Vaniah awoke in a glowing white room. He shifted groggily, tried to sit up. His head hit the ceiling.
Not a room, then. A capsule. Psy-shielded, no doubt. He wondered if they still used the strong shields, the kind that had supposedly been banned after the war. The kind that didn't just keep you from communicating, but also kept you from thinking too hard.
The kind that drove men mad.
He'd seen a few of them, the victims of failed interrogation or successful torture. The worst of them had lost all memory. Every action, every sensory experience, was new and strange. They ate, and immediately forgot they had eaten; still hungry, they chewed into their own hands; surprised at the pain, they screamed; surprised at the sound, they winced; shocked at the darkness of closed eyes, they fell weeping to the floor.
But they were not as frightening as the ones who could still talk.
Strong shield, or weak, or none at all, Vaniah had to get out. Fortunately, he remembered another little detail: "Psy-shielded" does not necessarily mean "soundproof."
He took a deep breath. The air smelled of disinfectant and artificial sawfruit and, faintly, of the beer the disguised Prophetess had spilled on his grubby clothes — how long ago? ''Don't worry about it. Breathe.''
One more lungful of sharp air. "'''ZEKE!'''" he shouted, his own voice hurting his ears. "God ''damn'' you, Zeke, take me ''out'' of this thing, I have to ''talk'' to you!"
The pressure in the capsule seemed to ease. Good, Zeke was opening . . . no. That was just the psy-shield being removed.
''What is it?'' Vaniah did not recognize the mind.
''I have to speak to Zeke,'' he said. ''This isn't a ruse. It isn't trivial. It's something very important. Please let me out or put me in touch with him now.''
''What ''is'' it?''
''My gun. He has to be very careful with it. Who are you?''
''I'm Werther. I'm just the night-watch girl.''
Damn. He'd been hoping for somebody higher up. ''Can you keep a secret, Werther?''
He believed her. ''All right, then. Tell Zeke — and ''no one'' but Zeke — that he must not touch my gun or let it near anything vulnerable. It's a ''blaggemol''. He'll know what that means.''
Werther's mind was briefly, wordlessly shocked. Then the capsule's clamshell lid rose open with a hiss.
Werther loomed above Vaniah in the darkness of the capsule ward. She was a short, solemn, mousy-haired thing in a hand-me-down blue uniform. She had tears in her eyes.
"''I'' know what a ''blaggemol'' is," she said. "It's a — a world-destroyer. We have to get it away from Zeke. You have no idea what he'd do if he knew."