Gerhard’s overclocked PBA anticipated Huan’s sudden but inevitable betrayal. He ducked. The stun round flew over his head as he snatched the Glock under his desk.
He stood, marksman scripting guiding his hand, and pressed the trigger. Blood and brain matter splattered the hallway. Gerhard’s bullet shattered Huan’s head, and her stunner clattered as she dropped backward out the door.
For a long moment, Gerhard stared at Huan’s motionless feet. She had betrayed him? How? He ignored Cowan’s puppeted body and summoned the camera feed showing Huan’s cell. She still sat in it, but she was also here, dead.
Gerhard switched to infrared and smiled. How clever. No one was actually in that cell any longer. The Huan Xu in that cell was a MySelf projection.
“Oh Huan.” Gerhard walked over to stare at her still body and shattered face. “You always were so ambitious.” Even now, blood spread across his immaculate white hall.
Huan had planned to betray him all along. Gerhard would murder the people holding her, and then she would murder him. Everyone would die but her, and then she would have access to OneWorld resources, all his finances and his world. It was a clever plan, and she had been a worthy opponent. Gerhard almost regretted killing her.
He strolled back to the floating panel displaying his distant penthouse. He sat before the now vanquished opponent known as Cowan Soto. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”
“Don’t kill my family,” Cowan whispered. “Please!”
“I’m not going to kill your family!” Sometimes, fear made people very stupid. “Why would I kill your family now? Your family is no threat to me. They live. Ellen Gauthier and her fiancé lives. Everyone lives but you, and Jeb, and David.”
Tears seeped from Cowan’s puppeted eyes.
“Well,” Gerhard allowed, “everyone except Katherine Lambda and Samantha Frederick. I am sorry, but I can’t allow them to challenge me again.”
One of his soldiers pinged his headdesk. Gerhard flipped over to see images of two dead women, both shot in the head. Samantha Frederick, aka Sonne, and Katherine Lambda. His soldiers had killed them execution style, with no pain. Gerhard had ordered that, hoping to spare them further suffering. He was not doing this to watch people suffer.
“It’s time.” Gerhard flipped to another camera and watched pink military synthetics pump bullets into the unconscious body of David Forrester. “I’m going to send you to join your friends now. I promise to make your death quick.”
“No!” Cowan shouted.
Gerhard made Cowan raise his fist and shake it. That, at least, he could offer a worthy opponent. Pink milsynths entered the penthouse and fired until they empty. So much killing, so much planning and conspiring, and for what? A bloody waste of his time.
Gerhard settled in his rolling office chair and contacted his cleanup crew. By the time M-Gesundheit opened tomorrow, there would be no trace of these murders or the battle outside. His crew could put up an entire building in one night. They were discreet.
This assault had been the last gasp of the members of OneWorld. He couldn’t kill them — they all had imbedded PBA algorithms that forbid them to kill each other, which is why they all trusted Puck — but they must see, now, that his ascent was inevitable. Once he proved that he could make PBAs unhackable, they would all soon come around.
Everyone in the world would finally be safe. His grand plan had finally come to fruition, after years of planning and hard work. It felt … wonderful.
Another ping arrived on Gerhard’s headdesk, the standard twelve-hour check-in he’d maintained for months now. He pressed his fingers to the twin bio-readers on his desk and stated his password aloud. The only way to open his personal console.
Gerhard entered the ghostlink addresses for his standby termination teams— he kept all those ghostlinks in his head, so they couldn’t be stolen — and, addresses entered, sent the all clear. The families of the OneWorld executives lived for one more day.
Next, Gerhard contacted the mercenaries watching Ellen Gauthier. They didn’t answer, so he left a message. Their contract was over, their last payment delivered. He smiled as he pictured Ellen, as he imagined working beside her once more. He really did like her. In perhaps three days, she would be here in Schaffhausen, safe and well compensated.
It was only then that Gerhard noticed the discrepancy. That wall ahead of him had a small rust stain in the top left corner, a stain that had been there for as long as he could remember. Had someone cleaned the wall? He allowed no one into this office.
The door to his office opened once more, but Gerhard hadn’t closed it. He reached for the Glock beneath the desk, but the Glock wasn’t there. Huan’s body was gone, but that wasn’t the strangest part of it. A dead woman walked into his office with raised fists.
Judging from the rage twisting her face, Samantha Frederick was rather upset with him.
“Oh my goodness.” The truth became obvious in a flash of insight and self-deprecating humor, and Gerhard couldn’t help but chuckle. “You modeled a pleasurebox.”
“Fuck you!” Samantha stormed toward him. “Asshole!”
“You modeled my office from blueprints of the facility, and photos. And Huan did shoot me with that stunner, didn’t she? You stuck me in a pleasurebox and stole my codes.”
Sonne stopped beside him, trembling with rage.
“Well played,” Gerhard said, offering a finger-to-forehead salute. “I tip my king.”
Sonne kicked him in the testicles hard enough to knock him out of the chair, and Gerhard curled below her, heaving and coughing. “This isn’t a game of fucking chess!”
My goodness, that hurt! Gerhard could barely breathe, and the agony twisting his loins into knots made him long to vomit. It really did feel like she had crushed his reproductive organs, which meant this pleasurebox’s pain threshold was set to 10.
“You blew up Jeb!” Sonne shouted. “You murdered a little boy!”
For the first time, Gerhard felt what might be actual fear. This woman wasn’t rational. She looked ready to kick him until he stopped moving, so how could he make her stop?
“Sonne,” Cowan said, from the world beyond this one. “That’s enough.”
“No it’s fucking not,” Sonne said, looming over him. Yet she didn’t kick him again.
* * *
October 15, Pre-Dawn
Doctor Xu rejoined them for the ride back to Zurich International Airport. Cowan had the full plan now, from her, and it still didn’t seem real. He didn’t know how Jeb could have been so reckless or so brave.
Even if Cowan hadn’t been puppeted, the others had decided pinning down Galileo’s exact location in Schaffhausen was impossible. Jeb had suggested the always reliable Trojan horse gambit: Doctor Xu. Xu would offer to hack David’s army of synthetics, infiltrate Galileo’s headquarters, and then, using a script piggybacked on the milsynth script Galileo would allow her to run on his wireless, she would quietly open her cell.
It was the only way to find Galileo’s actual hideout. She left her MySelf projection to fool Galileo until she could locate and subdue him. Fortunately, his hideout wasn’t very big. Unfortunately, no one had anticipated Galileo simply deciding to blow Cowan up.
They rode now in an armored autotruck sent to M-Gesundheit by the Office of Mental Health. After Kate sent the kill code to her DDOS script, returning connectivity to Schaffhausen, Sarisa Bassa had deposed Kathleen Warner using the evidence Cowan pulled from Bayer’s PBA. They were fugitives no more, and Bayer was in custody.
With Kathleen Warren and Gerhard Bayer in custody, Cowan and the others were free to return to the United States without being arrested. Yet no one was cheering, or smiling, or even talking. Also, the Swiss Army probably still wanted to kill them all.
David stared at the opposite wall of their transport, eyes distant. Not in the Sim. An ambulance with Swiss army medics had arrived at M-Gesuhntight ten minutes after Xu stunned Galileo, dispatched due to some quick work by Sarisa, but Jeb hadn’t looked good when the medics took him away. He’d lost too much blood, and though his PBA had flipped into emergency coma mode upon detecting the massive trauma to his system, one medic told Cowan Jeb probably wasn’t going to wake up. People rarely did.
Cowan felt nauseated and exhausted. He felt like none of what had just happened was worth it, at all, because the man who’d made it possible was hanging between life and death, and the Swiss were still deciding whether or not to arrest them. If Jeb lived, he probably wouldn’t wake up, and if he did wake up, he might spend the rest of his life in a Swiss prison.
This wasn’t what a victory was supposed to feel like. It was just like that stupid movie they’d all watched on the flight over, with the dark-haired lady and her cat. Surviving something horrible when others you cared about didn’t wasn’t all that great, actually.
The truck opened its doors at the airport. Sonne waited just outside the truck, in the cold wind on the tarmac, wrapped in a thick red emergency jacket. Her eyes were puffy, her body trembling, and Cowan forgot how tired and guilty and horrible he was as he remembered Lucy was dead now. He hopped out and hugged Sonne. She hugged back.
At some point, a Swiss soldier — no, an officer, Cowan knew from the rank bars on his sleeve — approached and stopped with six others. All of their eyes glowed red. “CID Detective Cowan Soto,” the officer said. “You’re under arrest.”
So the Swiss had made up their mind about what to do with them. Arrest them. Damn. Cowan eased Sonne away, squeezing her arms as she glared at the soldiers.
“Don’t.” Cowan stepped between the soldiers and his team. “This was my plan. I’ll cooperate if you leave the others.”
“No,” Sonne said, stepping up beside him. “Fuck no.”
“It’s okay.” Cowan kept his hands where the Swiss could see them. “I’ll be okay.”
“If you don’t mind, Captain Holzer,” Kate shouted, limping from the back of a parked ambulance, “I’ve got something I need to show you.”
“Arrest her too,” Holzer said, motioning to his soldiers. “None of you are going home.”
“Trust me!” Kate shouted, as one of Holzer’s soldiers grabbed her arms. “You really want to read this!”
The soldier snatched the paper from Kate’s hand and read. Then he left Kate, walked to his commander, and handed him the paper. Holzer read it. Then he read it again.
“So,” Kate said. “Sorry about everything.” Her eyes were puffy too, probably from crying. “But as you’ve no doubt figured out by now, we didn’t actually kill anybody.”
Captain Holzer tore up the printout and tossed it aside. “This is bullshit.” He pointed at Cowan, jaw clenched. “You assaulted a Swiss facility, abducted a Swiss national, and hacked a Swiss uplink facility. You do not walk away from that!”
A string of unmarked black autocars sped into view from deeper in the airport. As Holzer and his men turned, those autocars stopped in perfect formation. Dozens of armed men in Corporate Security uniforms stepped out, and Cowan would never forget those uniforms. These were the real deal, and they weren’t part of the Swiss army.
“I think you’d better let us get on our plane,” Kate said quietly.
Holzer looked to be counting, actually. Like it wasn’t all that obvious. He finished. He turned to his soldiers and clenched both empty hands. “Stand down.”
Kate’s face lit up when Xu hopped out of the autotruck. “Huan! You’re okay!”
“A credit to my genius,” Huan said. “However, Jeb Forrester is now in emergency coma suspension. He’s in Swiss custody. They peg chances of survival at twenty-two percent.”
“He’s … what?” Kate blinked and blinked some more. “That’s terrible.” She was probably too distraught to script an emotional firewall. “I’m so sorry. Oh bother. I’m crying.”
Cowan was sorry too, but he needed to get his friends out of here before the Swiss got reinforcements and decided to press the issue. “Plane, now. Everyone on the plane now.” He’d find a way to get Jeb out of Switzerland later, no matter what it took.
“I’m not going with you,” Xu said.
“What?” Kate brushed new tears from her cheeks. “No, you have to come with us.”
“OneWorld only pardoned us for Bayer,” Xu said. “There is still the matter of my illegal clone, and my work on Tian, and my conspiracy with Galileo. I think I’ll take my chances in a neutral country, dear Katherine, where I have plenty of rich friends to shelter me until the world forgets about today.”
Kate stared. “But—”
“You’ll put in a good word for non-extradition, won’t you?”
“If Kate doesn’t,” Cowan said, “I will.” Xu was one of the reasons they were all standing here right now, despite her past crimes. Throwing her in prison wouldn’t change anything. She deserved a chance at her old life.
Xu inclined her head. “Why thank you, Detective Soto.”
Kate limped over and tossed her arms around Xu. “Oh, honey. You keep yourself safe.”
Xu rubbed her back. “You too.”
“Also,” Kate said, sniffling against Xu’s chest, “you can totally have my flying car.”
* * *
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