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Read in White on Black

"We're here," Sarah said.

"Nng?" Paul mumbled, waking up with the twins. They hadn't stayed in full paranoia mode; they couldn't keep that up indefinitely and weren't about to try. Sarah apparently had, and how the hell did she do it? Did she just not sleep? Or, more likely, she had perfected catnapping to an art form in much the same way that soldiers in trench combat situations do. "You know, I'm still waking up and not remembering where I am."

"Careful with that. You might one day wake up and find yourself somewhere else." Which is what had originally happened to her, William, and him. She left the plane first, finding what she had expected: a limo waiting for them, and an Enforcer with a garment. "Paul," she said, handing it to him as they stepped in.

It was similar to the twins' suits- a lot like something a Northberg kid would wear, only with an older cut, a back coat, and more weapon holders. It was blue and red, but if you looked at it this way, it took on a teal tint, and if you were lucky or tall enough to see him from above, it would appear green.. Paul, even after two years, still had to consciously shift his social frame of reference on occasion. In the normal world it would engender triple takes. Here, well, it wasn't white, and it wasn't black- it wasn't even light or dark enough to symbolize either, making it an intentional non-statement. Paul changed quickly in the limo, smiling at the large weapon-holding straps, which neatly balanced the assault cannon's weight. He knew it probably wouldn't do him much good, but 'go everywhere armed' wasn't something he shifted reference for anymore, and he didn't want to be the only one without a weapon if the shit hit the fan...

But it wasn't expected to and probably wouldn't. The twins could only imagine how the conversation between Hadji and his father had gone about preparations. 'You want to set aside rooms for what?' Or, perhaps, his father hadn't been so surprised at all- Bacchian hedonism was a staple of a great many Illuminated gatherings and was supposed to be the whole point of a Dominator birthday party. A celebration of life, of joy. We do these things because we can, and we need no other reason. Sure, some of the invitees would bring politics into it, but that was a side business and didn't impact the mood. But needing to move the location to the other side of the planet, to put pressure on a nuclear weapons dealer? Howard felt like he was betraying his station. The Dominator was supposed to be above this kind of thing.

Oh well. Most of them had planned to travel already- just not to this place. The fact that the twins were having it at all, after escaping a deadly situation, made the celebration-of-life aspect much more poignant and contained an insult to their enemies.

And if the hangar was any indication- jet-helicopters, a handful of propeller planes, a unique hypersonic jumbo jet- most of the invitees had shown up, and probably had been there for some time. Leaving at 4:00 PM the previous day plus a 13:30 timezone difference and an eight hour flight meant that the twins had arrived at about 1:30 PM local time.

They had arranged themselves into a semicircle around the door, younger kids standing towards the front so they could see their Dominator as he walked in. They inhaled to cheer-

But when they saw not one but two twins wearing white, they stared. One of them subtly uncrossed and re-crossed his eyes, treating the identically-dressed twins like a Magic Eye trick. A few of the servants smiled. Some of the masters just thought Howard was being facetious, but the tension in the room was palpable. Only two of them had received information from their younger siblings in Northberg, and had decided to tell nobody, just to watch this unfold. Why doesn't somebody say something?! Why don't you say something?! I'm not going to say anything! Screw you, I'm not opening my mouth about that! A handful of them used to wonder how the 'elephant in the room' phenomenon could exist. Now they knew.

It was a poor atmosphere, and William took it upon himself to break the ice, sounding like a quiz-show host with echo. "Hey, everybody! Who wants to guess how many of the people you're looking at have been unimplanted in the past twenty-four hours?"

"Two!" some younger kid near the front blurted out. "Billy and Sa-"

"ERRRT! Wrong!"

"Three!" an older boy shouted, with many others. "Five!" some jokester blurted out. "One!" a girl yelled.

"Nope! What's left?"

The room went to silence, this time with a whole new brand of tension and an even bigger room elephant. Almost every Illuminatus in the room had implanted servants. Not a single one of them hadn't had thoughts, in some cases nightmares, about their own implantation. A servant started chuckling mirthlessly at their reaction, until his master's hand signaled to shut up.

"Four. It's four, isn't it?" thirteen-year-old Jeremy Jorgensen said, quietly. He was one of the few people there who knew the twins personally. He and his servant, Joey Freeman, had spent time with the twins, some of it interesting, some of it violently lethal as they'd helped kill an enemy of his.

"Congratulations, Jeremy!" William shouted, still in quiz-host mode. "You win!" The let's-admit-horrible-things-happened competition.

"Heh. What do I win?"

"You get to be Dominator for a day!" Some of the kids gasped. Only a couple thought he was actually being serious.

"Today?" William smiled at him. "Or..."

"The day the missiles start landing on our house again!" There were two subtexts in that. The first was 'our', which nobody, not even the seven-year-olds, missed. The second was the fact that not only had the Dominator been implanted and nearly killed, he was openly joking about it. Shock gave way to nervous laughter.

"Yeaaaahhh.. I think I'll pass!" More, easier, laughter.

"What's the next question?" a fifteen-year-old asked.

"What's for lunch?" And that was the right question, as many of these kids were engineereds whose last meal was about six hours ago and who had been active since then. He got a number of answers, but the one he favored included the location of three massive dinner tables, the head of the center one hastily rearranged to feature two seats.

There was a substantial infusion of younger kids this time around, in the twilight zone between power and puberty. A few of them had a quasi-medieval look, princes and princesses, all cute and Machiavellian. A nine-year-old geneticist (she favored animals and a few plants, leaving the Operator for the humans) looked strikingly like the Red Queen, red hearts on her expansive dress. One of the boys wore a white cape over shining armor with a scabbarded sword at his hip, with his black-armored servants packing folded spears, and these kids never carried toy or imitation weapons. Jeremy and his servant wore matching motorcycle outfits, although they hadn't rode from England to India on their teen-sized bikes; three hundred miles an hour was simply too slow for that and there was secrecy to worry about. There were also four somewhat middle-aged servants in this group, styled similarly to butlers, their combination of patience and experiential wisdom making them extremely highly prized among kids who recognized the need for it.

The pubescent ones generally flaunted their status. The older teenagers were the first recipients of the Operator's initial genetic experiments. Ergo, there were wide variations in strength and intelligence, and in some cases looks. One girl, fortunate in that regard, dressed almost like a bride and pointedly sat herself between two boys her age: which one of you wants to be my husband tonight? There was a distinct age grouping in erstwhile couples, with almost no one going beyond a two-year limit; not just because of the creep factor, but because with the upslope in genetic engineering, the younger ones were likely to be far more dangerous. The master-servant factor was simple, as servants are the hands of their owners. In the Illuminati, fucking your servants is the equivalent of masturbation, fucking someone else's servants is equivalent to that person giving you a handjob, and having each other's servants fuck is the equivalent of holding hands. (Aww, how sweet! Eddie's servant is balls-deep in Julie's! They're going to make such a nice couple!)

Some of the girls looked interested in having the Dominator's baby after a 14-year-old named Carlie had managed that by breaking the two-year rule. Carlie at 15 was there again, hoping to repeat her performance. The girls' mood quickly soured after a glance from Sarah. Don't get into alpha-female contests with me. You will lose. Even among engineereds, Sarah was threatening in a way that even the Dominator was not. With all three of them there, the presumably eligible boys didn't give her a second look.

Howard, too, knew he couldn't partake in it today. Even though these were very literally his people, he could not politically afford to get intimately involved with any of them individually and have drama interfere with survival. Not anymore. He looked to his brother, who was having similar thoughts and nodded.

Paul checked around for Hadji's sisters- ah, there they were. But they were far from each other, with completely different masters; he really went ahead and sold them off. Hadji looked nervous and alone, as most of the mistresses at the party considered him selling his sisters as eventual sex slaves to be disgusting and insulting to their gender, and shunned him for it; few of the post-pubescent boys wanted to hang out with someone shunned by the girls. Since his home had been chosen as the place for the Dominator's party, he'd try to wring out what social status he could. Nobody believed it would work. He silently cursed his father for the inherited cultural problems, which seemed to get worse every year, and resolved never to follow the old man's ways again. Sumar himself stayed well out of the way, passively observing bits of the party and making no comments whatsoever, particularly not in regards to social graces.

Because these kids had their own ideas of what was acceptable. If this had been a gathering of Illuminati thirty or forty years older, the servants would be somewhere else save for a few silently waiting on the guests, with a possibility of them being used for the evening's entertainment. The young attendees at this party had their servants sitting near them, eating at the same tables and enjoying the same conversations, comfortable and more or less happy, the sentient property often speaking on behalf of their masters and occasionally filling specific roles; one mischievious twelve-year-old had his smug servant say the unvarnished truth in a biting court-jester style, with the master insincerely chiding him for his audacity. The usual practice here was for a servant to go to the buffet table and return with two plates, one for his master and one for himself, occasionally refilling drinks for both of them. To the new generation of Illuminati, having servants by your side made you a master, having servants who loved and trusted you (and vice versa) made you an adept master, and having personal servants that you couldn't bring with you in public made you a pathetic assclown. Getting rid of your servants meant that you couldn't handle the responsibility, and beating your servants- particularly if they were implanted, which they almost all were- was worse than kicking your dog.

There were only two servant girls dressed remotely like what pubescent normals would imagine; both of them had male masters who intended to give their friends heterosexual handjobs. This, too, was looked down upon by most of the mistresses although not quite as badly. There was one boy there for the same reason; his constant sly grin gave the impression that his mistress committed Illuminated masturbation on a regular basis.

There was also no taboo against homosexuality, but it was nearly nonexistent among these kids; the Operator had discovered a way to bind the reproductive urge to the sexual one, when he had first been messing with the brain. Sexually transmitted diseases weren't even a consideration, most of the girls wanted to get pregnant and there were morning-after abortifacient pills for the ones that didn't, and so condoms were wholly unused.

Jeremy and his servant were invited to sit next to Paul, who adjusted his assault cannon to sit next to the twins, next to Sarah, who was sat next to by a young master who apparently had no idea who and what she really was. Various preteen Illuminati were crowding-but-not-crowding their side of the table. "Guys, did you get my messages?" Jeremy asked.

"We haven't had access to a screen of ours since the shit hit the fan," Howard informed him. The room became quieter as they talked, and what they said was passed along. A few kids visibly relaxed at not having been intentionally ignored. The thought independently germinated in each twin's mind: They'd have to start carrying cellphones. It wouldn't have helped with their recent situation- a beacon, 'Shoot here!'- but going off-grid for hours at a time was a luxury they could no longer afford.

"That's why you didn't get on the jet with us," an eleven-year-old near Howard said, satisfied that he hadn't been snubbed. So that jumbo jet was used as group transportation after all. Why would Illuminati need group transportation?

Howard knew, and would tell his friends later. Almost all of the ones with inadequate transportation were from Northberg. A lot of their parents hadn't expected the educational facility to produce real Illuminati in seven or eight years- willful blindness at work- and some of the ones that did return to their parents ended up in, or chose, sink-or-swim exile with no inheritance or support; due to the mutual support structure they had learned at Northberg, all of them swam, and a handful of them took their parents' holdings anyway. There was one openly-acknowledged parricide in the room, a quiet nine-year-old Japanese boy called Toshi (wearing a "Normals Suck!" T-shirt which was probably passed off as Engrish in his homeland if he ever went to normal places) who puppeteered Nintendo and about half the Yakuza. (His father had demanded what he deemed 'real honor', so Toshi had used a katana and discovered that you really can slice someone in seven pieces with two straight cuts if you move fast enough.) A couple others had one or both parents die under mysterious circumstances and didn't seem too interested in finding out why. Nobody cared, least of all the twins. Family murder was just evolution in action. The new gene pool wouldn't do that to itself.

Paul looked at the Japanese boy and his self-evident shirt- he might have seen him before, maybe not, but he recognized Akira sitting next to him- and he definitely recognized Akira's servant, Brian, who stared at Paul outright, more or less hating his guts. Paul winked back at him, smiling joyfully. Bite me, asshole!

"You heard what happened to ours?" Howard asked, snapping Paul's attention back to the table.

"We heard it blew up," a thirteen-year-old girl said. "What happened?"

"It blew up," Howard replied, disappointing her. That was becoming more and more suspicious the more he thought about it, and he didn't want to share details quite yet. "We need a new one." That was the cue for people to trip over each other looking to serve their Dominator.

Only one answered that cue, which was mildly disappointing. "What would you like it to have?" the eleven-year-old with the jumbo jet asked, confidently, leaning back with a smile. The boy's striped outfit was perpetually swept back, making him look like he didn't even need a plane to fly.

"What's your name?" Howard asked him.

"Daniel Westham." No relation to Ryan West, who was hanging near the back of Howard's table, ostensibly uninterested in conversation. Ryan had lost to the Dominator last year in a game of Starcraft, a game on which currency units (with no relation to any government's money) had ridden.

"You make them, Daniel?"

He gave a precise shrug. "My dad does."

"Well tell your dad that we would like it if it was fairly large, extremely fast, and brimming with weapons." Unspoken was the fact that if the jet was sabotaged in any way, there would be another openly-acknowledged parricide. "He can make use of any suitable technology he chooses in its manufacture, or in any craft that he may manufacture in the future." Only a handful of the children, including Daniel, got the implications of that one off the bat. Sumar tried and failed to hide his wide eyes. The Illuminati was one of the few places where intellectual property meant something. For the Dominator to just license it out by fiat like that wasn't completely without precedent, but... "Tell him further that there seems to be a dearth of suitable transportation among some of our younger members, and that I expect him to rectify the problem."

And that immediately endeared him to most of the room, which drew breath. They did not clap, or cheer, or holler, although a few almost started before they caught the mood. Look at this great thing we have gained! Let us not jinx it by talking about it! It was still an amazing deal for Daniel's father, who made his own material- everything was easy to get except the scandium- and whose labor was Enforcers. One supreme jet and a dozen or two smaller ones, for a limitless license and mass positive recognition? Done! Played right it could be worth a level boost or two.

"I'll pass it along, Dominator." The immaculately polite tone of someone in the middle of a windfall take-and-run. Why yes, that is my briefcase full of money, how good of you to return it to me.

"And if you liked that, what do you think we'll give if you can tell us who's behind this? Any suspicions you haven't shared, you have evidence but you can't put it together? Anybody?" William asked. There was some hesitation, some chatter, and nothing. It was worth a shot. The twins instinctively looked around, looking for fear. There was apprehension, and nervousness, and Sumar himself probably had a bit too much coffee, but nothing real. He shrugged and went for the food which had been placed before him. Actually asking was a minor faux pas- the kids would surely tell them if they knew- but it couldn't hurt. Going further could. Howard went for his food to avoid smiling ruefully. There was a lot of combined brainpower in the room, but he could never enlist it for sustained, active investigation. That was Dominator business. If he- 'no, we, dammit, we, not I.. ah fuck it'- swept the young Illuminati up in a strategic witch hunt, he'd improve his chances of finding witches, and dramatically improve his chances of full-blown civil war, as Illuminati have an over-my-dead-body approach to search and seizure. Although internecine espionage had become less of a problem over the last decade, almost any Illuminatus with all his secrets exposed was still fairly well fucked.

And he just knew some asshole would break secrecy instead of lose; he was surprised someone hadn't already. Or maybe they had. How much blackout could be done in that little piece of Oregon? It had been such a complete clusterfuck, though, that the Illuminati had lots of chances to information-slip in the confusion, and normals in various branches of government would blame each other, and gradually shut up out of fear for their own careers when it was 'revealed' to be an accident. Technically, secrecy was everyone's business, but the twins decided to stay out of that mess unless someone's cleanup crew was able to name names of incompetents or rogues.

The party continued, with dozens of questions and surprisingly few requests. The tale of their adventure was told and repeated between the guests. Two requests were for Dominator intervention; one didn't require it and the other was such a basic problem that Howard groaned at it. The owner of some regional news media didn't bother taking control of a small international news source that was ripe for it? And you can't take it now, because he already did. Wait, you actually talked to him first, because it was 'his domain'? He's not going to give you anything as a finder's fee, kid. Better luck next time! The rest of the requests were for Dominator time. 'Dominator, we would be honored if you would...' 'Dominator, please come to our...' All were gracefully declined. The personage of the Dominator is not a political tool of anyone but the Dominator. A couple of them just wanted hugs, and those were given freely; really, who would use something like that for political purposes?

Time flew. Some masters took the opportunity to start business arrangements, others sitting nearby to hear the Dominator's wisdom. Jet-lagged, most of them had no idea what time it was, until a few of them started getting tired and wanted to do things before it became too late. One by one, and then in groups, they began to make various lurid offers to one another, retreating to the room designated for the purpose. The bride's question of who would be her husband was answered by both the boys she had sat between.

The younger kids laughed at it as they laughed at everything having to do with sex, and played more childish things.

One boy stood there for a moment, looked down, sighed, and went to play with his younger friends. Next year, for sure.

The twins found Sumar at work, who had quietly left the party a few hours ago to get some work done. They took the opportunity to look at what he was doing- technical shit, nothing of immediate importance. "Sumar," Howard said. The man glanced around from his work, startled. He heard a lot of the youths moving to the sex room, what did the Dominator want? He feared for his rectum. "We" ('oh good I got it that time') "have business to discuss with your consortium."

"That surprises me," Sumar said, retreating to the familiar world of Illuminated intrigue. "I didn't think you wanted to talk to Dr. Palladstein, after what you've just done to him. Or are you going to repay him somehow?"

William's tone was carefully controlled and imperial, and he had to get into this. "The Dominator gives. The Dominator, at times, receives. The Dominator does not repay, unless you're talking about vengeance, and if we thought we needed that, you wouldn't know it."

"Very well," he said, shrugging, and sent a group message. Within a minute, a man was on Sumar's screen, looking askance at the twins.

There is a stereotype of the Illuminati being Jews, which is generally laughed at by the Illuminati, which does not discriminate on anything except intelligence and mercilessness. Palladstein brought the stereotype home with his hooked nose and smile (and was that even his birth name?). Breaking the stereotype, however, was his expertise; he did not deal with wealth or its creation. He and his servants had invented microfusion. Having disappeared from an MIT campus in 1991, he had declared his own doctorate in 1996, and no one had questioned it. Similarly, no one had questioned his meteoric rise to the first level, as his license agreements- parceled out in bite-sized doses, only to the very top- had given him great wealth indeed.

"My Dominator!" he exclaimed, obviously expecting Sumar. The twins watched his face ripple as he intentionally ignored both of them wearing white. "Did you receive my message?" Great, him too?

"No access to a viewscreen yet," William replied.

"My condolences. But you have had a birthday."

"We planned for that," Howard replied. "Just not here, and under these circumstances."

"And from the looks of Mr. Rajidhiraja's face, the news is bad, from yours, it is good. Which is true?"

"Both," William said. Again, he had to get into this. It wasn't hard, kids younger and less well-engineered than him could do it... "Mr. Westham, the jet manufacturer, as you know, uses fusion power. He will not be paying you anything to license it."

"Jets for engineereds- what else?" Paul clarified. Palladstein nodded, not liking this.

"The good news is that we trust you!" William said with a flourish. Eyeing the reaction of one of the members, he said, "Yes, it will get you more than coffee with fifty cents." General chuckling.

"How can you be so sure?" Dr. Benjamin Kravinger asked wryly, his armored orange suit and white gloves almost making him look like one of the kids. He really was a doctor, in the normal-world sense, having taught highly advanced physics for years before he was recruited. His mission in life was to attempt to outdo Dr. Palladstein's microfusion discovery. He'd made a lot of progress in improving it, but couldn't fundamentally surpass it no matter how hard he tried, and some days he just wanted to take a crowbar to someone's face to vent his frustrations.

He was also, pseudonymously, a rogue, and had roughly mushroom status in that organization: he didn't do much for them, and they kept him in the dark and fed him shit. He had heard the panicked calls for reinforcements, read the messages-to-all blaming lack of this or that for the twins' survival, and had gained the impression that the group was a bunch of fucking idiots who he should never have gotten involved with. Confronted with the twins' offer of union, he made a snap decision: he had no membership in the rogues, he would not access the rogues' highly anonymized server, he had never been a rogue, he didn't know anything about the rogues, and no one could prove otherwise.

"Because we're still alive," Howard replied.

"Don't tell me you weren't aware of your own power," William added. "Humility doesn't suit you." Some general nodding.

"All right, I'll bite. What's your trust worth, Dominator?" Palladstein asked.

"The unhesitating cooperation of the bulk of the engineereds," Howard replied. Engineereds, particularly the young ones, generally didn't trust older Illuminati, the equivalent of 'don't talk to strangers'. The paranoia was somewhat mutual; a few Illuminati had plans to swindle the inexperienced out of their holdings, but scrapped them after they considered what might happen if they carried them out, and how many pieces their bodies would be in afterwards. Or if they didn't die immediately, but later got sick and went to Northberg.. "They may also ask you for, say, personal microwave lasers, but I'm fairly sure they will give you something in return and creating them doesn't cost you much now, does it?"

That rubbed Palladstein the wrong way, as the original death-dealing Micro-2025 was his present to the then-Inheritor and he heard the comma as "cost you much, now does it?" 'Cool, now make one for all my friends, too.' was what he took it as. "From each, to each?"

"It functions much better when people have more abilities than needs," Howard replied, adding authority to his voice. The non-offer was clear: Here is the armor of the Dominator, which burdens you slightly but is extremely useful and protective. You must wear it.

"Don't tell me that you can't possibly see greater benefit to a handful of licenses not sold over the willing help of the genetically superior," William added. That didn't just rub them the wrong way, that peeled the skin off their backs and used it as a coat. "I don't think any of you have any music industry connections..." One of them laughed in the mirth of pure vindication. He had said that the licensing was RIAA-like and likely to provoke a similar, although far nastier, backlash. A supporter of his chuckled. The rest scowled, although their minds were working furiously- clearly there was some benefit here, maybe a lot of it, but...

"What does the Dominator consider support?" one of them asked, a balding man in his 50's. Names, names, the screen didn't display it, who was this guy? But in an organization a dozen times the size of the US Congress, no one was expected to know everyone.

William considered saying something about killing each other's parents, but Sarah went first: "The Dominator does not consider it. Leveled engineereds do. And certain of us are extremely talented at certain things." 'I can ask Sarah to kill people' wasn't something they had prepared to accept, and they knew she wouldn't do it at the drop of their hats, but...

"Have you ever requested a piece of equipment, labor, licensure, or a location that you needed to complete something important? And then had someone take advantage of your need because they had some idea how badly you really needed it? What kind of support do you give each other? You see no similarities between the way engineereds support each other and what you do for each other? Isn't this why you formed the Consortium in the first place?" Howard asked.

They started looking around at each other, and then fixed their stare on one individual, Kravinger's stare being the most direct. The camera-in-screen allows people to stare at each other directly, but is no good for letting people know who else is staring at whom. Clearly, though, it was Palladstein, and he was feeling it.

"Very well. You've made your first alliance in this new war of yours."

"Not a war of ours," William said. "We did not say, 'come, betray us!' There is no advantage to be had in it. And anyone who's stupid enough to partake in it will get the painful death they deserve."

"And that's what you expect us to tell anyone who may suggest otherwise," Palladstein said.

"Is it not true?"

"It is," Palladstein conceded. "But I think you would have been more persuasive had your fellow engineereds been with you."

"They're busy," Howard said. Paul made a subtle back-and-forth motion with his forefinger and clenched hand. (One of the Consortium found that to be so completely moronic that he decided to put it in a movie about retards.)

"Ah. A growing population. That, too, provides a strong argument. Thank you, Dominator."

"One more thing," Howard said before Palladstein clicked off. The man raised an eyebrow- 'oh great, more?' "You know very well what may occur if any nuclear technology gets in the hands of anyone who wishes to destroy us with it, be it a large wide beam of fusion-powered photons, or a fission explosion."

At that, he and most of the Consortium smiled. "Dominator, that is our Consortium's other purpose. Don't you think that we consider it every day? The normals don't have access to nuclear weapons." They'd been restricting them since the early fifties, finally ridding the normals of them entirely (except for certain highly controlled situations) by the late sixties. Despite what the normals believed, every ICBM on the planet was filled with lead. Despite what they achieved politically with it, India's only nuclear weapon was the one they had detonated as a test, and that was Sumar's baby entirely. There was to be no chance that the normals, being what they were, would destroy the Illuminati's planet. "We never intended to give it to those not far removed from that, either. How many people have we sold this technology to before this latest attack on you?" The question was obviously rhetorical, as Palladstein and the Consortium blinked out in rapid succession. Click. Clickety-click. Both twins nodded as they departed. Good. No plutonium surprises. Probably.

"You didn't say a word," William pointed out to Sumar. He had been using body language throughout, most of it unconscious and involving worry and fear.

"Sometimes, silence is the best course," Sumar replied, a serene look on his face.

So the twins and their cohorts left without a word, the dusk giving them all a fresh dose of jet lag.

"Billy, I was completely not expecting you to jump in like that," Howard said as they went into the limo. "Especially at first. Who wants to guess how many of the people you're looking at..." He broke up into laughter.

"Isn't that what we have to do? Just go 'Bring it, bitches'? How would you have handled it?"

"I don't know. I would have winged it too. I was hoping for the same kind of reaction we got from Northberg."

"The little ones haven't gotten their first taste of politics. That's the difference," Sarah replied, looking out the window into the distance as the car pulled into the hangar, the cool air fresh on their faces as they stepped out.

Sarah began takeoff procedures, not worried about ATC in this neck of the woods. The only one controlling air traffic around here was Rajadhiraja himself. She looked back at the boys, who had already begun to doze off. "You know what they didn't have, though?" she asked, and got an uncommittal grunt in response.

"Fear. Sumar was scared out of his shit at me wearing white, I don't know if you noticed. Them? Most of them aren't even scared of enemies who managed to implant you. Not even scared of rogue Enforcers. They're more worried about their social lives." Shock? Plenty. Real fear? Some among the youngest, some among the less-engineered or unengineered older ones (although Jeremy, to his credit, wasn't scared one bit), but among the bulk of the engineered Northberg kids, none at all.

"Envy," Howard replied, and it was enough. Damn him. She did envy them. Her differences were right down into her cells. A lot of the younger engineereds were close enough genetically to be the Dominator's brothers and sisters, and they shared the easy familiarity of a tribal family. Her? Fifth cousin at best with some major differences, not really a freak, someone who'd be worth talking to if she wasn't so standoffish, but... not one of the emerging group. Not even close. Not in her mind, where it counted. She had the instincts, yes, but what they had... she shook her head. Perhaps there was a reason there was only one Sarah. Maybe she should have beat it out of the Operator right after William had finished. "Speaking of which, we refrained from the festivities. Turn on the autopilot."

"Not entirely safe, but..," she said, climbing into the back.

"Don't worry," Paul said, as he took the pilot's seat and put on the headphones, to block out the not-quite-human noises coming from his friends, and decisively not looking back at what they were doing. "I got this."

Illuminated jet-helicopters were not altogether immune from rocking, after all.

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