To the Victor, the Spoils: Chapter 9

Chapter 9:

Darren spent the evening with the estate madam Georgina Selick, getting the dog-and-pony show about what she expected from all of the household’s workers. Selick ran the staff that kept the mansion and its grounds functioning and tidy – maids, butlers, stewards, cooks, groundskeepers and everyone in the car pool all reported to her. She affected an air of matronly concern for all her subordinates, but under that façade was a cruel, petty mind. She wasn’t the type of person to forget a slight and would make sure there was an answer to it, no matter how long it took her.

Selick was also one of the worst kinds of collaborators there was. She didn’t go along with the Victors because there wasn’t any other option, because she was threatened or coerced or because it was the only option. No, she did it because she wanted to, because of the perks she got from licking the boots of her masters and the power she got to wield over her fellow sapiens. A monarch of an insignificant anthill, but it was hers and woe to anyone who crossed her.

The madam liked to handle orientation meetings herself, preferring to wait a day or two to let newcomers ‘get settled in’ before she made sure that they knew who was in charge. Her office was an affront to good taste. She had a thing for pumpkins and the room was covered in cutesy knickknacks, small statuettes and other assorted paraphernalia with that theme. Maybe she thought kittens or teddy bears were too cliché. Darren remained in the chair in front of Georgina’s desk, genially listening to the madam’s spiel. It was nothing he hadn’t heard before from other puffed-up kings and queens of nothing. Savoy had the real power here, but Selick took to her job and its privileges like a pot-bellied pig enjoying the scraps tossed from her masters’ table.

She was a heavyset woman who, just like the animal he’d mentally compared her to, had no trouble getting enough food. Her face was wide and plump and what had once been drooping jowls had obviously been touched up with cosmetic surgery. Her makeup had been carefully applied. Darren suspected that the madam didn’t do it herself. This woman wore expensive clothes and beauty aids, enjoying all the perks of her position while a short drive away her own people lived in slums. She was fattening herself, while others were barely getting by on rations and basic living wages, treated like serfs and terrified of getting caught up in security sweeps or becoming the random target of a victor or vickie’s sadistic whims. Georgina might not have killed anyone, but he wouldn’t shed any tears if and when she was lined up alongside the collaborators who had.

“Darren Alistair Hawke,” Selick repeated his name as she started to wind down from her spiel. He’d been listening well enough, nodding at the appropriate points and answering her questions. “Concierge, chauffeur, waiter. All-around go-getter. Not a bad resume,” she continued, as she wrapped up the formal talk, now getting to the personal touches of this meeting. Her eyes half-closed like a fat sow eyeballing a baby chick that had wandered into her pen. “‘course, Charley had a pretty fine pedigree, too. Didn’t stop him from being a sneaky little shit and ending up on the wrong end of a rope.” She let that sink in. “You’re not a sneaky little shit, are you Hawke?”

“Not if I can help it, ma’am.” He threw in the ma’am special. Selick was the type who liked to be reminded that she was in charge, however tiny her little fiefdom actually was. When he saw the twitch of a supressed smile on her thick, hot pink and glitter-coated lips, he knew his assessment was right.

“That’s a start. You like girls?”

“Just fine, ma’am.”

“Our lady called on you?”

After they’d come gotten back from the Sapiens Quarter, Savoy had been in meetings all afternoon. She hadn’t left the estate, but that wasn’t what Selick was asking. “No, ma’am.”

Georgina leaned back in her posh leather chair. It squealed slightly as she did so, as if in protest about the weight being put on it. “Hmm,” she murmured. At one point in his life, Darren would have wondered how him having sex with Savoy could have possibly mattered to anyone, but it did – at least in the politics of servants. Just like at the theater, some would think him lucky or special, others would be good-naturedly jealous – and others, not so good-naturedly. Like Little Prig getting his nose out of joint when Verona, a ‘mere’ primped doxy and bed-pet, was given a seat before him, a well-studied and capable administrative aide. Some of the familiars would be irritated that a sapiens was chosen over them, others would pay more attention to him because their mistress had, and on and on…

“I heard otherwise,” Georgina said. “I heard that she had you attend her during the re-opening of Triumph of Will.”

Darren didn’t ask how she knew. The rumour mill had been running nonstop since that night. He wasn’t even surprised it had reached the Territories this soon. “Yes,” he admitted. “But that was back in Garamond, and it was a private matter.”

The obese woman leaned even further back in her chair. She tapped one long, styled fingernail on her desk’s top. It was like her lips, a bright, glitter-coated pink. “Good,” she said, pleased. “Good. I’d heard you were discrete. There won’t be a problem with you and Sands, will there?”

You mean, am I going to try and get between her and Vipress? It wouldn’t be the first time someone tried to catch or re-acquire their master or mistress’s eye. Hawke was under orders to stay close to Savoy, but it looked like she’d chosen Verona, at least for now. Some Victors and Vickies liked to see their servants jockeying for position, even encouraging the infighting for their own amusement. Lady Raven had done that from time to time, stirring the pot and watching her playthings scramble about, climbing over one another and dragging each other down like crabs in a bucket. Darren had kept out of those incidents as best he could, and that had gotten him no small amount of appreciation from his previous employers. Savoy had commented on that, too. He doubted she’d appreciate him causing drama and to be honest, the thought of being that close to her was terrifying.

“Lady Vipress selected me because I minded my own business,” he told Selick, keeping that last thought tucked deep away. “If she wants to call on me, she’ll have no trouble finding me.”

Georgina nodded. It looked like he’d given the right answer. The estate madam didn’t want some uppity Garamond sapiens causing issues right when she was trying to deal with the fallout from Capricorn’s removal, the arrival of Vipress and integrating her old staff with the influx of new people. “That’s good to hear. We’ve got enough troubles here in the Territories without the staff forgetting their place. Charley forgot his.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Charley Denning, the former chauffeur. A member of the Coalition and another martyr for the cause. “I won’t make his mistakes,” he told Georgina honestly.

“Good,” she said, her fat lips turning up in small little grin just as domineering as any he’d seen on an invictus. “I run an orderly household, Darren. See that you keep it that way.”

Recognizing the dismissal in her voice, Darren stood. “Thank you, ma’am. I’ll do my best for you and House Vipress.”

“That’s all we ask,” she said, her smile softening into something that might have been motherly if not for the lack of any affection in her eyes. Darren closed the door behind him. Despite the cheery decorations and many happy orange faces in Selick’s office, he felt as if he’d just stepped out of a dank interrogation room. Still, that was one frying pan done with.

On to the next.

~

The sun was starting to set as Alexandra did her laps around the estate, sweat soaking into her shorts and sports bra. Her muscles ached. They shouldn’t; she’d performed much more strenuous activity in the past with less discomfort, but she was still recovering. Ninety years in cryosleep and then a barrage of surgeries followed by a battery of medical treatments had kept her alive, but she wasn’t what she was. She hated that. Physically, she was still above her fellow invictus, but her healing body didn’t have the same stamina. It didn’t let her do what she knew she was capable of. Not yet. The doctors said exercise was good for her, but they kept cautioning her against pushing herself too hard. Like she could forget. Every time she looked at herself in the mirror, she saw her scars. She hated them, too. They were a reminder of too many things.

She wanted to be better now, but even with all the medical boons of the Hegemony, there was a finite limit to how fast even an invictus could recover from the kind of trauma she’d gone through. She still didn’t know how she’d survived.

Fate, maybe. Maybe she was just one lucky bitch. If she’d been more religious, she might have said it was God’s work, but invictus weren’t His children. They were the children of men, built to succeed their parents and usher in a new world.

She kept running. The day’s meetings had worn her patience thin. She needed this, needed some time away from being Lady Vipress, or the Hero of Johannesburg. She needed to just be Alexandra Savoy. Female one-zero-zero-eight.

Alexandra stopped at the edge of the small lake in the back of her estate. The water blipped and rippled as the fish beneath it made lunges at insects that came too close to the surface. Her heart was beating too fast. Frogs were chirping and ribbitting as the day, and the season, wound down. She watched the wind-stirred surface of the lake until the sun eked down over a row of trees and cast the scene fully in shadow. Then, everything became too quiet and she headed back to the mansion.

Tomorrow, it would all start again.

Oh, joy.

~

The meeting was held in one of the repurposed factories just inside the city limits. At one point, the facility had produced machine parts for the local aerospace industry, but it had been forced to close when their contract had been taken away and given to a friend of House Capricorn. The factory’s owners had tried to appeal the decision on points of law, both civil and criminal, and were ignored. They’d tried to play on logic and reason – their business had been running for years, with a cadre of experienced engineers and technicians, while the other company was new to the industry and were ignored again. When they went public with their dissatisfaction, they became targets of an escalating campaign of intimidation and harassment. Surprise property inspections. Frequent pull-overs by police. Issues with their bank accounts, taxes and licenses.

After one of the owners’ sons was crippled in a hit-and-run, he sold his interest to his partner for a pittance and moved out of the region with his family. His partner, Joshua Durnham, remained the sole proprietor of a defunct factory, a crushing mortgage and high property taxes. His wife had left him after accusations of harassment and inappropriate contact with the female members of his staff came to light. Attempts to run down the exact sources of these accusations only resulted in more hostility from regime-friendly journalists, police officers and politicos. Now, Durnham was a bitter shell of a man. He spent most of his time in his old office on the top floor of the factory, the last thing he had in the world, and nursed a bottle. He often said they’d have to carry him off the property, or scrape him off the concrete outside. There was a running pool among local police as to which it would be.

The factory wasn’t completely abandoned. Instead of a facility that had once provided wages and living for dozens of workers and their families, Durnham had been forced to go into another industry to make ends meet. The lower levels had been repurposed into a low-rent bar and dance hall, the upper offices and administrative floors becoming a cheap flophouse for the new clientele. The place had no official name and was aptly, if unimaginatively, referred to as ‘The Factory’.

Just as the main floor had become a lounge and music hall and the offices became places for the intoxicated or indigent to sleep, much of the rest of the building had been converted into private rooms, where men and women could drink, gamble, fraternize, smoke, toke or fornicate away from the crowds and noise of the bar and performers. A figure entered through the main doors, almost immediately assaulted by the sounds of throbbing bass, the squawk of an MC announcing music, specials and events going on in the club. The bouncers knew the figure as a regular and nodded in greeting. The arrival handed his jacket to the coat-check girl. She passed the unassuming young man a tag as she put his jacket on the rack with the others. She didn’t ask for payment; his money wasn’t any good in the Factory. “Any special guests tonight?” he asked her, looking over at one of the hulking bouncers. His name was Julian. He looked imposing, but despite his size, the man was still a sapiens. An invictus could break him in half with very little effort.

“None tonight,” the young woman behind the counter answered, watching as Julian grabbed a drunk about to tumble down the steps that led to the main dance floor and steering him towards a ramp instead.

“That’s good,” the newcomer said. He tossed a five-spot into her tip jar and headed down the stairs, nodding back at Julian and the other bouncers. Sometimes a few victors and vickies would show up to slum it here at The Factory. It wasn’t that frequent, but it wasn’t unheard of. The mood in the club always took on an edge when the ‘masters’ were in the house. The patrons hoped they wouldn’t find themselves a target of an invictus, while the staff just hoped that the slumming Victors could be bothered to follow the rules.

Most of the time they did. Not always.

A pretty young hostess with a pierced nose and a sidecut dyed electric green, wearing a glossy black halter top, miniskirt and stylishly damaged stockings appeared out of the shadows to confront the newly-arrived guest when he reached the bottom of the steps. “Your party is waiting,” she said, leading him through the crowds. It was local talent night and the band currently playing might be the former, but certainly didn’t have enough of the latter. Still, most of the club-goers and bar patrons didn’t care. The musicians were sapiens, and they were from Capricorn City. That was enough to get them applause and a nearly-full dance floor as young men and women, jumped, skittered and bounced in time with their songs. Further from the music, a row of booths lined the wall, filled by older individuals, enjoying their drinking away from the cacophony. Small aisles and stairwells led off to the washrooms or some of the private rooms, but the newcomer’s destination was below ground, not above. The Factory’s basement levels were where the more serious drinkers, tokers and gamblers holed up.

His business here wasn’t with any of them, though. The hostess held open a curtain that led downstairs and left the young man to his affairs. Before she left, he gave her a small gratuity as well. She smiled widely in thanks. “Have a nice night, sir,” she said. “If you need anything else, just come find me.” As a friend of the Factory, he didn’t have to pay, but he knew how hard it was out there. Besides, being a little free with his cash helped in the long run. The young man headed down, the sound of the crowds and music fading. One of the rooms he passed had the odour of marijuana wafting out from under the door and at another, he could hear faint moaning and gasping from within. He passed both by, coming to the end of a cross-corridor. He stopped and rapped on the door.

“Who’s there?” a voice from inside demanded.

“Iggy sent me,” he replied. There was a pause, then the sound of a deadbolt unlatching. The door opened and the newcomer stepped inside. This had once been a storage closet for large cleaning machines. Most of the shelves and racks had been removed, leaving just enough space for a few guests to sit around an octagonal table covered in cards and poker chips, looking for all the world like a private, illegal poker game. There were four other people here; two men and two women. They’d all stood as he entered, one of the men reaching slowly for the bulge in his coat, as one of the women leaned close to the table and the sawed-off shotgun slotted underneath it. A gun was one of the few things that might give a sapiens a chance against an invictus attacker, so ordinary humans were forbidden from owning them. It was risky, though. If they were caught carrying… well, people had disappeared for less.

They relaxed when they saw it was him. The second man closed and latched the door as the new arrival took his place at the table, the others following suit.

“Mr. Orange,” the man at the table said. His name was Mr. Red. He was just entering middle-age, though his hair had already lost most of its colour and he was what some women would call a ‘silver fox’. He carried himself with an air of authority and perpetual politeness. “Glad you could make it.”

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Orange replied. He had brown hair, brown eyes and a face that was easy to forget. He wasn’t a man who stood out in the crowd. “Hard to get away some days.”

The second man was Mr. Yellow. He was a little older than Orange, heavyset with an olive complexion and thick black hair. The women were Ms. Blue, who was older than Mr. Red, her light brown hair cut short. She wore a wedding band, but from the few things she had – and had not said – Orange had gleaned that her spouse had died some time ago.

The last member of their group was Ms. Green, the youngest of them. She was dark-skinned, with long frizzy black hair that she always seemed to be trying and half-succeeding at styling. She talked with her hands and fidgeted a lot. As everyone got settled again, she looked at her cards, adjusted the small pile of chips in front of her, adjusted her chips again and shifted in her seat.

They were the leaders of the Coalition here in the Minnesotan Territories, each of them a leader of a cell. They called themselves the Colours in lieu of anything more formal, the name coming from their noms de guerres. None of them knew more than the absolute minimum about each other and their operations. If any one of them was compromised, they could only give up their own cell, not the others. They did need to coordinate, so every once in a while, they met up here. The Factory’s business made a perfect cover for their presence. Durnham, not nearly the drunken sot he appeared to be, made sure that his staff knew these men and women were to be given preferential treatment. Most of the workers and customers just believed they were high rollers, or connected to the underworld. That wasn’t far off; Mr. Yellow was familiar enough with how local gangs and syndicates operated to make Orange suspect he was now, or had been, a made man. He didn’t ask for confirmation, just as no one asked him how he managed to have so many sources of information amongst the higher social strata of the Territories.

“Now that we’re all here,” Mr. Red began. “Let’s get to business, shall we?” He picked up a deck of cards, cut it, shuffling and started dealing. They played, but no one cared about any of the winnings. Probably none of them even had the money to cover the amount of chips in play, but if someone did come through that door, they would only find a quintet of high rollers enjoying a private game.

“I think we all know what that business is,” Ms. Blue said as she examined her hand, tossing a pair of low-value chips into the pot. The bets always started small. “We’ve got a snake in the pantry.”

“Big fucking snake, too,” Mr. Yellow said as he called the bet. “Fucking primagen. Fucking Hero of Johannesburg.” He shook his head. “This is some fucking soup we’re in.”

Mr. Red ignored the editorializing. “Have we heard anything from our new friend?”

“Nothing that I’ve heard,” Orange replied, “but it has only been a day.” They’d gotten word from the Coalition in Garamond that one of Vipress’s staff was a resistance agent. They didn’t know anything more than that.

“I hope he doesn’t get jungle fever,” Ms. Blue quipped. The meaning of that phrase had changed since the war. When the first invictus appeared in South America, a lot of the ‘loyal’ Coalition forces switched sides, preferring to side with the Hegemony, rather than face the superhuman soldiers in battle. It became a synonym for cowards and turncoats.

“Let’s hope,” Mr. Red put in. It didn’t seem likely that their new associate would switch sides so quickly, but despite her outwardly genial nature, Ms. Blue was the most fanatical of their number, and the most security-conscious – some might say ‘paranoid’ – and it didn’t pay to get into arguments, especially when all they had to go on was a brief communique that the Garamond Coalition had gotten an agent close to Vipress. He turned to Mr. Orange. “What have you heard?”

The plain young man shrugged. “Nothing much.” He had the widest net of contacts out of any of the five cell leaders, including two agents within the Capricorn estate, code-named Friendly and Helpful. He used to have a third asset called Eager, but he’d ended his service to the resistance in Capricorn Center Square. Friendly was a low-level domestic – dedicated, but without access to any vital information and any attempt to get it would instantly draw suspicion. Helpful was a little higher up; they were a minor functionary who had more privileges, but even though they wanted to help, they were terrified of being found out. In a sad irony, it required a lot of cajoling to get anything out of Helpful. The most he usually got from either of the two assets was rumours, gossip and a lot of information on the petty household politicking among the staff. It wasn’t really helpful, but it had allowed Orange and his cell to build a profile of the estate’s people – who was doing what, when it was happening and to whom – and identify several points they could apply pressure to if need be. This butler had a thing for call girls, this chef took too many stims…

Still, Helpful had just recently lived up to their name. They’d managed to slip something quite interesting to Orange just this afternoon. He wasn’t sure what he could do with it just yet, but he had some ideas…

With Vipress’s arrival and the influx of so many new personnel and staff from Garamond, the estate had been shaken up and things in the household were in flux. Suddenly, all that gossip and rumourmongering was vital to finding out how things were going to work in House Vipress. A primagen. A fucking primagen. Until now, the only one had been in Garamond, bed-ridden and pissing into a catheter, but suddenly the Territories had another right in their lap, hale and hearty.

Green picked up some of her chips, put them down in a different order. “I’ve been hearing chatter,” she said, finally meeting Yellow’s bet. She was the most tuned in to the man on the street and her cell was most active in the Sapiens Quarter. “That stunt in the square caught a lot of people by surprise.”

There were four gestures and grunts of agreement. That little show had been the last thing any of them had expected from their new Vickie overlord. Not just giving the bodies back to the families, but publicly humiliating Director Mendula and then sacking him the same day. Mendula had been a believer in Teaching Lessons to the sapiens. He’d been arrogant, and considered heavy-handed brutality the only thing necessary to keep the chattel in line. Savoy’s display had been as public a repudiation of his methods as anyone could ask for, and the security director’s immediate dismissal should have been a reason to celebrate. Instead, it was cause for concern.

The five cell leaders had all familiarized themselves with Savoy’s war record. A Black Friday. Counter-insurgency operations. True, she and her unit had often just been the hammer that got called down onto partisans and freedom fighters after intel teams did the scut work, but the 177th Platoon was very familiar with anti-terrorist operations. Savoy wasn’t just a Vickie grunt. She knew how to hunt people like the Colours and their resistance cells. Mendula had been a blunt instrument and a known quantity. Redmane had always followed his superior’s lead, but if Vipress was willing to throw her security director out on his ass after less than a day, than the SOP for HSS here in the Territories was about to change. Most likely not in any way that would make the resistance’s job easier.

“How bad is it?” Mr. Red asked.

“Too early to say one way or the other,” Green replied. “But there’s less trepidation about her. She’s already bought some goodwill. That incident with the MacDory kid helped her, too.”

Another round of unhappy agreement. No one wanted here wanted to see a teenager hauled off the street and into HSS’s interrogation rooms for petty vandalism, but Savoy’s actions weren’t what they expected from a Vickie, let alone a primagen. Green’s assessment was correct; it was too early to say which way things would go, but if Vipress could actually win hearts and minds, things would get much more difficult for the Coalition. Not just here in the Territories, but elsewhere, too.

Goodwill,” Ms. Blue growled. Her manicured fingernails dug into the green felt of the poker table. “She’s a Vickie. Just another gene-bred thing. She’s the whole reason Homo sapiens is becoming an endangered species on our own planet.”

“No one here has forgotten that,” Mr. Red said, holding up a placating hand. “But the situation here has shifted. We need to get the lay of the land and adapt, not run around in a panic.”

“We could kill her,” Blue retorted. “We should kill her.”

Yellow nodded in agreement. “Bitch nearly died once. She’s not invincible.”

“And how do you propose we do that?” Red answered testily. “Who do you want to send on that particular mission?” The Coalition did have some personnel here in the Territories with certain skills, but using them against their new governess would tip the resistance’s hand, reveal the extent of their operations and all too likely fail. A regular invictus could kill an entire squad of sapiens without breaking a sweat. Savoy probably wouldn’t even need to be awake to do the same.

“I think,” Orange said slowly, “this is something we need to consider doing.” Red and Blue both looked at him in slight surprise. Orange’s cell was primarily information-gathering and he was usually opposed to Ms. Blue’s zealousness. Their recent direct action had not only cost him one of his assets in the estate and two other sympathizers, but it had made his cell the most vulnerable as HSS attempted to scour who Denning had known and been talking to and who they’d been talking to…

Green picked up a poker chip, then dropped it back onto its pile. “What do you mean?” she said.

“Vipress is going to be a problem,” Orange continued, aware of the understatement he’d just offered his fellow Colours. He met eyes with each of the cell leaders. “We all know it. Green and I have been hearing it since she arrived, but the rest of you have heard the talk, too. Two days and she’s already gotten some of that goodwill. She’s a Vickie, a primagen and a Black Friday, but she’s not stupid. We can’t let her start getting people to like her. We can’t let her re-shape the victors’ counter-intel operations into something we don’t want to handle. She has to die. We can’t risk waiting and seeing what she does.” He sighed. “I know it’s going to be an ugly op.”

“‘Ugly’ doesn’t begin to cover it,” Red reminded them. “We’re not talking about capping a collaborating politician here. Even pre-war against other sapiens, this kind of thing didn’t go off without a lot of planning and prep time.”

Orange didn’t say anything. Mr. Red was right. This wasn’t something that they could throw together on the fly. Doing it would use up or outright burn a lot of their assets. If their prepartions were noticed, everything would go sideways. They had to move fast, though. They couldn’t risk the holes in HSS getting plugged. But… he frowned, his mind turning back to the bit of data he’d gotten. Maybe… the beginnings of a plan started to come together.

“She’s the damned ‘Hero of Johannesburg’,” Mr. Red pushed. “Even if we could kill her, we won’t just be poking the hornet’s nest, we’ll be giving it a good, hard whack. The Hegemony is going to drop the hammer on us.”

“Then it drops,” Blue interjected. “That thing is the reason we’re in this. She should have died ninety years ago.”

Mr. Yellow nodded. “Universe made a fumble,” the large man grunted. “We should be picking up the ball and running with it. Like Orange said, we don’t got the luxury of time.”

“It will cost us,” Orange emphasized, though he was still mulling his idea. “A lot. Probably more than any of us are thinking right now, but we need to do it. We can’t wait too long.” Maybe we won’t need a kill-team… could we do it that way? It would still be tricky but…

The older man looked to the other four Colours in the room and realized he was outvoted. “All right,” he said. “But that still leaves how. I don’t have a hit squad in my rolodex and I don’t think any of you do, either.” The few people they did have that were good at wetworks restricted their actions to sapiens and familiars.

“I know some guys,” Yellow put in. “Hard men. Looking for some of their own back.”

“I do too,” Green said, though she seemed less confident than Yellow. He probably knew hit-men and cartel killers. She only had access to gang-bangers and enthusiastic civilians.

Ms. Blue leaned over the table. “We’ll need to be careful,” she said. “Any normal Vickie can smell a rat two streets over, but if we’re going primagen-hunting, we’ll need a lot of bodies. I’ve got people I can call on. How many can you two get?”

“Wait,” Orange interrupted. “I don’t think we’ll need any people. At least, not if we do this right.”

Yellow chuckled. “Got a killsat in your pocket, do you?”

“No,” the younger man said, reaching into his shirt pocket. “I have this.” He pulled out a small flash drive. “Something almost as good, courtesy of a friend.” He tossed the drive into the pile of poker chips in the middle of the table. “We won’t need a team,” he repeated. “We just need to find the right place to make our move. With this, we can.”

Mr. Red picked the drive up, hooking it into a pocket tablet and opening the file. His eyes moved down as he scanned the pages on display. “Well,” he said slowly. “That’s useful.”

“What is it?” Green demanded. The older man passed his computer to her and one by one, the other Colours looked at the information that Orange’s asset had provided. It was a complete copy of Savoy’s daily schedule for the next two weeks as Lady Vipress became acclimated to her demesne. Every meeting with fellow high-ranking invictus, every visit to a collaborator’s property, every single public appearance.

Yellow let out a low, impressed whistle. “Orange – when you deliver, you deliver.”

“This wouldn’t have come through without my people,” Orange replied. He knew what this meant. Using this information would get Helpful killed… but the cause was too important. “Like I said… we might not need a lot of people. Maybe just the right person in the place at the right time… and with this, we can choose all three.”

Ms. Blue was looking through the itinerary. She glanced over the screen to the rest of her resistance members. “We’re doing this,” she said. It wasn’t a question, but a statement. “We kill the bitch and deal with whatever happens next. The Coalition will survive, even if we don’t. There’ll be others to take our place, but there’ll never be any more of her.”

“Then we’re in accord,” Mr. Red observed.

“For the Coalition,” Ms. Green said in agreement.

“For humanity,” Orange put in. This era might be the twilight of Homo sapiens, but they wouldn’t go easily or quietly, and what finer way to go out was there than taking the person who’d made this world the way it was with you?

He couldn’t think of anything better.

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