5 DAYS LATER. MOSCOW, IDAHO. 2:30 PM MOUNTAIN TIME. SATURDAY, JANUARY 17, 2026.

Darcage heard footsteps. The door opened, sudden bright light hurting his eyes. Guards unbound him from his bunk, dragged him from the train, shoved him along the broken pavement of the platform. Big hands grabbed his arms and dragged him onto his back in the bed of a wagon.

As he rode through the streets, he pressed his bound hands awkwardly against his face to block the sunlight, sobbing to recover his breath, until his eyes adjusted; as soon as he could bear it he stared into the deep blue sky and let himself feel sun on his face, sucking in the freezing air. It had been so long.

When the wagon halted, they flung him headlong off the tailgate, catching him with his face barely off the pavement, laughing at his wince.

He was pushed up a flight of stairs and through a building door. Inside, they yanked him by the arms up three more flights of stairs and through several doors till, without pity or apology, they dropped him onto the floor near the rostrum of a college lecture hall.

She was there.

Beautiful and elegant as ever, Allie Sok Banh wore a handmade linen suit that must have taken someone two weeks to sew. “Take the gag off. Turn him to face the room.”

The people chained to the seats were leaders, counselors, and shamans among the tribes of the Hells Canyon area. Darcage had met most of them when he carried messages to them from the Guardian on the Moon. If anyone had been going to rescue him, it would have been ordered by one of these—

“I am so glad you are all here,” Allie said from the podium. “I only wish the rest of your tribes were, as well.” She barked a forced laugh through bared teeth. “When I invited you to negotiate, I was lying. We do lie to terrorists, criminals, and traitors, but here’s the truth: you are here to witness that the United States does not negotiate with criminals or terrorists, regardless of what silly stories you make up about yourselves. The United States and the Constitution are real. Mother Gaia and the tribes are made up. We’re here to show you that.”

“Now, Mister Darcage here, as you know, was my controller during the time when Daybreak invaded my mind. I am paying him back for that, personally—when someone attempts to seize my personality, that is personal.”

She held out her hand. A guard put a pistol into it. She walked to Darcage and held it a handsbreadth from his head, pointed directly into his left eye. “Darcage, you will say, ‘Daybreak is a lie,’ before I count down from five. Five.” She paused, drew a breath, and with curious gentleness, brushed the muzzle of the gun against his eyelids, making him blink, before pulling it back a bare inch. “Three-one!” The hammer slapped closed.

The inside of his head rang with a high-pitched whistle, drowning out every other sound. Everything in his vision had a bright blinding rainbow-hued halo. His mouth opened so far it hurt his jaw, and his vocal cords were in dry agony as he forced all his air back and forth through them with all his strength. The world rolled madly.

He woke with his face chafed and sore from weeping, thinking, She fast counted, then dry-fired.

He had probably only been out for a minute or two. Allison Sok Banh was explaining, “—no use to us; he does not exhibit the brief lucid post-seizure period that less thoroughly indoctrinated Daybreakers do, so we cannot free him from Daybreak. We will try to induce a Daybreak seizure in all of you. If you emerge like Darcage here, without enough of your old self for our doctors to work with, we will hold a short, fair trial and hang you. We’ll do the same if you successfully resist going into a seizure. But if you emerge able to communicate, we will attempt rehabilitation.”

Somewhere out in the seats, someone asked, “And our proposals—”

“You may take this as our answer.”

Darcage’s mind retreated toward the gentle, cool press of linoleum against his face, crossing over into the schoolroom smell of remembered childhood, and down into deep unconsciousness.

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