Oh my, the Ambassador is taking me back to his cabin. He was never so forward when I first met him. In the Hegemony, I forced every physical and emotional issue on him, until his laughter and tears made him seem insane next to the subdued, ever-smiling Hegemonians. But the Ambassador was married then.

More than two years ago, my employers sent me too many light years out to the Ambassador’s home, the capital world of the Hegemony, on the very edge of the human diaspora. With my usual delightful excess, I observed everything as my employers had asked. I saw immaculate cities where each building perfectly aligned with all others to produce a monotony of order in all directions. I met their beautiful Hegemon, and her people who shimmered in raiment of cool light like tedious angels.

The Hegemony actively supported the partnering of its citizens according to their natures in all the various combinations and poly arrangements. Stable partnerships tend to support the psych stability of those in them. That made my work harder. Approaching anybody meant becoming close to at least two people.

I became close to the Ambassador and his spouse, the government Minister. “Minister of what?” I asked. “Minister of Future Needs,” she said. I thought What the fuck did that mean? while I made a weak joke about deferring desire.

My little play was simple, time honored in literature and vid. A young seemingly naïve woman with a troubled past inserts herself into an older couple’s relationship. Compared to the Ambassador, the Minister was the one with power, competence, and mental resilience, and she obsessively took herself apart for me anyway, like a self-cracking egg. Because I was finally what she wanted and who better deserved me? In the end she came at me with kitchen knives, and after I left she killed herself, reportedly blowing herself up while trying to take her husband with her.

The Ambassador was also my close focus in this scenario, and I’m super bummed that, after my attentions and his wife’s actions, he’s still a seemingly functional personality. He fucking shouldn’t be. And it’s worse than that. My employers expressed no dissatisfaction with my reports, and afterwards gave me further missions. But I have other, personal standards of success. My Hegemony reports were dull because even within that one dyad of Ambassador and Minister, nothing I did shook loose the information I wanted. The love and hate I inflicted on the Ambassador and the Minister made no further ripples in that tidy little world. I sank like a stone, leaving no trace of ecstatic bliss or deep wounds in the wider population, nor even wiping the smiles from their calm benignant faces. No, I didn’t find good intel.

The Hegemony couldn’t prosecute me for my anything I did—it was the Minister’s own fault, and besides, my manipulations were subtle and her weaknesses deep. But the Ambassador must know it was all me.

He must also know what else I’m capable of, but he dares to be alone with me. His face doesn’t betray whether he wants to fuck or kill me. I don’t know which I’d prefer he try.

His cabin is his Hegemony home in microcosm: a monochromatic Zen hanging scroll, a paper screen of flying cranes against a golden sky. He hunts vainly for peace in the images of antebella East Asia, but I would only diminish myself questioning his taste. “Excellent reproductions,” I acknowledge.

“They’re originals,” he says. I see no cue of deceit.

“How did they survive the Wars?”

“Later,” he says. “Some wine?”

“I prefer champagne.”

He pours the wine anyway, and I take it, attracted by its deep red color. “You’ve changed,” he says.

“I’m whom I choose to be.” Then, because like the scorpion, it’s my nature, I sting him. “How’s single life treating you?”

With the slow deliberateness of restrained rage, the Ambassador puts down his wine. “We don’t have time for this.” His eyes lock into mine, and his complete attention draws me in. “Imagine a tribal past in which absolute loyalty to those close to you was a must, but absolute flexibility might also be necessary if those close to you were killed by others. An ability, genetic in origin but environmentally cultivated, to split the universe into good and evil, yet to change which half was which at any time. Strong emotions, but no fixed emotional memory.”

“Emotional memory?” I know what he means, but I want more words about me.

“Humans remember facts, that’s important. But most humans also remember roughly how they felt about those facts, both years and mere moments ago. Part of being flexible is not remembering how one felt before.”

He is wonderful when he talks about me. I recognize myself as my employers have described me, but they never suggested reasons. The fucking shrinks only spoke of me as disease: borderline personality disorder with severe emotional amnesia component.

The Ambassador has given a reason for me that I already knew, but it means more coming from someone else. “An adaptation,” I murmur.

“An extreme version of such a person makes for an excellent secret agent,” he says.

“Because they are good at getting information?”

“No,” says the Ambassador. “You know the reason.”

“I’m not an agent.”

“They aren’t going to save you this time!” He is shouting in my face, which is nice, but what he says irritates me.

They? Severe paranoia is treatable under the Psych Laws, you know.”

He takes a deep breath, then a deeper one. “I’m going to tell your story. When I get something wrong, feel free to assassinate me.”

“Oh, this should be fun.”

“By age twenty, you had left your family and school, to strike out or be struck down, on your own resources,” he says.

“You never found a love or friendship that lasted two weeks.”

“Because I left you?”

But he doesn’t take the bait. “Before they found you,” he says, “your worst violence was against yourself.”

That may be wrong. On Mars, there was the puppy. With all the drugs, I can’t remember everything I did on Earth. I take another sip of wine. “I didn’t feel a thing.”

“One time you seriously messed up,” he says. “And you ended up in the hospital, or a mental health monitoring station.”

“You never go to the doctor? It was nothing.”

“In the hospital, they took you,” he says.

“You’re getting colder.” With my eyes fixed on him, I search in my peripheral vision for anything that could become a weapon. Is that a real katana in the alcove? At worst, I have my nails and teeth. Letting him live before was a failure, one that I can, and should, remedy—if he asks about my employers.

“They put you through a battery of psychological tests,” he says.

“I’m good at tests.”

“You didn’t fool them,” he says. “The tests, along with all the drugs they gave you, were part of a deep conditioning program. Among other things, they amplified your natural characteristics.”

He seems to think this should bother me, but I enjoy being amplified. What annoys me is that he knows these impossible details. “Your Excellency, who the fuck are you?”

“Now,” he says, “you work for them.”

“Aren’t you going to ask who they are?” Please, please ask so I can kill you.

“No,” he says.

“Why not?”

He says, “Because you don’t know.”

“Oh.” He is right. Now I am for this man. He knows my story; he knows my limits. For some fucked-up reason, he seems to care. But I’ll test that. “Do you expect a confession?”

The Ambassador shakes his head. “Forget that. Here is the important thing. The League has detected agents like you before. Border Crossers. I have pictures. They did not end well.”

With no visible pad, he calls up images. They lack artistry, but the bodies tell a clear story. Bruises speak of thorough beatings, followed by progressive, neatly cauterized amputations, followed by inquisitor boredom and sudden execution. Primitive, indicating no use of scanners or drugs. They were like me.

I knew a girl on Zanj… but I won’t think of her now.

“Why are they doing this?” I ask, hoping for some point of leverage I can use to save myself. I haven’t done anything yet to the League; perhaps a deal is still possible.

“They think that Border Crossers have been interfering with their business opportunities.”

I remember my bedroom talk with Boy Toy. “Via genocide? That’s not my line.” My killings are much more personal, and personally deserved.

“I can’t discuss that. You’re at risk, and so is any intel that I give you.”

Speaking of killing. I swing toward hate again. Is this his revenge against me, indirect, so he can deny it even to himself? “Did you blow my cover?”

“No.” I can tell he’s not lying; it’s a skill that goes nicely with my own story telling. He explains, “They may have heard from their Insurers regarding you. They’ve been pattern matching, perhaps with help.”

“Whose help?” I need to know whom I get to kill.

But he shakes his head and says, “Doesn’t matter. You are one of the last of your kind. I do not think your employers expected, or desired, that you would survive this long.”

A flash of the nightmare, a death not of my choosing. Leaguers are emotionally different. But what could I have done? It’s my nature to go too far.

“Thank you.” I touch his arm. “I have missed you. Do you want me to stay with you now?”

But the Ambassador leads me to his door. “Warning you is as much as I can do. And much more than I’m permitted. You still have time. Save yourself.”

And then the door closes, and I’m alone in the corridor. This won’t do. I ring him on his door com. “What about your fucking wife?”

“Still dead,” he says. “Good-bye.”

Still dead? What a bullshit thing to say.

✽✽✽

I don’t have much time. I have too much time. The Ambassador has the mistaken impression that my personal survival means everything to me. Also, I have trust issues with someone who should want me dead. The Ambassador really loved his steel bitch wife the Minister, and she destroyed herself in my wake. The mission continues; I’m not going anywhere.

I try to write a last report, but questions block my way. Why did the Hegemony resist my charms? No other world was ever so cold to me. Why does their Ambassador play at helping me? Of the millions of Hegemonians, I led only him and his departed Minister into love, hate, and hurt. And if he is right, why have my employers abandoned me?

My employers. For the first time I can remember, two other questions follow, one beginning “Who…?” and the other being something about what they want. But even these vague queries give me a headache, and the thought of dying displaces other mysteries.

The Ambassador said pattern matching. So, my espionage work matches up with extinction events? Others (I in particular) should have matched that pattern in the news, though I seldom look back. But then, what is my pattern? If I failed with the Hegemony, what did success look like, somewhere else and years later? I’ve surprised myself—I have no idea.

I call up the news of worlds where I’ve been. All seems normal from the time of my visits onward. I know this much is bullshit—nothing was normal during my visits. Then, on some of the worlds and after a span of months or years, disaster strikes, abruptly and without much prelude in the news. Lots of people die. The disasters also seem normal: natural calamities, plagues, a few long-simmering conflicts. In the news, only the downward spiral of the civil war on Zanj follows directly after my work there. Seems thin for a pattern, unless, as with my missions, something is being hidden, and the League knows more than the vid feeds.

Back to more important thoughts of Leaguers coming to kill me. But the threat of death, like becoming old, boring, or alone, is not something that I can think about for long. A serious threat requires a serious distraction. I stop my report and turn to Art.

I’ll create one of my tableaux, a revenge ritual against those I cannot strike and now will never reach. I will have to use existing characters from my current mission: the crewgirl and the Imperial aide. No time for seduction and emotional captivity. I offer ridiculous sums to get their full consent to any act short of murder. Not that murder would matter, as legal retribution would probably come too late for me. I will play fair. I will do nothing unto them that will not be done unto me.

I reconfigure my room as the top of a sunny hillock. A distant flute trills like birdsong. I instruct my models carefully in their new characters. “You are young shepherds, brother and sister, twins, thirteen years old. You are innocents in the wilderness, discovering love for the first time.”

I watch them with each other, beautiful and tender, like a classical idyll. It cannot last, it must not last. The room darkens. When they are at full stride, I come at them with a switch, frustrating their rutting, hitting them in the most tender places I can reach. “Dirty filthy whores!” I am their mother, and I have found them at their new play in the fields. They know what to do next. “No, mummy. You’re the whore.”

And then they are upon me, incarnating my revenge upon myself. They take my switch, and slash at me with it, beating me down, violating me in every conventional way they can think of. I come angrily, furious that they can force my pleasure so trivially. I egg them on to truly hurt me, humiliate me. Atonal music and psychotropic light sequences encourage their brutalities. They spend themselves physically upon me, losing themselves and their characters. Then they become quiet, again conscious of their own mercenary shame.

I go after them again. I remind myself not to kill them—they are not plausible targets, my real targets aren’t here. My frustration is exquisite. Senses exhausted, I and they are beyond conventional pleasures now. I make them do things to each other. Impossible things that they can never even speak of to apologize for, absolutely no absolution. “Please,” says the boy, “mother, stop.” But I do not stop.

“Clean up your mess!” In vials, on swabs, with kerchiefs, they collect for me what I need from each of them. I have collected more subtly from all the others, under my nails, on my clothes, inside my cunt.

When finally they are exhausted beyond stims and switch, I call for someone to remove my toys. And then I begin to paint. I use all of the bodily fluids and tissue samples I have gathered on the ship. I mutate the tissues so they will grow to monstrous tumors, sculpted to my design. Chaotic in form, my art hangs by a representational fingernail, for those with the sense to see, feel, taste, smell. Everyone is there: the girl and the aide and the Consul and the Leaguer and the Ambassador and everywhere me, me, me. One last scream against them all. In this, I will survive. If only they could hear me on Mars.

I sleep. I dream. In dreams I can’t remember whom I’m for or against anymore. It doesn’t matter. I’m against the Empire, against the League, against myself, against everyone always.

While I dream, they come for me. No cabin door can stop a Leaguer. I asked the Captain for extra security, but what is a commercial ship captain against the League?

I wake up long enough to be slapped. “Border Crosser,” the Leaguer hisses. “I will smear your flawed brain in front of your mediocre eyes, then sign my name to your corpse.”

Damn, that sounds like something I might say. Kudos.

And then I’m out again.

✽✽✽

There was once a little girl named robynne who loved her mommy and daddy and they loved their little girl and the world was a beautiful place and then it was like a switch being thrown and the world is a monster and mommy and daddy are monsters and I am a monster but it’s better to be with monsters than to be alone

✽✽✽

Oh oh. What a way to begin the day. Someone is torturing me again. Actually, torture is too artistic a term for this first stage. Boy Toy of the League is just beating the piss out of me. I’m definitely against the League today, Wednesday or not.

The cabin appears to be set up for this sport. Little rainbows play off the prismed surfaces of Leaguer-skin-toned devices, while other instruments of flesh-rending metal seem suspended in light. I should’ve known that these creeps would bring their own works wherever they went; some of their trafficking is for torture and snuff porn. Not for the first time, I wonder if I’m being filmed. That would make it all OK, if I were the director; I know so many people who’d enjoy this work. But I’m not in control.

The air already smells of a range of human effluvia (mine) plus some of their delicate sweat. So far, I have a few broken bones and a few patches of flayed skin. Some deeper cuts—is that my ulna showing? No amputations yet, so we haven’t gone to stage two. No truth drugs, which confirms that he knows not to bother with those. They’ve left my compad unmolested on my left hand. Strange, because my reports are encrypted there.

“What is your name?” A blow follows; I hear it before I feel it. “Who do you work for?” Wham, pain. “Blah blah blah.” Smack smack, hurt hurt.

Scream. Spit blood. Scream. I cry and shriek because it seems like the thing to do. I don’t know what answers he wants anyway. I could be a cold quiet bitch about it, but only Mother ever fully appreciated that persona. It helps that I have sincere motivation. (Please!) This is nothing like my last tableau. Again, as interesting as this pain is, I do not control it, and that is truly excruciating. (God please!) Sometimes a guy will actually stop when I cry and shriek. (Ohgodohgodplease!)

I wish he would stop now.

Amputation time. He grips one of the lovely long fingers of my left hand with tongs that will cut and rip. The tongs’ primitive dark metal stands out against his skin. “Who do you work for?” I shake my head. He rips off a finger. A finger’s worth of blood shoots out. A tendon dangles. My body convulses. Funny how the inner animal reacts not only to the pain, but to the loss of the finger, even though all flesh is replaceable. Maybe not so funny—my dissociation is failing me. Time to go to my own stage two and completely check out. Not real, not real, go to sleep little girl.

But they must have given me something to keep me conscious and unpleasantly present. He cauterizes the wound. Keeping me alive, too, for now. He goes on to the next finger. “Who do you work for?”

If only I could show him what I can do with a blade. Not going to happen. Torture is a time game, but what am I waiting for? No one is coming. The hook I set in the Consul has failed, the Ambassador is done with me. Even through my fog of dissociation, this is… difficult. Everyone breaks eventually, why not break now?

It’s not the question about my employers that holds me back. It’s that through the animal pain, I’m so fucking angry, and if this is my last experience, it’s all going to be about me. For as long as I can stand it.

In five eternities, he finishes with the left hand. He looks to my right hand (my right hand!) and then says, “No, something else first.”

An assistant brings forward one of my paintings. An original. Shit, I’ve shown my softness, and Boy Toy understood better than I thought about my art, or his Insurers put together the pattern of Countess and artist. He points at the painting. “What is your birth name?”

Unlike my stupid hands, my art isn’t replaceable. I don’t hesitate. “I was Robynne Owen.” Stupid. It won’t work.

“Good. Of the Mars Owens. We knew that, of course. Now, who do you work for?”

Who am I for today? Not the League. “The Empire… the New Systems.”

Another smack of hurt. “We don’t care about who you’d fuck today, Border Crosser. Who pays you all that money? Who tells you where to go?”

“I don’t know.” He aims the gun again. “They were on Earth, at the City hospital.”

“When was that?”

They want me to talk? Fine. I won’t remain silent like the wimp from Galilee. I’ll condemn myself as the only worthy judge. I’ll tell all, though my mouth will strain to form the words. Still playing the time game, even if all I play for is the privilege of drawing another ragged breath.

I speak in the rushed, reedy whisper of my Catholic ancestors in the confessional. As with automatic writing, I’m surprised by my own atonal words. I tell him about all about the Robynne of ten Earth years ago and her family. I stop my bio-glossolalia in mid-stream, jolted to attention as the Leaguer pulls the trigger and vaporizes the corner of the picture’s frame. “Focus, please. We know about your parents. More about your employers.”

Focus hurt, but I find the words he wants. “They told me the job’s pay. I said, ‘Fuck the trust fund. When do I start?’ I had some jobs before. I managed to avoid doing much work and to sabotage the businesses for kicks.” I’m remembering more as I go along, like mist lifting on an undiscovered landscape. “They knew about those other jobs. This job would be different. They explained I would enjoy my work—I was a natural at it. I didn’t like the sound of that. I said ‘A natural what? Art whore? My various diagnoses are just political. I’m who I choose to be.’”

I shudder, chilled by recollection and loss of blood. “They laughed. Yes, they agreed, I am who I choose to be. More than anyone else, I am.”

The Leaguer seems calm, almost gentle, the good inquisitor. “What was your mission?”

“I left Earth. That was good. They placed me on certain worlds and in certain situations that required close observation. I used any means necessary to obtain detailed intelligence on these situations. I had complete discretion in forming alliances to obtain information. I reported to them what I found.”

I breathe in unsteady steps, savoring the air despite everything. He asks, “Where did you go?”

“Many worlds.” My past assignments are a blur, mixed with my tableaus in life and on canvas.

“Specifics, my dear,” he says. “Names.”

I give him all the names I can remember, mixing them with bloody spittle. I went where I was told, but once there I did what I wanted. “I was on Ganga, before the fall. I painted there with the pigments of liquefied corpses. I contributed several gallons to the paint supply—”

Boy Toy interrupts. “And all these worlds—you conspired to destroy them.”

“I didn’t destroy any worlds or peoples.” But I’d like to destroy yours. “It was someone else. I just wrote reports.”

He seems uninterested in my denial. “Were you ever assigned to Earth?”

I consider lying; he may not like my answer. “No.” He nods; he already suspected the truth. I have never liked Earth. On Earth, they remember Robynne and will not let me be the new shining being I’ve created.

“Your assignment after Ganga?” he asks, a touch of impatience in his voice, like a horse close to the stable.

“Zanj, the many worlds in one.” The urban world of Zanj is still polycultural—harder to get bored. A wonderful girl, dark-eyed and painfully thin, lived with me there. Sometimes I cross paths with others I suspect of working on the same side, but with this girl, I knew it. But one day the girl was gone. That was OK, because I’d begun to feel happy, which is a very empty feeling. I would’ve had to move soon anyway.

Only now I know where the girl went. “You killed her.”

“Who? Another Border Crosser? We killed many of you on Zanj. You must have been busy there.”

I throw the remainder of my body against my restraints. “Death, death, death!”

A bolt of a translucent fist flashes into my solar plexus. Boy Toy smiles. “I think we’ve bargained enough.” He re-aims his pistol at my painting. “The names of your employers. Now.”

I asked them in the hospital, who are you? “They said, ‘We’re the ones who pay the bills.’ That’s all. I don’t know anything else, please.”

“Not good enough,” he says.

I nod to the compad still adhering to my maimed left hand. My last secret. “I’ll give you my reports.”

The Leaguer laughs, high and mech-like, his ribs hardly moving. “No one gives a fuck about your inane reports, Border Crosser.”

He vaporizes the painting. I scream, and all of me screams with me.

My mind squeezes down on a thought hard as diamond. If I somehow survive, I will never again be ignorant of my bill-paying employers’ identity.

The Leaguer goes through painting after painting, burning, crushing, destroying. I will his death at him, promise everything, threaten vainly, and he doesn’t stop. I ask him to fuck me now, and he hesitates, but not for long. Finally, Boy Toy reaches the last painting. My most recent work. The tumors are starting to show. He will ask once more, and then kill it.

I’m really going to die.

Then, weakly, tunelessly, someone starts singing. Absurdly, to my final shame, it’s me:

Mystical rose, star of all seas,

Gateway to heavens, princess of peace!

Great, let’s add one more type of crazy to my final diagnosis.

Boy Toy shakes his head in disgust, but he only has time to say “The names of—” when the room rocks. Another explosion blows a hole in the wall and sends small pieces of metal slicing into my left leg and arm. Ouch. Hmm, beam explosions follow me around space like groupies. Whoever it is, this probably means an interstellar war. Hee hee. Cough blood. Hee.

Boy Toy sends the other Leaguers through the hole to the hallway. I hear the Consul shout something about blood and vengeance. Oh my sweet, tasty fish, hooked by this damsel in distress. There’s another explosion, then no shouts, only groans.

Escape is more dangerous for Boy Toy than staying put, so he retrieves the painting to finish it off. I should’ve known the idiot Consul wouldn’t make it in time. I have one last weapon against Boy Toy. With my mother’s sneer in my voice, I say, “I’ve won.”

This stops the vengeful Leaguer for a mere moment. In that moment, it’s not the Consul who comes to the rescue. Instead, the Hegemony Ambassador strides in with an e-pistol. Ha, got you too, little man! In one graceful motion, he shoots Boy Toy with his right hand and bows towards my tortured self with a sweep of the left. Boy Toy shatters into shards of semitransparent flesh. The Ambassador grabs my painting just before it touches the floor.

OK, so you do have fucking poetry in your soul.

“My lady, I believe it’s time for ‘exeunt omnes.’”

He is so ugly he’s beautiful. “I think I’ll just pass out instead.”

✽✽✽

I awake in another ship’s sickbay, Robynne again for now. Through the glorious painkillers (more, more, more), I can feel that I am nothing but wounds, wonderful wounds. Damn, I’m hard to kill. I enjoy the feeling of dying too much to die.

No time to dawdle—the regen treatments are underway. I command (ever so politely, I am a lady) the comp next to my bed to take a full set of photos, head to toe to destroyed left hand, and also 3-D scans of the deep wounds and tissue damage. My next artwork will be a masterpiece of personal visceral trauma.

The Ambassador hasn’t waited for my return to consciousness. He’s left me with my last painting, only slightly scuffed. He’s also left me a rose and his card. The Ambassador’s name is Henri. A nice, warm, safe name.

Henri knew not to stay. He understands. The thought thrills and appalls me. I don’t know why he helped me instead of killing me, and I don’t really care.

Henri has added to my painting. It’s an outrageous presumption. It works. In blood (his? mine?), he has drawn the outline of an apple and inscribed in it “KALLISTEI”—“to the fairest” in ancient Greek, which I naturally know. I don’t think Henri is saying that I should be the apple’s recipient—that would not be like him. If not the recipient, perhaps I am the giver. That giver has a name that is also the giver’s job.

Eris. Discord. At long last, my true name. Eris.

Meaningless chatter about the incipient League-Empire War fills my compad feeds. They call off the conference, they mass their armadas. Apparently the Floating World and the Hegemony are going to ignore their treaty obligations and sit this one out—for now. Oh well, can’t have everything.

No other messages, visitors, reports, art. The occasional rounds by the largely neo-fundamentalist staff. Silence makes me think of the past, but the past is too complex and not worth thinking about. I am a creature of the ever-bleeding now. My shouts don’t increase my painkiller allowance, but at least they make it seem like I have company.

Finally, a message comes through. My employers. Thank you for your excellent reports on the four regional players. We would like you to return to Earth. The internal political situation has grown interesting and requires your unique observation skills. TWPTB. Those Who Pay the Bills.

Right. My thoughts have a stark clarity even through the opioids. Cinderella is more at home plotting against her stepsisters than enchanted at the ball. I can handle a few new facts. Neither the Leaguers nor my employers nor anybody else gives a fuck about my reports with their trivial information wheedled out of government officials. My employers use me for the chaos and war that flow in my wake. It’s something I’ve often suspected but never thought through, because that would mean having to decide.

By doing what comes naturally, I’m doing what they desire. Who the fuck are they? What the fuck do they really want?

So there’s my choice. The urge to random perversity is nearly overwhelming—to tell my employers to suck themselves dry while I walk away into the galaxy, a free agent. But I’ve been there before. I wasn’t truly free before they found me. Then, I played a bit part on a small stage before an unappreciative audience. Now, they have placed me on a galactic stage, my own writer, director, and choreographer, to act as I will, to create living if ephemeral art. They trust me to be myself for the limited time that I can manage to survive.

Silly them.

All I know about them is what I told Boy Toy the Leaguer. Their handprints are all over my life, but the one place I’ve seen them was on Earth. They must be something old, like that world. Some of them must still be there, playing invisibly with their klepto-oligarch and theocrat toys.

The coming war with the Empire may serve as my loving retaliation against the League for my kind, for the girl on Zanj, and for me, but it is not a complete consummation. The Leaguers didn’t act alone, and they don’t account for all the Border Crossers. Henri said someone was helping them, and I recognize the style of manipulation. Trailing me and my kind, another player has been killing on planetary scale. I must save some love and revenge for this killer who drew attention to us, this player who may also work for my employers. I must get closer to this person.

My best way to find this killer and my employers is continue to do the work of Those Who Pay the Bills, and to see what hell follows with me. Their assignment may double as a death sentence, but I’m more Bathsheba than Uriah, and this should be fun.

So it’s settled. I don’t like to backtrack, but my time on Earth was long ago, too long to remember how it felt. I’ve grown up. I know what I am. I enjoy my work, and I’m damned good at it.

And if I get the chance, I’m going to find my employers and their genocidal stooge and fuck and kill and kill and fuck each one of them. Because I can. I can always change my mind.

Now, who on Earth would be against me?