XII: Hang Ups

Chapter XII

The old rendezvous was located not far from where he was. Jumping down from the concrete block and breaking into a steady run, Dominic found his mind awash in a series of poignantly darting thoughts.

That was SATE I saw, right? Had to be… Which means, if Berin was warning me about them, then the woman should be safe. The woman he thought of was Kairi Celine.This means also that Detroit might be waiting with them. But what if he was warning me about Detroit? What if something went wrong and Berin doesn’t know anything about SATE and… What if he’s leading me into a trap?

He remembered their meeting spot well; an arboretum, located entirely underground in a simulated ecosystem that flourished as if under the light of the sun itself. At least, that was the idea; now it was overgrown, dark, and secluded. The perfect place for them to have control of him, if they wanted it.

He swallowed hard, heart pounding against his chest. The thought of betrayal shook him to his core. But he kept going; he had to, until he thought of some place better.

Uncloaking, he deactivated the rest of his sensor-mystifying gear. He needed to save the energy, and besides, it wouldn’t do much to ward off the SATE drop squads; by past experience, he knew they had equipment far more advanced than his own. His only hope was that they would ignore him.

He looked back over his shoulder—the black spots were drawing near. It wouldn’t be too long before…

“Hey! Wait up!” he heard behind him.

He turned to the voice, emanating from an overhead window back in the direction he had come. As he looked at the figure, it waved and disappeared into the downtrodden building.

I don’t have time for this. He turned to run, but a voice at the back of his mind urged him to wait, and take a deep breath before making any decisions. Moments later, a white clad figure of clear African descent came dashing out of the building, dodging around the scavenging robotic critters.

He seems familiar somehow… ‘Scan,’ he thought. A regulating system wired into his brain matched the man’s face to an event from earlier, causing a memory of the Dragon’s Breath to surface in his mind; of two men playing chess. That’s where I saw him… Maybe he does know something useful.

“Oh man am I glad I caught you,” the stranger panted, drawing close and dropping his hands onto his knees in exhaustion. “I saw…” he breathed heavily, “I saw what they did to that other soldier. The guy you came here with.”

Sherrad. A chill quaked through his skin. “Who?” he demanded.

“Blonde haired fellow—”

“Detroit.” His heart recoiled. He felt as if he had known the truth long before it was even spoken.

“Yeah, you know ‘im?”

“Yeah,” he said, brain churning in an effort to comprehend the situation he now found himself in. “You see what they did with him?”

“Nah man, one second he was there, next I saw everything was gone. But I saw you earlier and you seemed like a good kinda’—”

“I’m going to help you,” Dom said, an idea sparking in his mind. “You see those?” he nodded towards the growing black specks in the sky. “They belong to SATE.”

“What? What do you…” The comment took a moment to register with the man. But when it did, his eyes widened and his lips parted slowly. “But then… that means…”

“You need to go underground,” Dom said calmly, meeting the man’s darkly aware eyes. “I want to help you stay alive, and this is the best way for you to avoid harm.”

Of course, he knew it wouldn’t help; if SATE wanted the city gone they could turn it into a two hundred kilometer deep hole in one flyover, their shining spears of multiple-megaton justice piercing the earth and hurtling them all into oblivion.

“Wait, but… Why are you doing this?”

“You helped me. Now I’m helping you,” he said. It’s the truth… Sort of. “And right now, I need you to gather up everyone you can and get to the Reihvass Experimental Arboretum in District nine. I will meet you there.”

The man seemed to consider this for a moment. Then he nodded and did a quick stretch, getting primed for a run. “Where should I look for you?”

“Don’t worry. I will contact you. Just get to the arboretum... Main entrance.”

The stranger nodded and ran ahead, turning down the first alley he came to. As Dominic began towards the destination, a message played through his mind, simultaneously blared over loudspeakers placed throughout the city.

“Residents of Idest, post-event human establishment 0241… we request that you please remain indoors until further notice. If you can identify any of the following men, please report their location to us through this channel of communication.” An array of faces flashed through his mind; ragged and world weary. He recognized three of them—Sherrad, Detroit, and himself, his picture underscored with the words ‘Dominic Rivera – Government Agent.’

If anything, that would help his cause with the locals; at least the ones who weren’t paralyzed by fear or drugs.

They must want those nanomachines, he thought, picking up the pace in the direction of the arboretum. But Edwards didn’t seem to think they were anything special… There’s something I’m not seeing.

He huffed loudly in exasperation. He hoped to find Sherrad when he found Detroit, and hopefully some answers. If any of us live that long…

He looked back at the black ships landing. They seemed to be taking their time, leisurely alighting some way in the distance. Maybe he would get his chance to find out what was going on after all...

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