said wryly, “But I don’t know.”
Linda was right. I did not like that.
“The Lord comes to me in dreams,” Linda said, putting up her hands as if to pre-emptively ward off Raina’s protests. “He gives me instructions, I record them in the reliquary, and then I watch them until I can apply it to the implant.”
“Show me,” I said.
“Raul,” Linda said the moment Raina was back in the reliquary, “You are going to have a decision to make very soon.”
I regarded her carefully, raising my eyebrows in question.
“You could take this memory back to Arturo, of course. You would no doubt be rewarded for your efforts. You might even be raised to the priesthood straight away. It is not unheard of, even at your age, for a particularly … loyal … acolyte.”
I let her say what she needed to say. Later, when this was all behind her, it might give her some comfort to know that she had done all she could. That she had tried to persuade me. In truth, I had already made the decision. Several days ago.
“Or you could take it offworld,” she continued, and I blinked stupidly. This was not the alternative I had thought she would present. “Far beyond the reach of the Church of the Mind. There are research groups in Olympia doing fine work with memory and cognition, if you think the Lord of Thoughts would be willing to share his knowledge with those outside his Church. Or you could found your own Church, if that’s more to your liking.”
She laughed out loud when she saw the look on my face.
“I know,” she said. “Not what you were expecting.” Her face twisted into a grin and her voice warmed slightly, taking on an almost impish tone. “We’re far past the point where you can just turn around and walk away, Raul. You can’t unring that bell.”
I stuck my hand into my robe pocket almost unconsciously, fingering the small rectangle of thick paper there. A ticket back to Madrid-Seville, and the Bishop. I took a step toward Linda.
Her face fell back to the emotionless mask she’d been wearing when we’d first entered. “Think about what you’re doing,” she said, voice flat.
I took another step toward her.
“This gift would be wasted on Arturo,” Linda said. “He’ll use it to build his own power, but you could do so much more!”
“She’ll never go with you,” she said, nodding her head toward Raina’s entranced form two meters behind her. “Whatever’s between you now, it will disappear the moment you take this from me.” Her voice was strained, and her calm mask was starting to slip.
I faltered just slightly at that. The truth was there was nothing more between Raina and me than the bond between colleagues who work closely together, and more than a little of the enmity that comes from being confined to a small space with a person. I would always be indebted to her for helping me through the discovery of the true nature of our gifts, but that’s as far as it went.
I started to take one last step toward Linda, reaching out my hand as I did so. Her arm whipped out from behind her back in a wide arc. A slim metal rod was in her hand, the tip sparking blue-white.
I dodged back instinctively, leaning backward out of the path of the stun baton. I retreated, stumbling in my haste, and she came at me with surprising speed and fluidity. A few awkward, jerking steps back, and my spine hit something hard and square.
The wooden pillar toppled, and I fell on top of it. The pillar crushed the air out of my lungs as I fell, facedown. The artifact the pillar had held, a lion carved from jade, clattered next to my outstretched hand. I grabbed for it and whirled, swinging wildly.
The figurine crashed into the side of Linda’s skull at the same moment her baton touched my chest. An explosion of pain and light, and I had just enough time to give a weak, wordless cry before darkness took me.
I pushed myself back into Linda Tavier’s apartment, shaking off the fog in my head as I transitioned once again. There was something exhausting about using her reliquary. It felt like swimming through honey instead of water.
“It’s all here,” I said, turning away from the desk, and I cried out when I saw the state of the apartment behind me.
Raul was sitting on the floor, cradling Linda’s head in his lap. He had a burn mark on his chest, and her head had a huge gash in it. A trail of blood led from where Raul sat to a jade figurine lay broken on the floor next to the wooden pillar that had held it.
His gaze rose slowly until it met mine, and his eyes looked almost as empty as Linda’s.
I rushed over to kneel next to him, heedless of the mess on the floor. “Are you alright?” I asked, reaching out to grasp his shoulder.
Raul shrugged off my hand.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “Why show me all these things, tell us the truth, and then attack you the minute my back was turned.”
He looked away and shook his head.
Several seconds of silence passed. I noticed for the first time that the wood in the floor was the same type and pattern on the floor of the Bishop’s chamber back at the Church.
I stood slowly, deliberately. “Linda did attack you, didn’t she?” I asked softly, though at my core I already knew the answer.
Raul shook his head again, still unwilling or unable to meet my gaze.
My breath caught, and I tasted bile in the back of my throat. I wasn’t sure whether to scream or vomit, but i did neither.
“What have you ...” I said, but it came out barely above a whisper, and I couldn’t finish the sentence. Raul flinched visibly at that, and his lips twisted back in a snarl. Not at me, I didn’t think.
I stepped back to the desk, not willing to turn my back on him, and reached behind me to grasp the smooth stone reliquary. I hugged it to my chest with both hands and strode toward the door we’d come in, flanked by the remaining pillars and artwork. I did not glance at Raul as I passed.
At the door, I turned to look back at him one last time. “Be well,” I said, my voice echoing lightly off the smooth glass of the windows. “If you still can.”
I pushed open the door, and walked out into the streaming sunlight.
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