Five of the robe-wearers crested the ridge, riding in a tall wooden wagon pulled by a treadmill horse and spouting smoke from a steam assist mounted on the back. They wore dusty brown robes and an air of importance that Kalem felt didn’t seem deserved.
They stopped a few feet from Kalem and his two assitants and descended from their wagon.
“Are you Kalem of the Bay?” the tall brown-skinned woman in the center of the group asked?
“We are the emissaries of the citadel.”
He had heard the robe-wearers called themselves that. He’d also heard they brought trouble that didn’t end until they moved on. He hadn’t heard much else.
“What citadel are you emissaries of?” he asked in an even tone.
“The seven master citadels.”
Kalem kept his face blank at this nonsense answer.
“I see you labor still under the propoganda of the heretics here. You are not to be blamed. Most have. I assume you know of the 31 citadels of the aggregate, correct?”
Kalem nodded again and folded his arms. This ought to be good. She might as well have started with “I assume you’ve heard that there was once a country called England.”
“The citadels were real, of course, but they were ruled by seven master citadels. That truth was hidden by the heretics when the Aggregate fell. They wished you to believe all 31 citadels were equal, and that when one fell they all fell. But it was not so. Some of the seven master citadels did fall out of sight, it is true. But the citdael at Beijing did not. We and those like us have been traveling to revive the master citadels. London, Jerusalem, and Delhi have all been restored. We have come to restore San Francisco.”
That was enough to goad Kalem. He wasn’t a genetic. He knew history from tale. “Jerusalem was no more a citadel than San Francisco. Our city was the museum city of the Autonomy of Los Angeles. I’m afraid your histories have misinformed you. You are welcome to pass through the highway. Good day.”
“STOP!” the woman shouted.
Kalem stopped more out of curiosity than response to the woman’s brash tone.
“It is you who have been misinformed. We will give you pass for your ignorance, but if you close your ears to the truth, we will hold you on the side of the heretics!”
Heretics. The heretics had disappeared decades ago. It was a meaningless term but it still raised fears. Kalem was a deep student of history and he knew well how this woman was using the term and how dangerous it could be. Words like barbarian, infidel, communist and terrorist had been used just like this to cause much trouble. He realised he had dismissed the woman too quickly. She meant to endanger him and his.
“Then I shall leave my ears open. I am Kalem, Proctor of the Museum City of San Francisco and leader here. We know only of the citadel in Los Angeles.”
The woman smiled benignly. “Of course. And it is sad that the heretics evil have hid your proper heritage. The master citadels were often hidden so. The Beijing citadel survived by its master Citadel being located in Tianjin. We hold the secrets of the true locations of the master citadels. If you will take us to the TAP building, we will show you.”
More nonsense piled up on nonsense. Tianjin was a citadel in its own right, and aligned with Guangzhou not Beijing in the Regionate of Panyu. Beijing was aligned with Shanghai. The woman had looked on a map and noticed Tianjin and Beijing were close and made up her story.
“As you say. But I am marveled by your journey. You say you come from Beijing?” Kalem stalled.
The woman smiled, eager to answer the question. “We took the land bridge at Bering and journeyed down from Anchorage. Our journey has been long but it is unending. We must restore your citadel and the citadels in Mexico City and Atlanta as well.”
Something wasn’t right. Not only was she mixing in real citadels with fake ones. Atlanta had no citadel. But she implied that the Bering sea was dry. Somethign that was unlikely. Either she hoped that kalem was ignorant, or she felt like mixing in enough untruth would distract him from whatever real deception she planned. Either way she wanted him to underestimate her. Nobody who wanted to appear knowledgable would make these kind sof mistakes.
“So the Bering Strait is dry! This is wondrous news,” said Kalem, smiling. Kalem did not ever smile. His assistants shifted uneasily. “And with your long journey, you must be ready for refreshment. Come I will take you to the Proctor’s place and when you are rested, show you the TAP building.”
He turned and made the hand signals not to attack yet, as they were outnumbered. This woman was cunning, he was sure, and they would have to lull her before acting. Otherwise they would be dead and she would set up rule of San Francisco. This he knew.