Marguerite shuddered at Abigail’s words, but she nevertheless sat back in her seat. She tried to relax, but she was too nervous, and though she forced her shoulders back and tucked her stomach in she looked like she was trying to do yoga in the seat rather than relaxing into a trance-state. That didn’t stop the trance-state from stealing over her as she opened her mind to it though, and in moments her eyes were open, unblinking, and staring off into a distance that only she could see.
“The Ambassador,” said Abigail, quietly but firmly, aware that Marguerite’s mind could wander in these states. “Where is the Ambassador?”
In Marguerite’s vision coloured motes swam and danced against a grey background that she instinctively identified not as a colour itself, but as the absence of colour. She began to hear a high-pitched piping like a flute or a recorder, and then everything seemed to swirl around faster and faster. From somewhere far off she thought she heard a name, the Ambassador, and with that thought the coloured mote began to fuse together and form a coherent picture.
A short man, squat, with a braced leg appeared in the centre, and she knew without knowing how that this must be the Ambassador. When he turned to someone he was standing near and smiled she could see his face, and his smile was amazing, it was as though he was smiling at her and only her, telling her how wonderful she was. She wanted to listen to him, to hear what he was saying and help him out.
The picture broadened and she could see a path of broken pieces of stone laid out across long grass like stepping stones leading to a single-storey building. The building was built from brick and had no windows, though she could see the junction box for the electricity supply. It was protected by a wire mesh box that had two padlocks on it and the cables disappeared into the ground. The Ambassador had turned his face and that amazing smile away from her now and she could think about other things more easily again. There were people around him, but they were shadowy and indistinct because none of them were as important as him. There was another shadow though that was important, that was somehow part of the Ambassador, but that was trying to avoid her seeing it. When she looked for it it slid away, hiding round the other side of the Ambassador every time.
The Ambassador and his party reached the building, and one of the shadows around him stepped forward and solidified. They were holding a bunch of keys, and Marguerite saw now that the door to the building was padlocked and had two sturdy-looking locks of its own. The woman holding the bunch of keys had a flushed face and three moles on the side of her neck. Her hair was brush-cut as though she was military, and black with little white hairs flecking it here and there. A name appeared momentarily, overlaid on her in a little box, identifying her as Wilhelmina Brabanta, and then it changed to just Billi. She unlocked the padlock and set it aside, then unlocked the other two locks and opened the door. The door seemed heavy, as she pulled it open the muscles on her arms stood out and it moved ponderously slowly. It was dark inside the building and Marguerite saw nothing at first, but then on another level altogether she saw the radiant energy boiling out of the door, washing over everyone who stood in front of it like a wave crashing down on a beach. They seemed oblivious to it, its power and its danger, and started to go inside, but the shadow that was part of the Ambassador was revealed by it, glowing and growing as it basked. Marguerite could see a hundred eyes and as many teeth on a lumpy, bag-like body that extruded tiny, fine spikes that attached it all over to the Ambassador, and then its eyes lit on her.
She started screaming.
When Marguerite started screaming Abigail slapped her face. For a moment it looked like she’d have to slap her again, and then her eyes refocused. Her mouth stayed open, and Abigail wondered for a disconcerting moment if Marguerite was no longer screaming here, but in whatever place her trance had taken her to. Then, slowly, her mouth closed and tears appeared, shining at the corner of her eyes.
“Where is the Ambassador?”
“He’s at an icehouse,” said Marguerite, her voice shaky. “With someone called Billi. Billi Brabanta.”
“Sergeant Brabanta,” said Abigail as though correcting a mistake. “An icehouse?” Marguerite nodded. “Hmm. Tell me everything you saw.”