We exited the tower without any difficulty. Sawya sent me an electronic information packet, as well as instructions to exit the block via the airlock into Block 4. It was the opposite direction of Block 48, but I figured they had a good reason and weren’t just trying to immediately double-cross me.
I told the rest of our team to withdraw and meet us there.
“Was it just me, or did that go better than expected?” Eddie asked once we were several streets away from Sawya’s building.
“Far better,” I agreed. “And we have Adams to thank for it. If he hadn’t infuriated them, then negotiations would’ve been much more painful.”
Murdering someone who I was probably already going to kill and trying to persuade the universe’s two superpowers to let CP57 negotiate the peace were small asks, all things considered. I’d been braced for so much worse.
“What did Adams do?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure he was his usual charming self. He either threatened them or didn’t respect them.”
“You threatened them,” Eddie pointed out.
“Barely. And only after being threatened myself. It’s a delicate dance, one that I’m sure Adams didn’t fully understand even if it was explained to him.”
We lapsed into silence, and I used the time to open the information packet. Adams was indeed on-station with a team of eight and a secondary team of six. An unknown number more remained on his ship, which was docked on Block 107. Thanks to the somewhat random numbering, that block was on the other side of the station from where we’d landed.
I skimmed the info, which was plentiful. Adams had made his base in Block 14 which was on the far side of Block 4. I wondered if Sawya hoped that we’d run into him as we exited their block.
It would not surprise me, tentative friendship or no.
Be careful, I told the group. Adams is based in Block 14. He could be traveling through Block 4.
A chorus of agreements came across the link. I’d reversed my cloak as soon as we left Sawya’s building, but now I pulled up the hood. I’d rather confront Adams when we were fully prepared, not randomly because of a chance meeting.
The guards at the airlock gate let us pass with a wave. The small crowd gathered on the Block 4 side tossed us envious looks. Some of them would wait days for entrance. Some of them would never make it through the gates.
I spotted Luka’s massive form first. Even covered by a long coat, it was impossible to miss him. He and Valentin watched the airlock from a deep shadow between buildings. Block 4 wasn’t quite as impressive as the block we’d just left. The buildings still towered overhead, but they weren’t as bright. It felt like we had stepped from day to night when crossing the airlock.
There were too many people gathered around the gate, so I turned away from Valentin and Luka and led Eddie deeper into the block.
Where are you going? Valentin asked.
I’m going to see if we pick up a tail. Stay put and see if anyone peels off.
I ambled along, stopping to look in shop windows and changing direction at random. No one followed us. I waited another five minutes, then circled around to Luka and Valentin, who had moved back so they couldn’t be seen from the gate. Ari, Stella, and Imogen had not arrived yet.
Valentin pulled me into a tight hug. “I’m so glad you’re okay,” he whispered.
I wrapped my arms around him and leaned into his chest. “Same. It went better than I thought it would.” I would eventually have to tell him what I’d agreed to do, but for now, I just enjoyed the moment.
When I pulled back, Valentin reluctantly let me go. I opened a private link to Ari. When she accepted, I asked, Where are you?
We’re in Block 6. Is something wrong?
No, but we’re in the open here. We’ll head your way and meet in the middle. Stay alert.
Sounds good. You, too. She dropped the link.
“We’re going to meet the others on our way back. They’re in Block 6 now, so we’ll probably cross paths in 5.”
Valentin slipped his hand into mine and squeezed my fingers. “Lead the way.”
I didn’t relax until we were safe in our rooms in Block 48. I’d held off most of the questions until we were somewhere safer, but now everyone headed to the office by unspoken agreement. I would have to tell them what I’d done.
Everyone in the room knew that I’d been an assassin in my former life. Some people, like Ari and Stella, knew more than the others, but it wouldn’t entirely shock any of them that I’d agreed to murder Adams, considering the guy wasn’t exactly a saint himself.
Except for maybe Imogen. I braced myself for the horror on her face when I explained what I planned to do.
I was too antsy to sit behind the desk, so I paced in front of it. I wasn’t the only one too wired to sit still because everyone else stood, too, though Luka leaned against the wall, seemingly at ease.
“What happened after the connection died?” Ari asked, her voice quiet.
“Adams had already been to see Sawya. He offered them a large amount of money to deliver me. Presumably Valentin, too, but Sawya didn’t say.”
“How long ago?” Imogen asked.
“I don’t know. Sawya knew that we’d been here for a week. They keep an eye on the station, but there are too many people traveling for them to notice us without being tipped off. However, once they found us, it wouldn’t be too hard to track down when we arrived, so Adams could’ve visited yesterday or before we arrived.”
Ari blew out a frustrated breath. “So Adams might have been here all week while we’ve been looking the wrong places.”
“Yes.” I didn’t try to sugarcoat it, though I felt the failure as sharply as anyone, like an itch under my skin.
“Why didn’t Sawya turn you over?” Luka asked, his voice carefully neutral. He watched me just as carefully.
I wanted to make a joke about how I was a secret spy sent to kill Valentin in his sleep, but joking about death didn’t seem so funny when I had agreed to kill someone. “We’ve worked together before, and Adams insulted them. I’m sure they were still entertaining the offer when I arrived, but for whatever reason, they decided against it.”
Valentin swore under his breath.
“So they just let you go with a pile of information on Adams from the goodness of their heart?” Luka asked, his skepticism clear. He looked to Eddie, but Eddie had gone still and stone-faced.
I laughed. “If Sawya has a heart, it’s well hidden. It’s true that we have history, but ultimately, choosing to let me go was a business decision. They think Adams is planning something for CP57, and they want me to stop it—and Adams. And they want CP57 to negotiate the peace between Kos and Quint.”
Valentin slanted an unreadable glance at me. “And you agreed?”
“Partially. They want Adams dead and I promised to see it done. I also promised that I would clean up whatever plot he hatched here on CP57. As for the peace negotiation, I said I’d try to persuade you, but I did not promise results.”
“You promised to kill Adams?” Imogen asked with wide eyes. “Just like that?” When I nodded, she continued, “What about a trial?”
“He kidnapped Valentin. He attempted to beat information out of me with his fists. He attacked Arx. He blew up my ship and tried to kill me multiple times. I regret many things I’ve done, but I will not regret his death.”
Imogen stared at the floor and said nothing.
“Did you agree to kill him yourself?” Valentin asked.
I thought back over the exact wording. “No. I promised he wouldn’t survive, but I made no promises about how or when.”
“So we could capture him and take him to Koan for a trial.”
I wrinkled my nose in thought. “We could,” I said slowly, “but that involves a lot more risk. Sawya said he’s surrounded himself with sycophants. They would try to free him. And Sawya would not look kindly on him escaping. I could easily find myself the subject of a kill contract of my own. And life in prison is not the same thing as death.”
“Attempting to kill the emperor is a capital crime,” Valentin said. “It’s something to consider, that’s all.” He let the matter drop and changed the subject. “What is he planning?”
“Sawya didn’t know. Apparently someone warned Adams to be careful while he was on-station. But odds are, it has to do with us, so the sooner we catch him, the better.”
I sent everyone the data Sawya had sent me. “This is everything I was given. Take a few minutes tonight to look through it and see if you can find anything interesting. It’s already late, so let’s reconvene in the morning to discuss strategy.”
“You’re not going to try to sneak out and take care of this yourself, are you?” Ari asked. Beside her, Stella watched my reaction with narrowed eyes.
“No. He has a large team with him. It will either need to be a coordinated attack or we’ll have to draw him out. I can’t afford a mistake that lets him escape. I don’t want any of you trying it, either. I brought you along so that we could solve this problem together as safely as possible.”
Stella nodded. “Don’t forget to sleep.” She looked at the rest of the group. “That goes for all of you, too. Exhaustion leads to mistakes, and I don’t want to have to patch you all up.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” I promised with a wan smile. “Goodnight, everyone.”
Imogen lingered as the others left the room. Valentin met my eyes, silently asking if he should stay. I shook my head and he brushed a kiss across my cheek. “I’ll see you upstairs.”
Once the room was empty, Imogen shifted nervously.
“Do you want to go back to Arx?” I asked quietly. “You don’t have to stay. I won’t hold it against you.”
Her eyes widened. “No, no that’s not what I want at all. I wanted to apologize for being hypocritical. I killed people during the war who probably deserved it far less than Adams, and I didn’t blink.” She shook her head. “I don’t know why this feels different.”
“It is different,” I said, my tone gentle. “Taking a life isn’t easy—or it shouldn’t be, at least—but planning to murder someone is far different than killing during the heat of battle. You have to be able to look yourself in the mirror every morning. I will understand if you decide this mission is not for you.”
Her expression hardened. “I was in the transport when his people attacked it. I was in the building when he blew it up. He tried to kill me, too. I will not mourn his death.”
“Take tonight to think about it.” When she tried to protest, I held up a hand. “I’m serious. Think about how you’ll feel if the whole plan goes sideways and you’re the one left that has to pull the trigger. Let me know tomorrow what you would like to do. If you don’t want to return to Arx, but you don’t want to be actively involved, you could stay here as our coordinator.”
She nodded. “I will think about it.”