How far would you go to save an enemy from assassination?
Introduction by Rica Miller
When I was five years old, my adoptive mother told me fairy tales to help me fall asleep. Right and wrong were always clear-cut, and good always won out in the end.
In reality, good people can walk a gray line—attempting to keep their families safe—and evil can wield fear better than any other weapon. I don’t know if anything I tell you can prevent what’s coming, but I do hope some of you will understand.
If this conflict develops into a war, we’re all going to lose.
CHAPTER 1--ALEX VERIN
NOVEMBER 9th, 2300
“You insist you want nothing in return, but your scanners would gain access to billions of human medical profiles.” My dad’s voice rose as he walked to center of the floor and faced Hannaria’s Ambassador. “Our only assurance that information won’t be used against us is your word. I’m sorry, but how stupid do you think we are?”
Several spectators clapped as Dad returned to his seat, but most of the room seemed distracted by the holographic feeds displayed in front of them.
“Can I please just get out of here?” I whispered. Mom nudged me with her elbow and gave me a warning look to be quiet. “Nothing has changed from last time—or the time before that. Everyone should just prerecord themselves so we can all go home and be done with it.”
It could have been my imagination, but the Ambassador glanced in our direction and smirked as if he’d heard me. I shuddered.
“Just make it back before the recess,” Mom said. I stood to leave but hesitated in the aisle.
The Ambassador walked up to Dad’s desk and leaned on it—causing half the files to flicker and disappear from the display. Three photographers and a small hovering camera drone moved in closer.
“If getting this passed through deception was my goal, don’t you think I’d have come up with a much better lie?” The Ambassador’s eyes flared bright blue, but he released the desk when Dad glared back at him. “It’s tormenting to return here year after year—decade after decade—and watch millions of people needlessly suffer and die. You can overanalyze my motivations, Verin, but it’s as simple as looking up for five seconds and seeing what’s happening outside these walls!”
More people clapped for him than they had for Dad, but most were confined to the same balcony section. It made me wonder if the Ambassador’s bodyguards were obligated to support him.
The Ambassador returned to his chair, and I took the opportunity to exit. I was careful not to let the large wooden door slam behind me—a mistake I’d made once and never heard the end of it—and walked down the hallway. Then I slid down the wide polished stair rails to the basement break room used by the maintenance personnel and security guards.
When I reached the bottom, the room was empty with the exception of a lanky blond-haired kid at one of the tables. He glanced up at me then went back to what sounded like a game on his handheld DMR. What caught my attention was the device was either a prototype or a knock-off, considering the latest version wasn’t supposed to be released for another month.
I fed two dollars into a drink machine before I turned around. “Are your parents here for the diplomatic meeting, too?”
“Yep,” he replied, not bothering to look at me.
The machine returned my third dollar before I could select anything. I tried to smooth it out on a corner of the slot, but the machine spat it out again. “Oh, come on!” I pounded the change release button with my fist.
“Do you need another dollar?” the kid asked.
“Sure—if you have one.”
He walked to the machine and waved the back of the DMR in front of the reader. I pushed the button for an energy drink called Brio, and a bottle rattled into the tray below.
“Thanks. Here, you can have this one.” I held out my dollar to him. “It’s kind of wrinkled but still good.”
“Keep it.” He shook his head. “Really, man—don’t worry about it.”
I nodded and shoved the dollar back in my pocket. After I reached to get the bottle, I caught a glance at the card’s remaining balance. It read $39,674.81—panning twice since the machine’s display couldn’t fit it all at once.
“So, what’s your name?” I asked, thinking he had to be a senator’s kid—or raiding his college fund. Maybe both.
He held out his hand. “Andrew Wallace.”
“Alexander Verin.” His expression turned disgusted when I said my last name. “I take it our parents know each other?”
He nodded but then shrugged. “I don’t think they would approve of us talking, but I won’t tell if you won’t. It’s a free break room.”
I remembered Dad mentioning a senator from Ohio named Mark Wallace who had sided with the Ambassador on the Destiny space station project. “Commerce Alliance?” I asked, knowing that would confirm it, but Andrew shook his head.
“My dad doesn’t even like politics, but he cares enough about Earth to put himself through the motions.” He sat down again but put his DMR in his jacket. “To me, it just seems like a lot of talk and nothing getting done.”
“Same here,” I said and took a seat two chairs over from him. “My parents keep dragging me to these things—thinking I’ll carry on the fight against the Hannarians. I don’t think we have a chance now. Why even bother when the other guy will have a two-century advantage on me? The Ambassador doesn’t have to outdebate us. He just has to outlive us until he gets what he wants.”
Andrew’s eyebrows furrowed. “Is that why your father doesn’t trust Hannarians—the lifespan difference?”
“No,” I replied, beginning to wonder how much he knew of the actual situation. “He doesn’t trust them because they’re powerful enough to take over Earth. It’s like the vote today. Maybe the Hannarian medical scanners can detect some diseases that ours can’t, but they could be a step toward invasion—like a Trojan horse. People on your side aren’t thinking about that.”
“I don’t think Hannaria’s government will ever take over Earth.” Andrew walked back to the drink machine again and waved his DMR over the payment reader. “If they did, it would’ve happened a long time ago—trust me.”
I shook my head, trying not to sound frustrated. “How can you be so sure they’re not just tricking us and biding their time?”
He reached down and took his drink. “It was nice meeting you, Alex. I have to go.”
It was then that he smiled for a second—smirked—and my brain pieced together everything at once. By the time I had figured it out, he was almost out the door.
“Hey, wait!” I ran to catch up to him. “What I said before—I didn’t mean I—”
In mid-sentence, I grabbed his shoulder to get him to stop and found myself whirled around and pinned against the stairwell. The jolt knocked the air out of me.
Andrew held me two feet off the ground with only one arm, his irises burning blue behind black contact lenses. The overall effect made him look more demonic than his father.
I froze. All my brain processed was that I was going to die the next move or breath I took. My heart made up for it—pounding so hard I thought it would shoot out of my chest and take off without the rest of me.
I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable.
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