The captain allowed her to pace a bit, his smirk reminding her of her dilemma: betrayal or inferno?  Give up her compatriots, or give herself up?  Subvert the Protagonists, after all this time, just to stay alive?  Sure, she'd have her life back, but would she have anything to live for?  Would it be worth it?


The captain started.  "Sorry?"

"No," Gwen said again with more conviction.  "I'm not going to tell you anything.  Yes, there is a meeting, but there is absolutely no chance in hell I'm going to tell you where it is."

He twinged at the religious reference.  "How do you even know hell exists?"

"Reality is all perception and awareness.  You're aware of something, therefore to you it exists.  I'm here, I'm aware of what's going on around me and what's happened.  To me, this is hell.  Therefore hell exists."

Even though he knew she was a Protagonist, he couldn't help but marvel at her reasoning.  "But why resist the irresistible?  Why avoid the inevitable?  Why fight a losing battle?"

"Other than 'why not,' because we've worked too hard, and we're going to try to see this through."

Laughing, the captain cried, "Worked hard!  On what?"

The smallest of smiles began to creep across Gwen's face.  "Would you like to see?"  Without waiting for a response she took off her long coat and turned it inside-out.  Every surface, except the top of the sleeves, was covered in pockets of all sizes.  She began to reach into the first when a thought flitted through her mind.  "Díme, do you think knowledge and creativity is an ugly thing, Captain?  Are you afraid of it?"

"I... I don't know," he stammered, visibly startled by her question.  "I suppose so."

"Why's that?"

"Well, it's manipulative.  It can make people nervous, or scared, for no real reason; it can make people deal with uncomfortable thoughts; it can even drive people to insanity."

Gwen's smile widened.  Slowly, deliberately, she emptied the contents of her pockets: paintbrushes, pencils, inks, more pens and pencils than was spacially possible, and more scraps of paper covered with all sorts of writing and scribbles than was sane, even for a writer.  Other pockets still held shards of leaded glass, pressed flowers, a defunct Polaroid camera, an eclectic mix of books on all sorts of subjects, and handfuls of small notebooks both blank and overflowing.  Others still housed a harmonica, a pitch-pipe, tattered choral music, a heavily-modified ancient iPod, a tiny abacus not much bigger than Gwen's palm, a compass, several protractors, and about five calculators of varying ages and functions.

The captain stood, petrified, dumbfounded.  Gwen just kept on smiling.  "This isn't everything I have, you know.  But I can see what you're thinking, and yep: I have at least two examples of objects from every category of forbidden objects.  Every.  Single.  Thing."  She leaned in for dramatic effect.  "And they all are beautiful."

"But what about the calculators!  Those deal with numbers!  Numbers aren't beautiful!"

Gwen shook her head, picking up the largest and sleekest of the calculators.  She began typing in a series of numbers and variables, pondered a moment, typed a bit more, then turned to show the large graph screen to the captain.  "Watch.  Tell me what you see."

She pressed "enter," and before their eyes the lines of numbers, as if my magic, flowered into a arboreal graph.  She glanced at the stupefied captain.  "That's what those numbers look like.  It's just a fractal equation graphed."  She began reorganizing the pockets, sliding the room in silence before speaking again: "Knowledge is beautiful.  You're scared of it, I can see it.  It can be a fearful thing, only if you're not open to it.  I know I'm as good as kindling at this moment, but all this means too much to us to give it up without a decent fight."

He gasped for a few moments, reminding Gwen of the beached fish impression her brother used to do.  He quickly lashed out, snatching her wrist and tossing her roughly towards the door.

"Get out!"

Still smarting, Gwen struggled to stand.  "What?"

"Get out of my sight!"

She didn't need telling twice.  She scrambled to her feet and without thinking flew out the door, down the hall, and somehow managed to find her way back outside to the alley.  Only once she was outside and meandering did her mind begin working again: why had he let her go?  Was it out of sympathy?  Fear?  She was the textbook example of what not to do, and yet here she was, fairly unscathed.  But why?

The End

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