David Madore's WebLog: Gratuitous Literary Fragment #86 (plots within plots)

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Gratuitous Literary Fragment #86 (plots within plots)

I was ushered into the room, which was circular and topped by a spherical glass dome providing ample sunlight. A large mahogany table, equally circular, stood in the exact center, and twelve men were seated around it. Their faces were covered by masks such as my own, excepting four of them which were of a different hue: one white—whose wearer seemed to have some presiding role—one red, one green and one blue—whose distinguishing function, if they had one, I could not perceive—the other eight being in all respects identical to the one I had been given.

All turned toward me as I entered. I froze.

Ah, Professor La Salle! the white-masked councillor gestured as he spoke, pointing toward one of the empty seats around the table, directly across his. Your visit is a most welcome one indeed. Please be seated. Do make yourself at ease. I pray that our inauspicious number around this table does not forebode ill.

As I sat down, the man with the blue mask addressed me in turn. His voice was soft yet solemn, and stood in sharp contrast to the president's mellow tone.

Professor, so that we not waste our time bandying in vain, allow me to put cards on the table. The Council here knows what intent brings you to us: we have no interest in the information that you claim to hold, we know it to be fake and we also know what mission the Gháns vested in you. And another councillor (wearing a black mask, this one) added: This mission, then, is at an end: and it has failed.

Could you believe it? The terror I felt upon hearing those words was dominated by a feeling of relief: relief that this hated lie was through, relief that my mission was over, that I should no longer dread being exposed.

However, the Gháns need not be aware of this fact, added the president. And this is the gamble which we purport to take. This is where we request your help.

The person with the red mask spoke next:

Your family is being held hostage against your betrayal. Although we can promise no certainty of sucess, this offer may yet be your best chance to free them and take your revenge upon the Gháns.

Then the green mask stepped in, whose voice I perceived to be female:

Here is the choice we give you, then. If you agree to help this Council, we will provide you with—shall we say—a lure, for you to bring back to the Gháns.

A black mask: We will plant the grains of uncertainty and doubt in their very bosom: a forged proof of treachery among their own ranks should make their love of mistrust work to our advantage.

They might never know they have been deceived, said the red mask. But if they do, we will arrange to stage your death: if they think you gone, they will have no reason to keep holding to your own. Again, we can offer no certainty, but it appears that even the Gháns eschew needless killings: they strike only at that which hinders their cause.

The alternative… the green mask begun.

The alternative has been a subject of debate among us, but we came to an arrangement the president explained. From the whispers I heard I understood that the arrangement had been hard-won for the president. I tensed as he continued speaking. We could simply let you face the Ghán's wrath…

However, the green mask went on, we will extend our offer to display a semblance of your death even if you withhold your help to us.

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