LOVERS IN A DANGEROUS TIME
(Discipline, the Hanged Man, 3 of Batons)
剧透 - :
I have killed very much, but changed very little.
Aufheben could have nuanced that thought further, but the assassin tossing fireballs at him was keeping his higher brain functions off balance.
Just moments ago, he’d been meandering down the streets of the Dubai sprawl during a sweltering late afternoon, noting how it had changed in the two decades since he’d last been here. Preferring the parts of the city tourists weren’t supposed to see, he spent most of his time in the Sonapur district, where the lower class fled to when they weren’t working for pittance. He enjoyed the squalor, not because it gave him any pleasure as such, but because it was honest, and in his experience, the people in these places were more honest than their wealthy counterparts. He enjoyed it, right up until he heard a group of children gasp behind him. His years of dodging would-be assassins took over, and he spun just in time to evade the magic fire headed his way.
He threw himself behind one parked car, and then another. This fight would already be over if he could have brought his sniper rifle into play, but the mage was too quick. The fireballs weren’t elegant or even that large, but at the end of the day, they were still balls of fire hurtling toward his blond, German head.
“Which corporate master are you slave to, Herr mage?” Aufheben called out, his face wrinkling as if smelling sour milk at the answering silence.
Taking out a frag grenade and arming it, he switched on its wireless control, shoving it underneath the back-rear tire of the Gaz-Willys Nomad he crouched behind. Aufheben sprinted and rolled behind a Matrix repair van, but didn’t stay put. The van’s height gave him cover enough to throw himself behind the corner of a brick fountain.
The mage repeated the same pattern of fireballs, not powerful but reckless, and gained ground at a relentless pace, obviously hoping to keep his prey on the defensive as he closed the gap.
Aufheben signaled the grenade to detonate as the spell-slinger ran by. After the initial concussion passed, he grabbed his rifle, lurched to his feet, and jogged toward the wreckage while taking aim at his enemy.
Only a few steps brought him closer to the mage, now missing his legs. Blood pushed itself out around shrapnel that had shredded his chest and arms. Aufheben winced at the dying remains, his lips pursed.
He can’t be more than sixteen, he thought. Not much like a corp to have kids working as assassins. Too much bad PR. He was struck by the worn-out armor the mage wore. Looks older than he is, Aufheben thought. Surely whoever was trying to kill him could have sent someone more professional and better-equipped. The young man was Arabic, from the looks of him, making it unlikely that this had anything to do with his past trying to catch up to him.
“Sorry, magischkind.” Aufheben said as the mage breathed his last. Slinging his rifle across his back, he ran toward the shadows. There was something about the kid’s face that bothered him. It was somehow familiar. A mystery for another time. Because if someone as green as this kid knew he was in Dubai, others surely would as well.
剧透 - :
Two months ago, Jinn’s motionless body sat in a luxurious chair whose comfort level bordered on obscenely pointless. Two chromed datajacks interrupted his smooth, Middle-Eastern elven features. One connected him to the Shiawase Cyber-4 cyberdeck in his lap. He wore a silk suit, decorated with red and purple whirlwinds, and pointy, crimson boots with five gaudy gold buckles along the side. His long, dark hair was pulled behind his head by ornate wooden chopsticks with gold trim.
Inside the Matrix, however, he looked much different. In the artificial, interconnected, digital realm, his icon appeared as an enraged, purple genie whose bottom half was replaced with a violently-spinning red and purple tornado.
Shadow work had been slow lately, but his luxurious lifestyle left him with a need for constant cash flow. That was why, between runs, Jinn pushed his skill to the limits testing himself against corporate countermeasures, looking for top secret paydata he could sell to the highest bidder.
He knew if he spent as much nuyen upgrading his cyberware and deck as he did on clothes and shoes, he could compete with the best deckers alive. Well, maybe once upon a time he could have, but lately, he spent as much time shopping and attending expensive parties as he did on the Matrix. Be that as it may, he still took pride in being able to brute force his way into nearly any node, no matter how tough their intrusion countermeasures were.
Nothing about his decking was subtle. Lightning and flames erupted out of the whirlwind he rode when he smashed through Global Sandstorm’s classified data collection node. Its Matrix sculpting gave the appearance of an oil refinery, with tributary pipelines feeding into it from around the world. This was a sort of digital hopper for collecting audio calls, video, news, and other information that may be of use to Global Sandstorm’s intelligence ops, but which hadn’t been organized or analyzed yet. Boring economic contacts and data from other corporations, bombings of small villages in Central Aztlan, conspiracy theorists on the radio in Chicago…yawn, he thought.
Then, he saw something of interest. The subject line read: SUFI MEVLEVI (DERVISH) MYSTIC CLAIMS LEGENDARY ARTIFACT NET OF MARDUK FOUND IN DUBAI.
That’s certainly enough to get the attention of the corporation’s higher ups, he reckoned. It may be nothing, but they’d surely investigate, seeing as Dubai is one of Global Sandstorm’s most influential markets.
Jinn copied the file and placed the copy inside his tornado. He had just decided to watch the attached video later when he was slammed by a blast of fire from the mouth of a mechanized sphinx that had materialized behind him.
IC already? Jinn puzzled. This must be hotter than I thought. He spun around and checked his icon for damage. Time to get my fearsome self out of here before I get more than singed.
The wind beneath him grew and thundered as Jinn fired up his Hammer program and pummeled the sphinx with hails of lightning. The IC was no match for what he did best: Matrix beatings. With one virtual monster down and more on the way, Jinn knew it was time to jack out. What have I stumbled onto? was the last thing he remembered before he passed out for a long time.
剧透 - :
A scorching wind whipped across the street below, and Aufheben watched shapeless trash scrape against weathered building walls. Refocusing his attention to the door of the building, he waited until his target appeared. He tracked her movement away from the apartment where she was staying, north along the narrow street. She wore her long, dark hair mostly around her shoulders, but the top half was pulled back in a bun. Its normally red streaks appeared dark, almost black in the moonlight.
Climbing down the fire escape, he silently followed. She turned a corner into an alley between two large buildings. As he passed, a lone devil rat hissed at him, guarding a half-eaten meal behind a restaurant. She picked up her pace, and he found himself almost running to keep up.
At the alley’s dead end, which smelled of urine and curry, she paused, turning around only when he was within arm’s reach.
“Thanks for coming,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if you even remembered me.”
“Please. You knew I’d come. It happens that I was looking to leave Bogota anyway.”
“I thought your Anarchist Bright Star was still fighting the fight?”
“They are, but the bounty on me is so high that every few weeks we were fighting off bounty hunters and wannabe shadowrunners trying to make a name for themselves. I thought it best to leave for a while.”
“Why’d you start Bright Star in the first place? Black Star kick you out?”
“Black Star is dead. Only Liberator and I survived the war, and neither of us left Bogota.”
“Odd that you say that. I ran into some runners not two weeks ago that said they were with Black Star.”
“Pretenders, I’m sure.” Aufheben paused, and his eyes widened with the faintest lift of his lips. “It’s good to see you, Mara.”
It was strange saying her name again after so many years. With effort, he pushed those feelings back into the past.
Mara took her commlink out of her bag and tapped the display. She motioned for him to check his messages. “That’s why I asked you to come.”
Aufheben scanned the file she’d sent, and a childlike excitement welled up in him. “These people: Shaheed Zahir, the Shura, the Sharif of Mecca, and representatives from Jamil Islamyah, the IUM, and Global Sandstorm. They are all going to be together, here in Dubai, in two weeks.”
“Yes! The Caliph, the tribal leaders, and the political, spiritual, social, and economic leadership of the Arabian Caliphate are in one place at one time. And we know where and when.”
He shook his head. “Now I see why you invited me here. This isn’t about helping people or reconnecting with me. This is about using me to help the Israeli government take out all their caliphate enemies at once. All while being able to deny involvement. I should have known. How can you stand to work for them?”
“Ah, the old Aufheben moral superiority. Do you ever get dizzy looking down from your ideological high horse?”
“Don’t dodge the question. You know how corrupt they are. This isn’t you. You used to be so passionate, so alive. You used to take no drek from anyone. I remember a woman who used to pounce on cybered-up thugs who tried to order her around. Now, you just lick government boots like everyone else.”
“The Kidon have done things—I have done things—that we aren’t proud of. But we save lives. Stay focused. We have a chance to do good here.”
剧透 - :
“What’s that about?”
“Whatever do you mean, Fräulein?”
“That dismissive noise that crept from your smug mouth just now.”
“Oh. You say you save lives, and that may be true, but which lives? Just Israeli lives? Lives of people like you? What about the Palestinian lives in your backyard? Lives of people in Iran? Iraq? And let’s be honest, if eliminating the leaders of the Caliphate didn’t help your own country’s interests, you wouldn’t be giving me this info. You don’t care about the ordinary people in the Caliphate that suffer under the Caliphs and corps.”
“He says, ignoring the lives of the ordinary people who die in revolutions that only place even more violent men into power.” Her cheeks reddened. “I put those naïve beliefs behind me when I was given a chance to make a real difference.”
“You don’t understand anything about the real world.”
“Funny, I was about to say the same about you.” Damn you! Mara’s eyes said, even if her voice did not.
Aufheben relented. If he got a rise out of her, she wouldn’t let up. Being here, with her, flooded his mind with memories of when it was just them against the world.
“Are you going to act on this?” she asked, “or should I find someone else to help?”
Aufheben’s eyes narrowed. He clenched and unclenched his jaw several times before answering. “I’m in. Did your intel say why they were having such a high-powered meeting? And in secret, if I read the file correctly. This has no precedent.”
Mara cocked her head sideways, as if listening to something far off. “We should get moving. I have a safer place not too far from here. We can talk on the way.”
Annoyed, Aufheben followed, as he had many times before. He used to argue, but experience had taught him that when she had one of those feelings, it was best to play along.
Mara sighed as she walked and then, pausing, she took a knee on the concrete at Aufheben’s feet. She began rummaging through her duffel bag and removed a slightly curved sword with a hand guard resembling a Rose of Sharon. “At least I brought my street fighting clothes.”
“Why do you say tha—” Aufheben’s reply was cut off by the revving of a Suzuki Mirage motorbike throttling towards them. “Oh. Think they’re after you or me?”
“We’ll ask ’em in a minute.” Aufheben reached for his sidearm as Mara crouched, raising the blade above her and focusing her breath as the rider bore down. The spirit mask of her mentor, Lion, washed over her, giving her the untamed visage of a lioness herself. No matter how often he saw it, it always sent chills down Aufheben’s spine.
The rider’s features were obscured by a helmet, but he saw the glint of an arm-blade from a cybered forearm. The bike skidded against the curb in front of them and spun in a crescent. Aufheben aimed his pistol, but before he could get a clear shot, Mara sprang at their assailant.
Momentum and mechanical speed slammed into magically enhanced strength and skill with an eruption of sparks. The grace with which the rider tracked Mara’s movements and anticipated her strikes impressed Aufheben. Even with Lion bolstering her strength, he sensed this would be a tough fight. Waiting in the background made him feel impatient—or was it something else? Aiming carefully, he fired a single shot from behind Mara and the rider fell, clutching her suddenly fountaining neck.
“I thought we were asking questions?” Mara’s Lion mask faded as she whipped her head back toward Aufheben.
“People try to kill me all the time.” Aufheben lowered his rifle. “It’s all the same.”
“It’s not all the same! Since when did killing people become your first response?” She didn’t wait for an answer. When she pulled the helmet off the rider’s head, the face of a defiant Arabic woman stared back at her. Her gaze didn’t last long, but shifted toward Aufheben as he walked to her side.
He was struck by how much she looked like the mage who had attacked him earlier. The same angry eyes, just before death stole their passion.
So familiar, Aufheben thought. His sister, perhaps? He said nothing of it to Mara. “The world does not always leave time for reflection.” He paused and looked up slightly, as if he had just figured something out, but then snapped back to the present.
“Take your cues from the world now, do you?” With a shake of her head, she stood up. “We’re out of time.” She motioned to the people staring at them from windows and doorways, having been awakened by the commotion. “We need to go.”
“Fine. Lead the way.”
Mara sheathed her sword, slipped it back into her bag, and started running towards the Al Rigga district of Old Dubai.
剧透 - :
Upon arrival at the safe house, Mara had been silent. The smell of roasted lamb and tabbouleh wafted in from outside, making Aufheben hungry, but he didn’t want to intrude upon her thoughts to ask about eating. Why did he care about someone’s feelings all of a sudden? He’d spent the last two decades of his life doing what had to be done, pleasantries and feelings be damned! And now, he’s sitting here with an old lover, and didn’t want to, what? Spoil the mood? He was beyond this, he decided.
“Where’s the food in this place?” He purposefully projected an edge in his voice to mask his discomfort.
“Check the cupboards. You’ve never been to a safe house before?”
“Not in Dubai. At least not for a long time,” he said. “Not since ’55.”
“When you…” her voice softened, “Failed to stop the Caliphate from forming?”
“Yeah.” Aufheben was no longer hungry. He took a seat at the table across from her. “There wasn’t much I could have done, looking back on it. I knew the Caliphate was going to be just another consolidation of power. Just another Empire in collusion with the corps and dragons. But youth and anger and charisma were on my side.”
“Now what drives you? Just anger?” Mara asked.
“Funny. But now I want you to tell me what else you have. Knowing all of those motherfraggers are in one place isn’t enough for a revolution. Why are they meeting? And more importantly, what are we going to do about it?”
Mara tapped away on the face of her commlink. “There, I sent you another file.”
Aufheben began reading in his commlink. A file about a Sufi mystic who had a bad dream? He clicked his tongue in disappointment. “What is this, Mara? People have stupid visions all the time. Please tell me you have more than this.”
“Okay. It says that this Net of Marduk could…trap a dragon? I’m still not convinced.”
“Our adept prophets looked into it. They confirmed it with Greece’s oracles. The Net of Marduk is real. It’s far more ancient that the Babylonian myth, of course. I assume you are familiar with some of the other artifacts that have been found recently?”
“A bit. It’s not really my area. But I have colleagues who know about them,” Aufheben replied.
“The fact that no one has said a word about this publicly, in addition to the Caliphate recently taking this mystic into custody, and that my sources tell me that this high-level meeting includes a discussion about the Net, makes me say that it is legitimate.”
“Where did you get this intel?”
剧透 - :
“From Jinn,” Mara replied. “He sold it to Mossad a week and a half ago.”
“You believe him? That arschloch’s just a Shiawase shill!”
“So he’s at his best with a specific brand of products.” Her eyes narrowed. “So what? He came to us first. He knew we pay well for that sort of information. And it checked out. So calm down and talk to me.”
“I’m tempted to ignore all of this, and let the Caliph and his buddies try to kill a dragon with this Net. But I think I know where you’re going, and I like it. If we can take out everyone at the meeting and grab the Net while we’re at it, we’d have social change and an anti-dragon artifact to put to good use.”
“Bingo. I love it when we’re on the same page, mensch.” She hadn’t called him that in a very long time—not since he’d left her for Dubai decades ago. It caught her off guard, and apparently did the same for him. Outside, a neon Taco Temple sign flickered, its orange glow washing on and off Mara’s olive skin, nearly hypnotizing him.
“Mara…” Aufheben waited until her eyes met his. “I never meant to hurt you when I left.”
She took a deep breath and released it slowly, then got up and walked to the cot where she had set down her bag. Reaching inside, she pulled out something and came back to set it on the table in front of Aufheben. It was a small amulet, brown and square, with a circular hole right in the center.
“After you left, I was broken and aimless. A lovely and wise woman took me in and helped me find a new path. She gave this to me when she died. Said it was an heirloom, and showed me this…”
She spoke a word in Hebrew, and a circle of light surrounded her, approximately one meter in every direction. “Speak the Name, and it protects the wearer against any physical harm.” She spoke the Name again, and the globe of light dissipated.
“That would certainly come in handy. Does it actually protect you?” Aufheben asked.
“Yes, it’s an anchored enchantment. In fact, it has saved me many times; from bullets, magic, even grenades.” Her face looked tired as she raised her head to look Aufheben in the eyes. “I want you to have it. It meant a lot to me, but I want you to have it now. Keep yourself safe.”
“Mara, I can’t take this. What I did to you—”
“That was over twenty years ago, Aufheben. We were both young and stupid then. I was over that a long time ago. You didn’t owe me anything.” Her expression Aufheben didn’t recognize, as if her eyes and her mouth did not agree.
“Of course I did. I owed you everything. You were the one who got me out of Saeder-Krupp. You were the one who helped me survive in Berlin. You were the one I fell in love with.”
“Love, Aufheben?” Mara stood up. Turning away from him, her hands rose and swung down again. She turned back to face him. “I loved you, too. But I don’t think you know what that word means anymore. You’re different. I’ve read the files on you. I’ve seen what you’ve done. You don’t love anything except violence. You say you are working for the people, but all I’ve seen in your wake is the death of those same people.”
That was enough. Whatever moment they could have had was gone. She was stabbing at open wounds that he was already struggling to bandage. In order to do what needed to be done, he couldn’t afford to get sentimental.
“I’m not going to take this from some nationalistic boot-licker,” he snarled. “I have fought for the people, bled for the people. The same sort of people you bomb and care nothing about! If you want my help to assassinate a bunch of world leaders, fine. But your lecturing stops now. And when this is done, we’re done. Don’t ever contact me again.”
“Fine.” Mara snapped.
“Fine!” Aufheben shot back.
But it was a lie. It was not fine. Even when—perhaps especially when—she let her emotions get the best of her, she captivated him. He took a deep breath, his gaze lingering on her face. Mara looked down and began entering data on her commlink. She raised an eyebrow and gestured for him to see what she was seeing.
“Let’s get working, then,” she said.
He was still for just a half-second, looking at her. Her eyes seemed bigger and warmer in the orange light. He glanced at the amulet lying on the table, and nodded as he reached for it. Putting it around his neck, Aufheben twisted his mind toward making plans for murder once again.
剧透 - :
The day of the meeting had arrived.
“Jinn, are you in position?” Aufheben asked on his comm. On Mara’s suggestion and Israeli Intelligence’s nuyen, Aufheben had resigned himself to hiring Jinn for Matrix support. He’d suggested others, but Mara insisted Jinn’s reputation was solid and he deserved the chance.
“Yes, sir, that I am. And if you don’t mind me saying, that suit and tie look really good on you, Mr. Heben. Much better than those tired black fatigues.”
“Every time you speak without need, I am going to dock your pay, idiot.” Of course, Aufheben wasn’t paying Jinn, so it was a hollow threat. And to be honest, Aufheben had to agree that he did look good. The Burj Khalifa was once the tallest building in the world. More than eight hundred meters high, it had become the symbolic heart of Dubai. From afar, the glass and steel gave the appearance of a spiral minaret emerging from its Y-shaped foundation. He couldn’t simply march into this place, where Global Sandstorm had its Dubai offices, looking like the anarchist revolutionary he was.
“Ugh. Mara, I hate him so much.” Aufheben rolled his eyes. “Are the packages secure?”
“Yes. The Mossad agents embedded at Global Sandstorm planted the components of the bomb on the 153rd floor last week.” she replied. “Remember the plan. Ever since they remodeled the spire of the Burj Khalifa in ’65, the upper floors are reinforced and magically warded. If you don’t place the bomb right where Jinn specified, the spire won’t collapse, and we’ll have wasted our chance.”
“Roger. Jinn, I’m headed in. I expect the surrounding floors to be evacuated without alerting the spire levels. Our target is Global Sandstorm, the Caliph, and the rest of the Caliph’s goons, not brainwashed wageslaves.”
“So little faith, captain. Remember, I have no love for the Caliph, either. Sufism continues to be outlawed by the Arabian Caliphate, despite how much we have grown in influence since the awakening.”
“After the failed New Islamic Jihad, the Islamic world is looking for alternatives to our violent history. For what they did to my Aunti and Uncle, I want them dead as much as you.”
“Then shut up! Your reasons are your own—all I care about is killing these oppressors so the people can be free.”
Aufheben headed to the elevator that would take him to the 153rd floor using the forged Global Sandstorm ID Jinn had procured. He found it odd, after a decade of guerilla warfare, to get back to the sort of shadowrunning his colleagues on Jackpoint were used to.
“All right team, going radio silent on my end.”
“Roger,” came from Mara.
“Understood,” Jinn replied.
剧透 - :
The doors opened onto the 153rd floor. This is exactly why things need to change, he thought. Everyone here was male and human and, if they were consistent with their backward society’s institutional bigotry, un-Awakened as well. He felt his anger welling at the oppressive regime that kept this nation stuck in the Middle Ages.
Thankfully, the salarymen all ignored him when he came in, so he began wandering around the floor, making visual contact with the air ducts that held the chemicals to mix the bomb. This was one area common to all corporate culture in the Sixth World; everyone was so busy securing their own status they had no time for people they didn’t recognize.
“Jinn, I have eyes on the Caliph’s personal guard making their way to the elevator,” Mara said. “I tried astrally perceiving them, but it looks like the Caliph himself is masked with a spell, so he could be any one of the entourage. Two tribal leaders on the Shura just exited their vehicles as well. Wesley Saade from Jamil Islamyah is in the lobby lighting up the Astral like it’s Chanukkah. That’s our Net of Marduk, I’m sure. Aziz and the others are already upstairs, so these guys should be it.”
Aufheben decided to walk through the floor once last time to maintain visual contact. He kept his peripheral vision on the ducts, but his mind raced back to what Mara had said to him in anger the week before. Almost all of his life had now been spent in dangerous circumstances of one sort or another. Most notably, the last decade he’d spent fighting Aztlán for the city of Bogota. Of course, his team, whether Bright Star, or the Anarchist Black Star before it, was no match for Aztlán in a straight fight, but Aufheben never gave them a straight fight. He’d gathered the disgruntled people of Bogota, and trained them into a fighting force. They’d led a rebellion to fight tyranny.
He had done the same thing, here in Dubai over twenty years ago. He had gathered the oppressed, many of them Sufi like Jinn, and had taken to the streets in a guerilla war to prevent the Caliphate from coalescing. Like those from Black Star who had fought with him in Bogota, almost all of them had died. Yet he had lived. Why him, and not the Arab woman who had died in his arms? Juhaina Awan. She wanted a better life for her children, but never saw it. He could still remember her face—
“Mein Gott…” Aufheben whispered. “It was her face.”
She was their mother. The girl I killed last week. And her brother the day before. Their mother fought with me. They were there when she died in my arms. They blamed me for their mother’s death. But her cousin fought with me in Bogota. He knew I was coming. No! This is not how things should be!
The realization shattered decades of righteous confidence, and Aufheben’s knees nearly gave way. Mein Gott…
剧透 - :
“Okay, Jinn, they should have all arrived now,” Mara said. “Do your thing.”
“Sure thing, doll face.” With that, Jinn entered the Global Sandstorm grid. He had neither the time nor inclination for stealth. He knew he was good enough to get his will done with raw power. He slammed lightning bolts and fierce winds at every obstacle, and finally reached the fire control panel.
Zap! One lightning bolt mark. Slam! Two down, one to go…and three. “Success! I’m in.”
“Great, Jinn!” Mara said over the comm. “Start the evac on the 153rd, then the floors above, then below. Go now.”
Jinn spun his hands into miniature versions of the twister underneath him and plunged them into the climate controls.
剧透 - :
Uncharacteristic guilt was making Aufheben’s every move heavy. As he reached the final air duct, he let his rage propel him as it so often had before, empowering him to complete his mission. But his anger had somehow shifted, from all of the oppressors he has always hated, to himself.
Corporations, nations, dragons, and empires, great or small, were all singular personalities, controlling others and shedding others’ blood to further their own ends. And now, at this very moment, Aufheben realized that in practical terms, he was no different. He used others for his own ends, as noble as his goals may have been, and they died. And nothing changed.
How many husbands, mothers, sons had he led to their deaths for nothing other than ideology? And how many wives, fathers, and daughters had he killed in order to resist what he decided was tyranny? And Mara. Had he given up the best thing he’d ever had for a lost cause?
While he fought through the maelstrom in his mind, Aufheben’s body was on autopilot, assembling the bomb that would bring about an instant, lasting change. This time, at least, things would be different.
剧透 - :
Scanning the floor, Aufheben could see everyone had evacuated. He switched his comm back on to tell Mara that the bomb had been armed and that he was activating the amulet.
“—eben! Aufheben! Answer me, damn it!” Mara shouted.
“I’m here. What’s happened?” he replied, now fully present in the moment.
“Something happened to Jinn. He didn’t set the alarms off on the other floors. There are still hundreds of people up there!” Mara’s voice was pleading.
“That…is unfortunate.” Aufheben kept his voice calm, centered. This was one last chance to really make a difference, to make all that blood matter, to make those sacrifices count. “Mara, we can’t let that stop us. This is the only chance we’ll ever get like this. We have to take it, no matter what the cost.”
“I thought you would say that. So I came up to be with them.” Mara’s voice was resolute. “You were right. When you said I only save the lives of people like me, you were right. It’s all I’ve thought about since then. I know the bomb is active, and I know I can’t save them, but I’m going to stand with them. Like I never had the courage to do before.”
“Mara! No! Get out!” He switched on the image link to see through her goggles. There she was, a Jew standing among citizens of the Caliphate, many of whom would want her dead if they knew who she was. Yet she stood with them now.
He cursed at the god he had never believed in. He finally had a chance to bring about real change, taking out all of the major players at once, but now this! In thirty seconds, it would all be over. He looked through Mara’s eyes at the people in the building. It made him even angrier at the tyrants who oppressed them. But they weren’t the ones who would kill these people.
Aufheben stared at the amulet that would save his life when the bomb went off, but wouldn’t save theirs. If history is any indication, another ruler or rulers would take the place of the oligarchs upstairs, and nothing would have changed except more people would be dead.
He took another look at the bomb, and closed his finger around the amulet, his determination growing stronger.
In a world built on greed and domination, perhaps the only true revolutionary act is a selfless one.
Clutching the amulet, he ran to the bomb and held it to his chest. As the time ran out, Aufbehen spoke the Name. His last rebellion against the powers was complete.
剧透 - :
Outside the city, Mara looked toward downtown Dubai. It looked peaceful from the shore, with the rising sun casting half the buildings in shadow, but bringing a sort of angelic illumination to the parts of the city facing the dawn. Mara knew she couldn’t stay in this moment forever.
As if in response to her thoughts, her commlink rang. Allowing herself a sliver of hope, she answered it,
“Mara? They just confirmed it. Aufheben is dead. I’m sorry. And I’m sorry that no one else died.”
“I’m not,” she said. “Jinn…I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Thanks, hon. If you ever need me again, I’d like a chance to redeem myself.”
“It wasn’t your fault. We couldn’t have known Saeder-Krupp was attending the meeting as well, and had bolstered Global’s defenses. It wasn’t your fault.”
“If you say so. Many thanks.”
“You too,” she said as she ended the call. Aufheben had failed. She had failed. And soon, they would come looking for her.
As she lingered, considering her bleak future, a bellowing roar came from above. She looked up to see the distinct form of the Great Dragon Aden soar overhead, flying so quickly she could barely track her. She seemed to enter the Burj Khalifa, near the spire where the bomb should have exploded. Mara shuddered as she imagined the dragon finding the Net. Would she kill them all? Just take the artifact? Would they try to trap her?
Minutes later, the dragon launched itself out over the Persian Gulf, hovering just long enough to cast a backward glance at the city before resuming its terrible speed and flying off toward the Northwest.
A revolutionary is dead, she thought. But the sight of the dragon reminded her: revolution can’t die. Someone has to stand with the people.
And she vowed that as long as there was even one tyrant left, someone always would.