The sleeper jerks awake and grabs for his gun before he is even fully aware of where he is. A quick scan of the dimly moonlit room confirms that he is alone, safe behind a double-locked door. He turns on the bedside light and returns the gun to the side table.

Olrik, a man who has terrorized the entire countries in his time, now sits trembling in his pajamas after midnight in a strange bedroom. He sets his feet deliberately on the floor, wipes his damp face with his sleeve and takes a small sip of water. It's the first time in four months that this has happened, so it's a small victory in a way. After the initial escape, bad dreams were a nightly occurrence long after the bruises faded and the spells of faintness and shaking confusion vanished completely. Even in the daytime, the snap of a branch would cause him to tense and clench his fists. When he allows himself to think about it, Olrik wonders if having his mind violated so often by that damned telecephaloscope has left some invisible wound that will never completely go away, a kind of ulceration on his psyche. He wonders if he will ever be entirely free of it.

Olrik stands up and pulls the cover aside to allow the bed to air. He pulls on his robe and slippers. There is something very satisfying about the feeling of high-quality clothes. The robe is plain, dark blue flannel, but it's lined with thick silk and is as warm as an overcoat. The slippers are also plain, but constructed of the best leather money can buy. There are certain civil servants of his acquaintance who will never enjoy clothes like these.

He walks into the dark sitting area and opens the French doors that lead to the balcony. The cold air is a bit of a shock despite his warm clothes. Olrik gazes on the city below, noting a handful of cars making tracks on the fresh snow, a boy with a heavy bag of newspapers, and the gaiety of Christmas lights on the massive tree just down the street. The snow is faintly reminiscent of the Antarctic. Also, his bondage under Septimus ended at this time of year. It only makes sense that the nightmares would come back just when everything is going so well. Olrik takes several long, slow breaths of icy air and feels the pulse in his temples slow to normal. He feels strong and alert, fitter than he has been in years.

The night is beautiful as only a very cold, clear night with a full moon can be. This is one of the best hotels in one of the wealthiest, most exciting cities in the world. Olrik has access to an impressive line of credit and his new client is very happy. Septimus, that son of a bitch, is deservedly dead, reduced to atoms. Asoka, that she-wolf, died by his hand; if only she had known this. His other enemies are looking for him on entirely the wrong continent.

Olrik smiles, takes a long, catlike stretch, and returns to his suite. He leaves his robe on a chair and returns to the now inviting bed. Life is good, even with its setbacks and bad memories. Money, vengeance, the chance to wield power; they all make life worth living. In fact, he muses, as long as one is free or has even the hope of being free life is worth living. He relaxes, welcoming sleep, confident that he will have only pleasant dreams until morning.

The End