Chapter Fourteen


21 days before Face’s arrival at Mukhya

Days sped by and nights lingered. He passed the transition to 2040 in his hotel room, celebrating with a hit of heroin.

It had surprised him that he was able to get hard drugs out in this redneck wasteland, but there were a couple kids who had hooked him up with a look on their face that said they never wanted to see him again.

He spent the daylight hours tracking comings and goings from the compound. It was risky to be travelling along the roads as often as he was, so he put in a lot of time slipping around possible spies for Divinity, and covering his tracks. He’d even ordered a small quadrotor off the web that was supposed to be good for generating custom livefeeds.

And then darkness would fall. He’d been outside the compound at night a few times. They kept working in the darkness. In fact, it was one of the more active periods for certain things, like building. The Zen-fueled zombies moved like ants over the snowy landscape, building and moving things constantly.

But, despite the lights on the Alturas compound, at night it wasn’t really possible to see what was going on. He was able to get closer, but unless he went all-in, the closeness didn’t actually earn him anything.

More importantly, it was very, very cold at night, and the drive back to Ketchum was awful. So most days he packed up before the sun dipped below the mountains, and headed back. The days were frustratingly short, and the nights were eternal. It gave him time to think and plan. He didn’t like that. Thinking had never been Avram Malka’s strong-suit.

His current plan was to figure out who was a spy for Divinity. There surely were some in town. Police, probably. Divinity’s standard power-grab was to get authority figures addicted. Once he knew, he’d kidnap and torture the spy into revealing what the purpose of the compound was, and how to get into it. Then, perhaps, he’d get some explosives and blow the whole thing-sky high while the media flew in to see the fireworks and deal with the scraps.

Jem’s words echoed through his mind. Those damned words.

“We’re done. This project is shelved. The org is shifting priorities. Don’t contact me again.”

He could almost hear the woman’s voice again, quiet and low over the damned cell phone.

He would’ve punched her if they hadn’t been a continent apart. But he never seemed to be in the place where he needed to be. That had been weeks ago.

He’d thought about just finding some way to sneak past the feds back to Russia.

Instead, he’d stayed. He’d stayed and continued to hunt and map and plan. Divinity needed to die. Malka was 43. He had no friends back home and nothing to look forward to in the future. He’d abandoned all hope of reconnecting with his shitty family decades ago. Even if he made it back to Russia, РСБ-2 would disown him for having betrayed his contract and (far more importantly) making enemies of the US government.

When the bomb had gone off in Tel Aviv, he’d thought about returning to Israel. Maybe the homeland had a use for him. It was a thought that belonged to a much younger man, back before he’d been destroyed.

He needed the hunt. He needed to feel like he was doing something with his life. It was the only thing keeping him moving. There was only one alternative to continuing, and it loomed over him every night.

They said that WIRL was behind the bomb—that the WIRL co-founder who hadn’t been killed by Socrates had shot himself in the face in his apartment after admitting to having created neurotoxin and arranging the nuke in Israel. It was like some perverse echo of Veracruz. The whole world was hunting WIRL now, which was good. Maybe after he took down Divinity he could help.

Fucking cyborgs were ruining everything.

Malka chuckled to himself as he looked down at the table-top. He was working his way through a bottle of Jack Daniel’s at a corner booth at the Frontier Tavern. He would’ve rather had good vodka, but this backwater didn’t have anything up to his standards.

The little bar had become his haunt over the weeks that he’d been there. He listened to the buzz of the music and conversation. It was soothing, in its way. The screens showed a replay of some game of American football. His half-drunken mind enjoyed trying to figure out the rules just from watching.

He was distracted from the screens by someone slipping into the booth opposite him.

A woman.

It took Malka a moment to get his bearings.

She was young, but was clearly not a girl, sporting at least D-cup breasts and a too-tight shirt that showed them off. Her straight, dirty-blond hair was done up in a pony-tail, and her fragile little face was painted with elaborate eye-shadow and rich red lipstick.

He glared at her, trying to get her to leave. It would be better if she did. Women who approached him only ever had one thing on their mind, and it was something that he was… vulnerable to.

Ever so vulnerable.

“So…” she began. “Word gets around in these parts. Hear you know Tim and Matt.” Her voice was girlish, but not annoyingly bubbly. It had a seductive quality that he longed to hear whispered in his ear.

He felt himself weakening. It was frustrating. It made him angry at himself. He increased the intensity of his glare, both hoping she’d run and hoping she’d stay.

“Who?” he grumbled.

She stayed. “Tim and Matt. They’re about my age. Total asshats? They sell… fun times. Heard you partook. You’re turning into something of a legend.”

Malka sighed and looked away. Now too weak to try and scare her off. “You want drugs,” he said, glumly.

“Jesus. Cut right to the chase, don’t you?” said the woman. “Here, let’s start over. My name’s Daisy. I couldn’t help but notice you were drinking over here all by your lonesome.”

“I don’t have any drugs for you,” he mumbled, unable to look at her. He tried to make himself stone, but the girl…

“Y’know, in my line of work, I meet some pretty blunt folks. But keep it up and you might just set a new high-score.”

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, then took a drink of his beer.

Daisy sighed. “Wasn’t a criticism. I like blunt. Makes it easier to negotiate. Let’s be blunt. I want your money, and I’ll trade you for sex.”

The music suddenly seemed far too loud. He wasn’t sure he’d heard. His eyes flicked back to her face. She was smiling at him. It was a warm and sincere smile.

He felt himself blush. He hated himself.

“What makes you think I have money for you?”

Daisy laughed. “You buy from Tim and Matt. You’re from out of town. You clearly have… enough to afford good medical care. You’ve been staying at a hotel for at least several days. And my guess is you don’t… get much.”

“I’m not a man,” he growled.

“Fine. Since you won’t give me your name, I’ll just call you ’Beast,’ like in that cartoon. Doesn’t mean you don’t need a princess.”

“Name’s Avram. And you’re no princess.”

Daisy smirked. “Got me there. But I’m also only seven hundred and fifty a night, and I do anal.”

Malka put his head in his hands and mumbled.

“You’re going to have to speak up, Beast. They keep the music here way too loud.”

“I’m a cripple. A eunuch.”

“Does that mean you’re not interested, or that you’re poor? Because last I checked I was selling, not buying. There’s gotta be… something a girl like me could do to earn a few meals.” She winked.

For all his shame and weakness, Malka found himself attracted to the woman across from him. She was good at her job. There had been others who he’d been desperate enough that he’d sought out and bought. Many of them were timid before him. They were frightened. Then they were disappointed. He hated them almost as much as he hated himself, and the memories burned in his mind.

But there were other whores who gave him momentary comfort. They were the ones who could look at him. The ones who could kiss him without revulsion.

Daisy felt like she could see him. She wasn’t afraid.

“I need to be more drunk for this. So do you,” he commanded.

“As long as it’s on your tab. Also, money for me up-front. I’ve been burned once for that, and never again.”

The lust in him was a fire, now. He’d have no release from it, but somehow that didn’t matter. He pushed himself along the bench, making room and gestured for Daisy to come sit beside him.

She did.

She looked like an angel in the murky light of the bar.

“Give me a taste. Then I will pay.” He reached out and touched her soft chin with his scarred hands.

She flinched away just a bit. It was nothing. And yet, it was everything. It burned more than any physical wound he’d endured. She was only after his money. Somewhere deep in him, a dream died. With its passing, he grew stronger.

He kissed her. The soft lips and tongue filled him with longing.

She would share his bed tonight. He hoped he wouldn’t cry, but he guessed he would. He hated it, and yet needed it.

He pulled her deeper, drinking in the feeling of warm skin and the smell of perfume. He hated to touch her, and make her endure him, but it was like water after a long drought.

She broke the kissing. “Anything more is going to cost you,” she said, defiantly.

He smiled, waved at the server in the hope of getting stronger drink, and said “I’ll go get money from the machine once our drinks get here.”

When the drinks got there, Malka’s brain stopped recording long-term memories.


The following day started like no other.

In some ways it was the same. He was hung-over. His bladder-bag was beeping its obnoxious tone. He was naked.

He couldn’t remember exactly what had happened, or where he was.

He remembered something about Daisy: She was afraid of him, and he was afraid of her.

He wasn’t in bed. He was very cold. His body ached. He was on the floor… on a stone floor. His legs weren’t working. They must have run out of batteries again.

His arms were behind his back.


He opened one eye. Lying on his stomach.

Harsh white light beat down from above. It was a cold sort of light. Fluorescent. Crisp shadows.

“Сукин сын…” he swore, pushing himself over onto his back with a sudden, jerky motion.

The scraping of the cement floor on his bare skin and the sharp pains in his arms at the uncomfortable position were of secondary concern to his foggy mind. More important was that two figures with AR-15s snapped into action the moment he moved, pointing their guns at his prone form, ready to fire.

One of them was Daisy. She’d switched to more utilitarian clothing, taken off her makeup, and donned a large black helmet.

The recognition hit him full-force, stoking the angry fire in his chest. “Fucking bitch whore cunt!” he yelled, fumbling the pronunciations in his mostly incapacitated state. It was then that he realized that he not only didn’t have the ability to move his legs, but that they’d been removed entirely.

Her eyes glittered as she stared at him, mouth never breaking that calm smile.

The other guard was a man with a bushy red beard and a biker-gang look to him, though that might’ve been because of the zen helmet. He didn’t say anything, either.

“Fuck!!” he yelled, again. He thrashed on the cement in an impotent rage, angry at himself for letting his guard down, more than anything. But angry at her, as well. Angry at all of them.

“Stop moving, Beast.” Daisy’s command was loud and calm, almost like she’d heard about yelling, once, and wanted to see what it was like.

“Just fucking do it! Shoot me!” The rough cement scraped him painfully as he rolled around on the ground, half a man.

His urine bag continued to beep as he got a look around the room he had woken up in. His head throbbed as he looked at the lights. The room was massive, and as soon as he saw the arched roof overhead, he understood that he was in one of the freshly constructed bunkers at what had once been a campground on the west edge of Alturas Lake.

There were shelves, vehicles, machines, and even rows of bunk beds in the giant space. Zombies, like Daisy, were everywhere. They moved with purpose. A couple of them were getting into or out of the beds, butt-naked except for those damned helmets. There were toilets, too, out in the open. Nobody cared. Nobody was talking. The whine of the machines and generators was the only noise.

And Malka was in the middle of it. He hadn’t been taken to some jail cell or prison. He’d simply been deposited in the middle of what was effectively a warehouse and put under guard.

And why not? Divinity turned men and women into mindless slaves. The zen helmets satisfied everything they could ever want. None of them would care if they saw him get gunned down or tortured right in front of them. As long as they wore those helmets, he was just another machine to be ignored or worked around.

“If we were going to shoot you, we’d have already done that. But we can make this experience much worse for you. You gain nothing by moving. Reserve your strength. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to escape, later.”

That made Malka stop. For a moment, in the fog of his hung-over brain, he thought she was giving him a clue as to how to escape. Perhaps she cared about him after all.

Then he realized that she was just saying the thing that was most likely to get him to stop moving. The fastest route from point-A to point-B. Utilitarian efficiency. She was part of Divinity, and that was how Divinity did things. No wasted motion.

He considered rolling around some more, just to spite her, but he could tell she wasn’t lying. And regardless, it hurt to move. He relaxed, feeling his body slump onto the hard floor.

A few seconds passed, silent except for the beeping of his bladder and the miscellaneous noise of the bunker.

“Aren’t you going to do something about that? My bag needs changing.”

Daisy moved from pointing her gun at Malka to a more neutral stance. The other guard followed her example. “It is outside the scope of our missions, as guards. We discussed whether it was important, and decided that it was not.”

“It’ll start leaking.”

“Then this place will smell like your pee for a while. Nobody will care, except maybe you.” Daisy continued to smile warmly, as though she had told a small joke.

“Freak,” he accused.

She watched him, and smiled at him, but said nothing.


After the first few hours of lying on the floor of the warehouse, leaking urine and hungry as hell, his guards had been switched and the new ones had changed his bag and made him more comfortable.

He’d been given a bed away from the others, still out in the open like everything, but far more comfortable than the floor. His handcuffs had been unlocked so he could eat.

He’d tried to fight them, and grab a gun, but the guards weren’t crippled like he was, and he was vastly outnumbered. They’d beaten him for that, covering his body with bruises and depriving him of food for the rest of the day.

But that was his own stubborn fault. At the end of his first day, there he’d been given another chance to eat and had obeyed. Beans and rice and water and a multivitamin. No fork or spoon. He’d seen the other drones eating the same, though at least they got utensils.

He was handcuffed again, when it came time to sleep. He barely slept at all, that first night. The machines kept running at night, but it wasn’t the noise that kept him up, really. It was that he was looking for a way out. Some hopeful thread within him kept his mind spinning on possible escape routes.

But Divinity kept perfect watch over him. The guards had a focus that never wavered. They didn’t get bored or tired. They were rotated out at regular intervals and didn’t waste any time talking.

It was like he was the only human in the Alturas compound. The drones weren’t human. They were made from humans, but their spark had been stolen.


The next day, and the days after that, went more smoothly. They kept him uncuffed and on his bed most of the day. They warned him if he started anything tricky, and beat him when he resisted or tried to fight. But most of the time he obeyed. Most of the time he just lay there hating himself and fantasizing about dying.

He should’ve gone to Mars with the robot. He’d had the opportunity to do something better, and he’d thrown it away.

Because he’d been afraid.

Breakfast was rice and beans. Lunch was rice and beans. Dinner was rice and beans. Sometimes they mixed beef in with the beans. Always they were served with water. It wasn’t bad, from a certain perspective.

From another perspective it was hellish.

He’d seen someone with their helmet off once, in the big dome-shaped room. She’d cried as the drones moved to surround her. And to his surprise, they embraced her in a group hug. There must have been a dozen, all around her, simply holding her as she wept. And eventually, she’d stopped and gone to sleep. After she woke up they gave her a helmet and she’d become like them again.

He hated them all.

Days passed. People came and went. Things were built and moved. Divinity was active, all around him, but they didn’t tell him anything.

But they did talk to him. They had Daisy talk to him.

She came every day, always wearing that damned helmet. She smiled and talked to him in a way that made it clear that she was simply following her orders to talk to him. She asked how he was feeling, and whether he needed anything. She asked who he was working for, and why he hated them so much. She asked where he was from, and what he liked to do. It was almost like he could see the checkboxes in her mind getting marked off.

At first, he’d told her to fuck off and leave him alone. But the loneliness and the soberness sank in after just two days. Las Águilas didn’t care about him. Nobody cared about him. There was no rescue coming.

He still told himself that he’d die before telling Divinity anything of value. It was a thought he clung to, like a piece of driftwood from his splintered life, while he floated in the uncertain dark.

So, instead of saying the things he knew Divinity was interested in, he tried to turn the conversation to Daisy, and ask about her. She usually talked freely and without hesitation.

She’d joined the gang a few months ago. She’d been a whore—a local girl—trying to save up enough money to go to school somewhere far away from Idaho. Her father had been sexually abusive. She’d been exploring hard drugs. Her pimp had met someone in the gang and had shared the experience of Zen with her. It had just been a taste, but it had been enough to turn her into a slave. She’d given her savings to the organization and kept whoring to get them more cash in exchange for time with the helmet.

Securing Malka had been her big break. It let her join up as a full drone. She seemed genuinely happy about it when she spoke, but she seemed genuinely happy about everything when she spoke—even talking about getting raped by her father. It was disgusting what the machine was doing to her.

He wanted to save her from this hell.

Days and days and days passed. Much of it was spent in a depressed, lethargic fog. He felt stupid and far more moody than normal. He cried regularly and hated himself for it. The rest of his time was spent fantasizing about rescuing Daisy or stealing a gun just long enough to put a bullet in his head. He could feel his body getting weaker.

“Don’t you… ever get tired of blindly obeying?” he asked her, once.

Daisy smiled, just like she always did. “Not blindly obeying. The divine path is spread out before me, and I finally, finally, have the strength to walk it. Zen gives me the strength. My body is my own. I’m a volunteer, not a slave.”

Malka didn’t say anything to that. Instead, he turned away and lay back down, burying his face in his smelly pillow.

“Even when I don’t have Zen, I walk the path. It’s so clear, Beast. I wish you could see it. Your metal eyes are making you blind.”

“Go away,” he commanded.

She did.


Malka snapped to consciousness from a dream that slipped from his mind without leaving a trace.

He was being touched. Moved. Pushed. Twisted.

Once upon a time he would’ve fought them, as they forced him onto his belly and cuffed his hands behind his back. It didn’t really matter which side of him they cuffed his hands. Given that he had no legs it was trivial to move his hands back around front.

But he didn’t fight. He simply let the forceful hands of the drones do their work.

His eyes came online and snapped out of the power-saving mode they used when he was asleep.

The light made him squint. It was always too damn bright in the big room. Too bright and too loud. It was a miracle he was sleeping at all.

There were three drones around him. Two men and a woman.


With his hands cuffed, they dragged him off the bed and carried him by the arms. Daisy walked ahead of them, leading the way as they carried his naked body through the cold room. She gripped her AR-15, ready for some unknown enemy.

“What’s going on?” he mumbled, trying to get a hold of himself.

“Leadership made up its mind,” said Daisy, looking back at him with a smile. “The divine path was made clear.”

He wished he had the strength to fight them, but he didn’t. He simply hung there, suspended between the arms of the two male drones like a piece of meat.

They brought him to a different section of the building where there was a chair that looked like it was for a dentist or something. They placed him roughly onto it. It always hurt to be in a chair without his legs on. The organic-synthetic joint of his belly was not meant to support his weight directly, and the spinal fixture bumped painfully against the seat.

They uncuffed him and then re-cuffed his arms to the chair, not to the arms of the chair, but down by his sides. Then one of the men began to use a long piece of black cloth to tie his torso down to the chair, threading it under his armpits and even around his neck.

“What are you doing?” he asked again.

“I am a doctor,” said one of the men, smiling at him from beneath his helmet. He was middle-aged, but in good physical condition, with a big grey-brown beard. “Please be calm. Things will be better soon.”

That certainly did not make Malka calm, and he began to be even more nervous when the doctor began to use another piece of cloth to tie his head back against the head-rest.

Malka began to squirm and fight.

Daisy took a decisive step forward and thrust the butt of her rifle violently into his belly, making him cough and groan. It took the fight out of him, and that made him sad. He was so impossibly weak.

Head, body, and arms strapped in, Malka watched as the doctor wheeled a tray of surgical instruments forward.

“Tim, hold the patient’s head for me. We’ll need all the stability possible for operating without anaesthetic.

The words shot more adrenaline into his system. “What are you going to do to me!?” He still felt-half asleep. As though the whole thing was a terrible nightmare.

The doctor took out a bottle of something and dabbed a cloth. “We’re going to remove your eyes.”

Malka began to curse loudly as the doctor rubbed the chemical-doused cloth over his eyelids, and then peeling back the lids, over the metal orbs themselves. It burned like hell and his neck muscles seized and thrashed, but it was useless. His head was held in a vice-like grip by the other man, and he was still bound.

“This really will be over soon. You’ll see,” said Daisy.

There was a correct way to remove his prostheses. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he was sure that it existed. And he was sure that this “doctor” was not doing things that way.

For one, the doctor began by cutting his eyelids off with a scalpel.

Malka screamed as the sharp pain lanced through his face and his blurry vision turned red. But nobody cared. The drones in the room kept moving according to their orders, no doubt smiling all the while.

With his eyelids gone, the doctor injected something near the site of the surgery, and wiped the blood away.

Malka lost track of time. His eyes slid this way and that. In between curses, his teeth ground together in a violent grip. The pain was nearly overwhelming… it nearly cut off his ability to feel and see. But Malka noticed when his right eye stopped moving at his command. He could see the blurry outline of the tongs in the doctor’s hand and feel the sharp sensation of them digging into his head.

And then the doctor twisted his eye, and Malka blacked out.

But the sharp bite of pain brought him swiftly back to reality.

He could still see out of his left eye. It was a blurry mess of red, but somewhere ahead of him he thought he could see Daisy. He thought she was smiling at him.

“Just one more to go!” said the doctor, happily.

Malka spat another half-dozen curses at the man in Russian, but his heart wasn’t in it. He just wanted to die so badly.

He could feel the doctor reaching into his socket to mop up the blood and apply pressure to the wound. It was a disturbingly intimate sensation.

Soon his curses turned into begging. He hated himself for begging, but he couldn’t help it. “Kill me. Don’t do this! Please! Just kill me! Just fucking kill me, you конной трахать монстры!”

But they didn’t kill him. Instead, the doctor, having satisfied himself dressing the eye cavity, switched his attention to Avram’s remaining eye. He grabbed it with those sick metal tongs and began to twist again.

Malka’s muscles spasmed uselessly and he cried tears of blood as inky blackness swallowed him.

He gasped and cried and screamed, fully lost in panic and helplessness. Nothing in his miserable life had prepared him for that torture.

And then… he realized it was done.

He could feel the gauze being pushed into the remaining socket and the tape being wrapped over his face.

“Operation successful,” said the doctor. “He’ll need those bandages changed in a few minutes, then every hour until the bleeding stops.” The man cleared his throat, calm as ever as he finished by saying “I expect he is safe to enlighten now.”

Avram Malka was too weak and out of breath to react, as they unstrapped his head from the chair. He did his best to fight them as the helmet was placed on his head.

“Just kill me!” he screamed again. “Don’t make me one of you! Kill me! Just kill me!”

The pain was everywhere. His shame was overwhelming. Nothing was worth it. He was all alone.

And then they turned the helmet on.

And it didn’t do anything.

He took a breath, waiting for it to crush him and turn him into a zombie. The pain was still brutally intense. He still hated himself. The helmet wasn’t working.

Avram felt… relief. Yes, he was still a prisoner among the scum of the Earth. He was blind, now, and crippled. He was in pain and suffering acute testosterone withdrawal. But at least… at least the zen helmet didn’t do anything. He was still himself.

He could hear the hum of the electromagnets. They were obnoxiously loud. It was a wonder that anyone could hear anything with one of the helmets on.

Avram took a breath. And then another. Fighting and flailing weren’t doing him any good. He needed to be strong and break out of the compound somehow.

“How are you feeling?”

Daisy’s words were amplified by the helmet and sounded strange in his ears. The whir of the magnets felt almost like background noise. Perhaps the helmet had speakers and was cancelling out other sources of noise.

Avram took a deep breath, filling himself with cold resolve. “Fuck you,” he said in the direction he thought she was. He wished he could see where she was standing, so he could spit at her.

“How’s the pain?” she asked.

He was getting used to it. The initial stabbing loss of his eyes had faded into a dull ache. “Your helmet doesn’t work. Take it off me.”

“No, it’s working. It will take several days for your brain to adjust fully, but the initial impact is really obvious from where I’m sitting.”

{Lies. She’s lying,} he thought to himself. {It’s all a big trick.}

Avram took another deep breath. It wouldn’t help to struggle or fight. He needed to save his strength for when he could act in a useful way.

“If it’s working, then how come I still want to strangle your delicate little neck? How come I want to put a bullet in that fucking doctor’s head?”

Daisy’s words, amplified by the helmet made him shudder: “But do you still want to put a bullet in your head?”

She was right. She wasn’t lying. It was doing something. “Take it off me! Take it off me right now!”

“Why are you fighting this, Beast? Just relax and feel Zen.”

“I’m a person, dammit! I don’t want to be turned into one of you!” He pushed against his restraints ineffectually.

“Tell me what I am, if I’m not a person.”

Avram wished he could see the woman. He wished he could see, instead of simply having the dull black ache. “A zombie. A drone. A slave. Tool of some fucking elite мудак!” He threw himself against his restraints again.

“The helmet doesn’t change people, Beast. It won’t make you into someone you’re not. How could it? It’s not even invasive. All it’s doing is suppressing the parts of you that hold you back, and amplifying the parts of you that make you who you are.”

“You’re lying,” he growled, taking another breath to calm himself. He needed to be strong. It wasn’t helping him to flail about and burn up his energy.

“Am I? Do you think I wanted to feel alone and like my life was meaningless? S’why I was saving money. Wanted to find something like Divinity. Wanted to make a difference.”

“You’re being used.”

Avram could almost hear Daisy’s smile as she said “Yes, and I love it. To be used is to be useful. Divinity is enlightening the world, and I am helping spread that light. Oh, it’s so good that you’re finally joining us. I’ve felt such pity for you. Soon you’ll help spread the light, I just know it.”

It was a waste of energy to reply. He had more important things to focus on, like escaping.

The conversation ended, and Daisy presumably left. She didn’t say goodbye, but he didn’t much care. She wasn’t special. Divinity surely had hundreds of people like her, and there were millions of other Daisies, out in the world.

In the calm silence that followed (which wasn’t exactly silence, because he could still hear the magnets), Avram began to plot his escape.

The helmet helped him focus and ignore the pain. It was remarkably subtle. He simply felt like the distractions of the world were swept away so that he could think.

It would be simple to convince them, after a few more hours of exposure or whatever, that the helmet had turned him into a slave. He felt confident that he’d be able to sell the idea that he flipped. He’d tell them about Las Águilas. They probably knew already, based on his connection to Crystal Socrates. But he’d make them trust him, regardless.

And then… he’d stab them in the back. They’d underestimate him, now that he was blind. And he knew he could be patient. He could see the path of success laid out before him.

Avram took a deep breath.

And he smiled.


There were no introductions and no warnings that the conversation was about to begin. It simply did.

“Tell me how you’re feeling,” commanded a deeply masculine voice with a British accent.

It had been days since his surgery. He’d been given his legs back, and at his request, they’d started getting him testosterone again. But without his eyes, he was as crippled as he had been, just in a different way.

“Better than I can remember ever having felt,” he responded. It was the truth. He could feel the Zen lifting him up. He had a kind of clarity of attention and focus that he’d never had. And importantly, he wasn’t lonely or sad or scared. He knew what needed to be done, and felt a sense of calm satisfaction in knowing that he could do it.

“Do you know who I am?” asked the British man.

“No,” answered Avram.

“Good. It is better that way. Phoenix may be playing fast and loose with her identity these days, but that is because she is a fool.”

Avram had told them everything he knew about Las Águilas on the day after his surgery. It was part of winning their trust.

They were standing in the very same building he’d been in the entire time. It had been weeks since he’d been outside, but that didn’t bother Avram. It was cold outside. That wasn’t where he was supposed to be. He was supposed to be inside. He spent most of his time, since getting his legs, simply standing in place, waiting.

It was what a good drone would have done, and he wanted to trick them into thinking he was a good drone, so it was what he did. Zen made it easy.

“I want to help,” he said. He understood, now, that he was talking to one of the kingpins—one of the men who ran Divinity. Perhaps it was the man who ran Divinity.

“So I’ve heard. You’ve been a very obedient convert.”

“My life was nothing before I found Zen. I wanted to die. My old path was an easy thing to abandon, once I saw the better way.”

“You are welcome, brother. We will soon enlighten everyone. But the divine path sometimes requires careful steps. Have you heard the news of Mars?”

“Nothing since December.”

“The aliens have attacked the base owned by Las Águilas, and word is that they’re getting ready for full-scale war,” said the Englishman. His voice didn’t waver. It was clear that he, too, was using Zen.

“And what of Crystal Socrates?” asked Avram.

“Unknown. Earth is in an uproar. First the bomb and now this. Your friend, Stephano, has become something of a figurehead, lately.”

“He’s not my friend.”

The Englishman corrected himself. “I meant only that you had worked with him. WIRL seems to have let him out of his cage. Or perhaps it was genuinely an order from the Whitehouse and WIRL simply lost the power to keep him under their thumb. He’s been arguing that the nameless were justified in their attack and that the Red Eagles are at fault.”

A silence settled between the two men. Avram breathed a calm breath and smiled as he stood.

“We suspect he is in danger. We’d like him to embrace Divinity and come under our protection,” said the Englishman, at last.

“Because peace with the nameless is important?”

“Because we’re finally ready to go public, and he would make a good spokesman. He is at the confluence of many powers in America. Our partners in China are already starting to move, and we need to keep pace. Securing his allegiance would be a great boon.”

“We must walk the divine path together,” said Avram.

“Exactly. And now that you are with us, we have a way to reach him.”

Avram smiled. “What can I do?”