Macbain blinked, and said: “Fading?! How quickly?”
“Not quickly it would seem, fortunately. Or at least doesn’t seem quick to me, as of yet. But still.”
Underby opened his mouth to say something further, then closed it. He seemed to consider his words, then pressed on. “I… I contacted Pip. To try to help me with it, but…” He shrugged.
“But Pip won’t forgive you for killing him.” she suggested.
“Pip won’t forgive me for many, many things.”
Underby snorted slightly with something like laughter, and said, “The killing was actually probably the nicest thing I had done for him in years. It freed him from me at least.”
“And gave him to Phaedra, as I understand it.”
Mr Underby stuck his chin out defiantly. “I never wanted her to have him, that’s bollocks.”
“Well, she has him now, doesn’t she?”
“She does. Yes.” he sighed. “Enough about Pip… Tenk’s situation is important, I do not deny that, but it’s a distraction from him to throw me off my mission. I have him, Macbain, don’t you see? We could do it… we could get him into the Old Quarter and all our troubles would fade away.”
“How do we do that?” she asked with a brisk laugh, devoid of humor.
“The same way I caught Pip. The marbles work on him too, I have seen it. It seems to be something they can’t help. A compulsion.”
Macbain tried to hide her horror, “You can’t let him out. He’s too clever! It’s too far from there to the old district, we’ll never manage it. Just wake Tenk up and leave well enough alone.”
“It would take many people, and co-operation, you saw what he was like when you banished him with many people about. He becomes confused by all the minds. He’s not a god. He is a force. And can be manipulated.”
She frowned. “Ok, I will play along for now.”
Underby smiled. “SOmetimes you surprise me Macbain.”
“Please.” she said. “Do not, under any circumstances think that I am doing this for you. I am doing this for Tenk… and the city.”
“Yes yes, very patriotic, look Macbain, I do not care an iota why you are doing it, simply that you are.” He looked at her. “I do not deny being greedy, or ruthless, but I do not think I am a bad person, despite my reputation.”
She laughed, now with genuine humor. “You risked Tenk’s life, and those of this entire city on a half-baked scheme which may or may not work. You will certainly need to put together a better argument than that to convince me you are a good person.”
He looked at her. “I never said I was good. Simply that I did not believe I was a bad person. I suspect the option for good has long since passed.”
“Yes. I do as well.”
He stared at her for a moment. “We will need to meet to discuss how the plan will work, but first we need to help Tenk, and quickly. His intention is to distract us with this, we cannot allow that.
Forcefully she said: “I will allow that. Tenk is my primary concern at the moment.”
With a sigh, he nodded. “I need Pip, to help Tenk…but he wont help me”
Macbain stood. “I’ll see if I can’t….perhaps Pip will consider a request from me?
Underby considered this. “Pip… might… listen to you…”
“Doubtful, but I’ll try.”
She left the office without another word. Underby stared at that door for a long time, lost in thought. Why did it feel like something was laughing in the back of his mind?