Read in White on Black

The problem with ruling the world is that everyone else wants your job.

The Dominator oversees the Illuminati Levels, the Levels own servants, and servants manipulate public figures, the men and women who sit atop normal hierarchies. Most of the power-hungry Levels envied their Dominator, but until now it was limited to a few scowls and sighs of frustration. Because of this particular Dominator's abilities, it was thought highly unlikely that anyone would try to rebel or usurp him, and utterly inconceivable that anyone would somehow manage to have hidden action-control implants in his head or turn his soulless biological-robot Enforcers against him, driving him from his paradise island and forcing him to hide.

Someone had.

"All right, guys, here's what I think will end up happening," Sarah said, her light blue, bioengineered eyes scanning the dingy, seldom-used basement of the industrial building, lit only by the flashlight globe she held. "There's only a limited set of possibilities. The most hopeful one is that the ones still on your side will use their forces to block or kill the forces already trying to find you, meaning that the cavalry will come and we'll be rescued. The least hopeful one is that the enemies are able to find some more missiles to throw at us. Big shit this time, Mach 7 right on our heads, so even if we do shoot it it'll still kill us."

"And you've said that staying here in this building is the best thing to do," Howard Dominus said casually. Over the two years he'd ruled the world, he'd learned to delegate responsibility.

"Something like that would blow us up whether we were on open ground, in a car, or down here. This is actually one of the least likely places where we'd be found, and considering what just happened out there- all the bodies, somebody's probably called the cops- it's one of the safest. Even if these guys are willing to break secrecy, they might have to fight normal forces, and that will definitely attract the attention of whoever the island guys haven't called, assuming they could call anyone." That was the ugliest unknown that the twins had to face. It was very possible that their home had become a series of craters.

William Dominus, formerly William Bohecker, raised an eyebrow. "So how do we get who they called?" He had been proclaimed Dominator alongside his brother not more than five minutes ago, after the ugly battles following the group's unimplantation. Howard had chosen to free his servants along with himself; the decision had saved his life and probably the rest of theirs as well, and there was no place for his twin but by his side.

Sarah shook her head. "Before everything went to our network, we had phones for this. Shit, ten years ago, I could just make a hang-up call to the right number and not risk exposure." She was speaking theoretically. Ten years ago she was being educated in the freshly-built Northberg Educational Facility, being taught at the age of four and a half about how the Illuminati works and how it deals with the normal world. She left there in less than six months after that and was taught her role as the princess of assassins. "But right now we're out of contact, not counting that the whole local phone trunk is probably bugged right now. So there's no way of knowing or affecting who's coming." She sighed and thought for a moment. ('Keep it didactic, keep it simple, don't think about all the possibilities because most of them are unlikely and very bad...') "I think the most likely possibility is that the bad ones, without super weapons, will come first; but a good one, probably an engineered, can move fast enough to rescue us before the enemies can bring everything into play," Sarah said in a breath, rare stress seeping into her voice. "Speaking of which.. how much ammo, guys?"

"Half full," Dominator Howard, often called Howie by his dearest friends, said. His fusion-powered microwave weapon, which slammed neutrons into hydrogen and slammed deuterium nuclei together, ran on water. The fission neutron/energy source would last for another three years, and although he and his brother have an indefinite lifespan and can never grow old, he'd be happy just to outlive his weapon, despite his confidence in the group's ability to deal death.

"Shit.. just six more shots," Dominator William said. He didn't think of himself as 'Dominator William', though. For two years he was 'Billy' in friendly company. He'd used most of his atomic shotgun's shells in the last firefight, blowing the enemy's Enforcers away with abandon and glee, proclaiming his unimplantation and the massive, unexpected quick-thinking boost he'd gained from it with an amazing display of fissile destruction along with fist-bladed death. He'd ended up firing some of his ammo into the floor of their mansion after it easily passed through the bodies of his foes; they'd go so far down that they'd be hell to dig out. Oh well; after the missiles destroyed the roof and the Micro scorched a burning hole in the carpet (and the floor, and a good chunk of the rock under the floor), the whole place would need to be rebuilt.

Sarah looked at her main weapons, a pair of bullpup-styled submachineguns, which fired mini-missiles, bullets with constant propellant and miniature warheads. Although her training enabled her to use an enormous variety of weapons, she seldom had reason to kill a lot of people or Enforcers at once. The events earlier that day had proved an exception. "I'm about.. a third full, no reloads," she replied, shaking her head and her long, light blond hair back and forth, her hair nearly matching that of the twins, theirs stark, pure white, engineered to symbolize their absolute Illumination. Even their eyes were white in the same place that normal humans would have blue or brown, and why not? They were born as power incarnate, the apex of Illuminated bioengineering ability. As twelve-year-olds they were each five foot ten and a bit under two hundred pounds, thick bone and dense muscle; if they lived long enough to reach maximum age in another six years, they'd be sixteen inches taller with another hundred and fifty pounds. Every ounce of effort and care was taken into making the Dominator what he is, a superhuman with the ability to out-think practically anyone, lift and throw humans around like dolls, and dodge bullets.

Only there was only supposed to be one. There were never, never supposed to be two of them.

"I've got.. holy crap. If what I'm looking at's right.. I've got jack shit," Paul said, looking at the meter on his rapid-fire spread-cannon and frowning. Paul Smith, a basically ordinary boy approaching his thirteenth birthday in a couple of months, was nothing like his vastly superior twin friends, who at ten months younger than him- their twelfth birthday was tomorrow!- could kill him with a single mistaken arm movement, if it were even conceivable that they could make that kind of error. Only by a miracle of luck and the enemies' targeting has he survived this far. The terror of deadly combat had halfway shut down his mind, and he followed his bioengineered friends' lead almost automatically, answering their questions almost by rote. "No wonder I thought it was getting lighter. I've got about fifty shots." Fifty shots on that assault cannon would last roughly seven seconds.

Fido barked as if he'd been asked, too. At least the engineered dog wouldn't run out of teeth.

There was one more member of their group, but he was a bit too dead to participate in the fighting. A sentient Enforcer calling itself the Anarch had gone haywire, started fighting Illuminati for attempting to control him (only his Master may do that), and came to the Dominator's island mansion to warn his Dominator of the control implants attached to his brain. The Dominator chose to unimplant his friends along with himself, pulling out the dime-sized bits of circuitry and connecting their brains together in a successful attempt to survive the lethal effects of implant withdrawal. The Anarch was in that, but disconnected early to fight real-world enemies and died for it. The twins did not mourn- he was still just an Enforcer- but they regretted the death. He might have known something he never told them.

He still had a fully-automatic assault rifle- normal-looking, Sarah figured it was some sort of customized AK variant- and a few magazines of armor-piercing bullets. The group looked at each other before Paul shrugged and took them.

Paul was about to mention something about just waiting for things to happen when Sarah put her finger to her lips sharply and pointed down into the sewer with her other hand. What he didn't hear that the engineereds did were the sounds of very muffled footsteps and bodily thumps.

The twins didn't want to run, but they accepted Sarah's tactical advice and scurried back into the sewer like rats, Paul and Fido following. Sarah dragged the Anarch's body in, wiped the dust and grime in an orderly way, put a seventy-pound box on top of the manhole cover, and deftly lifted and closed that after her with almost no noise at all. Then she crawled over and past the rest of the group, turning the globe of light off.

The twins and Sarah could have killed their pursuers very quickly, but Sarah didn't want to do that, a suspicion growing in her mind. Everyone had seen the third Inheritor's Test (and what a joke that was, she thought ruefully), in which the three engineereds- the twins ten years old, Sarah twelve and a half- had slaughtered ten Enforcers in melee combat. Everyone knew that you'd need a lot of current-model Enforcers to get through the twins without excessively heavy hardware or atomic weapons; if they had the latter, there would probably have been six charred corpses about half an hour ago, one of them canine. But the enemy did have surface-to-surface missiles, and all it took was one call...

So they waited. Was the Enforcers' command "Search for them in this building", "Find out where they are", or "Do a full search of the area"? Enforcers, having thoroughly modified brains and no will of their own, were entirely literal-minded and followed commands exactly, with implants giving later commands priority over former ones. Commanding them, therefore, was its own skill, and hopefully in the heat of the moment someone had given wrong orders.

The orders, unfortunately, were thorough. Peering through the storm drain, she saw more than one agent (normal-dressed, not fooling her for an instant) on the sidewalk, an Enforcer or two, one of them in the upper floors of another building. And if even one of them looked with infrared towards that sewer...

She reached into a pocket for a silenced weapon- nobody bothered asking what corpse she pulled that off of- and aimed for a far target. The twins watched her, trying to figure out what the hell she was doing. There were far closer enemies- Enforcers were in the building they had just come from! With subsonic bullets, the Enforcer could almost certainly dodge, especially at that long range. Also, it was almost certainly wearing armor, which meant that she'd need to hit near the center of the brain for a definite kill.

She took a single breath and fired thrice.

It saw them coming- probably saw her fire, as the muzzle flash was limited to directly at it- and dodged the first two easily, in such a way that it put its head directly in the path of the third one. The twins watched, startled, before the incoming supersonic missile appeared as a black speck, the engineereds jerking their heads down as fast as inhumanly possible before the enormous explosion. Paul covered his ears, wincing. Fido whined thinly. His sensitive canine eardrums might have been damaged by that, but that didn't matter much as they'd swiftly regenerate.

"That's what I thought would happen," Sarah said very softly, almost inaudible after the massive boom.

"That was.. magnificent, Sarah. Just.. amazing," William said just as softly, awed by both her firearm skills and her knowledge of the enemy's plans. He'd seen her pull off impressive feats before, but nothing like that.

"That was perfect. I've never seen anyone come close to that. Not even us," Howard said in the same tone, completely amazed. "How the hell did you predict all that?!"

"The Enforcer was from experience. The missile is a longer explanation. Now shut up and stay hidden until you hear shit start to happen." Her tone was serious and the group did exactly that. She wasn't just the twins' top expert in killing; she was also their lover and had borne them a child, the four-armed Quadrus Dominus whose fully-formed abnormality was a true stroke of genetic luck. Sarah quietly promised herself that she and her lovers would get to see the boy grown up, no matter what happened here today.

Shit did not immediately start to happen.

The sewer was cold and clammy, but not dirty; this was a storm drain in the rainy Pacific Northwest. In the cramped confines, William badly wanted to lay down in a comfortable position, and found a nice spot to rest his head: on Howard's back. That was fine with Howard- he'd laid on his brother quite a few times. Having complete control over people can lead to some seemingly bizarre practices, particularly when social rules are almost nonexistent. He hadn't been all that mean or nasty, and that had saved his life. If he had been, he could never have dared share a connected unimplantation with his servants, and he would have died from implant withdrawal alone. He realized he was reminiscing, losing awareness.. resting his head on his arms.. but that was to be expected. Following the brain-taxing, supposedly impossible act of defeating the implants, they had endured what felt like hours (it was really only twenty minutes in the danger zone) of frantic bullet-dodging combat while making their escape. Their bodies were overloaded with metabolites and their muscles sore from fatigue. They had a lookout they could rely on, so it didn't really matter.. zzz.

Paul would be astounded by it if he didn't know their biology; his metabolism was a candle, theirs a raging furnace. Despite the fact that it might be quiet right this second, all hell was still breaking loose! Unknown enemies with unknown resources, and they could actually sleep! Not for the first time, he felt like he was caught in the middle of something he didn't belong in. The only reason he was still alive was because he was a low-value target to Enforcer combat prioritization. All sorts of things had exploded, he recently watched people die left and right, and who the hell knew what was going on now?! He figured that his next sleep was likely to be under a headstone.

Sarah was trained for this. She hated every moment of it, but she remained fully awake. She considered trying to keep Fido awake as well, but decided against it. She couldn't risk a loud agitated bark (nobody knew exactly how smart the dog was, not even the Operator that created it), and strange smells and sounds would likely wake him up instantly.

She went back over her options, staying down and completely out of line of sight, listening to but not seeing the Enforcers swarm around the explosion. The problem was that there was no way out. The way they came in- a different pipeline, to the ocean- was surely guarded by now. Use the Micro's five hundred megajoule/second output to dig a hole? Too damn noisy, superheated air exploding as a lightning strike. Fight out the hard, traditional way? Get owned by a missile, which is what the enemy was hoping they just did. They would not be left for dead, however. They would also not be shown mercy on, left to fight another day, or captured with any hope of escape.

The only good sign was that the enemy didn't have enough available force to simply carpet bomb or immolate the entire area. If they had access to an orbital microwave satellite, they would have already used it. ('Or maybe they do, but it's just one and it's on the other side of the planet right now... another bad unstoppable unlikely, forget it') Which meant that they might resort to indirect force. Lots of Chinese bombers, starting World War III as a side effect? Some misinformation fed to naval destroyers? Normal soldiers wouldn't be a problem- they'd just die like roaches, 'all they could be' a stain on the concrete- but all it took was one lucky artillery hit and, presto, game over.

Sarah concentrated on her breathing, an absolutely silent rush of air, Paul trying to imitate her. He thought of her as a killing machine who happened to possess female genitalia and a mind. Most people did, and they were mostly accurate. He had no idea how scared she really was.

Because this was the first day in her life when she felt like she could actually die. She had been killing people since she was a child, all of them genetic normals with little or no ability to stop her, simply targets. The vast majority hadn't had time to see her coming; the others couldn't do anything about it in time. In every situation there had been a safety net of sorts, a place to fall back to. She had used it, before she became the Dominator's servant, only thrice, but the rest of the assassins' organization- even, properly speaking, the rest of the whole Illuminati- was there if things went south.

Now, the rest of the Illuminati was either inaccessible or trying to kill her. Whoever the enemies were probably wouldn't even leave her alive if she walked out the door with the severed heads of the Dominators in her hands. She never could, though. In fact, if it came down to it, she would probably die for them.

It was a symbol of her stress that she found herself asking why. Howard had owned her completely, body and soul. He had done everything that a pubescent boy would want to her, and she had even borne him a child from it. She was literally a gift to him, shortly before his tenth birthday. And yet now, more than two years later and with her no longer under technological control, he trusted her implicitly and absolutely, to the point of accepting her tactical advice immediately as the right and proper thing to do, because it was unthinkable that she would ever speak anything else. Morals were a joke to her, she could not be Pavlov-conditioned in any conceivable lasting way, and she had whatever code of ethics she wanted. If she wanted them dead, they would be dead- now, or later. Was their trust stupid, fatalistic, or simply common sense?

She turned and looked at their curled-up forms, the rulers of the world sleeping, seemingly comfortably, in a clammy sewer while Illuminati tried to kill them with death from above.

The twins, after their physically-connected nightmare, were having similar dreams again, William's dream more intense than Howard's as if in repayment for two years of nightly screaming in terror.

An angel came down upon him. Golden in color and indistinct in size and shape, it opened its gleaming lips and spoke in words that were not words, the concepts forming themselves as powerful emotions. Absolute love, altruism, power used to constructive ends. A shining future of hope and nearly unlimited prosperity, an eternal idea of happiness and inner peace, a general end to evils of every sort. The kind of thing that so many demagogues and dictators had promised, and none were able to accomplish due to flaws which the twins did not, could not, have. An indefinite future of unity without oppression, freedom without the tragedy of the commons, trust without tribalism, a post-scarcity utopia that they could eventually make happen, assuming they survived this and many other battles.

And he felt the angel move to his brother, and his brother somehow got up and that pushed his head.. what? He looked up into near-darkness. He was expecting to be woken up by gunfire- or possibly an explosion- but all he heard was a few sirens, car engines, general commotion, and a lot of loud voices going back and forth in agitation. "How long?" Howard muttered in Latin, the language he had first known.

"Bit over 25 minutes," Sarah whispered back. She needed no clock. "All hell's broke loose." The way she said it was in relief, that hell breaking loose was better than the alternative.

"In what way?"

"I'd say about five different Illuminati are trying to take charge, and I don't think any of them trust each other. Servants bouncing off each other, alphabet-soup normals screaming about overlapping jurisdiction, the works. This is the biggest clusterfuck I've seen in my life. The only thing that could be worse is if the news media got here, but nothing like that yet."

"Yet," Paul noted. "I'm surprised I haven't seen any dogs." Sarah looked back at him sharply- their smell was something they could control even less than their body heat. "I was thinking if Fido reacted to one, or smelled one, but I haven't seen any."

Fido, for his part, was simply imitating his masters in this situation which, to him, was bizarre beyond all compare. Unimplanted with the rest of them, but he had no idea what that meant- he had no idea he was even implanted in the first place and took his instant obedience for granted. The impossible world, of violence and no logic, the dread-thing, then back home into a situation no different. (Fido had no conception of what it meant to dream. To him it was all equally real.) Enforcers exploding the loud fast things at Master- attempting to harm Master!- which he had answered with speed and teeth, the ripping of flesh. Explosions, violence, loud fast things of every type, Master using the extremely loud fast thing-shooter and the loud-hot light. Now off the island, with many strange smells, more violence and another ear-hurting boom. Masters in metal hidey-hole, protective, fear-smell, use voices small. Must be quiet! Even if twelve bitches in heat had paraded past the sewer entrance, Fido would have made not even the thinnest of yips.

"You're right. Not a canine unit in sight. It's all controlled, then- if you can count a five-asshole schizophrenic fuckdance as controlled." Sarah then stiffened up slightly, going dead quiet and signaling the rest to do the same.

"I think it might be white supremacists," a man was saying.

"Like in Oklahoma City?"

"Probably, but my guess is that these guys are a lot more serious. There's no truck left behind. I'm going to go ahead and guess we're dealing with a couple of very brutal, dogshit vicious killers with a history of violence."

"You think?" the other man asked sarcastically, but then the first man hadn't been directing his comments towards him. Sarah thwacked her fingers against the sewer pipe once, which would go unnoticed except to those listening for something like that, and led the rest of them out of the sewer back to the basement whence they came- gingerly wiggling around the pile of smelly dogshit Fido had left behind, as well as the dead body. They were all used to corpses.

Salvation or death? They only had to wait five minutes (a whole five minutes, Sarah thought- the coordination really must be a mess) before an Enforcer in a SWAT uniform came down, carrying a bag with five uniforms with full facial helmets and a dog-sized vest. Sarah gestured to the dead Anarch and the Enforcer reported it to its commander. They inspected the uniforms before they exchanged them with their dirty, blood-smeared clothes; explosive or drugged garments would be a stupid way to die.

The way the Enforcer moved made the bag with their clothes look like it was full of explosives, or evidence; they followed it up the stairs out the door into a motley sea of alphabet soup, and no one questioned them as they jumped into the back of a waiting van. They didn't have time to inspect it- if the damn thing blew up, that was it, but they had no real choice..

"Arthur Rosene, fourth level," the driver introduced himself. His passenger, an Enforcer, was radioing in some complete bullshit to some normal about who they were and where they were going with what. A suspicious electronic device, yeah, that was it.

Sarah then did something completely unexpected; she leaned forward and sniffed him, checking to see if he was what he appeared to be.

"You can smell Illuminati?" he asked her, grateful for the spot of humor in what was a parade of confusion. Actually he was grateful for the confusion, as well; one of his men had slyly managed to get Sarah's attention and he had been the one to get the Dominator out of there without undue alarm, as no one knew who they were or what they were doing.

"I can smell 45 year old men," she replied. "At least when they're not wearing Eau de Decay cologne." They had just come out of a storm drain, too. Arthur decided to change his brand.

"Dominator, this might be an uncomfortable question right now, but just what the hell is going on?"

"A whole lot of people are trying to kill us, so pardon us if we choose to play our cards a bit close to the chest right now," William said. The use of 'us' and 'our' confused the hell out of Arthur, who was rather an absolutist when it came to masters and servants. Howard wished his brother didn't do that, because it gave away something he didn't have to just yet.

"Open rebellion?" Arthur asked, trying to hide his incredulity. Open rebellion in the year 2000, and against this Dominator? There were more obvious recipes for disaster, but he couldn't think of any that anyone had actually tried..

"Worse," Howard said, and pointedly closed his lips for a moment. Then he continued, "Who is controlling what organizations in this clusterfuck?"

"I've got the local police and SWAT, but the National Guard is getting pulled out from under me by Bruce Pratt, who's got the military," he said, gesturing to some Army trucks going the other way. "Donald's got the FBI, and-"

"Donald?" Howard interrupted him with.

"Simpson. Clinton's his servant." Arthur was surprised Howard didn't know him, but then again there were six thousand Illuminati and Howard might not have even met him, or remembered if he had. "He's almost got the ATF, but two other guys are trying to use it, no I don't have their names. CIA's worse, last I heard even Gates is trying something with them. NSA was there, but Donald managed to pull them out of it. And from what I hear, it's hell keeping a total media blackout." This would never be reported. The dead people would be random killings, possibly spread out in time and space; the missile hit would be a natural gas leak or something else they could explain away. Anyone who said otherwise would be either mistaken or full of shit.

Arthur made a turnoff onto a dirt road, hardly even slowing down, looking around and behind him. Good. He focused on the road for a few minutes, collecting his thoughts, watching his mirrors and listening to the engine. This really was an 'appropriated' FBI van- he didn't have time to mock up an Illuminated one. He did, however, have time to order his own car hidden nearby. "We have to switch cars. And... we're being followed." At about thirty car-lengths away, a vehicle sped towards them. "Curious normals, or.."

"No!" Sarah shouted. Enforcer driver aside, that car was coming way too fast. "Open the back!" she shouted behind her- but the back was already open, and there was a horribly loud boom, the van jerking forward a bit, as William fired a fission-propelled shotgun slug into the following car's engine, tearing a hole clear through the body and the trunk, and a tiny fraction of a second later there was another, even louder BOOM as it exploded with the force of many hundred pounds of TNT, sending the hood flying into the air and bits of shrapnel at them. Sarah flipped over past the ducking Enforcer. Fido stayed behind Howard, who pushed Paul down and blocked him with his body, crouching and letting the gloves, face shield, and vest take the few tiny flecks of metal. William blocked the back of Arthur's head similarly, and dodged a larger chunk that was going for his leg. The following vehicle now looked like a splattered, smoking junkyard. Atomic shotgun slugs penetrated- they didn't do that. Someone had tried to use a car bomb on them.

"I'm going to lose my hearing if this shit keeps up," Paul said blithely. The twins smiled at him. Arthur pulled over by the black luxury car he had hidden, and pointed to his ears, shaking his head. He did, apparently, lose his hearing, at least for a while.

"Enforcer, call Donald, tell him what happened, and that he should clean this shit up," Arthur shouted in the voice of people who can't hear themselves talk. "Son of a bitch!"

"Think Donald's in on it?" Howard asked as they jumped out. Hey, if Arthur couldn't hear him..

"It'll take some analysis, but it's plausible," Sarah replied, as she gave the car a careful look before tossing the bag with their clothes in the back seat, then putting herself behind the wheel, Arthur gratefully moving to the passenger's side. He really didn't think she'd let a deaf guy drive, did he?

There was a viewscreen built into the dashboard. Sarah sighed with relief and almost reached for it... before she realized she had no idea what orders to give to whom. Was there anybody in the assassins' organization she trusted, now? Was there anyone she could call who could respond in time, and who didn't have spies? Any orders she could give had to let the receiver know what she was doing and where she was, and who did she want to tell about that?

"It doesn't prove it," William said as he got in, followed by Paul and Arthur's Enforcer. "How many vans were coming in versus going out? What's the odds of four agents getting in the same van with a white dog?"

"So an enemy servant was watching," Paul said.

"One guy in a sea of cops? Probably like five," Sarah replied. "I'm just surprised secrecy's still mostly intact."

"Mostly?" Howard asked pointedly. That was like a balloon mostly not having holes.

"Is there or is there not an atomic shotgun round somewhere in the ground out there?" It would be buried deep, but anyone walking around with a Geiger counter in that mess would know something was up.

"That only matters when all the local emergency services aren't under direct control."

"Direct direct, or more like normals at three removes?"

"C'mon, Sarah, asshole with Geiger counter, or one of the dozens of Illuminati focusing on this place, which do you think will get here first?" William asked. She nodded. Another basic assumption of operations, defenestrated.

"Ssss-- AAAAAHH!" Arthur suddenly screamed, clapping his hands over his ears. "Where is that coming from?"

"Your head," Paul replied. Now would be a great time to tell him that the atomic shotgun was a heavily sound-suppressed weapon, in addition to the massive recoil dampening and radiation shielding.

"My turn, where are those coming from?" Sarah asked, gesturing to two black specks in the air. Helicopters, a great distance away.

"Mine, mine, they're mine, Enforcers!" he shouted, still clasping his hands to his ears, apparently trying to drown out the ringing in them.

"And that one?" she asked, gesturing at a larger flying object, a military transport helicopter moving in their general direction, considerably faster than those normally go. Was that.. yes, it was. Sarah wondered who was brazen enough to use an Illuminati-upgraded MH-47, of all things. It could be full of explosives...

The viewscreen came to life. "Arthur! Dominator! It's me!" Arthur smirked softly at 'It's me'. He'd hoped one of them would recognize his face and voice, and not only hadn't they known who he was, they had barely cared. Good thing Jack Guernsey's name was at the bottom of the screen.

But the twins did recognize Jack, as they had to deal with him more than once in the Dominator's official capacity, William playing as his brother now and then. This was not a good thing- it meant he had intra-Illuminati problems, usually related to his myriad holdings in various militaries and contractors, owning several normal arms dealers from China to the US. 'Great,' William thought. 'Another game of Can We Trust This Motherfucker.' Then he had a flash of genius and leaned forward, pressing buttons extremely fast. "All right, Jack- I've just recorded that.. and sent it to several different engineereds. Now our safety is your responsibility," he said. He ignored the frantic replies, as he wasn't sure if he could trust all of them. Other Illuminati surely had ideas about who should be Dominator instead. Another engineered kid would be perfect...

Jack's eyes went wide. What William had really said was If anything happens to us, someone is guaranteed to kill you. He barked a command to someone offscreen, and the helicopter's ramp extended as it landed directly in front of them. Sarah slammed the brakes just as it got up the ramp, sending it to a screeching halt inside the helicopter. The ramp closed back up and the craft forced its way into the air.

It was pitch black inside. Paul almost asked why it smelled like burned rubber before he mentally kicked himself. Just being in this was taxing as hell. Forget 'sleep'- he needed a hot bath, a tall cup of strawberry milk, and a good twelve hours in a comfortable bed. Preferably one guarded by turrets, heavily armed sentient engineereds, and space-based defenses. Before that, he needed to take a shit, in a hermetically sealed vault somewhere deep beneath the earth where he could not possibly be interrupted. Most normals' bowels evacuated under intense fear and stress. Paul had the reverse, but whether he was born like that or it was a lingering effect (of something he would not tell anyone about, ever), he didn't know.

Then the lights came on and a man in his mid-fifties looking like he'd stepped out of a Republican party fundraiser approached the vehicle, almost running. The man weighed more than three hundred pounds, and Paul found his refuge in humor again, looking at the man's lard slosh to and fro in his whitish-grey business suit, his brown wingtips flap-flap-flapping against the steel floor. This guy had enough power for his own personal military transport aircraft, enough presumable willpower to control a huge swath of global power players, and he couldn't afford or be bothered to use a gym?

"Dominator? Dominator! Oh, thank God you're safe." 'Well that was off on the wrong foot,' William thought. Religion was the Illuminati's bitch. Perhaps he redeemed himself at night with his bedtime prayer: 'God! God! Thank the Dominator you're safe!'

"We're not safe. They have missiles," Sarah said bluntly, expecting to have to prevent Jack from landing immediately in panic.

"That may be, but there's nothing air-to-air for at least fifty miles," he replied.

Sarah rolled her eyes. Arguing with the twins in this situation was one thing- they had insight and leadership and wits- but dealing with this assclown's stupid shit was something she was not prepared to do right now. "And ground-to-air doesn't count, because you know of any Stinger anyone might possibly be carrying," she spat out. "Where's your viewscreen?" He gestured to a few seats near the cockpit and she started moving. "Where's your base?"

"Thirty miles south." Then he should have been here much, much sooner. "I was going to take you to it, but if you want-"

"No, that's good." At least he had some sense.

"Thank God it was you and me, Art." It took an act of will for Howard not to roll his eyes. Guys like this comprised the majority of Illuminati: old, Caucasian, disproportionately American by birth, authoritarianism as a fundament of their existence, usually narrow-minded and vain, merciless, mean, and manipulative beyond all. Arthur and Jack at least had the balls to come out here themselves, a step up from the majority, which solely used Enforcers and regular servant agents. "Dominator," Jack said, looking at the twins and sizing them up. It was common knowledge that the twins had pretended to be each other on occasion, and since he had no idea that they were both the Dominator he played what had become a guessing game, made doubly hard by the fact that he had no idea what to say in a situation like this.

Howard did know what to say. These guys were adrift and needed something familiar, such as verbal abuse for their latent masochism. Normally he didn't play that useless game- he had much more effective techniques when he really wanted to get his point across- but he had to dispense some psychological validation right now. "Jack," he said with contempt. "Thirty miles? You have military control, a fast helicopter, this is your area, where the hell were you?" The twins had a doubled larynx; if they used both at once, their voices gained an echo effect very useful in intimidation. "Did you feel that you could go and get your Dominator after a quick jerk-off? Or maybe you just wanted to stick your toe in the water- ooh too cold for you- before you decided you would actually do what needed doing, where it needed doing? Maybe you just thought you just had a fucking Pause button for real life, is that it?"

"I did what I could as fast as I could with the information I had!" Jack replied in a rush.

"Yeah? Then you need to practice doing more, faster, and get more information!" Jack felt a great deal of relief. The Dominator was talking about him doing things in the future tense, which meant that he would have one. Okay, psychological validation moment over. "Which is what I need to get. And lots of it." The information he was interested in consisted of things like whether or not their island was still a hot zone and whether or not Jack had a faster, safer, less conspicuous form of transportation, questions Sarah had already started asking. No, the island was no longer dangerous; the Enforcers had unsuccessfully pursued the twins and the local sentient servants being trained on the island were loyal. Jack didn't have a faster helicopter (he never needed one, and was mentally kicking himself for it now) but a man named Ted Vu did, he lived very close by, and Jack swore on his life that his second-level mentor was loyal.

The chopper landed on Ted's front lawn, and once the group was out, Jack took off in haste. 'Poor guy,' William thought. The middle-aged manipulator was terrified out of his mind.

But what did they expect? He was only human.

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