Afgu fought the compass. Emre on one side and Ytry, on the other skipped lightly over him until power circled smooth and powerful,.
Ice could feel the priests, minds open and determined. Lowered his mental barriers to meet them mind to mind, melding into the whole. And expanded out to encompass the other ring of powerful men. An outer nimbus that touched the observers.
Then they turned their attention to Afgu. Afgu shielded hard. And Ice felt the part of the meld that was Ytry match the vibrations of the shield and slide through.
Ambition, aggression, anger as he melted in, and became a part of the whole. Tried to control the Compass, and failed utterly.
And they remembered.
The first contact with a mentalist. The temptation . . . and greedy grasping for it . . . utter belief in the glorious possibilities. A view of the One taking over the Drei Mächte Bündnis, marrying into and replacing the three Hundred Families. Taking proper control of over a thousand Worlds.
Accepting the brain implant voluntarily.
That came close to breaking the Compass. Shocked horror from in and out of the Compass.
They didn’t want us! They wanted to kill the Destroyer! Afgu snarling. The chip doesn’t control! It doesn’t punish! It holds information, resources, computational abilities, memory.
Horror, memories of helplessness, of turning weapons on comrades, screaming inside . . . E-one and E-two, in the outer ring.
“Peons! Stupid soldiers!” Afgu spoke aloud, then was pulled back to the merge.
A mental shudder from Ehfa. Voices, always present. Pain when he ignored them. Terror and anger. Self-preservation winning out over patriotism.
Shame to hear it so bluntly.
Anger, this time from Afgu, I trusted you!
Dawning horror, all mixed together, in the merge as it deepened again.
Running for President. A huge mash of experiences. Izzo’s cool calculations and joy in the battle for people’s approval, Afgu’s following the voices in his head, manipulation of polls, news. “They” would take care of the vote . . . willful refusal to admit they were cheating.
Irritated growl from the Ax.
The attempt to assassinate Afgu, barely noticed as he saw the Destroyer emerging from the crowd, and saving his life, nearly losing his own. Why didn’t he die then! It would have been so simple!
Ice added bafflement. Why me?
They have PreCogs. Much more reliable than ours. The blond man called Ice would destroy them.
Agreement from all the parts of the whole who had had chips.
An explosion of anger, from multiple parts, multiple incidents. The farcical duel. The attack on their puppet Enqy, the discovery of his brain chip. The battle through the streets of Paris. The articles on Aces on the Inside. The vote of no confidence. Flaming anger over loosing the election.
The promise from the Drei.
Smuggling the gate beacon into Government House.
The soldiers at his heels, and all he had to do was kill that damned Ice.
The voices screaming in his head. Now, now, now! Don’t toy with him kill him NOW!
And the gloating realization that he could destroy Ice, or if he didn’t . . . he could destroy the Drei.
And deciding to kill Ice.
Realizing that Ice has been playing him, while the hostages were slid quietly out and safely away.
Ice grabbing him, and throwing him off the dais.
Multiple views of the fire fight through the corridors of Government House. Ice stalking soldiers, crying when he shot two Black Horse Guards, cold as ice when he slaughtered the remote controlled, ineffective soldiers.
Enno and Ettw hopelessly fighting for control of their own bodies as the panicked puppetmasters tried to guess where Ice would hit next, gibbering terror, because the Destroyer was on the loose.
Trying to shoot each other . . . pain and harder controls . . . running around a corner, the soldiers in front of them mowed down . . . The Destroyer in front of them . . . and the pain and control disappeared.
Face to face to a bloody glowing killer . . . neither fired . . . lowered their guns . . . and were instantly recruited to find Agfu.
Traitors! Traiters! Afgu was still struggling. Remembering . . . “If you’d just killed him, I wouldn’t have had to trigger the bombs. And then you stopped me from getting to the gate!”
Ice’s quick scan of the computer controls. Realization that he couldn’t stop it, and might be able to get out in time. And still trying to get President Afgu out if the building to answer for his crimes.
Two views of rushing the machineguns and a third with the president over his shoulder and staggered off. Blasted off his feet, too far from the doors, throwing the President behind a main pillar of the rotunda as it all fell . . . running out the doors, throwing down weapons, hands up . . . horrified realization that Ice wasn’t there . . .
Fighting down panic, coughing. The president half conscious, wheezing, squeezed. Shifting so the other man could breath, praying he wasn’t triggering a further collapse . . . breathing through his shirt, watering eyes . . . two small beams of light . . . coming through very small gaps in the debris.
Another spurt of panic. Squashed.
:: Ice! :: A call from an old friend, come to rescue him. Walking him through teleportation. Finding the energy to teleport far enough, to haul the president out to answer for his crimes.
A scream of rage. Afgu tore himself loose, shattering the Grand Compass. Throwing himself at Ice hands going for Ice’s throat. Ice sidestepped, swept a foot, had the former president on his face one arm behind his back before the Ecclesiastical Guard pounced.
The others shook themselves loose from the Merge.
The Minister of Audits, sneering at the Ministers of War and Transportation. The shaken Prime Councilor look around at his party members, his fellow Councilmen . . . nodded to Izzo.
Turned his gaze to Emre. “So . . . what do we do with him, now?”
Emre and Nicholas exchanged glances. Nicholas shrugged. “Do we want to set a precedent of a sitting president being immune for prosecution for criminal acts and treason? Or set a precedent that the One can execute a president?”
Emre nodded. “We could exile him, but we can’t guarantee that he will never be released, rescued, escape . . .?
The Prime Councilor rubbed his face. “He will never be safe. Can never be trusted.”
Both former president Ordes walked up.
The Elder Orde growled. “No president who betrays the Empire to such an obvious degree, twice over, should be allowed to live.”
The younger Orde slowly nodded. “Death.”
Afgu cursed, got a hand loose and grabbed the guard’s gun.
Ice flicked out a punch spell . . . Afgu folded, a red dot on his forehead. The sharp mental flash of a Oner’s death.
Everyone looked at Ice.
Ice shrugged. “I think he’s killed enough people already.”
Izzo nodded. “Too many. Thank you.”
The Prime Councilor shrugged. “Well. He went down fighting.” And walked away.
Ajki thumped his shoulder. “Saved everyone from setting a precedent. And while Keiq’s in the room, don’t ask Emre if he set that up.”
Ox snorted. “In front of the world. One!”
Ice retreated. Spotted Enno and Ettw talking to Onca and Eppa. Keiq was sitting quietly, taking everything in, and he sat beside her. “Well. That pretty much cemented my reputation.”
She leaned until their shoulders touched. “Added to your mythos. Can’t wait to see what you do next.”
“Woodwork. Lots of woodwork.”