The Story Of Who
Time ticked very slowly after X's big revelation, as though the world was waiting for something more shocking to happen in order to balance itself once more. It was moments like these that made me wonder whether something in me was broken. I had been having prophetic nightmares since I was a child and yet not even once had I ever expected something like to happen to me.
It made my mouth sour, this proposition of his.
I continued staring at me in hopes that somehow an answer would show itself, and he stared at me almost lazily, as though he was waiting for me to ask whether he was joking or not—it was a stare that told me he had gone through this too many times. Just how many people knew about his intentions to off our sovereign leader? Was I the only one late to the party?
I would have started laughing if I hadn't caught glimpses of his plan while sifting through the fringes of his mind. Either his mind wasn't fortified or he wanted me to see, and I wasn't one to turn down an invitation, so I made him [Show] me.
I saw myself through him, the way I leaned forward almost eagerly when his mind opened up like a blossom; the way my pupils dilated the moment I found the inner workings of it all—the little bits and baubles that made him tick. I looked so beautiful I could have kissed myself; it looked so beautiful that I would have kissed him—if I was still in my own body that is.
What sort of person would try to kill the emperor? Only a mad one. And beneath X's cool exterior, he was very much mad. I couldn't understand it after only one look—the plans he had in progress and the events he had set in motion years ago—but I had seen enough to know that he was insane.
"Tomorrow," I almost screamed when my mind snapped back into my body like a rubber band stretched too far. "That's too close."
"Why me? What happens if I don't agree?" I had never felt so disgruntled in my life. Not since I was nine and discovered how hard it was to undo a compulsion and killed a person by telling them to [Sleep].
X reached up to rub his eyes. I had gone too deep, too fast, for him not to feel the after effects of my invasion. "I wanted the most desirable—"
"Why not hire an assassin?" I cut him off to ask, but I already knew. I had seen it play out in his mind. Many simulations with many other women he had chosen for this suicidal role.
"An assassin wouldn't be able to get close enough. You would."
"You want me to seduce and kill the most powerful man in our galaxy. In only twenty-four hours."
"You've done more with less."
"You want me to be expendable." In all his plans, the seductress was either left behind or ordered to commit suicide. It wasn't the sort of mission someone came back from.
"No, not you—" He was cut off by the sound of a key turning in the lock—Matron Elsa about to barge in. "Sorry about this."
With a speed I hadn't anticipated, he slapped a pair of cuffs onto my wrists and pulled me to my feet. By the time Matron Elsa burst into the room to tell him his time was up, he was already pushing me out of the room and flashing a warrant for my arrest in her face.
I wish I could say that I had seen it coming, but he was so open that there was too much of him to take in such little time. I couldn't narrow down his intentions when every secret he had ever kept since childhood flooded my mind in an unending torrent.
He marched me out of the block in handcuffs, drawing the eyes of all the busybodies that had ever thought that we were romantically involved. I saw Joy at the fringes of the crowd, her aura ugly and dark. It was the realization that this might be the last time I would ever see her again that made me drink in everything about her. By now, she should have heard the news that Bess had been bought by her recently widowed patron. Things didn't get better than that for a scalped girl and she knew that I knew that she knew it. Somehow, she knew that it all had something to do with me and now she regretted snapping at me after Bess was ejected.
Maybe she thought I killed the Baroness and was being marched to the execution grounds. I wished that was the case. I didn't want her to have any to do with the chaos X had planned. She was too far away, and her thoughts were so convoluted, for me to pick up anything concrete. I could only clasp my hands and whisper a prayer in hopes that someone was there to listen. Please protect her.
Then she was out of sight, taking my thickening guilt with her as I openly stepped out of the Block for the first time since I became a slave. I had forgotten what it felt like to be able to go wherever I wanted without worrying that somehow someone had figured out that I was gone.
I was still thinking about Joy's horrified expression when X pushed me up the steps of his car. I would have lost my footing and crashed to the ground if he hadn't been holding onto me so tightly.
Keep it together, Who. I told myself that it was the sensation of being outside that was making me trio myself, but honestly, it was the excitement—the terror. I felt like I was going to lose my.
It was the damn emperor for god's sake. How in hell was I going to pull this off?
X pushed me into the seat and shut the door before sitting beside me. "I'm sorry," he said, as the windows rolled up and tinted themselves, "but you must understand that time is of the essence."
"Are you forcing me to do this?" Another question I already knew the answer to.
"No, you can refuse if you wish to." He looked out the window as the steps folded into the body of the car and the engine revved. "You can only be held for questioning for seventy-two hours. After that time passes, someone will return you to the Block."
Someone, not you. He wasn't planning on making it out alive.
I shut my eyes and tried to weigh out the losses and gains. I ignored the way my blood thrummed at the thought about it logically, like a normal person would. King Slayer. Did I want that to be what the historians condensed my existence down into?
Hell yes. It was much better than "most desirable woman"; much better than the ordinary I would have lived if I had escaped the Block, always looking over my shoulder.
But you would be alive. Isn't that the most important thing, Who? Have you forgotten the promise? Father is looking for you.
"We have to go back."
"I left my pendant behind," I told him, unable to phrase my panic into words. "I have to get it."
"I can get it for you."
"You won't know where it is—"
"Renshaw! You don't understand. If I'm dying tomorrow, I want it with me when it happens."
He let out a slow, even breath. "So you agree."
I gritted my teeth and looked away. "I'm aware of the alternative."
For the sake of this crazy plan of his, X wasn't beneath sacrificing himself. If I didn't agree, he would be the one who went to seduce the emperor. I didn't doubt that he would, he had one of the prettiest faces I had ever seen. He would be the King Slayer and he wouldn't even live to tell the tale because he never had any plans to escape.
Him dying, that was what I was truly afraid of, because I had lied when I said I couldn't remember him.
"Tell me what it looks like." He placed his hand over mine. "I promise to get it to you."
I projected the image of my father's pendant into his mind, as well as the little nook it was safely tucked away in. "It's the only piece of my family I have left," I told him.
"I don't have any family left."
"They all died in the attack?"
"No. The Governing Society decided that soldiers should only be attached to the Emperor. They... didn't need to be distracted by something as miniscule as family."
"I'm not saying that that's what happened to your fam—" he started to say. There must have been something in my expression that made his stop. Horror, maybe. Whatever it was, I was grateful that it stopped more words from coming out of his mouth.
I tried to bury the feeling, bury it deep down where I would never remember it, buried underneath the memories of the person I became at midnight. "You said something about freedom? You should know that my contract is priced at thirteen million credits. I am the most desirable woman because I am the most expensive slave. It has nothing to do with my beautiful face."
"There's a bounty on the Emperor's head. He has offended too many people to live any longer." X narrowed his eyes at a billboard that had my face plastered on it. "If we don't do it. Someone else will."
"Great, we have competition. And you expect me to succeed after a few minutes' briefing." I tried not to sound annoyed. At least now I understood why he had waited until the last minute to tell me all this and why he had come to me so many times without even saying a word. He had been trying to throw off the scent of anyone who suspected what he was up to. How many people would believe that he was enlisting the help of an entertainer to kill the emperor?
At the same time, in case I refused, he wanted to be able to keep me somewhere secure—where I wouldn't be able to reveal his intentions—while he carried out the assassination. After seventy-two hours I'd be set free and what I said wouldn't matter anymore because the emperor would have already been dead—best case scenario.
I must admit that he thought everything through. Truly a man after my own heart.
"You've been trained as a soldier," he pointed out.
"Years ago. I can barely remember," I lied, and he caught it. Watching his eye twitch filled me with enough glee that I decided to forgive him for roping me into this so suddenly. "How much is the bounty?"
"Twenty million." Again, there must have been something about my expression that made him add, "You're the one doing all the work. It's only fair that you get most of it if we succeed."
If we succeed. Those were the keywords, but all I focused on was the little smile that his lips formed when he said "succeed".
"What do you need me to do?"
TWENTY FOUR HOURS TO ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Instead of dropping us off at the station, X's car doubled back and stopped at the gate of one of the residential districts. In the time that it had taken for us to arrive, he had briefed me on the plan and given me a detailed analysis of his powers.
Apparently, me agreeing to help him boosted the plan's chances of success by twenty percent. Why? Because success revolved around my ability to lie without lying.
Even when I explained that it only worked because I had programmed my mind to compartmentalize my midnights as belonging to a separate person, he said it didn't matter. The plan was taking place at midnight.
He took the cuffs off my wrists and tossed me a veil. "Wear this. You're about to meet the rest of the team."
"Why? Are you the only one worthy of seeing my face?"
"Nikolai and Lazlo have to be able to deny knowing you without the emperor's lie detectors being able to detect any discrepancies."
I still don't know why X had decided to abandon a job by the emperor's side just to kill him for peanuts. No matter how many times I took a look into his eyes, I just couldn't find it. It wasn't because of anger or because his family was murdered. If anything, he seemed to be doing it just because.
"Then shouldn't I also wear a voice modulator and a shapeless robe?"
He stared at me blankly. "They wouldn't be part of the team if they couldn't tell a decent lie."
Alright then. I put on the veil.
It seems like this is really happening.