Kathy wondered if she was going mad. It was a common enough condition for people like her, she knew that. When simple, basic facts like what year it was or what country you were standing on could change purely on your own whim, it wasn’t really conducive to a stable sense of reality.
No, she reassured herself. I’m not mad. I’m in shock, traumatised, psychologically scarred, neurotic and constantly on the verge of a panic attack but I am most definitely not mad.
Well. Thank goodness for that.
To be perfectly honest, in the aftermath of the bombing, she had been plagued with a horrible feeling that she was coping too well. It was almost as if there was a giant cartoon anvil of utter grief hanging overhead, to which she was totally oblivious. Only when she chanced to look up, it would come crashing down on her, crushing her with the memory of everyone she had lost.
Milo was gone. There was no way that had struck home yet. When she finally acccepted that, when she finally realised he had gone…
Or maybe she wouldn’t. Maybe this was all there was. Maybe this was all the grief that she could actually muster, and she just felt guilty because it seemed such a pitiful offering for such a terrible loss.
Maybe she was just some kind of souless machine.
Maybe she was a sociopath and didn’t know it.
Maybe she was going mad.
Maybe she was exhausted, stressed and needed some sleep.
Maybe that was it.
“Sure you don’t want me to come in with you?” Eamonn asked.
They were standing outside the door to Mariana’s home.
Kathy shook her head wearily.
“Less is more.” she said “I’ll go.”
“Scream if you need me.”
“Okay. Don’t let anyone see you.”
“But I’m so pretty. How can I deny them?”
He winked at her. Not for the first time, she wondered why he wasn’t in charge instead of her. The man seemed utterly unshaken by what had happened in the last few days. Not indifferent, of course not. But he was dealing with it. He didn’t seem on the constant verge of a nervous breakdown, which was of course was a real plus in a leader. Then again, maybe he was secretly falling to pieces and she just couldn’t see it. Maybe that’s how she appeared to other people.
The door, unsurprisingly, was open and as she stepped into the hallway she thought for a moment that Mariana had moved out. The stone hall was freezing cold, and there was rubbish and debris scattered everywhere, as if the place had been abandoned. But then she heard a voice mumbling in the shadows and she almost screamed as she saw a wild haired woman emerge from a doorway futher down the passage way mumbling dates and names to herself over and over before disappearing into the study.
Oh Mariana, Katy groaned to herself. She’d known she’d be in a bad way, but this…
She quietly followed her into the study and stood by the door, taking in the study with a worried eye. Mariana’s home had always been somewhat cluttered, chock full of paraphernalia from every period in time. But there had always been a kind of order to it, as if the rooms would have been tidy if only there had been enough space for everything. But now, it looked more as if the various odds and ends had just been allowed to accumulate where they would, as if Mariana no longer cared what went where. There were also cups of cold tea growing furry here and there, and the unmistakeable scent of a sandwich mouldering somewhere in the dark. Mariana herself lay on the floor, running her hands over an ocean of paper that left any floor the room might once have had a purely theoretical affair.
“…and that was the time, the only time, yes, yes, I see, the years are starting to shine golden now, coming into sharp relief, 1870, 1899, 1940 again and yet again. 2010. Vital year, completely unique…” she muttered quietly to herself scrabbling through reams of yellowing paper, newspaper cut-outs and photographs, her eyes sunken from lack of sleep and her hair as wild as a willow tree.
“Take a seat, Kathy dear, I’ll be with you in a moment.” Mariana said.
Kathy shifted. She hadn’t thought Mariana was even aware of her presence.
“What are you doing Mariana?” she asked.
“Sit, sit, I’ll tell you all about it. Sit down. I think there‘s a cup of tea around here somewhere.”
“I’m good, thank you.”
“Suit yourself. Suit yourself, I’m sure.”
“Hmmm?” Mariana murmured.
“You look terrible.”
“Hmmm.” Mariana murmured in agreement, but made no other reply.
“Mariana…” she tried again.
She didn’t look up. She was scribbling ferociously now, trying to wring the last few drops of life from an old biro that was ready for the peace of the sweet hereafter.
“Mariana!” she said sharply.
“What?!” she snapped brusquely, her hair flying into her face as she looked up “What? What. Do. You Want? Kathy?”
“What do I want?“ said Kathy angrily “Okay, how ’bout this. I want you to put down that damn pen, I want you to gather up a couple of suitcases and I want you to get the hell out of here like I asked you too. “
“Don’t be ridiculous. I am not leaving.” said Mariana and turned back to her notes “…the Nephilim will know, he’ll help me, always such a good boy…”
“I am not leaving my home! Not for him!”
“You think if you stay here he’s going to come here himself to finish you off? Well he won’t. He’ll just send another bomb and he will kill you and you won’t even know when it happens.”
“Let him try.”
“Tried it before, couldn’t do it.” Mariana muttered to herself “Still here. Still standing. Everytime he tries, he fails. Old grey cat that just won‘t die.”
“Yes.” Kathy said quietly “You’re still alive. We’re still alive, it was a one in a million chance and Milo died to give us that. He died and now you’re just going to throw it away out of spite.”
“You are a stupid girl.” said Mariana, as if she was a teacher admonishing a small child “Because you talk about him like you understand him and what he can do. You don’t. He doesn’t know I live here. He doesn’t.”
“How do you know that, Mariana?”
“Because that’s not how his powers work. I know, remember that. He described them to me. Vividly. It’s as if. Alright, imagine you’re blind. Close your eyes.”
“Close your eyes.”
“Now. You‘re blind. If you‘re looking for something you have to feel around the entire room until you actually have it in your hands. I don‘t have to do that because I can just see it. But I only know where it is, if I can see it. Do you understand?”
“Yes. But I don’t…”
“Just because I can see, doesn’t mean I automatically know where something is. I still have to look for it. In that same way Mabus can see through time, but that doesn’t mean he can just think “Find Mariana” and he’ll see me here. He would have to look through all of space and time to find me. And to be honest I don’t think he could be bothered. You can open your eyes now.”
“Why did I have to close them in the first place?”
“I didn’t know that about Mabus. So before he can…oh God.”
Mariana gazed at her and nodded quietly.
“Yes. You’ve realised, haven’t you?”
“So…if he has to know beforehand, how did he know to send the bomb to the Hotel? At that exact time?”
“And isn’t that a very interesting question?” Mariana whispered.
Kathy kneeled on in front, crunching papers under her knees.
“Mariana, are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“All I’m saying.” said Mariana “Is that he had to know. He had to know that the Council was holding it’s meeting on that day, at that time in the Hotel Baur Au Lac. He couldn’t have simply searched through history for it with his mind. The odds of him finding us by chance are huge. No. He cheated. He found out.”
“He found out.”
“Say it, please.”
“You have to say it. I need to hear the words.”
“Because if I say it then that means I’m crazy.”
“Well I can’t help, because I’m not crazy.”
“Could’ve fooled me. Mariana, do you actually think there’s a….”
“A what, a…traitor?”
“I believe a more correct term would be spy. If his or her true loyalites were always to Mabus we can’t really call them a traitor.”
“I can’t believe it. There’s got to be another explanation.”
“If you say so. But the Council meetings are closely guarded secrets. Not as secret as the meetings of the Nine Unknown Men, to be sure, but there would be no historical record of them. Nothing Mabus could look up in a library or archive.”
“The bombing would have a historical record..”
“Yes, but unless he knew beforehand the bombing would never have occurred. Besides, what makes it distinct from the thousands of other bombings throughout history? Maybe we used to meet in a pub in Guildford, or in the World Trade Centre. How is he to know? Maybe I’m wrong. But if he had no help, if no one told him the date, time and place to send that bomb, then it was the equivalent of shooting the wings off a fly blindfolded. While standing on Mount Everest.”
“Alright. But, no, no, no…that’s crazy. If one of the Temporals sold us out to Mabus, they would have been killed in the bombing with everyone else.”
“You’re saying one of the survivors is the spy?”
“Not necessarily. They may well have died in the blast. Mabus may simply have lied to them. Told them that he would whisk them out before the bomb went off. Or maybe they didn’t know there was going to be a bomb at all. But as you and I both know, a bomb is only deadly to people like us if it takes us by surprise. Someone who knew when the bomb was going off could quite easily have shifted out before it detonated. Think back. When we were standing there, watching the bomb go off in slow-time, was anyone missing? When you picture the scene, is there someone who you know was at the Council who was gone when the bomb arrived.”
Kathy tried to think, but her memories of that day were so frantic and chaotic that she could hardly pick out any faces.
“I can’t really remember who was there. I know you, Marie, Isabella, Milo and Maket were there. But that’s about it. I can‘t remember definitely seeing any other particular person.”
“Nor can I. Then again, maybe they were there when the bomb arrived. They might have been planning on throwning a slowtime envelope around themselves and walking out only to find that Milo had already done it for them. There are many possibilities. In fact there are only two facts that I would state with absolute certainty. One, there was a spy regardless of whether or not they are still alive now. And that spy is or was a member of the Nine Unknown Men.”
Kathy’s jaw dropped “How can you know that?”
“Do you remember that meeting?” Mariana asked “When the Nine voted on whether or not to give into Mabus’ demands. To hand Marie over to him?”
“Eight voted against it. One voted in favour. One raised his hand when asked whether they should hand a small girl over to that monster. I remember that, because I wanted to kill him quite acutely. He (or she) was sitting to the left of the First. But if in that moment I had reached over and pulled the mask from his face, I would have seen the one who betrayed us. That person was Mabus’ instrument. I am certain of it. If we find out who that was, we will learn a great deal I think.”
“I…wow. I really wish you’d told me this sooner.”
“We’ve formed a new Nine.”
“Oh God.” Mariana groaned “It never ends.”
“Well technically we’re still an Eight. All survivors of the bombing. A lot of them people I either know or have a strong suspicion were part of the Nine. I came to ask you if you’d reconsider joining us.”
She had been expecting a flat refusal, but Mariana simply said “No masks.”
“If you’re going to do this again, it has to be different. We always thought one of the strengths of the Nine Unknown Men was that no one knew who we were, not even us. But if you are taking these people into battle against Mabus you will need to know who they are. At all times. You will need to know everything about them.”
“Nine Known Men?”
“Who have you got?”
“I’m serving as First.”
“Eamonn. He told me he was one of the Nine after the bombing. I made him Second.”
“He’s a good choice. No, he’s an excellent choice. Unless he’s the spy, in which case he’s a terrible choice. Who else?”
“Eloi of the Seventh Chapter. Well, he’s an open book, isn’t he?” said Mariana sarcastically.
“I admit we know very little about him. Some kind of warrior cleric from the the 23rd century.”
“One of the Nine before?”
“Maybe. Very maybe. I asked him to join us and he just nodded and said he would. As if it was no surprise to him. But then, he doesn’t really do surprise. It’s not like he was going slap his cheeks and say, “Golly gee! I didn’t expect that!”
“We know Mabus spent a lot of time in the far future getting treatments. There could have been an encounter. An alliance could have been made, a bargain struck. Watch Eloi.”
“Magnus is a good man. I know Magnus very well. He knows me, he knows what Mabus did to me.”
“You don’t suspect him.”
“I suspect everybody.”
“But he would be further down the list?”
“Near the bottom. Also, he’s not a Nine.”
“He could be.”
“When I was First we considered inducting him. We rejected him.”
“It’s filthy work. He was too kind hearted. Too decent. ”
“Maybe he became a jerk later?”
Mariana looked at her askance.
“Do you suspect him?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t.” said Kathy “Except…he wasn’t there the day of the bombing.”
Mariana’s face dropped.
“Excuse me?” she whispered.
“He wasn‘t there.” said Kathy “He stayed home.”
“But, it’s probably just a coincidence.”
“Oh God, no.”
“I mean, Magnus wasn’t exactly a regular at these things. He tended to skip years.”
“How did he find out?”
“He came to my house, he was crying. He’d gone to the Council meeting the next year only to find there was no meeting because the hotel had been blown up.”
“Magnus, Magnus.” Mariana closed her eyes and knitted her finger as if she was praying “Please not you. Please, let it not be you. Watch him, Kathy.”
Kathy nodded “How many is that?”
“Counting you and I? Five.”
“Well there’s Carlos.”
“I don’t know him.”
“18th century Italian. Friend of mine. Definitely not a Nine. And now that I think of it I’m pretty sure he was there when the bomb went off.”
“We’ll put him low on the list then. Give him Magnus’ old spot. It’s probably still warm.”
“They don’t tend to stya free of suspicion for very long, do they?”
“No they do not. Next?”
“Yeah. They found her in the ruins of the hotel after we left. Took her to the hospital. After they patched her up she shifted out.”
“And we left her there. Oh God.”
“I don’t think she blames us. She was buried under a ton of burning rubble. It was a miracle she survived.”
As she said the words, they died in her throat and she saw Mariana’s arch an eyebrow. Since Mariana had told her about the spy, a lot of things she had taken on trust until a few minutes ago were starting to sound less and less plausible. Still, this one she was sure of.
“Before you give me that look, she’s missing half her face. If it’s an act, it’s a hell of an act.”
“The fact that she was injured does not prove her innocence. Although it does prove she was there when the bomb went off. One of the Nine?”
“I don’t know. But I’d be very surprised if she wasn’t quite frankly. She was one of the most powerful Temporals I’ve ever met. Almost at Milo’s level. If she wasn’t one of the Nine, I’m sure she was asked to be. But if you suggest to her that she was in cahoots with Mabus you‘d better duck. I think she wants him dead more than any of us.”
“…you noticed that too?”
“That Virgil said that when Mabus was First of the Nine one of it’s members was a Ugandan named Baako, and now we have a kid from Uganda named Baako at the council meeting? Yeah. I noticed that.”
“How old is he?”
“I have to go to war with the army I’ve got. He’s an old fifteen. Do you think he‘s the same Baako you knew?”
“He could be.” said Mariana “Baako was with Mabus’ group, I rarely saw him. I’m not even sure I can remember his face.”
“Do you think he knows? I mean, he was there when Virgil was telling his story.”
“Um…no he wasn’t.”
“He left to go to the bathroom. I remember because he pushed passed me, and that was just when Virgil was describing how he first met Mabus. I think he was gone when Virgil started talking about this other Baako. Or the same one. As the case may be.”
“Yes. I definitely remember him leaving.”
“And do you definitely remember him coming back?”
“Alright. So he’s a suspect too.” said Kathy, rubbing the bridge of her nose in exhaustion “God this just keeps getting better.”
“I won’t ask if he was a member of the Nine.”
“Well, we know he will be some day. But our Baako is too young. No way he would have been recruited.”
“Not by us, at least.” said Mariana darkly “I don’t like it. If it is the same Baako then he is a direct link to Mabus. Mabus knows him. Mabus would be able to find him in time, Mabus would be able to turn him to his cause. Maybe that’s why he recruited him as an adult. Who knows how long he was planning this. Hell, he might have had this in mind the second we stepped out of that damned tower! I just don’t know any more.” she pulled her fingers through her knotted hair in frustration.
“Alright. So we know Baako left before the bomb arrived and none of us can remember him coming back. That’s one mark of suspicion.”
“And we know that in all likelihood that he will one day grow up to be the Baako who served with Mabus and myself in the Leper War. Which is another mark of suspicion.”
“By that logic” said a voice “Shouldn’t we suspect you?”
Both women leapt in their skins and jerked their heads to the door where Eamonn stood leaning against the doorframe.
“Kidding.” he said “It’s getting chilly outside.”
“Sorry.” said Kathy “I forgot I left you waiting out there.”
“So.” said Eamonn “Is all the paranoia taken or did you leave a little for me?”
“We’re almost done.” said Kathy.
“Who else is there?” Mariana asked.
Kathy took a deep breath. If Mariana hadn’t liked the last five choices, she sure as Hell wasn’t going to like this one. Eamonn saved her the trouble.
“Aoife Blake.” he said.
“Please tell me you’re joking.” said Mariana.
“He’s not.” said Kathy sourly “Oh, how I wish.”
“We need people with experience.” said Eamonn.
“Not that kind of experience.”
“Look, say what you like, she was a fantastic tracker. She was probably the greatest tracker in any Nine.”
“Eamonn. Kathy.” said Mariana “Let me explain something to you. Nine is just a number. It was picked at random. There’s really no reason that you have to have Nine Unknown Men. So if you just included her to shore up the numbers, well I think there’s a lot to be said for trying the Eight Known Men.” I quite like the sound of it. It’s even a little easier to say.”
“Look, she made a mistake.” said Eamonn.
“She killed an innocent person.” said Mariana “Accidentally, yes. But she should never have been let within five miles of the Nine. She was reckless, excessive…”
“Which is a polite way of saying bats-arse psycho.” Eamonn agreed “I know. But I still think…”
“This is not up for discussion.” said Kathy coldly “I’m the First and I have made my decision. She has agreed to help us. And you are not going to give her grief. Alright?”
“Of course. I shall treat her with the utmost respect.” said Mariana.
“Thank you.” said Kathy.
“But I want to point something out. We are looking for the person that betrayed us to Mabus and allowed him to plant the bomb that destroyed the Hotel Baur Au Lac. We know that person probably was not in the room when the bomb went off, and that they are or were a member of the Nine Unknown Men. Now. You tell me that you have just recruited Aoife Blake, a woman who is a former member of the Nine Unknown Men, who was not present in the hotel when the bomb went off, and who had considerable bitterness towards the Nine after they kicked her out for obliterating the wrong person.”
“Ah to heck with it.” said Eamonn with a grin “You’ve convinced me, Mabus is innocent, she did it!”
“Not funny.” Kathy snapped “And she is not the spy.”
“So sure?” said Mariana.
“Because you said yourself the one we’re after is whoever cast the vote for giving Marie up to Mabus. Aoife is pretty much the one person we can absolutely be sure was not in that room. Because she is the only one we can be absolutely sure was not one of the Nine.”
Mariana seemed about to protest, but finally simply nodded and got to her feet.
“Wait here, I need to change.”
“What is all this stuff?” Eamonn asked, poking the pile of papers with his foot.
“Research. I know someone who may be able to help us find Mabus.”
She said it as if she was announcing the time.
“I think so yes. What did you think I was doing?”
“We just thought you’d gone crazy again.”
“Oh no. Can you assemble your group?”
“Good. We’re going on a trip.”
“Dublin.” said Mariana “We’re going to visit my son.”