The ongoing weekly serial continues. Click here for the introduction,  here for Part 1, here for part 2, here for part 3, here for part 4, here for part 5, here for part 6, here for part 7, and here for part 8.


Chapter Sixteen


“So this used to be a Temple,” I said to Maahes as we surveyed the spacious, decaying room.

The building had been abandoned for decades. We’d walked through the front entrance, devoid of a door, and into the decrepit main prayer room. Surrounded by red brick walls, the wooden ceiling had caved in, dumping debris unto massive crossbeams above our heads, each one anchored in the middle by square wooden columns that sank into the carpeted floor beneath our feet. I felt the carpet but couldn’t see it. It was covered with a ten-centimeter layer of dirt and dust. Two long wooden prayer benches were thrown haphazardly in one corner near a broken window that allowed the only light into the room.

“It used to be,” he said. “The construction firm who built it used shoddy materials. It was condemned a few years later after the roof fell in.”

“Is it safe for us to use?”

“Not this room, no.” Maahes shook his head. “Follow me.”

He led me through a doorway on the far side of the room. I could just make out a hallway running off to the left and a stairway leading down to the right through the fading light. Maahes flicked on a torch and pointed it toward the stairs. 

“We need to go down,” he said. 

“Of course we do.” 

At the bottom of the stairs, he pointed the torch down another hallway crammed with office furniture and chairs. 

“This way,” he said. 

I stayed right on his heels to avoid getting lost amidst the rubble and scolded myself for not bringing my own flashlight. At the end of the hall, he stopped and pointed the torch at the door in front of us. 

“Here it is.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“This is Augur’s room.” He turned the handle and pushed open the door. 

Light from the torch ricocheted off the white marble walls, illuminating a pristine, untouched room. A giant desk with a plush leather chair behind it dominated the far end. A conference table ringed with six chairs occupied the left side while a long couch sat against the wall to our right. A much thinner layer of dust coated the lot. It wouldn’t take long to make it look like new. I took a few steps forward and looked around. 

“Augur needs an office?”

“I don’t know how the tradition started,” he answered, “but every Temple has a room prepared for him in case he magically walks in one day and wants to get right to work. My parents never taught me he would literally come back to life. They said it was like keeping a spot in your heart open for him. But most everyone else takes it literally.”

“I like it.”

“Here’s the best part.” Maahes shut the door behind us and clicked off the torch. A second later, the room was bathed in soft, white light from multiple fixtures on the ceiling. 

“The power is still on?” I said, astonished.

“Temples get free power from the government. When this place closed, I guess nobody thought about turning it off.”

“Can we lock the door?” 

He reached over and turned the lock. “But I don’t have a key. We can replace the lock if we decide to use it.”

“Do it. Our shipment of supplies will arrive tomorrow, and we can bring them straight down here. This place is perfect.”




“Ingrid, are you there?”

“Twenty more are dead, including two civilians. Are you proud of yourself?”

“And a good evening to you, too.” My voice echoed in the empty Team Room.

“Are you going to answer me?”

“Nothing has changed in the last few months. Our rules remain the same.”

“But something has changed. You’re a murderer now.”

“And yet, Prosledites have killed thousands of civilians on Earth. God might say we’re falling behind.”

“Does he?” She asked.

“We do not deliberately target civilians,” I answered. “If we did, a whole lot more of them would be dead.”

“So, what’s next? Hospice care? Any old people on your hit list?”

“I hope you are this antagonistic to the Prosledite terrorists you interview.”

“You’re complaining that I’m treating a mass murderer unfairly?”

“We have outlined our terms. What are theirs? Do you know? What can people on Earth do to stop their attacks? Have you ever asked these questions? Of course not, yet you want to hold us to account.”

“I want to hold you both to account,” she said defiantly.

“Then start by holding us to the same standard,” I responded. “Just as I will hold you to a standard.”

“What standard? What do you mean?”

“We promised Ingrid Brown access in exchange for news stories both here and on Earth. We have received neither. I’m terminating our relationship. Goodbye.”


I clicked the radio off. 

I didn’t know if I was bluffing or not. Part of me thought it would be better to start over with someone else, while the rest of me dreaded the idea of going through the painful process of establishing a relationship with someone else. 

Sekmet stuck her head into the room. “You done?” 

“Just switched off.”

“Let’s go. Everyone is at the other place.”

I left the radio – it wouldn’t get a signal in our new underground headquarters – and followed her downstairs. She made sure the locks were in place on the front door before heading through the dining room and into the kitchen. No one was out at this time of night, but the lingering aroma of someone’s spicy dinner wafted through both chambers.

When she reached the back door, Sekmet disabled the alarm.

“Are you ready?” She asked.


She switched off the lights in the kitchen, plunging us in darkness, then cracked open the back door. I followed her into an alleyway illuminated only by dim starlight, and we stopped behind a trash bin to allow our eyes to adjust. After a few seconds, she tapped my shoulder, and we crouch-walked around the bin and into the alley. 

We turned left and weaved our way through piles of discarded trash before slipping through a hole in a fence and into the empty lot on the right. Halfway through the lot, we stopped, turned around, and waited. 

We had detailed discussions about what our procedure should be to go from the shelter to the new Team Room. Using the front door was out. The authorities often watched that door to see who came and went, and there were lights on the street we could not douse. The back door was the better choice – no lights, more places to hide, and less chance of surveillance. But if someone had been watching and had followed us through the alley, we would see them from this vantage point in the empty lot. After a few minutes, when no one followed us through the fence, we turned back around and started moving again.

After another series of twists and turns, we arrived at the dilapidated Temple. 

“Watch your step,” Sekmet whispered as we walked through the front door. “The twins set up tripwires.”

Too late. I tripped over one and went sprawling to the floor. My palms skidded over the rubble, and I banged my knee on a rock. A series of bells clanged somewhere in the darkness to my right. 

Sekmet pulled me up roughly. “Watch. Your. Step.”

I brushed myself off, feeling small, sharp currents of pain from my palms, then followed her into the main prayer room. We stepped over several other wires en route to the stairs, then picked our way through the hallway downstairs until we arrived at the new Team Room.

She knocked once on the door.

“What, no secret knock?” I asked.

The door opened in front of us, and the bright light blinded me. I put my hand over my eyes and blinked to let my pupils adjust.

“Welcome!” Kuk declared. 

“Come on in!” Ra added. “Let us show you what we’ve done with the place.”

Sekmet and I stepped inside, and Kuk shut the door. 

I held my palms up to Ra. “I found one of your tripwires.”

“You did? Cool!” Ra slapped his brother on the shoulder. “You see, they work.”

“Wait,” Sekmet said sharply, “you two didn’t know he tripped it?” The twins looked at each other. “What good is an early warning device if we have to tell you we activated it?”

“Well…ahhh…” Ra stammered.

“It’s early days,” Kuk jumped in. “We’ll fix it.”

“It can wait until tomorrow,” I said. “Show me what we’ve got.”

“Ok, supplies are here,” Ra pointed toward the back of the room where Maahes was sitting behind the desk. 

“We got quite a haul,” Kuk hurried ahead of us and opened a crate pushed up against the wall. 

I scanned the contents – precisely what I’d asked for. The twins, and the new teams they had recruited, had raided another Prosite supply depot and done it much better than I had the first time around.

“This is perfect.”

“We need to decide,” Sekmet offered, “what we’re keeping and we’re sending to Konstantini and Orguny.”

“Can Maahes help? Or is this another thing he won’t do?” Ra asked.

“He doesn’t have to leave the room. I think he’ll be fine,” Kuk said sarcastically.

“I’m not so sure. Explosives are dangerous. He might be scared to pick them up.” Ra continued.

“Boys,” I scolded, “You two do your jobs very well, and so does he.”

“Except his job doesn’t require actual work,” Ra said.

“We risked our lives to get this stuff,” Kuk said, “He didn’t.”

“What he does is just as important,” I tried to be conciliatory. “But you guys did a fabulous job in a dangerous situation. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Let’s open the rest of the crates,” Sekmet grabbed my arm and pulled me toward her. 

“Go celebrate,” I said to the twins. “We can take this from here.” 

Ra and Kuk left, but I got the feeling I hadn’t heard the last of their complaints about Maahes. He and Sekmet and I spent the next hour inventorying, separating, and repacking supplies intended for the other two cells. Just before midnight, we said goodbye to Maahes and headed for home. 

“Don’t worry about the twins,” I told him on our way out. “For me, nothing has changed. I think you’re doing great things for the team.”

“It’s ok,” he offered. “I dealt with bullies like them growing up. If I am patient, they will eventually find another target.”

“Don’t stay too late,” Sekmet said as we walked out the door. “We can finish up tomorrow.”

“I won’t.”

We picked our way through the hallway and up the stairs, but as we tiptoed through the tripwires in the prayer room, a thought occurred to me.

“People get married in temples, right?” I asked.

She stopped and turned around. “Yes, why?”

“We’ve been living together for months now. Minkle thinks we’re married. Why don’t we make it official?”

“For a start, I don’t believe in marriage. But even if I did, my father would never allow it.”

“He doesn’t have to know.”

“He’s a judge in New Jerusalem. He’ll find out as soon as we file the papers.”

“So, we don’t file papers. I don’t need anyone to sanction our love. Let’s commit to each other right here, right now, in this room.”

“Why here? You don’t believe in God.”

“It doesn’t look like God believes in this place, either. Look, you don’t have to do this. I just want you to know you are it for me. You’re the one I’ve been looking for. I will never love anyone as I love you, and I will never leave your side.”

She crouched down and hugged me. I could feel her warm tears on my neck, and she squeezed me just a little too tight. 

“I will. I do. I mean, yes.” She stammered. “We’re married.”

I pulled away and dried her cheeks with my sleeve. “Let’s go home.”

“Agreed,” she said. “You need to start planning the honeymoon.”

“Hold on. If we’re not officially married, do we officially need a honeymoon?”

“Yes, we do. And in this culture, planning it is your responsibility.”

“I think you just made that up.” 

She pecked me on the cheek. “I would never lie to my husband.”




Sekmet hadn’t made it up. It was traditional for the husband to plan the honeymoon, and in the spare time between attacks, that’s what I did. Finding spare time, however, was a challenge. Things were starting to accelerate.

A group called the Kingdom of Geb – KOG for short – had emerged on Earth an umbrella terror organization, bringing smaller groups into its influence. There were dozens of Prostie terror groups on Earth that came in and out of existence so quickly I stopped paying attention to their names. The people who killed my parents were from Augur’s Earth Army, but after that attack, they were never heard from again. The group that hit Fort McMaster called themselves the Disciples of God. Five of their six members died in the attack, and the last one disappeared. 

KOG began claiming more and more attacks and even called us out by name during one of them. Maahes found the clip and showed it to me.

During the course of an hour-long diatribe, the KOG terrorist, surrounded by his comrades and the people they were about to kill, said: “I say this to the Alegad. You will not break our spirit. You will not destroy our faith. The believers on Geb will rise up and drag your bodies out into the streets. For our actions, Augur will grant us eternal life. For yours, you will be granted eternal damnation.”

“You hear that?” I said after Maahes stopped the clip. “You’ve got eternal damnation to look forward to.”

“That’s disconcerting,” he replied. “The good news is most of Earth’s media is running with the ‘competing terrorist group’ angle. They’re doing background stories on us and our rules for the first time. Ingrid is quoted all over the place. As Ingrid, not Lauren.”

“Good for her.” 

“Are you going to talk to her again?”

“I think I might,” I said after some thought. “After the attack tomorrow. She’s worked herself back into the game.”




A day after the major media outlets on Earth picked up our story, the media on Geb lifted their embargo.

The twins had been paying various people – vagabonds, mostly, there were plenty to go around – to put flyers up in the streets, but after the first stories appeared in the New Jerusalem Times, we didn’t bother with them anymore. The Alegad had plenty of exposure.

Ingrid told me the Mayor of New Jerusalem had lost too much credibility and couldn’t keep a lid on the story anymore. Besides, they couldn’t find us on their own, and the Police Chief thought going public would help. 

Instead, they ended up propagating a panic and nearly paralyzing the entire city. 

In the space of two weeks, our attacks and the resultant media coverage forced the vast majority of the population of New Jerusalem indoors. People stopped going to parks, eating on restaurant patios, or even congregating on street corners. When they did venture out, they hurried and kept their distance from others. I warned the team to act just like everyone else in the city. It would look suspicious for one of us to be strolling casually down the street while the rest ran serpentine to the bus stop. 

Politicians in the city debated whether to call on the Mayor to impose martial law. I didn’t have a good feel for how this would affect our operations, so I asked the question the next time everyone was together.

“I saw we keep rolling, boss,” Ra answered. “We shouldn’t let the threat of martial law stop us.”

“He’s usually an idiot, but I agree with him on this one,” Kuk said. “I don’t think this changes anything.”

“I agree,” Maahes added. 

“I disagree,” Sekmet said. “I think this is the perfect opportunity to take a break and get things rolling in Orguny and Konstantini.”

“Except we’re heading to Konstantini for our honeymoon in a couple of days,” I said, “so maybe just Orguny for now.”

“They’re ready,” Maahes mumbled.

“They’re just waiting on my word,” Sekmet added.

“Give it to them,” I said, looking at the ledger on the wall behind Maahes. “Thirty-eight is their target.”

“What do you want us to do while you’re gone, boss?” Ra asked.

“Nothing,” I said, siding with my wife. “Let New Jerusalem think the worst is over. When everyone returns to their old routines, we’ll strike again.”

“So, just do what Maahes does all the time, nothing,” Kuk said derisively.

Silence engulfed the room. Ra and Kuk glared at Maahes, who looked down at the table and picked at his fingernails.

“Boys,” I said slowly. “We’re not going over this again. He does everything I ask of him.”

“He’s a coward,” Kuk spat. 

“You say he does everything you ask, but why hasn’t he recruited anyone?” Ra asked. “Or did you excuse him from that duty, too?”

He had a point. I’d wondered the same thing but never broached the issue with Maahes. 

“We put our lives on the line every day,” Kuk said. “Sekmet, too. But he hides in this room like a frightened rat.”

“Do you want me to leave?” A suddenly energetic Maahes demanded.

“I want you to get out of this room,” Ra stated. “You’re getting all the rewards but taking none of the risks.”

“We’d like to sit here all day, too, doing nothing, not worried about getting caught,” Kuk added.

“Maybe I should go,” Maahes growled. “Maybe this whole thing was a mistake.”

“That’s enough,” I announced, standing up on the chair and leaning over the conference table. “Jealousy is a destructive emotion. You two are jealous of Maahes. He is jealous of you. And I’m jealous of all of you. Can none of you see what this team has produced in just a few short months? We are the most influential group in New Jerusalem today. We’re famous on two planets. We’ve accomplished this because everyone sitting around this table did extraordinary things. Including Maahes.”

“Sir,” Maahes said, “Why are you jealous of us?”

I sat back down again. “Because all of you can live normal lives again once this is over. I can’t.”

“Why not?” Ra asked.

“This is going to end?” Kuk questioned.

“I thought we only stopped when there are no more attacks,” Maahes looked confused.

I looked at Sekmet, and she nodded. We had discussed explaining the endgame to everyone but had never settled on the timing. This was as good a time as any. 

“You’re right,” I began. “One of the ways this ends is if the attacks stop. But we’ve all seen how KOG is responding. Does anyone think they’ll quietly dissolve their organization in the next few months? Does anyone think the religious on Geb will stop the killing? It’s possible, but there is another way this ends. I’ve told Sekmet because she’s a key piece of the final plan. I haven’t told any of you yet, but you deserve to know. What I’m about to say must stay between us. The success of this plan hinges on its authenticity. People have to believe, and no one will believe if you blab that it was all staged from the beginning.”

“Our lips are sealed, boss,” Ra said while Kuk nodded enthusiastically.

“Yes, sir,” Maahes said.

“Ok, here goes. At some point in the future, maybe a year from now or maybe less, if things keep going the way they are, I will allow myself to be captured following an attack.”

The twins gasped. Maahes studied me and didn’t move a muscle.

“It must be a spectacular, magical, one-of-a-kind event. I’m being vague because I don’t know exactly what it will be yet. My arrest must dominate the news. Everyone must watch my trial. Everyone must watch my sentencing. Everyone must watch as they wrap the rope around my neck in the middle of Nicaea Square. And everyone must watch the stream Sekmet will release beforehand where I predict all of this.”

The twins looked at each other but didn’t say a word. Maahes shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“They will tighten the rope and pull me up, but I will not die. The entire universe will watch our birds, under Sekmet’s control, fly in, remove the rope from my neck and carry me away, out of the square and up into heaven. That’s what it will look like anyway. She’ll actually fly me out to the desert.”

“No way,” Ra said incredulously. Kuk just whistled.

Maahes clapped his hands together and looked at Sekmet. “Can this be done?” 

“If I don’t drop him.”  

“But we don’t have any birds,” Ra pointed out.

“We will,” I answered, “At least I hope we will. I received word months ago that a shipment is on the way. If they arrive, if we go forward with this, I will ask no more of you. You can live out the rest of your lives in peace, hopefully. And you will never see Sekmet or me again.”

“How do you expect to fool anyone?” Maahes asked. “Robotic birds aren’t a secret. They’re going to think that’s what carried you off.”

“If there is a path to belief,” I answered, “people will believe. If she does her job right, when they review the stream, and this will be the most reviewed stream in history, no one will be able to say the birds were robotic. As long as no one can prove I didn’t perform a miracle, Prosledites will believe I did.” 

“What if it doesn’t work? What if the whole planet watches, but no one believes, and nothing changes?” Ra asked. 

“If nothing changes, we have to keep going,” Kuk said firmly.

“Don’t do anything,” I answered. “There will be others who come along to try other things.” I knew Gabriel had people on Geb working other avenues to change the rules, and maybe they could succeed if we failed. The last thing I wanted was Maahes or the twins branching out on their own after Sekmet and I had gone.

“Where are you two going?” Maahes asked.

I looked at my bride. “We don’t know yet. I think we’ll find someplace quiet and peaceful to live out the rest of our days.”

And we just might have done that if things had happened like we planned. 

They didn’t. 

What really happened was far more terrifying.


Chapter Seventeen


“You’re back!” Maahes jumped up from behind the desk in the Team Room. “How was the honeymoon?”

“Relaxing,” I responded.

“We forgot about all of you and all of this,” Sekmet added.

“Fill us in. What happened while we were away?” I glanced at the ledger, which now showed a deficit of eighty-three.

“We’re falling behind, as you can see. There was one attack in Orguny–”

“We heard about that one,” Sekmet interrupted. We went out of our way to avoid news streams while we were away but still saw a story on that attack.

“And there was one attack here,” he put his chin to his chest and stared at the table.

“I thought we were taking a break here,” I growled.

“The twins thought otherwise. Two days ago, they set off a bomb at the city courthouse.”

“My father!” Sekmet exclaimed.

“He’s alive,” Maahes reassured. “I checked.”

“I didn’t do a stream. I didn’t talk to Ingrid.”

“And neither did I,” Maahes said. “Like I said, the twins aren’t listening.”

“I will talk with them tomorrow.” I was pissed off but not surprised.

“Their hearts were in the right place,” he continued. “They saw what KOG did on Earth. Wichita, Prague, Manchester, Hanoi. Lots of minor attacks with small numbers of victims. It was hard to wade through all the media reports.”

“And you need to talk with Ingrid tonight,” Sekmet nudged me.

“If she is listening.”

“Are we betting again?” She giggled.

“What about New Jerusalem, Maahes? Even with the twins’ attack, the city looks to be returning to normal. When we dropped off the car, we saw no unusual security measures.”

“I don’t think anyone knows what to do,” he answered. “They’re still debating martial law, but they’ve also urged people to get back to their routines. They’ve made a show of arresting a few people, but none of them were with us. Your streams are still up and generating thousands of views a day.”

“Good,” I stood up and grabbed Sekmet’s hand. “We’re heading back to the shelter.”

“It’s amazing how exhausted you feel after doing nothing for two weeks,” Sekmet said. “See you in the morning.”




I was ready to turn on the radio to find out if Ingrid was listening when I saw the blue flashing lights bouncing off the Retusa tree out front. I looked out the window to find Officer Minkle and his minions pounding on the front door.

“Minkle is here!” Sekmet yelled into the room.

“I know,” I responded. “Who is he looking for this time?”

“I don’t know. There are only two people here. I’ll get them into the panic room. You head downstairs.”

“Will do.”

I went into the hallway and watched her bound up the steps two at a time. Then I walked down to the first floor and took my time dragging the chair over to unlock the top locks. Minkle was uncharacteristically patient. No knocking or pounding or yelling.

I opened the door and waved him inside. “Welcome, Officer Minkle. We’ve missed you.”

Only Minkle didn’t come inside. Neither did any of the other officers. I looked out and saw him standing in front of the shelter, alone, beckoning me.

“Would you mind stepping outside for me, please?”

“What’s going on?” I stayed put.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been properly introduced,” he said, smiling. “My name is Sergeant Jake Minkle. And you are?”

“Aaron Moses. What are you doing?”

“That is fascinating. I happen to be looking for a man named Aaron Moses. But you can’t be the same person because you looked me in the eye and made me a promise.”

He nodded, and a huge, gloved hand reached in from outside the doorway, grabbed a fistful of my hair, and jerked me outside. Another pair of hands clamped onto both my arms and nearly ripped them off yanking them together behind my back before handcuffing my wrists together.

I stayed silent. I wasn’t scared or worried. More confused than anything. I had no idea what promise he was talking about.

“No! You let him go!” Sekmet screamed from behind me.

I turned and watched a huge, hulking officer block the doorway between her and me. The officer who handcuffed my wrists grabbed me by the neck and held me in place.

“Stay inside, bitch.” Minkle growled.

“Why are you arresting him? What has he done?” She struggled to slip past the officer, but he blocked her way.

“Put him in the truck,” Minkle said to the officer holding my neck.

The officer tightened his grip and pushed me forward.

“You let him go! Or I’ll kill every single one of you!” I heard a ‘thwack,’ and a body fell to the floor. As I passed the Retusa tree and stepped into the street, I heard Sekmet sobbing.

The officer didn’t let me climb into the back of the truck on my own. Instead, he picked me up by the back of the neck like a dog and threw me in. I landed face-first on the stainless-steel floor. Glancing behind me before the doors slammed shut, I saw Sekmet lying in a heaving heap on the floor of the shelter, a monstrous black-clad officer keeping watch over her.




I’d never been in a jail cell before – on either planet – but Minkle made my first experience count. He kept me in solitary confinement, with only a sink and a toilet, for three days. They only fed me once a day, but the portions were normal-sized, and I made them last.

For those three days, I spoke to no one, not even Officer Homo Biggus, who brought in my food and took away my dishes. That was the name I made up for him. He didn’t wear a nametag and reminded me of one of the henchmen I used to see in the scary monster streams Alan watched on The Columbus: large, dumb, and a little shy of human.

I’m sure Minkle thought the solitude would soften me up, but the truth of the matter is I enjoyed it. If he’d kept me in there a couple more days, I might have come out a little annoyed, but after my honeymoon, three good nights of sleep – even on a hard, bare floor – was just what I needed.

The other reason I didn’t mind the time alone was I knew the longer he kept me there, the less he had. On the ride in, I figured out the ‘promise’ he claimed I broke was the one about the Alegad. That was the only promise I ever made him. And he was right. I had broken it.

From there, it didn’t take long to deduce Caitlin must have turned me in. She left the shelter while Sekmet and I were gone and probably wanted a piece of her old life back.

I had a big ‘I told you so’ coming from Sekmet on this. She wanted to kill Caitlin, but I talked her out of it.

As authoritarian as Geb could be at times, the police still required actual evidence of a crime before they convicted you. So, I knew every minute that ticked by was a minute they were looking for something to corroborate Caitlin’s story. No matter what I was accused of, they could not use a transgender person’s word as the only piece of evidence against me.

Their bigotry, in this case, worked against them.

Assuming they did a thorough search of the shelter, the only thing they could have found was the radio I left in the old Team Room. If they found the panic room – a big if, Sekmet disguised it well – the other thing they would see was a crate half full of cash. Sekmet and I could explain both things. We’d prepared our lies following Minkle’s last visit.

On the morning of the fourth day, Officer Biggus pulled me out of my cell and walked me down the hall to a room outfitted with a plain wooden table and two chairs. When he grunted, I sat, and he attached a chain to my ankle that bolted to the floor underneath the desk. Then he left.

A few minutes later, in walked Minkle with a leather bag draped over his shoulder.

“Mr. Moses,” he beamed. “I trust you have been treated with respect these past few days.”

I rattled the chain secured to my ankle. “A curious level of respect for someone my size.”

“Dangerous trees sprout from small roots,” he said as he sat down and pulled the bag into his lap.

He reached into the bag, plucked out the radio, and placed it on the table between us. I don’t think I showed any outward response, but inside I was grinning from ear to ear.

“Do you recognize this?” Minkle asked.

“It’s a radio.”

“Do you know what it does?”


Minkle frowned. “If you’re going to be difficult, this will be a long day.”

“It’ll be a long day if you keep asking stupid questions. What are the chances I can identify this as a radio but don’t know what it does?”

“Is it yours?” Minkle asked through gritted teeth.


“Whose is it?”

“It’s my wife’s radio. She uses it for shelter business. You should ask her.”

“We did. Do you know who has the other radio this one talks to?”

“No,” I shook my head.

“You’re lying.” A smile crept across Minkle’s face.

“You caught me! I was going to put you through a few hours of back and forth, just to be spiteful, but you’re too good. Is my confession in that bag? I want to sign it.”

Minkle stood up and grabbed the bag but left the radio on the table. “When you’re through making jokes, you might want to consider that I already know the truth. Lying prolongs the inevitable.”

He walked to the door and banged on it. A split second later, it opened, and he left the room.

I put my head down on the table and closed my eyes.

I had no training in police interrogations, but I had read up on Gebian law before embarking on a campaign to break almost every one of them. They did things much differently than we did on Earth.

I was not entitled to a lawyer, ever, but lawyers were sometimes assigned in high profile cases. They could hold me for months without ever charging me with a crime. The law said up to one month, but extensions were routinely granted. Lots of cases never even went to trial. People admitted guilt where none existed just to get out of jail. Jury trials were non-existent. If my case were brought to trial, a single judge would decide my fate. And if the result were not to my liking, I would be entitled to one appeal only.

In this system, criminal proceedings were more about politics than they were about facts. If you were wealthy and or powerful or somehow related to a ‘hero,’ the system went easy on you. If you were poor or in some other way a reject, the system screwed you. I was somewhere in the middle. I didn’t have wealth or power, but I was a dwarf, and they had no evidence I had done anything wrong. The only possible way Minkle could have evidence connecting me to any of the attacks is if he knew Ingrid Brown had the other half of the radio sitting in front of me. And if he knew that, he wouldn’t have played the Prisoner’s Dilemma card trying to make me think he knew everything.

If they wanted to pin the terrorist attacks on me without evidence, they could, but they’d have to make an effort. Minkle would need to spend political capital convincing his boss, who would need to do the same to convince the prosecutor, then the judge, and so on.

And this would be near impossible to pull off if there was another attack while I was in custody.

Which is precisely what we had planned. It was accidental. We had a significant deficit to overcome, and just hours before Minkle arrested me, I’d recorded a stream for Maahes to release after the attack. Assuming things outside hadn’t gone to hell in the past three days, both the attack and the stream should already have happened.

In other words, I had no reason to worry.

Sometime later, Minkle slammed the door, waking me out of a sound slumber. He had his bag with him again, and this time he pulled out a VR viewer and put it on the floor next to the table.

“What are we watching?” I asked, rubbing sleep from my eyes.

“You’ll see.”

He switched on the stream, and I appeared, in Augur wig and makeup, sitting cross-legged against a white backdrop. As the stream played, I recognized it as the first one Sekmet, and I did. Minkle let the stream play out, stopping it when I was face down on the floor, pretending to pray.

“Do you recognize this stream?” He asked.

“Nope,” I replied. “Never seen it before.”

“You know, the fascinating thing about these streams is the level of detail they contain. For instance, what do you know about linen?”

“Not much.”

“Different types have different patterns. Bed sheets differ from tablecloths and bed skirts and so on.”

“Should I be writing this down? Will there be a test later?”

He zoomed in on the bedsheet behind me on the stream. “Do you know where we found this specific bed sheet?”

“On my bed.” I think the answer rattled him. His mouth dropped open for a moment before he cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. “Why else would you ask the question? But you can’t honestly believe this is the same bedsheet.”

“The pattern matches exactly, like a fingerprint.”

“Impossible. There are no stains on this bedsheet. Do you think all we do is sleep in them?” He was bluffing. I was sure of it. The sheet he zoomed in on wasn’t anywhere in the shelter. It was down in the Team Room. I don’t know why he thought this line of questioning would make me crack but never brought it up again.

“Let me get this straight. This is all a big coincidence. A completely different dwarf decides to start blowing people up shortly after you arrive on the planet. This other dwarf looks exactly like you, uses your sheets, and gives all the details of his plan to a person staying at your shelter. That’s your story? It’s someone else?”

“Who’s the person at the shelter?” I asked, knowing it was Caitlin.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“It sounds like they are the reason I’m here. You already know I’m not the dwarf in this stream. You must have compared our voices by now. And if I had to guess, I’d say those sheets are the cheapest brand sold on Geb, and half the planet uses them. You could take me to court based on all of that, and if you have the judge in your pocket, you might even win. But the real terrorist would still be out there, killing people. And this dwarf,” I pounded on my chest, “the one who’s been asking everyone who comes to his shelter for information about the Alegad, will be locked up in here.”

“Why would he lie? This person who talked with us, what motive would he have?” I was surprised. He sounded genuine. Maybe the truth actually mattered to him.

“Some people just want their life back. They would do or say anything to make that happen. Especially the older ones who can’t start over and don’t want to make that long trip to Earth.”

Minkle switched off the VR viewer and put it and the radio back in his bag. Then he stood up and left the room again.

I put my head back down on the table, but it wasn’t long before Homo Biggus opened the door, unlocked my ankle, and led me back to my cell.




I was there for three more days before Biggus let me out again. He opened the door and slurred the words, “please follow me, sir.” I was impressed. I thought all he could do was grunt.

He led me through down the hallway and through another locked door before depositing me in a room containing a shower and a set of clean clothes.

“What’s this?” I asked.

I’m pretty sure he said, “Please shower and dress, sir. I’ll be back in ten minutes.” The last two were the only words I understood. The rest could have been anything. And I didn’t time it, but it felt like I’d been underneath the hot water for ten minutes when he opened the door again, grunted, and pointed toward the clothes.

I toweled off and tried on the shirt and pants. They were loose and long – like someone had been given my measurements and ignored them – but they were clean and fresh, unlike the shoes I had to slip back onto my bare feet. No one thought to bring me clean shoes or socks.

Biggus was waiting for me when I stepped back into the hallway. He led me to the interrogation room again, but he didn’t chain me to the floor this time. He simply grunted at the chair and left the room.

The old man who walked in a few minutes later reminded me of a vulture. Unkempt black hair fell from the crown of his head, framing a sharp nose that protruded over thin lips and a non-existent chin. A long, spindly neck arched slightly at the Adam’s apple to attach to a permanently hunched back. Black robes, open in the middle, hung from wiry shoulders.

Pushing at least eighty years of age, he shuffled delicately to the chair opposite me and sat down. His moist, bloodshot eyes inspected our surroundings for a few moments before he finally spoke.

“I am Judge Anatoly Kasparov.” My breath caught in my throat. I knew that name. “Your father-in-law.”

A million thoughts flowed through my head at once, but what rose to the surface was a sense of overwhelming love for Sekmet. This was a man she loathed. This man beat her and tormented her for being born a girl. She wanted to kill him but instead risked her own life to ask him to come here and help me.

No one had ever done anything like that for me before.

“My daughter,” he continued, avoiding eye contact, “speaks highly of you.”

“She is an incredible woman. You should be proud of her.”

He cocked his beak-like nose to the right and brushed an invisible speck off the table. “I came here today to inform you of your legal status. You were arrested on suspicion of terrorist activities, but the prosecutor does not feel he has enough evidence to bring a case to trial. He does, however, have enough evidence to hold someone like you whose, ahh, vocation does not advance the government’s goals of creating a better society in New Jerusalem.”

“Helping women abused by their husbands, and fathers, doesn’t create a better society?”

His head snapped up at the word ‘father,’ and I saw Sekmet’s fiery eyes looking back at me. She inherited her father’s fervor but with an added a touch of sexuality and whimsy he did not possess. He was pure rage.

When the moment passed, he forced a simper. “However, you are not without recourse. Were a citizen of suitable, ahh, stature to vouch for your character, a judge like myself could see his way clear to releasing you into that person’s recognizance. Providing you–”

“Alan Johnson.” The choice was easy. His son was a Hero. Surely, he had enough stature.

“Ahh… I’m not…I don’t know who that is.”

“Father to Paul Johnson, Hero of Geb.” I made sure to emphasize the word hero.

“And…you know him? You can contact him?”

I looked around the room and raised my hands. “I can’t contact anyone in here. I have access to nothing other than food once a day.”

“I will find him.” Tendons popped as Kasparov pushed back his chair and stood up. As he turned to leave, I stopped him.

“Sir, on a personal note, I apologize for not asking your permission before marrying your daughter. I disrespected you, and it was wrong. I’m sorry.” I lied. The man was a wretch, but he was helping me, and if I could get him to let his guard down in the process, that could only benefit us later. Even though our marriage wasn’t registered with the government, it was valid in Prosledite religion – we had pledged our commitment to each other in a Temple – and Sekmet was technically my property now, not his. Of course, had I ever mentioned that to her, she would have come after me when she was done dismembering her father.

Still facing the door, his beak jogged downward a few centimeters in what looked like a nod of recognition. Then he knocked on the door and left as quickly as his elderly legs could carry him.

Biggus grunted me back to my cell a few minutes later. I got to keep the new clothes, but I wouldn’t wear them for much longer.




The next day Biggus cracked open the door and grumbled something which included the words’ ten minutes.’ I took it to be a warning and waited for him to return. Alone, in a vacant room, I could do nothing else.

When he did come back, he held the door open and waved me out into the hallway. He then led me back through the same series of doorways and hallways as he did a week before when he took me to my cell for the first time. When we reached the massive gate at the entrance to the cellblock, he barked, and it opened, slowly revealing the two people standing in the reception area on the other side: Officer Minkle and Alan Johnson.

Biggus grunted and pointed at the pair.

“Thank you,” I said, taking a step forward before turning back around. “I’m going to miss our talks. I know so much about you. I feel like we’re brothers.”

“Mr. Moses,” Minkle called out to me. “Why don’t you join us.”

I waved goodbye to Biggus, turned, and walked into the small reception area. Chairs lined one wall, and two empty, glass-encased stations were carved into the opposite wall. Between them, sunlight beamed through the glass door leading outside.

It was a glorious sight. I hadn’t seen the sun in over a week.

“Good to see you again, Alan,” I said. “I’m sorry you had to come down here, but Officer Minkle has me confused with someone else.”

Alan shot me a severe look, then turned back to Minkle. “Please continue, Officer.”

Minkle nodded in my direction, a gleam in his eye. “Mr. Moses here is still under investigation. If I ever need to talk to him in the future, I will contact you, and I will expect you to bring him back to the station within the hour.”

“Why are you contacting him?” I asked. “You know where you can find me.”

They both ignored me.

“I understand,” Alan told Minkle. “I won’t let him out of my sight.”

“What?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Alan, what is going on?”

“Thank you, Mr. Johnson,” Minkle bowed. “It has been an honor to meet you.” Then with a wink in my direction, he turned and strutted out the front door leaving Alan and me alone.

“Follow me,” Alan growled.

“What was that all about?”

“Not here.”

He opened the front door for me, and I walked into sunlight that felt tepid on my face and neck. A car stopped on the street in front of us and opened its passenger door. Alan pushed me inside, climbed in, and slammed the door. He stared silently out the window until the car was a reasonable distance away from the jail before asking, “Did you do it?”

“No.” Even if I had Alan’s trust, there was no way I could tell him the truth. He might kill me himself instead of handing me back over to Minkle.

“They made a convincing case.”

“If they had a case, I would be on trial right now. They arrested me because I’m a dwarf. That’s it.”

He swiveled toward me in his seat. “They released you to me. You are my responsibility until this is all over. That means you stay on my property at all times. You can’t go out unless I am with you. When Officer Minkle calls, I have to take you back. Those are the rules.”

The car became uncomfortably hot. I turned on the air and shifted in my seat. “Alan, I have a life. I have a new wife. I have a job. What am I supposed to do, put all that on hold?”

“I don’t know that you have any other choice.”

“I just left a prison. You can’t turn your house into one.”

“You called me, remember?” He turned away and stared out the window.

I kneeled on the seat and did the same. I studied the city as the car weaved its way through downtown streets. People looked to be congregating freely again. They weren’t scurrying from place to place. New Jerusalem had mended the wounds we’d caused and returned to equilibrium, that state where people do tomorrow what they did yesterday because they’ve always done it that way. The flock had adapted.

When I surfaced from these thoughts, I realized I had missed the transition from the central business district to a posh, exclusive suburb. Colossal gated mansions now passed us on either side of a street framed by towering palm trees.

“Are those native trees?” I asked.

“No. They were brought here from Earth decades ago. This street is the only place on the planet you will find them. Ahh, here we are now.”

The car turned left into a driveway paved with red brick and blocked by thick, black vertical wrought-iron bars. We came to a halt as they slid from right to left to let us pass. Moving forward again, round a gentle bend, a palatial estate came into view. I couldn’t pinpoint the style. It was a sprawling, white, two-story structure adorned with marble columns in an entrance flanked on either side by a Retusa Tree.

“You’ve done well for yourself, Alan.”

The car stopped in front of the marble columns, and we got out.

“The children are still at school,” Alan said, leading me to the front door. “I’ll show you to your room.”

My ‘room’ was a guest house behind the pool. There were two bedrooms and one VR room. We walked through each before stopping in the larger of the bedrooms. For someone like me, all that spaced ended up being wasted. But after spending a week sleeping on a cement floor, I didn’t complain.

“You can sleep here,” Alan said as I looked around for a stool to help me get up on the bed. “Dinner is at seven. Nicole will bring it out.”

“I’m not allowed to eat inside? Be serious.”

“I’m deathly serious. Do not come into the house. Do not speak to my daughters, and you are only allowed to say thank you to my wife when she brings your food. I do not want my family associated with a suspected terrorist, but since you have put me in this situation, I will do everything in my power to limit the damage you cause. If Officer Minkle calls and you are not in this guest house, I will send you back to jail. Do you understand?”

“I did not do what they said I did.” The irony of Alan banishing me, for the mere suspicion of murder, to a luxurious guesthouse paid for by the proceeds of his own son’s multiple murders was not lost on me.

“Then you won’t be here long, will you?” Alan turned and walked out of the bedroom.




I wasn’t there long, but I came right back.

As soon as Alan left, I took a walk along the perimeter fence running behind the guest house and found a gap near some bushes that hadn’t seen a manicure in years. I easily stepped through the opening and figured Sekmet could do the same. I broke through some more brush on the other side of the fence and emerged on a street facing the gate of yet another gorgeous house. I took note of the house number and then went back through the bushes to the guest house.

I called Sekmet – the shelter did not have a VR room, I had to ask Marlo for help – and waited for her to stop crying before I told her where I was and how to get through the fence. Twenty minutes later, I heard her stumbling through the bushes and called out so she could follow the sound of my voice.

She didn’t look like she’d eaten all week.

She hoisted me through the window I’d opened to my bedroom and then followed me inside. Alan didn’t say I couldn’t have visitors, and he made it sound like he would leave me alone out here as long as he didn’t know what I was up to. That suited me just fine.

We embraced on the bed for an eternity before she finally pushed me away and slapped me.

“Don’t ever make me worry like that again!”

“I’m fine. Really. They didn’t beat me, which is surprising now that I think about it. And the only bad part was meeting your father.”

“What did he say to you?”

“I’m more interested in what he said to you. That could not have been a joyful conversation.”

“Believe it or not, he wants to reconnect. Just today, he asked if I wanted to have lunch with him sometime.”

“I might have had something to do with that,” I said, smiling sheepishly.

“What? How?”

“I apologized for not asking his permission to marry you.”

“Aaron Moses,” she pushed me away. “Why in God’s name would you do that?”

“I thought if we got closer to him, you’d have a better opportunity to kill him.”

“Aww,” she wrapped her arms around me again. “Even in prison, you’re always thinking about me.”

“Enough.” I wriggled free. “I’ve been gone a week. Tell me what’s been going on.”

“Alright,” she sat up and repositioned a pillow behind her back. “Don’t get angry, but we are at minus three hundred and something. I don’t remember exactly, but it’s a big number. There was an attack on a beachside resort on Earth.”

I whistled.

“Minkle searched the shelter for hours the night you were arrested. He found the radio but missed the panic room. I told him what we talked about, but I don’t know if he believed it.”

“We need to drop off another radio for Ingrid.”

“Maahes already did,” she said. “It was the first thing I asked him to do the next day.”

“Did he speak to her?”

“I hope you don’t mind. He used the voice modulator you use for your streams. He said it would help maintain the illusion you were still around.”

I was impressed. I hadn’t thought about that. “He’s right.”

“Kuk’s cell pulled off an attack two days after you were arrested. Then we released the stream. And when they didn’t release you, I told the Konstantini cell to attack, which they did yesterday.”

“Good,” I nodded. “That might have had something do to with why they let me go.”

“The news didn’t cover your arrest at all. They still do stories on our attacks, but we’re making a much smaller ripple. I think people are starting to get used to the idea that terrorism is now a thing on both planets.”

“That’s about what I saw driving here today,” I said. “And I have an idea.”

“Hello!” Both our heads snapped toward the bedroom door. I glanced at the clock. 1857.

“It’s Nicole,” I whispered. “With dinner.”

I hopped off the bed and hurried out of the bedroom, closing the door behind me. I fake-yawned and stretched out my arms as I padded into the kitchen, where Nicole was putting a dish on the counter.

“Oh, hi Nicole,” I said, mussing my hair a little. “I was catching a nap.”

She turned and, with a big smile, crouched down and opened her arms. I went in for a hug.

“How are you? It’s been too long.”

“It has.” Her hair smelled like chicken.

“Hey,” she broke off the hug and stood back up. “Don’t you listen to what Alan told you. I know you couldn’t have done what the police say you did. When he’s not home, you can come to the main house as much as you like.”

“Thank you, that means the world to me.”

“This should be enough food for you, but if it’s not, you let me know. And I put some gin in the cupboard here. I know how much you like gin.”

“You know me too well. I would ask you to say hello to Wanda for me, but if I can’t see her, it’s probably best if she doesn’t know.”

“We’ll see about that.” She winked and hurried past me out of the kitchen. “I’ve got to run. You know how Alan gets when his dinner isn’t served on time.”

“Goodnight, Nicole.” I watched the front door close behind her.

When I got back to the bedroom, I saw Sekmet struggling with the back window again.

“It’s okay. She’s gone. There’s no need to leave.”

“I have to go anyway. We have a new girl coming into the shelter tonight, and if you’re going to be working from here, I need to grab some equipment from the Team Room. Should I bring everyone else back with me tomorrow so we can have a meeting?”

Before I went to jail, most of our nights together ended with sex. Now that I was back, I had hoped that this night would end the same way.

“Perfect,” I sighed, reluctantly. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Two hours later, with a belly full of Nicole’s chicken and a glass of gin on the nightstand, I climbed into bed and read, waiting for my body to tell me it was time to sleep. I put the book down when I heard the guest house door open. I thought it must be Nicole returning to retrieve her dish but was surprised to hear the bedroom door creak open a minute later and see Wanda’s dark hair peek through the opening.


“Did your mother say you could come back here?”

“Mr. Moses!” She leaped onto the bed and hugged me like a vice. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too, beautiful. Are you here for a bedtime story?”

Her head pumped up and down like a piston, and she climbed over me to the empty side of the bed.

“I don’t know if I remember…”

“Yes, you do, silly. Tell it.”

“Alright. I think it starts like this. All the little children. All the children of Geb. Short and tall, fat and skinny. They’re all precious in my sight–”

“Not your sight. Augur’s sight.”

“You’re right,” I said, stroking her hair. “How silly of me.”




“I know this breaks my own rules,” I told the principals as they gathered around my dining room table, “but I want numbers. Rough numbers. How many people have you recruited?”

Ra and Kuk looked at each other then back to me.

“I don’t know, boss,” Ra answered. “There are six other people in my cell. I know they have convinced others to join, but I don’t know how many. They live by the same rules we do. Or used to.”

“I have five,” Kuk said.

“Loser,” Ra taunted.

“Shuts. That’s five more than Maahes.”

“And you know I have two cells,” Sekmet said over her shoulder as she stared out the window to make sure no one surprised us.

“Turn them all on.” I paused to let that sink in. “In two days, at exactly 1200, in at least three cities, I want multiple, simultaneous attacks overwhelming their response capabilities and scaring the Augur-loving shit out of everyone on this planet.”

The twins smirked and slapped each other’s hands. Sekmet turned her head and winked. Maahes glared at me.

“Maahes,” I continued, “distribute the plasma rifles to Ra and Kuk. I want us to use everything we have.”

“You know he won’t use them,” Kuk sneered.

“That’s for sure,” Ra added.

“Last warning, boys. Next time I hear you take a shot at him, I’m going to take a shot at you.” They looked like they couldn’t decide if I was serious. I kept going. “And Maahes, bring the explosives here so I can get to work. This planet isn’t afraid anymore. And if they’re not afraid, the rest of my plan won’t work. If I wasn’t on house arrest, you know I would be out there with you, and maybe after this, they will let me out of here. We need this one. Don’t worry about the body count. We can do the math later. Create as much death and destruction as you can.”




That night, after I read Wanda her bedtime story, Sekmet and I finally reunited. When we finished, I laid my head upon her glistening chest and listened to her heartbeat slowly return to normal.

“The twins are going to kill Maahes one of these days,” Sekmet sighed.

“Yeah?” I said, not looking up. It was the last thing I wanted to talk about at that moment.

“It got worse while you were away. One of them is going to snap.”

“Kuk, probably.”

“Or Maahes. He sees it coming, I’m sure.”

“What should I do?” I asked.

“Keep them busy. Then they won’t have time to think about killing each other.”

My head rose and fell to the rhythm of her breathing. Neither of us said anything for a long time, but I could tell she wasn’t yet asleep.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked.

“Do you think there’s a chance we both walk out of this alive?”

I lifted my head and faced her in the darkness. “Yes. I think there is an excellent chance. As soon as enough people have died.”

“When will that be?”




At 1158, I walked into the VR room and switched on the news. Our preparations were complete. The guns and bombs had been delivered. I had recorded the streams. Seven attacks were planned. Four in New Jerusalem, two in Konstantini, and one in Orguny. Four bombs and three teams of two gunmen each targeting police stations, military bases, and government offices, including one in the Cathcart Building, the tallest on the planet.

At 1205 I knew the attacks were over – our teams had strict instructions to stop at this time – but they hadn’t yet hit the news. Gebian News Network, the most popular news stream on the planet, was still running a piece about a religious ruling paving the way for the government to ban alcohol on the planet. I was interested in the implications of this ruling, so I was a little disappointed when they cut off the broadcast at 1208 to cover the attacks. A tall, red-headed reporter with a tight blouse and a short skirt suddenly appeared right in front of me, flanked by a shot of the Cathcart Building.

“Good afternoon everyone, I’m Rebecca Shaw. We interrupt our program to bring you live to downtown New Jerusalem where terrorists have just stormed the lobby of the Cathcart building. As you can see in this live shot, police have arrived on the scene and are sealing off the area, moving people away from the building, and trying to get control of the situation. If you are in the downtown area, please stay inside and lock your doors. This attack is still in progress, and the streets are dangerous right now.”

Neither of those things was true, but I was happy she said them. I switched to another stream.

A middle-aged male reporter appeared in the room amidst a live stream outside the Orguny Police Station.

“…in downtown Orguny. At least a dozen people inside are dead, and many more are wounded. This comes as several other attacks are being reported in other parts of the planet in what appears to be a coordinated terrorist operation. It is too early to…”

I switched streams again and was transported to the beach in Konstantini. A plume of smoke on the horizon billowed into the sky. There was no reporter this time, just a disembodied voice.

“Rescue crews are rushing to the scene now. Witnesses described seeing a huge fireball in the vicinity of Copperas Cove where the Coast Guard ship had been anchored. Again, eighteen people are believed to be on board, and we will provide updates as we receive them. We cannot confirm this is a terrorist attack, but it appears we are in the midst of an event never before seen on this planet. Multiple attacks across multiple cities all happening simultaneously at noon today. This is very likely the work of the Alegad, a terrorist organization that has taken responsibility for attacks, primarily in New Jerusalem but more recently right here in Konstantini. Authorities have given us no information about the group other than to say they are well-armed and extremely dangerous.”

I clicked off the stream and contacted Margo. After a few moments, her head appeared floating in front of me.

“Oh, hello, Horus. Are you looking for Sekmet?”

“Yes, I want to make sure she’s okay. I’m watching all these attacks on the news.”

Margo nodded her head. “She’s fine. She just sent me a note. She and all the rest of the girls at the shelter are inside and locked up tight.” That was code for: the attacks went as planned, and everyone was back safely.

“Thanks, Margo. That’s good news. If you could do me a favor and please let her know I’m alright, too. I’ll see her later.”

“Will do. Gotta run.”

She clicked off, and her face disappeared.

I flipped back to the news and watched for the next three hours straight. The team had done exceptionally well. Panic was widespread. The authorities couldn’t get out of their own way, and the news amplified every little piece of misinformation they heard from their sources.

There were reports of attacks in places I’d never considered attacking. The dam on the Red River was evacuated because someone left a bag near a bench. Someone shouted “bomb” in the middle of a stage performance in the Market District, causing a stampede. There were sightings of gunmen in various spots around New Jerusalem, even though my actual gunmen had been tucked safely away since about 1215. Most streams reported an active, ongoing terrorist attack until about 1400, when they started talking about it in the past tense. They even gave it a name: ‘Dodhi,’ Gebian for ‘Event.’

The Alegad was responsible for the Dodhi, or so the speculation went, but no one ever outlined our terms. They never told anyone what we wanted. I couldn’t decide if it was incompetence or purposeful deception, but it was immensely frustrating to this terrorist leader trying to get his message across.

I had planned to release my stream at 1800 but realized the message I had recorded didn’t fit the moment. I didn’t have either of my dialect coaches but decided it was worth the risk to record another stream. I set up the VR room using the same bed sheet Minkle had grilled me about – resisting the temptation to send him a message by altering it in some small way – and then retired to the bedroom to put on my wardrobe and makeup. After triple-checking to make sure my wig hair was parted the right way, I walked out of the bedroom.

And met Wanda in the hallway.

“Moses?” She’d been crying. Her eyes were puffy, and her cheeks were crimson.

“Wanda, are you okay? What’s wrong?”

She ran into my arms and burst into tears. Her body convulsed against mine, and she gulped for air. “We were,” she stuttered between wails, “at the Zoo. I was so scared.”

“It’s okay, beautiful. You’re safe now. No one will hurt you here.” None of our attacks were anywhere near the Zoo. She never had a reason to worry, but I couldn’t tell that to a seven-year-old.

“I didn’t know where you were. I thought you were hurt.”

The entire day suddenly snapped into focus. Watching the news unfold was a detached, clinical experience for me, even in VR. But this was real. This trembling little girl was the fruit of all of our labor the past few days. I was simultaneously horrified and overjoyed. If the rest of the planet felt like this, we might finally get somewhere.

“I was here the whole time. We’re both safe. No one will hurt either of us.” I brushed her hair back and wiped the tears from her eyes. “Is your sister okay? Mommy and daddy?”

She nodded and wiped her nose on her sleeve. Then she reached up and touched my wig. “What is that?”

“I’m being silly. Playing dress-up. Like you sometimes do.” I had hoped she wouldn’t notice, but Wanda was especially curious.

“You look funny.”

“I do, don’t I? I was just going to show my wife how funny I look.”

She poked a finger at the mole on the side of my face.

“Fake mole.” I tickled her, and she giggled loudly and easily. Her tears, so important just a minute before, were now long gone. “Go back in the house, little girl. Come back at bedtime tonight.”

“Okay,” she kissed me on the cheek and bounced out the front door.

After retouching my makeup and checking my hair, I was back in the VR room. I didn’t write out a script. I didn’t have any notes. I just turned the stream on and started talking.

“To all Prosledites on Earth and Geb who have refused to hear my voice, I command you to listen now. I have told you God alone will judge his people in the next world, but you have ignored me. I have said God loves those who are peaceful, but you have ignored me and continued your reign of terror on Earth and Geb. Today, God has punished you for your transgressions. Obey his commands! Your media knows the truth, yet they lie to you. Your government knows the truth, yet they lie to you. But the worst part is every one of you know the truth, yet you still kill in his name. God is disappointed.”

I laid down and prayed before shutting off the stream and playing it back. I could have said a couple of things differently, but overall, I thought it captured my raw emotions, especially after the encounter with Wanda. I did some cropping and editing, changed my voice, and played it back one more time before sending it into the ether.

Once it was gone, I took off the wig and gave myself a good scrubbing before settling back into the VR room. I honestly hadn’t planned on watching any more news – I’d reached my saturation point for the day – but once I saw myself on stream, I couldn’t turn it off.

A switch had flipped. The media no longer silenced me. My face was on every stream, and my statement was played repeatedly. I could feel Sekmet criticizing my grammar from across the city, but it didn’t matter. The whole planet heard my voice. We had been at it for months, had killed hundreds of people, and had created panics before, but this was different. We had broken through some invisible barrier and into people’s consciousness.

The Alegad had finally arrived.

At 1900 exactly, I heard a knock at the door and found Alan outside with a dish full of pasta.

“Aaron,” he offered me the food in his hands.

“Alan,” I took the dish and put it on the dining room table.

“Officer Minkle talked to me today,” he said, remaining outside.

“Let me guess. He wanted to know if I left the house today with a bunch of bombs and guns. Because everything that happened was totally my fault.”

“Nope. He wanted to know if you’d talked to anyone today.”

“Of course I did. I had to make sure my wife was okay.” I assumed Alan was at least tracking who I spoke to if he wasn’t listening to the conversation.

“That’s what I told him. He seemed satisfied with that.”

“So, does that mean I can leave?”

“I asked him that same question,” he said, then turned around and walked away.

“Thank Nicole for dinner.”

He waved his hand in the air without turning around. After skirting the edge of the pool, he disappeared back into the house. Above him, curtains rippled in a second-floor window, and I saw Wanda poke her head through. She waved excitedly at me until I waved back and retreated inside to eat my dinner.




“Ingrid? Are you there?”

“You have had quite a day,” she responded without hesitation. “Ninety-four people dead. Two hundred and twelve wounded. Where does this all end?”

“You know how it ends.”

“I know what you’ve said, but what are you really after? Most terrorists want political change of some sort. What can the government do? What sort of things can they give you? I could be in a position to help you get them.”

I thought for a moment. “You know what they can do? Say the same things we said in our statement today. Tell the Prosledites to stop the killing.”

“I think you’re missing my point. I’m going to figuratively put down my pen and paper. I’m not a reporter anymore. Now you’re talking to Luna. That’s what my friends used to call me when I was a little girl in Kenya. If I, Luna, could get you a meeting with some important folks in the government, what would you ask them for?”

I slammed the radio down on the dining room table and gazed out the window. I was flabbergasted. Had I been unclear? Had I given her any reason to think I had an ulterior motive?

“Hello? Are you still there?”

I grabbed the radio. “I’m still here, just baffled. Do you think I’ve been lying this whole time?”

“It’s okay. Everybody does it. My job is to see through the lies. Besides, if you are telling the truth, none of this makes sense. What do you get out of it? After the terrorist attacks stop, then what? You just walk away? All of this has to be for something.”

“Peace is something. God wants the Prosledites to interpret their religion differently. He wants them—”

“Stop with the religious crap,” she barked. “You’re talking to Luna, and she does not believe a dwarf is the reincarnation of Augur. You’re a copycat with a good voice modulator, passable makeup and a bad wig.”

Her crack about the wig touched a nerve. “You’re not a Prosledite. I don’t expect you to believe. Tell this to your friends in the government. I ask of them the same thing I ask of all Prosledites. Stop judging, sentencing, and executing unbelievers. Stop teaching your children to revere those who do. Stop paying the families of heroes after they return from Earth. Stop killing women and transgender folks who don’t behave like you want them to. And start living with others in peace.”

“You really believe you are a prophet reincarnated to reinterpret the Heka and punish true believers who kill in your name?”

“Before this is over, Luna, that is what everyone will believe.”


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Photo by Eligius4917