An unmarked helicopter delivered Rat back to the surface of Laputa. She looked but didn’t find a single trace of bugs, listening devices or any kind of duplicity on Hideo’s part. Nothing to enforce her loyalty. No physical evidence of the meeting. Just his words ringing in her ears.
     Under ordinary circumstances, she’d be furious. No way would she have given in to anybody’s demands. She would plan the unfortunate sap’s demise, confident of her ultimate victory.
     But this was Kensei. Kensei played for keeps.
     He hadn’t said as much, but there could easily be another double agent in the ranks, keeping tabs on her. If she confessed to Harmony . . . She didn’t know what might happen. Jock and Hideo were supposed to be friends, but politics had a way of changing the landscape. The phrase, ‘You’ll never see him again,’ had so many possible meanings, and all of them were bad.
     The only thing she refused to believe was that Jock could already be dead. He was alive. Nothing short of seeing his body would convince her otherwise, and even that might not be enough.
     She made her way down through the arcology, to the dark tunnels underneath. She imagined Guards watching her from every secret vantage point along the way. Not that they needed to hide. There were so many uniforms on the streets, keeping the peace, that she was never out of sight more than a moment. Where did Hideo get them all?
     One thing kept nagging at her, though, all the way to the hideout. Hideo never mentioned Harmony. For a second he’d acted surprised, as if Banshee were his only target. The instructions he gave her only mentioned Banshee by name.
     Could he really not know? Rat asked the walls. Harmony had kept her operations as black as anything, so maybe it was possible he hadn’t heard about her return to Laputa. Or maybe he was playing Rat for the long con. Either way, with Lucy in hand, he’d know everything soon enough. There might be an angry phone call later about all the stuff Rat failed to mention. Rat looked forward to it. She’d smile and say, “You never asked.”
     Yeah. That was a nice fantasy. She was in his pocket now, whether she liked it or not. The only bit of solace was that she and Hideo shared the same enemy. She wouldn’t lose any sleep over getting Banshee arrested and locked away.
     Rat knocked on the trap-door, and a minute later Karen’s face appeared through the little window. She unbolted the lock and helped Rat into the cellar. She sealed it again right after, looking both sour and relieved at the same time.
     “You’re way overdue,” Karen said. “We were getting worried.”
     Rat shot back, “I’m overwhelmed.”
     “Have you got the map?”
     “No. I didn’t get a chance to finish.”
     And there it was. The point of no return. She took a deep breath to steel herself, because from now on she’d be lying to everyone, against everyone. Not for the first time, she wished Gina were there to help, but she could never look Gina in the eye again. It was probably for the best.
     “Lucy Hong asked me to give you a message,” Rat went on. “‘Our benefactor is in Laputa.’ She said you’d know what it meant.”
     Karen froze. She actually seemed a little shaken. “Where is she now?”
     “By my estimate,” Rat glanced at her watch, “I’d say a solitary holding cell aboard Cloud City. Guards almost nabbed me too.” Then she started to get curious. She asked, “What does it mean? I didn’t know we had a benefactor.”
     “He’s a mystery man. Or woman, more likely.” Karen shrugged. “Some hacker or insider with a grudge against the government. She feeds us sensitive files and backdoors into official systems. That’s where half our intel’s been coming from the last few weeks, and it’s all spot-on accurate.”
     “And she’s in Laputa?”
     “According to Lucy. Too bad she didn’t say for how long,” she grumped. “Whoever she is, she’s too good to be caught through the ‘Net. That’s why we got Lucy to investigate the old-fashioned way.”
     Well, isn’t that interesting? thought Rat. She remembered Banshee’s conversation yesterday. It would be too much of a coincidence for it to be the same guy, wouldn’t it? Which meant it probably was, and not a coincidence at all.
     Tapping Rat on the shoulder, Karen gestured her head toward the door. “Leave this with me. Get some rest, you’ve earned it.”
     She had to think about that before she realised she was tired. A bad nap in a chair didn’t really count as rest; it only pushed back her exhaustion a few hours. Since then she’d been running mostly on anger, adrenaline, and a few hits of cheap coffee.
     She nodded and went to find somewhere private enough to crash.

***

     She woke up hours later, drenched in sweat, sheets coiled around her ankles. She clapped her hands to turn on the light. Yesterday had gotten awful blurry, but the unpleasant highlights slowly came back to her. Hideo’s instructions were clear. She had to make damn sure she was on the next mission, call a special number as they were leaving, and then stick to Banshee like glue.
     It wouldn’t take any effort at all. Just like he’d said.
     Her clothes were in a pile on the floor. She dragged them closer, fished out her old hoodie and wrapped it around herself for comfort. That pile of clothes was all she had here. Thank God they were self-cleaning.
     Climbing out from the cramped bunk, she heard hurried footsteps thumping through the hall. Several people went the length of it and disappeared downstairs. Something was up. Rat shook herself awake, jumped into her trousers, and ran after them.
     There was a milling crowd at the bottom of the stairs where two of Karen’s girls were blocking the way. When Rat shoved to the front, one caught her by the shoulder and said, “Essential people only.”
     “I’m fucking essential,” she snapped and ducked through.
     No one else tried to stop her as she joined Harmony’s group. They were arranged along the end of the holo-table, across from Banshee, who frowned as he spun a wireframe map in every direction.
     “Alright,” he said at length. “I’ll let you call the shots on this one, Blade. If your plan works.”
     Harmony reached out and clenched her fist, zooming the map out to a pinpoint. Her smile was sweet as poisoned honey. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Ryan. Don’t you trust me?”
     Chuckling, Banshee held her gaze for a moment, then walked away. Letting his eyes linger on Rat for a hair longer than necessary. His group left the room by ones and twos, except for the permanent garrison keeping an eye on their guests.
     Only Harmony’s inner circle stayed behind to study the wireframe. Relaxing fingers brought the view back to where it was. A door masquerading as a service entrance into one of Laputa’s arcologies. In reality it led to a small elevator shaft plunging deep into the earth. Looking down, the data vault complex sprawled below the arcology’s immense foundations, room upon room of drives and servers containing the secrets of the world.
     Rat’s breath caught in her throat. She knew the place. She’d been there before.
     “Brute force won’t work,” said Harmony, as if repeating something she’d said before. “Kensei knows we’re after the vaults. If we tip our hand now, he’ll cut it right off.” Then she took a deep breath. “You’re not supposed to be here, Alex.”
     Rat took the sudden topic shift in stride. She coughed, “Just thought I’d invite myself to the party. You don’t have to thank me.”
     “It’s not a joke. I don’t have time for–“
     “Someone with a knack for getting into places she’s not supposed to?” Rat offered, finishing the sentence for her.
     A long pause fell between them. Nobody in the group dared to speak until Harmony came away from the table, lips curled faintly upward. “It’s harder to keep you out than in, huh?” she mused. “Alright. Stick around if you think you can pull your weight. Maybe you’ll get to use your talents.”
     Rat beamed with pride — at least until she remembered what she was supposed to do. She joined the ranks a little more subdued. Her only comfort was that, when the dust settled, they’d be rid of Banshee. That was a good cause in itself.
     “Get your gear sorted out,” Karen ordered the team, projecting all the command of a drill instructor. “This government isn’t gonna topple itself, so kindly move yourselves to doing what you’re supposed to do!”
     Without any gear to sort out, Rat stayed behind, alone with Harmony. They stared at the map together and thought.
     “I hope Ryan’s right,” whispered Harmony. “It’s exactly the kind of scandal we need to bring Kensei down. If we can really prove he’s involved in the European attacks . . . Well, the Feds’ll be out for blood. I wouldn’t give him five minutes once it hit the news.”
     Rat swallowed, her mouth dry as bone. “Or it could be a trap.”
     “Nothing ventured, Alex.” She smiled, and her eyes glimmered like emerald fire as she drank in that data vault. “Fortes fortuna adiuvat. Fortune favours the bold!”

***

     There was a sick feeling in Rat’s stomach as she dialled the number. It started to ring, silently, and she thrust the phone back into her pocket before anyone saw her. What happened to the call after that was of no concern. Hideo ought to be happy with all he got.
     “You’d better appreciate this, Jock,” she muttered under her breath. “If you don’t, I’ll fucking kill you.”
     She looked up at the sound of Karen and Harmony arguing. They kept their voices low, their eyebrows almost touching, but it wasn’t hard to pick up the whispered shouts.
     “You shouldn’t do this,” Karen insisted.
     “I know.”
     “Look, Harm, I know you like to lead from the front, but if this mission goes south–“
     “I know! Kerry, we’re not saying anything we haven’t said before. I can’t let Ryan go without going myself. Exactly who else can rein him in for me?”
     Karen said obstinately, “I could.”
     “And one of you would end up with a hole in your head.” Harmony smiled despite herself. “It’s not up for more discussion. I’ll see you when I get back, okay?”
     Their eyes locked until Karen gave in with a sigh. The two hugged each other briefly, went their separate ways. Karen climbed back to the pub while Harmony joined the other members of the expedition by the trap-door. Banshee, one of his lackeys, and Rat’s own self. They were all that would fit in the vault elevator.
     “We’re burning daylight,” said Banshee. “I don’t want to give Kensei any more time than we already have.”
     “Always in a rush. This won’t be your usual smash-and-grab style, Ryan, so you be patient and follow my lead. ‘Kay?”
     She didn’t wait. Grabbing the ladder, she slid down into the tunnels and got a tram started while the others caught up.
     Rat gripped a handrail for the whole ride, tense as a bowstring. Nothing could relax her. Fear, worry and guilt just piled up on top of each other as time went on, warring in her stomach. She was pale and nauseous by the time they pulled up to a platform. Her hands came away shaking. It was a good thing nobody looked at her, or she might’ve given the whole plan away.
     The rust-eaten door took some persuading, but eventually Banshee managed to kick it open. From there it was a short climb to the basement level of Turin Tower.
     It was different from York, the public areas all painted like sandstone and terracotta, decorated with little arches to mimic old Italy. Creamy faux-marble pillars flanked the walkways like a Roman colonnade.
     Another wave of vertigo started to creep over Rat. Then somebody grabbed her and pulled her along, turning her mind to other things. She was running through a narrow passage into daylight.
     The harsh sun blinded her, brought tears to her eyes. She put up an arm to shield against the glare. Slowly, Four-Alpha arcology swam into focus like the boot-heel of God.
     “Why is everything in this place so Goddamn big?” she panted, hitting the pavement at a dead run. They wanted to be safe and hidden between the arcology’s immense concrete plinths. Sunlight reflected from the lenses of security cameras. Independently solar-powered, hack-proof, and — on this shift — watched by a card-carrying member of Harmony’s movement. No alarms would be going off from there.
     The door was flat, grey, labelled with a yellow warning triangle. It wouldn’t move when Banshee tried the handle. When he bothered to look, he found an old-fashioned mechanical keyhole underneath, and tapped his lackey on the shoulder. “Andy, see what you can do.”
     “Allow me,” Rat cut in. She shouldered her way past the big Irishman and dug one of her emergency lockpicks out of her belt. “I walked out of a Federal dungeon once. This won’t be a problem.”
     It slipped smoothly into the keyhole. She worked the tumblers with delicate movements, applying pressure here, lasering through an obstacle there. Her heart beat in her throat, an echo of the thrill she felt hacking into a virgin system. Same idea, just not as satisfying. The little glow in her heart when the lock ticked open wouldn’t last. It was like spending your whole life in training for a bronze medal. For second or third best.
     Harmony patted her on the shoulder and entered first. There was something held up between her fingers. An unmarked, white plastic card.
     Rat gasped when she saw it. She almost ran her mouth, but managed to stop herself before she said anything stupid. Anything revealing.
     Grudging respect in his voice, Banshee remarked, “So that’s how you get around so easy.”
     “Kensei isn’t the only king in Laputa.” She grinned over her shoulder. “Are you coming?”
     They piled into the elevator, shut the doors, and started their descent.

***

     Her anxiety levels rose with each ticking second. The elevator fell deeper and deeper into the earth, and every inch of altitude added to the pressure in Rat’s chest. She didn’t know what was going to happen. What would be waiting for her at the bottom of this shaft, or what might happen while she was here, or what could jump her on the way out. Who would still be alive in an hour or two. It was torture.
     “Please stop tapping your foot,” said Harmony. Rat jerked back to attention, blushed sheepishly when she found her leg bobbing up and down.
     “Um. Sorry.”
     The rest of the descent was silent except for their breathing. Rat swallowed. She had to concentrate to stop herself panting, her lungs trying to keep up with her racing heart.
     Still, she believed she and Jock would get out of it okay. She had to.
     The carriage slid to a halt. The doors opened. Harmony stepped out without fear or hesitation, holding up the card. One by one the automated turrets and patrol robots disarmed themselves. Unfired rounds clicked back into their magazines, and the gun-toting machines went about their business.
     That made the two human staffers very upset behind their bomb-proof window. They remained very still, with the one in the background leaning slightly to the left. Reaching for a silent alarm.
     “Stand down!” Harmony shouted. “I have Royal authorisation to inspect this facility.”
     The nearest guard’s mouth moved, and his voice came through via speakers in the ceiling. “Maybe you do, but we have standing orders to deny and report all unannounced entries.”
     Banshee was prepared. He whipped some kind of weapon out from under his coat, like a sawed-off shotgun with half an electronics shop attached to it. The man at the back dropped, screaming and clawing at his skin.
     “I really think you should reconsider,” said Harmony, sweet as honey. The man looked over his shoulder and went pale. He nodded, moving his hands where everyone could see them, down to the button that unlocked the doors.
     “What the fuck is that?” Rat had to ask, gesturing at Banshee’s improvised gun.
     “Microwave projector. Police used to use ’em to disperse riots. Then we learned how to make them ourselves.” He grinned like a death’s head. The promise he had made hung thick in the air between them. “Banned under Fed law, but if you can get the parts . . .”
     Oh, right. Terrorist. Rat suppressed a shudder and made herself move on.
     The boys went about restraining the two guards, while Rat helped Harmony with the keypad on the input/output room. They couldn’t rely on any code the guards gave them, it would only trigger the silent alarm, so they had to be creative. She unscrewed the panel and — careful not to touch anything else — inserted a thin prong between the arms of the processing chip. It was a metal fork thinner than a piece of paper, widening to a tiny plug socket. A flat wire connected it to Harmony’s hand-held transmitter, and from there to the big computer back in the pub. It would brute-force its way to the right combination while the prong kept any alarm signals from getting out.
     “Let’s hope we don’t have to wait long.” Harmony frowned at the little electric-ink readout on the prong. It would flash up when it found the right code, but there was no hint as to when that might be.
     Rat’s fingers ached as she put the panel cover to one side. Stiff and numb all over. She tried to rub some life back into them, blowing into her fists, and realised her breath was coming out in clouds of steam. Cold rolled in from the window overlooking the storage servers, opaque with condensation. The room was climate-controlled to the best possible temperature.
     Had it felt this cold the last time she was here? She couldn’t remember.
     Her foot started tapping again. She pressed it down on the floor to make it stop, but ended up vibrating in place. Even when the panel lit up there was no relief. She carried all her tension with her into the input room.

***

     “So far so good,” Banshee said. “I should borrow that card from you sometime, Blade.”
     She laughed sharply and pressed it into his hand. “You can have it. After today it’ll be useless.”
     They worked out the strategy in a moment. As the better hacker, Harmony would be the one in the full contact rig. Rat served as her backup, and Banshee took the third crown to supervise. The one he called Andy stood guard with the microwave gun.
     Banshee gave her that awful grin again before he fastened the electrodes against his skull and jacked in. She scowled. Every time she looked at Banshee she felt a little more justified. Helping to take him out of the picture was practically a moral obligation, not just for her own safety, but for the sake of Laputa and Harmony’s conscience.
     The VR system switched on, and she launched into the vault’s file system. It was familiar enough she could’ve gone right to work. Again, she had to hold back to maintain her cover.
     “Ryan, connect your drive and start pulling everything,” said Harmony. “Alex and I are gonna take a look at the internals while we’ve got the chance.”
     Rat’s avatar nodded. A mental hand-wave opened the list of system commands. She requested an overview of all data chunks and their owners. Privately, hidden from everyone else, she also did a search for the tags she placed weeks ago. Just to check.
     She couldn’t believe her eyes when the search blinked green, expanding to show the outlines of the Irish simulation in code as well as the physical location of the data, spread out across the vault’s servers. She stifled a squeak. How could anybody be that careless? She shut the window and reassured herself. There was no way to trace the tags back to her. At least, there shouldn’t be. Deleting them now would certainly look worse.
     Just play it cool, Rat, she thought. Act like it’s news to you.
     Harmony made a curious noise. “That’s funny. Alex, take a look at this.” Her avatar, a blank white silhouette, threw a window at Rat. She caught it and opened it up. “It’s a usage log. Somebody accessed this vault recently. Two days before the attack on the Fifteen, if I’m not mistaken.”
     “That . . . smells a little suspicious.”
     “Give that girl a prize for understatement,” Banshee interjected. “This might be the jackpot. Find out as much as you can, transfer’s at six percent.”
     Gathering up her nerve, Rat took a deep breath. “Here’s something really weird. Some of the data is tagged, four chunks owned by Eire Informatics. Most of it looks like a contiguous program.”
     Harmony was already one step ahead, flicking the frozen simulation into being around them. Black nothingness shimmered and shaped into a rocky emerald-green island. The mound entrance stretched out behind them, and in front was the last faerie stopped in its death throes.
     “Interesting,” said Banshee. He took a copy of the window when Rat offered it, enlarged it to fill his view. Picked at specific bits and pieces. “Very interesting.”
     “Is that all you’ve got, Ryan?” murmured Harmony. “After all, you used to own EI until very recently . . . You ought to be giving us a pretty good explanation.”
     “If I had one, it’d be a state secret.”
     “Of a state you don’t rule anymore. Somebody’s already replaced you, Ryan. Just like Kensei.”
     There was no answer to that. He retreated into stubborn silence, and she was already absorbed in the technical details of the simulation.
     “Whatever it was supposed to be, this sim’s been altered since it arrived,” she said. The silhouette’s fingers darted through reams of underlying code. “There’s lots of missing bits and pieces. Corrupted and overwritten with garbage. They must’ve hit the pause button to prevent more damage. Now why would Kensei do that to his own software, Ryan?”
     “Any number of reasons. Say, diverting more suspicion onto me.”
     Her avatar flashed a smile, black teeth outlined against its white mouth. “He did a good job.”
     “You’re being awfully catty today, Blade. Stop. It doesn’t suit you.”
     A faint noise in the background distracted Rat from the bickering. She reached up to pull her earplugs out, to let her listen. Nothing. She wondered if she’d imagined it, but then it started again, louder and sharper. Like a blunt hacksaw grinding against steel.
     Her ears popped. The lights died a heartbeat later, leaving only a red emergency bulb. A backup generator rumbled to life in the distance and stopped again with a loud crunch. Every screen and gadget in the room went black one by one. The doors groaned, pried open by big metal hands.
     The boy called Andy stopped halfway to raising his gun. He sat down and toppled backwards, his chest a pincushion of tranquiliser darts.
     Two Laputan battlesuits forced into the narrow room. One grabbed Banshee and pinned him down against the floor. The other held his gun trained on Rat. Until a well-manicured human hand reached out and pushed it away.
     “Stand down, Sergeant. She won’t give us any trouble,” said the hand’s owner. The King of Laputa came into view with a smug expression plastered across his face. “Seems we’re in famous company. Not one, but two illustrious heroes of the resistance movement. It’s been a long time, Blade.”
     Rat’s eyes wouldn’t leave the floor. Guilty teardrops gathered inside her goggles, one by one, until she couldn’t see anything anymore.

***

     Tension crackled in the air between them. Harmony took off the VR rigging strap by strap. Banshee squirmed around on the floor, hissing curses at the Guards. Rat couldn’t even open her mouth if she wanted to. She never wanted it to go like this. Some part of her had been hoping to maybe slip Harmony out in the confusion, or at least engineer circumstances that’d make her look less like a complete traitor.
     “Kensei,” said Harmony. A frosty greeting while she pulled off her goggles, hung them back on their little hook. Her eyes never left his. “You look terribly smug about something.”
     Hideo leaned one shoulder against the wall, casual-like, and made a dismissive gesture. “I never pursued you, you know. Not beyond a token effort to keep up appearances. I allowed you to get away, hoping you’d be smart enough to let it go and start over somewhere else.”
     “Aren’t you the fucking spirit of generosity,” she shot back.
     “Suit yourself. You always were a stubborn bitch, even in bed.” There was a sharp hiss, an indrawn breath of shock. It took a moment for Rat to realise she was the one who made it. “You just can’t leave well enough alone. To stand back and let progress happen.”
     “And let you run the Nations as some pathetic boys’ club for another decade? More? It’s guys like you that plunged our dream back into the Goddamn Dark Ages.”
     Sighing, Hideo mimed washing his hands of the whole affair. “I’ve had some space prepared for you. You’ll be my guests aboard Cloud City until the situation calms down enough to put you on trial. I suggest you come quietly.”
     Harmony held up one hand for patience, while the other reached into her pocket. “Actually, I’ve got something you should read first. Here.”
     It was a letter. Written in pen and ink. The paper crackled as Hideo unfolded it.
     “Dear Hideo,” he read aloud. “You always were a clever boy. It won’t surprise you to know I’m back in the game. Knowing you, you probably figured it out a while ago. Since you’re reading this letter, you were even prepared for today’s surprise. No, there wasn’t much I could ever do to catch you off-balance.
     “There’s just one thing I want to ask you. What time is it?” He glanced down at his watch. Twelve minutes past three. “I ask because your vault software runs back-ups at random times and dates, communicated with the best encryption in the world. The vaults themselves open their outside lines for just ten minutes before the whole mess is physically disconnected. The encryption is unbreakable. There are no vulnerabilities in the system. You know this because you designed it. So I’ll let you wonder how I found out today’s back-ups run at three o’clock . . .”
     As he trailed off, his jaw slowly dropping, the woman with Harmony’s face turned off her holomask. The little needles slipped out of her skin one by one, revealing Karen’s sharp cheekbones and ice-blue eyes. Her lips were curled into a frosty smile.
     “Surprise. Do you like my haircut?” she asked deadpan. She straightened from a hunch that had been invisible under her clothes, gaining more than an inch in height. She began to recite the rest of the letter from memory.
     “I kindly asked my associate to take my place and, while connected, dump the contents of your vault directly to GlobeNet. I’ve released Ryan’s captured data in the same way. Maybe you could smooth over losing one of your precious vaults, but two? I doubt it. I wouldn’t be surprised if every corp in the world is knocking on your door in the next few hours, pulling their contracts.”
     The paper crunched in Hideo’s balled fists. They trembled, knuckles white. Fear crept up Rat’s spine as she watched him. This was something new to her, a side beyond the calm, restrained Hideo Kagehisa she’d seen before.
     He tapped the radio in his wristwatch. “Kensei to Forward Team. SitRep.”
     “Situation negative, Sir,” came the reply. “The pub’s empty. No one here, no traces. Any equipment has been removed or destroyed.”
     “I see,” he said, teeth clenched tight. “If she was out to make me angry, she succeeded.”
     Banshee chuckled bitterly. “She got you good, Kenny. She really played us all.”
     “I don’t think you fully understand the situation. Any of you. Perhaps we need a demonstration as to what making me angry really means. Sergeant!”
     The Guardsman at Hideo’s shoulder stepped forward, servos whining. The cannon in its arm thrust forward. It fit neatly under Banshee’s chin. The Irishman struggled, but his expression held only defiance, not fear.
     He growled, “You wouldn’t. I’m a member of the Fifteen!”
     “Were a member of the Fifteen. Now a wanted terrorist.”
     “He’s bluffing,” Banshee insisted with a glance at Karen and Rat. “He wants us alive. Whatever he tells you, don’t give in.”
     Hideo smiled and tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Oh? And what makes you think I want anything from you?”
     “You gave it away by using non-lethal weapons!”
     “And you’re arrogant enough to think you are the reason why. How quaint. Sergeant, standard rounds, please.” A menacing click sounded deep inside the suit. The barrel under Banshee’s chin trembled faintly. “Thank you. Fire.”
     The shot thundered into the confined space, exploding off the walls like a jackhammer. It damn near blew Rat’s eardrums. She clamped her hands over her ears in agony. The immense sound died away slowly, and even then the only thing she could hear was the ringing in her brain. She watched Banshee fall to the floor in perfect silence.
     Empty eyes stared out of a pale, surprised expression. Blood oozed from the fist-sized hole in his throat.
     She wanted to scream, to let out her fear and revulsion, but she clamped down inside and locked those emotions away. She told herself she was harder than that. She’d seen bodies before. The world didn’t need Ryan O’Doherty, was better off without him. He no longer existed.
     It was just that she never expected to be present at his execution.
     “I hope you’re listening to this, Kohler,” Hideo shouted at the ceiling, his voice full of focussed rage. “I will not let you jeopardise my Nations. Not Laputa, not any of them. Read it loud and clear! You can walk away or you can join your Irish friend, but I’ll be damned if I let you take away everything I’ve worked for.”
     Karen sneered. Unfazed by the body. “You mean everything you stole.”
     “You don’t know a damn thing. Sergeant, prep the transport! We’ve got prisoners!” He swept away as if to leave, but turned back at the door, grinning. A cruel, vindictive flash of teeth. “Maybe along the way I’ll tell you how I found you. It’s quite an interesting little story of love and betrayal . . .”
     “Leave her alone!” a voice echoed off the walls. Rat’s voice. Shock and horror had turned into anger, a boiling fury like she hadn’t felt in ages. There were so many things to be angry about and she couldn’t contain them all any longer. She was already on her feet and in his face. “Who are you to threaten and murder people because you’re mad things didn’t go your way?! I thought you were supposed to be a king, someone refined, but you’re not! You’re just a Goddamn bully!”
     He stared at her for a long time. Then he began to laugh, quietly, softly. “Congratulations,” he said. “You’ve figured out what royalty is.”
     The Guards moved in and took her by the shoulders. She shouted, kicked, screamed, and fought, but it was no use. What was done was done.

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