Chapter 10

“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?

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Bonus 2

“Can you believe it?  That woman is about to become the new Queen and head of the Dominion,” Representative Jeong said, incredulity and anger lacing his words.

“We should have seen it coming,” Representative Burgos said, “we should have expected her to want even more power.  I don’t know what it took her so long to kill them, but even they should have known that someone like her wouldn’t be second to anyone for long.”

“The problem is that there is nothing we can do against her now,” Representative Kozak said.  “She has control of the army, and she is extremely powerful on her own, not to mention the fact that she is a Seer and have other like her under her command.  Our best chance is to accept her and recognize her as our new leader.  We should also talk to our governments and push them to do the same.  She already did a lot of damage as Faakhir’s right hand and personal assassin, just imagine what she will be able to do now if we try to oppose her.”

“I know exactly what she is capable of, I still remember the day she killer my kid in cold blood, he just let him fall to his dead, didn’t even blink, we were never able to even recover his body.  She is a monster, and she should pay for her crimes, but not now, we have to wait for the right moment.  For the moment, we need to do what she says, and buy more time, we will have our justice, just now right now.”

“So, are we all in agreement?  Is this Commitee going to recognize Kaiserin as new Queen?”  Kozak asked.

“We will,” they all agreed.

They all agreed that they needed to follow her lead in order to survive, they would have to obey Kaiserin and hide their true feelings and intentions from her.  To go against her would be suicide, and they all had experimented her power in one way or another, they knew not to antagonize her.  Some of them have even tried to have her killed, but that had failed as well.  They haven’t been able to touch her while she was Faakhir’s protege, and now that she was the one in control it would be even more difficult to make her pay for her crimes, but they were willing to try.  None of them was willing to let her crimes go unpunished, they all knew it would be difficult, but they were willing to work harder in order to get rid of her.  It didn’t matter how long it took them, sooner or later Kaiserin would pay for killing their loved ones.

Chapter 30

I got a message from Kimball saying that Ethan was safe, but that he was injured.  I knew that was going to happen, Jonas was a psycho that liked to hurt people and make them suffer, and I knew that he was going to get a taste of his own medicine, he wouldn’t get away with hurting my son without facing the consequences.

“I’m sure this is the route he took,” Fatima said.  She had been traveling to the past to reconstruct Jonas’ actions after taking Ethan.  So far she had guided us outside the city, and I knew we were getting closer to the place he had taken Ethan.

“I think it will be better to stop for a moment, I would like to take an astral walk and explore the place.  If we are getting closer to where Jonas is hiding, I want to be prepared.  We need to be ready to take him by surprise.

“That’s a good idea,” Kulap said, “but make it fast, so many stops are wasting our limited time, I don’t think Faakhir will like that, he likes when we take care of things fast.  He likes us being efficient.”

“Do you have any experience in astral projecting? Have you walked the fog of the future? If you don’t know what you are talking about, then stay silent.  These things take time, and I’m sure Faakhir would prefer a job well done over a fast one.”  Kulap didn’t talk back, but I could see she was angry at my answer.

Our car stopped so I could go into the astral planes.  That was something I could do even while moving, thanks to my double mind, but it was easier and safer if my body was immobile.  I got out of my body and traveled the material plane.  We were close to our destination, I recognized the place.  I saw a group of helicopters moving closer, they were on route to the bodega.  Kimball had told me he had called the kids’ parents, so I was confident that the Representatives were on those helicopters.

“Did you hear the helicopters?” I asked when I got back to my body.

“Yes, and we saw them moving northwest from here,” Yoweri said.  I had forgotten he was in the car with us, but that was to be expected, it was his power, he could go unnoticed in any setting thanks to his empathy and emotional mimetism.

“I think those were the Representatives, and that could affect our mission, we need to be careful, we can’t let them ruin this for us, but we can’t attack them either, we need to make things better between them and the King, it needs to look like we are on the same side.  We need to move.  Go ahead and drive a couple more miles, then take the road on your right,” I told the driver, “keep going for another three miles and stop in the first clearing you find.  We will walk the rest of the way, I don’t want them knowing we are there until is too late.”

No one spoke for the rest of the trip, but it was obvious everyone had questions, even as they prepared for the mission.  We arrived at the clearing and got out of the car.  Another car stopped behind us, and the rest of the team joined us.  Without any questions, everyone started following me, with just one person staying behind to take care of the cars.

I took the direct route, I knew where the bodega was and how to arrive there faster, and I needed to take the short route, I had to get to where my son was.  Once we were close to the bodega, and could actually see it and the group of people standing outside, I used my powers to bring their conversations to us, so we could listen to them from the protection of the trees.

“Your children are safe, that’s all you need to know,” Kimball was saying.

“I think we deserve a better explanation,” Representative Burgos replied.  “How did you find them?  What happened to the people who took them?  “What happened to our children?”

“Do I have to remind you that my son was also taken by them?” Kimball’s voice hardened, and it was clear that the Representatives were on thin ice.  “I was just as worried as you were, so I decided to look for my son, and I found him.”

“And how did you do that?” Representative Jeong asked.  “None of our trackers were working, we couldn’t find them, I don’t get how someone like you could do what we couldn’t.”

“What do you mean by ‘someone like me’?”

“Let’s be honest, what we think is that you and your wife are involved in this.  It’s just too suspicious that you were able to find the kids so easily after we failed to find them, is even more suspicious that you refuse to let us see or speak with the people responsible for the kidnappings.  As far as I know you and your corrupt family could be behind this, maybe ‘saving’ them is just a way for you to try and look good in front of us,” Representative Kozak said.

“That’s enough father!” The voice sounded like Dmytro’s, but there was something weird about it.  “You don’t know what you are talking about, this is Jonas’ fault, not Kaiserin’s.  Jonas wanted to use Ethan to make Kasierin look bad, and we are safe only because the Mzansiers rescued us.  None of them hurt us, but if they hadn’t arrived when they did, the others would have hurt us, badly.”

“Please, stay out of this, this is an adult discussion,” his father tried to calm him down.

“But he is telling the truth,” Hye Ki said, “Ethan helped us while we were there, and his father rescued us, if he hadn’t arrived when he did, Carmina would have hurt me.  They saved us!”

“Daughter, please, let us deal with this, there are things you don’t understand yet.  We can’t trust these people, remember what happened with your brother.”

“I called and told you where to find your children as a favor, but if you think I will just stay here and let you question me and my motives, that I will let you insult me, then you are mistaken,” Kimball’s voice was cold and threatening, and I wasn’t sure if it was part of the act or if he was truly angered by their attack.

“Dad,” a pathetic voice interrupted the discussion, and the silence that followed that simple word was absolute, the shock was clear in the middle of the silence.  “Can we go?”

“Of course, give me a minute.  Just go back inside and rest,” Kimball’s voice changed to warm and calm while talking to Ethan.

“Time to move,” I tell my men, cutting the power that allowed us to hear them, and moving to where the group is gathered at the front of the bodega.

As soon as my group steps out of the cover of the trees all the eyes move to us, a few of the Representatives’ guards get their weapons out and point them to us, but using my power I take them out of their hands, leaving them weaponless.  At the same time my group takes their own weapons out and point them to the people there, warning them not to try something like that again.

“It seems I wasn’t invited to the party,” I said to the people there.

“You just sounded like a villain in a fairy tale,” Kimball said, and I had no idea what he was talking about.

“What are you doing here?” His comment managed to cut the tension, but his words confused me, and even if I was grateful for helping ease the atmosphere, I don’t like not understanding.  “I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that I find you here, in the place our investigation of Jonas’ actions has taken us.”

“You are late, just like I thought you would be,” he said.  “I knew that your priorities were different than mine, so I decided to put my energy on finding Ethan.  And it was a good thing I did that, if I had waited for you to find you, you would have been too late,” as he said the last word, he moved to the side, giving me a clear view of the van behind him, next to which Ethan was standing.

From the moment I realized that Jonas had Ethan, I had been worried about the things he could do to my son, but watching the damage I felt sick and angry, and I knew that I would have a hard time controlling my anger once I had my hands on Jonas.  Ethan’s face was a collection of colors, from red to black and blue.  He was full of bruises, one of his eyes was swollen shut, and a cut on his lips was still bleeding.  By the way he was standing I could tell his torso was also full of bruises, maybe a few broken ribs by how hard it was for him to breathe.  One of his arms and his wrists were bandaged, and from the blood that was showing in the bandages I could tell that his arm had a cut, and his wrists had been hurt, most likely rubbed raw by the rope used to bind him.  I felt my anger boiling, I had hoped that Kimball could arrive before Ethan could suffer that much damage, and I was furious that I had been unable to save him from that pain, furious that I had failed him again, and furious that Jonas had dared to hurt my son.  But despite the emotions burning inside me, I kept my face cold and detached, making sure no one could see how I really felt.

“He’s alive, I don’t see what the problem is,” just as I spoke I could hear the surprise and disapproval coming from the Representatives and their guards, they were getting angry at me for not caring about my son like a mother should.  I turned to where Ethan was standing, and I saw a tear falling from his good eye.  For a moment I thought my words had affected him, but when I expanded my powers to explore his feelings I realized that it was just part of the act.  But I could see his pain wasn’t fake, and I did my best to connect with him so I could ease his pain.

“I don’t know why I’m still surprised by your attitude,” Kimball said.  “If you are unable to see the problem, then I don’t know what to say.  You won could have died today, and you just don’t care.”

“I can see he’s alive, that’s what matters.  And I expect Jonas and the others to be alive as well, I need to question them.”

“Is that all you can think about?  You know what? I don’t care, Jonas and the others are inside the bodega, go and do your work.  I will take Ethan to Mzansi so he can recover in peace.”

“I’m sorry, but you know the rules, you can’t take Ethan outside of the city without the King’s permission,” Kulap said.

“That’s right, the hostage system.  Don’t worry, I’m taking my son, but I’m leaving my wife, that should be enough,” Kimball answered.

“Still, you need his authorization…” Kulap kept going.

“And who is going to try and stop me?” Kimball interrupted her.  “You?”

Kulap turned to me, waiting for me to continue the discussion.  All the attention was focused on me, so most people didn’t realize that Yoweri was moving towards Kimball.  For a moment I thought that Kimball wasn’t aware of him and was trying to find a way to warn him, but then I saw Kimball’s hand move to his gun and I knew that I didn’t have to worry about him.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Kimball warns, pointing the gun directly into Yoweri’s face, that is just a couple of steps away from him.  I hear a few surprised gasps, no one had realized that Yoweri was moving.

“Kaiserin, do something!” Kulap demands.

“Kimball, you know the rules as well as I do, don’t make this more difficult that it has to be.”

“I want you to think about what you are about to do,” Kimball warns, “you can try to stop me, and things will get ugly really fast, or you can let us go, so you can finish your mission and find out why Jonas took your son and the other kids.”

“I think you know what will happen if you try to stop him,” Fatima said, in a voice that pretended to be just between the two of us, but that I was sure everyone could hear, “we will only lose valuable time, and your victory will come at a high price.”

“Listen to your friend,” Kimball suggested with a smile.

“Please don’t tell me you are afraid of him,” Kulap tried to goad me into fighting.

“Kimball is right, I can defeat him, but it won’t be easy and won’t be fast.  Our mission is to find Jonas and questions him, then take him to Faakhir.  If he wants to go against the rules, then he will have to face the consequences.  Think about your actions, because if you leave and Faakhir sends me to bring you back, you won’t like what I will do.”

I wasn’t sure why Kimball was forcing the confrontation, he could have gone without alerting us of his plans, but by declaring his intentions in front of the others he had put me in a difficult situation, but I trusted he knew what he was doing.  With a last look at Ethan, I went inside the bodega, followed by the rest of the group, even if they weren’t happy with the way things had gone.

Once we were inside, it was easy to find Jonas and the rest of his people, they were locked in cages, and they seemed to be drugged.  I guessed that Kimball had used the drugs to subdue them and avoid a fight, and I was glad, because the drugs would make my job easier, their minds wouldn’t be able to repel my attack and it would be easier to get what I wanted.

“Now you are in serious trouble,” I told Jonas.  He was awake, but seemed confused.  “The Representatives were furious because of your actions, and that caused trouble for Faakhir.  You made him look like a liar, you made it seem like he didn’t have control over his own people, you made him look weak.  As you can imagine, he is not happy with you at the moment.  Now, tell me, why did you do something so stupid?”

“You have been lying to us, and I will prove it, then you won’t be is favorite any more, and you and your family will be punished, like you deserve.” Jonas explained, he sounded like he was drunk, but I knew it was because of the drug in his system.

“I will go inside your mind, and I will see the truth behind your actions.  I would recommend not to resist, resistance will only make it painful for you,” I warned, but in reality he was going to feel pain one way or another, he was going to pay for causing Ethan’s pain.

“Shouldn’t we take him to Faakhir?  He can question him himself,” I heard someone saying.

“Kimball caught five of them, but we need to make sure there’s no more people involved, and we have to find out why they were involved, if they were willing participants or if Jonas somehow fooled them into helping him with his plans.  We need to see who is a traitor and who is a fool.  We can’t go to Faakhir without the whole story.”

No one said anything else, they stayed in silence as I moved closer to the cage in which Jonas was trapped.  I used one of my mind to get inside his mind and look for the information that I wanted.  I needed to know who was on his side, who his allies were, who I needed to worry about.  With my other mind I connected to his nervous system, attacking his nerves so they would get irritated and cause him to be in pain, in just a few seconds he was drowning in pain.  With me inside his mind, there was nothing he could do, but feel, he experienced an agony like never before.

Between the pain and the drugs, he couldn’t stop my search, and I was able to get the information that I needed in a short time.  I knew that Faakhir would look into his mind, just like me, so I went even deeper and made sure that there was nothing there that could affect me.  That exploration took me longer, about a couple of hours, and by the time I finished with him, he was barely conscious, he was exhausted by the pain.

Moving even closer to him, I made a complete connection to his system, and instead of just irritating his nerves to cause him pain, I attacked them, damaging just enough for him to be unable to move without feeling pain.  Damaged nerve terminations would mistake sensations, sending pain signals with any stimulation.

By the time I finish with him I’m exhausted, and even if the effort is not enough to cause me a psychic headache, it drained my energy and I knew I was reaching my limit and since I still had things to do I needed to be very careful with what I did.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” Fatima asked.

“Yes, it seems like besides Fidel and Carmina, the others had no idea what was going on, they were just following orders, they thought that Jonas was acting under Faakhir’s orders.  The problem we have is that Faakhir tried to recruit a few others, so there is more people who knew about his plans, and even if they refused to help him, they failed to alert Faakhir of Jonas’ plans.  Yoweri, I will give you a list with these people’s names so you can go pick them up and take them to Faakhir, I’m sure he will want to question them.  Kulap, take the two soldiers that helped Faakhir to the hospital so they can be checked, I’m sure Faakhir will want to deal with them, even if they were acting in good faith, I’m sure they will be punished for their involvement.  The other three, I will take care of them personally.

Chapter 29

The feeling that something bad was about to happen hadn’t left me in weeks, the first days after the incident with Jonas I had spent a short time visiting the future to make sure we were safe, but I hadn’t found what was making me feel unease, so I eventually stopped, but the fear still continued.  Jonas was still mad about what had happened, and the fact that Fatima said that none of the children were involved only helped fuel his anger, he still insisted that it was Ethan, Dmytro and Hye Ki the ones he had seen.  I was grateful that it was Fatima who was in charge of the investigation, because she had managed to keep the children safe.

Faakhir was calling me to be by his side more often, and Jonas less, so I was once again with Faakhir and Jonas was nowhere to be seen.  We were back from our lunch, ready to start the afternoon meetings when a group stormed into the room, I recognized the people as the Committee of Technology.  They were all talking at the same time, clearly upset about something, some of them yelling, even speaking in different languages.

“Enough!” Faakhir screamed over their voices once he realized they weren’t going to calm down any time soon.  “If you all speak at the same time, I can’t understand what you are saying.”

“What we want,” Representative Jeong said, “is our children back, immediately.  We have done nothing but obey you, there’s no reason for you to do this.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Faakhir said, but I had a feeling that I knew what they were talking about, and I needed to stay calm, even if I wanted to run away and go look for Ethan.

“The car where our children were traveling was attacked,” Representative Burgos said, she sounded calmer, but I could still feel her anger below the surface, “our security cameras showed two of your men attacking the transport and taking the kids.  If Carmina and Fidel are involved, it’s logical to think that you are behind this attack.  Since we have fulfilled our part of the bargain, the least you could do is to fulfill yours and leave our children alone.”

“I haven’t ordered any attacks.  Are you sure it was my people?”

“We have evidence,” Representative Kozak said, “and we won’t go away until you give us our kids back.”

“I haven’t ordered any attacks, and if I say I haven’t, you need to believe me, I can’t believe that my people is involved in any of this.”

From the moment they have entered the room, the bad feeling got worse, I knew that whatever happened was related to Jonas, and I was afraid that Ethan could be also in danger, I needed to find out if he was missing or if he was safe.

“Carmina and Fidel are really close to Jonas,” I told Faakhir in a whisper, as if I was trying to hide my words, even if I knew they were capable of hearing me, “this could be related to what happened a couple of months ago.”

“Are you referring to the incident where Jonas said your son was involved?” Faakhir didn’t bother to lower his voice.

“Just a few days ago, he said that he was sure that he was right, and that he would prove my son was involved.  One would think that someone who uses illusions every day would be more receptive to the idea of someone seeing something that is not there.  I think that maybe he sent Carmina and Fidel after their kids and told them the order was coming from you,” I said in a respectful tone, trying to sell him the idea that they could have done what they were saying, but at the same time not making him think they hadn’t gone against his orders.  It was easier to think that one person had gone against him that to think a bunch of them had.

“It could be, but as I remember, Jonas’ problem was mainly with your son, the other two were just an afterthought.”

“If you allow me,” that was what I needed to sell him the idea that we needed to check on Ethan, “I can speak with Mbali and see if something happened to Ethan.  If he is also gone, then we can see into the possibility that Jonas is behind this attack.”

I knew that Faakhir wouldn’t let me walk away to have some privacy, so I didn’t even try to move away as I made the call.  Mbali answered immediately, as if she was waiting by the side of the phone.  That was enough to let me know something was going on, but I tried to stay calm as I asked the question.  Mbali was still talking when the doors opened and another person stormed inside the room.  Kimball walked and the aura of hostility and anger surrounding him was all I needed to confirm my fears.

“I think you owe me an explanation,” Kimball said, his voice strong and controlled, but with an undertone of fury.

“I guess that answers our question and Ethan is also missing,” Faakhir said.

“According to the reports, Jonas kidnapped him,” I added from what Mbali was telling me on the phone.  I tried to sound as if the news didn’t bother me.  “I think is safe to assume that this and the incident two months ago are related.”

“Then we need to find Jonas and have him explain his actions.  My orders were to forget what happened, the investigations clearly said that the kids had nothing to do with it.”

“Do you really want us to believe that you had nothing to do with this?” Jeong asked.

“It seems he is losing control of his own people,” Kimball said.  “If he can’t control his close followers, how can he control the Dominion?” His words had the intended effect, and I knew that Faakhir would take immediate action to stop Jonas.

“I have no problem controlling my people.  If Jonas is behind this, he will regret his actions, no one disobeys me without consequences.  The same way most nations learn not to cross me, Jonas will face the consequences of his actions.  Kaiserin, go find Fatima and take her to the last place Jonas was seen, work together to find him.  Take as many people as you need, and bring me Jonas and anyone working with him.”

“As you wish,” I said, acting respectfully and submissive, and then walked away.  When I was walking next to the Representatives, with the Representatives moving away from me as if I had a contagious sickness, Kimball grabbed me by the arm and moved me closer to him.

“That animal has Ethan,” his face was hard, but I could feel his softness under the surface.  “You have to find him before something bad happens to him.”

“I’m sure I will find Ethan when I find Jonas.”

“Go for Ethan, and you will find Jonas,” Kimball said in a deadly tone.

“My orders are to find Jonas,” I walked away and Kimball had to let me go, but I felt him moving behind me.

“Do you have any idea what happened?” His tone was still angry, but I knew he wasn’t angry at me, he was just maintaining the illusion that we weren’t exactly on the same side.

“No, I have a lot of work to do, I need to find Fatima and then go by the apartment to interview Ethan’s guards, they should have information I can use to find Jonas.  I need to find Jonas as soon as possible.”

“If you are too busy to search for our son, then maybe I will have to do it myself,” his words were so harsh that for a moment I thought he was angry at me, but I knew he wasn’t angry at me, his fury was directed to Jonas.

As Kimball walked away, I tried to convince myself that everything was going to be alright, we still had time, the kidnappings were recent and I was sure they were fine, Jonas needed them alive, we still had time.

Finding Fatima didn’t take long, to decide who to take was harder, I tried to avoid taking Ivan or Thalia on missions with me, still trying to act as if I didn’t like them, so taking both of them would be suspicious.  I needed to avoid taking people that could be Jonas’ allies, I couldn’t rule out that more people were involved.

It took me about an hour to be ready to go to the apartment, when I arrived Kimball and a group of Mzansiers were ready to go looking for Ethan.  I wanted to be the one to go after him, but I knew that I needed to keep acting as if I didn’t care about him and going looking for him would be suspicious.  Kimball was the one who was all about family, he was the right person to rescue Ethan.

“Mbali,” I said as soon as I walked inside the apartment, “I need you to send Fatima all the information you have on the ambush and whatever you think would help find Jonas.”

“Do you know anything about Ethan?” Kimball asked.

“I can’t contact him, he must be too far away, outside the city, I have a pretty good reach, but I can’t feel him,” not that I had much chance to try and find him while I was working, to really look for him I needed some peace and quiet, and a safe place.

“Do you think he…?” Mbali didn’t finish, but I knew what she was trying to say, and I wouldn’t even consider the possibility.

“Ethan is alive.  The fact that I can’t reach him is most likely due to him being outside the city, maybe even the country.  But if Jonas took him, it was for a reason, and it wouldn’t be to kill him, not yet anyway.”

“What’s the plan?”

“I need a moment to look for Ehtan, once I find him, you can go for him.  Meanwhile, I will go with Fatima and the rest of Faakhir’s people to retrace Jonas’ steps.”

“That sounds good,” Kimball started shouting orders to his people while I went to the living room so I could go into the astral planes.

Ethan, being my son, shared a few characteristics with me that made it easier for me to find his essence.  Even if Ethan wasn’t able to go into the astral planes, he had a presence in the material plane that I could follow.  The material plane was the harder to move in, but once I was there I was able to feel Ethan in a way that I wouldn’t be able without my astral form.  I felt better once I felt his essence, even if I had refused to think of his death, knowing he was alive was a relief.

I finally found him, he was in a place further away than I expected.  The place was hard to find if you didn’t know where you were going.  I moved as close as I could, hoping than no one there could see astral projections.  The scene that I found wasn’t as bad as I expected, but I knew that we didn’t have much time before the situation escalated, we needed to move as fast as possible.

I went back to my body as saw that Kimball and his people were ready to go.  I went to Kimball and I used the trick we have been working on to go inside his mind and share the memories of my trip, so he could find his way to Ethan.

“Did you see it all?  Can you get there?” I asked once I left his mind.

“Yes, I think so, I have an idea where is the place you showed me and how to arrive, I think I will find it without much trouble.”

“Be careful…” I didn’t like the idea of Kimball going without me, not because I thought he couldn’t do it, but because he could walk into a difficult situation.  “Please, go and find Ethan before something bad happens to him.  I wouldn’t forgive myself if he is hurt again because of me.”

“This is not your fault,” Kimball said, grabbing me by the arms, “this is Jonas’ fault.”

“But I should have seen it coming!  I should have known that Ethan was in danger,” the most I thought about it, the most I was convinced that I had failed my son, yet again.

“I know that you think you should see it all, but no one can, not even a Seer.  Don’t worry, I will find Ethan and bring him back.  You worry about distracting Faakhir’s men long enough for me to get to Ethan, I will let you know once I secure him.  We will worry about the consequences once he is safe.”

I saw Kimball walking out with the rest of his men following, and then I called the driver to pick me up.  By the time I went outside the building the driver and the rest of the group I had called, were already waiting for me.  I got inside and told the driver where to take us.

“I have the address where Jonas took Ethan, I think that’s the best place to start our search.”

“All I need is a starting point, and I will be able to see what happened and where they went.  It won’t be fast, but it will be accurate,” Fatima said.  “Don’t worry, Jonas will pay for disobeying Faakhir,”  I knew that she chose those words because of the people around us, but I knew that her real meaning was that Jonas would regret crossing me.