I could run. I should run. But I’m rooted to the spot. No matter what I do, they know someone’s here. And I have a hard time believing they would give up after giving only a cursory glance to see no one is currently awaiting the elevator’s arrival.
I suppose it’s possible they might not even notice. This is a big building, right? There’s bound to be other people in need of the elevator. Not all the floors on this enormous building could be as empty as the few I’ve seen, can they?
Yeah, there’s got to be other people here. There’s got to be hundreds of people here. I bet no one’s even noticed the elevator has started moving. It could be anyone. Heck, it could have even been a glitch, right? This could be my chance. Perhaps I lucked into making a stupid decision which could be the exact one I should have taken from the very start! You know… if I’m lucky anyways.
With a ding, the elevator arrives and the doors open. I step inside.
The panel is covered with buttons, giving numbers all the way up to 60. I thought The Geek had said only the express elevator went up to the top. Maybe 60 isn’t the top floor? I decide to throw caution to the wind and press it.
After a brief pause, the elevator doors close and the carriage begins its ascent to the heavens.
“Hello, Mr. Rhodes,” a female voice comes from a speaker on the panel of buttons. I guess the whole idea of shooting for the luck angle failed me.
“Miss Nile?” I ask, mentally hitting myself for my stupidly bold decision to take the elevator.
“What are you doing in my building?” she says snidely.
“I’m here to find you, just like you wanted.”
“Ah, so you’ve figured out the little game we were playing, have you?”
“Yeah, and now that I’m here, you can call off the nukes. You can stop all this destroying the world nonsense. You’ve got me. We can call it a day.”
“Oh, but I don’t think so, Mr. Rhodes. First of all, I honestly don’t believe you are truly the one I’m looking for. You’ve done nothing to prove yourself as being my little ghost in the machine, although I do find it interesting you know as much as you do. I suppose those people within Golden Dawn you found yourself with must have enlightened you.”
“What if I came up there and shot your eyebrows off with a laser from the sky? Would that prove I’m the one you’re looking for?”
“What?” Miss Nile’s voice sounds confused. “What sort of idiocy are you talking about?”
“I don’t know, just seemed like some sort of crazy way I could show you I have control over your systems.”
“Yet your stupidity has only again proven your ignorance. I have no lasers in the sky. Nor in space, for that matter.”
“You have no clue what I’m capable of. So, tell me. What do you want me to do to prove I’m the guy so you’ll stop trying to destroy the world?”
“First,” she says with a light chuckle. “I need you to stay alive.”
“I think I’ve managed pretty well already, considering what all you and the rest of this country have put me through. If all you need is for me to stay alive, then look at me, look at how alive I am.”
“Oh no,” she says as the elevator dings to announce its arrival at my intended floor. “I need you to survive this.”
A loud click sounds and the elevator shudders. A brief second goes by before I feel myself lifted off the floor. I’m floating in the middle of the cabin as it plummets the sixty stories to the ground.
I press my finger to my ear in a panic. “Geek!” I scream. “Help!”
“What?” The Geek asks. He sounds worried and his voice echoes oddly.
“Put on the brakes in all the elevators in Hancock Tower or I’m a pancake.”
“Yeah, hold on,” he says quickly. The free fall seems to last forever. The radio silence continues until I slam against the ground of the elevator and it slows to a stop.
“Cyrus,” I hear through my earpiece.
“I’m still alive,” I groan, although I landed on my face and feel as though I may have inverted my nose.
“Great,” he says in a hushed voice, although still echoing.
“Where are you?” I ask.
“I’m in the air ducts, climbing to the top of the building. Where are you? Is Eve okay?”
“Impressive work, Mr. Rhodes,” Miss Nile’s voice returns. “I really didn’t believe you had it in you. Voice activated help, none the less. Don’t worry, I managed to capture your encrypted audio stream and will be certain to crack the code soon. It won’t be long now before I figure out how you’ve managed to break into my systems. And once I’ve done that, I can finally be rid of you.”
“Be rid of me?” I ask as the elevator begins ascending once again. “Why would you need to get rid of me? If you lock me out—“
“Nice try, Mr. Rhodes, but you and I both know I can’t allow you to continue on with your knowledge of me and of who I truly am.”
“Sure you can. Who am I going to tell anyways? Or, I mean, I already told Golden Dawn. They know all about you, where to find you, who you are, and all that stuff.”
“Don’t take me for an idiot, Mr. Rhodes. I know everything about what you’ve been up to since I last saw you. I even know about your little girlfriend tagging along with you to Boston.”
She knows about Eve. Wait, The Geek asked about her. They must have been split up.
“Oh, yes, and speaking of your lady friend,” Miss Nile continues, “do you have anything you’d like me to tell her for you? A tall friend of mine happened across her on the road earlier today and brought her up for a visit.”
Of course she has her. At least she doesn’t seem to know about The Geek. Granted, with that pudgy kid climbing the air ducts to the sixtieth floor, I might as well be praying for a miracle. The elevator begins to rise once again.
“Why are you so quiet, Mr. Rhodes? Are you not typically known for expressing yourself openly through countless comments of sarcasm with notes of baseless confidence?”
“Lady,” I say, deciding baseless confidence might be exactly what this moment needs, “I’m so done with this that I don’t even have time to respond to your stupidity. Let me out of this elevator or I’ll be forced to show you what I’m truly capable of.”
The elevator dings and the doors open.
“Great.” I step out into the darkness which fills the top floor. “Now maybe you could turn on the lights?”
“Oh, but Mr. Rhodes,” her voice echoes through the air, “why would you need me to do something as simple as turn on the lights when you so obviously have the power to do so much more with a wave of your arms.”
“Fine,” I say. The lights flicker to life around me soundlessly.
“You’re welcome,” The Geek says through my ear piece. I hate to admit it, but I’m really happy to have that kid in my head again. For the first time since I broke out of prison, I feel as though I’m in control of the situation.
“Ah, look, you didn’t even have to command it. You wield quite deft control over my command structure,” Miss Nile says. I walk deeper into the room and note this floor appears infinitely more completed than the rest of the tower I’ve seen so far, albeit rather surgical in its design. Stainless steel molding lines the elevator room, with a white painted surface between the metal. As I exit the room, however, I see steel covers everything. But what’s more noticeable is howthis floor appears to be nothing more than a series of metallic walls, splitting off into several directions as a labyrinth.
“By now, I’m guessing you’ve come to the conclusion of what this floor entails,” Miss Nile’s voice continues. “If you truly have the power you’re pretending to possess, it should be an incredibly simple task for you to find the cheese in the middle. If, however, you are pretending, I’d imagine you will become irreversibly lost within minutes. I should note there are several locations within the maze which could have fatal repercussions.”
I stare at the choices in front of me. There are three ways to enter the maze, each seeming to split off almost immediately into even more options. I seem to remember learning once that the key to correctly getting out of any maze is to simply keep your hand against the wall. As long as your hand never leaves the wall, you’ll find the exit eventually.
But Miss Nile said the only way I can find the exit is if I have access to her command protocols. And did she say death traps? There must be some trick, right? Something that would happen to those who try to make their way without the commands? Or could it be another one of her tricks?
An arrow lights up in the floor at my feet and flashes toward the entrance on the left. I look at it quizzically. This must be a trap, right? Obviously if the maze is telling me to go that way, it’s the one direction I shouldn’t take.
“You see it?” The Geek asks.
“Is that you?”
“The arrows, yeah,” he says, quickly followed by, “but don’t say anything more to me if you can help it. I think she’s trying to figure out if you’re talking to someone or really have the ability to control the command structure by voice. Seems like there’s an easy protocol in place to print arrows on the floor to help people who have the access to get through. This should help you out. If everything’s cool, say, ‘Arrows on’ or something.”
Is everything cool? I’ve been taught over these past weeks to not trust anyone, that everyone seems to have their own agenda and when things seem most clear, they are obviously not. Every time I’ve thought I’ve known which path to take, I’ve found myself being shown I should have gone in the opposite direction.
And now here, almost as if Miss Nile has known about my inner struggle, I’m given a physical manifestation of that very idea.
Only problem is, if this isn’t the way, if the arrow isn’t telling me how to get to the exit, how could I possibly know which way will.
“Cyrus,” The Geek urges. “Arrows on?” he asks.
Here I am, standing before a puzzle which probably means death no matter which direction I take. The only hope I may have is that if I take the right path, it might be possible to save Eve. Maybe. Or, I suppose, more importantly, it could be possible to save millions if not billions of people. And there it is, a path complete with glowing arrows, blinking at me as though beckoning me to enter.
The choice is simple. “Arrows on,” I say confidently and step into the maze.
Go to Chapter Thirty-Three