Just as I expected, the group helping William getting the people out of Aquarium was easy to identify, and not that large. Most of the people in Aquarium had taken the first opportunity to get out of there, not even stopping to think about the danger of doing so. I guessed that most, if not all, ignored that they were going against my orders when they left Aquarium.
“So far everything seems to be under control,” Kimball said. “William still insists on getting ahead with the trial. Right now, I think that’s for the best. I spoke to Jean and he thinks that he will be able to get most of the charges dropped.”
“There are still a lot of crimes I’m guilty of,” I pointed out.
“Mother,” Ethan called from the living room, “I think you should see this.”
I went to the living room and saw he was watching an interview with one of the refugees that had gotten out of Aquarium, he was a famous reporter that I had been ordered to murder after he had attacked Emily by publishing some articles about her crimes, including her involvement in her own brother’s murder. His death had been one of the most public ones, because he had been able to record and transmit part of my attack, one that ended with him apparently dying in a fire. Everyone had agreed there was no way he would have been able to survive the inferno I caused, since all that was left once it extinguished were ashes.
“… and then I was pulled to the sewers, I wasn’t sure if they were friends or enemies,” Aziz was explaining, “but when I saw their uniforms and realized they were mzasiers, I thought they were enemies. They did something and I passed out, next thing I knew I was in what looked like a prison, but it wasn’t like that, it was a refuge for people like me.”
“Are you trying to say you were ok with being kidnapped?” a woman’s voice asked from the other side of the camera.
“I had trouble with that at the beginning, especially because I couldn’t keep thinking of how this was going to affect my family and the people who depended on me, but as time went by, I realized just how lucky I really was that it was Kaiserin they had sent after me, and that she had been willing to save me. I know some people think that the people coming back are metamorphs or people that had been brainwashed, wish I will admit could be possible, but some people were targeted because they couldn’t be brainwashed, that’s something people haven’t considered. Let’s just say that after being away and watching things from afar, we have a different view of the situation.”
“So you think that Kaiserin’s actions are justified?”
“For a long time I couldn’t figure that woman out, and despite knowing I owed her my life, I couldn’t trust her, I kept thinking she had nefarious reasons for doing what she did, but let me tell you something I saw there. Every month we got a visit from her, mostly she spent her time with Queen Sofia, but also with a few other inhabitants there, and I watched her training a few of them. At first I thought she was doing that out of some sick desire to hurt others, because she often hurt them, and she didn’t even react to their pain, but you know I’m a good observer, I don’t see only with my eyes, but with my powers, and my empathy allows me to see the inside of people. Once, during a training session between Kaiserin and our new King William, I witnessed one of her attacks that could have been very bad, but she stopped the attack before she could really hurt him. If I had based my opinion in her insults and mocking, I would have thought that Kaiserin had no respect or interest in the boy, but, I was feeling the situation, and I could tell that she was worried about him, that she cared for him. She was tough with him because she wanted him to be able to defend himself. I started paying more attention to her and her actions, and found out that despite her harsh words and bad attitude, she worries about people and is always looking out for those who can’t defend themselves, she just has a different way of doing that. I really think that it’s in the Dominion’s best interest to have someone like her looking out for us, because she really cares about everyone, not only her husband’s country, like some people believe, but for everyone in the Dominion.”
“After the new King revealed his plans to put Kaiserin on trial, she decided to put the whole Dominion under martial law and we have a military presence on the streets. Don’t you think that this only shows that Kaiserin thinks herself above laws and rules? It’s obvious that she is using scare tactics to try and force the King to ignore her criminal actions and scare people into obeying her wishes.”
“If I had learned something in my time with her is that there is always a reason behind her actions. Maybe we think those are scare tactics, but maybe there is something else going on that is making her do that. Maybe if we knew her reasoning for putting the military on the streets, we would support her decision.”
As I watched the interview I realized that Aziz was there to support me, but he didn’t know that his words were hurting my image. Part of my power resided in my ability to seem detached and unaffected, what would happen if my enemies realized how much I cared, if they decided to go after me by hurting the people around me? Aziz’s words could be putting people around me in danger.
“I’m surprised that Aziz is giving that interview,” Kimball said, “a person as intuitive as him should know that is not a good idea to give the public this kind of information, especially not without your approval. He should have known better than going live without first clearing his declaration with you.”
“You are right,” as Kimball said that I started to see the interview from another point of view. “Someone must have talked to him and tell him that it was ok to give the interview. I think this must be part of William’s campaign to discredit me.”
“I’m not sure that’s what they are trying to do,” Ethan said, “if that was their objective, Aziz would have never agreed to it. I think this is part of a campaign to clear your image, but I don’t know why now, it’s not the right moment.”
“That was never the plan,” I protested, “the idea was for me to be the bad guy, and for them to take power from me when the time was right. The idea was to disappear once everything was ok.”
“Well, it seems they didn’t like your plan and decided to change it,” Kimball said, not looking worried at all.
“This is all wrong, their actions are just making a difficult situation even worse. I don’t have time for this, I have to fix the situation as much as I can. If you need anything, I will be in my office.”
I went out, not bothering to wait for their response, the whole situation was getting out of control and that only made me angrier. I had that feeling back, the feeling that said that I couldn’t trust in anyone, and that was not a good mindset to have. The few last months had affected me more than I was willing to accept, and I knew that even Kimball had noticed that I had been having trouble at night, that the nightmares I has thought I had outgrown were back. It had gotten so bad I had considered putting some locks to my memories, but it was something I had already tried, and it wasn’t a good option. All I could do was to keep going and face my demons, that included to put my trust back on the people I worked with, or at least pretend I was willing to trust on them as to not affect our relationships.
I found Thalia and Fatima waiting for me at my office. They had become a good team and as soon as I saw them together, I knew they were planning something. Once I noticed Fatima’s glazed eyes and Thalia’s hand on her shoulder, I knew they were using one of Fatima’s best tricks, one that allowed her to stay a couple of minutes in the future.
“What are you planning?” I asked once I reached my desk and sat down.
“Fatima is feeling awful about what happened, she feels she should have known what was going on, that she should have seen what Sofia was planning, so for the time being she is going to stay in protection mode and help avoid any other surprises, and I’m here to help.”
“I hope nothing else happens, but I appreciate your help. Anything to report so far?”
“Fatima is sure that William will be trying to talk to you, that’s why she is doing this, she wants to make sure they don’t take us by surprise again.”
“I appreciate it, I don’t want to be taken by surprise again.”
“We will be standing guard outside, anything we will let you know immediately.”
“Thanks.” As they went to take their place, Ivan walked inside.
“How are you?” he asked, and I could tell he was worried about me.
“As good as you could expect after finding out that your closest allies have betrayed you. Is everything ready for the meetings?”
“Yes, all the groups agreed to the meetings, most of them were confused about what was going on, some seem to think this is all part of the plan, and I didn’t get the feeling that anyone knew what Sofia and William were planning.”
“We still need to be careful and work under the idea that everyone could be conspiring against us, I don’t want any more surprises.”
“I wouldn’t worry about a repeat of that, we didn’t think we needed to worry about Sofia, and therefore no one paid attention to her suspicious behavior, but after this, we will be more careful,” Ivan said, and I could tell he was confident in what he was saying, but experience had taught me again and again that anyone could turn on you. Also, I needed to remind myself that Ivan’s loyalty was first to his country, and then to me. “We have identified the people working with Sofia, and as we expected, they are part of the royal guard, those that are loyal to the crown above all. They are not a real threat, since we have bigger numbers, and I took the liberty of putting some of our people with them so they can keep an eye on them.”
“Well thought, now all we have to do is work on damage control. I would like to talk to those that got out of Aquarium and see what’s their position. Even knowing that Sofia was behind this, I have to make sure who was with her willingly and who was tricked into following her.”
“We already started working on that, we’ve been trying to be discreet, but many of their relatives are making things difficult for us, trying to keep them away from us.”
“That’s understandable, for them we are still the enemy, even if they have them back, it’s not easy to forget that for years they saw us as the enemy. Still, I want you to keep a protective detail around the refugees, we have to protect them in case someone targets them or tries to use them against us.”
I spent most of the day going over the reports from all over the Dominion, and I was actually surprised there weren’t more problems. I wasn’t sure when I had lost control of the situation, but I wasn’t happy about the way things were going, despite having the support of most of the groups, and having the army backing me up, the fact that two of my closest allies had betrayed me, risking all we have worked for, was making me doubt everyone around me. I couldn’t help but feeling that someone else was going to stab me in the back as soon as I looked away.
I needed to clear my mind, and as a warrior the best way of doing that was to train. As a psychic I could keep my body in optimal condition by using my powers, using my mind also helped train my body, but there were some things that I just had to do, I needed my traditional training. After being injured and forced to rest, and then with the mess William and Sofia had made, I had neglected my training, and that was something I couldn’t afford.
I went to the gym and found Ethan and Kimball already there. I stopped for a moment to watch them. Ethan had become a great warrior, and even if he still had a long way to go to be at Kimball’s level, he was making it hard for him, and I couldn’t help but feel proud of him. They eventually noticed me and stopped their training to greet me.
“Hello mother,” Ethan said, hugging me, I felt calm and knew that Ethan was using his powers on me, and I could only guess what he had felt that he had been inclined to do that.
“Is everything ok?” Kimball asked, stopping a few steps from me and studying me.
“Everything is fine,” I lied, “it’s just that I had been so busy that I had neglected my training and now that I have a few minutes I thought it would be a good time for that.”
“Ethan and I were just wrapping our training, so I can help you if you need a sparring partner.”
“That’s perfect,” Kimball was fast and I knew he would test my limits, especially if I decided not to use my powers and faced him in a melee fight.
“That sounds like fun, but if we are done, I think I will head to my room,” Ethan said.
“Of course, you did a good job,” Kimball said, smiling.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked once Ethan was gone, I could tell something was bothering him.
“You know that William’s and Sofia’s little trick caused him to leave the school before he could talk and explain to his friends what was going on, and since he haven’t heard from them, he thinks they are mad at him for not telling them what was going on.”
“That’s easy to solve, all he has to do is tell them that I forced him to stay silent, he can even say I put a lock on his mind so he couldn’t talk about it.”
“I don’t think he will be willing to lie to them, I think he really wants to come clean to them and tell them everything.”
“That’s also an option, whatever works best for him. Ethan knows that we hid Aquarium and the refugees for their own protection, and that now that they are out, there is no need to keep lying.”
“How do you want to do this?” Kimball asked, talking about our training session.
“I will keep a skin tight barrier to protect myself from the worst of your hits, I was thinking that we can have a melee fight.”
“That’s perfect, I’m always up to a full body contact fight,” he said, his voice very suggestive.
I tried to ignore his innuendo, and prepared for the fight. I couldn’t read his mind, so I had to rely on observation to try and block his attacks, but Kimball was very fast and he was able to change the attacks any moment. To fight Kimball I needed my barrier, otherwise he would be able to defeat me in a couple of minutes, just one hit could have devastating consequences. Even with my barrier I could feel the power of his hits, but after a while we fell into a rhythm and I was finally able to counterattack. It wasn’t easy, but little by little I started to gain ground and the battle got more balanced. Since I was using all my focus on trying to keep up with Kimball, I had no time to think about my problems, just what I needed, but then Kimball had to go and ruin that.
“Have you talked to William or Sofia?” he asked after taking a few steps back, looking for another attack angle.
“I don’t see why I would need to talk to those traitors, especially since they insist on that absurd trial,” Kimball used that moment of distraction to attack again, grabbing me and pulling me to the floor with him.
“After thinking about it, I decided that the trial is not such a bad idea after all, it will show the public another side of you, and maybe, it could help us long term,” Kimball’s hold was perfect, and my only option was to cheat and use my powers to break it.
“That will only make me look weak and give my enemies more weapons against me. It took me a lot of effort to build my persona, to show myself as a strong woman without attachments, and now my enemies know how far I will go to protect people and they will start targeting innocents to hurt me. Attacks like the one in the school will multiply,” I said, while he looked at me with disapproval, but I wasn’t sure if it was directed at my speech or if he was resenting the fact I had used my powers when I wasn’t supposed to.
“But this could also give you more allies, and give you the public’s approval. I know that you wanted to be the villain in the story, but there are other options, some you haven’t considered yet. I think that if you talked to them, maybe just to Sofia, who was with you from the beginning, they could explain why they acted that way,” Kimball attacked again, but I kept my distance, just outside his reach, while I tried to see what he was planning to do.
“I don’t agree, but even if I did, they had no right to act behind my back, the least they could have done was to talk to me first if they wanted to change the plans. I have done a lot for them, and for the Dominion, and this is how they paid me? I trusted them, I thought they were on my side, but they showed me otherwise.”
“You could fix this if you just talked to them. At least listen to them,” Kimball insisted, attacking me again. I was able to block him, but his attacks were getting more and more aggressive, and I couldn’t talk back to him, I was too busy fighting back. “Both William and Sofia have tried to talk to you, and sooner or later you will have to meet with them. And if not them, at least talk to your lawyer, you have to work on your defense.” I finally could connect a kick and send Kimball back a couple of steps, giving me some breathing space.
“I won’t be part of that charade. If William wants his trial, he can do that himself, but I won’t participate.”
“You need to be more mature about this, this is already done, and you can’t keep throwing tantrums about it, you need to face it and talk to them,” Kimball said, and I could feel his anger and frustration.
“I don’t have to do anything, and especially not for them. I will keep doing my part, I will go ahead with my plan, I don’t care what they do,” I said, knowing I was being a little obstinated about it.
“Kaiserin, I already talked to William,” Kimball said, and I felt his words hit me like a physical blow. “I agree with him, you need to meet and talk about this. William wants to meet you today, and I told him I would try talking to you about it.”
“How could you!?” I felt betrayed. “You know exactly how I feel about this.”
“I also know that you won’t solve anything by staying away, what you need is to talk to him, like a mature adult. Do you think I agree with what he did? That I approve of his actions? Of course not, but even if I think he went too far, I know that you need to give him a chance to explain and work on resolving this.”
“No. If I had to see him right now, I don’t know if I can stop myself from hurting him. If it was up to me, he would be dead already. I’m tired of people betraying me and I’m tired of giving second chances,” I turned around, ready to storm out of the gym, but Kimball grabbed me by the wrist. “Let me go,” I warned him, but he only held me tighter.
“Not until you agree to listen to reason and meet with William.” I could see he was serious, but I was furious.
I tried to break free again, but Kimball’s hold was tight and I knew it wouldn’t be easy to break it. I focused my powers on a point on his leg and applied force until I heard the bone breaking. Kimball let me go, more out of surprise than pain, but either way it was enough for me to escape. I got out of the gym, still fuming, and decided to take the long way back to my room so I could have time to cool off. Once I was calm, I was going to take a walk in the fog and try to see where this was going, I had a lot of planning to do.