Standing in front of the mirror, Minos Charon looped another gold necklace around his neck and fixed the clasp. The rectangle above the dresser reflected the utilitarian bedroom—king-sized bed, chrome nightstands, matching swing-arm lamps and barrel chair. Thanks to his wife, their Abaddon flat had the same decor as their Dark Hope one.
“I wish you didn’t have to go.” Sinuous arms wrapped around his chest and light kisses peppered his neck.
He patted the delicate hands. Such talent in her tiny fingers all wasted in the Outlands, on the Outlanders. He would change that for her, for all of them. Hooking one slender digit, he raised it to his lips. “It won’t be much longer. I promise.”
“You said that before.” Her full lips turned down before she fell back onto the rumpled bed. Her large breasts jiggled under his old shirt. “The radiation warnings keep sounding, and you keep leaving.”
“The sirens are silent now.” He slipped two rings on his thumb, forced them over his thick knuckle. For anyone to still value gold, only proved how despicable humans had once been. And some still were. But he would take care of that. “It’s safe for me to go outside.”
“I wish they never stopped.” She shook her head. Straight black hair hid her almond eyes for a moment before she pushed her shaggy bangs out of the way.
“Then we’d all die.” Minos scraped the rest of the gold off the dresser and stuffed it into his pocket. Returning to the bed, he crouched by the mattress and took her face in his hands. “I love you too much to see you die a horrible death from radiation.”
He’d seen those deaths in the historical records, watched as the people who’d saved humanity lost limbs, organs and lives to an invisible enemy. It wouldn’t happen again.
Tears swam in her almond-shaped eyes. “Will you still love me when everyone finds out you’re a hero? Or will you find someone prettier, younger, healthier?”
She raised her finger to her exposed collarbone, traced the white scar on her pale skin.
“I will love you always.” Pressing his lips to the scar, he kissed the souvenir of her last battle with cancer. So many battles. And the war was far from won. But he would win it. For her, for their children when they came.
For all of humanity.
He rocked back on his heels.
“And I’m not a hero.” Not yet, but he would be soon. His name would be up there with Mavis Spanner, David Dawson, Manuel Saldana, Mike ‘Papa Rose’ Tahoma and so many others.
She licked her lips, raspberry colored from anti-nausea medicine. “Why must it be you that deals with these barbarians?”
“I understand them.”
She snorted. “Your degrees are wasted on them. They are simpletons.”
“They’re cunning and intelligent, in their own way. If they knew the problems facing our world, they would not insist on studies, studies and more studies. They would act.”
And the world might be saved. But such a world as they would create would not be worth saving. Fewer lives would be lost with his plan.
“If they’re so smart, how is it that you can manipulate this Stanford Lake into co-operating?”
“Because I am smarter. Much smarter.”
“You are smarter than the entire cabinet combined. Fools. Why can’t they see what must be done?”
“They’re beginning to. Those guns found during the Security Forces raid have many of them scared.” Minos hadn’t intended to lose the weapons. Still, they had served a greater purpose and provided an unique opportunity.
“What if Stanford Lake acts, but the cabinet doesn’t?”
“The cabinet will act. Dark Hope and her allies have so much more to lose.” Minos stroked her cheek, noted the gray tinge under her makeup. She was so brave, always minimizing her suffering so he wouldn’t worry.
“Why must we be pushed into doing the dirty work?” She scooted to the top of the bed.
“It was always such.” Minos dragged the comforter over her body and tucked it around her small frame. “We are the new Mavis and David, fighting the good fight while the government crumbles and futilely tries to solve the problem, not understanding that they’re trapped in a losing paradigm.”
“Change always comes from within.” She yawned and covered her mouth.
“It has to. We understand the stakes.” He smoothed her hair off her face, kissed her warm forehead. So fiery one minute, so exhausted the next. Why couldn’t the cancer happen to him? He was strong. He could take it.
Her sigh pushed her deeper into the pillow. “You’ll be careful?”
“You’ll come back?”
“Nothing can keep us apart.” Minos shifted the vomit bucket closer to the bed, checked her medicines then refilled her water glass. After one last glance, he left their apartment and turned on his phone.
Walking down the carpeted hall, he checked the display. One incoming call. Opening it, he held the phone to his ear and pressed the elevator button. “Charon.”
No one appeared in the hall. Why would they? Everyone on this floor would either be on duty at the clinic or recovering from their grueling shift.
“We have a problem.”
Minos straightened at the hoarse whisper. Of course they had a problem. The whole world was about to be slowly sterilized. Again. “What is it?”
“The old man has Ohmson.”
The elevator button blinked out and the doors slid open. Heart hammering his ribs, Minos stepped inside. The stupid Outlander could ruin everything. “Has he talked?”
“Not yet.” His Security Forces informant’s voice echoed. “Dawson is busy securing a descendant of Gavin Neville’s.”
Damn. With Neville’s kin locked up, the cabinet wouldn’t act on the threat. They had to act on the threat, or all Minos’s work would be wasted. Pressing the ground floor button, he waited until the doors slid closed. “Where are you?”
“In the bathroom on the Mag-Lev to Abaddon.”
“From Dark Hope?”
“No, Purgatory. The idiot fell asleep after escaping from the hospital and was on his return trip to Hell.”
The elevator coasted to a stop and Minos smiled. A Neville had successfully infiltrated Dark Hope and escaped. He could use that. Yes indeed. Especially as Dawson was getting a little too close. “Keep me apprised of the Neville situation.”
The Outlander should never have been approached in the first place. “Eliminate him.”
Minos cut off any reply and stepped into the lobby.
The guard nodded before returning to his security displays. “Mrs. C feeling better today?”
“Just tired.” His wife hated being called by his last name instead of the one she’d been born with. Minos paused. The automatic doors opened onto a sunlit street. “Can you make sure she isn’t disturbed?”
“Will do.” The guard didn’t look up.
Minos entered the flow of well-dressed, yet slightly pungent residents of Abaddon. Crews of young men hand-picked garbage off the street. Old men scooped up dung from the cracked asphalt streets. Old women stood to the side while their mistresses and masters shopped, visited and counted the other’s jewelry.
The young girls were hidden away in Breeders wards.
The better to control the poor and increase the population. Minos snorted. As if women couldn’t bear children and work at the same time. A stupid waste for Abaddon to throw away half its workforce, especially when so much needed to be done.
He rounded the corner, heading down the tree-lined boulevard toward Lake’s house. Horses and mules jingled in their harnesses. Shackled prisoners worked on the square lawns rolled in front of white plaster homes.
Sullen eyes turned toward him. Abaddon guards in dark green tallied the gold around Minos’s neck with hungry eyes.
Minos raised the phone to his ear. “Charon.”
“C, it’s Ayers.”
Blood warming. Minos waited for the report from his patriot in the field.
“We’re having trouble getting the female ‘Vider stabilized.” Ayers chuffed into the phone.
Minos pictured his friend worrying the edges of his neatly trimmed black mustache. “Options?”
“We may have to alert regular forces and have her air evaced.”
Minos kicked at a pile of leaves. He couldn’t lose the ‘Vider. She was the key to setting everything in motion with Lake. “Are you sure you can’t patch her together?”
“Sorry old friend, but I figure you’d think of another use for her if she’s alive. A corpse isn’t much of a threat.”
No. No, it wasn’t. “Do what you can. Save her at any cost.”
A thud and a grunt scratched his ears before the line went dead.