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Blindfold

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2019 год
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Dokken narrowed his sea-green eyes. “What are you talking about?”

The Guild Master’s words came out in a rush. “Name is Troy Boren, 23 years old, recently moved in from the Mining District of Koman Holding. Worked inventorying shipments from the Platform—we caught him in the middle of the night. By the body, in the empty warehouse, with blood on his hands. We’ve also found that he doctored some computer shipment records.”

Dokken took a moment to recover, flashed a glance over his shoulder at Maximillian, who shook his smooth head, perplexed. The manservant’s brows hooded his dark eyes.

“So what does this prisoner have to say for himself?” Dokken asked.

Tharion gave a dismissive wave of his pale, long-fingered hand. “Claims he’s innocent, of course. They all do. But when I bring him into the plaza and set him in front of one of my Truthsayers, will we find evidence linked to you? You really should have let me handle this whole thing, Franz—if there is evidence that ties you to the murder, I’ll be forced to prosecute. The law takes precedence over friendship, and you can’t keep a secret from the Guild.” His expression looked haunted. “I’m worried about what could happen to you, Franz. But there’s nothing I can do to help.”

Dokken wished the Guild Master could be there in front of him, so he could personally smooth his ruffled feathers. “Tharion, trust me. Listen to what I’m saying. I don’t know how this happened, but it’s just an accident, a coincidence. This man you’ve apprehended must have stumbled in at the wrong time, an innocent bystander. Bad luck, that’s all.”

“I don’t believe it. You should have seen him.”

Dokken shrugged. “Tharion, you’re creating problems where there aren’t any. Put the poor sod on trial, let one of your Truthsayers dig into his mind … just the way you’re supposed to. It’s every citizen’s right: a speedy and irrefutable trial by telepathy. If the man is innocent, he will be cleared, no doubt about it. And this man is innocent.” He jabbed a finger at the viewplate. “The Truthsayer won’t find anything in his head—because he knows nothing.” He kept his voice low and comforting, repeating himself. “Just a minor inconvenience. Don’t worry about it.”

Tharion slumped in grudging defeat, still looking uneasy. “This is the last time, Franz. Don’t ever put me in this position again. My loyalty is to the Guild—I’m the Guild Master, dammit!” He rubbed his temples. “Oh, my head hurts.”

“Tharion, a simple analgesic will help, and drink plenty of water,” Dokken said quickly. “It’ll pass.” The Guild Master snorted as he signed off.

Dokken slipped back out of the alcove. Maximillian stood behind him, saying nothing as Dokken tried to work through his own thoughts. The clumsy innocent bystander complicated the situation, but Dokken couldn’t decide if that might be an advantage or a disadvantage.

He took a plate from the luncheon board, piled it with food, and took a steaming mug of onion soup. He told Maximillian to have the chef bring him a cup of watery chicory coffee—the best they could yet manage—then took his food out to a shaded table in the courtyard by the mulberry bushes. He returned to the cold fireplace to retrieve his book from the mantel.

He sat outside, alone and untroubled, as he ate his lunch. Garien brought out a mug of bitter coffee; Dokken sipped it, winced, and tried to soothe his tastebuds by thinking about the coffee he used to drink as a young man, even the bad powdered substitute on the colony ship. Given enough time, it would get better. Everything did.

Picking at the salmon with a long-tined fork, Dokken spread the precious book on his lap. He had self-printed it on flecked kenaf paper and bound the volume in real horsehide, because reading a book like this was an experience, not just an information dump.

The treatise was many centuries old, but filled with wisdom that could be transferred from warring Italian city-states to the landholdings of Atlas. A thin, dense book—but Dokken gained more insight every time he studied it.

In the courtyard by the bushes, he began to reread his Machiavelli.

CHAPTER (#ulink_9f166238-aaff-5dfa-96cb-052b48444c4e)

7 (#ulink_9f166238-aaff-5dfa-96cb-052b48444c4e)

i

For days after reading the mind of Eli Strone, Kalliana remained in her chambers in Guild Headquarters, slipping out only at late hours … trying to hide from the nightmares she had taken from the killer, nightmares that now resided firmly in her own mind.

The violence, the bloodlust, the self-righteousness possessed her, despite her constant efforts to purge it from her thoughts. Not only had she witnessed the crimes in Strone’s head, but she had experienced them as well, as if she herself had done them. And in her quiet moments in the darkness of her quarters, a deep suspicion grew that perhaps she herself was capable of the same monstrous acts….

Kalliana sat in silence on her narrow bed, plucking pieces of honeyed fruit from a bowl, but the sweet stickiness contrasted violently with the tacky texture of drying blood in her imagination. A thin skewer of spiced chicken reminded her of pieces of dripping flesh, sliced away with brisk, efficient strokes of a scalpel as a paralyzed victim screamed into the night….

Other citizens might have envied her freedom to indulge in such delicacies, but every time Kalliana visualized the spraying blood and the slaughtered victims, felt the warped justifications flooding from Strone’s mind … she wondered how many of the common people would still envy her position if they knew.

Outside, in the vastness of the world, she knew other laws were being broken: small offenses out in the holdings that could be dealt with by local, nontelepathic Magistrates … or major crimes by people who would be hauled off to First Landing for trial by the Guild.

Kalliana shuddered. It wouldn’t be her turn again for some time, though. The Guild had eleven other Truthsayers to share the duties of justice, and nineteen less-powerful Mediators, who negotiated solutions to civil and political disputes. Kalliana was not needed, not now. She would have time to recover, just in case the searing memories assimilated from Strone had damaged her telepathic abilities. She hoped it would be enough time.

Kalliana slept on her pallet in the midmorning, feeling the bright sunlight as it streamed through the outer viewports in the ship wall—and still she woke up sweating, panting hard. She was afraid of the darkness, but nightmares found her even in broad daylight.

The signal at her door startled her, and she had a sudden, wild vision of Eli Strone, escaped from his prison, come back to flay answers out of her with a sharp scalpel. I’m not guilty. You saw my reasons! You know! How can you call me guilty?

But the young man outside the door to her quarters was so harmless that she burst out in a shamed laugh, though his good-natured grin was masked by concern. “Ysan, you startled me.”

The seventeen-year-old boy glanced away shyly, his white robe and sash looking too large on his skinny build. “You’ve been hiding, Kalliana,” he said. “Nobody’s seen you in days. I wanted to make sure you were all right.”

The boy was four years her junior, but a gulf of more than age separated them. He was still innocent, a trainee who had not yet been tested for his green Truthsayer’s sash.

She began to make an inane reply, but found she didn’t have the energy to deceive him. Ysan was a refreshing breeze, a healing kindness that allowed her to see the good side of human nature while recovering from the bad.

Ysan raised his eyebrows. “Let me come in. Tell me how bad it was—that might help you. Besides, I have to get prepared for it myself.”

She thought how the razor edge felt as it sliced through skin, an ever-so-faint rasping, a rubbery tug. The blood was thick and wet, smearing like oil, darkening as it mixed with dust…. Through Strone’s perceptions she had enjoyed the sensation—

“I can’t talk about it, Ysan,” she said in a husky whisper. “There’s no way I can describe it. No way I want to. I just need … time. I’ll work through it.”

Whenever she tried to focus her thoughts and fortify her psyche, though, Kalliana felt the battering ram of violence come back at her. The secondhand screams were growing quieter day by day as she tried to erase them—but it was a long, slow process. Recovering from the furnace of Strone’s deluded sense of justice was more difficult than anything she had ever endured in her pampered life.

Ysan frowned, leaning on the doorframe. “You’ve helped me enough times, Kalliana. There must be something I can do.” His eyes lit up above his soft cheekbones. His fair skin prickled pink. “Why don’t you show me what you saw? I can take some of the burden from you.”

“No!” she cried, then looked sternly at him. Also born in the Guild and raised with increasing dosages of Veritas, Ysan had practiced mind-reading abilities from the time he was a child—but the young trainee hadn’t yet walked through the shadowed valleys of guilt and remorse. Mental abilities still seemed like fun to him.

“Ysan, this isn’t a game. Enjoy your innocence as long as you can,” she said, trying to soothe the dejected look that showed on his face. “You’ll be tested soon enough.”

“I’ll be tested in a few weeks. I’ll be a full Truthsayer. Can’t you—”

“No.” She clutched her warm wool wrap closer around her. “I just need a little more rest. I’m going to sleep now—that’s all I need. Really.” She softened, allowing a smile. “But thanks for your concern.”

“Sure,” the young man said, fidgeting uncertainly, and then he stepped back into the corridor. “Well, pleasant dreams, then.”

ii

Kalliana sat up gasping, hearing the echoes of a shrieking victim in her ears, one of the last batch that Eli Strone had skinned alive, a rugged man with a work-seamed face, whiskered chin, and the misery of barely hidden guilt in his eyes. Filtered through Strone’s own memories, the disgust she felt for the victims’ imagined sins overpowered her own horror at the crime. They deserved to die. They deserved it! The rugged victim screamed again—

But then Kalliana realized the noise was not imaginary. She heard a persistent, whining buzz, a summons from Guild Master Tharion. Afternoon sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows.

“Yes,” she said, taking a deep breath and forcing her voice louder, stronger, as she activated the viewplate.

“Please come and see me on the bridge deck,” Guild Master Tharion said, “in my ready room.”

Kalliana acknowledged, then dressed herself in a clean white robe. She ran her fingers along the emerald Truthsayer sash; now its bright, honest green seemed tarnished to her. She cinched it tight around her slender waist and walked briskly toward the antiquated turbolift that took her up to the Guild’s command center.

The central administrative offices had taken over what had been the bridge of the SkySword. The smooth mechanical finery of the decommissioned military equipment gave the Guild Master’s seat and the surrounding offices a sterile cleanness and austere technological precision that could not be conveyed by the soft adobe or baked bricks of the other structures in First Landing.

Kalliana stepped down the textured metal stairs onto the bridge deck, and the turbolift doors creaked shut behind her. Other Guild members moved about their duties; many were brown-sashed workers who had none of the rigorous ethical training that a Truthsayer endured or the political education and techniques of rhetoric a Mediator used so well. Thus the Guild workers had no access to the Veritas drug.

Guild Master Tharion sat in the middle of the room in a large chair. Kalliana could imagine a military captain directing space battles from the same point. Tharion scanned a small lapscreen, intent on notes and files, probably from recent Landholders Council meetings. He seemed disgusted and distracted. Kalliana had never paid much attention to the activities of the Council, since that was beyond her expertise; she had heard that at such meetings the appointed representatives from the landholdings spent their allotted time arguing and raising grievances and countergrievances.

The Guild Master blinked at her, preoccupied for a moment, then suddenly seemed to remember who she was. “Ah, Kalliana,” he said, “thank you for coming.” He set his lapscreen on the side of his command chair, stood, and stepped away. She followed him into his private ready room, dreading his reasons for summoning her. He sealed the door and turned to her with a casual expression. “How are you recovering from the Strone case? You’ve been keeping a low profile for several days.”

She glanced away to avoid his scrutiny. “Reading the prisoner was a very … unsettling experience. The pain is still there, but it’s lessening.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” the Guild Master said. “You are very valuable to us, Kalliana. Every Truthsayer is. But if you feel that your abilities have been worn thin by this ordeal, I’ll do my best to see that you’re reassigned in some appropriate manner. Toth Holding has requested a new Magistrate, and I don’t have anyone qualified to send them.”

“No!” she said a little too quickly. “I mean, that won’t be necessary.” It frightened her to think she might lose her status as a Truthsayer and be weaned from the Veritas drug. That would be the end of everything she knew, everything she had been born to. Her embryo had been grown here in the Guild, and she had been raised for no other purpose, given no other training. That was how it had to be. “No, I’m fine.”

“Good,” Tharion said. Behind him, the stained glass window filled his ready room with rainbows. “We’ve taken care of sentencing Strone—he’ll spend the rest of his life up on OrbLab 2.”

Kalliana could not hide her surprise, considering the overwhelming violence of the murders. “I would have thought he might be executed.”

Tharion looked away, then sighed, staring at his twined fingers. “Yes. I gave it thorough consideration—but there are extenuating circumstances. Eli Strone served the Guild well for many years. His record is one of the most exemplary of all the elite guards we’ve ever had. Until he left us.”

Kalliana nodded, unconvinced, but she could not argue with the Guild Master’s decision.

He sat down behind his desk. “I wanted to ask you again about my request to check for possible sabotage or a larger plot among the landholders. Did you see any deeper motivation behind the killings?”

“There is nothing,” she said, shaking her head vigorously.
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