“To our relief and delight,” she said, “the process we triggered worked to permanently sever the connection between the politician’s body and the Tangent’s consciousness by destroying the Tangent program in the VirtNet. As you could clearly see from the images shown just now, at least one human life was saved, and probably many more.”

Weber looked around the enormous chamber, her eyes flashing across Michael for just an instant, making a chill run down his back. He waited for her inevitable justification of the consequences.

“We came today to present these important findings. The VNS had planned to do further extensive testing of the process before implementing it on a grand scale. But today’s events have expedited our plans. We’ve decided it’s time to take action. We could have never expected our most wanted criminal to give himself over to us.”

She held up a fist as if to salute, though Michael wasn’t sure whom. Maybe herself. “Kaine—the one who started it all—is dead. And by his own carelessness, we were able to pinpoint his signal and terminate his connection, ending him forever. We are sure that others will come forward and claim to be this powerful Tangent, but rest assured, he has ceased to exist. Before our plan to reverse the Tangent takeover has even officially begun, we’ve had our greatest victory.”

She slammed her fist on the podium. “Kaine is dead!”

The audience erupted into applause. There were shouts and whistles, stomping of feet, all of it a thunderous roar of approval. Michael didn’t move a muscle of his Aura. He looked at Bryson and Helga, who appeared equally disbelieving.

“That wasn’t Kaine,” Michael said, though he doubted Bryson could hear him over the noise. Everything about this stank to high heaven. What was Weber’s game here? What was the VNS up to?

As for Weber, she seemed to relish the moment. When she finally raised her arms, motioning the chamber to silence, she appeared reluctant to step away from her place in the spotlight.

“Please,” she said, repeating it several times until the crowd quieted down and took their seats. “Thank you. I appreciate your show of support—we all do—but the time to truly celebrate is yet to come. A massive struggle awaits. Identifying and triggering the Anti–Mortality Doctrine against all known Tangents will take a considerable effort. Even in this room, as we speak, there are those who know they’re guilty. And yet they are quiet, hoping to avoid discovery. I assure you all, they will not. My people are working feverishly to make sure of that. As you can see.”

She held up a hand and snapped her fingers—actually snapped her fingers, as if her childhood dreams of magical hocus-pocus were making it happen—and several more guards fell to the ground around the stage. The remaining guards backed away, as if scared of their own sudden deaths.

Weber looked pleased at the murders she’d just committed. She lowered her arm and continued.

“Our system of identifying Tangent invaders is far from perfect, but you’ve just seen it demonstrated. In the time that Kaine stepped up here and identified himself and gave his speech, my people in our war room were able to lock on his connection to the VirtNet and sever it. They immediately began work on the guards and achieved what you just witnessed. In time—soon, we hope—we’ll be able to sweep the world. This should discourage any Tangent from ever initiating the Mortality Doctrine again. It will mean certain death. It will mean true death.”

Michael winced at the words. The phrase made him think of Sarah, whom he’d lost because of this woman. He could barely keep still in his seat.

“The VNS can save humanity from this plague. All we ask is for your support, unilateral authority to do what needs to be done. And resources—we need both funding and manpower.”

She swept the chamber with her hard, confident gaze. “Our world has been invaded by demons, my friends. And we are the exorcists. Thank you.”

Once again, the auditorium erupted into applause. Everyone was on their feet, except for Michael’s small group. No one had noticed the most pressing issue: the VNS was going to kill every last Tangent in the world—and the humans right along with them. Michael couldn’t take it one more second. He got up, pushed his way down the row of seats and into the aisle, then ran for the exit, to the Portal outside Latvia’s antechamber.

He had to get out of the Sleep.


Michael thought he’d be hassled trying to leave the Latvian embassy after everything that had happened, but the guards just offered curt nods as he passed them on his way out into the streets of Washington, D.C.

Fog had crept back into the air. It cascaded over signs and buildings and cars, almost like a ghostly living thing. Michael’s shirt was damp, his hair as well, and by the time he’d walked through three or four intersections, he was feeling a bit dazed. People appeared like magic from the mist, passing him on the sidewalk, then vanishing once again behind him. Not many people were out—Michael figured that most were probably glued to the NewsBops, watching Weber’s grand performance over and over.

He kept walking. He would stop for a light, look for cars, and continue. From time to time he’d peek into store windows, as if his world hadn’t crumbled around his feet. He had absolutely no idea where he was going or what he was going to do, but he couldn’t go back. He couldn’t.

Bryson would be mad. Helga would be downright livid. And he didn’t care. He loved both of them, but he didn’t care. They’d find him later, or he’d find them. So he wandered, the beginnings of a terrible idea brewing in his mind. He wasn’t ready to pour it out, accept its awfulness. But he was heading straight for it, one way or another. And he had to do it by himself.

He walked on, swallowed by the mist.


The streets grew emptier the farther he went, even though the buildings got taller and wider and more modern. There was a river nearby, but he could only tell because of a giant bridge that loomed before him as he neared. It got to the point that he hardly saw a person every five minutes, and day began to fade into night, darkness seeping through the fog, sinister, deadly.

A woman came out of a store, staring at Michael a little too intently for his liking. She stopped midstride, her eyes following him. Alarms went off in his head. It was a Tangent—it had to be. He picked up his pace and took a few quick turns to make sure she wasn’t following him. It was hard to tell with the blanket of mist hovering around him. He kept moving.


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