Chapter no 81

Quantum Radio

At the private airport, Ty had asked Kato, “Are you sure you can fly this thing?”

Kato had replied instantly, “I can fly anything.”

In truth, he hadn’t been so sure. But he had always believed that the first rule of piloting was: don’t crash. And that the second rule was: never let your passengers doubt you can fly the plane. He planned to observe both rules, no matter what universe he was in.

In the cockpit, he had puzzled over the instruments only a moment before realizing it was actually an Embraer jet similar to the ones from his world, albeit with a much longer range.

At cruising altitude, he had activated the autopilot and waited in the cockpit, half expecting something to go wrong. Thankfully, it hadn’t.

In the main cabin, he had settled down on a couch and begun meditating, observing his breath flowing out of his nose, the soft tickle on the skin there.

Soon, his eyelids were heavy. Sleep tugged at them, and he knew he needed to rest before they landed. Now was the time, while the plane was flying itself.

Yet his mind drifted to what waited for him at their destination. His greatest enemy in life: himself. A dark version of himself.

Kato had spent his entire professional life in hostile environments, in places where everything could kill you. The people you passed on the street. The people you paid to help you. The people you bought secrets from. The water. The food. The snakes in the jungle. And most of all, the people with guns and knives drawn in the shadows, creeping up behind you. This world was a different kind of theater of operations altogether. It was more dangerous than any place he had ever encountered, for one reason— the most dangerous threats weren’t the ones you expected. In Kato’s

experience, the things that got a good operator killed were those they never expected. Things you weren’t afraid of, that you didn’t see, that snuck up on you and took your life before you even knew it.

He had already seen one such threat, at the cavernous home in Argentina when it had been time to interrogate this world’s Maria.

Interrogating the woman had seemed a natural next step to Kato. Their Maria wouldn’t stand for it. Kato hadn’t anticipated that, though he understood it now, why Maria couldn’t bear seeing a version of herself tortured, possibly mentally scarred forever.

Kato understood it. Every person had had their feelings hurt at some point. That was life. Emotional harm always left scar tissue. Sometimes it was a thin scar. Sometimes it was thick, making it harder to feel again. And sometimes, a hurt deep enough changed a life forever.

Something like that had happened to their Maria. And she couldn’t bear to let it happen to this version of herself.

At that moment in Argentina, when Maria pleaded for the safety of her counterpart, Kato had realized that he would soon face the same decision— how much he could harm another version of himself. There was no doubt in his mind what the answer was: he would do whatever it took. If possible, he would incapacitate his counterpart. If required, he would end him. He would do that to protect the three people on the plane. He would do it to protect the starving and dying people of the Pax, even though they had locked him in a basement cell like an animal. Their government had done that. The people were innocent.

Most of all, he would do it so that he could see his wife and son again.

He wondered what kind of Kato Tanaka was waiting for him in Peenemünde. Had he discovered the darkness within his heart as Kato had? Was he in control of it? Was he as strong as Kato? As fast? Had he trained as hard?

Kato also wondered what dealing with his counterpart would do to him; if the looming fight to come would dredge up the darkness he had managed to keep under control for so long.

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