“So victory, eh?”
Donna put aside the glowing amulet she had been staring at, and looked up to see who was addressing her.
“Oh, hello Brownie,” she said, without enthusiasm. “I guess victory. The AI holograms have stood down, the Barnlings are in retreat and most of the Pyramid Cultists have… well they’re not dead or in retreat, but they’ve been pretty solidly beaten up.”
“And you took Theopoulos’ amulet?”
“Did you know Theopoulos had an amulet?”
“No, but it was always the smart bet that he did.”
“I see,” Donna sighed. She looked around the devastation of the carpark. Not many dead this time. Perhaps not any. That was… Probably good? Probably good. But there was a ton of property damage and quite a few fallen combatants, clearly in need of medical attention.
“You’re not worried that your new allies will betray you?” Brownie said.
“Most of them are busy licking themselves,” Donna said. “So, no. Not very worried.”
Brownie nodded and stood there expectantly, shifting slightly from one pointy-toed shoe to the other. He wanted Donna to ask him why he was interested. Donna could see that, and she could see that it would be spiteful not to ask him. But she was tired, so tired, and lacked the energy to fight her spite or pettiness.
So she stood and walked away. Across the way, Nalda and Fanaka were sitting on a bench, holding hands. She thought of talking to them, but she felt very alone and their togetherness galled her. Axel was arguing with Jemmy from the music shop. Laura, ever responsible, organising the injured and unconscious into a neat lines to await the ambulances that were bound to come eventually. Zorbar was helping Laura move the unconscious. Christian and Gwen were leading the Pavilionites away to safety. Even little Seamus the Garden Gnome was busily trying to get the survivors together into a class action lawsuit, though he was getting few takers.
Everywhere Donna looked, people smiled at her, waved, gave her the thumbs up. They thought she’d led them to victory. But it didn’t look like victory.
“‘And where they make a desert, they call it peace,'” she said.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Donna sighed. “Brownie, you and I don’t get along and never have. Why have you decided to come and have a chinwag?”
Brownie adjusted his black plaid waistcoat. “Do you know what that Pyramid is?”
“Sort of,” Donna said. “It’s like… it’s like a chess piece. There’s some big stupid cosmic war going on, and the Pyramid is like a marker on a board, only the board is the world. And one side created the Pyramid, and another side took it over.”
Brownie pointed to the amulet. “So why is there a cult worshiping the Pyramid?”
Donne was weary. Weary to the bone. Physically, morally and intellectually weary. Hearing the Brownie’s question made her perk up a little and perking up almost hurt.
“Think about it,” Brownie said. “Imagine this cosmic struggle is World War I. Imagine the Germans build a trench and the British take over that trench and now it’s a British trench. Why is someone worshipping the trench?”
Donna looked at Theopoulos, who was lying nearby quite unconscious. Somewhere in the distance, she could hear sirens. Theopoulos wouldn’t die, that was pretty sure. But he also wouldn’t be answering questions any time soon.
“Which side of the cosmic struggle are you on?” Brownie asked.
“The only one that matters,” Donna said. “Light versus dark.”
“And your friends. Their struggles are heroes versus villains, or humans versus machines or even just Pavilion versus Barn as a commercial struggle or a grudge match. Everyone’s playing a different game – but they’re doing in on the same board with the same pieces.”
“And they’re all reflections of the only fight that matters,” Donna said.
“And you think the Pyramid Cult was on the side of darkness?”
“Then riddle me this: if the Pyramid Cult is on the side of darkness, why is their amulet glowing so brightly?”
Before Donna could answer, someone tapped her on the shoulder. She looked around, and saw it was Fanaka.
“I just wanted to say thank-you,” he said. “You’ve done so well. And Nalda asked to apologise for trying to enslave mankind right then. She says it was thoughtless timing.”
Glancing backwards, Donna saw that Brownie was gone. “It’s okay,” she said. “She’s just playing her own game, with my pieces.”
“The Super-Centre is looking pretty broken,” Fanaka said. “South Hertling is looking pretty broken.”
“Sadie said that ‘broken’ can be good,” Donna said. “She said, sometimes cracks are the only places where the light can get in.”
Fanaka nodded in thought. “Yes,” he said. “Well, in all honesty it sounds like bullshit to me. But it’s a nice sentiment, I guess. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.”
“What are you going to do now?” Donna said.
“Finish stabilising Axel’s timestream before the universe collapses,” Fanaka said. “Then spend some time with Nalda. We both come from worlds that we like a good deal better than this one, but if we’re stuck somewhere awful at least we’re stuck here together. You?”
“No idea,” Donna said. “Keep trying to light the way, I suppose.”
Fanaka didn’t often smile, but he favoured Donna with a huge, toothy grin. “That’s a good idea,” he said. “And profoundly less stupid than that ‘cracks’ nonsense. Take care!”
He walked away, leaving Donna alone in the midst of chaos. Donna watched him go for a while, envying his destination. The sirens were getting closer. It was time to leave. Almost.
She took the amulet from her pocket one last time, for one last look. It was round, about the size of her palm. Its device was a pyramid with an eye in the top. Donna moved to return it to her pocket, but did a double-take. The eye was… crying? It hadn’t been doing that the last time she’d looked…
Perhaps she was looking at the wrong side. She turned it over and, no. The other side was blank. She turned it back and looked more carefully. There was definitely a stylised tear coming from the pyramid’s eye.
On a hunch, she looked up at the Great Pyramid of South Hertling. Sure enough, a river of water was pouring from its eye and cascading down it side.
“Seriously,” Donna said. “Screw this for a joke. I can’t… Nope. Just nope.”
She turned on her heel, and left for home.