“Move it, kid!” Bruno yells at me while pulling me down the riverbank. The sound of the helicopter is growing closer. It’s apparent it will be flying directly overhead at any second.
“Where’s he taking you?” The Geek asks in my ear. “I don’t see any way to cross over there.”
“Right up ahead, kid!” He speeds forward and leaps into the water. Miraculously he doesn’t get sucked under. “Come on, there’s a series of shelves here. Should be solid enough to get us to the other side. Even if you slip, the water’s not too deep.”
“Maybe not deep,” The Geek adds, “but it sure looks fast.”
“You’re not helping,” I mutter.
“You’ve got about five seconds before the chopper spots you. Does that help?” The Geek says snarkily.
I leap into the water behind Bruno, landing on a slick rock directly under the surface. The water rushes around my feet, threatening to pull me under.
“You alright, kid?”
“Yeah, let’s go!”
Bruno jumps onto the next rock. While I’m in midair, following him, the helicopter breaks out from behind the tree line, breaking my concentration. I slip on the rock, landing hard on my backside, and am pulled down the river.
The water is cold, instantly shocking my system, which, for the record, was already pretty well shocked. As a side note, the cold water makes the pain in my side and knee cap subside. The world spins around me, I can’t figure out which way is up or which way is water. Sputtering for breath, I feel myself pulled under, until suddenly, warm air presses against my skin and I feel soft grass beneath me.
I open my eyes and hazard a breath.
The sun is shining overhead in the midst of a perfectly blue sky. A grassy meadow stretches on for as far as the eye can see. Is this what the afterlife looks like? If so, I think I could get used to it.
A sparkling flash of light occurs directly in front of me, followed by the appearance of Bruno in the midst of it.
“What the—“ he asks before recognizing the change in location. “Where are we?”
“Somewhere safe,” a familiar female voice says from behind me. I spin on my heel and see the unforgiving smirk of Miss Nile.
“You!” I accuse.
“I had hoped to be able to keep my intervention minimal, Mr. Rhodes. However, it would appear you have done a fairly poor job of utilizing the gift I had given you appropriately. I had considered this to be a sign you are not the one I’ve been searching for, but decided it couldn’t hurt to give you one final opportunity.”
“What are you doing here?” Bruno balls his fists as he steps between me and the woman.
“Mr. Tucker, you have no need to fear me. I’m here to help.”
“Where are we?” I ask.
“This is the Ashburnham State Forest,” she answers, “merely a few miles away from Fort Devens, where you had been incarcerated.”
“Forest?” I scowl.
“Yes, well, the name is something of a misnomer, a memory of a time long past. The forest was clear-cut years back and has now become the meadow you see today. I suppose State Meadow does not have quite the same ring to it.”
“What do you want from us?” Bruno growls.
“Better yet, who are you, and why are you trying to help me?” I slowly stand.
“You both seem to be harboring a great deal of animosity toward the person who rescued you.”
“I’m pretty strongly against anyone I don’t know at this point.” I scowl. “And most I do, come to think of it.”
“Perhaps we should be better acquainted then.” The dark smirk reappears in the corner of her mouth. “I work for The Agora.”
“I don’t believe you,” I say, holding my ground.
“And why is that? Why would I have any reason to lie to you?”
“Well,” I say finding it difficult to remove the scowl from my face to talk, “for one thing, if The Agora has the tech you’re using, I don’t see why they’d use runners to deliver things.”
I look over to Bruno and notice his face tight with rage. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he and Miss Nile have a history.
“Your file does you no justice, Mr. Rhodes.” Miss Nile walks around me, looking me up and down as she does.
“Everyone keeps telling me that.”
“Perhaps it serves to your benefit,” Miss Nile continues. “I had definitely underestimated you. I was certain you would have given up after spraying the wound on your side. I definitely didn’t believe you would be willing to use the foam again.”
“Don’t tell me. It was all a test.”
“As a matter of fact.” Her eyes open wide in amusement, “it wasn’t. But it was something of a curiosity to me. Most people who use the MATRIX-Heal foam do so under local anesthetic. It was, needless to say, quite impressive you chose to use the foam a second time.”
“A man will do a lot of stupid things when he’s certain he’s going to be buried away for the rest of his life,” I answer.
“True, true. But many better men than yourself, Mr. Rhodes, would simply choose to die.”
“Can we get to the point here?” My scowl grows larger. “What do you want from me?” I say the last bit slowly, wanting to ensure she understands.
She laughs. “As I was saying, I work for The Agora. However, I do not work for the company as you see it. I work for a much grander segment of the organization. One whom, you may say, has a vested interest in the battle for this country.”
“Sure, I get it. The Agora wants the government to win because otherwise business will suffer.”
“To the contrary, Mr. Rhodes. We don’t wish for anyone to win.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m pretty sure I’m missing something here,” I say, shaking my head. “Someone has to win.”
“I fear your understanding of the art of war is somewhat lacking. War never ends.”
“But why wouldn’t you want the war to end? Don’t you want it to go back to normal? Back to the way it was before I started this run?”
“Do you believe your run to Boston was the start of this war between good and evil?” she asks, making hand gestures of quotation marks around the last three words.
“Wasn’t the whole thing out in Cheyenne the first battle?”
“Oh no, Mr. Rhodes. This war has been raging for decades. And there has been only one true victor through all of it.”
“The Agora, I suppose?” I ask.
“You’re beginning to understand.”
“I’m not so sure I am.”
“It’s quite simple, you see. As long as there are two factions opposing each other, we are able to operate within the small space between them. One side makes it so our services are required; the other side makes it so we are able to provide them. As long as there is war, The Agora can continue. And profit.”
“You’re profiting off of war?” I yell for reasons I can’t quite explain. “Isn’t that illegal?”
Miss Nile laughs. “You were sent away to prison for the rest of your life. Do you honestly wish to debate with me about the law?”
“Fine,” I reply. “So, as long as the war is around, you’re making money. I’ve only got two questions. First, why are you telling me all this? Seems a little too much like something out of a movie.”
“Why wouldn’t I tell you this? You asked and your knowledge of it won’t make any difference.”
“Okay, but then question number two. Why me?”
“Mr. Rhodes, you are doing a great service to our entire business model. Your run has made it entirely possible the need for our marketplace will grow exponentially.”
“Okay, then why didn’t you get involved sooner? Why now? I could have used you a few times in the past couple weeks.”
“It would appear you have come out of things alright without our interference. At least until now.”
“Fine whatever, I’m already bored with this conversation. Am I good to go on my way now?”
“Not quite, I’m afraid.”
“There is one piece of the story regarding why I saved you, which has to do with the rebellion and their intentions behind your run.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You were sent to Boston as a diversion for something big, yet something so secret even The Agora has as of yet been unable to figure it out. We fear if this act is allowed to take place, it could quickly turn the tide of the war to greatly favor one side.”
“Okay, then why don’t you zap yourselves over to Boston and take care of it.” I shrug. “Seems pretty simple to me.”
“If only it were so simple. The package, as you know, is insignificant. The run, or more specifically, you, are what this all revolves around. Although, we have not yet been able to ascertain why.”
“But me finishing the run isn’t going to do anything but keep up the diversion.”
“That is precisely what we are looking for, Mr. Rhodes. You see, if you continue on your path of causing the entire world to watch your antics, then it is quite easy to believe those who wish to use your distraction will be more bold in their movements.”
“Meaning you’ll be able to find them more easily,” I finish her sentence.
“So, you’re basically wanting to do the same thing Alvin wanted to do? Use me so you can get your way?”
“Oh, Mr. Rhodes. We would never in our darkest days dream of using you. No, we fully intend on compensating you quite healthily for your troubles.”
“Which will do me a whole lot of good when I’m dead at the hands of the SPs, right?”
“Do you not believe we could get you away from them yet again, were you to be captured?”
“Fine, so then I live out the rest of my days as a fugitive.”
“I believe that is your current projected future, without my involvement, is it not?”
“Right, but at least now I’d be doing it on my own terms. This is my life and if there’s one thing I’d like to think I have left, it’s respect for myself.”
“Although I said we would never use you, Mr. Rhodes, I did not state this was something you had a choice in.”
“Yeah?” I turn my back to her. “Well maybe I’m saying you’re the one who doesn’t have a choice.”
“Surely you’re not dumb enough to believe I do not have ways with which to convince you to do my bidding, are you, Mr. Rhodes?”
“Cyrus!” I hear through my earpiece. “They’ve—“
I turn slowly to Miss Nile. “No,” I say softly.
“I am truly sorry it had to go this way, Mr. Rhodes. I had honestly believed you would go along with this willingly.”
“What are you going to do to him? Tell me he’s safe.”
“Oh, I assure you, he’s perfectly fine. However, if you choose to not do my bidding, I can’t promise he will continue as such for much longer.”
“What do you need from me?”
“Just complete your run. Make it to Boston in precisely 6 days and we will return your brother.” She disappears in a crackle of light.
“That was something, huh?” Bruno says with a big sigh. “I was certain she was going to take us back to Devins. Boston isn’t too far from here. A day’s run tops, right? We can go find some place near the drop off point and hide for a few days until we have to do the deed. Seems like as easy of a thing as anything.”
“Oh, now you’re chatty, huh? What happened to you?”
“Nevermind. I don’t want to hear it. It’s not like this is your battle anyways.”
“So, Boston it is then, huh? Easiest run we could do, right?”
“Right,” I say, feeling my jaw tighten.
“Why do I get the feeling it ain’t going to be so easy?” Bruno asks.
“Because we’ve got to make one quick stop first.”
Go to Chapter Three