The Inquisitor was again the Envoy and had reabsorbed most of its Engineers, leaving only a few to maintain the Great Ring.
The vehicles carrying humans through the Great Ring to the Sentinel Station always asked the Envoy.
Is it safe?
It is safe.
What of the Enemy?
The Sentinel guards.
What waited beyond the Sentinel Station, the Envoy did not know. There were so many other worlds, other species, whose own worlds had been cleansed prior to the opening of their Rings.
For the Envoy, this one world, this one species, was enough to worry about.
“The election is tomorrow,” said Miss Ryu. “You should get some rest.”
Hyong looked up from the console and rubbed his eyes. “Soon. I have almost solved–”
She bent down and kissed him. “It can wait. Let’s go home.”
He smiled then switched off his console and stood. She took his arm.
They walked out of the building into the rain. A heptahedron approached them and expanded its carapace. They stepped inside, thanking it politely. Despite the weather the city was bustling.
“I hope they aren’t too drunk to vote,” she said.
Hyong laughed heartily and then kissed her deeply.
Jazarah sat on the balcony and leafed through Genet’s notebook. In the sketches, the city was thronged with pilgrims. Now only small clusters of scholars explored and studied the city and its machines.
She saw the flaws in Genet’s sketches now. To the casual observer, they were lifelike renderings. Jazarah recognized his exaggeration of the pilgrims’ joy and the heightened divine majesty of the architecture. She wondered if Genet would have seen it, or, if so, admitted it.
Color was returning to the fire-scoured landscape in the form of vivid flowering things. Perhaps Genet was right. Perhaps this was paradise.
The floater hovered before Ellie and blurted a tirade of colors and textures.
“Fuck you, too,” said Ellie.
The security procedures are insufficient to handle the rate of immigration.
“Yeah, I know, but them’s the breaks.”
“Just go back to the Ring and stamp them through. We’ll figure out the rest once they’re settled.”
After a particularly rude series of signals, the floater left and Ellie turned her attention to the halftrack.
A few minutes later Monica yelled from the house, “Dinner!”.
Ellie waved back. “In a minute, lover,” she called, then reached into the engine smiling contentedly.
Eberardo chased Lajos. The other man stopped to help a fallen woman and Eberardo tackled him. “Lajos! You live!”
Lajos returned his embrace, then pulled the woman to her feet. She fled wordlessly.
“Come on!” said Lajos, turning to follow.
“Wait,” said Eberardo, pointing at the massive Ring.
It sparked dangerously. The bombers bore down. Eberardo saw black shapes drop from their undersides. Lajos pulled but Eberardo held him fast. “Look,” he gasped.
The Ring came alive and the field of lightning reached out. It engulfed the bombers and the bombs. A flash of lightning later, the sky was clear.
END OF PART THREE
Hyong laughed. Of course the aliens were waiting to talk. What better display of intellectual capacity and the desire to communicate?
The bombers neared. He was glad to have witnessed this meeting, however short.
His tablet buzzed. He swept across it and Miss Ryu appeared. Her eyes were puffy and red. “Hyong!” she gasped. “You have to go! Namgung–”
“It’s okay,” he said. “There is nowhere to go.”
“No!” she cried. “I love you!”
“I love you, too,” he said and then turned the camera on the Inquisitor and Jazarah. He spoke loudly above the approaching bombers: “Isn’t it beautiful?”
Ajit had been a genius. He knew how to communicate with the alien machines. He had also been a man of his culture. He never asked Jazarah for her thoughts. Ajit had saved her, then never stopped thinking of her as a damsel.
Jazarh had watched Ajit and absorbed everything. She understood the machines and now, standing before the Inquisitor, she had to prove it.
The surface of the robot flashed with color. While technicians hurried to translate, she answered clearly, “I hear you and wish to speak plainly.”
“Excellent,” said the Inquisitor.
Hyong, Ellie and the other onlookers gaped.
Ellie looked at Jazarah with both awe and pity. She had known who she was on sight. Jordan’s conversation with the man Ajit had mentioned her, and of the people fleeing across the snow, Jazarah had stood out.
Something in Jazarah felt strong. Even so, Ellie was nearly pissing herself as their snowcat rumbled toward the Giant. Fucking. Robot.
The Middle aged Korean man Hyong worried her. Ellie thought he looked distraught, like death was not the worst thing he saw in the approaching bombers.
The snowcat stopped. Ellie looked up. Behind the looming robot, the Ring began to flicker.
Hyong gripped the microphone. “Run! He will execute you.”
Before Ryu answered, the shelter door opened and the drone of the approaching bombers became suddenly louder. Captain Kim raised his weapon at the interlopers.
Two Americans, a man and a woman, and an African woman entered wearing desperate expressions. Hyong motioned Kim to stand down. “Who are you?” he asked.
“I am Jazarah,” the African said in English. “I must speak with the Inquisitor.”
Hyong’s eyes widened.
“She knows how to talk to it,” said the American woman. “We don’t have time!”
Kim looked at him. Hyong nodded. “Yes. Quickly.”
Jazarah staggered through the snow. People ran in all directions, unsure of where to go but knowing the approaching planes could only promise doom.
She saw tents and shelters and launched herself toward them in deliberate if shaking steps. Her loose desert robes were useless against the cold, however, and she fell.
A moment later an arm scooped her up. It belonged to a big, mustachioed American. A woman with him said in English, “Come on. We’ve got you.”
She pointed at the tents with her blackened fingers.
“We’re going there, too,” the woman said and they carried her forward.