We arrive at a small dock connected to a public park. The Geek expertly pulls the boat up to the dock and ties it off.
“Where’d you learn to do that?” I ask him.
“Oh, you know, there are plenty of simulators available on the web.”
“Simulators for tying off a boat?” I ask, incredulously.
“Hey, don’t look at me. There’s even one where you can simulate being a goat,” he shrugs.
“Come on guys,” Eve whispers, climbing out of the boat and onto the swaying dock. “Let’s get going.”
I hop out behind her and turn to assist The Geek in getting his feet on slightly more solid ground. He grabs for my hand and pulls himself out. It takes a lot of effort, but we finally get him out of the boat.
“Guess you couldn’t find a simulator for getting out of the boat, huh?” I joke.
“I did. Just doesn’t do the actual act any justice,” he frowns.
The sky is beginning to brighten over the buildings in the distance. I’ve never been as big of a fan of large cities as I am of the open spaces, but I have to admit, it’s quite beautiful.
We all stand in silence for a brief moment staring at the skyline before The Geek claps his hands to wake us.
“Alright, you two ready?”
He heads down the dock toward a path which goes along the riverbed. We follow after him. It’s pretty surreal to be heading into battle so slowly behind our short pudgy leader.
Of course, very little about this whole thing makes any sense. Who would have guessed this whole battle, this war, was caused simply because my brother decided to dig around in places he shouldn’t have?
I ponder the thought for a moment and realize that perhaps The Geek did the world something of a service. Obviously, Miss Nile had been working hard to keep all these pieces balanced among each other, hoping none would topple and cause her empire to fall because of the shift in balance. But, something as simple as a twelve year old getting in the system and doing what? Ordering pizza? Who knows what he was really getting into? It seems too easy. Almost like someone wanted him to find his way in.
Of course, Miss Nile doesn’t care about how The Geek got his access. She wants him stopped. I fear it could mean a punishment far worse than being tossed in a hole for a lifetime.
The trees clear around us and we enter a large field. At one end of the field is a band shell, a large covered building for performances. It looks like it has seen better days. From the papers strewn across the ground and the tattered banner still spread across the top of the shell, it seems as though it may still be used, from time to time, for propaganda-filled rallies from the SPs. The current banner says, “Together We Can Do It” and has images of hands and planes and silhouetted figures.
The Geek pauses and turns to us. “Alright, so, in case we get separated, you need to remember how to get back to this amphitheater. There’s a great place for us to hide in the back of the band shell. Of course, if you’ve got heat on you, you’ll want to make sure to let it cool down before you come back, seeing as we don’t want to be stuck here for days and days while we wait for the SPs to clear out.”
“Got it,” Eve says.
I nod in agreement.
“I’m serious though. This is the place to meet. If we get caught, the first thing Miss Nile will do is shut down our ear pieces, meaning we’ll have no way of contacting each other. Speaking of which, you guys got your ear pieces in?”
Eve and I look at each other before turning to The Geek and nodding.
“Perfect. If there’s any reason to believe the ear pieces are compromised, ditch ‘em. Remember, they can track us—“
“Relax, Geek,” I smile. “We’ve got it. We’ve been in the fire before.”
“You’ve never been involved in anything like this,” The Geek frowns.
“My experience in Cheyenne, Devens, as well as the last time I was in Boston, seems to disagree with you, little brother.”
“Those guys had tanks. Miss Nile’s got everything.”
“Can we get back to walking?” Eve asks. “I don’t like being out in the open like this.”
“Yeah,” I agree. “I keep thinking someone’s going to jump out of the bushes.”
“Right. Stay close.” The Geek walks away from the band shell toward the trees on the far side of the field.
“So,” I say after a few feet. “How does it feel? Being out here like the rest of us?”
“It’s kind of exciting,” he says. “I guess. Mostly terrifying, but kind of exciting.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” I grin.
“Okay, so, once we get through the trees here, we’ll be right in the thick of it. Everyone should be traveling to work for the day. Many of them walk through downtown, so we should be able to disappear into the crowd easily.” The Geek reaches into his pocket and pulls out a sheet of paper. “There are a few rules to remember for blending into a crowd. Number one: never make eye contact. Trying to catch someone’s eye is the best way to be noticed. Number two: play it cool. But not too cool. There’s nothing more suspicious than someone trying to look like they’re not suspicious. Treat this all as if it’s just another walk in the park. Number three—“
“Billy,” Eve says, taking the paper from him and placing her hand on his shoulder as we make it to the tree line. “We’ll be alright, okay? Me and Cyrus have some experience in playing it cool. The only question here is whether you think you can make it or not.”
“I’m fine,” The Geek answers unconvincingly.
“Okay. But remember, if you’re ever in doubt about whether you’re drawing attention to yourself, do one very important thing. Look at your feet.”
“Your feet. It’s the best way to show people you’re not interested in making contact. For whatever reason, people seem to completely ignore you if you’re looking down at your feet.”
“Really?” I ask. “I never knew that.”
“It’s always worked for me.”
“Okay then,” The Geek says, stepping forward, returning to the path, and going through the trees, “looking at the feet.”
He instantly looks down as he shuffles toward the sidewalk and heads to a walkway which goes over the road. A handful of people join us as we make our way up to the top of the walkway and cross. The footbridge continues past the road and alongside a couple of apartment buildings before it finally returns to street level into a tree-lined boulevard.
We continue forward. The congestion increases as we do. Many people wearing seemingly the precise same trench coat as Eve and I are now walking directly alongside us. I hear The Geek continue to mutter, “Keep looking at your feet,” to himself. I fight back a chuckle at the idea others in this group might be muttering the same thing. Of course, they’re all well practiced at this shuffle. I’d guess they probably don’t need reminding.
I can’t help but notice how quiet it is during this morning commute. Sure, there’s the sound of cars and buses and other forms of motorized transportation all around us, but the sound of people is missing. It’s almost as if everyone here is afraid to speak up during their slow march toward their daily employment. I wonder if there’s something behind it.
Last time I was here I couldn’t help but notice how everyone seemed to be enjoying a bit of recreation time. Golfers, bikers, runners, the basketball courts, and parks, and people on canoes. Everyone seemed to be having fun, even though a majority of that fun seemed focused on destroying me.
I wonder if there’s a chance that maybe these Bostonians, or is it Bostonites? I wonder if they were being given some sort of special privilege if they would be willing to help stop me. Maybe I’m not as hated around here as I had thought. Or maybe it’s how people are when they’re walking into work this early in the morning. Perhaps things will change after a cup of coffee.
We take a right alongside the road and lose half our entourage. I feel a little concerned about the loss of cover. Sure, the more people around us, the better chance of getting recognized. But I like to think these people act as a sort of camouflage in themselves. Being lost in the sea of gray made me feel comfortable. Almost like being lost out in the middle of the wilderness.
The buildings here are gorgeous. They all look like they’ve been around for hundreds of years. Sure, they could use a little bit of upkeep, but with the economy the way it is and everything. Or at least that’s what people always seem to be saying whenever we talk about the state of the world at the splits. Which, to be honest, isn’t very often.
A group of six children join us, walking immediately in front of The Geek. I laugh inwardly as I realize why he’s been dressed so oddly. He’s trying to blend in with the school crowd. That explains the sweater vest at least. I wonder if that means Eve and I are supposed to look as though we’re his parents.
Maybe The Geek’s been trying to develop this into some sort of weird fantasy family thing for himself, seeing as he doesn’t get to see Mom and Dad barely ever.
Of course, considering the whole thing with Golden Dawn, maybe he has been seeing them more than I thought.
Then I think about how there are school children ahead of us. Don’t all the kids here go to class remotely like we do back home? Why would they possibly need to be out and about at this time of day? Am I forgetting something kids might be doing? Six of them is a pretty large number for it to be something as simple as being sent out for groceries.
I keep an eye on them as we continue forward, finding myself amused as I realize I’m concerned they might be here to spy on us. Of course, they don’t look much younger than The Geek and he’s a spy of sorts, right? Maybe I’m not too silly for being cautious.
As the sun rises in the sky, I notice there’s a large amount of cloud cover overhead. Perhaps it’s going to rain?
My mind’s really running wild here. I can’t think of the last time I’ve bounced from thought to thought so rapidly. Is this what people do when they’re bored: notice the mundane and stupid thing around them?
I don’t like it.
We take a left as we near a series of taller buildings. As we turn, I become aware of a large glass monolith looming in the distance.
“Is that it?” I whisper to The Geek.
“Shhh,” he says, turning and looking at me while placing his finger against his lips.
I growl lightly, loud enough to know he hears me, before stating unhappily, “Well, is it?”
The Geek nods his head quickly and continues moving forward, acting completely oblivious to me from here on out.
The building is huge. Nothing nearby seems to match it in size or style. It’s completely covered in glass, shining blue, red, and gray in reflection of the morning sky. The buildings around it are beautiful, but no matter where your eyes try to look, they are always drawn back to the enormous rectangle reaching into the sky.
It’s got a split in it, almost as though it’s two buildings smashed together to make a sandwich of whatever might fall into the middle.
How does it stay up like that? Maybe it’s my angle, but it looks more like an enormous wall than it does a building, offering nothing but total resistance to the wind. Maybe I’m missing something, maybe the glass is set at a weird angle. Either way, it’s big and seems entirely out of place from this rather old-town looking area.
As we near the super-structure which is our destination, the buildings around us continue to reach higher and higher into the sky. Of course, all of them are still completely dwarfed by the giant in the distance. No matter where we go, the building is watching. There was a brief moment where I was certain a stone tower was going to give me a reprieve from the all-seeing eye of the tower, but even it was no match to the blue colossus which lies ahead.
As we near the stone tower, I recognize how it belongs to an old cathedral. The cathedral is covered in a beautiful moss, almost as though it were a part of the city still allowed to live, to thrive in this age of strangulation. A sense of dread overtakes me as we pass it, my awareness of what’s to come never being more acute than it is right now. I say a little prayer, hoping against hope what we are about to do will not be the end of our story.
Eve grabs my hand and grips it tightly. I can’t help but think she’s pondering the same ponders I’m pondering.
My eyes return to the goliath. Even at this distance, the looming building seems out of place, almost as if it had fallen from the sky. Considering the reflection on the glass which covers the enormous tower, it could be a piece of the sky itself, come down to earth to lord over the citizens of this fair city. The citizens who just so happen to be closing in tighter around us.
I can’t tell if more people are trying to cram onto the sidewalk or if we are specifically being crowded around to make our escape impossible. The people push their way between us, acting as though we aren’t even here, ultimately causing me to lose my grip on Eve’s hand before also losing sight of both her and The Geek.
My heart races as I realize we’ve been separated. I try to remind myself we’re all headed for the same location, we are all working toward the same goal, and we will all be brought together at some point, no matter how many people come between us along the way. The reminder helps ease my soul, until a hand clamps down on my shoulder and I hear a dark voice in my ear.
“We know what you’re doing, Cyrus,” the gritty voice says ominously.
As soon as he says it, the hand disappears from my shoulder. I turn my head quickly to see who it was that cryptically threatened me, but am greeted only with the blank down-turned faces of a multitude of business workers wearing the same gray trench coats everyone in this city seems to wear.
I want to scream out, to ensure both Eve and The Geek are safe, that they’re still here, just immediately out of sight.
Maybe I didn’t really hear the voice at all. Maybe my mind’s playing tricks on me. Maybe this is all nothing more than my mind going into hyperdrive over absolutely nothing. We are looking to get caught after all. Even if there was some hoarse-voiced man in the vicinity giving threats, wouldn’t he be exactly who I’m looking for?
What’s keeping me from screaming out loud right here and now? We want to be caught. Why shouldn’t we be caught?
I catch the eye of an SP officer pushing through the crowd in the opposite direction.
Oh, yeah. I forgot. Miss Nile and The Agora aren’t the only ones looking for us, are they?
It seems no matter how fast I walk, no matter how much I push through the people to make it to our final destination, I still find myself no closer to the stupid block of glass than when we started. The all-seeing eye of a building continues to loom overhead, watching over the entire city as its king.
I see a tall man ahead, standing amid the excitement of the morning walking commute. His bald head rises a foot above the rest of the crowd. He’s searching for something, for someone. His sunken eyes seem to see everything and everyone as they pass him. I don’t know why, but something tells me I need to keep him from seeing me, to keep from letting him know I’m here. But I can’t make a scene. Turning around isn’t an option in this mess of people and there’s no alley or crossroad available before I get to him.
There is, however, a building. A small two-story structure with white walls and a brown awning. The awning says, simply, “CHOCOLATE”. I don’t have time to think, it’s either now or never. I turn quickly into the building and disappear inside.
A bell rings as the door shuts behind me. I look down to see the small chime attached to the handle on the door. The interior of this room is dimly lit, colored brown like a light-colored chocolate, and smells absolutely amazing. It’s a matter of minutes, while I take in the view of the small tables scattered around the establishment and the assortment of pastries and candies displayed in the glass case, before I realize I’m the only person here.
The only person, that is, until a woman, whom I’m guessing is around twenty-five years old, covered in tattoos with one side of her other-wise long hair shaved down to a light stubble, and wearing a very dirty simple white apron over her brown shirt and slacks, steps out from the back room and behind the counter.
“Hi there,” she says happily, looking at me with a knowing smile. “What can I do for you today?”
“Hi, um,” I stammer, still confused how a place like this, serving seemingly no useful purpose except to sell illegal goods, could exist right in the middle of the business district of Boston, right underneath the all-seeing eye of the Hancock Tower. “What is this place?”
“I’m not really good with names. So I call it Chocolate.”
“No, I get that,” I reply, cautiously walking closer to the counter, my eyes never leaving hers. “But how is this place even here? How are you allowed to do this?”
“This,” I say, gesturing to everything around us. This place was obviously built with one purpose in mind. Leisure. Something I’m fairly certain was outlawed everywhere. I can’t help but be a little concerned by how much she seems to enjoy her job. I’m pretty sure that’s outlawed.
“I’m sorry?” she continues to smile. I know she’s playing with me, but she does it convincingly. “I don’t know what you mean. Are you asking how I’m allowed to run a business?”
“Yeah, I guess that too,” I answer. “But I’m more wondering how you’re allowed to run this business.”
I notice one eye close slightly, as if eyeing me up to determine how best to next respond to our rather boring conversation.
“Don’t I know you, kid?” she asks.
“Oh, um, no I don’t think so. I’m new to Boston. I guess you could say I’ve been here before, but I, um—“
“Wait a second,” she says, snapping her fingers as she finally makes the connection. “You’re the Cyrus Rhodes kid everyone’s been talking about, aren’t you?”
I look at her without a word. How does someone respond to something like that? I wanted to get caught, but not here, not yet. Not by her.
“Oh, don’t worry,” she says, the confident smile returning. “I’m not interested in getting involved. I’m only able to exist where I am due to luck and some political affiliations which keep me safe. I’m not going to risk everything by even mentioning you were here.”
I continue staring at her in silence.
“Look, kid,” she continues. “I could get in a lot of trouble for talking to you, you know. The least you could do is talk back. Is there something I can do for you? Something I can help you with?”
I open my mouth, but the words don’t want to come out.
“Oh,” she says, her eyes drifting to the windows which look out to the street ahead, “Lurch out there. You’re worried he’s going to see you?”
I nod stupidly.
“I get it. He’s definitely got his eye out for something. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. He’s been out there for weeks. I assumed he was trying to keep an eye on my business. Not that I have any idea why he would want to do something as stupid as that.”
“Why is that stupid?”
“You really don’t know who I am, do you?”
“No,” I shrug. “Sorry.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s kind of refreshing to have someone come in here who’s not merely trying to get a picture of the black sheep of the Newman family.”
I shrug again to state I have no clue what she’s talking about.
“Sheesh, for a political activist, you really are clueless, aren’t you?”
“I’m not really an activist. My brother likes to call me hapless.”
“I’m Nancy Newman, daughter of Francis Newman. The President of the United States?”
“Oh,” I say shortly. “Although, I’m still not sure I totally understand.”
“It’s simple, kid. I was involved in some things my father would rather not be associated with. Some people you might know, considering what you do. When it finally came down to it, my loving daddy offered me two choices: shut down my connections with those folks or have him shut them down for me. I opted for the one which would get the smallest number of people killed. In return, he allows me to practice my hobby right here in Boston, under the ever-watchful eye of his office.”
She points up toward the unseen, but not unfelt, presence of Hancock Tower.
“You mean the President hangs out in Hancock Tower?” I ask.
“Um, yeah, kid. Don’t you know anything?”
“I knew they moved the President out of Washington after the September 11th attacks, but I guess I assumed they had him in some bunker somewhere.”
“Obviously his location is intended to be a secret, but I thought everyone knew he was up there, at least those in the movement.”
“Like I said, I’m not really a part of any movement.”
“I’m starting to believe you. So, what are you doing here, kid? I would have thought Boston would be the last place you’d want to be.”
“I get it. So, you’re looking for a way out of here?”
“Yeah,” I say hopefully. “That would be awesome.”
“Which way are you heading?”
“Hancock Tower,” I say quietly.
Nancy looks at me in surprise for a moment. Then her shoulders relax. “I guess I should feel weird helping out the guy who’s going to kill my dad, but to be honest, it’s kind of a relief.”
“No, I’m not here to kill your dad. At least I don’t think I am. I’m here for someone else. Someone bigger.”
“Who is bigger than my dad?”
“That might take a while to explain. Just know that if it were up to me, I’d be in Canada by now.”
“You and me both, kid. But if you’re working on getting into Hancock, I’ve got a great bit of news for you. I’ve got a secret entrance.”
Go to Chapter Thirty