Dreamwalker has just told Fox her true identity.
Fox and I looked at Jana or Dreamwalker or whoever the hell she was right now in absolute stupefaction. I found my voice first.
“Why did you waste all of that time telling me how to avoid giving away my identity or your identity, if you were just going to blurt it out in casual conversation?” I demanded.
“I had to do it, Smoke,” Jana replied. “It’s the only way to convince Fox I’m serious.”
“Smart woman like you couldn’t think of a different way to do that?” I rolled my eyes for added effect. “And, worse, haven’t you gone and…thrallified…yourself to Fox?”
Jana offered a gentle smile, “Enthralled.”
“Don’t try to distract me with sex!” I insisted. “Fox’s avatar is hot and all, but you’re the one who told me avatars usually don’t look like their owners.”
Jana shook her head, “I’m not talking about sex and I’m not trying to distract you. When someone makes you their thrall, you become enthralled.”
“Okay, fine, you’re enthralled. But—”
“I’m not going to make Dreamwalker my thrall,” Fox interrupted, his tone mild. “I have no interest in virtual slavery.”
Even though no one has to breathe in the virtual world, I saw Jana release a held breath. Then, she said, “I didn’t think you did, Fox, but I couldn’t be sure.”
“You took a huge risk, Dreamwalker,” he replied. “Are you sure there wasn’t another way to convince me to pay attention?”
“I could’ve taken you with me to infiltrate the Star Stone. You’d have gone along, too, out of curiosity and absolutely certain you could pull out at any time.” Jana stared hard into Fox’s eyes. “By the time you learned otherwise, I might not have been able to get you out. And I’m not willing to risk your life to get your help.”
I looked back and forth between Fox and Jana. The two slicers were obviously having a ‘moment’ but I interrupted, anyway. “You could’ve just told him the story. I’m pretty sure your slicing of the Star Stone would sound authentic enough to convince him.”
Jana glanced my way, “Maybe, but my way was faster. After hearing the story, Fox would have figured out who I am pretty quickly. I just cut out a step.”
I rolled my eyes again, “And put your life in his hands.”
“Which worked out fine, Smoke. You heard Fox—he’s not going to make me his thrall.”
“Exactly,” Fox added.
“I cannot believe what I’m hearing!” I cried. “Are both of you seriously deluded? In my world, just because somebody says they won’t do something doesn’t mean they won’t do it. I can’t believe a bunch of slicers—who have words like ‘thrall’ in their day-to-day vocabulary—never, ever break their word.”
Jana shrugged, “I believe him. Or her. Whichever.”
We both looked at Fox, waiting to see if he would clarify on that. He didn’t.
“You say you have a story to tell, Dreamwalker?” he asked.
If Jana—no, Dreamwalker. I’d better stay in the habit of using that name when we’re inside the net. Anyway, if Fox’s change of subject disappointed Dreamwalker, she hid it well.
“I assume you heard about the recent kidnapping of Princess Olivia and Lady Jeanine?” she asked. At Fox’s nod, Dreamwalker continued, “I sliced the Star Stone hoping it would help me find Jeanine. It did, but I learned a lot more than where my Duchess was being held — and what I learned terrifies me.”
Dreamwalker went into more detail telling the story to Fox than she had when she told me. Part of that is because she went into technical details that I assume Fox understood, but might as well have been a foreign language from my point of view. But, part of it was because she didn’t try to make things sound safer and easier than they actually were. I assume she gave me the abridged version so I wouldn’t worry. Well, it sure as hell worried me, now.
When Dreamwalker finally finished her tail, she said, “That’s it, Fox—the whole story.”
He leaned back in his chair and looked hard at Dreamwalker. “Well you’re right about one thing—I would have been able to track down your true identity after hearing that story.”
I gave him the evil eye—which probably didn’t work worth a damn with this avatar—and snarled, “That’s all you have to say? Dreamwalker bares her soul, not to mention her true identity, to you and all you can think of is to brag how you could have tracked her down?”
Fox turned an amused smile on me. “Would you prefer if I’d questioned her sanity?”
“No, you asshole, I prefer you to ask what you can do to help,” I declared. “At the very least, you could tell us what we have to do to convince you to help.”
Dreamwalker laid a hand on my shoulder, “That’s enough, Smoke. Getting Fox’s help was a long shot and, in all honesty, my story is hard to believe.”
“I haven’t said that I won’t help,” Fox interjected in a mild tone of voice. “I’ve just been trying to figure out a good test to see how determined the two of you are.”
Dreamwalker raised one eyebrow, “And?”
“I think I’ve come up with something sufficiently challenging for you. You’ve told me your true identity. I haven’t investigated it yet, but I don’t doubt it will check out. If you’re really serious and you’re really determined and you’re not insane, maybe you can track down my true identity. If you do, I’ll help you.”
“Oh, is that all?” My voice fairly dripped with sarcasm.
“Yes, that’s all. If you know anything about Dreamwalker, you should know she is one of a handful of people in the galaxy who has any chance of succeeding.”
Dreamwalker nodded, “I accept, of course.”
With a nod, Fox stood, “If there’s nothing else, I’ll leave you to get started.”
Dreamwalker waved her hand and her opaque bubble vanished. Fox waved his hand and his transparent bubble also vanished. Without another word, he turned and walked back into the crowd.
Can Jana and Tilly discover Fox’s true identity? They get started in Chapter 11, coming Wednesday.