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A Day to Remember
[[Continued from Through the Storm]]

She woke several times that night, panicked in the dark, echoes of its's me, it's me in her ears. Her heart beat erratic until the feeling washed out with consciousness. It wasn't a restful night. By the time fingers of pale light pressed a tentative entry through her windows she unfurled from her blankets and padded into the kitchen on stinging feet to gulp down a glass of water. Sweat slicked the back of her neck, and she still had that headache. Her mood this morning was still. Like a wound still healing, she didn't delve too deep, just coasted around it. Washed. Dressed. Still didn't unpack.

Two days ago she hadn't thought this far ahead, focused solely on answering her father's message and untangling all that festering conflict. Her promises beyond that had been peripheral, the simplest way to secure her flight to Moscow unchallenged. She'd yet to truly consider what registering meant for her future. Not that she could have stopped her family from submitting the paperwork. The secret was already out there; she might as well make use of it.

She took a car into the heart of the city, watching expressionlessly out the window as city-life blurred by. The traffic slowed the closer they crawled to Moscow's heart; Natalie lifted the sleeve of her blouse to check the time, but didn't seem in any hurry to see the bars of the cage snap shut. Perhaps she was being pessimistic. But she could have done this a thousand times in a thousand lives, each time with cold acceptance and little passion. In the distance the Kremlin's red towers thrust from its protective wall like spears, still across the dazzling river. The building itself was brilliant white, and for some reason that settled in her chest like it meant something she couldn't quite grasp.

By the time she was able to get out of the car, her body remembered all last night's aches. She forced herself to walk without a limp, though caught at a wrong angle the pain was enough to force a grimace. So her pace was careful, and the purposeful measure of it did not push her to rush. The driver had directed her where to go when he opened the door for her exit, and for the briefest moment she had the urge to explore beyond the confines of the path before her. She pressed her hand against the ancient stone, but after a moment's stillness denied herself the temptation. It was only delaying the inevitable.

She'd grown up with wealth, but this outweighed anything they'd ever had at home. Government officials hastened to their business, inured to the grandness, but Natalie did pause to draw in her surroundings before giving her name. No fanfare. No escort. Though she was careful to remember that here she was a Northbrook; there was no space for Grey, and it would not do to remind anyone of her father.

After various security measures, she was shown into a room to wait.
After a hurried lunch, Nikolai was en route to a meeting with DII officials when a representative from the office of DVII intercepted them. A hundred things were on his mind, but he waved the man forward. He still awaited the proposal from Evelyn. Then there was infrastructure, funding, defense, and not the least of which, channelers, Atharim and Regus were always in the back of his mind. Add in the prospect of being attacked by an Ijiraq at almost any moment, and Nikolai allowed only the most important of situations to cross his attention. That Daniel, the aid to the under-Patron of DVII sought a moment of his time, and Nikolai allowed it.

The Northbrooks were loyal caretakers of the Dominance of Western Europe. Long-time allies, and Nikolai welcomed the inquiry Daniel brought forward. Along with the request was a file on the registration of Edward's granddaughter as a channeler. His mind spun with the possibilities. She could be used as a grand example of what the potential for power could be among the Dominance leadership. Nikolai nodded and told Daniel to arrange some time with Viktor, his Chief of Staff, to speak with Ms. Northbrook.

it didn't escape his attention, however, that the granddaughter in question was the child of a convicted terrorist. He did not anticipate any danger. She passed security checks to gain admittance to the Kremlin, but his experiences with Evelyn relayed that he would be completely ignorant if she channeled in his presence until it was too late. He contemplated asking Evelyn to attend, but drafting her proposal was more important than meeting the granddaughter of a Patron, even if that Patron was Edward Northbrook.

Several hours later, two Barrier Preator agents were admitted to the meeting room. Nikolai followed with Alric at his side and an aid in tow. His gaze fell to the young woman waiting within. She was pretty, with a doll's face and long silken hair. There was little resemblance to Edward, except pale, striking eyes.
"Ms. Northbrook,"
he began and offered to shake her hand. "I hope Eleanor is well."
He vaguely recalled Edward's daughter, but her commitment to philanthropy and humanitarian aid was something he had praised in the past. His bearing was easy, welcoming, and trustworthy. Every facet of his appearance was precise, as was the man himself, almost effortlessly so.

"I saw that you registered. Well done for you. The Custody will call on your assistance when the time comes. You could serve many with your gifts. Tell me now, what can I do for you?"
She waited patiently. Not that there was another option. Her disinterested gaze took in the decor a thousand times before a buzz from the depths of her purse drew her attention. She pulled out the cheap smartphone -- a new one, since apparently she had developed a habit for losing them, fully expecting it to be Jared with news. The number flashed unknown, though, and when she pressed it to her ear a cloud of deafening static choked from the speaker. "...Natalie?..."
A confusion of words followed, before the line fell dead mid-sentence. Coldness touched her spine, spreading out to wrap the pit of her stomach. She didn't recognise the distorted voice, but for a moment her mind whispered a disturbing what if.

In the silence that followed she recomposed herself, staring down at the phone in her lap until the glow of it faded. Frowning.

Time passed before the door opened.

Natalie had expected her visit to be managed by a bureaucrat, but if the procession of individuals who streamed into the room surprised her she did not show it.

She stood to shake Nikolai's hand, making no pretence of her study. "She is well. Busy, as always. And my grandfather is nothing if not traditional; he thought it important that I present myself in person."
There was a message in it of course; that the Northbrooks chose not to hide a channeler, even though they could. More than that, rather than keep her safely hoarded away in the heart of their own seat of power, they sent her here openly and in trust. Though maybe they didn't quite count on the wildcard of Natalie's caustic nature in smoothing this reaffirmation of loyalty. Her face was still as she processed her thoughts.

She'd agreed easily to the registration, much to her mother's blatant shock at the family's carefully planned intervention. And she had agreed to fly to Moscow because it suited her purposes at the time. But she'd never agreed to do this blindly.

Her father had never liked this man.

It settled like a stone in her gut, the realisation. Alistair had allowed his family to rip apart at the seams chasing that cause, and she never even knew why. Confronted with the reality of Brandon's existence, she was for a moment caught by the great heave of emotion in her chest. What did you do? What did you do that made him hate you so? Sometimes she could still smell the paper in her father's office burning, the edges curling and crisping in her hands as the pictures and words blackened away. A blur of memory. Action without thinking. It remained a mystery.

And there were no answers revealed in the affability of the man before her.

Her thoughts reflected, calculating. She remained aloof; polite, but superficial.

Alistair had never been the type enamoured of small children. He did not kiss small toes or chase after squealing laughter. Natalie recalled how Isobel had been frightened of his stark mannerisms and cool distance, particularly on those seldom nights he tucked them up into bed with the sweeping darkness of bloody and brutal fairytales. Natalie luxuriated in their savagery, their strangeness, but most of all in those quiet moments when their father really saw them. Looking at Brandon now suddenly reminded her of those dusty memories. Koschei the Deathless. A Russian tale. He'd been priming them even then; not to follow heedlessly, to always question authority. To suspect it.

But Natalie would make up her own mind.

Brandon was perfectly cordial, broaching on friendly; a clear indication that he did not hold her to account for her father's transgressions. It would be so easy to play the part her family briefed her for, to let the words wash over her and paint whatever mask she most thought he would care to see. She was perfectly capable of that; could even rationalise that in the long run it would be to her benefit to make this meeting both easy and forgettable. She could murmur rote words. Loyalty and pride and gratitude. Familial duty fulfilled, until it later returned to yank on the leash she so docilely let circle her neck.

But something in his assumption was like nails on a chalkboard. The Custody will call when the time comes? The arrogance was to be expected. Her family had served since the ASU'S inception, so of course her compliance was both assumed and celebrated -- it was why she was even here. But it sounded too much like the bestowal of a favour to make her truly comfortable with the implication. It was a knee-jerk reaction. Natalie needed something on which to hang the mantle of respect; she needed more than formal platitudes and a firm handshake. Greatest power in the world or not.

There was an infinitesimal shift in her bearing, like a sleeping creature roused. As angelic as she appeared, her eyes had the truth of it; she was composed of ice and steel.

"I was in Africa until very recently, teaching in Masiaka, a village some miles south of Freetown. On the morning the conflicts began, one of my students bludgeoned his best friend to the brink of death -- because his friend was of the Mende tribe, and he believed he and his Temne people had been oppressed. Such an arbitrary difference between them, from the outside looking in. Two children. Ten years old. Such a tragic and avoidable outcome.

"Your city is beautiful, there's no denying; the apex of the modern world. And yet last night I found myself in an alley torn apart by a channeler forced to defend himself. The emergency services arrived quickly, but are you aware it's considered procedural for your police to tranquillise suspected channelers? Like my student, the man in question had also been beaten to within an inch of his life -- because of what he is, so I gather. He could barely lift his head, and yet they treated him with a contemptuous lack of dignity, like he were no more than a vicious animal. He needed medical attention, not sedation. Any other man would have received it.

"Tell me, is this a part of the grand empire you wish to build? Is this how we are to be treated until we are understood?

"Answer that, and then I'll decide if you may call on me 'when the time comes'."

There was no heat in her words, no apparent investment. Beyond the obvious. This gift they shared shattered the world and made it anew; she wanted insight into that vision. What were other channelers to Nikolai Brandon? The revelation of their existence was still raw. People were scared. This power was dangerous, she of all people understood that, but it was not the necessary changes to laws and legislation she questioned. It was more fundamental than that.

Africa tore itself apart over its differences. She didn't expect to see such division in the heart of the CCD, and yet all she saw were the cracks -- and the self-proclaimed Ascendancy staring down upon it all.

Natalie's stare was solid. Unblinking. But afterwards the flicker of a smirk ghosted her lips; the closest thing she offered to a smile. The irony of questioning his authority only to ask a favour. But he had asked and it stoked a desire she hadn't even come here for. "Though yes, if you're still inclined, there is something you can help me with. Are you aware one of Jacques Danjou's men is missing? He was arrested last night, but he was not processed at the police station. In fact I cannot find any trace of him."
Natalie was entwined with Danjou. The thought narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. Her comparison of his magnificent city to the darkness of that continent churned defiant heat in his chest. Only incredible experience froze his expression to deathly stillness. As her story clicked forward, he was the patient father absorbing her displeasure.

Of course he allowed the containment of channeler threats by any means necessary. He contemplated a demonstration of what could be accomplished with a thought, but flies were won with honey, not vinegar. She would find a smile inappropriate considering the morbidity of the topic at hand. Instead, he nodded carefully, and held her gaze with a gentle, but firm one of his own.

They came to specifics, and she inquired about Danjou's man. He knew the exact location of the individual she described. Yet she did not mention the lack of whereabouts regarding Durante. Just thinking of the man made him regret leaving him alive when they all encountered one another in Siberia. Yet Aria vouched for him, and as Nikolai owed his life twice-over to Aria, Nox would receive two equal chances in exchange. Thus he continued to live, but perhaps he could serve a more useful purpose in the Facility. Hopefully Dr. Weston made the discoveries currently eluding her.

Natalie did not mention him, though. The two were tethered, however - Nox and Danjou's man. Both found together. Both associated with the same crime, if memory served him right. The transfer orders to the Facility had been signed with Nikolai's own blood, of course, but he did not recall the exact details of their capture. Other, slightly more important matters occupied his time today. Things like the draft Evelyn was composing at that very moment.

That Natalie did not mention Nox suggested one of two things. She was ignorant of his capture or she cared more for Danjou's man. Studying the arctic pierce of her gaze, Nikolai wagered the latter.

She mistrusted him. He made certain to keep his tone level, but where Natalie cloaked herself in ice, Nikolai was accustomed to a cold existance. "You're concerned about a friend? I can alleviate your worry by informing you that Danjou and I have an agreement. Nothing would happen to one of his men that he does not approve."
Nikolai nodded.

Answering her prior interrogation was easier. He shrugged in the aptness of her good point. "A criminal holding a gun must be rendered neutral, whether he is innocently holding a weapon or intending to use it at all. Non-lethal means of force have been used by police for as long as guns have existed, with lethal means reserved for only life-threatening situations. The danger with channelers, as you are aware, is so long they are conscious, they pose a threat. Worse, they wield a gun that is invisible to the naked eye. Non-lethal means are preferred to lethal ones, yes? How would you recommend the situation have been handled in this case?"

Oh, well that's okay then. The sarcasm armed her tongue but the words never left it. Brandon's cool stoicism did not suggest he would appreciatively receive her sharper side. Not that he did not deserve it. His words were wrapped in politic, the kind Edward used to calm the crowds demanding answers outside Westminster. Hollow words that promised much and delivered little the moment you unpicked their stitching to peer within. Just a pretty package.

"There's no school in Masiaka now.

"At the refinery the survivors ran to, Danjou took a risk. To get coverage and thus aid for Sierra Leone's plight, I think, and I suppose he was successful in that. But it came at a great cost; one he knew might need to be paid.

"There's no school in Masiaka now because there are no children."

They were talking about a man who allowed his own hand severed from his wrist because it served his purpose at the time. Reassured was the last thing she felt. Not just because she knew something of the sacrifices Jacques would make chasing the greater good, but because no man was above the law, and no accord could prevent justice. That Danjou would even have a say suggested a context she was unaware of. Though she could hazard a guess. And it chilled her.

He knew something.

No. He knew more than something; he knew where Jay was. And her primary concern was no longer the charges railed against him; it was no longer bail and lawyers and smoothing over a mess before it had a chance to escalate. It was a confessed channeling murderer caught between two powerful men.

It was what that smoke-screen covered. It was what that smoke-screen justified.

Was Jay even a registered citizen of the CCD?

But she doubted Brandon was going to tell her any more than he already had, and she had no leverage here to force more willing answers from his lips. At least no leverage she was willing to use, though Lawrence Monday's face did hover in the back of her mind. Threatening a scandal would only make an enemy though; one she was not yet prepared to make.

"It would reassure me more to know where he is."
There was more intensity to that than she had intended. More than she could explain or justify beyond qualifications of 'because he saved my life', which seemed poor reasoning considering he had been paid to do it. It stilled her for a moment, distance creeping in like fog on the horizon. She didn't care what Brandon thought, and if he truly had nothing to hide she was not asking for the earth. But it did concern her how vehemently she chased this.

Like if she could fix this it made amends for past failures.

"Forgive me, I hope you don't mind if I sit. I'm sure you've surmised by now that I've had a tumultuous night."
She lowered back down without awaiting permission, and with only the barest hint of a wince. Her foot did throb, but it was not unbearable. The weakness was calculated as much as it was for comfort. Easing the pressure, she slid her legs into a crossed position. Hands neatly entwined on her lap. They were at an impasse. He stood with the tolerance of a patient parent, expression neutral, and she had no way to gauge the thoughts within. Her gaze rose, the differentiation in height underlined and the confrontation diminished. Because even if they crossed swords, she was not looking for war.

"I'll tell you how I did handle the situation. I questioned the necessity of sedation and your men reluctantly stayed their hand. Let me remind you once more, he was severely injured at the time; he did not fight back. The paramedics treated him without issue and without threat. The last I saw, he was loaded into an ambulance on route to the hospital."

One word had rung clearer than the rest as Brandon expertly twisted the question against her. Criminal. Because she had mentioned nothing of that, at least pertaining to Nox's circumstances when he was found. It confirmed her suspicion that Brandon did know more than he was saying, but did nothing to ease her worries. Moscow was a large city, and she doubted he was made aware of every arrest. Even if he kept himself apprised on the activities of his more delinquent channeling citizens -- and she imagined he must -- it was unlikely most found his attention as quickly as the next day. Unless they were something significant.

Still, she did not call him up on it.

"So you sedate them, these criminals. And then what? Are they any less dangerous when they come round? Or perhaps they simply do not come round.

"Consider then that we are all loaded guns, and perhaps it would be prudent to drug and confine us all before we present a problem? Since man and weapon cannot be parted, and the potential lies in all of us. Though I understand there are those who feel that way already, and do not share your preference for non-lethal methods. I'd have thought you'd be rather more concerned about the fact a channeler was attacked openly on your streets."

She stopped, biting back the urge to continue in that sharp vein before the blade was turned back at her. He wouldn't care to hear himself criticised. Who would? But he asked, and she'd never been inclined to sugarcoat the truth. Instead she chose a less hostile path.

"I am not an enemy of necessity. Sometimes the path we must take is hard, and ugly. That's not my qualm here; do not misunderstand me in this. I was talking about prejudice and the readiness of your men to act upon it, not the method itself. Criminal or not, at the time he posed no threat."

Her gaze flickered momentarily to the man flanking Brandon's side. Because she doubted he had darts up his sleeve to subdue her should she prove a danger. Not that she could tell, of course, but it didn't take much guesswork to surmise that he had not been selected purely for his physique, or that meetings with young women usually required such protection even in these troubled times.

"We're not all blind to the gun, though. If your friend there had this whole room filled with shining threads, ready to detain me should I prove it necessary, am I right to think you would know? Could you stop it, too? If you chose?"

She didn't know the answer to that, but he would. The hint of a smile hovered again, but never took form. She tipped her shoulders instead, alleviating herself of the burden of concern. Ultimately these were not her problems. "We're wildcards. To each other as well as those to whom we are a mystery. You could snap my neck as soon as blink, I would warrant -- though I trust you not to do it. But the rest of us haven't had forty-odd years to learn this power. For us it's a Sickness that steals our children. It's the fear of men and women who cannot be held by cells and prisons. Who can decimate buildings with no more than an apparent thought, and bring our society to its knees in the process. And for those of us born with it? It's an uncontrolled instinct. Something unknown and frightening and sometimes dangerous -- both to us, and to those around us.

"Let that fear fester and a divide will grow.

"Let the people fear, and they will act upon it. Let them act upon it and where does the chaos end? People do stupid things when they're afraid. Channelers and non-channelers alike.

"Education is a greater tool than fear. Its very antithesis. I would have started there."

Hardly a revelation, really. Natalie was not a politician or a soldier. She did not yearn for power, or even for the great accolades her mother garnered in her humanitarian work. She was not a leader, nor even the greatest bastion for sound morals. She offered nothing but an unshy opinion and the rash confidence of one unafraid to speak it, even if it ended up burning her in the process. Ideological differences aside, he would hardly be swayed by a few pretty words. Likely he already twisted it to his own justifications and cast aside the pieces that did not fit. And she didn't care. She wasn't here to convince him. Doubtless he was not here to be convinced either.

Edited by Natalie Grey, Jan 25 2018, 10:17 AM.
Irritation skittered like rats behind the intensity of his gaze, but he allowed her the time to speak. And speak she did. Her oration was quite smooth, he thought. The inclusion of her stories of children evoked proper emotion. She administered a call to action to rectify the wrongs she witnessed. As far as Nikolai was aware, she had no formal training yet she was a natural politician. He might have smiled. He did not.

She would not be reassured to learn the location of Danjou's man. Nikolai would spare her the worry. Either he would survive the ordeal or he would not. Nik sincerely hoped he would. To have a special forces-trained soldier wielding the power at his command thrummed a pulse of excitement through his veins. He nodded and let Natalie continue.

Of course, he could not help but compare her to Edward. Perhaps her political acumen was learned from her grandfather, but Nikolai wagered it was in her blood. She was talented. And a channeler, she was another skilled tool to collect.

When she came to a natural pause, Nik crossed his hands on the table between them and thought how best to approach her concerns. She was wound tight despite the coolness slicking her voice with ice. Tumultuous night, indeed, and a channeler. How much could she perform? Perhaps he should request Evelyn to inquire. Not a bad idea, but not yet. Natalie was not ready for such probing.

"I appreciate your concern. Perhaps there is something that can be done about it. You may not be aware, but a we are currently host to a delegation from the United States. One of their number, Representative Avalon,"

the ghost of amusement touched his lips, "prioritizes channeler rights. I've requested a proposal that our nations could consider adopting. Would you be interested in assisting her as she drafts the outline? You have clear experience, passion, and ideas for improvement. The fear you describe is fear of the unknown. As more channelers work in the light serving to the goodness of all, fear will subside. You are a natural addition to the cause."

In fact, the more he thought of the idea, he found the pairing to be perfect.

He focused on the wrong concern, but she did not correct him. Instead she was quiet, absorbing his response. Nothing moved him, though she had not expected that. He loomed like a mountain, immovable and enduring as the ancient stone of the Kremlin, but not the sort she would think to lean on for comfort or shelter.

He almost smiled. It was about as close as he'd come to a semblance of real emotion the entire time she'd been here, and even then it had the tangibility of shadow. Still, it did not much matter what she made of the man; she had a measure of him, even if she could not read the unshifting planes of his expression. She was a piece to be nudged on a board; valuable for her blood, and for the light coursing through her veins.

The compliments washed over her unexamined, an unnecessary balm if he thought to appeal to her pride. It made no difference. The rest she mulled over, unphased by the press of silence as she did so. The goodness of all. In better company she might have rolled her eyes at that. It all sounded terribly noble, but it coaxed no flaming heart in Natalie's chest. In fact it was barely a consideration at all. She had not exactly gone to Africa chasing worthy causes, just run as far as her legs would take her, away from the prison of her stifling reality at the time.

It also did not escape her that Brandon denied her the one thing she asked for, just brushed it casually aside; a dismissal not likely to be forgotten, but she accepted there was no scope for bargaining in this. It would be a waste of breath.

In truth? She didn't want this. Not really.

But it wasn't her desires she considered.

It would appease her mother and please her grandfather, and give her a much needed space to breathe without the tie of a proper commitment. Access to resources, perhaps, and maybe an ally. America and the CCD had never seen eye to eye, an unruly dissent that had of course touched her own life. Perhaps it would be an opportunity to dig out the answers she wanted, whether they were barred from her or not.

But more than any of that, it was something to do; a focus, a touchstone, a distraction in the dead dark, when other thoughts spilled in like ghosts with feathery fingers.

She tipped her shoulder. "I am amenable to that."
Her voice changed.

Before, she spoke at length about idealism and truth with a realistic, if pessimistic, view of the world. Nikolai's offer apparently stilled her tongue. And what a silvered, sharp instrument that was. There was something about Natalie that reminded him of Evelyn, and with that thought, the gears of an idea began to turn.

Beautiful, witty, smart, Natalie could be an incredible tool to wield before the public. Could her icy stare be thawed? The challenge loomed. Nikolai leaned back in his seat and regarded her. Why the change in her demeanor? How trustworthy was she after all?

There was one way to find out. Tell her exactly what she wanted to know and wait for the reaction.

"Danjou's man,"
he began, although honestly he couldn't recall the individual name, "is in a secure army facility some forty stories underground being conditioned to channel with all the potential he has in him. If he survives the training, he'll be one of the most valuable channelers on earth, and he will work for me. Does that reassure you?"
He laced his fingers across his lap and watched for a reaction.

"Are you still amenable to my proposal?"
Agreement on the table, she expected the meeting to draw to a close. Instead she found herself blinking a measure of surprise at what he said next, the final words bitten out hard, and with all the venom of a striking snake. Her insides cooled. Something ancient stirred in her chest, as half remembered as the touch of Jay's hand when she woke in the hospital. It blurred her thoughts with something she could not fully grasp but was painful to examine. And somehow inevitable.

The tension froze tightness in her chest; her expression remained still, falling back into old mechanisms of control. Any hint of surprise was fleeting. She focused on the presented facts instead. A facility forty stories underground? No information was offered freely; this was not a gift, and yet she was not sure she could exactly discern why he chose now to offer it. Assuming it was true and not a test of her reactions. Certainly he watched her closely.

He had every reason to.

It felt real, though, and when offered frankness Natalie was inclined towards the same transparency. She preferred the candour of him now, even if it set them at odds. "I think you know it won't. You speak of channeler rights in one breath, and indoctrination in the other. He's a soldier. Am I to infer you're making a weapon?"

She did not know for certain that Jay had not agreed to it; he had been arrested for murder, and they could have used it as leverage against him. Channelers had value; Brandon said it himself. But perhaps no choice had been given for the very same reasons; his rights revoked on admission of guilt, even without proof. Why, though? Did war darken the horizon? She had already told Brandon she was not an enemy of necessity. Jay was a soldier. He chose that life; in the voice message he'd even spoken about the good kinds of killing.

But also his fear of that naked truth; fear still sharp enough to cut her now.

A frown feathered her brow; she let it. Would this 'training' coax that darkness out of him? Hone it to the sharpest blade? The prospect grieved her in a way she could not explain, even to herself, and in its ashes she found a cold anger. What gamble was Danjou taking? With the lives of his own men, this time; trading them like goods. I need to speak to Jared. Though it might already be too late for warnings. And maybe Danjou wouldn't offer all his secrets. Or all his assets.

She could feel the threat of her temper; it flashed up into her gaze but found no other outlet. Brandon spoke not of people but possessions, valued for their successes and of negligible worth in failure. If he survives the training. It brushed against her soul with icy fingers, but reacted with steel; there was strength in fury. He would survive.

Though of what might be left she turned away from considering

"Does Representative Avalon know about this facility?"
Her disapproval was clear; she had said nothing in the last few moments to make Brandon think she would support him in this. But when the shadows of concern cleared, she perceived the bones of a challenge for what she finally thought it was. She didn't turn aside from ugliness. He hadn't won her loyalty -- he would be foolish to think otherwise, and if anything she questioned him more -- but he won a piece of respect for so direct a risk. Her father's stern face loomed. Those burning papers ash in her hands.

"On the contrary, I find it even more necessary."
Nikolai was ready for retaliation. Whether barbs or the swing of a sword, he was ready to parry an attack. He was almost relieved when she withdrew inside herself. Then and there was when the resemblance to Evelyn dissipated. Natalie was cold as a Russian winter. Evelyn's soul, meanwhile, was verdant and warm. Perhaps the two women would find the other intolerable.

He shook his head, "Of course she does not know. Do you think a politician campaigning for channeler rights would oppose the notion?"
There was sarcasm in the rhetoric. None were to say that the Ascendancy was without a sense of humor.

He shifted, settling into a more comfortable position. There was a notion of patience to the movement. Perhaps as a parent gently guiding a child to the correct conclusion. She responded to the strategy well, thus far.

"Natalie, I have been moving nations like pieces on a board for longer than you've been alive. Why do you suppose I revealed a top secret program to you? Do you think the Representative from the United States is aware?"
His questions hung in the air like smoke nudging her to accept his wisdom.

In silent answer, he tapped the table to life, logged in with his own thumb and summoned videos widely spread throughout the news. First and foremost was Michael Vellas in Dominance V surrounded by a firestorm of power. The next was destruction of Moscow and the myriad Wallet videos and captured footage of Vellas' ascendant channelers subduing the terrorist Theo Andlain. Finally, the video of the Red Square where the Ascendancy's archway was constructed.

Nikolai paused the video as the camera panned to his own face. In that moment he thought he used all the power the universe channeled into his body, only later that night he would learn that more existed. The Ijiraq's lesson was learned.

He let the image hover in the air for a few more seconds before a swipe collapsed all the light fields. "We all agree that channelers will need to be policed like any other person, but you are absolutely correct in that mortals with sedatives are not the answer. A longer-termed solution will need to be implemented. Everything we know of this age is changing."
A wave of the hand dismissed the rest. "I don't need to tell you any of this, of course."

"Do you know what I stopped but weeks ago? In these very walls?"
His arms opened. She would know the report. It was circulated far and wide over the world. "What do we do when an army of channelers decides to conquer? What will your friends in Masiaka do when the people across the river decide to conquer their neighbors, and they bring native channelers more dangerous than any machine gun? A single channeler in battle could be worth a thousand guns."

He spoke to the very legislation that Evelyn was here to advocate. That the world powers would agree to disarm channelers from the military. To put their resources to uses of humanitarian focus. The daughter of Eleanor Northbrook was likely to agree with that idealistic notion.

Time to strike the anvil. "There are good men in the world. Who better to be our shield? No, our guardians,"
he paused on that term, shuffling it into the back of his mind for now, than good men who wield great power? Commander Vellas is one. There are others, but we need all we can find. The time will come when their shield will be needed. I am but one and I cannot save the world alone."
He blinked slowly, hoping she understood. "Is your friend a good man?"

Did Representative Avalon know about the Facility? No, but she should have figured out such a place existed by now, as how likely Natalie would see the logic as well.


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