Ali Pasha walked boldly into the Society of the Mahdi building with Kirsten on his heels, her head lowered like a good little slave. Workers got out of their way and stared because people did not go into the Society building unless they were summoned. It was not the sort of place that attracted visitors or volunteers. Ali Pasha paid the workers no mind as he walked through the front gate with his head raised. He had come to have it out with the Chief Examiner, and he was only hoping the others would get there in time. It was not an elaborate plan, but the pieces did require a certain amount of careful timing to work. He had given Kirsten a time keeping chit to match his and the one Manomar had, and he gave her a couple of other chits as well, just in case. Lady Jillian had been right. It drained him to do it; but he slept well and was ready to go in the morning.
“Good morning.” Ali Pasha said boldly when he came into the front room and saw a man hovering over a paper strewn desk. “I have come to see your Master, Ibin Mohamed Abbass.” He gave the man no titles.
“His Lordship is not available this morning.” The man in the front office said, and then he looked up at who was making such an unusual request. He looked startled for a minute. “You are the scholar?” Ali Pasha nodded. “Men were just sent to your residence to collect you.”
“Well, here I am. You could have saved them all that trouble.”
“This way.” The man gave a little bow. He was undoubtedly confused. People usually came in kicking, screaming, protesting and trying their best to disturb everyone they could. He would not have given such a person a second glance, and might have even yawned. But here, this scholar was smiling at the prospect of facing the Chief Examiner, and the poor man in the front room was not sure what to make of it. He brought the scholar to a room to wait.
“Go home child.” Ali Pasha told Kirsten and waved his hand in dismissal. “Your services will not be needed here.” She only came to warn the others in case they grabbed Ali Pasha and took him immediately to the rack.
“Yes, my master.” Kirsten responded with a bow of her head and scurried off while Ali Pasha gathered the stunned man’s attention.
“Now, will you kindly inform your Master Abbass that I have come to his house in return for his visit to my house, and this time I have some questions.”
No! This was too much for the poor man from the front room. People did not ask the Examiner questions, especially the Chief Examiner. He held the door and Ali Pasha entered a room with one small window. He turned his nose up at the poor accommodations, but he nevertheless sat in the nearest chair to wait. The poor man closed the door softly and went back to the front, shaking his head the whole way. He would have to sit and think this through.
Ali Pasha considered the room as he ran his finger around the dust on the table in the center of the room. With four spindly chairs, the table made the small room into a very small space. There was a brazier in one corner that would be lit at night to give light, and a smaller side table by the window, which held a vase without flowers and a scroll that someone had recently been looking at and quite possibly forgot where they left it. He looked at the door that was closed, and at another door on the opposite wall. He wondered briefly where that other door led, but he hardly cared. He had no intention of going anywhere. The inner wall of the room sported a Persian rug, hung like a true medieval tapestry, and the outer wall held the window. Ali Pasha had to squint and strain his eyes to see anything at all through that thick glass. It kept out the cold in winter and the bugs in summer, and it let in the light, but it was not good for much else. He marveled again at having been allowed to see real glass, stained glass, and in the Ridgetop hospital, triple thermal plascticized optic panes, which looked like nothing was there at all.
Ali Pasha turned at the sound of the door opening. A man the size of Manomar came in, shut the door, and folded his arms as if to suggest that the scholar should stay where he was put. Wonder of wonders, the man sported one of those sickly green collars, and Ali Pasha had an immediate thought, but he did not know how to pursue it. He sat at the table and drummed his fingers.
“Have you a name?” He asked his guard.
“Do you not speak the tongue, or has your tongue been cut out?” Ali Pasha tried again.
“I speak well enough.” The man spoke this time. “I am Ahmed the Egyptian, and you had better not try your devilish words and tricks on me. I have been ordered to keep you here and so here you will stay.”
Ali Pasha drummed his fingers for a minute more before he spoke again. “Jillian, are you there?”
The guard glanced up but said nothing.
“I am.” The answer came softly into Ali Pasha’s ears. “But you can speak to me without sound if you wish. Your psychic chips can pass along your words, and this way the guard will hear nothing of our conversation.”
“Marvel upon marvel.” Ali Pasha thought before getting down to business. “I am wondering, can the collar be reprogrammed? Is that the right word?”
“Yes and yes,” Jill answered. “But to what end?”
“I suspect the gentleman before me is no friend of the society or he would not be shackled with a collar, but I suspect he is a useful tool and has probably been present at many otherwise secret events. If I could turn his loyalty from Abbass to myself, he may prove an equally useful fountain of information. Then also, he might spare my life if killing me becomes his primary task.” Ali Pasha shrugged. It was a natural motion, and exactly what he would have done if he had been speaking to a person who was in the room with him.
“Simple,” Jill said. “Think of a chit to accomplish that very task and give it a bit of time to grow. You will know when it is ready. In the meanwhile, this is not a criticism, but you have given out more chits than is wise when going into battle. I understand your desire to protect the young girl, and given her likeness to our other Kirsten I cannot blame you, but a day or two to rebuild your resources would not have hurt.”
“I understand, but I was sure I would not have the time, and if the Examiner sent men to my house to fetch me this very morning, I see that my guess was right.”
“I understand also. Just something to consider in the future.”
“Hmm.” Ali Pasha made the sound out loud and went back to drumming his fingers on the dusty table.
The chit was ready in almost no time, and all Ali Pasha had to do was find a way to deliver it. He finally decided the direct approach would have to do. He stood. The man by the door shifted; and put his hand closer to his knife.
“I have been thinking about that marvelous necklace you wear. I have never seen the like and it looks very finely made. May I see it?”
“What necklace?” The man responded sharply. He sincerely did not know he had anything around his neck.
“This here.” Ali Pasha pointed and stepped closer as if to touch the item. The man quickly pulled his blade and Ali Pasha stopped. “Forgive me. You are big and strong. I am old and fat. I mean you no harm and I could not harm you if I wished. Please put down the blade. I only wish to see.” The man hesitated, and in that hesitation, Ali Pasha reached out. Fortunately, it was a very small room. He touched. The man immediately put his hand up as if noticing the collar for the first time. He looked ready to rip it off for a second as he began to sweat, and Ali Pasha decided to put the table between himself and the knife just to be safe.
“Command me master.” The big man said at last, and Ali Pasha spoke quickly, not knowing how much time he had.
“Ahmed of Egypt, you must continue to pretend you are working for your former master, but guard my person at all costs. I will set you free when it is safe, and you must remember who has done this for you. Now, quietly. How long have you served the Lord Abbass? Speak only when we two are alone and not to be overheard.”
The man opened up. He had a long history with the Society in the Old World, and with Abbass, specifically. About all Ali Pasha could get in their limited time was that it was as he had feared. The Society was full of Sorvee, and Ali Pasha imagined the Society might even be a Sorvee invention.
There was the sound of someone in the hall and Ali Pasha and his new man took their positions. Abbass entered, gave a sharp, quick look to the guard and then smiled broadly at Ali Pasha. “Welcome to my humble abode,” he said as Ali Pasha stood to face him. Then he added two words in his Sorvee language. “You fool.”