Actions

Work Header

Chapter Text

"I take it," said the High Seeker as he shuffled through the mound of papers that Vito had handed him, "that what this all boils down to is that the man who calls himself Or is claiming that he is innocent due to self-defense undertaken to save himself from an imminent threat to his life."

"Yes, sir." Vito remained stiff in the posture of a guard making a report to his superior. He wasn't yet sure what the appropriate stance was for a Seeker-in-Training making a report to the superior who was intent on expelling him from the dungeon, but acting with the humility of a guard seemed safe enough. "And Mr. Gurth – the personality that calls himself Gurth – is claiming no knowledge of how the killing took place."

The High Seeker nodded without looking up from his desk. "And the witnesses?"

Layle Smith had the witness reports directly in front of him, so he doubtless knew the answer to his own question. Pretending to ignore that fact, Vito said, "Or's statement fits the witness reports from the bodyguards of Edwin Orville Gurth and John Ambrewster. They all claim that they heard Mr. Ambrewster speaking in a manner which suggested he was about to take Mr. Gurth to his bed. Since Mr. Ambrewster was known to have long desired Mr. Gurth, neither Mr. Gurth's guards nor Mr. Ambrewster's guards thought this out of the ordinary. They considered that it was part of the bargain which was being driven between the two men – that Mr. Gurth had agreed to be bedded in exchange for a higher price for the business he was selling."

The High Seeker said nothing, passing on to the next paper. Filling that silence as best he could, Vito added, "The chronology of events matches as well. I had Or describe the dialogue in such a manner that I could reconstruct the amount of time passed. While I can't be exact, I believe that Or's statement that he was attacked at a certain moment matches the place in time when the witnesses report that Mr. Ambrewster went silent. Mr. Ambrewster's scream occurred three minutes later, which is about how long Or said he struggled on the floor to prevent Mr. Ambrewster from raping and killing him."

The High Seeker turned another page. "Your prisoner gave his statement on the initial day you searched him."

"Yes, sir. Since then, I've been examining the witness reports and have had Or and Gurth give their statements again. Each time they've done so, the statements haven't changed, except to provide slightly more detail." Vito stared hard at the High Seeker, willing him to look up. Layle Smith knew all this. Vito had been quite careful to submit complete reports of each day's searching; he had submitted Or's statement to the High Seeker on the initial day of searching. Why was the man questioning him about the obvious?

"And you are satisfied now that you have all the information you will be able to obtain." The High Seeker turned yet another page, as though he were a schoolmaster.

"Yes, sir. Gurth and Or aren't budging from the statements they've made. I don't think there's any point in my searching them further. They've said everything to me that they're going to say. And as I mentioned, their statements match the statements of the witnesses."

The High Seeker moved finally, pushing the papers back as he leaned back in his chair. "Thank you, Mr. de Vere. That is as complete a report as I have ever received from one of my Seekers. There is only one point of information missing from it." His eyes rose slowly, flickering green and black under the light of the sputtering electric lamp upon his desk. "Do you believe what your prisoner has told you?"

Vito began to speak and then fell silent. He could hear, outside the door of the High Seeker's office, the silence which represented the final hour of the night shift. The Record-keeper had arrived early on duty. The night-shift Seekers and guards were on duty in and near the breaking cells, as were the night-shift guards who watched the gates and doors of the entry hall. Everyone else was asleep. The Eternal Dungeon was as still as it ever became.

Vito was thinking, not of the stillness, but of the silence between himself and Elsdon during each of the conversations they'd held for the past six days. It was an eloquent silence. He and Elsdon had discussed his prisoner's personalities. They had discussed how best to break the prisoner. They had discussed how best to transform him.

They had not discussed the possibility that his prisoner was innocent. The subject had never arisen.

"No, sir." His voice was quiet in the quiet office.

The High Seeker said nothing. He simply waited, like a wildcat waiting to pounce.

Vito had to clear his throat before he could continue. "The witness reports match my prisoner's story – their stories. But the reports also match what Or and Gurth did to me on the last occasion when they were in the dungeon. Or seduced me – and he admitted later that he did so after communicating with Gurth. With Gurth's cooperation, Or drugged me, seduced me into lying down beside him, and then waited until I was asleep to make his move against me. I've no doubt he could have murdered me, if that had been of any use to him. . . . You'll notice, sir, that both Or and Gurth mentioned in their statements that they had shared wine with Mr. Ambrewster—"

"Yes." The High Seeker's voice was flat. There was no surprise in his eyes. Vito's tension increase.

After a moment more, as Vito failed to speak, Layle Smith said, "Mr. de Vere, I am removing you from this searching."

His breath hitched. "Sir, no—"

The High Seeker looked down at the papers again, shuffling them into order. "What you just told me should have been at the beginning of your report, not at the end of it. It is certainly not something which you should have appended as an afterthought, once I'd questioned you."

It was increasingly hard to breathe. "Sir, I swear to you, I did not knowingly withhold information from you—"

"If I thought you had done so," said the High Seeker, stacking the papers neatly at the corner of his desk, "again, then I would be doing a great deal more than suspending you from your duties. . . . I will take charge of the prisoner."

This time Vito said nothing, but his fingernails cut into his palms.

Layle Smith's eyes flicked up toward his, then away again, indifferent. "You evidently have not read the sixth revision of the Code carefully enough, Mr. de Vito. In circumstances such as this, where a prisoner of a New School Seeker is transferred to an Old School Seeker, the Code requires that the searching methods of the original Seeker continue to be adhered to. Otherwise, as Mr. Taylor made clear in the section he added to the Code, it would be all too easy for the High Seeker to simply transfer every prisoner in this dungeon into the custody of an Old School Seeker, thus annulling the changes in this dungeon which the Code requires. Therefore, I will search your prisoner without aid of torture." The High Seeker reached forward and neatly plucked from Vito's breast pocket his copy of the Code of Seeking. "I wish you to remain in your cell until further notice, rereading this. Kindly take special note of the final paragraphs of the ninth chapter. I will see that your meals are delivered to your cell."

Vito did not reach out to take the volume that was being offered to him. "Sir, if you'll just let me have a few more days with my prisoner, I'm sure I can persuade one of his personalities to give me the truth—"

"You have already admitted that he won't." Rising to his feet, Layle Smith tucked the Code of Seeking back into Vito's pocket. "In any case, what you ought to be doing right now is requesting to recuse yourself from this case. I shouldn't need to tell you why."

Vito closed his eyes. He could feel himself growing chill. "Sir, my prisoner. Whatever mistakes I have made, he should not be the one to suffer from them."

"There are many Seekers in this dungeon," said the High Seeker implacably. "If need be, I will hand your prisoner over to each of them in turn. But you have come perilously close to breaking the Code again, despite the fact that you were no doubt on guard against any attempts by your prisoner to seduce you. This is a desperate and highly skilled criminal, Mr. de Vere. He deserves the best that the Eternal Dungeon has to offer him."

Vito opened his eyes and met the High Seeker's gaze squarely. "I have tried to give him that, sir."

"I've no doubt you did. Wait in your cell, Mr. de Vere, until you are released."

It was like facing a mountain, with nothing to move it except a shovel. Keenly aware that he had no power in this dungeon – that the High Seeker need only wave his hand, and Vito would be under arrest again – Vito turned away.

No power. The High Seeker held all the power here. Nothing could change the course that Layle Smith had chosen.

Vito left the High Seeker's office, the Code of Seeking still in his pocket.