Rion had been staring out the back window for the last two miles. “Are you sure they’re still following us?”
“I can’t believe we gave them the slip,” Tuesday said, making a hard left turn. “And yet I still can’t beat Ridge Racer on Hard.”
Rion turned back in his seat. “Aren’t you going to be in trouble?” He felt like he was always being blamed for something he wasn’t responsible for, and he didn’t want it to happen to anyone else.
“Trouble? Yeah, probably. But I’d rather get fired than live knowing you were back in ‘Hangar 18’ with some scientist pulling your toenails out. Besides, I don’t think it’s the police chasing me,” she gestured behind her. “Those cars are meant for running silent.”
“What does that mean?”
“Usually private security or government. Cheaper than black helicopters.”
Tuesday’s radio clicked on, fuzzing static at first. The red-orange light flicked to green. “Code one-four-oh-seven, code one-four-oh-seven, come in.” Tuesday glanced at the box, then at Rion. “Huxley, I know you’re there, pick up. Pick up, now,” the radio said.
Tuesday hit the call button. “Sweet-talker,” she said.
“Huxley, report your current location.”
A pause. “What? Huxley-“
“No. We need some answ- I need some answers.” She rolled her eyes. “Shit.”
“You have him? Report your location, Huxley,” the voice bellowed, “Just tell us where to find him.”
“Cut the crap, Horace. There’s no charges filed against this guy. No criminal record. You don’t have a leg to stand on. So what’s the deal? Who’s chasing us? Government?”
“Tuesday, you do not want to fuck around with these people. Trust me.”
“Do they have something to do with Starkweather Industries?”
Her statement was met with silence. Rion glanced between the road and the box, waiting for an answer.
After five seconds, the radio light turned red.
“Uh,” Rion said. “What does that mean?”
“I have no idea, but we should probably find a hiding place for you.”
“NO!” Rion shouted, scaring Tuesday. “No, we have to go to Starkweather Tower. Don’t you see?” he pointed to the radio. “This proves they’re the key. We have to go there now.”
Tuesday bit her lip. “I don’t know. If those guys have something to do with Starkweather… well, that guy’s got more money than most countries. He can do anything he wants.”
“I don’t care. I can’t keep running. I’m sick of running. I’m not even good at it. Eventually, they’re going to find me, and they might kill me in the process,” Rion said. “If we go now, they won’t expect it. We can take advantage of their confusion. And we can’t keep driving forever.”
Tuesday took a deep breath. “All right. Guess we didn’t get dressed up for nothing.”
She turned on her siren, and sped up.
It took them five minutes to get to the center of the city. The building took up an entire city block–a long black obelisk standing on end, wrapped in mirrors. Every centimeter was polished and smooth like a single, unbroken element.
A courtyard of sculptures and fountains stood at the perimeter–a pleasant distraction from the harsh, cold tower. A decorative steel and concrete blockade encircled the first floor, blocking view of the entrance.
Tuesday drove around the iron-wrought fence marking the tower’s boundaries. Rion sat up in his seat. “I don’t see how you get into the building.”
“That barricade must be a security checkpoint. Maybe they’ll let us in if we bring cookies.”
They turned the corner, and saw the vehicle entrance gates. A hedge maze lay beyond the fence in the courtyard. Tuesday pulled into the car-sized inlet and rolled down her window to talk to the speakerbox.
She pressed one of the unlabeled buttons. “Y’ello? Anyone there?”
“State your business.”
“Three double cheeseburgers with everything. No onions on one, and an apple pie.”
“What? What’s your name?”
“Fachina. First name, Alotta.”
There was a pause. Rion glanced between the speakerbox and the gate. “Display your badge,” the speaker said.
Tuesday flashed her pocket identification to the box. “Hey, let us in already. Your pizza’s getting cold.”
The gates creaked, clicked and pulled back. Four men, all wearing black suits with hands in their pockets, approached from the sides.
Rion looked back, hoping for clear escape. Two black sedans drove towards them from the side streets. “They’re trapping us.”
“Hold onto your butts.” She hit something on the dashboard and jammed the gas pedal down. Rion white-knuckled the armrest.
The car took off and scraped against the half-open gates, spouting out sparks. “Look out!” Rion yelled.
“For what? The hedges we’re going to crash into?” she said, yelling over the roar of tires on cobblestone.
The agents pulled their guns out and fired. But they only managed to cause spider-web cracks in the side windows.
Rion screamed as they bounced on the hump of grass and plunged into the hedges. They penetrated two layers before their inertia dwindled and the car ground to a halt, stuck halfway through a wall.
Tuesday shut off the car and climbed out. “Those guns aren’t government issue,” she said. “They aren’t going to hesitate to use them.”
Agents shuffled and shouted indistinct orders outside. The car had sealed off their escape route, so the agents would have to enter the maze to find them. The problem was, they were also victims to the labyrinth.
Tuesday ran left. “Come on,” she said. Rion followed her.
They ran deeper into the maze, along a path with many turns, until they came to a wall, splitting the path in two.
“Shit,” she said, “Which way do we go?” Both paths turned a corner, so neither looked good. “If we turn wrong, we might get trapped.”
Rion ran to one end of the passage, and looked around. There was nothing to touch, so he sent out a wavelength of power. In return, he got a feeling of confusion that was not his.
He ran to the other end. No sensations when he focused there.
“This way,” Rion said and ran off.
“How do you know?”
“I don’t. The maze knows.”
“Oh,” Tuesday rolled her eyes. “Right, psychic. Sorry, keep forgetting.”
The feeling of puzzlement came from people walking back and forth, perplexed because they had reached a dead end. The other path didn’t have those feelings, because it was taken by people who knew their way.
Rion used this skill at each fork. With object memory, emotions were the easiest to sense. One more turn and they were out of the maze, facing the wall that encircled the building. But there were no doors or windows.
“Now what?” Tuesday said, looking around. “There’s got to be some way in.”
Rion examined a ceramic fountain built into the wall, bursting with water and lights at regular intervals. Outside the fountain, a statue of a half-naked woman poured in water from a jug.
“This statue,” Rion said. “I think there’s something…” He climbed onto the square pedestal and ran his hand along her leg and back.
“Hey, hey, don’t molest the statue,” Tuesday said.
“No, I think there’s something…” He looked down. Two grooves of metal ran through the space where the pedestal converged with the fountain. “I think it slides back.”
Rion jumped down, and pushed on the sculpture. With Tuesday’s help, the statue scraped along the cobblestone landing and revealed a blue plastic panel with a keyhole.
“Maintenance hatch,” Tuesday read.
“Good enough for me.” Rion pulled on the handle. “Dammit, everything is locked.”
Before Tuesday could say ‘where’s the key’, Rion laid his hands on it. Headaches be damned.
A man with olive skin and wavy black hair in a green uniform, a night shift groundskeeper, walks around the cobblestone pathway.
Rion took his hands off and looked around.
“Well?” Tuesday said, “What’d you see? Did you see where the key is?”
“Yeah, um… I got a person.”
“A person? Who?”
Rion saw movement to his left. A man with olive skin and wavy black hair was walking towards them.
“Him,” he said.
He stopped surprised. It didn’t look like he knew anything about the security breach going on. But when he saw a cop and a teenager bent down in front of the maintenance hatch, he called out, “Hey, what are you doing?”
He reached for a radio on his belt, but his surprise made his movements clumsy and awkward.
Tuesday was anything but. She grabbed the taser in her holster and fired it in one fluid motion. Two strings flew forth and embedded in his chest. There was a sickening crackle. The man convulsed, flailed his arms, and collapsed on his back.
“His pocket.” Rion crawled to him and pulled out a ring of keys.
Rion hunched over the hatch and pulled out the first one. A loud bang went off. The statue’s face cracked, and bits of concrete rained on them.
Rion and Tuesday crouched down as they saw an agent standing at the exit to the hedge maze. He fired again, chiseling out the statue. Tears welled up in Rion’s eyes– the fear had finally reached a breaking point.
Tuesday put a hand on Rion’s back. “Get the hatch,” she said. “I’ll cover you.”
She sprang up, backed against the statue, and fired a warning shot. Rion forced himself to stop staring like a cow and get to work. The first key jammed in the lock, but didn’t turn. Same with the second key. Another agent joined the first and traded shots back and forth with Tuesday.
The third key worked. Rion tugged on the handle, and flung the door back. It led to a deep hole with a ladder. “Come on, I got it open.”
“You first, kid,” she said. A third guard emerged from the outside of the hedge maze. Tuesday fired in his direction, and he ducked back. “I’ll hold them off.”
Rion didn’t want to argue and delay. He slipped his legs over the side of the hole, felt for the metal rungs, and stepped down as fast as he could. The gunshots above echoed in the chamber. Chips of concrete tinkled down on him.
He jumped the last few rungs and backed away. All he could see was the light-polluted sky.
“Tuesday, come on,” he shouted.
“Coming, dear,” she mocked. More gunshots. Then Rion saw her foot step onto the first rung. Reassured that she was coming, he started down the hall.
Yellow fluorescent tubes lined the tunnel. It felt like he was in the sewer. Maybe it was where they housed the plumbing systems for the courtyard.
Light doused as the maintenance hatch locked. “I think this might lead to some sort of control center,” Rion said. “I bet it connects to the building. We could get in from there.”
Behind him, Tuesday climbed down the last of the rungs, and dropped. She landed hard.
“Rion, wait,” she said.
He turned around and saw her doubled over. She had her hand held up to stop him. In the middle of her palm, there was a black splotch of seared flesh.
“Oh my god,” he said, “What happened to your hand?”
“They shot it,” she said.
“Are you all right? Can you take the bullet out?”
“Don’t think so,” she rasped.
“Can you keep going?”
“Well, no. It actually came out of my hand,” she murmured. “And passed through… here.”
Rion didn’t realize she was clutching her chest, until she pulled her hand away. Blood dribbled down her blue uniform, although in this light, he could only see the wet shine.
“Wha-…” Rion froze. It wasn’t until Tuesday’s legs collapsed that instincts took over. He sprang forward and put his arm under her head. “Are you all right? Are you all right?”
She looked up at him. “N- no, don’t think so. Trouble breathing.” She coughed. A dribble of red oozed from her mouth. “Feels like I’m drowning. Maybe a punctured lung.”
“Um, I’ll get help. I… I can…”
“No, no, don’t go back up there. They’ll kill you. You gotta keep going.” She coughed again. A dollop of blood spurted onto her chest, which she covered with her hand.
“No, no, I can’t leave you here. They’ll find you,” Rion said.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about that,” she said, “You’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
Her eyes were moistening, and soon Rion’s were doing the same. He didn’t know what to say. She was going to die, for nothing, because of him, and he could do nothing about it.
She laid there on Rion’s lap, staring at the ceiling. All Rion could do was watch her, waiting for that terrible moment. Neither of them moved.
When Rion was sure that she had gone, she spoke. “Rion, do you think I’m pretty?”
There was no hesitation. “Yes, yes I do,” he said. He would have said anything if it would take that bullet out of her chest.
Tuesday snickered and turned her head to the side. “I wish I had something more profound to say to you, but all I can think of is when I was twelve and Andy Bateman told me to move my fat ass because I was too close to his locker.”
“It’s all right,” Rion said. “You can think whatever you want to.”
“Why is that all I can think of? It’s all I can remember,” she sobbed.
“Hey, at least you got memories,” he said, crying and laughing. He stroked a wisp of hair out of her eyes.
She laughed weakly, and coughed again. “Good point,” she said. “Thanks… glad…”
Her voice lowered until Rion could no longer hear her. He bowed his head down to her.
“Tuesday? Tuesday?” He felt no breath from her mouth. “Tuesday, come on, wake up.”
He jostled her shoulders, but in his heart, he knew it didn’t matter anymore. “Tuesday? Tuesday?” He called her name again and again. She did not answer.
He waited for something to happen, like a transition. Something to whisk her body away. But it did not come. Her body remained, her weight pressing on him.
His hands curled into fists. Now he had to approach Starkweather alone.
And he would. He would walk right up to that man and ask why she had to die. He would ask what was so dangerous about him that he was worth killing for. And why he shouldn’t kill them. All of them.
Rion slid out and laid Tuesday’s head on the floor. He would come back for her, to bury her proper. Her family and friends would want to see her one last time, for closure. Rion’s closure lay elsewhere.
He stormed down the warren, Tuesday’s blood sticking between his fingers. They must not have known he was in the maintenance tunnel or they would have sent troops in. After a few hundred yards, far enough to be past the barricade, he came to an unlocked door.
He entered a small room with another door, presumably the exit, and a ladder leading up. A swivel chair stood in front of a desk full of monitors. Some showed video feeds, others displayed running diagnostics. One showed power flow around the courtyard, which made it a map. Rion analyzed it, and confirmed where he could find the entrance to Starkweather Tower.
If he used the ladder, he’d end up facing twenty gun barrels in the middle of the basement. He wouldn’t give them that chance. Not after Tuesday. He went through the exit door and took his memorized path to another ladder, much like the first. He climbed up and clenched the handle for the hatch. Taking a deep breath, he pushed on the door.
He was lucky it made no noise. Through the crack, Rion saw the back of an agent’s legs. But he was looking at the concrete walkway to the tower’s entrance.
Rion crawled out of the hole, keeping silent. The guard stood oblivious. Rion rose, snuck up behind him, and drew back his arms.
The guard flicked his head, like he had heard something behind him. Rion grabbed his head and sent out his power. His eyes glowed red and black as tendrils of electricity skipped over the man’s cranium. He screamed like a banshee and dropped, with a look on his face like his innards had been torn out. Rion felt satisfied, but the scream was as good as a red alarm. Cries for assistance and rustling noises surrounded him.
Rion grabbed the man’s gun–it felt like his combipositor–and faced the cobblestone walkway. The path was lined with rectangular hedge partitions, planters, and ceramic statues. A wide swath of glass doors led into a lobby. He had to save one bullet to break the glass.
An agent emerged from the side of the tower, and Rion fired before he was noticed. Two more black suits appeared and headed down the walkway towards him. Each had a gun at the ready. More were on the way. The only way to get to the doors would be to run.
Rion ran forward and fired a shot at each agent. One rolled behind a bench, the other jumped backwards. Rion hoped he’d gotten at least one.
Gun blasts exploded. He was a sitting duck running in a straight line. He juked left, and climbed the bench. He jumped off, spun in the air, and fired two warning shots. The suits ducked back behind their cover.
Rion stumbled on the landing, stopping in front of a gap in the hedge walls. An agent stepped in front of him, gun drawn.
Rion grabbed his arm and sent out his power. The man reacted like he’d been hit in the face with a mallet. He collapsed, knocked out and Rion was off before he hit the ground.
Rion fired the gun left and right. He didn’t intend to hit anyone, just to scare them away. Getting to the entrance was his only thought–everything else was tangential. As long as the path was unblocked, nothing could stop him.
Twenty feet away, his gun ticked instead of fired. Empty. No way to get in.
Screaming like a barbarian, he chucked the heavy gun at the door. It flew end over end and hit dead center. The glass instantly became opaque and disintegrated, shards falling like rain. He was home free.
Until ten men, dressed in black armored body suits and gas masks emerged from the inside walls of the foyer and ran out.
Seeing the machine gun rifles in their hands, Rion skidded to a stop. The remaining agents came forward, all pointing handguns, and encircled him.
Rion crouched like a trapped tiger, moving his eyes from one side to the other as they closed in. Their tactics, their guns, didn’t matter. He couldn’t see them as anything but lambs to the slaughter. Guns were useless compared to his power. He had only one choice.
Starting slow, he gathered energy in his brain, brick by brick, accelerating in intensity. This was going to be the biggest blast he had ever tried. It had to wipe them all out. It might even wipe himself out, but he had to take that risk.
They moved closer. Pressure hammered in his skull. He grunted from the pain. The grunt turned to a shout, into a primal howl. He raised his arms to the sky.
Everyone froze. The agents relaxed their guns and looked towards the tower. Someone was coming out of the building.
“Move it,” he said as he squeezed in-between two soldiers. Rion’s eyes widened. It was one of the agents that chased him from the hotel. He had no armor or weapons, just a folder under one arm.
They regarded each other for a moment. “Here.” He held out the folder.
“What?” Rion said, still on edge.
“This is all you need to know.” He turned to the others. “You all can go now. Your services are no longer required.”
“Sir?” one of the agents said, still fingering his trigger.
“It’s all over. I advise you to drop your weapons where they are. You no longer have the authority to hold them. And I’d suggest leaving the premises.”
“Sir? Mr. Harrington? I don’t understand.”
“We no longer have a need for you. Your employment is terminated, if you prefer that term,” Harrington said calmly. “In other words, ‘you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here’.”
None of the agents moved from their spots, but they did lower their weapons.
Rion looked at Harrington. “What’s going on? How come- It- Why-?” The questions flooded in, too many at once.
“Read this folder,” Harrington repeated. “It’ll tell you everything.”
Rion took the folder and gave him a dirty look, angry at his vagueness. But since he had enough authority to stop everyone with a word, he gave him the benefit of the doubt and opened the folder.