Episode 49: See you on the other side

Click to see catch-up summary

We catch up with Qin, now a member of the Republic Navy with a choice to make. Stay, or go?

Qin looked at herself in the full-length mirror next to the closet in her quarters, feeling her stomach tighten. Gone was the white, Navy uniform of the Imperium she had worn for the past two years. In its place was a neutral gray uniform with sharper edges and creases, and a single zipper up the middle instead of the buttons its predecessor had. 

It was an austere symbol of a regime which had—just three hours, forty-seven minutes ago—unseated the High Imperius and declared the era of the Imperium over. And with that declaration, so ended the existence of Qin Meredessi, officer in the Imperium Navy. Now, she served the Republic, and Lord Ascendant Gallow.

The uniforms had been issued within the last hour, shortly after all hands aboard the Terminus were notified of their new orders. All crew were instructed to don their new uniform, login to the ship’s systems to activate their republic personnel files, and pledge their allegiance to President Archer and the Lord Ascendant. Or, for those who wished to object, submit themselves for processing on the detention deck. To Qin’s knowledge, none so far had chosen this option.

Qin turned from the mirror and walked to her desk, the uniform fabric tight around her chest and throat. No, it was not the uniform suffocating her. It was the torrent of panic she was holding behind a dam of willpower. She leaned forward, placing her palms against the desk’s surface and closing her eyes, taking three, slow, calming breaths. She could not break down now. 

Martial law had been declared across the Republic, all the planets that had been the Imperium. Qin had just awoken when it was announced that the Kestris capital had been bombed. Within an hour, the High Imperius was dead, his former capitol building in flames, and the new republic already divided between those who immediately swore allegiance, and those who had not.

Qin’s efforts—and Director Clarke’s efforts, and Julian’s efforts, and even Agent Mori’s efforts—had prevented nothing. There had been no contact from Director Clarke or Julian, and ship-to-surface communications were completely restricted through the Terminus’s comm center. OS-9 intelligence reports indicated that 5E was furloughed and had been ordered to cease operations. Unless she decided to out herself as a 5E agent and report to the detention deck, Qin was trapped.

She lifted her head and opened her eyes, letting the familiarity of her quarters ground her. Her life on the Terminus and position is OS-9 was always a front, but it was a complete life, one she had lived as if it were real. If her status as a 5E plant been known, she would already be in restraints. The Rosewood program was completely compartmentalized away from 5E, and no record of her assignment existed in agency databases. She was safe for now, though what “safe” meant in Lord Ascendant Gallow’s republic remained to be seen. 

Qin looked at her comm. She was due to meet Yadav before their next shift. Whether their plans were still on, Qin didn’t know. They had not had the chance to speak since the republic’s announcement was issued. All personnel were ordered to maintain their duty schedules, and her first shift was starting in twenty-two minutes. 

She needed to speak to Yadav, to see her face and gauge her reaction to the morning’s events. Yadav was the only friend she had, and though Qin had pledged her allegiance to the Republic as a matter of self-preservation, Qin presumed that Yadav felt as unsettled by Gallow’s new regime as she did. Regardless of the flaws the Imperium had, overthrowing the government through murder, betrayal, and fear was no way to establish a Republic anyone could ever trust.

Qin’s door chime sounded. She flinched at the sound, her gaze whipping to the closed door. Ship’s security would not have used the chime. She placed her hands on her computer on the desk, quickly requesting the comm location of Lieutenant Yadav. She was one deck away, which likely meant Qin had little time to see to her guest.

Qin righted her posture and faced the door. “Identify visitor,” she said. The voice of her computer came back: Sergeant Bennett Lee.

Qin rushed to the door and pressed the access panel. Lee stood in the doorway, wearing the same gray uniform as Qin.

“Lieutenant Meredessi, if I may have a moment,” Lee said, the jocular persona of the sergeant absent from his voice. 

Qin stuck her head through the door and looked down the corridor in both directions before motioning for Lee to hurry inside. Lee stepped in, the door sliding shut behind him.

“Lee, what is this?” Qin said, hugging her own arms against her body. 

Lee exhaled sharply. “Qin, 5E has been ordered to stand down and turn themselves over for processing. This is an abort scenario. We’ve got no one down there.”

Qin blinked, huffing as she processed Lee’s statement. “Director Clarke sent you to me? Is he calling us down?”

Lee shook his head. “No, Qin. You need to understand, Clarke is powerless. 5E is under siege. We’re cut off, in danger, and I’m taking my out. This is your chance to do so as well.”

Qin swallowed, feeling her chest tighten. She thought to Yadav. She would be at her quarters soon. “I am… I mean, what do you have arranged?”

Lee dropped his hands, sighing heavily. “I’ve triggered an automated order that will call me down to the surface for a Navy reassignment. The sergeant isn’t needed aboard the Terminus with the changes to Indigo, and Gallow’s increased security measures mean that temps like Sergeant Lee won’t be getting a free ride on the flagship anymore.”

Qin’s breathing quickened, the panic pushing against the dam of willpower. “What about when you reach the surface? Will you not be expected to report to a Navy checkpoint?”

Lee grinned. “Yep, and Sergeant Lee will be reported as absent without leave, whereabouts unknown. I have a route to a safe location where some bug-out gear and fake credentials are waiting. After that, I’ll improvise a way to get off-planet.”

“But… why?” Qin said, surprised at her own words.

Lee’s face wrinkled with confusion. “Why? Why what?”

“Why exfiltrate yourself immediately from the Navy and Kestris?” Qin said, frustration creeping into her voice. “We do not have enough information on what has transpired, and presuming you do make it off-planet, what happens after that?”

Lee narrowed his eyes. “Qin, even if you and I hadn’t already been acting against the Navy and the Fleet Marshal, serving in the regime of the ‘Lord Ascendant’ and his president is not a life that either Agent or Sergeant Lee is willing to stomach. Gallow is a warlord, and this is going to be bloody. With 5E terminated, I can’t help anyone from up here. I plan to establish contact with those who are already resisting the Republic on the outer planets.”

Qin looked to the door, processing Lee’s logic. He was correct; Gallow was not a peaceful leader, and the conflict between the new Republic and those who resisted it promised to be a civil war that would likely not end quickly.

Qin turned and paced across her cabin. Yadav would be looking for her soon and would discover Lee in her quarters. Qin needed a solution, but nothing  was coming to her.

“Qin,” Lee said, voice low and slow, “did you make an evacuation plan?”

Qin turned, still hugging her body. “I… I did not.”

 Lee exhaled and muttered a curse. He placed one hand on his hip, the other he balled up into a fist and gently tapped his forehead. His eyes were shut—thinking, planning, evaluating. Finally, he nodded quickly.

“Okay. I might be able to get you with me if you can use your access privileges to hack the order. It can say you’re to escort me so we can do a knowledge transfer, but we have to go now. Once we step out, we’re on a countdown. Deserters will be treated as enemy combatants and assumed loyalists.”

“Loyalists.” Qin said softly. “I have never thought of it that way. Is that what we are now? Loyal to what? The Imperium and its dead ruler?”

Lee shook his head, raising a defiant finger. “Not to Gallow, that much I know.” Lee crossed the room and put both his hands on Qin’s shoulders. “If we don’t leave now, there might not be another chance. There are already rumors that the Sellacan’s are staging fleets ready to strike anyone loyal to the republic or not, they won’t discriminate. Gallow will want to end this civil war as quickly and brutally as possible so he can turn around and finish what we all thought ended between us and the Sellacans seventeen years ago.”

Qin turned from Lee, folding her arms and walking to her plants. The artificial background noise from the Terminus was the only sound, just as manufactured and inauthentic as her career as a faithful Navy lieutenant. 

Qin listened; no, it wasn’t the only sound. Beneath the artificial ambience was the soft buzz of heat lamps, the sound of bubblers, the hum of cooling fans. The sounds of the Terminus might be artificial, but the sounds of the life she’d grown here, just like the plants, were not. They were adapted to this place, and so was she. Qin might be here under false pretenses, but these quarters were her home, these plants were her pastime. And the relationship she was cultivating with Yadav was as real as the plants she’d successfully grown in this less-than-hospitable environment.

“I cannot go.” The words escaped before she could process them. Immediately, she felt her panic recede as she spoke this truth. “I do not know anything else. Your ‘Sergeant Lee’ identity, that is someone you created for a role. You are trained for mobility and have an alternative life to fall back on, skills you can use, ways you can contribute from the outside. I do not. I have created no one, I am me. Abandoning this life would be the same as if you to stayed aboard and maintained the life of Sergeant Lee. This place… it is the environment I am perfectly adapted to.”

Lee scoffed, throwing up his hands. “You understand you’ll be imprisoning yourself here, right? You’ll be on the Terminus as a part of the Republic Navy. No 5E, no hidden mission. Your life will be carrying out orders you don’t believe in. What happens when Gallow turns OS-9 against the populace? You’ll be complicit in his regime.”

Qin’s mind spun faster, panic abating as she created new potential scenarios and solutions as fast as her neurons could fire. One particular solution rose to the surface.

Qin raised her gaze to Lee’s, squaring her shoulders. “No. I do not have to be. I can still serve my purpose here. You and other resisters will be out there, fighting the Republic’s control. If there is a civil war, a resistance movement will formalize soon against the Republic”

A reluctant acceptance crossed Lee’s face. He nodded. “Yes, it will.”

Qin returned the nod. “People like you, Agent Mori, Agent Siddig, the planets who resist, all the other agents and officers who reject Gallow’s new rule and President Archer. When the time comes for you to fight back, I can be an inside source aboard the Terminus. A hiddenbeacon.”

Lee furrowed his brow but remained silent. Qin continued, resolve replacing the continually receding panic as she spoke.

“You will need someone here more than anywhere. I know the ship. I have deep access and significant promotion potential. I will focus on rising up the ranks, embedding deeper and deeper, establishing new protocols and ways to reach you on the outside.” Qin took a breath, her chest expanding and pushing the panic back until it was almost gone. “My value is here.”

Lee said nothing. His face was a mix of concern and reluctance. Qin turned and walked to her desk, opening one of the drawers and retrieving a datapad. Major Drake’s datapad.

“Here,” she handed the datapad to Lee. “This has the complete set of data from the Indigo investigation on it, as well as everything collected on Commander Tau. I have masked the files, they will not be detected under inspection. Get this to Agent Siddig. Tell him I will provide decryption keys for Indigo in the same place he activated me from. He will understand.”

Lee looked down at the datapad, sergeant’s mischievous grin returning. “You can’t give the keys now?”

Qin tapped a finger on the edge of the datapad. “I will first have to manufacture them. I was not the one to load this datapad.”

Lee’s eyes narrowed—understanding, recognition. “Got it. I will re-establish a more durable contact channel with you once…” He shrugged. “Well, once I can.”

“What do I look for?” Qin asked.

Lee flashed a remorseful grin. “I have no idea, but I’ll make sure you know it when you see it. First, I have to make it out.” Lee put his hand on her arm. “What you’re doing, it’s brave. Don’t forget that. This,” he held up the datapad, “make sure that I am the one to blame for its disappearance. I took it, working alone. Divert focus and rumors of 5E infiltrators onto me. I won’t be needing any Navy reputation after this. And, I like the idea of Gallow finding out he had a traitor working right under his nose.” Lee gave her a casual salute. “I’ll see you on the other side, Meredessi.”

Qin nodded. “Yes, Agent Lee, you will.”

Lee gave Qin a final glance before ducking back into the hall. Qin’s ticket off the Terminus disappeared as the doors to her cabin slid closed.

She stood for a moment, letting her mind process what she’d just done. The panic she thought had been calmed by her newfound resolve once again clawed at her senses, the uniform of the Republic tightening around her chest and neck. She breathed, letting her lungs expand and resist the constriction. 

She had to do this. There was no other alternative now.

The chime from her door sounded again. Qin tapped the wall panel; it was Yadav. Qin closed her eyes, setting her expression to one of calm acceptance, reminding herself of the reason she had decided to stay behind. A shiver of calm passed over her. Her life was her own now. She had made her choice. 

The door to Qin’s quarters slid open. Qin reached out and grabbed Yadav’s hand and pulled her into the room, door sliding shut behind them just as their lips met. Yadav did not pull away. Her hand rose to Qin’s cheek just as their faces parted. In this moment, she could allow herself to be real, to embrace her feelings. 

“I have not checked if the Republic Navy has the same fraternization regulations as the Imperium,” Qin whispered, forehead pressed against Yadav’s. “If so, we can plead ignorance.”

Yadav exhaled, her voice low. “I think ship’s security has bigger concerns than a pair like us. We can always ask for forgiveness instead of permission.”

Qin nodded, her euphoria tainted by a splinter of sadness at the lie she has now committed to live. “Yes. For forgiveness.”

Julian turned and activated the locking sequence on the door to the single-room studio apartment he’d rented under a false identity for the past three years. He’d never shared its existence with anyone, not even Samantha or Clarke. It was nothing elaborate—a studio apartment in a secure but low-cost building on the edge of Kestris City. It had only one purpose: to give him time to figure out what to do in a time of dire need.

Julian activated the lights and stepped inside. There was a small bed, a small round table with a chair, and a small door to an even smaller bathroom, and a small kitchen built into the far wall with a small window just above the sink. 

Once a year, he would take a day to visit this place and refresh the complement of supplies he kept here: a backpack of nondescript clothing that fit whatever the year’s most popular style was; several weeks of long-term, stable rations; a medical supply kit; a small selection of untraceable civilian handheld firearms; and a crate of three advanced mobile computers stored beneath a dusty blanket. They were the reason he was here. Each air-gapped computer contained a slightly-outdated download of all 5E data, all agency hacking and infiltration utilities, a collection of Imperium codes and keys, and were the only thing that would allow him to make it off of Kestris while the navy had it under siege.

Making it out of 5E headquarters and across the city had been a delicate task, but the systems of the Imperium were easy enough to hack given Julian’s intimate knowledge of them. He’d made it across the city before the military police and Navy had fully descended into the streets. A city the size of the capital was too large for even the Imperium-turned-Republic military to fully patrol. The city police had been slow to mobilize, and Julian’s modified car had taken him far enough away from the capitol compound that traffic was still operating normally. 

Julian pulled the blanket off the crate, a puff of dust hanging in the air from the motion. The black security crate was decidedly out of place in this stark apartment. He tapped a small control on the front of the crate and an interface lit up. If anyone tried to access the crate without authorization, the interior would send enough electricity through the equipment to render everything useless. It would be a sorry loss, but the annually updated dump of 5E intelligence and tools could not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. Julian chuckled at the thought; according to the New Kestris Republic, those enemy hands were now Julian’s.

The crate opened with a hermetically sealed hiss, its lid flapping open to reveal three identical mobile computers resting vertically in padded slots. He’d updated them seven months ago. A little stale, but compared to what he’d have had access to if forced to purchase equipment from a civilian retailer, each of these computers turned Julian into a near-unstoppable digital force. He lifted two out and placed them in the backpack with the clothes. The third he opened and set on the table.

The screen came to life. Julian entered his access credentials, personal ones not tied to 5E, and the list of digital utilities appeared. 5E had designed their software to violate nearly every law the Imperium promised it would not break. Every encryption standard released to the public that was guaranteed to be free from prying eyes had a deeply embedded Imperium exploit key. Every new digital security measure that was promised to have no backdoor had not one, but multiple side-doors this computer would allow him to access. This was how agents like Julian and organizations like 5E stayed a step ahead of whoever they were pursuing, by rigging the game from the start.

Julian sat at the table, hands on the keyboard, entering commands one after another. Like the computer he had prepared for Samantha, this machine was his lifeline and insurance policy. Once he left Kestris—and he would leave Kestris—the public networks would all be restricted behind the digital Navy blockade. No unauthorized transmissions would make it out of the system without Navy approval for the duration of martial law. Even when that was over, he suspected that Gallow’s people—OS-9 and the Naval Special Investigation Division—would be monitoring all traffic. 

Julian took a deep, cleansing breath, held it to a count of eight, then exhaled. It was time to connect. 

The computers tunneled through the public Kestris networks to servers he maintained on Kestris in a commercial datacenter open to any corporation who could pay. A shell company owned his virtual servers, the lease paid years in advance. The servers were programmed to automatically harvest new data from across the Imperium, storing it on the servers so it would be ready to access in an event such as this. In the eyes of the law, most of what the systems stored was illegal, stolen from 5E and other government agencies. But, Julian assumed that if he were in a position where he had to use it, legal problems were the least of his concerns.

The computer screen flashed a notification: connection established. The contents of his remote servers appeared on the screen. Julian selected the entire contents and initiated a transfer. Once it was done, the remote servers would virtually self-destruct. No reason to leave the servers online once he was done since coming back was not going to be an option. 

System messages scrolled past. Most of the messages were what he already knew—the Navy had taken control of the planet. Many of the connection requests were rejected, the Republic intelligence operatives already having blocked outside access. Had he been given more warning, a dump of 5E’s current data could have been partially instigated, but the attack on the capitol—and the lockdown of 5E—had been too abrupt. He was lucky to be here, and if Director Clarke had not insisted he leave when he had, Julian might not have made it out at all.

The download was nearly complete. Julian took the pencil from behind his ear and tapped his chin. Once everything was downloaded, making his way to his next location was his only priority. Problem was, he didn’t know where that was. Gallow’s forces would continue to lock down the planet, but the Navy was nowhere near large enough to control the entire surface of Kestris. Instead, they would monitor orbit, presuming that those on the planet were stuck and could be dealt with at the navy’s leisure.

Something unusual on the screen caught Julian’s eye. A system message not from the servers. He tapped the pencil against the screen and hummed. It was an automated trigger from the security system at Samantha’s apartment, a dead-man’s switch that had been set a long time ago in case her residence was ever breached. Of course, after her section-42, 5E internal affairs had obtained a warrant to go inside and search the entire place, but that was an expected breach. Someone using Samantha’s own credentials to try and brute-force a futile breach was both strange and unexpected.

Julian hummed again. It appeared that someone had tried to gain access and failed numerous times. He scoffed. Renic, no doubt. Why would he have tried to access the security system at all? He had the resources and authority to take a plasma torch to the door and cut his way in. Maybe it wasn’t Renic. Whoever it was, they appeared to have tried to gain access twice, then three more times, then five, then seven…

The pattern made Julian chuckle in approval. Seven prime numbers in a row, a sequence so improbable he couldn’t even guess at how many zeros would be behind the decimal point if he calculated its randomness. It wasn’t Renic; it was Samantha. She must have triggered her own dead-man’s switch, knowing the automated scripts would eventually reach him. 

Julian sent a connection request back to the apartment’s security system. It was still online. It appeared that the access attempts had been accomplished by an encrypted message. He downloaded the contents and ran them against the set of encryption signatures he’d loaded onto Samantha’s computer. Instantly, the message decrypted and appeared into a block of text on his screen.

Julian. I’ve seen the news from Kestris. If you’re reading this, I’m already in jumpspace on my way to you. Don’t bother trying to contact me to tell me to turn back. Like it or not, I’m exfiltrating you out of the Imperium. Clarke too, if he’ll come. You were right about Renic, though if you picked up on the feeds from Senali, you probably know that the trail ended with Kat Basara and picked right back up with him. He was behind it all. Him and Gallow. You need to get away from the capital. Head to the Dai’Reen province in the southern hemisphere. I have a plan that will put the Nighthawk to good use. I’ve included it’s comm beacon and the Kestris-standard time I will be dropping into range for you to establish contact so I can deliver an exact location. Don’t stand me up.

“Oh my,” Julian murmured, tapping his pencil against his chin. His professional instinct was to be dismayed at the risk Samantha was taking. His personal instinct was to be grateful to have a friend coming back for him. Under no circumstances would he have ever suggested she come back, but, as she’d written, ‘like it or not’, it appeared he had a ride off-planet—as long as he could make it to the south. Getting there would be a delicate journey. Not impossible, but not easy. At least now he knew what his next move was.

Julian eyed the shabby bed he had never slept in. His body ached at the thought of resting his eyes for a few moments. No time. The access attempts at Samantha’s apartment were over a day old. He sighed and turned his attention back to his computer. The data from the remote servers was almost complete. He sighed again, planning how he would make it across the planet when a second message appeared.

Julian sat forward, eyes narrowing at the address. It was an older dead-drop address, set up over two years ago. Julian reached back through his memory, recalling what had been going on around that time. Two years. He and Samantha had been in top form, most of their work taking place far out in the Fringe. The Red Kestrels had not been a system-wide threat. Renic was still a member of 5E, albeit working for a different director’s division. Clarke had been…

That was right. These dead-drops aligned with Clarke’s implementation of Rosewood assets, namely Qin on the Terminus. It made sense. She would be needing a way off the Terminus, though Julian would be of little help from here until he was in a secured location off Kestris.

He opened the message. 

Rosewood abort carrying priority-zero critical package. Seeking rendezvous and exfil. Comm address attached.

Julian hummed in approval. With no access to 5E channels or official means, this was a rather inventive way to make contact. Point-to-point comms were difficult to intercept. Encrypted at both ends, the data was nothing but meaningless garbage to anyone monitoring it without the key. Julian retrieved one of the clean upgrade comms from his backpack and connected to the public networks. Once a link was established, he entered the address that had come with the message and waited for an audio link to establish.

“Agent Siddig, the color of the day is, you guessed it… Indigo. That enough verification for you?” the male voice over the comm said.

Julian smiled; it was not Qin. “Verification, well… verified enough. Agent Lee, I presume?”

“Julian, I’m on the ground and I have something for you from our mutual friend.”

Renic’s Navy-owned, armored sedan slowed to a stop, lowering to the ground. The side door slid open and Renic stepped out, dressed in his gray and black-trimmed republic uniform for the first time. He’d changed out of his old Navy blues on the trip down from the Terminus, his final act of delivering the High Imperius to his execution now concluded. 

Renic was no longer an errand-runner in Gallow’s grand conspiracy. He was the author of his own fate now, and his first order as commander in the Republic Navy had been for the car to take him directly to the siege-in-progress at 5E headquarters.

Renic strode across the scene, military police and Naval Special Investigation Division operatives standing in defensible positions behind vehicles pulled right up to the steps of the 5E building. This was only one of the many simmering conflicts transpiring across the planet, but this one belonged to Renic.

Operative Kogan approached from a group of commandos, all of them wearing fully geared assault suits, bolt repeater rifle held in his hands. He stopped just in front of Renic and gave the new fist-over-heart Republic salute, part of the fleet-wide dossier on Republic Navy protocols sent directly from the office of the Lord Ascendent.

Renic returned the unfamiliar gesture. “Report.”

“Building is locked down, Commander. None of the occupants have chosen to submit themselves for processing,” Kogan said. 

Renic snorted. “Unsurprising. Casualties?”

Kogan turned and pointed toward the stepped entrance.  “Two of our operatives took fire, and several former agents are down inside the building, though we don’t have a count. We have intel that some managed to evacuate shortly after the alert was issued, but we’ve secured the ground level now and blocked access to elevators, stairwells, and all underground tunnels.”

Renic folded his arms across his chest—ignoring the searing pain only partially deadened by the drugs—and glared at his former employer’s headquarters in the mid-morning sun. The Navy had landed several personnel transport ships around the capitol compound, the compact vessels setting down wherever they could fit. Armed marines and soldiers flooded the streets, the Kestris city police having been ordered to stand down and relinquish control of the situation to the Navy. Behind the navy barricades, local Kestris news crews, cameras, and low-altitude drones watched, transmitting views of the siege across the planet and sector.

It resembled a warzone, and in a way, it was. Renic gestured to one of Kogan’s commandos, motioning to be handed a weapon. The commando unslung the bolt rifle off his shoulder and handed it to Renic. It had been some time since he had fired a full-sized rifle. Most of his work had been easily accomplished with the low-velocity rail pistol he carried in his jacket. This time, something with a little more punch would be necessary.

Renic jerked his chin toward Kogan. “Assault team is ready?”

Kogan nodded. “Yes, sir. Six of our best are—” Kogan raised a hand to his ear. “Repeat?” He paused, eyes moving to Renic then back to 5E headquarters. “Affirmative.”

Renic felt his stomach tighten. “Operative?”

Kogan lowered his hand. “Commander, Director Clarke has requested a cease-fire along with the opportunity to surrender on the front steps. He’s sent his request to us and OS-9, Navy Command and Control, and… the press.”

Renic’s teeth clenched together, his jaw a vice that caused his neck muscles to tremble. He looked to the rows of cameras in the distance, broadcasting live footage of the scene to Kestris, the Republic, and the Fringe at large.

He tossed the rifle back to the commando. Clarke had denied Renic the satisfaction of taking him by force by surrendering through official channels. That meant a data-trail, and something else that Renic was not used to dealing with: due process. The image of a freshly-minted Republic Navy Commander gunning down a surrendering old man live on the vids would not play well to Archer’s plan of a just and measured presidency.

Fantasies of a pitched gun battle evaporated. There would be no firing bolts from around corners and down the halls of 5E headquarters. If this was how Clarke wanted to end things, so be it. He was just a middle-aged man past his prime, finally admitting defeat to his superior.

“Everyone is to cease fire,” Renic growled. “Allow the former director to exit and have him brought to division headquarters. To the white room.”

Kogan saluted, fist over heart. “Right away, Commander.”

Renic glared up at the steps of 5E. If Clarke thought this meant things were over, he was mistaken. All it meant was Renic had to move him somewhere there would be no witnesses.