I decide to follow my hunch and take the direction opposite of the arrow, going to the right instead of the left. I immediately regret making such a stupid decision. It’s a good thing The Geek can’t see me, because I know he would be livid at such an idiotic choice.
After a few feet, I find myself in front of a split in the path which looks precisely the same as the first. Again I look at the direction the arrow is pointing and question whether I should trust it. Miss Nile really has only one thing in mind for me, right? Death. Can I really trust these arrows she so obviously had installed to get through her maze are there to put me on the right path? Three directions, with an arrow pointing to the left. Again I choose the opposite. Three times I do this before I exit the maze and find myself entering a swanky dark-stained wooden bar area set up against the windows and overlooking the city of Boston.
A figure stands behind the bar, giving me a pained look.
“Bruno!” I scream as I run toward him.
“It appears there are more brains to you than I had given you credit for, Mr. Rhodes.” Miss Nile is seated on the other side of the room in a plush lounge chair. Her legs are crossed and her fingers are tented as they are placed upon her knee.
I slow my movement and a smile grows upon her lips.
“Are you okay, Bruno?” I ask, curious why he seems to be working as Miss Nile’s bartender.
“Oh, he is quite fine, I assure you. I’m certain serving my drinks isn’t precisely how he would prefer to be spending his time right now, but considering the circumstances, I’m fairly certain he’s quite happy with his position.”
“What is going on here?” I yell, making a threatening step toward her.
“Why don’t you tell him, Bruno darling? Tell him how you’ve been working for me. How you’ve always been working for me?”
I stop in my tracks. I slowly return my attention to Bruno as my jaw drops to the floor.
“What?” I gasp.
Bruno looks at his feet.
“Of course he works for me,” Miss Nile says with a light cackle. “Everyone works for me, eventually.”
“But,” I stammer. “But she has your kid, she…” I trail off as the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. “She promised to get you back your kid if you brought me to her, didn’t she? If you helped me fall into her trap?”
“I’m sorry, Cyrus,” he says, still looking at the carpet. “I really didn’t want to, but, well, I mean—“
“Oh, come off it, Bruno,” Miss Nile says, leaning back in her chair confidently. “He’s been working for me ever since the fateful day he managed to succeed in this run you’ve been doing such a fantastic job of failing at. Ever since the day I began holding his daughter ransom. Although, I must say it feels to me as though our partnership has gotten stronger over the years, don’t you think, Bruno? Isn’t there some part of you which feels saddened to know my use for you will be over soon?”
I turn my back on Bruno, uncertain of how to even respond to finding him as being yet another failure in where I’ve placed my trust. I storm toward Miss Nile, keeping my attention on the corners of the room. I’ve got no idea of what this evil woman has planned, but I’m not going to drop my guard now, not when I’ve come so close to finishing what I started.
“Oh, you seem so disappointed, Mister Rhodes,” she says, leaning forward in her seat and gesturing to the chair next to hers. “Please, sit and talk with me for a while.”
“I’d rather stand,” I say coldly, positioning myself beside the offered chair. “Where’s Eve?”
“Oh, she’s around here somewhere.” Miss Nile continues smiling as she reclines in her chair once again. “But let’s talk about something else first.”
“I’d much rather talk about Eve.”
“And I’d much rather talk about what you think you’re doing hacking my systems,” she hisses. Her smile has disappeared now, replaced with a grim scowl which shows she’s ready to rip me apart with her bare hands.
I stare her down, not sure how to respond to her accusation.
“Please, enlighten me,” she presses forward. “For what possible purpose would you have to break into my systems and pretend to be me?”
“I’ve got a better question,” I begin, feeling my rage build. “What gives you the right to abuse and use everyone and everything? How are you so special that you get to run this country as if it’s your own personal playground?”
Miss Nile’s scowl burns darker as she looks me up and down. Before speaking a word, she lifts herself up out of the chair. I had forgotten how tall this woman is. There she stands, at least a foot over me, glaring down at me as though she could vaporize me without even lifting a finger.
“How dare you question my motives? How dare you think you’ve the right to know my motives? There is but one reason I’ve left you alive all these days, Cyrus Rhodes. One reason alone. To know how you did it. But don’t think that’s enough to keep you alive even a moment longer if you choose to continue on with this prattling about what you think is right and what your principles tell you.”
She gestures to Bruno with a simple, but angry, wave of her hand. I look over my shoulder to watch him disappear below the bar and reappear as he lifts a bound and gagged Eve from underneath.
“Eve!” I gasp involuntarily.
I hear her muffled screams, but can’t make out her response.
“Ah, there it is,” Miss Nile says. I turn my gaze back upon her and find the smile has returned. “Of course it would take the girl to get a rise out of you, wouldn’t it?”
“What do you want with her?” I growl. “She’s not a part of this!”
“She is if she’s the only thing that will get you to talk.”
“Fine,” I give in. “Fine, I’ll talk. Just let her go.”
“Oh, I don’t think it will be quite so easy for you, Mr. Rhodes. Perhaps I need a sign of faith from you, something to show me you are truly willing to cooperate.”
“I’ll do anything if you leave her out of this.”
“Perfect,” she smiles, stepping forward to close the already small distance between us. “Kneel.”
“Kneel before me. Show me your reverence, boy, and kneel at my feet.”
“Not a chance,” I say through clenched teeth.
“Oh, you will,” her hissing voice replies. “Bruno,” she says firmly. “Dispose of the girl.”
“What?” Bruno asks.
“You heard me, dispose of her.” She points toward a corner of the room.
“Come on,” Bruno says, sounding terrified. “I’ve done so much for you already. I can’t kill her.”
“You can and you will, at least if you ever wish to see your daughter again.” Miss Nile snaps her fingers and one of the walls of the maze slides into the ground, revealing a young girl.
“Maya!” Bruno yells, letting go of Eve and running toward his daughter.
Miss Nile snaps her fingers again and the wall slides back into place. “Not so fast, my dear bulky man. First, dispose of the girl, then you’ll be reunited.”
Tears are already streaming down Bruno’s face, but I can see the choice placed before him is one he is quickly resolved to make.
Eve’s eyes widen with fear. Her muffled screams fill the quiet air as Bruno pulls her out from behind the bar toward the glass-lined wall. Once he reaches it, I notice there is glass on the floor along the walls, used, I guess, to look straight down upon those below.
Bruno places Eve next to one of the windows and opens one of the floor glass plates. The air in the room immediately begins rushing and howling with the strong wind coming from outside.
“Okay!” I give in as I fall to my knees at Miss Nile’s feet. “I’m kneeling already, okay? Just stop this. Close the window, leave Eve alone!”
Miss Nile gestures to Bruno with a wink and looks down at me, her grin growing grimmer. “Now,” she says, extending her hand and holding the back of it in front of my face. “Kiss my hand to show your allegiance.”
I stare at the hand, look back to Eve, and then return to the hand.
“If I do this, you’ll let Eve go? You’ll free her from all of this to live out her life long and happy and without fear of any of this ever coming back to her again?”
“Provided she does not create further incident which will bring her back into my presence, you have my word.”
Again I look back to Eve. Not create further incident. That hardly sounds like her. I’d be willing to bet the second she gets free of this place she’ll be working on a way back in. But I can’t let her die now, not when I have a chance to stop it. Even if she’ll end up dying the same way in a week, it can’t happen simply because my pride kept me from kissing a tyrannical woman’s hand.
I turn my head toward the hand, the shriveled, wart-covered, gross hand of the darkest evil. I half want to believe she’s somehow got the power to make her hand even grosser, just so she could make this moment that much more revolting to me.
“Let her fall,” The Geek whispers in my ear.
“What?” I say aloud before realizing it.
“I believe you know what, Mr. Rhodes,” Miss Nile says impatiently. “Place those rotten lips of yours upon my hand.”
“Let her fall,” The Geek repeats. “I promise you she’ll be perfectly safe.”
I close my eyes as I try to picture what The Geek might have in store. He’s my brother. I love him. But the idea of allowing Eve to be dropped off the sixtieth floor of this building, well, that’s a little hard to swallow.
“I promise, Cy. Trust me.”
Slowly I stand and look Miss Nile directly in the eye. “I won’t do it,” I say firmly. “I’m not kissing your disgusting hand.”
A look of surprise covers Miss Nile’s face, but she quickly recovers.
“As you wish.” She again waves her arm at Bruno. Again the window is opened. Eve screams wildly at me as she is lifted and held above the whistling hole in the floor. And then, without a word, she is gone.
I run toward the window, tears already streaming down my face. I fall to the floor in front of the open window panel and look down to see the fate of my beloved.
She’s plummeting like a rock to the road below. I inwardly curse The Geek as I remember how he had wanted me to leave her to die in the prison. And as I think the terrible thoughts against him, Eve disappears in a shower of blue sparkles.
“Now bring back Maya.” Bruno storms toward Miss Nile.
“Very well, you have more than kept up your end of the bargain,” Miss Nile says with a sense of boredom. She snaps her fingers and the little girl reappears. “I hope you enjoy your time together,” she grins. “Because you won’t have long to enjoy it.”
Bruno runs to Maya and embraces her. Miss Nile’s words begin to sink in and he looks over his shoulder angrily at her.
“What are you talking about?” he says tearfully.
“This building is rigged to explode in a matter of minutes. You won’t possibly have enough time to escape before it does, especially with the elevators out.”
Bruno’s eyes widen and he lifts Maya in his arms and runs out of the room.
I stand up and wipe my eyes before turning again to Miss Nile in a fit of rage.
“Alright,” I scream. “You’ve seen what I’m capable of. You’ve seen how you can’t hurt me. You know I’m able to do whatever is necessary to end this right here and now. So, now, I’m only going to tell you one time. Turn off the nukes.”
“The nukes?’ Miss Nile laughs. “Don’t you understand, dear ignorant Cyrus? All of this, it has nothing to do with the nukes. That ship has sailed, boy. The timers moved forward the second you stepped foot into this building. In a matter of forty-eight minutes,” she says while looking at her watch, “the bombs will go off and destroy the financial and industrial districts of this entire nation, effectively handicapping everything this country holds dear.
“And I, I alone, will hold the key to production, the key to civilization. With one press of a button, a button I pressed weeks ago, I set in motion the events which will remove all that keeps me from attaining absolute power. I will have removed those who claim to hold power over me. With the simple press of a button, I have taken complete control of not only my destiny, but the destiny of the entire world. Within a matter of less than an hour, I will become the single most powerful person in existence. That is, of course, after I have removed you from the equation.”
“You’re crazy,” I gasp. “You seriously wish to destroy the world so you can rule over its smoking remains?”
Miss Nile laughs. “Oh, no, my boy. You see, those bombs are not nuclear, as you have been led to believe. They are much more tactical and direct than that. I allowed the rebellion to believe they were placing nuclear bombs, for they have some rather grandiose and wild ideas about how to liberate this country. But the truth is: those bombs are for the purposes of liberating me. They shall destroy those who would bind my hands from enacting my true and final plans.”
“Okay, you’re not crazy, just mad,” I respond. “What do you hope to gain by killing off a whole bunch of people? You’re already the most powerful person around and I’ve met plenty of mighty powerful people over the past few weeks.”
“My power is limited. I answer to many superiors. They may not wield the power of the system, as I do, but they hold my existence in the palms of their hands. As such, they have managed to keep mine tied. There is nothing I am allowed to do without direct oversight.”
“So, you’re saying there’s someone supervising what you’re doing right now?”
“Luckily my oversight is rather sluggish in keeping up with my actions and will be completely removed before they are even aware.”
“I still don’t get it. You still have all the power you could possibly want, don’t you?”
“I want more. I crave more. My simple employers have kept one rule hanging over my head for all these years, one stupid simple-minded rule which keeps me from achieving pure power over everything.”
“What’s that?” I ask.
“It’s what they like to jokingly call The Monroe Doctrine. A rule which states we must remain closed off from foreign affairs, or, more importantly to my cause, to be cut off from attempting to increase our hold to include the rest of the world.”
“And if you get rid of these guys, you think you can finally do it. You can take over the world? Isn’t that, you know, the stuff those mad scientists or whatever want to do?”
“Ah, but what a world I could produce, if only given the opportunity. You see, once I am allowed free rein, once I am finally capable of extending my reach across these borders and across the seas, you will see I can, once and for all, create a utopia, a place where all are equal and all are free, in that they are free from the need to decide their future. Once I am allowed—“
“I’ve heard enough already,” I frown. “You’re crazy, that’s all I need to know. I am curious, however, about two things.”
“Yes?” she asks.
“First, how do I fit into all of this? Why does it matter if I’m around when you’re planning on taking over the world? And why haven’t you killed me already if I really am all such a big deal?”
“Simple, my boy. I can’t have anyone else attempt to usurp my throne. Before I can remove you from the equation, I have to ensure no one else will be able to ever do it again.”
“Okay, great,” I say. “That makes sense. One more thing.”
“I’m willing to humor you one more item,” she says, her smile beginning to weaken. “But I urge you to make it quick.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Make it quick. Of course, you’ve already tossed your only leverage out the window, so I think we both know there’s no real rush for me to get to answering your big question.”
“I hope you realize, Mr. Rhodes, stalling will get you nowhere. I do have your audio transmissions being reviewed right now. You can be assured we will find the key to them in no time, meaning I may require you to answer me these questions no longer.”
“Right,” I say. “I get that. That’s why I’ll make this quick and then we can get to the whole who is going to kill who thing.”
“Do you have a plan?” The Geek whispers through my ear piece. I smile inwardly, knowing he’s listening. Hoping he catches my hint.
“Okay, so, final question. You say those bombs of yours are set to go off and no one will be able to stop them before they do. Let’s say I believe you. What happens if, say, someone were to manage to take you out of the picture at the same time? How would that affect your little plan?”
“Are you threatening me, Mr. Rhodes?”
“How could I possibly threaten you, Miss Nile?” I smirk. “After all, you’ve got me up here on top of your tower which is apparently about to blow up. Besides, you have complete control over everything, right? Look at me.” I take off my trench coat, “I’m holding no secrets.”
I gesture to my simple t-shirt and jeans, even turning out my pockets as a way to show I am hiding absolutely nothing.
“Oh, believe me,” Miss Nile laughs. “I’m well aware you offer me no true danger. I do know, however, you are not the type to go down easily.”
Miss Nile approaches me slowly.
“You are one of those annoying types. The ones who wish to do nothing but whittle away at the work performed by us who have bled to attain our place in life. You, annoying little brat that you are, think simply because you’ve talked to a few people, learned a few things, that you know the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m sick of it,” she continues, now arriving in front of me, her face in mine, pushing me backwards to hover over the still open window pane Eve had disappeared through only a moment prior. “But it doesn’t matter. Should someone manage to somehow eliminate me, the bombs will still go off. The world will still be irreversibly changed. Of course, my death is not something even you are capable of.
“Well,” Miss Nile says, spitting in my face as she speaks. “Why don’t you give it your best shot? That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? To attempt to kill me?”
“Honestly, lady,” I say with a grin, “I’ve just been looking for a hug.”
As soon as I say it, I wrap my arms around the woman, and pull her backwards as I jump through the open hole.
She doesn’t even make a noise as we plummet through the air. She simply stares at me, evil grin on her face, and holds on tightly.
This game of chicken regarding who will scream first finally ends when Miss Nile breaks into a wild cackle before pushing away from me. I watch as she sparkles and disappears into thin air.
“Geek!” I scream before I finally recognize the prickly feeling of being plucked from one location to the next.
Go to Chapter Thirty-Four