Rilecca leaned forward when Captain asked what Freska meant. “That means I am more my father’s daughter than even he knows.” A wicked smile crossed her face. She looked… smug. “He has allowed his power to stagnate here at home, facing outward and looking to control the universe. His reach matters little when his base of power is so fragile that a few well-placed blows will remove all support for him.”
Anyas gaped at her. “He has the council at his side.”
“Bah.” She waved a hand. “A bunch of old fools. Ones who all have their own heirs they’ve keep dangling on scraps of power or have suppressed in fear of having it taken from them.”
“Enough cryptic talk. What exactly are you talking about? What’s the plan to save us and stop your father from using Kohen and Danie?” Captain echoed Rilecca’s posture. He tapped the table with one finger firmly. “I need to know, here and now, what measures you think you’ve put in place that will keep them safe.”
A small smile curled her lips up, and her eyes actually crinkled at the edges. “And, that, right there, is why I am helping you. I have seen vids of your rescues, seen my father’s surveillance of you. You care about those who depend on you before yourself. That is the hallmark of a great man—a true leader.”
“I don’t want to lead anyone anywhere after this.” Captain put his hand on my leg. “I just want to make us safe and find a little corner somewhere that we can be happy.”
“With sunshine. And fresh air,” I reminded him.
“Yeah. And maybe some friends who come by sometimes.” We had a moment, until Deke cleared his throat in what was suspiciously like a gagging noise.
“Oh shut it,” Freska hissed. “Weapons-brain.”
“And you’re one short-circuit from machine.”
Freska huffed. “I feel things. I’m just not an overly-dramatic, can’t use my brain idiot.”
“Guys!” Captain sighed, shaking his head. “We’re getting off mission, again.”
“But it’s very amusing,” Rilecca said.
“Try spending more than a few minutes with them.” Anyas just had to add his input.
“Unfortunately, the plan does not have us spending much time together. For the good of all, my father must be removed from his place of power. That is where you come in. Once his own creations have turned against him, his plan revealed to the Elites, his supporters will lose their seats. Their heirs, my supporters, will take over. And their campaign against the universe will end.”
“What about the experiments? The Brox? The planets?” Danie gestured toward the map. “You’ll just give up all that power?”
“I have no need to ally myself with the scum who made such things possible as what they’ve done to you. Those will be shut down.”
“And the people imprisoned there?” I asked.
“Relocated. Returned if possible. Given new lives if not, at our cost to repair the damage done.”
I knew then that as much as Rilecca claimed she understood, to know what I’d lived and to abhor the atrocities that her father had done, that she didn’t truly understand. You couldn’t repair that sort of thing. You could just cover over it, try to move past it and hope the cracks didn’t open wide enough to shatter you. But she was willing to do something.
“How can we be sure? We thought that we were rescuing people before, but they were just swept up again.”
“Elites are a myth to the universe, a storied people who are only rumored to be true. Not only do I plan to shut down my father’s plan to control the known worlds, I wish to bring us back to mingle with the other races as equals. Staying segregated and considering ourselves superior due to our advanced technology a few thousand years ago started this, but times have changed. Other races are nearly as advanced as we are—and some have diverged in startling new ways.” Rilecca glanced at Freska.
“But how?” Captain said. “You keep skipping that part.”
She sighed. “By triggering their programming,” she said.
I had no idea what she said next; the words made no sense to me, but as soon as they rolled over me, I stiffened. Danie snapped to attention as well.
“Orders?” we asked at the same time. Our voices were both flat, monotones, no emotion or inflection.
Inside I was screaming, raging, fighting.
But it was no good. My greatest fear had come to pass. I was locked inside my mind while my body was in control—and that was at the whim of another.
“We’ll be attending my father shortly. His men are almost here. If any of you disobey me, I can order either or both of them to die. Instantly. And they will.”
Captain, Deke, and Freska were frozen, but they looked furious and sick. Freska had tears in her eyes. I couldn’t do anything but watch.
“Danie, Kohen, keep the rest of your party together. Anyas, help them.”
“Yes, my lady.” Anyas stood and bowed. He pulled a hidden weapon, flicking it sideways.
Her father’s men somehow broke in seconds later. She swept ahead of us all, regal and calm. I tried to stop myself, but I followed without hesitation when she ordered me to herd the others and ignore the guards behind me.
The next room we entered was bigger, but not much different other than the raised platform with the smaller table we came to a halt before when Rilecca stopped. Old men and women sat looking down their long, dark noses at us. Their narrow eyes went even narrower, and their nostrils pinched, as if they smelled something bad.
“Daughter, you are unharmed?”
“Of course, Father. And look what I was able to capture with a little effort. Really, your men need to make some better effort.” She tsked, one again moving languidly.
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