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Alerts and anniversaries
Despite immersion in the familiar surroundings of the Ascendancy's suite and office, a comfortable night's sleep was a near impossible achievement while in-flight.

The nerves that made Nikolai seek comfort in the shadows creeping around the ceiling wasn't from a lack of faith in his security. The plane that carried him around the world was indeed an advanced military aircraft. Its on-board electronics were shielded with enough physical force to withstand electromagnetic pulses from a nuclear blast. Avionics and defenses allowed the aircraft to withstand or otherwise out-maneuver a direct air attack. No, he was as safe here as anywhere, but he was quite uncomfortable nonetheless.

Frustrated, Nik threw back the blankets and flipped on a lamp. Since he was awake, he might as well get some work done. Jet engines hummed in the distance, but otherwise all was quiet. He powered up his workstation and spent a few minutes browsing news of the day. Similar briefings would be discussed at breakfast, but there was something to be said about keeping his own thumb on the pulse of the world. The same could be said about his finances, projects, business and calender.

He was scanning an article on advanced carbon composites when an alert flashed in the corner.

His brow lowered thoughtfully. Every year, the same blinking code alerted the anniversary. There were only two alerts Nikolai anonymously recognized year after year. The other occurred in late spring, commemorating his father's suicide. Though he was older now than his father had been at the time, Nik could still hear the pop of a gun muffled by a single door. He could still smell the heat of discharge, and see the dripping of blood spatter on the wall. Every time he made a soldier fire a gun at him in close range, he still wanted to flinch. Panicked that he would open that door and relive his father's suicide all over again.

This anniversary was no less painful, but more bittersweet. Every year he told himself he wasn't going to recognize it. Every time an Atharim sprung from the weeds intending to cut him down, he vowed to end the tradition. He was, after all, funding the very organization that wanted him to lay in a pool of his own blood.

Of course he didn't blame them. He remembered the distance that glazed Garret with animosity when they both realized what he was. He remembered the horror when Garret's father climbed the hill and found the face of a long-lost adopted son rather than the monster he thought he'd been chasing. Both of them - all of them - had forced Nikolai's hand.

His jaw clenched, and he pulled up the alert's request for a cash transfer. It was his own personal account, funneled through a string of bogus names that concealed its source. One click of the button and the Vatican Historical Society would be another two-hundred million fatter, plus extra to account for inflation. Every year, another anonymous donation. Every year, he paid for the bullet that might be the one put in his chest and finish the job Garret couldn't.

He saved their lives, and Garret thanked him with threats. He moved to the edge of the world, and the Regus hunted him down and annihilated everyone he loved. He unified half the world under a single, peaceful symbol and they called him a dictator.

Simmering with the frustration that built all night, he stalked away and shoved open the window shade. An arid shoreline stretched far below, a sharp line that defined sparkling blue from dull brown.

So high up. Hurling forward at thirty-thousand feet.

His stomach lurched and Nik threw a hand to the wall, but he made himself look at it. Look and realize that he was completely and totally at the mercy of the sky, something he could not control. The rational side of him tried to feed the sense that his fear of heights was all that made him seek solid footing; it wasn't. He didn't believe it, but the look out the window served its purpose. It calmed him down, strangely enough.

He returned to the workstation and roughly clicked through the series of approvals. He was none too pleased with his lack of conviction, but besides the attempts on his life, the Atharim did noble work. He had to believe they kept people safe.

"I am not the enemy,"
he told the screen, wishing it would listen.

A moment later, alerts from the crew informed him of the aircraft's initial descent into Kuwait City.

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