Authors: Cara Crescent
For my dad.
And all our other heroes, of whom, we often ask far too much.
Table of Contents
Washington, D.C. 2265 A.D.
Griffin Jude Payne.
That’s what they’d call him now. They always referred to political assassins by three names. Christ, his parents must be rolling over in their graves. They certainly hadn’t raised him to be a murderer.
Griffin stood still amid the dense crowd with his spine straight and his hand clasping his wrist behind his back. He’d donned his dress blues for the occasion. He’d even dared to come into town a few hours early to clean and shave and have his hair trimmed. This was for his unit.
He was the last, and since one man had no chance of succeeding in a campaign against a whole army, he planned to take out their leader. Everything he’d done in preparation for tonight had been carefully planned. Precisely executed. He refused to give anyone a reason to claim him insane.
Still, the whole mission seemed too easy. Security hadn’t swept him for a weapon despite how he’d dressed. Maybe this was all too new for them to have noticed. Only a week had passed since the U.N. had absorbed the world’s military forces.
And euthanized those unwilling to cooperate.
Tonight’s event was being held on the mall before the towering U.N. building. At one time flagpoles had surrounded this area—one for each member state. All those flags were long gone now. The pale-blue-and-white flag of the United Nations waved and snapped alone in the brisk November wind. A simple stage had been erected with a lone podium and a holo-projector behind it, projecting a two-story, full-color hologram of the U.N. flag.
Where the hell was security?
He forced slow, easy breaths through his nose as he surveyed the crowd of smartly dressed civilians eagerly awaiting U.N. Prime Minister Alfred Parnell's speech.
Of course they were eager. They waited for the man who had been instrumental in creating the first global utopian society. They adored him. Worshiped him.
Hell, he had, too, before he’d learned the truth.
Before he’d witnessed U.N. Blue Helmets frag his base.
The U.N. wasn’t the same benevolent international organization it once was. Oh, the mission statement still spoke of peacekeeping and international cooperation, blah, blah, bullshit. The U.N. was about utopia.
Which meant getting rid of the undesirables.
The lights dimmed and the crowd erupted into applause as a spotlight lit the stage. The sound chased his heart rate higher. Almost time.
Alfred Parnell walked onto the stage with his wide, shit-eating grin. Alfred’s brother, Randolph, followed with Alfred’s alien wife. Damn. He didn’t like the idea of the woman being on stage, but she must be as bad as her husband to be smiling along with the rest of them.
He could do this. He needed one clean shot. Then he’d drop his weapon. The Blue Helmets wouldn’t be able to kill him if he was unarmed. Not in front of this group. Not in front of the holo-cameras. It would be too public, tarnishing the peaceful façade the Parnells had toiled so hard to create.
Briefly, he considered taking Randolph down, too. Alfred witnessing his brother shot seconds before his own demise would be a fitting justice. But none of the intelligence he’d gathered suggested Randolph was a threat. Aside from displays of familial support, he showed no aspirations in the political arena. Hell, some of what he’d uncovered suggested Randolph was psychologically fragile.
No. This needed to be seen as a specific mission for justice, not some random act of violence. He’d kill Alfred, drop his weapon, and they’d have to take him into custody. And after a very public trial, they’d transport him to Asteria. Asteria was his goal—that’s where they’d shipped his younger brother.
He just needed to stay alive.
“I’d like to show my appreciation by having all our young service men come up. Come on up, boys, so we can give you a round of applause.”
Griffin couldn’t believe his good fortune. His chances of surviving tonight increased tenfold. The people around him clapped him on the shoulder, urging him toward the stage. He made his way down the crowded aisle, tucking his arm tight to his body to feel the reassuring presence of his sidearm.
Mingling in with the Blue Helmets—the U.N. soldiers wore light-blue uniforms and distinctive blue headgear—he didn’t stop like the rest when he reached the bottom of the steps leading to the stage.
Alfred Parnell’s curious gaze locked onto his.
Griffin’s heart slammed hard in his chest. His blood pulsed in his ears.
Think of Lucan, alone on a violent, alien planet.
“We forged ahead with each decree, killed like your hired guns.” His voice didn’t carry far, but the Parnells damn sure heard him singing his version of the Marine’s Hymn. “From ships at sea to each air base, we died in your bomb runs.” Griffin reached the top of the stage. The applause died as those in the audience tried to hear. “You banned our kin from life on Earth, but I’ll wash your sins clean.”
For the first time, Alfred’s gaze swept Griffin’s uniform, the Lockheed Martin holstered at his hip. His eyes widened in alarm.
“I’m nothing more than you made me, I’m the last U.S. Marine.” In one clean sweep, Griffin pulled his weapon, fired once, and dropped his sidearm as he lifted both arms high over his head.
Alfred took the photon-blast between his eyes. He was dead before the first audience member screamed. His brother Randolph dove for cover, leaving Alfred’s wife standing alone on the stage with Griffin. She’d jumped a little when the blast went off, but didn’t try to hide like the others. She stared at him with huge lavender eyes.
When the Blue Helmets jostled him to the ground, he didn’t resist, he kept his attention trained on the brunette. Something about her was off. She didn’t scream or cry. She didn’t even look to see who he’d shot. Her worried gaze stayed with him.
The Blue Helmets secured his arms behind his back and wrestled him to his feet. After checking on Alfred, Randolph Parnell stood and faced Griffin. “You killed him.” Rage twisted his thin face into an ugly sneer. “I’m going to make you pay for this.”
Griffin smirked. “Careful there, Parnell. Wouldn’t want anyone seeing your monster.”
Randolph waved them away. “G-Get him out of my sight.”
Medics ran onto the stage as the Blue Helmets dragged Griffin to the nearest hovercar and headed across town for booking. Everything had gone as he’d planned.
A public service announcement bell sounded over the radio.
“Hey, turn that up.” The driver pointed to the radio. “I bet it’s about the shooting.”
Griffin straigtened in his seat the best he could with his hands cuffed behind him and leaned forward to hear better. Parnell was going to make an announcement so soon?
The sound of applause died down, replaced with Randolph’s voice. “It is inevitable, I’m saddened to say, all saints are martyred far too young. Today we will grieve for my brother and weep that, for all the greatness he brought to these United Nations, this was his reward. And tomorrow. Tomorrow I will continue to work tirelessly toward completing his vision of peace for these United Nations. Prime Minister Alfred Parnell may have died tonight”—Randolph paused—“but his vision will endure through me.”
Applause and cheers erupted.
Griffin slumped back in his seat. Christ. What had he done? His gut twisted into a sickening knot and bile rose to the top of his throat. . . . No, damn it. Tonight wasn’t supposed to end like this. Alfred was dead. Alfred was the one with the dream of Utopia. And his damned dream was supposed to die with him. None of the intelligence Griffin had gathered suggested Randolph was anything more than a leech riding on Alfred’s coattails.
But Randolph reminded him more of a hungry shark in blood-tinged waters.
He wouldn’t rest until the public knew what the Parnells had done. He’d have an opportunity to speak at the trial. And if the jury didn’t listen, he’d steal a ship and return with those who’d been shipped off the planet. They wouldn’t be able to ignore all their voices.
Damn it, he would be heard.
New York, 3 months later.
“Say something, damn you.”
Prudence Angelica Parnell paced in front of the holo-projector—the single non-essential object in her room. The Parnells preferred a minimalistic lifestyle. At least, for her. The white walls and floors gave her room a sterile atmosphere. Her toes curled into the carpet when she paused to stare at the hologram.
In the hologram, Master Chief Griffin Jude Payne was strapped to a gurney-cage the court officers had propped up in front of the witness box. The contraption looked uncomfortable, painful even, though the reporters claimed it wasn’t. The trial for the murder of Alfred Parnell had been ongoing for three months and Chief Payne hadn’t spoken a single word during the length of the trial. Occasionally, he’d nod or shake his head to maintain an air of competence. A couple of times he grunted.
His apathy was killing her.
When he shot Alfred, she’d thought everything might turn out all right. Everyone would be safe. A hero had arrived. But if anything, Chief Payne’s actions had made things worse. Randolph Parnell had the public’s sympathies now. He could do no wrong. And he was so much worse than Alfred.
The one thing Chief Payne had accomplished was to provide her with an opportunity to escape. With Alfred dead and Randolph needed at the trial, she’d had plenty of time to prepare. Tomorrow, when he returned to Washington for Chief Payne’s sentencing, she’d be boarding a ship to Asteria.
The door flung open and Randolph strode in.
Prudence eyed him. He’d never entered her private room before. “Is there something you wished to discuss?”
He closed the door and leaned against the jamb, folding his arms over his wide chest. He was a big man, with much more muscle and mass than Alfred. He kept his black hair oiled in place and not a wrinkle marred his gray suit. “I have a couple hours before I leave for Washington.” His dark brown gaze flicked to the hologram. “Ah, you’re following the trial. What do you think?”
She clasped her hands in front of her, trying to ease their tremble. What did she think? She thought the trial was fixed. She couldn’t understand why Chief Payne wouldn’t speak. He didn’t appear to be drugged, his eyes were clear and full of wrath, but something wasn’t right. The whole thing was a joke. But she couldn’t say any of that to Randolph. “I think he’ll be found guilty and transported.”
“I wish I felt as confident.” He pushed away from the wall, removing his jacket and laying it across the foot of her bed. “Since the bastard won’t talk, I’m worried they’ll call for another psych eval and find him incompetent.” He yanked on his tie, loosening the knot. “The longer this carries on, the more chaotic and ineffectual the government appears.”
A sickening knot formed in her belly. He held the same delusional beliefs Alfred had. She was half Lythonian and females from Lython were known for their gifts. The thing was, the gift wasn’t theirs to use, but rather for their mates. To her it was more of a curse, one that had completely ruined her life.
“That’s unlikely.” Prudence walked to the window and looked down on the city, wanting to get as far away as possible, wishing she was in one of the hover cars zinging past. “They already evaluated him.” She needed Randolph to believe he would win. That he didn’t need her or her gifts to help his cause. “They found Chief Payne to be competent and he’s done nothing to suggest otherwise.”
“Yet he won’t speak.”
“His eyes are clear and he responds non-verbally when he wants to. It’s—” She turned, noticing he’d removed his shirt and undid his buckle. Alfred had forced his attentions on her on their wedding night. Is that what Randolph planned? Was he not even going to wait for their nuptials? “It’s clear he’s following the trial. Besides, even if he is found incompetent, he’ll still be transported. Why does it matter?” Her gaze slipped past Randolph to the door. She’d never make it, and even if she did the guards downstairs would stop her and bring her back. There was nowhere to run.
“Utopia is built on a foundation of trust, consistency, and the belief that those around you are striving toward the same peace you are. The very unpredictability of illness, crime, poverty—they chip away at the basic structure of our new society. Insanity by its nature lacks consistency, therefore it cannot exist here.”
It sounded odd to hear him mimic his brother’s words. Had Alfred lived, in time, he’d have shipped Randolph away with all the rest.
Randolph smiled. “I find I am unwilling to risk the trial on luck when I can have assurance through you.”
When Alfred died, she thought she was free. But no sooner had they buried him than Randolph announced their engagement to the public. “You promised to wait until after the wedding.”
He strode over to stand in front of her. “I need you tonight.”
“You cannot steal my gift.” Her voice shook, lacking the note of confidence she wanted in her tone. “It has to be given freely.”
He stepped closer, the musky scent of his cologne surrounding her. He cupped her throat with one hand, his thumb nudging her chin up until she met his gaze. “Don’t lie to me. Alfred was no great orator. No one listened to him before he lay with you.”
Heat flooded her face as her body released a healthy dose of adrenaline. He knew. Alfred must have told him his crazy ideas, about how, after he fucked her, her gifts made people listen to him. He had been fanatical in his belief that she bestowed the power of persuasion to him, as her mother had done for her father. And while he’d only touched her that once, he’d kept her under tight supervision to ensure she didn’t give her gifts to anyone else.