Two days. That was all it had taken, poring over the rulebook and knowing his pride, to get a private audience. There were guards outside, and I was unarmed. I spoke.
"How many traitors do you have who claim to be with you, do you think? Half?"
"You've been in prison the past five years. Do you really think I'll fall for that?" Inside, I snarled at him for that. Just as I'd taken every loophole to get here, he'd taken every loophole to keep me there. I hadn't done anything but think.
I radiated calm. "You mean I've had five years in the heart of your base." Jack twitched.
"Five years, where all I had to do was talk, and all I had to talk to were your own. And you, you were so kind, you rotated them." There's a sheen to a man's cold sweat that I've never found anywhere else. He had it. "Now, in five years, I couldn't turn everyone, you're thinking. But there were such lovely people there; they spread the message for me." I smiled fondly in a reverie. "By the end of the first month, I remember they were coming in already knowing. Already having the first seeds of ideas planted, saplings, even. And the loveliest thing was that I was a conversation starter."
"Because I had my ideas, and they had theirs, and they were compatible." I cocked my head to one side and smiled wide as a cat. "The reason rebellions take so long to get off the ground is that it takes people so long to talk to each other. And I"--tapping my chest--"am communicative."
He stared at me, hands shaking, forehead shining, breathing uneven.
And then...he lied. He straightened his back, raised his chin, steadied himself on some inner pillar, and lied from his crown to his toes. "You're bluffing."
If I am, then I am doing better than you. But I don't let all of that show, just enough for verisimilitude. "Really? You pride yourself on being strong-willed. Even if you have some doubt in the back of your head about how you compare to the general population,"--a wince--"you must see enough of yours. You think yourself stronger than they are. And yet...in minutes, I have given you pause. You doubt. What could I do with five years, when I can work my way up, when I can use the more open-minded and weaker to echo me? Could I convince you?"
The open-minded and weaker parts of his mind echoed and whispered, She could. She could.
We shared a long look, and I watched the inner pillar of his. Moving slowly, but at the speed of shared thought. Marble. Then diamond, harder, brittler, hiding nothing. Then glass. A wavering attempt to hide and it was chalk. A stumble and it would fall.
He gasped at my words, from my lips and echoed. I saw the thoughts. They were what I would think.
I'm alone. I've always been alone. No one cares. I'll die alone. I willed him to finish the thought, to think what I prayed I would think in his place.
Nothing. He fell.
I knelt and put a hand on his shoulder. I said what I prayed someone else would say, were I in his place.
"You're not alone."
He stared at me. It was an interesting experience, looking into someone's eyes as he put himself back together.
He thought it.
And I will help anyway.