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Close, so very close now. Christina Ulfsdotir growled. A growl of satisfaction. Smiling was something she'd almost forgotten.

She would have satisfaction. Months of hunting almost over and her prey so close she imagined she could smell him. Tracking him had taken longer than she expected, the unfortunate episode at the Roadhouse her greatest setback. Weeks searching for anyone who knew his whereabouts until she got hold of rumors about a caravan. Finding someone crazy or greedy enough to brave crossing the mountains in winter had taken a few days as well.

Christina shuddered at the memories. Climbing the mountains with their gear had been hell. Reactor in her remaining hovercraft almost overheating before they made the summit. Two men dead in accidents as well, but they did make it. Descending the other side was almost as bad.

The scout they hired turned out brave enough to stay her arm when they arrived at a small wooden town. She'd have killed him but for the months spent together in the wilderness. With difficulties came an awareness of leadership she somehow failed to grasp during all those years back on Earth.

Unfit. The word her father used when her brother died trying to claim Otherworld for the federation. Unfit. Ever in the shadow of her brother, even when he was dead and she in command of the largest newscaster in the entire federation. Unfit. And her father never understanding how much she had loved her brother, never envious of his success. Unfit. Not good enough for the father she always tried to make proud. Then he died in an accident smelling strongly of suicide. Grief disrupted by that bastard, Arthur Wallman, sullying the memory of her lost family with his Otherworld Disclosed. Calling her brother's death an exercise in criminal stupidity and the corporation she inherited a lapdog sniffing up the legs of the highest bidder.

She broke then. Remembering her father's death she'd lashed out at the hated swine in blind rage. Only bad luck killed his wife and child instead. Christina had hoped he'd break as well, but he persisted in his dirty lies. When his remaining child died in a highly public accident a few years later she had nothing left but a desire to make him feel the pain he'd inflicted on her, and she passed him a stinging reminder. Maybe he did break then, but not until after selling out to Red News. A final act of vehemence tearing holes in the only living memory of her family.

There was no going back after that, and with what little resources she had available she bought her vengeance.

Ulf, I owe you that much at least. I'll make you proud yet, and Sigurd will not have died for nothing.

Close, so very close now. The city mere hours away, and how come satisfaction came with such a bitter aftertaste. What would she do when Wallman was dead, when there was nothing more to live for? Was she even in command of her own troops any longer or just a hostage held in anticipation of fulfilling the contract she signed with her paid killers? A lecture in leadership, one she barely held by being nastier than anyone around her. Should there be nothing more to command than fear? Sigurd would have said no. She was certain of that. She had met his men, even had a fling with one of them, short as it was when she understood he loved her brother more.

Close now. They would force their way through the gates, and paid killers or not, she'd make certain they didn't suffer unnecessary casualties this time. The hired scout had been a better teacher than he ever knew, and maybe, just maybe, there was yet time to earn more respect from her men than could be won by fear and payment alone.

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