The older official is tall, with graying hair at his temples and a chiseled jaw. His skin looks wan and sickly. He wears a gold-rimmed monocle over his right eye. Chian is standing at attention, and when Thomas releases my arm, I look over to see him doing the same. The man waves a hand, and everyone relaxes their stance. Only now do I finally recognize him. He looks different in person than he does in his portraits or on the city’s JumboTrons, where his skin has a much warmer color and no wrinkles. I also pick out the bodyguards scattered among the officials.
This is our Elector Primo.
“You must be Agent Iparis.” His lips tug upward at my stunned expression, but there is little warmth in his smile. He grasps my hand in one quick, firm shake. “These gentlemen tell me great things about you. That you’re a prodigy. And more important, you’ve put one of our most irritating criminals behind bars. So I thought it fitting that I congratulate you in person. If we had more patriotic young people like you, with minds as sharp as yours, we’d have won the war against the Colonies long ago. Wouldn’t you agree?” He pauses to look around at the others, and everyone murmurs in agreement. “I congratulate you, my dear.”
I bow my head. “Such an honor to meet you, sir. It is my pleasure, Elector, to do what I can for our country.” I’m amazed by how calm my voice is.
The Elector motions to the young official beside him. “This is my son, Anden. Today is his twentieth birthday, so I thought I would bring him with me to this lovely celebration.”
I turn to Anden. He’s very much like his father, tall (six feet two inches) and quite regal looking, with dark curly hair. Like Day, he has some Asian blood. But unlike Day, his eyes are green and his expression uncertain. He wears white condor flight gloves with elaborate gold lining, which means he’s already completed fighter pilot training. Left-handed. Gold cuff links on the sleeves of his black military tuxedo coat have the Colorado coat of arms engraved on them. Which means he was born there. Scarlet waistcoat, double row of buttons. He wears his air force rank first, unlike the Elector.
Anden smiles at my lingering gaze, gives me a perfect bow, then takes my hand in his. Instead of shaking my hand like the Elector did, he holds it up to his lips and kisses the back of it. I’m embarrassed by how much my heart leaps. “Agent Iparis,” he says. His eyes stay on me for a moment.
“A pleasure,” I reply, unsure of what else to say.
“My son will run for the Elector’s position in late spring.” The Elector smiles at Anden, who bows. “Exciting, don’t you think?”
“I wish him great luck in the election, then, although I’m sure he will not need it.”
The Elector chuckles. “Thank you, my dear. That will be all. Please, Agent Iparis, enjoy yourself tonight. I hope we have a chance to meet again.” Then he turns away. Anden follows in his wake. “Dismissed,” the Elector calls as he goes.
Chian ushers us out of the curtained area and back to the main ballroom. I can breathe again.
0100 HOURS. RUBY SECTOR.
After the celebration ends, Thomas escorts me back to my apartment without saying a word. He lingers for a moment outside my door.
I’m the first to break the silence. “Thanks,” I say. “That was fun.”
Thomas nods. “Yeah. I’ve never seen Commander Jameson look so proud of any of her soldiers before. You’re the Republic’s golden girl.” But then he falls right back into silence. He’s unhappy, and I somehow feel responsible.
“Are you all right?” I ask.
“Hmm? Oh, I’m fine.” Thomas runs a hand through his slicked hair. A bit of gel comes off on his glove. “I didn’t know the Elector’s son would be there.” I see a mysterious emotion in his eyes—anger? Jealousy? It clouds his face and gives him an ugly look.
I shrug it off. “We met the Elector himself. Can you believe it? I call that a successful night. I’m glad you and Commander Jameson convinced me to wear something nice.”
Thomas studies me. He doesn’t seem amused. “June, I’ve been meaning to ask you . . .” He hesitates. “When you were out with Day in Lake sector, did he kiss you?”
I pause. My mike. That’s how he knows—my mike must’ve turned on when we kissed, or perhaps I hadn’t shut it off properly. I meet Thomas’s gaze. “Yes,” I reply steadily, “he did.”
That same emotion returns to his eyes. “Why’d he do it?”
“Perhaps he found me attractive. But most likely it was because he drank some cheap wine. I went with it. Didn’t want to compromise the mission after coming so far.”
We stand in silence for a moment. Then, before I can protest, one of Thomas’s gloved hands brushes my chin as he leans in to kiss me on the lips.
I pull away before his mouth can touch mine—but now his hand is around the back of my neck. I’m surprised at how repulsed I feel. All I can see standing in front of me is a man with blood on his hands.
Thomas gives me a long look. Then, finally, he releases me and moves away. I can read the displeasure in his eyes. “Good night, Ms. Iparis.” He hurries away down the hall before I can respond. I swallow. I certainly can’t get in trouble for staying in character while out on the streets, but it doesn’t take a genius to see how upset Thomas is. I wonder if he’ll act on this information and, if so, what he’ll do.
I watch him disappear, then open my door and slowly step inside.
Ollie greets me enthusiastically. I pet him, let him out onto our patio, and then throw off the lopsided dress and hop in the shower. When I’m done, I climb into a black vest and shorts.