Four kilometers south of the Urban Palace, a man is standing in the open door of a garage, looking to the north through a pair of binoculars. He's watching a blob of brown-red that is just barely visible on the horizon – but is growing fast. Right on time.
- - - - - - - -
Almost there, almost there... Mara and Fir are standing in front of a door, genuine hydroponic-grown wood, rich and brown and absurdly incongruous with the concrete walls and tang of disinfectant of the servants' halls. On the other side is the part of the Palace the nobles see. The map is burned into her memory: they step outside, turn to the left, take a dozen steps, and they'll be in front of the locked door into the part of the Palace where they keep those who aren't allowed to leave. And they're a good fifty seconds ahead of schedule. Mara presses the opening bar.
Before her is a vast arching hallway, ten meters high and almost as wide, red marble walls gleaming in the sunlight streaming in through skylights covering the roof. The floor is covered with thick, rich carpet, wool or a synthetic indistinguishable from it, her boots sinking centimeters into the soft surface. Paintings dot the walls, clearly hand-made. Artificial scents waft through the air, tantalizing the senses. The luxury is hits her almost like a physical blow, and she stumbles slightly as she steps through the door. She forces her eyes to look straight ahead, to ignore what's around her, as she steps one, two, three, and ahead of her is the door, the door she has been working towards for the last six years.
“Spirit,” Fir murmurs. But he does his job. Mara stands behind him as Fir goes to work on the door, blocking the view from the rest of the hall. There's no one there – they've seen only two or three servants in their course through the Palace, gray-suited maids and manservants, thankfully ignoring them as they hurried on their own tasks. The place is almost deserted... And thank the Spirit for that.
A click, and the door's open, revealing a large sitting room centered around a hand-crafted wooden table and ample armchairs upholstered in a shiny, dark material Mara doesn't recognize, and four doors leading off from the room – and a manservant with the epaulets of a senior butler man-handling heavy glass urns onto a cart. The man looks up, sweating. “Ah! Good timing, you two. Get over here and help me with this.” He frowns, straightens, walks over to the door, Mara momentarily frozen. “Wait, who are you?”
The man's just a meter in front of Fir. Fir glances back, and Mara nods. It's over before the man has time to scream.
- - - - - - - -
Here we go... The study hasn't been opened in years, and there's a thick layer of dust over everything. But even eleven years after her death, Iskander can still feel the personality of MuniPrix Gerta Ludei suffusing the room. No skylights here, no glass trinkets, no paintings of dead ancestors. A solitary electric light hanging from the center of the ceiling casts the room in a soft amber glow, leaving much of it in almost womb-like shadow. A battle-scarred antique wooden desk sits in the center of the room facing the door; the walls are lined with shelves stuffed with memory sticks and a few actual books, and Iskander has to fight down the urge to browse through them. He's here for one thing and one thing only: the steel safe built into the wall behind the desk.
The safe uses an old-style mechanical lock. Iskander has neither the time nor the skill to figure out the combination. But he has something better. First the punch, a three-centimeter-long cylinder custom-made by a Hiver craftsman specializing in tools of a questionably legal nature, small enough to fit in the hollow under his armpit, where no guard would dare to search. He sets it on the steel case just above the lock and presses the button on the end. There's a few seconds of grinding as the tool grips the case, and then a thump of explosives as the charge shoot the diamond tip of the punch through the steel.
Next step, the acid. He's just set the punch on the ground when he hears the voice behind him. “Iskander?”
He turns. MuniPrix Sara Ludei is standing in the doorway. “I saw the door open. Goodness, I haven't been in here since... Since before poor Greta died.” She frowns. “What are you doing?”
Iskander smiles. He has come much too far, risked far too much to let some foolish woman stand in his way now. “Let me show you.”
What follows is messy, but short.
- - - - - - - -
Four kilometers away, at Elysium Power Station #3, an innocuous line of code in a power transformer notes that it has finally reached the time it's been waiting for. Thirty seconds later, a series of safety controls shut down, and a surge of current four times the allowed voltage passes through the main power line leading to the Urban Palace.
The fuses in the Palace do their job, bursting open with a soft crack in the power distribution room. Running on batteries now, the Palace computer first tries to shift power supply to the backup line – but that runs through the same fusebox, which has just melted to slag. No matter. Within a tenth of a second, the backup reactor's computer has woken up, and begun its warmup cycle. Pumps begin to churn, passing pressurized helium through the core of the fission reactor, and the primary control rods pull out. The turbine begins to turn – and that's when the thermite ignites.
Thirty seconds later, the primary battery backups are exhausted, and the Urban Palace's lights go out.