Chapter 34

Mihaela let me know the moment they started preparations to get out of the bunker, but I still wasn’t sure how many were coming out or what they were expecting to find, all I knew was that I was angry and motivated enough to make them pay for what they had done.  I heard the noise of the bunker’s door opening and steps getting closer.  As soon as they saw me sitting in the same place they had left Ethan tied up, they stopped and stared at me.

“What are you doing here?” one of them demanded.

“Didn’t you see my video?  Your time has come to an end, it’s time to pay for what you did.”

“Do you think you have already won?  We are ready for you,” one of them said, with total confidence in his success.

“As I see it, I did win.  My son is safe with his father, this place is under our control, and there’s nothing you can do against me.”

“Are you sure about that?” he asked, and as soon as he spoke I felt weird, I noticed that the headache that was starting to bother me was going away, and my powers with it.  The emptiness inside me made me want to panic, but I did my best to recover, I wasn’t alone, and I was still in control.

“I will give you just one chance, leave your games and give up right now, or you will face consequences.”

Just a couple of them seemed to consider it, but the man that was acting as the leader, talking to me, moved his hand and took something from his back.  As soon as I realized he was moving, I got my gun out and shoot at the shoulder of the arm he was moving.  Ivan, who apparently had also lost his powers, had his own gun out and was pointing it to the group.

“I advise you not to try something like that again,” Ivan told them

“In fact, better do it, give me a reason to justify killing you.  We could arrest you, but I have no trouble just killing you all right now.  In fact, I prefer that option, especially the longer I’m out of powers,” I wasn’t sure how they were doing it, but the feeling of vulnerability that usually came with having my powers removed was affecting me.  At least I knew that whatever they were doing was affecting everyone in the same way.

“I know you think you won, but you haven’t,” the man said, holding his injured arm.  “Your reign of hate and fear has come to an end.”

“My reign of fear?  People are living peacefully under my reign, unlike before.  People are having better lives, they are progressing faster than before.  You are the ones who are trying to start a reign of terror with your tactics.  What would have happened if your bombs had blown up as you planned?  Innocent people, people who had nothing to do with your fight or agendas would have been injured, could even have died.  I’m not the monster in this room, you are.”

“We are working for the good of our people, for the freedom or the Dominion,” a woman said from the back of the room.

“You are working for your own good.  Now, you can stop blocking my powers, or face the consequences,” I asked again, hoping that the desperation wasn’t showing in my voice.

“You won’t win so easily,” the leader repeated, and I could see some of his followers getting ready to act.  I didn’t think twice before shooting him, but as I pressed the trigger, the man moved, and instead of hitting him on a safe spot, the bullet went through his neck.

A blanket of silence fell over the group as the man hit the floor and a pool of blood started to grow under him, and then, chaos erupted.  They all started moving at the same time.  There was some distance between me and the group, but Ivan was closer to them, and most decided to attack him first.  I started to shoot them, making sure the injuries weren’t life threatening, just bad enough to stop them.  Ivan was doing the same, but he was focusing on those ignoring him and moving to where I was, protecting me first.

Despite all their plans, the group wasn’t as ready to face us as they pretended, their actions were impulsive and clearly weren’t working.  I noticed the exact moment their leader realized that their plans were ruined and that they were losing, something he couldn’t accept yet.  Unlike Merce, from whom the leader had copied their ideas, he was willing to sacrifice himself, not just others, for what they thought was the greater good, something that became clear when he got a grenade out of his coat and threw it to where we had left the explosives we had taken from Ethan.  I didn’t need a walk in the fog to know what would happen if the grenade exploded in the middle of all those explosives.

For a moment my mind went blank, and then I started to go over all the options we had, I needed to stop the explosion or all the people in the building, and probably even those outside like Ethan and Kimball could die.  My options were limited, at least at the beginning, because after watching their leader willing to kill them all, the person blocking my powers stopped, and I got my powers back, which allowed me to use my mind to grab the grenade and throw it through the open door to the bunker, where it would cause less damage, the only problem was that some of our enemies ran back inside the bunker trying to protect themselves from the explosion.

The wave caused by the explosion was strong enough to throw those who hadn’t ran away to the floor.  Before they could go back to their feet I used my powers to shift the floor and trap them in it, but not in the case of the leader, for him I used stakes that went through his extremities and pin him to the floor.  I hoped that the person who had blocked my powers was dead, but if he wasn’t, I was going to make him wish he had been in the bunker when the grenade went off.  As for the leader, once I finished interrogating him, he was going to wish he was dead.

“Are you ok?” Kimball asked, as he ran into the room, closely followed by Uktam and Mihaela.

“Everything is ok,” I said, pointing to my captives.  “They all have bullet woulds and a few bruises, possibly a few contusions, still, I need you to make sure they’re not a danger before transporting the.  As for him,” I said, pointing to the leader, who was screaming in pain, “don’t take him to the police, I want to interrogate him first.”

“William won’t like that,” Kimball said, but from the intensity in his eyes and he stared at the person responsible for kidnaping his son, I knew he had his own plans as to what to do to him.

“He will understand,” I said, knowing that even if William got angry, at the end he would help me, he knew all the legal loopholes that I needed to justify my action, and he knew how important it was for me to stop people like that man.  “How is Ethan?”

“He is stable, but I’m not sure what kind of agent they used to knock him out, I’m still working on that.  I took one of their tanks so I could study the substance later.”

I left my people to clean up the disaster, while I went back to the Palace.  Ethan was with us, laying down on the seat, with his head on my lap.  He was still out, but I could feel his mind active and I could feel his life force, and I knew he would be able to survive the adventure with no significant damage.  After the extensive use of my powers I needed my suppressor to keep the psychic headache under control, so after making sure Ethan was ok, I activated it, but as soon as my powers went away I started feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable.  I knew that we still had a lot to deal with, there were more people involved, and those people could still cause trouble.  My own men were already working on finding them, but I knew that to make sure that all the information we got was correct, I needed to conduct my own interrogations, and for that I needed my powers, something I didn’t have at the moment.

Once back at the Palace Ethan reacted, and that helped me confirm that he was alright, I confirmed that he had suffered some electric attacks, but not enough to cause lasting damage, and he insisted he was ok, even if I could see he was embarrassed for falling on enemy hands, as if being captured had been his fault.  I remembered my own fears and feelings of guilt when I was his age.  I remembered when I had been captured by enemy forces and my mother had to rescue me, how bad I had felt about the situation and the lives that had been lost in that mission, even as people congratulated me for my actions.  I knew that simple words wouldn’t help him feel better, so all I could do was to let my emotions free and allow him to realize for himself how proud I was of him, and how much I loved him.

At the same time I had been busy rescuing Ethan, my people had been working on their own missions.  Two of the bombs our enemies had set had exploded, the enemy had set sentries around them, and some had realized that my people had been trying to deactivate them and to stop them they had blown them.  Agata had already realized about the sentries and was working on finding them and neutralizing them, but sadly she wasn’t fast enough to stop those two bombs from going off, and that cost us the life of an innocent man that had refused to stay in his house, and had caused some of my men to be injured, but all of them would be able to have a full recovery.  At least we had been able to capture more people involved after interrogating our captives, and that included some State leaders that had actively collaborated, or that at least had turned a blind eye to what his people was doing.

I had taken my time doing my own interrogations, and I could confirm that they were followers of Merce, and that some people insisted on hating me, and weren’t willing to accept me and my place in the Dominion.  I knew that originally that had been the plan, for people to hate me, but I also had planned for them to be so afraid of me that they wouldn’t be willing to fight me, and the new situation made that part very difficult.  I also realized that my actions against the kidnappers had affected my image again, in ways I couldn’t understand yet.

A couple of days after the incident, I was ready to face the world and present my findings, and Aziz was there ready to help me with my message.

“Everything is ready for the broadcast,” Aziz told me, and I could see that that included William and Dante, they had agreed, once again, to support me.  I knew that their support would influence a lot in how people received the announcement.

I stepped in front of the camera, ready to say the words that I needed to say.  It wasn’t easy, I knew that with everything that had happened people’s perception of me had changed, as well as the political scene in the Dominion.  Even if the attack had been very public and everyone in the Dominion had witnessed how they had used my son to try and get me to resign, the fact that some leaders, and those of countries that hadn’t voted for me, were involved, only complicated things, for some could see my actions as revenge.  At least I had William, and even Dante, supporting me, even if some leaders were afraid after my actions following Ethan’s kidnapping.  Despite having won the fight, I knew that some consequences of my actions would follow me for a while.  Kimball said that I was taking the situation in a very negative way, and that people would show me once again how much they loved and trusted me, but I couldn’t be as positive as he wanted me to be.

“Good afternoon,” I said to the cameras, knowing that most of the Dominion’s population was watching from the other side, “today I come here to give you another announcement.  All of you witnessed the demands and actions of a criminal group that intended to take control of the Dominion without any care of who they hurt in the process.  Thanks to the actions of a lot of people who worked together to protect the city and stop the threats to the Dominion, what could have become a great tragedy, was controlled.  Unfortunately, an innocent civilian lost his life and many of my soldiers were wounded, but at the end, they managed not only to save my son, but to stop everyone involved in the attack.  During the interrogations that followed the capture of the people responsible, we were able to discover that very important, and influential people were also involved.”

“Using that information, that my people made sure was true and accurate, we were able to give issue arrest warrants for a couple of presidents and a queen,” William explained.  “We also were able to clear other leaders that had been fooled or whose trusted people had acted in their name, but without their knowledge.”

“As I told you before, we are not going to punish the people of the countries for the crimes of their leaders, but there could be some problems while we fill the positions that were left open.  We are already working on that, and we hope that everyone is satisfied with the results once we finish.”

“I know that many of you are wondering what this will mean for you, and I want to assure you that, at least I, will work to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again and will take every precaution to avoid another incident like this,” Dante said.  “All of us who have positions of power have the duty and the responsibility to make sure that everyone who works with us is capable of following and honoring our laws and the principles that rule the Dominion.”

“We will keep working for you, for the people of the Dominion, for your well being.  And I, personally, will work on opening better communication lines between the people and your governments, I want people to realize they don’t have to do things like this to get our attention, we will hear you, but I also ask you to hear other people.  I know some of you don’t want me here, but as long as the majority wants me here, I will stay here, doing my best to be worthy of your trust.”

“The three of us will keep working on everyone’s well being, working for our people, today and always,” William said.

“Perfect!” Aziz exclaimed with his usual enthusiasm.  “All of you did a great job.  I will be monitoring the different communication channels to see how people respond to this broadcast, and I’m sure we will have good news soon.”

“I hope so,” I said, knowing that things were going to change and that I needed to be prepared for what was coming.  I needed to do a better job, I couldn’t allow more people to get hurt because of me.

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Chapter 33

We started to advance to where Ethan was being held, I was in the fog, just a minute in the future, in a place where the possibilities ahead of me were so few I could still keep track of them, and still gave me enough time to act in case it was needed.  As we moved Kimball didn’t have any trouble neutralizing the cameras outside the building and the few traps that we found.  The first problem we faced was when we reached the building.  I could see that as soon as they opened the door something invisible attacked them and caused them to drop like flies before anyone could do something to counter the attack.

I got out of the fog and using my powers I formed a barrier in front of the door to stop them from using it.  At first they didn’t know what was going on and were prepared to fight their way inside.  “We can go through there,” I warned them, “there’s a trap on the other side, something that will affect us and warn out enemies about our arrival.”

“What do you suggest?” Kimball asked.  “Do we need to find another entrance?”  I thought about it, and then I moved to the wall.  I connected to it, expecting to find concrete, reinforced steel, but all I felt was concrete blocks that I knew I couldn’t break, for it would have been too noisy, but that I could get around.

“I think I can find an alternative entrance,” I said, as I put both my hands against the wall.  After I established a deeper connection I started to work on loosening a few blocks, big enough to at least see the other side.  Once I managed to open a hole big enough to put my head through it, I signaled Ivan to move closer.  “Could you teleport to the other side?”

“I think so, all I need is to see where I’m moving to,” he said, putting his head through the hole, like I had done before, and then disappearing.

“What can you see?” I asked him.

“There is a tank with some sort of liquid here,” he said.  “It seems there is a simple mechanism that breaks the opening valve when the door opens.”

“Can you deactivate it?” Kimball asked.

“I think so, it seems pretty simple,” he said.

I leaned against the wall and went into the fog again, making sure we didn’t face any other surprises.  When I went back, Uktam was by my side, ready to carry me again if I needed him.

“I think I will walk for a while,” I said.  “I think we will need a moment to study the place, and I want to take advantage of that time to reach Ethan.  I can move while I do that.”

“As you wish.”

I extended my senses, being very careful, trying to avoid other telepaths from feeling me.  I knew Ethan’s mind very well, and I knew that I would have no trouble finding him, but when I reached his mind I realized he was occupied.  Still, I knew he had noticed my presence, so I waited for him to reach back to me, and I didn’t have to wait long for him to look for me.

What took you so long?‘ he asked.

How are you?  Did they hurt you?

I could be better, but there’s nothing to sorry about,‘ he said, but I could feel he was downplaying his injuries.  ‘I didn’t see you arrive, I have been keeping tabs on the woman in charge of watching the security feeds, I wanted to be able to stop her from sounding the alarm when you arrived, but it seems I didn’t need to worry about it.

Your father is with us,‘ I offered as an explanation, ‘what she must be watching is just a repeat of old feeds.  But you know how it is, if she is good at her job she will notice something odd and will try to check the recordings, then we will be in trouble.  What else can you tell me?

All of them, but two guards and the woman in the control room are hiding in a bunker under us.  They have me sitting on a bunch of explosives.  The idea is to stop you before you reach the room I’m in, but if that fails, they are ready to blow us up.

I suppose the bunker is protected against explosions.

I suppose the same, they seem pretty confident they won’t be harmed even if the explosives blow up.  I also found out that they are keeping an eye on this room using a different camera circuit, one that they are sure can’t be hacked, so they can see if you go through the traps and reach this point, they will notice as soon as you reach me.

Don’t worry, your father will be able to deal with that.

When I found the second system I tried to hack it, but it was a very strong encryption that makes it hard to understand, even my father will have trouble understanding the system.

We will deal with that once we reach that point, don’t worry.

There are some other things you may want to know before moving forward.‘  Ethan shared with me the things he had learned during his captivity, and some of that information proved to be very useful.

I started to explain to Kimball what was going on, and I could see he wasn’t happy with the situation.  The explosives and the second set of cameras made things more difficult for us.  But it was nothing we couldn’t deal with.  For the moment what worried me more is how sure our enemies were that we wouldn’t be able to reach the room where Ethan was being held, and the fact that despite Ethan’s assurance that there were two guards patrolling the place, we hadn’t seen anyone yet.

“I think I will have to go back into the fog,” I said, and Uktam moved to where I was.  Despite how weird it felt to depend on someone else to transport me, I knew that it was necessary, besides Kimball was near.

We started moving again, it wasn’t fast, but at least we hadn’t encountered any other threats.  But our good luck didn’t last forever, and eventually we found one of our enemies.  My vision allowed me to know that they would be able to stop him without trouble, but still, I got out of the fog so I could look into his mind.

I didn’t like what I found in his mind, even if we had only seen him, a psychic connection with his partner allowed him to know that we were there, as soon as we had attacked, the other guy had moved back to his body, and he was on his way to warn the other we were there.

“We have problems,” I said.  “They just found out we are here.  I will try to stop the guy who found us out, but we need to move fast.”

“I will call our people and tell them to prepare the transmission in case we need a distraction, hopefully it will help us buy some time.”

I didn’t wait any longer, I threw my mind after the guy that had been alerted to our presence, at the same time, I moved my mind to the one we had captured.  I found the other guy and invaded his mind completely, to render him immobile, but when I got into his mind, I realized he had already reached the control room, where apparently they could communicate to the bunker.  The woman in front of the screen seemed to be in a trance, and I realized that Ethan had moved into her mind to stop her from calling the bunker, but I saw her hand over a button, one that she had managed to push before we could stop her, and that could be either an alarm or something to warn the people we wanted to avoid that we were there.

After dealing with the soldier whose mind I had invaded, I moved to the mind of the woman.  I knew that having two minds inside of hers could cause a lot of damage, but it was the best way to establish communication with Ethan, because he couldn’t get out of her mind and risk letting her take control of her body again.  Besides that, with the way Ethan’s powers worked, I couldn’t go to his other mind, because the one behind was his mutant mind, and that meant that it was toxic for me, so I chose to destroy the woman’s mind instead of hurting mine.

I felt Ethan’s presence immediately, and I could see that he could barely hold the woman back, her mental strength was impressive for a non-telepath, and I knew that staying out of her notice, and then invading her mind when needed, had required a lot of strength.

I’ll take care of this, go back to your body,‘ I told Ethan.

You have to get out of here!‘ Ethan warned, he was worried.  ‘She managed to activate one of the defense mechanisms of the place, right now the hallways, the whole place is being filled with the same gas they used to neutralize my bodyguards and to knock me out and transport me here.  I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know it’s bad news.

“They activated a gas,” I told my group.  “Ethan says is the same one they used against them.”

“The suits have anti-gas masks, we just need to put them on,” Lukas said.

“Ethan’s bodyguards also had the same kind of masks, and its protocol to activate them in case of attack,” Mihaela reminded him, “still they were murdered.  We can’t rule out that the gas can work with skin contact or some other way.”

“What can we do then?”

“We need to get out of here,” Ivan suggested.

“We can’t leave now, we can’t leave Ethan,” I protested.

“We can’t stay here, either, we risk being captured,” Ivan said, looking around nervously.

In a way I knew he was right, but I couldn’t turn around and leave my son behind.  ‘Ethan, we will try to reach the room where you are, do your best to stay calm, and don’t worry about us.

Mom, I can wait, but you need to protect yourselves…‘ I cut our connection.  After having two other minds inside hers, the soldier was out, I knew we wouldn’t have to worry about her, she wasn’t a risk, even if Ethan got out of her mind.

I could feel that my own mind was getting tired, suffering from all the effort I had made, I knew I needed to be careful, because even with the energy I had already used, it would be very easy to go overboard and get a headache.  Using my powers I formed an air bubble around us, two air currents running in opposite directions were forming a barrier around us that should be able to keep the gas away from us.

“The other option is that if they have a method to pump this place full of gas, they must have a system to clear it out,” Kimball said, “otherwise they would be at the same risk of being affected, or they would have to be locked up in their bunker for longer than comfortable.”

“Either alternative, I think our best option is to go to the control room,” I said, doing my best to keep my concentration.

We started to walk, as fast as we could and still be inside my protection bubble.  The trip only took a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity.  We finally arrived to our destination and found the bodies of the two guards whose minds we had taken over.  I knew that it was likely that the damage we had caused in them would be permanent, but I didn’t feel guilty about it.

“It will take a while to identify what all this controls are for,” Kimball said, as he pushed the woman off her seat and took her place in front of the computers.  As he worked on that, the rest of us didn’t have much to do.

“Will it take long?  Every minute we’re here, is a minute more than we are at risk of being discovered, or the gas reaching us,” I complained.

“We are worrying too much about the gas, and there is a chance it won’t even affect us if we wear the masks,” Lukas said.

“That’s a risk we can’t take,” Ivan said.

“Not all of us, but maybe one of us,” Mihaela said.  “What if one of us, Lukas since he suggested it, walks outside the bubble with only his mask to protect him?  That way we can be sure if it will affect us or not.”

“It’s too risky,” I said.

“I think that’s a good idea,” Lukas said at the same time.  “I don’t have a problem trying.”

“You decide,” Kimball said from his place in front of the computers, “this system has many security layers, and even if I am making progress, it will take a while.  The good new is that there is a system to extract the gas, but it won’t be easy to activate it.”

“If you are willing to take the risk,” I agreed, “then we can try.  The only problem is that I can’t take the bubble down or we would be at risk, you will need to get out yourself, and it won’t be easy.”

“Understood,” Lukas said.  Without further ado, he ran hitting the bubble walls.  I watched as the air currents pushed and pulled him from side to side, until he finally broke to the other side, at least he looked good, if a little disoriented.  “It seems everything is fine,” he said, but as soon as he finished talking, he started to sway, and then, he fell, as if his body suddenly lost the ability to hold itself up.

“That doesn’t look well,” Ivan said.

I was still trying to decide what to do, since keeping the bubble required a lot of me, when I saw Kimball throw a hook and used it to pull Lukas back to us.  Once inside I could see he looked unconscious, but also in pain, his whole body seized.

“At least now we know,” Mihale said, “that was not a good idea after all.”

“It seems as if we can isolate different rooms in the building and clear the air by sections.  I will start with this room and then I will look how to open a path to Ethan,” Kimball said after a while.

“How can we be sure it’s working?” Ivan asked.  “We can’t risk ending like Lukas.”

“There is a monitor that will let us know once the air is safe again,” Kimball explained.

We all waited for Kimball to give us the green light, we could hear the fans working on extracting the gas, so at least we knew it was working.  Finally, a few minutes later, Kimball told us it was safe to breathe in there, but after witnessing what happened to Lukas, none of us was eager to try our luck.

“We don’t need to risk all of us,” Ivan said, “let’s do another test.”  Before I could say anything, Ivan teleported outside the bubble.  Unlike Lukas, he really seemed to be fine.  “I think it’s safe,” he said a moment later.

Little by little I let the bubble down, still a little worried, but trusting Kimball and Ivan, who still looked ok.

“I’m opening a path to the room where Ethan is, we need to get there fast, because right now the recorded message is being transmitted from the Palace.  They will be distracted for a few minutes while they watch the video, but once they realize Kaiserin is not going to do as they asked, and that she is going after them, their most likely target will be Ethan.”

“Then we cannot waste more time.  Do you know the way?” Kimball nodded.  “Then we will follow you.”

“I’ll stay here with Lukas, and keep an eye on these monitors,” Mihaela offered.

“Perfect.  Let’s go.”

We started to move forward, the path we were following was very close to the one I was going to use, but Kimball knew exactly what way to go to avoid places with gas or traps.  He had cleaned the most direct route to Ethan, and we were moving fast.  Still, I was keeping a psychic wall around me, just in case something happened.

We arrived at the end of a hallway, and Kimball opened a door, on the other side I could see Ethan.  From the way he was leaning on the chair, I could tell he had been another victim of the gas.  My first instinct had been to run to where he was, but I knew what a bad idea that was.  I used all my self control to keep from moving forward, while I used my mind to explore the room.  Kimball was doing the same in his own way, he was moving around the room, starting at the edge and moving slightly closer to Ethan as he circled it around.  It wasn’t an easy task, since we didn’t know for sure what we were dealing with, and we needed to be careful not to set the bomb off, since it would mean all of our deaths.

“This is much more complicate that it looks like,” Kimball finally said.  “I’m afraid that any movement can activate the bomb, and that would not only obliterate Ethan, it would blow the whole place off.”

“What about the rest of the terrorists?” Ivan asked.

“The bunker where they are hiding must be strong enough to resist the explosion, or they wouldn’t be using it,” I told Ivan, as I watched Kimball and got in contact with his emotions, trying to read by them his real thoughts.  “Do you think you will be able to disarm it?”

“I know I can do it, the first step is to block the wireless receptor, so they can’t activate it from a distance, then I will deal with everything else, but it’s a very difficult task, it will take a lot of precision.”

“Would it help if I go into the fog and keep an eye on the possible futures?  Maybe that way I can warn you if something goes wrong.”

“It may help.  Ivan, stay with us and keep watch over us, the rest of us, keep watch on the doors, even if Kaiserin is taking a look at our futures, we can’t let our guards down, we need to be careful.”

I went into the fog, looking for the right spot to see the different paths clearly, and still give me enough time to be able to warn them in case something went wrong.  As usual, it was hard to keep track of time in the fog, but I trusted Kimball to be moving as fast as it was safely possible.  After what felt like hours, but should have been just a few minutes, I saw in the futures the moment Kimball disarmed the bomb and freed Ethan.

I got out of the fog in time to see Ethan being freed in real time, and I saw how focused Kimball was, and how his body relaxed once the danger was over.  He looked at me, a smile in his lips, before finishing opening the locks holding Ethan to the chair.

“Thanks, you did a great job,” I told Kimball, not knowing how to express how relieved I felt knowing Ethan was safe.

“It was teamwork,” he said.  After getting Ethan out of the chair, he laid him down on the floor, going over him to make sure he didn’t have any injuries.

“You should go with Ethan back to the vehicle, we can deal with the rest of the people responsible for this.”

“I would feel better if we face them together,” Kimball said.

“And I would feel better knowing you are with Ethan, but it’s your choice.”  Kimball thought about it for a moment, and then took Ethan in his arms and signaled Uktam to go with him.

I knew where our enemies were, and with the control room under our command, and the explosives disarmed, I knew that they would be forced to get out to investigate, but if they didn’t, then I would go after them, but one way or another, I would make them pay for what they had done.

 

Chapter 32

The problem with having the message broadcasted to the whole Dominion was that everyone knew what was going on with Ethan, and soon I started to get calls from people who had mostly good intentions, but that were making my efforts to find and rescue him more complicated.  Most I could just ignore or at least have Karl, my assistant, take care of, but when the leaders that had yet to leave Capital City requested a meeting, it was harder to ignore, and I ended up receiving them.

“Thanks for seeing us,” Natasha said.

“Where’s Kimball?” Kgosi asked.  “What are you doing to find Ethan?”

“I’m glad to see you care,” I said, not bothering to hide the sarcasm in my voice.

For a couple of minutes I heard their questions and good wishes, but then a voice started to intrude on the conversation, a mind that seemed to be screaming and that I chose to listen carefully.  I could tell that the person was worried about someone, the image of that person kept showing in his thoughts, it was an image that seemed familiar, and it didn’t take me long to recognize that person, since he was part of an image that would take a long time to disappear from my own mind.

“I hope it all goes well and that you can find your son in good health,” the man whose mind I had been listening said.  I noticed that it was the same president that had started the whole election debacle.

“I’m sure I will find him soon, and when I do, I’ll do my best to get you your advisor back, but I don’t promise he will be in good health.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked nervously, letting me know he knew or suspected something.

“Did you know what he was planning?” I asked, moving menacingly closer to him.  “Were you his accomplice?”

“I think the situation has affected your mind,” he said, but his mind was open and I could see things that only condemned him further.

“You will tell me all you know,” I said as I used my telekinesis form a psychic wall around us, in case someone tried to interfere, and used my telepathy to invade his mind and see what information he had on what was going on.

It didn’t take long to realize that the man, the one who was supposed to represent his country and its people was only a coward that had been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right moment.  He was so worthless that he hadn’t been able to realize he was being used.  The idea of calling for an election wasn’t even his idea, he had let fear blind him to reality, allowing other people to manipulate him and tell him what to do.  He had realized that his advisor has other plans that didn’t include him a while ago, but he had believed he could handle the situation, right until the moment he recognized one of the masked men as his advisor.

Once I got all the information I could out of him, I got out of his mind and let the psychic wall drop.  I hadn’t been careful while invading his mind, and the president fell to the floor in a catatonic state once I was out and my powers were no longer holding him.  I heard the screaming and could feel the fear around me, my actions, which they didn’t understand, had only made them recall their fear of me, and worked on supporting what the man on the ground in front of me had said all along, I was nothing but a savage.

“Guards!” I called, getting the attention of the guards that were working on containing the situation.  “Call William, and let him know that I need a warrant for the president for helping and protecting the terrorists that kidnapped my son.”

“He was working with the kidnappers?” Kgosi asked, his voice equal parts incredulity and anger.

“He knows at least one of them, it’s one of his advisors,” I said as I turned around and went back to my office, while I gave my guards a telepathic command to get those people out of my meeting room, I suspected I would need it for another reason soon enough.

“What have you found?” I asked Fatima when I felt her entering the office behind me, followed by Thalia and a few other of my personal guards.

“I’m afraid nothing good,” she said.

“What you just did in there is going to cause you trouble,” Morgana said, she sounded worried.

“I don’t care, that man had important information that he decided to hide out of fear, well, now I’m going to make sure all his fears become reality.”

“That’s another reason to stay in your good graces,” Razak said, but his joke fell flat.

“Does anyone knows where Kimball is?” I asked, desperate to share with him my findings.  I wasn’t sure how long it had been since the attack on the president, but I knew that my men must have sent a message to him as soon as the attack started, I had been almost expecting him to be in my office when I got there.

“He must be on his way,” Yoweri said, confirming my suspicion.

I let myself drop on my chair and started to go over the information I had found.  Knowing that my enemies had been hiding under the protection of the government of one of the countries under the control of the Dominion had me worried, the fact they had managed to move under the radar and get that kind of resources had me worried.

“What happened?” Kimball asked, entering the room and ignoring everyone but me.

“One of the kidnappers is the advisor of one of the presidents.  I think that he was behind the plan to get me out of the government.  I don’t know if their only goal was to get me out, but I suspect they were planning on ending me once I was out of here.

“I have reason to think they are Merce’s followers,” Fatima said.

“Are you sure?” I asked, my mind going back to the woman that had tried to get rid of me already, and that I had forgotten until that moment.

“Everything points to that,” she answered.

Once the name was mentioned my mind started to go over everything that had happened with her.  There was a thought that was stronger than others.  I dropped back to my chair and concentrated, thinking about the bombs Merce had set in the Palace while trying to get rid of me, no matter who else got hurt.  I extended my senses as far as I could, going through hallways and rooms looking for the same feeling I got from those bombs, and soon my fears got confirmed.

“There are five bombs in the levels under the Palace,” I told them.  “Kimball?  Other than you, who could take care of the bombs?”

“I could go…” he started.

“I want you to stay here,” I interrupted.  “I need you to help me plan Ethan’s rescue mission,” I added, trying to justify my need to keep him close, but the smirk that got over his lips for a second let me know he knew exactly what I was feeling, even if I didn’t say that out loud.

“Besides, those are not the only bombs we have to worry about,” Fatima said, “the attack here is not the only one taking place.  I tried to look at all the possibilities, but I’m pretty sure there are a few I missed.  So far I know that there are going to be several attacks all over the city, all in public places, at different times.  This is all part of a very elaborated plan.”

While Fatima was talking, I noticed that one of the guards went to one of the monitors and turned it on, the screen showing a countdown.

“That’s the time until sundown,” Kimball said, he likely had his own countdown running.

“Do we know where the signal is coming from?” I asked.

“Yes, it was incredibly easy to follow it to the origin, and it matches the information you gave me.”

“Too easy?” I asked.

“That only proves that it is a trap.  But it seems we are not the only ones they are targeting.”

“Why I don’t get is why so much.  If there are bombs under the Palace, someone has to take care of those, by the way, then why take Ethan?  Why give me an ultimatum?  Why don’t use the bombs to blackmail me instead of Ethan?”

“Maybe they want to pin the bombs on you,” Kimball suggested.  “It seems they are as interested in ruining your reputation, than on getting rid of you.”

“This is one of those instances when a good defense is a good offense,” Aziz said from the corner of the room.  I guessed that after my attack on the president he had come here to try and fix my public image, but I wasn’t sure how long he had been listening.  “If you allow me a suggestion, a video explaining what is going on to the general population could allow us to be one step ahead and avoid them lying about you.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Fatima agreed.

“The problem is that our enemies are watching the transmission waiting for my resignation, and any other kind of announcements I make could put Ethan at risk.”

“It doesn’t need to be a live transmission,” Kimball said, “we could record it and get them to transmit it as we arrive to where they are holding him, that way it could double as a distraction tactic.”

“That’s not a bad idea, it may just work,” I said as I looked at Fatima, trying to get a read on her.  Her face betrayed nothing, but the calmness in her emotions was as good as confirmation.

“Perfect!” Aziz said.  “I’ll start working on something.”

“Kimball, do you have something ready for Ethan’s rescue?”

“I’ve already selected the team that’s going with us.  Are you sure you want to go instead of staying?  You know the trap is set for you.”

“That never stopped me before.”

While Aziz was working on getting everything ready to record the message, Kimball and I started to discuss our plan to rescue Ethan, and then we started to plan on how to find and deactivate all the bombs our enemies had planted in the city.  The planning took longer than I felt comfortable with, but Kimball insisted it was important to cover every contingency with our plan, and have a few backup plans just in case.

Once the meeting was done, Kimball went with a few warriors to work on the bombs under the Palace, he wanted to train them, and Fatima, in how to disarm them so they could take care of the rest of the bombs in the city.  I was worried about Ethan, and only felt worse as the minutes ticked by, we were wasting time and I felt guilty about it.

“Everything is ready,” Aziz called, taking me to a room where he had already prepared everything for the recording.  A few camera drones were floating in the air, while a few other cameras were embedded in the walls.

“How are you?” William asked, he had been waiting in the room, along with Dante, when we stepped in.

“As good as I could be under the circumstance.”

“I heard about your little fight,” Dante said, and I prepared for his reprimand.  “Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if he is a president, covering up a crime its a felony and he must be punished.”

“Thanks,” I said, surprised by his support.  “And thanks for agreeing to be part of this video.”

“I guess that our presence will help the criminals think you are following their orders,” William said.

“That’s the plan,” Aziz said, with too much enthusiasm considering the situation.

Once we were all in our places, Aziz gave the order to start, and turned the cameras on.  At first I wanted to stay with a neutral expression, but I decided to try to go for pissed off and resigned, mostly to fool my enemies into thinking I was complying.

“Good afternoon,” I said, talking not only to my enemies, but to the people of the Dominion who would be listening, “I’m sure that by now all of you should have seen the video that was broadcasted this morning.  In that video I was asked to give up the position in which I was confirmed by the leaders of the different countries in the Dominion in exchange for my son’s life.  Some of you may remember this is not the first time my son’s life has been threatened by my enemies, and even if I can’t change the past, I can do my best to try and protect him from harm in the future.  All morning my people and I have been working on a way to stop those terrorists, and we were able to identify a few of them.  I also found out that my enemies are not only threatening Ethan, but other innocents, as we found and deactivated a few explosive devices in the public space under the Palace.  Unfortunately, these people have been working under the protection of some of the leaders that came to the election.  Some of them took advantage of the good will of their employees to hide, other are working with their approval, for the moment we are working on identifying all the people involved.  The other targets of these men are the citizens of Capital City, and as some of you should have already noticed, the public spaces have been closed, and that’s because we have reason to believe that the Palace wasn’t the only place they set bombs in, and right now, my people are going around the city looking for other explosives.  At the same time another group with my best warriors is looking for my son and ready to rescue him.  We are working on finding the rest of the people involved and any government involved.”

“Before anything else, let me assure you that no country will be punished for the actions of their leaders,” William said, as he put his hand on my shoulder, a sign of unity and support, “but we won’t let anyone involved to get away with it, we won’t forgive anyone willing to hurt innocent people in order to promote their own agendas.”

“Those terrorists already proved that, no matter what they pretend, they don’t have our people’s best interest in mind.  No matter what they say, they already proved they are despicable,” Dante said, his disapproval was clear in his voice.  He also put his hand on my other shoulder, an action we haven’t agreed on, but that gesture spoke more than words.

“So you have been warned.  Your plans won’t work, I’m sure that before sunset my men would be able to find and detain everyone involved with the kidnapping.  The best you can do right now is surrender.  If you let my son go and present yourselves to the police, then your punishment won’t be as severe.  To avoid danger, I ask the citizens of Capital City to stay in your homes, I’ll let you know as soon as we have secured the city.  Thanks.”

Aziz smiled and gave us two thumbs up to let us know everything had turned up as planned.  “That was perfect,” he said, “and the best part is that I won’t need to edit anything, and that will make it seem more real.”

“I didn’t know you were considering editing the video,” Dante said, and his voice made it clear he didn’t like the idea.

“Not the content,” Aziz made sure to clarify, “Just the timing and things like that, not the content, but I won’t have to now.”

“Do you need help with anything else?” William asked.

“No, I’ll go with Kimball, he must have the team ready, we will go to where Ethan is being held, and will do everything in our power to come back with him safe and sane.”

“Good luck,” Dante said.

“Be careful,” William asked.

“Thanks.”

I trusted they would be able to take care of what was going on in the city, I had to take care of Ethan and the people who had dared to kidnap him.  I arrived at the basement and headed to the garage, the team was ready and Kimball was waiting for me with the vehicle’s door open, but before I could head in his direction, Konstantinos stepped in my way.

“Can I have a minute?”

“I really don’t have time, can it wait?” I asked, trying not to let him see how much his interruption bothered me.

“I have no task assigned,” he said, and it made me angry that he was holding me for something like that, “in this mission my abilities were not required, but I know you will face many challenges, and if my work and abilities have no use, then I want to offer my energy.” That was not what I was expecting.

“Do you understand what you are offering?”

“I know that some of your most amazing feats were done thanks to your ability of taking other people’s energy.  You have already taken a little bit of mine in a couple of occasions, because of that, if that’s all I can do, that’s what I want to do.  I don’t have any missions, so you can take as much energy as you want.”

“I don’t think you understand what that implies or how it could affect you.”

“I have thought a lot about it, so please, let me help you this way if that’s all I can do.  I don’t care if I end up in the hospital for a few days after this.”

I knew that the challenges waiting for me were big, and he was right, more energy would help me a lot and could allow me to even surpass my limits while minimizing the risks.

“I thank you for your sacrifice,” I said, before putting my hands on his chest and establishing a connection that allowed me to see the energy around him.  I started to pull his energy into me, being careful with how much I pulled.  When I cut the connection Konstantinos could barely stay on his feet, but other than that he seemed fine.

“Good luck,” he said.

I smiled, thanking him for his help, while I moved again to the vehicle, from where my people was watching with curiosity, even if I could feel some impatience in them.  As soon as I got inside the vehicle Kimball closed the door and went around the car to get to his seat, as soon as he closed his door, the vehicle started moving.  Kimball looked at me, but didn’t question me, I knew he understood what had happened, and since he wasn’t commenting about it, he approved, knowing that I was better prepared to face the fight.

“I will go into the astral planes,” I told my people.  “I’ll be making sure that we don’t find any surprises in our way, and as soon as we arrive I will try to explore the place, so wait for me to return to my body before you make any movement.”

“Understood,” Kimball said.  “Be careful.”

“Always.”

Moving in the astral planes was much easier, so I had no problem staying with the car, even ahead of it, making sure there were no ambushes or other surprises waiting for us.  The streets were deserted and for a moment I considered the fact that our enemies could notice that something was going on and warn the kidnappers.  But there were no reasons to worry, we arrived at our destination without trouble.  The vehicle stopped a few blocks from the building, and my astral projection was able to explore freely, since there were no other projections around I was able to identify a few of the traps.  I trusted that with Lukas’ powers we would be able to move closer without being seen, and that Kimball would be able to take care of most of the traps, both mechanical and electronic.  Whatever he couldn’t control, I hoped I would be able to neutralize.  When I went back to my body everyone was ready to move.

“I think I will use one of Fatima’s techniques and will go into the fog to keep an eye on the near future.”

“If that’s the case, you will need someone to transport you,” Uktam said, “I know that I’m not your first choice, but it would be my honor to move you.”

“You are right, you are not my first choice, but that way I can stay in the fog longer and don’t worry about how to move, we will advance faster.”

I let Uktam take me in his arms, and we started moving towards the first obstacle.  I knew that inside the building, Ethan was waiting, and I couldn’t wait to be with him and make sure that he was alright.

Chapter 31

By night time the news about the leaders choosing me as the Prime Minister had already spread all around the Dominion.  Not everyone was happy about the news, as expected, but to my great surprise, most people had reacted in a positive way to the news.  In many places, people were celebrating my win, and the different networks were reporting the news in a positive way.  People weren’t just accepting me, they were happy about me being their Prime Minister.

“It feels good to know that people love you and respect you, doesn’t it?” Kimball asked, and once again I had to wonder if he couldn’t read my mind.

“I wasn’t expecting such a positive response from them,” I said.  We had just arrived to my office and were getting ready to start the day, but at the same time I was a little distracted by what had happened the day before.  I had so many projects that I wanted to make reality, projects that I thought I wasn’t going to be able to work with, but that once again were in my hands, and it felt so good.

“You have done a good job and people love you.  It’s the consequence of your actions.  As long as you keep working for them, the people will keep supporting you.  You can feel proud of everything you have achieved so far, and take the results of the elections as a validation of your good work,” I couldn’t help but smile at his words, grateful for having someone like him by my side.

The situation couldn’t be better, but suddenly I was hit by a bad feeling, the sensation so powerful that it was making me physically ill.  I haven’t felt like that in a long time, and for a moment I expected an assassin to jump from the shadows and attack me, or maybe for the building to fall around me, but nothing was happening, which could only mean that the danger wasn’t there yet, but it was rapidly approaching.

“Something very bad is going to happen,” I told Kimball, but as always he could read me like an open book, and he was already moving closer to me to see what was going on with me.

“A vision?” he asked, but I could tell he already knew that wasn’t the case.

“Just a bad feeling, but a strong one.  Something very bad is going to happen, or is already going on.”

Kimball went to work immediately.  I wasn’t sure what he was doing, but I knew he was working on reinforcing the security and covering all the different possibilities.

I wasn’t sure what to do, I could go into the fog, but I didn’t want to be in a vulnerable position in case something happened, the bad feeling was too strong and was distracting me, making it hard to know how to act.  But even if going into the fog was too risky, I still had other options that would allow me to act, while still being aware of my environment, and one of them was astral projection, so I went to my seat and prepared to step into the astral planes.  At first I stayed in the material plane, staying close while I looked for possible threats in the area around me.  I usually asked for sentries to be posted in the astral planes, so once I made sure nothing was going on in the material plane, I moved down to talk to the sentry on the inferior plane, and then moved to do the same with the one in the superior planes.  I went back to my body just a few minutes after I had left it and I found Kimball waiting for me.

“Everything ok?” I asked, the bad feeling as strong as before.

“I tried to get in contact with all our guards to let them know they needed to be extra alert, to let them know there could be danger.”

“And what’s the problem?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to hear the answer.

“I couldn’t get in contact with the warriors that took Ethan to school this morning,” he said, before going silent, I knew there was more he wasn’t saying, and I didn’t want to listen, but he kept going, “the school doesn’t have any records of Ethan arriving this morning.”

“Maybe they’re still on their way,” I said, denying reality.

“He should have been there half an hour ago.  When I talked to my people, they informed me that once they lost communication a new group was sent to look for them, but so far they haven’t found anything.”  I felt sick, Ethan was in danger, again, and I had done nothing to stop it, I haven’t even seen it coming.  I had failed him again.  “Kaiserin, don’t worry, everything is going to be ok, I’m sure we will find him.”

I trusted Kimball, he knew what he was doing, and he had control over our resources and my people, I knew he had already contacted them, still I extended my mind to talk to Fatima, when I didn’t find her, I looked for Thalia.

Thalia?  Are you with Fatima?‘ I asked once the contact was established.

I’m with her,‘ she confirmed, ‘right now she is in the fog trying to reconstruct what happened to Ethan and his guards.  As soon as she gets out I will talk to you and give our report.

Thanks Thalia, keep me updated.

I felt like I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure what, I couldn’t go to the fog, to look to the possibilities and explore the future Fatima was enough.  It was tempting to loot to the future, but I knew that at the moment it was also a risk, I was too distracted with the bad feeling getting all my attention.

“You need to see this,” Ivan appeared in the middle of the room, he turned one of the monitors on and we found the blurred images of a group of people in the screen.

“… fooled us for too long.  But the image she pretends to sell is just an illusion…” one of the masked men was saying.

“What is this?” I asked, the bad feeling getting worse, if that was even possible, as I watched the screen.

“It’s a broadcasting that started a few minutes ago,” Ivan said, “we think this could be related to Ethan’s disappearance.”

“… she has made us think she is a benign leader, that she worries about us, and she is even willing to sacrifice herself for us.  She even made us think she was willing to leave her position as leader of the Dominion, but then she used her powers to force the leaders to vote for her.”  Something in the way he was talking made me believe he could have been behind the whole election thing.  “But once again we have the chance to show you that that woman is only interested in herself.”

“Have you tried to trace the transmission?” Kimball asked.

“We have people working on that, but you know that Fatima is one of our best tecnopaths and she is already working on Ethan’s possible kidnapping.  We have other people working on that, but so far we haven’t been able to trace it.”

“I think that Fatima will arrive at the same place no matter what route she takes, I think that those people are behind what happened to Ethan.  We need to find them as soon as possible,” and that would be possible even faster with my help, I was positive I could find Ehtan, and as soon as I had a better idea of what we were dealing with, I was going to go to the astral planes or go into the fog to find him.

“… has an option.  She has until sunset to give up her position as Prime Minister and allow us to elect someone else, if she doesn’t,” the image changed and I could see Ethan there, tied up to a chair, “we will be forced to take an innocent’s life.”

“If you can call someone who shares that murder’s blood an innocent,” said another one of the masked men.

“Do you want to say something to your mother?” one of the men asked.

“Yes,” Ethan said, his voice strong and with no trace of fear, “when you find them, show them no merc…” he couldn’t finish his sentence, and I could see his body tense and his jaw locked and I could tell he was in pain and trying to mask it.  His eyes full of hate and he glared at the masked men was very telling, he wasn’t like that.  Something very bad was going on there.

“We will be monitoring the networks, waiting for your official resignation.  If we don’t see it, then young Ethan will die,” after that, the screen went blank for a moment and then started again.

“That’s a repetition of the message, I already watched that part,” Ivan said.  “It seems we were right, they have Ethan.  We will focus all our efforts in finding him as soon as possible.”

“I would tell you to focus all our efforts to find him, but now that I know what’s going on, I think I will be able to find him easily, but something else doesn’t fit, I got the impression they are trying to distract us.  No matter how much they want to underestimate me, and no matter how much I tried to pretend I don’t care about Ethan, they must know that as soon as I get that message I will go looking for them,” the way I was feeling was telling me that I was missing something, that I needed to step back and get a good reading of the situation.

“I think the same.  There’s something that doesn’t feel right about this,” Kimball agreed.  “I think they want to distract us, keep us looking for Ethan while they do something else.  Instead of focusing on Ethan, I want you to increase the security around the Palace.  Close the place up and start a deep sweep of the place.  It wouldn’t be a bad idea to look at the Towers and the school.  Can you find for Ethan?”

“It’s easier to see the past in the fog, the path is already set, the problem with the future is that there are multiple paths and possibilities.  If you give me a few minutes I can go back and see what happened this morning.  Meanwhile, I want you to find Fatima and tell her to look to the future and what these people could be planning, it would be a waste of time if we are both looking at the same thing.”

“It seems like a good idea.  I’ll start working on assembling a group to go looking for Ethan,” Kimball said.  “I trust you will be able to keep the buildings secure.”

“Leave that to me,” Ivan said.  “Anything you need, you know you only need to call.”

“I need to leave for a minute,” Kimball said, “Yoweri, keep Kaiserin safe while she is in the fog.”

“You can trust me,” Yoweri said from the corner where he had been all along, even if I had forgotten for a minute.

Going into the fog was always an interesting experience, time ceased to have meaning, no matter how much I knew that I needed to be fast.  Finding Ethan’s path was easy, his life was entwined with mine.  I could see a few other paths crisscrossing mine and trying to get my attention, but I focussed on Ethan’s, and found Fatima walking that path.

Kaiserin,‘ I could tell she was worried about something, ‘Thalia talked to me and let me know that you wanted me to see forward.

I think that our enemy is planning something big, and I want to know what.

Be careful with what you find, don’t let your emotion get the better of you,‘ she warned before walking forward in the fog.

I started to move, I decided I needed to see everything that had happened so I could have a better idea of what was going on.  I walked to the moment they had been ambushed and watched as my men tried to defend Ethan, but had failed.  I even saw Ethan trying to fight back, but they had used something that had put them out of combat.  I watched as they executed my men, but I couldn’t stop and mourn them, I would give them the farewell they deserved once I made sure Ethan was safe.  I watched as they took Ethan away.

Just as I had expected, they took him to a warehouse at the fringe of the city, since they didn’t have time to take him farther away.  While I moved in his timeline I realized they it was a trap, and that the people that had taken him didn’t care who was hurt, as long as they could hurt me too.  I could see that Ethan was in trouble, I could see they were hurting him, even as he did his best to stay strong.  The last thing I saw was him, still tied to the same chair, apparently unable to move, but I could see something else was going on, his stare too intense.

After that moment in time his path started to branch off into multiple paths, so I knew that at least in the present, he was still safe, all I need to do was get to him, while avoiding all the traps they had set for me.  It wasn’t an easy task, but I had to find a way to reach him.  Once again, Ethan had ended in a difficult situation because of me, and I needed to right that wrong, no matter what I had to do, I would save him.

Chapter 30

For a couple of days the leaders of the Dominion had been arriving to Capital City.  I didn’t try to hide the fact that they were trying to replace me, but neither had I made it public, but the arrivals had gotten the attention of the people, and those curious had decided to investigate why they were there, and it didn’t take long for them to find out the reason for their visit.

“Kaiserin!  It’s a pleasure to see you again,” Natasha greeted me.  The young woman had grown a lot since the first time I had seen her, and she had become a great leader for her people.  Like many others, she was taking advantage of the office space below the Palace, using it to stay up to day with her work.

“The pleasure it’s all mine,” I said, accepting her hug.  “How have you been?”

“I’m great, how are you?  Ready for today’s meeting?”

“As ready as I could be,” I said, trying to sound upbeat.

“Don’t worry about anything,” she said with a smile, “this is how things were supposed to be, this will help to confirm your position in history.”

“Thanks,” I said, not really sure what she was talking about, but I respected her too much to try to pick her mind, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask for clarification out loud.

“I will be meeting some other leaders for lunch, if you see Kgosi, could you remind him that his attendance it’s not optional?”

“Kgosi doesn’t respond well to threats,” I said.

“I will take care of him, just pass along my message if you see him.”

“I will,” I said, a little curious about the reason for their meeting, but again unwilling to ask about it.

I couldn’t get out of my mind my encounter with Natasha for the rest of the day, and beside that, I couldn’t help but think about what was about to happen, even if I had promised myself not to think about it, I was sad knowing a chapter of my life was about to end.

Because of the number of people involved, we had to ask for one of the Congress’ rooms to fit everyone in.  It was weird to see them in that room.  Despite my expectations, most leaders had decided to assist in person to the vote, instead of just sending their Ambassadors to represent them.

“Greetings,” I said, starting the meeting.  “First of all, I want to thank you taking time out of your busy schedules to be here, and to thank those that are here in representation of your leaders.  Today is a very important day, that’s why President Dante and King William are joining us.”

“Good evening,” Dante said.

“Welcome everyone,” William said, happily.  “Today is certainly a very important day, a historically relevant, and you all get to be part of it.  I know that for some of you the whole process must seem a little rushed, but I trust that you all had enough time to go over your options and chose the right candidate.”

“We will be using the Congress’ voting system,” Dante said.  “It’s the easiest, quickest way to do it, besides, this way you can choose if you want to keep your vote anonymous.”

“Before we start, could the candidates step forward and take your place beside Kaiserin?” William asked.

One by one the candidates took their places around me.  I tried not to feel angry at them for trying to take my place, I kept reminding myself that it was inevitable, and that it was always part of the plan to leave my position at the front of the Dominion.

“Does any of you want to say a few words before we start this?” Dante asked, and all the candidates took the chance to give one last speech, one in which they talked a lot, but said nothing.

“Do you want to add anything?” William asked me.

“I think that all the important things have been already said.  I just hope that whomever gets elected, keeps working to rebuild the Dominion, we have achieved a lot, but there’s still a lot to be done, we can’t get complacent and start thinking we are done.  I trust you and believe you will make the right choice, and I also trust that no matter what happens today, you all will keep working for the good of the Dominion and your own countries.”

“Thank you,” William said.  “Now that all the candidates had their chance to speak, we will proceed with the election.  On the screen in front of you, you will see the names of the candidates…”

“This is wrong,” one of the Presidents said, the one that had started the whole thing, if I wasn’t mistaken, “we only have five candidates, Kaiserin isn’t supposed to be here.”

His words surprised me, but I did my best to seem unaffected.

“According to the old rules, the Prime Minister is a candidate in every election, unless he or she is already on their third consecutive term or fifth non-consecutive term,” Dante explained.

“We were never informed about that,” the same President complained.

“If you don’t know the game rules, that’s not their fault,” Kgosi said.  “You were the one who suggested this in the first place, one would expect you to at least know the rules beforehand.”

“I agree with King Kgosi,” Natasha said, and I finally understood her cryptic words that morning, “most of us knew about the rule, it’s kind of illogical that the one who suggested this, by using the old rules, it’s the only one who doesn’t know about this particular rule.”

“I think he knew about it, it’s just that he wants to pretend he didn’t to dismiss Kaiserin’s place in this election,” William said.  “But finding the truth is as easy as me asking him about it.  Or we could just continue with the process.”

“I don’t remember reading about this rule in my studies, but it’s clear you all agree with it, so I don’t see the point in trying to fight all of you, we can just keep going,” he agreed.

The situation was kind of weird, and I realized that I had made a mistake in the fog, I had assumed that all the futures where I remained as the Prime Minister were those where the election never took place, but there was another scenario I hadn’t taken into account, and more options for me.

“Ok, if no one else has any objection, we’ll continue with the process,” William said, taking control of the situation once again.  “As I was trying to explain, in front of you, you will find a screen with the names of the candidates.  The vote is very easy, all you have to do is choose the name of the candidate you want to represent you for the next three years.”

“It’s important to point out that when you vote, you can choose if you want an open or closed vote,” Dante added.  “If you choose an open vote, that doesn’t mean your vote will automatically show, not unless everyone makes the same choice, it only means that in case someone challenges the results, your names will show to support the results.”

“If no one has any questions, then we will move forward to the vote,” William said, and when no one asked anything, the screen behind us turned on, showing our names.

I started to hear electronic noises, and after each one the numbers beside our names on the screen started to change.  At first the numbers next to the other candidates’ names were the ones changing, but soon the numbers next to mine started increasing at a fast pace, and soon it became clear that I had the advantage, and soon the advantage was so great that it became clear no one would be able to defeat me.  I looked at the screen not really believing what I was seeing, I couldn’t believe that so many people were voting for me, not after they had all chosen to call for the election, something that I had interpreted as a move to get rid of me.

“Some of you still need to vote,” Dante’s voice broke the silence.  “Let me remind you that you need to vote, you need to choose any of the candidates, but you need to vote for someone,” after his reminder a few more votes were cast and soon the process was over.

“I think we have a clear winner,” William said, and I could see that I had gotten over 60% of the votes.

“That can’t be true,” the same President that had been protesting raised his voice once again.  “I demand to open the votes, I can’t believe that so many people voted for her when she wasn’t even an option before the process started.”

“I think we have already established that she was considered an option from the beginning by many, even if you didn’t,” Dante reminded him, “but as I said before, I will show the open votes of everyone who voted for Kaiserin, since you challenged the results.”

Almost everyone in the room turned to the big screen as the list of those who had voted for me started to show.  Only five of the names remained hidden, the rest were open for everyone to see, and since no one in the list was protesting their name appearing on the list, it was clear that they had in fact, voted for me.

“Do we have any other questions?” William asked.  “Someone else has a problem?  No?  Then allow me to be the first to congratulate Kaiserin for her victory.”  William moved closer to me and hugged me, a familiar gesture that for a moment I couldn’t decide if I wanted to return or not.

“Thank you,” I said, “I hope that after this we can get together for a chat, now that I know I will stay in my position.”

“Of course, there is a lot to discuss, but it’s good to know that I will be working with you for a few years longer.”

“I guess I should congratulate you,” Dante said, not looking very happy at the prospect, “it’s good to know that your position has been legitimated.  I feel better knowing you are the Prime Minister because the people want you in that position, and not because you killed the previous one.  Of course, I’m assuming they actually want you there, and not that you brainwashed them into electing you.”

“It’s good to know I have your support,” I told Dante.  But his words made sense, maybe I had been looking at the situation from the wrong angle, maybe it wasn’t about getting rid of me, maybe it was about making my position a legal one.  I would no longer be the usurper that had killed Faakhir and Emily and taken over the Dominion, I was now the elected Prime Minister, chosen by the leaders of the Dominion.  It was a huge difference.  I could see William’s smile, and I knew he guessed where my mind had gone.  “And I want to thank everyone who voted for me and trusted me to keep working with you for the good of the Dominion.”

“We didn’t have another choice but to recognize the good work you have been doing as the Prime Minister,” Kgosi said, and it was plain to see it wasn’t easy for him to say that.  Still, I felt like he had voted for me, not because of my good work, but because he feared I would go after his position, or maybe not me, but Kimball.  “But let me remind you this will be your second term, you only will have one more chance to be elected for the position, at least immediately.”

“We prepared a banquet to celebrate the winner of the election, and you are all invited,” William said.  “Once there you will have the chance to speak to her and offer your congratulations.  Please, come with me,” William said, offering his arm, but I didn’t accept, because Kimball had moved from the back of the room, where he had been working security, and was coming to me.

“Congratulations,” he said as soon as he came close to me, hugging me and kissing me, not even caring that we were in front of the leaders of the Dominion.

“Did you know about this?” I asked, curious about his answer, even if I believed he didn’t know, because he wouldn’t have made me suffer thinking I was being dismissed if he had known.

“I had no idea about that rule, but I have to admit it was a master move from those who support you.  If they had ignored the petition to call for an election, your position would have been questioned again, but this way your opponents can’t keep attacking the legality of your position.”

“That’s true, still I would have liked to know what was going on,” I complained, but the truth was that it had been my fault for not thinking about all the alternatives.  I had seen the future, seen what could happen, but I had neglected to see the paths that would have taken me there, that had been a mistake, one that I had to remember not to make again.”

We went to the hall where the banquet was going to take place, we were the first ones in there, but soon the others followed us in, most of them coming directly at me to offer their congratulations.  Those who had been refugees in Aquarium were among the first one in there, all of them offering their support and telling me they had always been on my side.  Natasha was with them.

“I guess that the lunch meeting you mentioned had something to do with my win,” I said.

“Of course not, you had everything to do with your win, that meeting was only to remind a few Presidents and Royalty about the rules that someone conveniently forgot to mention.  It was mostly to make sure I would have support in case we needed to insist for your name to be included with the other candidates, but not because you needed my help to get you votes.  The votes were divided between all the candidates, and I was sure that all you needed was about thirty percent of the votes, with the refugees from Aquarium you almost had enough votes for that.”

“Still, I’m grateful for your help.”

“I didn’t do anything, really.  I think that as soon as they realized you were an option, many changed their minds and decided to vote for you.  Even if some don’t like the what you did to get to power, no one can deny you did a great job once there.  Besides, we owe you big time just for the fact that you freed us from Emily and Faakhir, not to mention how you saved the lives of many of us.”

“I was just doing what was best for me and my people, the rest were just the consequence of that.”

“It doesn’t matter why you did it,” another of the refugees said, “what matters is that you did it.  You have been a great leader, and we want you to keep being one for us.”

“I think that one of the reasons that motivated so many to vote for you, was your willingness to leave your position.  If you had denied us the chance, or showed at any point in the process that you were going to stop us, maybe the outcome had been different,” said one of the Queens that had approached me to congratulate me.

“I think that trying to stop you if you had already decided you didn’t want me anymore, would have only caused new uprisings and unnecessary fighting.”

“And that’s why so many people decided to vote for you, not everyone would put other’s wellbeing over hers.”

More people came forward to congratulate me, even some that I knew hadn’t voted for me, and from what they were saying, I could tell that my decision not to stop the election had been the right one, the doubts they still had about me and my government had evaporated when I had accepted to leave my position and let them choose someone else.

Chapter 29

We had already had a couple of meetings, which had allowed us to get to work on new and different problems around the Dominion.  It was easy to see that Emily and Faakhir had managed to rule the Dominion without these meetings, only because she didn’t care about the people in the Dominion.  With such a vast population, with so many different needs, it was impossible for a single person to take care of everything, you needed to delegate and even if I had done my best, and I had managed to fulfill the basic needs of the population, I had realized that every region and every country had different needs that I had dismissed.  Thanks to the meetings we had managed to identify some problems that I didn’t realize existed, also, we had better communication, and with that, and the ability to delegate, we had managed to attack those problems.

At the beginning, it was hard to give up control, but soon I realized that it was not only a good idea, but a necessity.  Only time would say if I had done the right thing, but at the moment it looked that way.  My work was to set goals, and organize the resources the Dominion had in order to allow them to meet those goals.  I also had to make sure they were doing the job they were supposed to do.  I couldn’t help but think that some of them were going to take advantage of the situation for their own benefit.

Kimball had been with me in some of the meetings, but he stayed out of the way, so the others wouldn’t be able to see him.  So far I haven’t had a reason to worry.  Of course, everyone was after what was best for their countries, and themselves, but most were willing to work with the others to make it possible, very few still held to the idea that one had to suffer so others could get on top.

“As always, I thank you for being at this meeting,” I greeted the leaders once all the virtual projections were in place.  “During our meeting we will address the plans we were discussing the last meeting to see what you think about them.  I think you and your people had enough time to go over them and find anything that you think requires more work.”

We spent the next couple of hours going over the plans and fine tuning them, as we had planned.  Even if there were a few disagreements, we were able to fix them without much trouble.

“I think that’s everything we needed to go over.  Is there anything else you would wish to discuss?”

“If you allow me, I would like to put an important issue on the table.  We are approaching President Dante’s midterm.  I don’t know if you realize it, but this is usually the time when we choose a new Prime Minister,” one of the presidents said.  A wave of danger surrounded me, and I realized I needed to be very careful with how I proceeded.

“I don’t remember anything about agreeing to have Prime Minister elections, that’s something I decided to leave until later.”

“During the last meetings you talked about how you want to return to how things used to be, restore the status quo, and this is part of it, for our political system is very important to be able to alternate our rulers,” another leader said.  The new speaker was from a different region, and that only left a couple of possibilities, either people agreed it was time to get rid of me, or a few had gotten together and decided to move me out of the way so they could follow their own interests.

“So, you are trying to tell me you are already tired of me and want me gone?” I said, trying for a joking tone, but being totally sincere in my question.

A few leaders started to agree with me, while others denied that was true, but no matter what they thought, it was clear that the seed had been planted, and more people would start thinking about it.

Once the situation calmed down a little bit, another leader spoke up.  “I think it’s important for the Dominion’s progress to decide if we are going to honor old customs or if we are going to keep working under this tyranny…”

“Are you calling my rule a tyranny?  I suppose that depends on what your definition of tyranny is.  Anyway, I promised that I was working toward moving things to how they used to be, but I also said that I wouldn’t move forward until I had solved the Dominion’s main problems.  So, I guess it’s valid to ask, do you think we have already reached that point?  Has the Dominion already reached its equilibrium?  I believe those are questions we have to ask before making a decision, and that is something we all have to work together to do.  Right now I don’t think there’s enough time to discuss something like this, so I propose that we move this issue for the next meeting, once we all had the chance to think about it, so we are all on the same wavelength.”

“And how can we be sure that you’re not staling to avoid discussing this?” asked the President that had first raised the issue.

“For the simple reason that I don’t need to do that, if I really wanted to stop this, I could just veto it, I don’t need to play games or hide what I want to do.  I will put this issue in the list of subject for our next meeting.”

Once the meeting ended, Kimball moved from the corner where he hid from the cameras.  I was still thinking about what had happened.  My first thought had been that there was no way I could allow something like that to happen, but then I had realized that my time had passed, my goals had been reached, and maybe it was time for me to leave my place in the Dominion and allow others to continue my work.  Maybe it was time for me to go back to Aquarium, or even to the Empire and reclaim my place as head of my Clan, or maybe to become my brother’s right hand.

“Did you suspect that was going to happen?” Kimball asked, worried about me.

“To be truthful, no, I didn’t, but even if I had a bad feeling about it at the beginning, I’m starting to think it may not be a bad idea.  Maybe my part in this is over, and it’s time for me to move on.  Of course we need to think about the consequences in case my successor is not the right person.  Maybe we will need to get William involved so he can interview the candidates, that way we can make sure that whomever they choose won’t damage the Dominion’s progress.”

“You are taking this much better than I expected.  I know how much this means to you, and how much you had to sacrifice to reach this moment, I don’t think it’s fair that they get to decide that you can’t be here anymore.”

“I’m not sure what to think yet, I may change my mind tomorrow, but for now, all I can do is think about my options.”

“Maybe going into the fog would help you make a decision.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

The fog didn’t help much to clear my future, there were many versions of the future where I remained as head of the Dominion, some where I was forced to leave, and a few in which we were unable to control the outcome and the person they put in my place ended up being a bad election, one that undid all the work I had done and drove the Dominion back to its worst version.

By the time the new meeting arrived, I had no idea what was going to happen, but what I was sure of, was that I needed to accept their decision, even if I didn’t like it.

“Greetings.  As I promised during our last meeting, today our first order of the day will be discussing the possibility of having an election for Prime Minister.  I think that it would be best if the people that suggested it in the first place defend it, and whomever wants can add if they are in favor or against the idea before voting on it.  Just let me remind you that in case you end up in a tie, I will be the one deciding what is going to happen.”

For a while, many leaders moved forward to give their opinion, and soon I realized that most were in favor of getting rid of me.  I didn’t need to wait to know what way the vote would go.  When the time arrived, it wasn’t a surprise to see that they had decided to vote whether they would have a new election or not.  I couldn’t help but feel bad about it, that decision meant that they were going to decide if I was going to go, and end a time of my life that had cost me a lot, and it wasn’t because I wanted it to end, but because other people wanted me to go.

“As I promised, I will respect your vote and any decision you choose to make.  I asked my people to adapt the system so you could have an anonymous vote, because, as I understand, that could encourage people to really go with the decision they want and not fear for repercussions, of course, there is also the option of an open vote, in case you don’t trust the system.”

“How can we be sure that you won’t use your tecnopaths to see how we voted, even with the system?”  one of the Queens asked.

“That’s a matter of trust, you can either believe me or not.  There is not much I could do or say if you don’t trust me or my people.”

“I think an open vote it’s better,” someone else suggested.  “It’s as easy as to have those in favor of electing a new Prime Minister raising their hands, those against it don’t have to do anything.”

“That’s a good suggestion, if everyone agrees…” before I finished talking, many leaders started raising their hands, more than I originally expected.  It wasn’t even necessary to count them to realize that they were the majority, but still I did it, for protocol.  One by one I called the names of those in favor, while Kimball helped, making the count appear next to my virtual image on their side.  At the end more than 80% of the leaders voted in favor, leaving no doubt about their decision.

“Now what?” an impatient voice asked.

“Now, you have to choose the candidates.  Just a warning before you move on to that.  Even if I believe that the time for Emily’s and Faakhir’s ideals are behind us, William asked, and I agree, to interview the candidates you choose, so he can make sure there is no relationship with his aunt and uncle, or any other problematic ideology that could represent a danger to the Dominion.”

“And how can we be sure that you won’t use that as an excuse to try and control the candidates, or to remove those who could be problematic to your way of thinking.”

“Again, that is a trust issue.  If you believe that William doesn’t have the Dominion’s best interest at heart, or like many conspiracy theorists you believe that he is under some sort of mind control or some bullshit like that, then there is not much that I can do to change your minds.  You have to trust in your King, if you don’t, then what can I do?”

“That really sounds great, but there is not much that can assure us that we can really trust you, or the King.  Still, we don’t really have a choice, and the only thing we can do is to give you the benefit of the doubt and go ahead with the election,” one of the Presidents said.  “I think that the next step is to choose possible candidates and work on getting them approved, that way they can start working on a proposal for their government, and give us a chance to get to know then and study who could be the better choice.”

As they started talking about it, I decided to stay quiet, just watching them talk, and in some cases fight over how to proceed.  The process was way more chaotic than I expected, but there was not much I could do, any intervention on my part would be interpreted as a try to control them or the proceedings.

I couldn’t help but look at Kimball once in a while, he was also watching the discussion.  I was still not sure how to feel about everything.  It hurt to see how easily they discarded me after everything I had done for them, but at the same time I knew that it was a part of my life that sooner or later had to end, but that wasn’t exactly how I expected to leave, without it being my decision.  I knew that I could fight them and stay in power, but that would only hurt me and my credibility, and the Dominion.

William arrived after a while, and I guessed that Kimball had sent him a message.  We had already talked about the possibility having new elections and he was most likely there to set the game rules, the same way he had done so for the Congress when they elected their President.  When I saw him there, I decided to interrupt the leaders.

“I think that is enough time to discuss your options, but before you move forward, William wants to talk to you.”

“Greetings, leaders of the Dominion,” William said, taking my place so the rest of the leaders could see him.  “I have been told that you have decided it’s time to elect a new Prime Minister.  I have to admit the decision surprises me, since Kaiserin has been doing such a good job so far, but I have to admit this is a necessary step if we want to keep moving forward.  Still, there are a few concerns that we have to address and that come from the time my sister used to rule the Dominion, and because of that, I would like to interview the candidates you have chosen,” there were a few complaints and for a moment William was unable to continue talking.

“Silence!” Kgosi demanded in a voice so full of authority, causing a deep silence to fall.  “Allow me to remind all of you protesting, that the King or Queen of the Dominion, in their capacity of Supreme Judge used to interview and had the final say in who could become President or Prime Minister.  What William is asking for right now is not that different to what used to happen, and after all we have been through, I don’t see any problem in making sure that our candidates haven’t been corrupted by the old regime.”

“That’s right,” William agreed, “the fact that I’m interviewing the candidates and not the person elected is just a way to save one step, that way we can take out of the race those that doesn’t deserve to be there.  You know the kind of power my family has, we can force people to talk only the truth in our presence, because of that you shouldn’t be so surprised that I am the right person to interview the candidates.  Besides, you didn’t let me finish, I won’t be the only one there, President Dante will be with me, to make sure that the right questions are being asked and that the candidates are giving the right answers.  This is all for the good of the Dominion.”

“Then, what’s next?”

“I suppose you already have your candidates chosen?  Or at least you have an idea of who you want?  The first step is to nominate your candidate, and if that person agrees, then we ask who else supports him or her, that person has to have at least another three persons supporting their candidacy, only then will that person be accepted as a candidate.  Any questions?”

No one questioned William, so they proceeded to nominate their candidates.  Some didn’t have the support they required and William didn’t take into account those who nominated themselves, even so the process was quick.  Part of me expected my name to be called, but soon it was clear no one was going to nominate me, and I did my best to hide my disappointment, I convinced myself that it was time to turn the page and start a new chapter in my life.  At the end there were five candidates, three of which came from the same region and represented countries that were both stable and prosperous.

“How are you feeling?” Kimball asked me, while William was going over the next steps with the leaders.

“I’m still not sure,” I said, sincerely.  “I’m sure that once I have to step down, this whole business will finally register, but for the moment it doesn’t feel real.  But this is a good thing, right?  We have options, this is not the end, but a new beginning.”

“That’s right,” Kimball said, but I could see he had his doubts, or at least I thought he did, maybe I was just projecting myself.

“I think that’s the best option,” William was saying, “Capital City is prepared to host all the leaders, we already have the accommodations and the security needed in place, and I think that it’s best to vote in person.  If one of you cannot make it for any reason, you can always send your Ambassador in your place,” William waited for someone to protest, when no one did, he ended his part of the meeting, and gave me back my place.

“Since we solved that issue, can we move on with our schedule?  Or do you prefer if we postpone the rest of the issues until after the vote?  I guess you still have a lot to think about or discuss, and some of you need to prepare if you are going to travel to Capital City or make arrangements with your Ambassadors if you aren’t.”

“I think it would be a good idea to postpone until after the election, there’s nothing urgent in the schedule anyway,” one of the Presidents said, and her words were followed with a series of agreements.

“Ok.  I guess most of you will be staying in the Towers during your visits, but if one of you need help arranging something different, please let me know so I can help you.  I still have a lot of work to do, so I will try to make the most of the time I still have, but you can stay connected if you want to discuss something further.”

I walked out of the room, feeling weird by leaving them there, but there was still a lot of work to do before my time ran out.  I knew that some of my plans and proposals would be left on the side, still, I felt like I needed to make sure they were ready in case my successor decided to keep working on them.  The situation was different than when Dante had been elected, and it would be harder for me to move forward.

Once we left the room, Kimball put his arm around my shoulders, giving me a one armed hug, offering me his support.  I haven’t realized how much I needed his support until he gave it to me, as always, Kimball knew exactly what I needed, and once again I had to be thankful that I had him by my side.

Chapter 28

For the first time since I had gotten control of the Dominion we were having a reunion with all the World Leaders, it was something the old Dominion used to do, the Prime Minister was mostly a mediator between the different leaders in the early days, making sure they were all in agreement.  Some activities, programs and actions were decreed by the Prime Minister, but most countries still had the freedom to adapt or modify them as long as they managed the get the same results.  Reunions like the one I was planning were something usual, and now that we had achieved a new level of stability, I believed it was time to start having them again.

The meeting room I was going to be using was not the original one, I had been told that Emily had modified the original one so it would only transmit her orders, but not allow others to talk back to her.  The best tecnopaths in my team, and other tech experts, like Kimball, had worked on getting a new room ready for the meeting.  When the first leaders started to appear, I had to appreciate their work, the holograms were so good that it was almost as if they were in the room with me.

One by one they started to blink to life, until the room had more than a hundred representations ready.  In just a few seconds the place that had been empty was full.  For a moment I worried about the complications of having so many people together for a conversation, but it was a little late to worry about that kind of thing.

“Good morning,” I knew that my voice was reaching them all through the system, each one of them was hearing me in their native language, the same way I was going to hear them in the language I was more familiar with.  “I’m grateful that you all accepted to be part of this meeting.  As I understand it, meetings like this were an usual happening before Emily’s time, and since I’m doing my best to take things as close as I can to the old status quo, I think this kind of collaboration is a good step to take.  I have worked very hard to do what’s best for everyone, but I know that I haven’t always been successful, but I think with your help and your feedback, we can do a better job.  Even if most of you know each other, and I have your basic information, I think it would be a good idea to use this first meeting to introduce all of you to each other.  It would be also a good exercise to talk about the biggest challenges your countries face.  If you all agree, we can use this exercise to try and identify the main problems that affect the most countries so we can start working on that.  Like I said, I have tried my best to face the problems you all are facing, but I know you may have some problems that maybe I don’t see or consider as such.”

“Are you really going to treat this meeting as a kindergarten’s first class?” Kgosi said, his manners derogatory.  “I don’t know how things work in the place you come from…”

“In the place I come from, you would be already dead for daring to speak to me like that,” I interrupted him.  I knew that Kgosi still had issues with me, but I never imagined he would confront me like that in front of everyone.  “You are lucky we are not in the Empire, in fact, you are lucky I’m not in Mzansi, because attitude like that also demands retribution in your culture, and you know exactly how a confrontation between us would end.”

“Is this how you choose to lead these meetings?  With intimidation and threats?” Kgosi said, but I knew many people would be sharing his way of thinking, but with the virtual meeting I had no way of knowing what they were thinking or feeling, I can only go on based on their expressions, and that wasn’t enough at the moment.

“You know how nice and cordial I can be, you are the one who insists on antagonizing me.  Do we need to take this up to Zola?  Do you need your aunt to teach you some diplomacy?  I know she has a lot of experience with that, she helped me a lot.  Now, are you going to keep wasting everyone’s time?  Or can we go on with our meeting?  Does someone else has something to say about the exercise I proposed?  I can take any critic, good or bad, as long as it’s done in a respectful way.”

“In fact,” Natasha said, she was one of my first Aquarium’s refugees, one that had gone out to assume a leadership position in her country, and was doing a good job despite her youth, “I think it was a good idea.  Some of us do know each other very well, and have already built good relationships, but I know most of the others from information I read in a dossier, and a few photos.  Also, if we are going to be working together, it makes sense to track the biggest problems across the Dominion.  If you all agree, I can start with the dynamic you proposed.”

“Thanks, Natasha.  If no one has any objections, I have no problem with you being the first,” as no one said anything, I took that as a confirmation that no one had any objections.  At first, they weren’t that willing to talk, but as most people talked, the others seemed to become more comfortable with the exercise.

It was a little weird, but at the end it was a productive exercise.  I actually knew all of them already, maybe not personally, but I had information, more than some of them would be comfortable with, on all of them.  Still, it was not the same to read about them than to talk to them.  In the same way that knowing the countries didn’t mean that I knew what they needed.  Many of the leaders were mentioning problems that I didn’t consider important or even relevant, but that were for them.  Also, I noticed, by watching them interact with each other, that countries in the same region had a lot in common, creating regions with similar needs, something that was important to take into consideration.

During the interactions among the different leaders it was possible to identify the postures of each country, after a while it became clear who among them was in their position because they loved their people and wanted what was best for them, and who was there only because the prestige the position gave them.  Some of them who took their work seriously already had answers ready, those who didn’t give me incomplete or vague answers.

Another thing that was easy to see who was willing to work with me for the greater good, and who was willing to work against me, luckly the second category was smaller than the first.

The reunion took most of the morning, but I felt like it had been worth it, and I was convinced it was something that would be good for the Dominion.

“How did it go?” Kimball asked when I met with him for lunch.

“Better than I expected,” I said sincerely, “I really think these kind of meetings will be good for future projects.  In a way it wasn’t that much different from the Clan Leaders Reunions that we had every year, and even if people here are more discreet about it, the antagonism and the need to show who’s better is also very similar.”

“How did they receive you?  You didn’t have trouble?”

“Most of them were very good, Kgosi was the one that who caused trouble.  I’m sure that given a chance things would have deteriorated very fast.  I don’t get his need to go against me when we have been working together, and mostly in his benefit for so long.”

“Kgosi is too proud.  What did you do to keep things under control?”

“I talked to him in a language he would understand, with a show of strength, and maybe a threat to tell on him to Zola,” Kimball started to laugh at that, and it was in that moment that Ethan walked in.  He wasn’t always able to join us for lunch, it depended on his school activities, and even if it was hard to remember his schedule, I was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to be able to join us that day.”

“How did it go?” Ethan asked.

“Shouldn’t you be at school?” Kimball asked, confirming what I already suspected about his schedule.

“I asked to leave early and skip training, I wanted to see how things had gone at mom’s meeting.”

“You worry too much about this kind of things,” I said, trying to suppress my smile.  I had already noticed Ethan’s interest in politics, something that had been encouraged by most of his relatives in Mzansi, and in a smaller scale by his father and me.  I had already seen his possible futures, and it was a good thing he was getting ready for it.

“I’m just curious.”

“Well, then let me tell you that everything went well, a few problems at the beginning, but nothing out of the ordinary, everything worked out after a while.  I would have liked for the meeting to be in person, just to be able to read their emotions and see any errant thought they had.”

“It’s really hard to find any errant thoughts from people like them, they usually train to avoid that, and even if you went deeper to see them, most is capable of feel any mental exploration.  If you want I can be with you next time and see if I can find any expression that suggest they are lying or hiding something,” Kimball offered.

“Didn’t you record the meeting?  If it’s recorded you can go over it and look for people’s expressions.”

“It is recorded, as far as I know, but for the moment I don’t think it’s necessary to do that, nothing really important was discussed and the different alliances are just starting to form.  I expect we won’t face any trouble, at least not for a while.  For the moment, there’s still work to do, but mostly I have to start working on giving them back more power, but at the same time I have to make sure they don’t abuse it.  I don’t want to give them freedom and have that as an excuse for them to lose control.”

“That’s a valid fear,” Kimball said, “but for the moment, everything is still fresh, everyone is full of hope, but also of revolutionary spirit, I don’t think people will start showing their true colors just yet, they will wait until people start to get comfortable again, to when the people is so happy and grateful for what they have that they don’t realize when the government starts taking more or giving less.”

“I just want to think that everything is just going to keep getting better.  And how are things at school?”

“Everything is fine, a few students have been trying to cause trouble, but nothing to worry about,” Ethan said, trying not to make a big deal of it, and not offering near enough information, but he didn’t need to, the people I had posted at school kept me informed of everything that happened there.  It looked like Ethan had named himself the protector of the place, and he had been keeping everyone under control.  No one was able to face him, but I wasn’t worried because he never took advantage of that, as far as the reports said, all he did was make sure that everything was peaceful.

“It’s good to know,” Kimball said.  He too knew what really happened there, but none of us let Ethan know that we knew.  I wasn’t sure if he suspected something and was just playing along, or if he thought he was fooling us.  I wasn’t curious enough about it to go into his mind, but it was something I kept my mind open to.

“Do you want to come with me to the office later today?” I asked Ethan.  “If you want you can take a look at the recording of the meeting,” I said, curious about Ethan’s opinion, I knew he would be a great leader someday, he could take differents paths, but all of them ended with him in a position of power.

“I’m not sure if that’s legal,” Kimball said.

“Nothing we discussed was classified.  If he can sit on the Elder’s Council’s boring meetings, I’m sure he can deal with watching a bunch of people go from talking about how wonderful their country is, to complaining about everything they still need.”

“I guess that there’s no problem then,” Kimball said, and we both turned to look at Ethan, and by watching his huge smile we could already tell what his answer was going to be.

“Of course I would like that, if there is no problem.”

“Usual rules apply, you need to finish your homework, and you can’t share anything you hear, unless we discuss it first.”

“Of course, I already know.”

Once we went back to my office, I didn’t need to explain anything to Ethan.  Most of his powers were a copy of mine, knowledge that I had been able to share mostly because of or mutual Vlad blood that allowed us to share powers.  Only his empathy, that was his natural power, and his technopaty didn’t come from my teachings.  He had been learning technopathy by himself, and I suspected that Jeong’s family had helped with that, but most of it was because of his own curiosity and part because of Kimball’s teachings.  Even if he didn’t spend as much time as before, Kimball liked to go to his workshop and invent or improve things, Ethan had been by his side as much as he could, and eventually his powers started to manifest and adapt to help him with his own inventions.  I knew what Ethan was capable of, and the way he walked into my office and immediately was able to access the recordings, that should be protected under several layers of security, was a good example.  But that wasn’t anything especial for him, and not long after he was already inmersed in the meeting.

My children were growing so fast, Ethan was no longer a little child, he was becoming a man, a great one like his father.  Malkia and Greca had long ago left that part of their lives behind, and that was even more evident with Malkia becoming Antrax’s partner and adquiring many of Ivy’s functions, since she had been forced to step down after conspiring with the Slavers.  Greca was also going to go far, and by her own merits.  Everyone would be great, and somethings I had to wonder if my legacy was helping them, or just making their journey even more complicated.