They'd finished the meeting, but there were still a few points left untouched...
"I'll want to talk to you later, Wu," DuQuesne said as they got up to leave. "But first I have to talk with the Captain. Privately, if she will."
Wu looked to Ariane, who nodded. "Stay in the Embassy, Wu Kung," she said, warningly.
"I already promised… " Wu Kung began, then, seeing her start to straighten, quickly said, "I mean, yes, Captain!"
Once the room was empty except for the two of them, Ariane slumped back into a chair, chuckling. "Do you know how hard it is to stay mad at him?"
"Of course I do," he answered, taking his seat again. "None of us could be ticked off at him for long, no matter what he did. But you handled him like a pro. He won't forget that talking-to for a while, at least."
"I sure hope not. Marc, I don't want to keep him penned up, so to speak, but I won't have much choice if he can't keep from getting himself – and potentially all of us – in trouble."
"I know. And I think he understands that, now. He had to go through a similar thing on his own Journey to the West, and with luck you won't have to make his headband into a pain generator." He studied her, the deep-blue hair, the eyes just a shade lighter, the slender body that hid startling strength (not to mention an electric-eel derived biomod that she'd used to great effect once on Amas-Garao), the shape of the face… "And you could probably get away with it, too, if you had to."
"He almost called you 'Sanzo' during that raking over the coals. You look a lot like her. And she was just about the only one in his world who got away with talking to him like that… well, except for Sha Wujing, after he was more friend than enemy."
"Shouldn't 'Sanzo' have been a man? Or do I misremember my admittedly very faint grasp of the mythology?"
DuQuesne laughed. "No, you don't misremember. There were at least fifteen or twenty different versions of the Monkey King myth that got put into a blender and used to produce what we have out there," he jerked a thumb at the closed door. "And some of those versions were… very far from the original, let me say. That's not necessarily bad, but it means that only the broadest outlines of the myth are still there. Anyway, that's probably one reason he's willing to listen to you."
He straightened. "But I didn't hold you up here just to talk about Wu. Ariane, when I left, Simon had already located one of the Sky Gates."
Her face lit up. "That's wonderful, Marc!"
"Well, with a slight caveat that it depends on exactly where they go, but yes, I think it is. I'm guessing we may have an above-average number of gates, unless Simon just got real lucky on his first pass."
"The Sky Gates are just outside of the high-gravity area, right? So we should be able to put some kind of permanent station-keeping guards around them once we've located them all."
"Right. Armed to the teeth, too, at least until we know what's on the other side of each one – and where any Sky Gates from those go to. Can't afford to assume an innocuous-looking destination couldn't be a potential staging-ground for the Molothos or someone else out to get us."
She looked up and sighed. "Marc, there's just no way we can do all of this ourselves."
"I know. And there's people coming through any day now. I've given strict orders that they're not to come through Transition, though, unless you say otherwise. More people to work on the Inner and Upper Sphere, great. More people here? No, not until we're damn sure where we stand."
She nodded her agreement, and he moved forward to the next subject. "Okay, that's where we stand on that for the moment. I also wanted to ask you about something else."
Another nod. "Simon."
"So you've noticed it too."
"Something is bothering him," Ariane agreed, "but he hasn't said what it is, or why. He's clearly trying to hide it, even from me – which has me a little worried. Why would Simon hide something from me?"
DuQuesne didn't need that emphatic "me" explained. Simon's affection for Ariane was quite open and obvious, and Ariane had often used Simon as a sounding board and advisor, nearly as often as she used DuQuesne. "I don't know, either, and that's definitely got my back up. Seemed to happen around the time he was doing his research on the drive physics and adapting them to being a sensor, but I'll be damned if I can guess what it is that's got him all twitchy."
"Well," Ariane said after a moment, "I suppose I'll just have to ask him, if he won't bring the subject up himself. I've let it slide for a while, but…"
"But it's not Simon's normal behavior, which means it's something that worries him in some way, bad enough to feel he shouldn't or can't tell us." DuQuesne shrugged. "Yep. I know you hate prying, but that's just about the only way you can make this thing go."
"All right," she said. "I'll give him one more day, and if he doesn't come to me, I'll tell him he has to talk."
"Good enough." He rose. "Thanks, Captain."
She saluted from a sitting position, so he left, not waiting for her. Just as well. I have to catch Wu.
He found Sun Wu Kung in his suite, practicing lightning-fast staff-work. The red-enameled, gold-tipped staff stopped in mid-action as he entered. "DuQuesne! What is it? Do you need me to go back to guarding?"
"In a minute, Wu. Look, I've been thinking hard about what happened back on the Sphere, and I want you to keep that a dead secret. From everyone, even Ariane, at least for now."
He looked puzzled. "Why?"
"Because I think what you did is pretty much impossible. I don't think any of the other factions can talk to their animals as though in their native language, and I think I know why you can. I've got a couple other pieces of evidence that tell me I'm right. And if I am right, Wu, that's one big secret weapon, a whole armory of secret weapons, waiting for us to unleash.
"But that kind of secret tends to leak easy, and it's a lot less effective if you know it's there. Especially if learning one secret might lead you to another. The various Factions already might have enough to make some guesses – especially the Shadeweavers, who can cheat – but something like this might give the whole show away."
Wu studied him, then nodded. "Okay, I understand. I think. But what is it that you've guessed?"
DuQuesne grinned humorlessly. "Sore wa… himitsu desu, as one particularly annoying guy we knew used to say. I'm keeping that secret, at least for now. Until I'm sure."
"This had better not be anything that will put Ariane in danger," Wu Kung said, and for a moment the eyes were green-gold stone.
Exellent reminder of what I chose him for. "No, Wu." He gazed into the distance, guessing, estimating chances. "No, Wu. If anything… that secret might just save her life one day."