Louise took advantage of the distraction and ran for the great hall. More room, she thought. The armory.
She could hear Sheila’s hippie-chick sandals slapping the stone not nearly far enough behind her as she slid into the big room and was heartily disappointed to see the entire armory standing empty. She stopped in the middle of the room and turned to face Sheila.
Sheila’s axe was longer and thinner than it had been in the hall, the blade slenderly aerodynamic against the stave. She smiled when she saw Louise’s puzzled frown. “Some of us can edit on the fly,” she said.
Louise felt her eyes get large. “You’re the programmer in the skill pool.”
“Of course,” Sheila said, a little scornfully. “I thought if you knew who my husband was, you’d have at least looked me up.”
Louise’s mind was racing though. Editing on the fly. What was it Penelope had said? No longer chained to their paradigm?
Sheila swung her pole arm with air-whistling viciousness, and Louise reacted the only way she could think of: she jumped. Straight. Up.
Don’t look down don’t look down don’t look down…
Louise touched the ceiling with her hands and inverted herself, getting purchase on the rafters with her bare feet. While Sheila stared upwards, apparently trying to make sense of things, Louise pushed off hard, leaping for the wall and rolling to land there feetfirst, and then jumping again.
Here’s where I hope years of watching martial arts wire-fu don’t fail me, she thought fervently, swinging around to kick Sheila in the head as hard as she could.
Her heel connected hard with the side of Sheila’s skull. Simultaneously, she managed to block Sheila’s clumsy swing with one forearm. Thanks, Sensei, for all those years of class all those years ago, she thought. She and Sheila went down together in an unlovely pile of youthful limbs and elderly obscenities.
With presence of mind she didn’t think she had, she managed to fumble a bottle out of her pocket and spray Sheila squarely in the eyes with it.
Louise scrambled away, spinning to a halt on her feet, kung-fu-movie fashion, and was startled to find Sheila wiping her eyes and glowering at her.
“What the hell was that supposed to be?” Sheila said, eyes watering.
Apparently, Louise thought irrelevantly, Penelope’s code stung.
“You,” Sheila went on to say, and her voice took on a strange, deeper resonance, “are very annoying.”
Louise frowned and squinted. There was a shadow around Sheila, similar to those that hovered around the women who “summoned the Council”. Further, Sheila’s face was changing very slightly, stretching and altering, her eye color shifting, her hair changing style.
“I don’t know what exactly you think you’re doing,” Sheila went on, speaking now in two voices — one her normal high-and-light voice, and one deeper and more masculine. “But it’s all right. Even if we don’t get you tonight, we’ll get you eventually.”
Louise scowled. “Vic Wachelski, I presume?”
Sheila-Vic bowed, tossing aside the pole arm casually. “You can run and fight us in here—and I have no idea how you’re doing what you’re doing, but I intend to find out—but you can’t fight or run when you’re awake. And you have a presence here, even when you’re awake, Louise.” S/he gave Louise something that was half a smirk and half Sheila’s pseudo-pleasant don’t-fuck-with-me smile.
“Oh, really?” Louise said, contemplating her possible escape routes. “What can you do to a ghost?”
“I’ve hacked your brain, Louise, as I think you’ve figured out,” Sheila-Vic said, spreading his/her hands and advancing on her at a stroll. “Who would notice a troublesome old lady’s heart stopping, after all?”
“Why so determined to hate me? What have I done to you?” Louise said, backing toward the door.
“You caused some problems with one of my ace fighters,” Sheila-Vic said. “That was bad, but not terrible, since we knew we were going to lose her any day. But you started thinking, then snooping, and then talking about what you were finding, which really isn’t useful to us, sweetheart.”
“Quit it with the condescending pet names,” Louise said, adding in her sweetest tone, “jackass.”
“You looked so promising in your profile,” Vic-Sheila went on, still advancing on her. “Practically no family to speak of, desperate for some cognitive return. A little smarter and more educated than we usually prefer. But why get nosy and screw up a good thing, Louise? We’re all helping each other here.”
“Some of you are helping yourselves more than anyone else,” Louise said. She heard shuffling feet behind her, glanced over her shoulder, and saw the mob collecting just inside the doorway, bristling with weapons. Well, shit.
“Run if you want,” Vic-Sheila said, stopping and crossing his/her arms. “It’ll give the girls something fun to do.”
“Vic,” Louise said, turning left and running for the nearest wall. “Fuck. You.” And she ran straight up the wall toward the clerestory windows near the ceiling.
“Fucking hell!” he shouted. “Archers!”
Two arrows followed her through the shattering glass into the open air, but they flew off high over her head as she landed on the slate roof, bounded off lightly to run across the orchard treetops, and kept running. I could do this all night, she thought ecstatically.