“The Committe is ready for you,” one of my assistants told me.
“I will be there in a minute.”
I had been more careful, the reunion was going to be in the Palace, in one or the meeting rooms, and I had my people all around me. I knew that the attack my enemies had planned had been successfully stopped even before they had the chance to act, and the people involved had been arrested, but there were a few of Faakhir’s loyal followers still at large. We hadn’t been able to find another big attack during our walks through the fog, but still, most people had warned me to be careful. Sofia had even suggested that I needed Agata with me, and Kimball had agreed that it was a good idea to make her part of my bodyguards.
Agata was a very infamous assassin that the Tech Committe had hired to get rid of me, she had been one of the few persons that had been close to killing me, but despite her grim power, she was a good person at heart, one that only wanted justice. It had taken me a while to convince her to let go of her need for vengeance against those who had asked her to kill me, and I had sent her to Aquarium for a while to keep her away, but she was, after all, a very powerful weapon they wanted me to use to be safe. Agata was a great and loyal ally, but I wanted to keep her away from those she perceived as evil, from those she wanted to punish, so I left her behind while I went to my meeting, taking Ivan and Yoweri with me instead.
“Thank you for coming,” I greeted the members of the committee.
“Again, it’s not like we had a choice,” representative Burgos replied.
“Unfortunately, our last meeting was cut short because of a few issues, but I trust that you have been working with the Agriculture Committee in the thinks I asked you to.”
“I think that there are more important things than working on finding a better way to produce wine…” representative Kozak started to protest.
“You should know you can farm other things. I think you know that we need more food sources, I have no interest of ruling over a bunch of dead bodies. Corpses can’t work, can they? We need to find a way to feed people, don’t you think?” They all looked surprised at my request, but I knew they had to agree that what I was asking for was something we needed. “I want you to keep working on that, I know there are places where they can grow things naturally, but there are places that need some help. I will have another meeting with the Agriculture Committee to talk about the best places and methods to farm, but I want you to work with them and offer whatever help you can. But first, I need you to work on some universal translators. I know that my predecessors forbade the use of them, they preferred everyone to talk their language, but I think it’s better to have the translators and have everyone talk in whatever language they feel comfortable, that would avoid misunderstandings.”
“Emily forbade those translators…”
“Because she wanted everything her say,” I interrupted, “she wanted everyone to talk like her, to do and like the same things she did. She wanted to change everyone’s culture to match hers and impose her will on the Dominion. I don’t care about those things, I don’t care what they do or how they do it. Instead of threatening and punishing those who talk different, I want to be able to understand them. There are too many languages in the Dominion to learn them all, that’s why I need the translator, and I want everyone working with the government to have on.”
“That doesn’t seem to be a bad idea,” Jeong said, cutting off the discussion that was about to start. “That’s one of the things we actually wanted to reintroduce. We can start working on that immediately, we should be able to have enough of them in a few days.”
“You have until Friday,” I said.
“But that only gives us three days,” Representative Burgos protested.
“I’m sure you should have a few stored somewhere, ready to be used as soon as you need them.”
“Can’t you give us a little more time?”
“I want to reintroduce a few old customs, things from before Emily and Faakhir took control, starting with the separation of powers. I will start by introducing a new King, and I want the universal translator by then.”
“So Kimball will finally make it to King?” Jeong asked. I decided to ignore the comment, I knew most people were going to assume that he was the one I had chosen to take the position, and that I was going to continue the tradition of keeping everything in the family.
“That’s all I had to tell you, I don’t care how, but I want you to have the translators ready by this Friday.”
I walked out of the room while they were still protesting, but Kimball had said that it was possible to have them ready, so I ignored the protests. As I walked away, I was aware I was being followed. I didn’t worry about it, not with Ivan and Yoweri walking by my side, but once I realized that Jeong was the one behind me and that we were getting closer to where Agata was waiting, and I started to get worried about what could happen if they saw each other.
“If you allow me, I want a word with you,” Jeong said.
“I’m busy and already said all I needed to say.”
“This is about Agmong and Sklave,” he said, and I felt cold.
“How do you know those names?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“I know what happened in the vineyard,” Jeong said. “And I have recordings. If you mess with my memory again or something happens to me, those recordings will go public and everyone in the Dominion will know what happened there.”
“Let’s talk in my office,” I said, I didn’t want to have that discussion in the hallway. I could feel that Ivan and Yoweri were mad, but I made a signal so they knew not to act, I couldn’t risk them making Jeong mad until I found out what he knew and what he wanted.
When we arrived at my office Ivan opened the door and Yoweri went inside before Jeong noticed, but when Ivan tried to get in Jeong stopped him. Ivan looked at me for confirmation and I just shook my head, we needed to play his game for the moment. I needed to know exactly what he knew and what he wanted before acting. I knew that Yoweri was already inside, even if I was stressed enough not to be able to see him.
“Explain,” I asked Jeong, trying to sound confident and calm, but the knowledge that he had recordings of what had happened had affected me more than I cared to admit. “How do you managed to know what happened?”
“As you know, Faakhir liked to mess with people’s minds, and I created a recording device that allowed me to record everything happening around me, so if that ever happened to me I could realize it. I just wanted to make sure that if Faakhir messed with my mind, I knew it, with a recording I could at least know if he went into trance. I don’t trust you, so I decided to keep using the device. That day in the vineyard, I knew something had happened, so as soon as I went back home, I went over the recordings and I was able to learn everything, including your true name, Sklave.”
“That’s not my name!” I yelled, unable to stop myself. After all that time, I couldn’t believe that my enemies were aware of my past and my weak points. I knew that people like Jeong could easily transmit the information to his friends. I could see his superficial thoughts, he wasn’t even trying to mask them, and I could see the torture I had suffered through his eyes, and the feeling of vulnerability was coming back to me. “You saw the recordings, but you don’t understand them,” Jeong tried to speak, but I stopped him with a gesture. “Who has seen these recordings?”
“My wife, obviously,” he said with a shrug, “it’s only fair since that was also part of the memories you took from us. You have gone through a lot of work to keep your past hidden, so I guess you don’t want those recordings to become public knowledge. So, it all depends on you, if you want me to keep them secret.”
“I never thought that our little war would end with blackmail. Tell me, what do you want?”
“What I want, you can’t give me,” Jeong said, angry, “but I can settle for a little justice. I want you to listen and listen well, Sklave…”
“I. Am. Not. Sklave.” I repeated. I knew that I shouldn’t make him angry, I needed time to come up with a plan, with a way to destroy or contain the recordings. I didn’t know how to do something like that, but maybe Kimball knew. I closed my eyes and tried to calm down, but that only made things worst, since as soon as I closed my eyes the memories of my torture from Jeong’s point of view came to me, I saw myself like he had seen me, I saw Sklave, a weak, defeated woman.
“Going with your reaction that day, I know you would be willing to do a lot just to keep that knowledge secret,” I didn’t confirm that, but Jeong wasn’t a fool, he knew what he was doing. “Do you know what else I realized watching those recordings? I noticed how you faced the torture just giving glimpses of vulnerability, and I watched you break the moment they hurt your husband. You are not as indifferent to him as you pretend to be. You have an Aquiles heel.” I tried to convince myself that I had nothing to fear, that even if he was threatening me, it was not a threat he could fulfill. “I wonder if your attitude towards Ethan is also an act.”
“Before you try something against him, should I remind you how your daughter was crying when he was hurt during the battle at the school? Just stop stalling and tell me what you want.”
“I already told you, I want justice!” Jeong yelled, hitting my desk with his open palm and standing up in front of me. “I want everyone to know that the woman that pretends to be a powerful warrior was nothing more than a slave in her own land.”
I could understand Jeong and his need for vengeance, he had seen me throw his son out of a plane after all, but at the same time I couldn’t let him destroy everything I had been working on, I only needed to find a way to stop him. What price would I have to pay for him to be satisfied? I was still trying to come up with something when I noticed that Agata was moving closer to Jeong. I knew immediately what she wanted to do, but I couldn’t allow her to harm him, I still didn’t know what security measures he had taken to protect himself from me.
“Stop!” I ordered Agata, but she ignored me.
“Agata?” Jeong asked, confused by her presence. I didn’t think he would be able to recognize the assassin he had hired to kill me, but apparently he knew exactly who she was. “But… you should be dead. You never came back, and you never leave a job unfinished.”
“Kaiserin was judged and found innocent,” Agata said, her sweet, angelic voice a macabre contrast to her intensity and the meaning of her words. “You and your people were judged and found guilty of trying to trick me into harming an innocent.”
“Agata, stop right now,” I said, trying to sound firm, but I already knew she wouldn’t be easily convinced of changing her mind.
“This wouldn’t be happening if you had allowed me to finish my work,” Agata said. “They deserve to be punished.”
“Agata, I already told you, they were justified to try and seek vengeance, he saw me pushing his son out of a plane, he doesn’t know the reasons behind my actions.”
“They sent me to kill an innocent,” Agata repeated, and I could see in her eyes that there was nothing I could do to stop her, “they knew the price they would have to pay for that.”
Agata’s body started to fall down, and I knew her mind was already moving to attack Jeong. I also knew that most people couldn’t survive her attacks. I used my double mind to pull Agata into my mind, where I knew I could contain her long enough to calm her down. I knew she was acting out of guilt, and that she wouldn’t do anything to harm me, or so I hoped.
“What did you do? You brainwashed her, didn’t you?”
“Or maybe Agata found something in her that made her change her mind,” Yoweri, who even I had forgotten was in the room, said. I was sure that it was thanks to him that neither of us had realized Agata was there. “You should let Agata finish what she started,” Yoweri said, and I could see how angry he was at Jeong for threatening me.
“Agata still sees things in black and white, she doesn’t understand their reasoning to act. If I let her go after Jeong, she won’t stop until she kills every member of the Committee.”
“You knew we had sent her after you?”
“Of course I knew, I know more than you think. But like I tried to explain Agata, I don’t blame you for trying, in your place I would had done the same. Of course, I would have done it in person, and I wouldn’t have failed, but I get it. There are a lot of things I am willing to forgive, but what you want to do with those recordings, I don’t think I would be able to forgive that.”
“That’s right,” Kimball said from the door, I could see Ivan and most of my trusted men behind him, I guessed Ivan had gone for him and let him know what was happening. “You should be grateful for Kaiserin’s mercy and stop trying to mess with her. Just think what would happen if she wasn’t here to stop Agata from going after you. You and your friends know exactly what she is capable of, after all she had never failed a mission until she found Kaiserin. If you publish the recordings you have from the vineyard, you won’t have to worry about Kaiserin going after you, Agata will be there first.”
“You have fooled us all along, it was all an act, right?” Jeong accused Kimball.
“Things are not how they look like,” Kimball said. “And if I were you, I would try to be more open minded, and would start working on having everything ready for this Friday’s coronation. And I would especially avoid doing anything to harm Kaiserin. I will be going over all communications, and if I, or my people, hear any rumors about what happened in that vineyard or Kaiserin’s past, I promise you, you won’t be able to hide from us.”
“I’m very disappointed in you,” Jeong told Kimball, “I always thought your only crime was to turn a blind eye to your wife’s crimes, but what you’ve done is way worse. You are just like her.”
“You may think that’s insulting Jeong, but you couldn’t have paid me a better compliment. Kaiserin is a great woman, and she has a lot of people behind her, willing to kill for her.”
“That’s enough,” I interrupted their discussion. “Jeong, I know you want justice, but I can assure you, publishing the recordings won’t bring it to you. You know what kind of people have tried to take the Dominion from me, you saw what my enemies are capable of. You have to realize things could be way worse with them than they are with me. Forget for a moment your vengeance and let me do my work.”
“Right now you are a valuable member of the Dominion,” Fatima’s voice reached us from behind Kimball, “but if you hurt Kaiserin you will have a lot of people after you. All you have to do is wait a little longer, and you will see that things will get better, just don’t do something you will regret.”
“Worse men than you have tried to take her down and have lost, I think you should accept defeat and leave her alone,” Ivan added.
“This is not the end,” Jeong threatened, walking to the door, but despite his words I could feel his fear.
“On the contrary, your quest for vengeance will end right now,” Kimball said.
My people moved to give Jeong space to exit the room. I could feel his desperation to leave the room, and I realized how much Agata’s presence had affected him. One of the reasons they had chosen her was because of her terrible reputation, and I was sure he didn’t want her to go after him.
“Are you ok?” Kimball asked.
“No, I’m not ok. I’m supposed to be stronger than this. I shouldn’t be afraid of Jeong’s threats, I should be able to just ignore him.”
“I’m sorry,” Thalia said, stepping closer to us. “This is all my fault. When I talked to him I knew he was hiding something, but I believed him when he said he didn’t remember anything, I never thought he could have recordings.”
“No, it’s not your fault, this is something no one saw coming. Luckily, with William here, we will be able to start cleaning this mess and make this a safe place so we can finally get the refugees out of Aquarium. I’m sure once he gets his son back, he will forget all about his vengeance.” I wasn’t sure if Thalia had read Jeong’s plans from his mind or if someone had told them what had happened, and I couldn’t help but feel humiliated than they had been reminded of my weakness during the battle in the vineyard, and that they had witnessed, once again, how easily affected I was by mere memories. I knew that that kind of information in the wrong hands could be very harmful for me, because no matter how strong I tried to be, the experience of facing Agmong’s double had proved how easily I could revert to that person that I hated so much.
“I think you should take the rest of the day off,” Kimball suggested.
“For the moment, I need to deal with Agata and convince her not to act.”
“Do you need help?” Thalia asked, but even if I could feel her offer was sincere, I could also tell how scared she was of Agata’s power.
“No, it’s ok, I have it.”
After making sure that everything was ok, most of the group left, but a few stayed behind with me. Yoweri and Thalia stayed inside, and I could feel at least a couple waiting outside the door. As I was talking to Jeong, and then my people, I had been working on calming Agata, and after an hour of negotiations, I could finally convince her not to go after them. At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder, had Sofia known what was going to happen? Had she sent Agata to deal with that particular situation?