Silence rang in the lab. Despite the chaos raging just outside the doors, it was so silent in the data labs that I could hear the clicks of my eyes as I blinked. In fact, it was quiet enough for me to imagine I heard things, auditory hallucinations bubbling up every few moments. It was enough to keep me aware, but not to distract me from the task at hand--ripping into the Ring’s system and exposing every shred of history and secrets we possessed. It would be the only way to show the realm--and all the other realms--that a large percentage of our government was corrupt. That would allow other realms and agencies to swoop in and help rebuild, help get the realm back on track.
The first agents to see it would be the Inter-Realm Investigative Service, which were the exact ones we would need. They had no bias or agenda other than protecting the greater good. With their assistance, they would stabilize the realm, snuff out the remainder of the Ring, and put someone uncorrupted back in power.
As for me… Well, I had more than enough secrets in the files I was preparing to leak, but in the end, they served the greater good. I’d done wrong, but it kept more people alive. I could live with that, and I could convince others that it was acceptable to let me live with that. After all, it’d saved a child’s life. With any luck, I would also have the whole redemption of saving the realm from corruption too. All of that would contribute to the list of reasons that I was not a threat to society.
I leaned down and started transferring the files onto the public domain Director Jameson’s realm web page. Within moments, every major media outlet in the realm would be notified of Jameson updating her page. They would all know and soon enough, the entire world would know.
Clicking upload, I stepped back and folded my arms over my chest. It would take a few minutes for everything to load onto the page, but someone would have to get through my corpse to stop the upload. I hadn’t allowed myself to remain in their captivity for nothing, and I certainly wasn’t about to leave the facility without exposing them. Too much time had already been wasted on them.
Enough was enough.
I jumped. My gaze snapped up to the door. Jameson stood there with her arms folded over her chest, hair tied up in a ponytail. She walked in slowly, as if I’d lash out like a wounded animal.
“What are you doing in here, Plato?” she asked. Her voice carried a hint of caution. By the emotion radiating from her, I knew she felt afraid. She wasn’t suspicious, she’d jumped straight to scared. Pathetic. She ruled a realm, a political crime syndicate, and she was shaking in her boots over an empath she’d enslaved decades ago…
“I’m wrecking the ship.”
“If you’d let me fix things, we would’ve just landed on shore, but no, you had to strip me of my title and make me a slave. We’re wrecking on the rocks, and I’m not sparing a single one of you. You’ve already executed everyone that deserved pardoning anyway.” I leaned my hip against the table and rested my hand atop the back of the chair.
“Come on, Plato, think about this. If you expose us, you expose yourself. You really think they’ll let you walk free when you started all of this?” Jameson came forward mindlessly, like her presence would suddenly become intimidating to me.
“This syndicate is nothing like the way it used to be. After you took over, everything fell to shit. You just used it for political gain, which is frankly disgusting. That was never the purpose of the Ring.” I shook my head, feeling irritation mingling with her fear.
“Who’s really going to see it that way? At the end of the day, you’re still the man that had the idea for the Ring, that founded it, that ordered the first hits. You led this syndicate for a decade before me.”
“And the whole goddamn time, we only eliminated threats to the majority of civilians. That is the difference, and that is why I’m walking out of this.” I opened my mouth to keep going, to chew her out just a little more because I was that frustrated by the way she kept muddling the way the Ring used to operate, but before I could start, I saw Seb peer into the room from just over Jameson’s shoulder.
By the expression on his face, I knew he’d heard me, but he didn’t feel betrayed or angry. If anything, he felt tired and maybe a little relieved. The endorphins were rushing from all the fighting I’d left him to handle while I came to release the data.
I glanced back down at the computer. Three percent left until everything was online.
“Plato, cancel the upload,” she said.
“It’s already too late.” I looked back down. Two percent. “It’s going up, and everyone’s going to know. If you want a head start of leaving before the Inter-Realm Investigative Service gets here, you might want to go now.”
I held my arms out to the sides and looked at the computer. One percent. “And here’s my ticket to freedom.”
A white light flared in the center of the room, and everything went black.
*** *** ***
Gods, couldn’t I just sleep a little longer? What did I even have to do that day? It had to be early given how the bright light of morning wasn’t shining and tinting the backs of my eyelids yet. No alarm… What the hell?
Did I need to get to the shop? Get Blaine to school?
I rolled over and cracked an eye open, reaching for the nightstand to grab my phone when I stopped at the sight of an IV stand and bag above me. The room was dimly lit and washed in hues of blue and white, something soothing. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Seb sitting in a recliner at the bedside. He had a book in his hands, his attention on that.
He felt relatively calm, but occasional bursts of concern popped through him. Careful not to jar my IV, I rolled back over. Seeming to notice the movement, Seb glanced up from his book. Seeing I was awake, he smiled, dog-eared the page of his book, and set it next to him.
“Hey,” he murmured, leaning forward. “How are you feeling?”
“A little bit of a headache, but fine other than that.”
Seb nodded. “The doctors said that was normal. How much do you remember?”
I frowned and leaned back against the pillow. Obviously, if it had been a regular day, I wouldn’t have woken up in the hospital with Seb and--
“Where’s Blaine?” I asked.
“She and Maggie are at your house with Aurora. Once IRIS sectioned off all remaining members and associates of the Ring, we all thought it safe enough for them to go home and get comfortable. You were still unconscious, so Aurora and I acted in your stead.”
I nodded. As long as Blaine was safe and sound, I was okay. Closing my eyes, I thought back over the last few things I could recall… Blaine had been captured by the Ring. I’d gotten her out and met up with Seb. We’d been captured. After some recon, we escaped, and I tried to expose the Ring… Had it worked?
“Did I expose the Ring?”
“Barely,” Seb said. “The upload finished as soon as Jameson and I found you.”
“Wait, you guys came in, but what happened to me?” I remembered Jameson coming in, talking to her, and then Seb, but after that… Everything was fuzzy, and how the hell did I end up in the hospital when Seb looked perfectly fine?
“As soon as you started the upload, the room was rigged to release a chemical weapon meant to incapacitate you--or whoever else would’ve uploaded the materials. If they were smart, they would’ve tripped the system to shut down instead.”
I snorted. “They’re too cocky. Jameson figured someone would always be posted close to there to catch me in the act. It worked out for me, though, so whatever… Wait a second, if I was already out before you guys got there, then why do I remember having a conversation with Jameson?”
“Hallucinations are a common side effect, apparently. That was part of it. Jameson and I found you at the same time…” Seb shrugged. “Maybe you were just catching residual bits of conversations I had with the physicians.”
“Maybe.” I opened my eyes and frowned as I noticed a peculiar shift Seb’s emotions. “So, how much do you know?”
“You founded and ruled the Ring. It wasn’t a political tool under your leadership, but once Jameson came to power relationships turned sour. She took over, you were enslaved, you went against orders, and she let you go because you became a liability,” Seb recited, as if he’d memorized every word of it, stuck on reading it since I’d fallen unconscious.
“You see the part where I had to murder agents that worked under me because Jameson thought they’d turn traitor?”
Seb nodded. “I enjoyed the bit where you adopted their daughter you were supposed to kill out of spite.”
“Not just spite,” I said. “I cared about them, and before I executed them, I swore I’d protect Blaine with my life. That was the least I could do since I took away their chance to see their daughter grow up.” I sighed, smiling as Seb slid his fingers through mine. “What’s happening now that the Inter-Realm Investigative Service is involved?”
“They dissolved the whole government. I didn’t stick around to catch all the details, but they’re essentially using the Xeniden-Qizade Realm to stabilize this realm until IRIS has the chance to restructure our government. It’s going to be a mess at the top for the next few years.”
“No kidding… Maybe we should move.” Before Seb could respond, a quiet knock came on the door.
“Come in,” Seb called.
The door swung open and Aurora, Blaine, and Maggie filed in. Blaine looked at the bed and beamed, bolting over to my side.
“Hey, little one.” I smiled at her, sliding my hand from Seb’s to ruffle her hair. “You look like you’ve grown a foot since I last saw you.”
“I didn’t grow a foot, Daddy.”
“I don’t know,” I drawled, grinning as she scrunched up her nose. “Were you good for Aurora?”
She nodded, and when I looked up at Aurora, she corroborated the story, barely holding back a chuckle.
“Oh, before I forget, a letter came for you while we were at the safe house.” Aurora stepped forward, passing me a small white envelope. On the top left corner was an address.
It came from the capital of the Xeniden-Qizade Realm… How ironic. Opening the letter, I felt my heart leap into my throat when I saw the familiar names scrawled at the bottom of the page.
I am offering you and your family asylum in the Xeniden-Qizade Realm. If you choose to stay there, IRIS will protect you, but I would at least like you to visit. Currently, Elizabeth, Alexei, and Raven are staying in my realm. Those are the only people we have managed to locate.
Let us know if you’ve spoken to any of the others, and please get back in touch soon. My cell number is at the bottom of the letter.
Your old friend, Blake Sabriel-Hart
P.S. In case your as dense as some of the others, this is Blake from the Rose Orphanage.
It’d been years since I heard from anyone at the orphanage. In fact, I hadn’t heard from any of them since I’d left. During my time there, I’d made friends that were the only real family I’d ever had aside from Aurora. We were all shipped out and sold, though, which made it difficult to keep in touch. And after all that time, some of them had finally found me.
While I still had mixed feelings about staying in my own realm, I knew I wanted to at least visit my old friends, see how they were, how they turned out. Maybe if things went well, I’d move out there with Blaine, maybe even Seb and Maggie if Seb’s vision came true.
I blinked, looking away from the letter as I felt Blaine’s weight on the bed. She sat next to me and leaned against my legs as Seb absentmindedly took my hand again. For the first time since I left the orphanage, I felt like I belonged, like I had a family, and every wave of emotion around me was nothing but loving.
And right then, I knew without a single doubt, that the vision Seb had had of us in the distant future, would come true.