“A lie cannot live.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
When everyone woke with a start the next day, everything had been restored. They even found Proxima propped up on a plush maroon sofa, flicking through the channels on a brand new TV set. The bugs were gone. The food - the real food - was back. All that was left to be fully restored were the bedrooms. Marcello climbed up the back of the sofa and cuddled next to Proxima, snacking on a biscuit. That was when she noticed the rest of them; their gaping mouths hanging open and their sleepy eyes wide with... who knew what? Shock? Satisfaction? Disbelief? Proxima couldn't decide.
She just shrugged and mumbled, “Surprise.”
“What... what happened?” said Medea, “Was it all a bad dream?”
“Sure, whatever,” replied Proxima, “Go have a bath, and some breakfast. The Senate wants us at noon. You all smell mangy and you look like weedy little maggots.”
Medea ran for the showers, whilst Federico raced away to raid the fridge. Roderigo, whose expression was curious, sat down next to Proxima.
“Something tells me you didn't do all this for us,” he commented, staring at the flickering TV screen.
“I couldn't sleep, got bored and decided to get up and do something.”
“You're not answering my question.”
“You,” said Proxima, not looking at him, “didn't ask a question.”
“Fine: why'd you bring the place back to a sane and healthy environment?”
“I already told you,” frustration was building in Proxima's voice, “I got bored.”
Roderigo stroked the stubble on his cheeks, “You still think there's a chance he'll wake up, huh?”
Proxima stabbed the remote with her finger so hard, it broke through. The TV screen went ballistic.
Proxima gritted her teeth, “Why do you have to stick your nose in everything?” she snapped.
“Maybe it's where my nose belongs.”
“Then maybe,” said Proxima, getting up, “I should arrange something to get rid of it.”
Roderigo intertwined his fingers and placed them on his lap, “I was just asking.”
* * * * *
The Senate meeting was boring. Proxima's head kept nodding and her eyelids drooped. Sheldon was going on and on about Dyonuxiot strong-points, weak-points, and things that they'd might want to be wary of. Cato had told Proxima plenty about Dyonuxiots in his stories. Besides, it was obvious really, and didn't require a boring lecture. Though, Proxima had to remember that she wasn't the only one who was being sent. Federico and Medea probably didn't know the first thing about Dyonuxiots.
The Dyonuxiots had taken Human form – two arms, two legs, one head, etc. – therefore they also had inherited Human weak-points. This meant that if they were fatally wounded in the head or heart, for instance, they would die; just as if a Human had been wounded in such areas. Dyonuxiot strength lay in their 'true forms'. Their deadliest weapons were their retractable, poisonous tendrils; but there were other characteristics to be wary of also. The horns on their heads, their poisonous teeth, their two sharp and extendable tongues, and even their smell if you were in extremely close range at the wrong moment. The substance they secrete from their pores causes the smell and, once hardened, is resistant to most weapons. Poison from Dyonuxiot tendrils and teeth in large quantities could cause immediate death, but in small quantities in could cause hallucination and even set a person in madness against his own people.
Those who were attending the Senate meeting were the same people who were there at the announcement of the task – Sheldon, the three scientists, the three Senators, the Priestess, the note-taking Optio, the Legate and his Tribunes. The Emperor was again absent, but that didn't seem to be an issue. If anyone had planned the Great Matter, it was Sheldon; even if the idea belonged to [or was attributed to] Iago.
Proxima was about to finally fall asleep because of her boredom and because of last night's insomnia, when Sheldon said: “We will be here to help you.”
Proxima looked at Sheldon, narrowing her eyes.
What help could a murderer offer?
“Ah, Proxima,” said Sheldon, “I'm glad to see you've finally joined us.”
She shrugged and waited for Sheldon to continue.
“Dyonuxiots,” said Sheldon, “are vulnerable to diamond. Once cut, their immune systems develop an 'over-reaction'. For this reason, you shall all be issued custom-made diamond-edged weapons, to suit both your abilities and your terrain. We, the Twelve Task Makers, shall be here to guide you through your mission. You have seven targets. The names of the targets shall not be disclosed at present, but once you have reached Methum, your targets will be disclosed one after the other.”
“How?” asked Medea.
“We shall be sending a special messenger – one who is smaller in size and less noticeable than–”
“Pigeon post,” Proxima muttered bitterly, “You're going to send us a pigeon every so often?”
“Proxima, my dear, you take the poetry out of everything,” said Sheldon irritably, “Yes, we shall. It shall carry a message, and a code which you may be able to scan into this,” he threw an object onto the table, “so that the matter maybe discussed if necessary.”
The object bounced on the table, and skittered towards Proxima, bouncing into – no... rolling into her hands. She held it between forefinger and thumb, and examined it. It was shaped like a medical capsule, tiny in size, and was dark blue in color. To the 'untrained' eye [as Sheldon would have said] it would pass as a trivial item.
“What?” said Proxima, unable to figure the object's purpose, “A suicide pill?”
“Not in the least,” said Sheldon, with a humorless laugh, "This is our 'link'. Through this, we will be able to communicate by either Instant Messaging or an Online Conference; if all are present in this room. It will also contain important information about your targets, which we have obtained from our sources in Methum–”
“And your sources are...?” said Proxima.
“They are prisoners,” said Legate Cornelius, “They were granted the same communicative means to give us this information.”
“And how do you know that the Dyonuxiots haven't used them to their advantage?” said Proxima angrily, “How do you know that the Dyonuxiots have no knowledge of your 'communication system'?”
The Twelve looked from one to the other. Even the Optio, who'd been too busy scribbling in his notebook, looked up at the silence.
“Um...” said Senator Gracus uneasily, “There's nothing much else we have to work with.”
“That's your excuse?” said Proxima coldly, standing up and pounding her fists on the table, “You're going to send us four on a suicide mission, and you're not even going to make sure the information is accurate?”
“There are some things we know for sure,” said Sheldon slowly, “There are others that have yet to be confirmed. Please, Proxima, we will try to do our best to help you in your mission.”
Fat chance, she thought.
“Alright,” said Proxima reluctantly, picking up the pill-shaped object, “So how does this thing work? And what is it called?”
“It is called The Instant Messaging or Online Conferencing System – or the Imocs, if you prefer.”
“Dr. Holmes,” said Federico, “Wouldn't it be 'Imoocs'?”
Sheldon ignored him and continued, “If you hold it between two hands, you will find that it has three dials. The first allows you to send us a message, if you cannot reach us online. The second will enable you to speak with us directly by scanning in the code we send you with the homing pigeon, broadcasting from this room – although, the system will not connect if all of the Twelve are not present. The third, and last, gives you ample information on one target at one time. The device is also honed to your DNA, hence: only you will be able to access it, Proxima; and, should you lose it, it will find its way back to you. Lastly, the Imocs runs on solar energy, and it stores such energy so you may use it during late hours.”
Proxima examined the Imocs more closely, “So what happens if I get captured or killed?”
“We are hoping,” said Senator Flavius, “it will not come to that. But you bring up a fair point. You will be able to destroy the Imocs by simply twisting it hard enough.”
Proxima narrowed her eyes, “That's it?” she snapped.
Senator Flavius hesitated, “I do not understand your meaning.”
“As soon as something happens to me, that's it? Mission over? I have no second-in-command?”
“Proxima,” said Legate Cornelius, “It is only attached to your DNA. It will not obey a 'second-in-command'. Should the necessity arise, we will send a second Imocs.”
Proxima gritted her teeth. Cornelius was lying to her. She could see it in his face. She could hear it in his voice.
There is no second Imocs, his words said, It's either you get the job done, or Cato and your friends will die.
The voice echoed in her mind, and she swallowed down the bitterness in the silent voice.
“I hope you have allocated specific tasks for each of your team-members,” said Senator Julia, with desperation in her raspy voice to change the subject.
Proxima hadn't discussed allocation, but she'd thought over it. She knew what each person in her little army would do.
“I have thought over it,” she said, “But I have not allocated.”
“This is a little late, don't you think?” queried Priestess Madonna.
Proxima shrugged. Medea, Federico and Roderigo looked at her expectantly, but Proxima sat down in her seat, leaning against the cushioned backrest, and played with her fingers idly.
“Well?” said Julia, finally.
Proxima looked up, “What? You want me to tell you?”
Senator Julia stared at Proxima, “Yes, we want you to tell us!”
“I see no benefit in it,” said Proxima calmly, “It's not like you'll help us in that field. By the sound of it all, you're all expecting us to die anyway.”
“That,” said Sheldon coldly, “is not true.”
“Nonetheless, I'm not disclosing any of that information. It is of no importance to you, and you cannot help us in any way by knowing about it.”
“Are you playing games to avoid telling us that you haven't thought over it?” said the Priestess, wryly.
“I'm not a dirty liar like the rest of you.”
All raised their brows, and looked at each other.
Roderigo pensively wondered where Proxima was going with this. The room remained silent for a while.
“Tell you what,” said Proxima at last, “I'll let you in on the allocations if you honestly tell these three what happens if I die,” she gestured to her team.
“We'll pull you out of Methum with a highly-trained team of legionaries,” said Flavius with a shrug of his shoulders.
“Liar,” said Proxima.
Flavius looked all aghast, but the Priestess stepped in, “The temples around the Empire have annual marches into Dyonuxiot territory, due to the Pact of Ceasefire. We will be able to collect your comrades during this march.”
“Liar,” said Proxima again, “The Pact was broken when the Methists attacked the Gateway. You step into their territory now, and they’ll blow you up before you can say 'hallelujah',” she looked towards her team-mates, “Looks like we could be sitting here all day.”
“Enough,” Legate Cornelius stood up.
“Oh, goodie,” mocked Proxima, “Are you going to lie to them too, Legate?”
The Legate ignored the remark, “It depends on your situation. If you have destabilized Methum enough for the Legion to break in, then we will be able to organize a search party for your friends.”
“And if not?”
“Then they're on their own.”
“And what happens to Cato?”
“Your deal with the Emperor will be broken,” said Cornelius, “Cato will die.”
“Finally,” said Proxima calmly, “A person with enough decency to not feed us false hope.”
“Your allocations?” said Sheldon, returning to the previous point.
Proxima sat up in her seat, “Medea will be our gold-mine; she is a good thief [so to speak] and has learned to tell the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous foods. Federico will be brawn; he will help in tasks that require a lot of fighting, skill, and perhaps carrying. Roderigo,” Proxima looked at him, “will serve as... our hunter. He is very good at tracking and knows... he can find his way around.”
Federico raised a brow, “He can?”
Proxima's eyes met with Roderigo's and she caught a glint of gratitude, “Yes,” she said.
“And your part, Proxima?” enquired Sheldon.
“Isn't it obvious?” she said, reaching for her cup of water and took a long draught. Then, she put down the cup and finished: “I'm playing the assassin.”