The jeep sputtered suddenly, then stopped. Day was breaking, and a dull, dusty red crept through the thick clouds and smoke. The Sierra Nevada stood before them, tall and wide. Rocco had taken the wheel from Tari a few hours before so she could rest. He put a hand on her shoulder and shook her.
“The hell happened?” Rocco asked.
“We just stopped. Did it break?”
She leaned toward him and looked at the dashboard. “It’s out of fuel. There’s an extra tank in the back. I’ll get it.”
“How far out are we?”
She looked at the mountains. “It’s not too far, maybe a couple hours.” She began pouring fuel into the jeep. “I’ll drive from here. The road up is tricky. There used to be a military base up there, but it got bombed pretty bad. Some of the paths are unusable.”
Rocco got out and stretched, which hurt a lot more than he thought it would. Tari finished fueling the jeep and put the empty tank in the back.
“Do you expect me to join Chimera?” Rocco asked.
Tari sat back in the jeep. “Do you want to?”
“You saved my life, lost your position in Whitethorn, and dragged me all the way out here. You must want something for that trouble.”
“Membership is voluntary. I did not save you to guilt you into joining us. We only want members who believe strongly enough. If loyalty is bought, it can be bought by someone else at a higher price. But loyalty given by a strong will is hard to break.”
Rocco sat in the jeep, and Tari drove off. “But you do want me to join, right?”
“We could use someone like you, yes. Even if you don’t like Chimera.”
“I want the Estates to fall. I want Hyperion dead. I’m just not sure if Chimera’s right for the job. I don’t hate them, I just don’t trust them. Can’t hate anyone I’ve never met.”
“But you hate Hyperion.”
“Like I said.”
“You’ve met him?”
“Once or twice.”
“What’s your history with him? Why is he after you?”
Rocco smiled. “That’s a long story. Maybe another time.”
“You also mentioned being very hurt like this once before. Is that a long story too?”
* * *
Hyperion set down his portable viewscreen and leaned forward to look out the window, but saw nothing. The helicopter was high enough that the ground was rendered invisible by the perpetual grey fog that clung to the grey sky. It was like he wasn’t moving. Just floating in nothingness. He always found peace in the oblivion. Peace was something he needed at that moment.
Polus sat across from him. “I know that look,” he said. “Bad news?”
Hyperion looked at him, then back out the window. “One of the two operatives I sent after Rocco is dead. The other is being taken care of.”
“Ever think about giving second chances?”
“Second chances are expensive, Mr. Polus. You should know this.”
“I’m sure it’s more expensive to hire new help. And assassins for your assassins. It’s no wonder you have so few allies.”
“I have no use for allies who fail or betray me.”
Polus shook his head. “Why do you have such a vendetta against Rocco?”
“If you want our help, you’ll need to be a little more forthcoming.”
Hyperion sighed. He wasn’t used to accepting help. But he wanted Rocco dead more than he wanted his own pride intact. “Then I’ll tell you and Ms Themis both. When the time comes.”
Polus knocked on the cabin door. The copilot opened it and leaned out.
“How far out are we, son?”
“About ten hours, sir. We’ll have to stop for fuel soon, so you’ll be able to get lunch and stretch your legs, sir.”
“Thank you.” He shut the door.
“Where exactly is this meeting?” Hyperion asked.
“Ass-end of nowhere. Right in the middle of Nebraska.”
Polus leaned back and closed his eyes.
* * *
A dozen black fingers curled around Myers’ throat. Black smoke washed over his face. He couldn’t breathe. He woke up screaming and sweating with a soldier’s hand on his shoulder. Remembering the fingers in the nightmare, he shoved the hand off and jumped out of bad.
“Whoa, easy now, you okay?” the soldier asked.
Myers leaned on the wall with one hand, holding the other out to stop the soldier from getting closer. He took deep breaths.
“Yeah,” he said between gasps. “Bad dream.” He rubbed his eyes. “Sorry about that.”
“No need. Lot of us get ’em from time to time.”
“Yeah?” Myers turned to face the soldier. His stomach sank. Is this kid a soldier? God, he looks so young.
“Don’t know what to do about ’em though. Used to have an old guy here, used to be a shrink before the war.”
“Oh, it means, um… like someone who helps your mind.”
“Huh. Could sure use that.”
“He died a couple months back. Assassins, I think. Big ugly guy and a smaller one.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
The soldier shrugged. His eyes looked distant, like they were staring at something a mile away. “He was a good man. But Erik wants to see you. He’s up in the restaurant.”
“Thanks.” He went up to Beleros’ office. It was empty. He cracked open the door and looked out. The small, dingy restaurant was empty except for the girl at the desk and a guy in the corner with his face hidden behind a book.
“Come on out,” said the girl. Myers shut the door behind him. “We’re closed right now, so don’t worry about being seen.”
“Thanks. That Erik over there?”
“Oh. Um. Well, you should go speak to him.”
Weird, he thought. He sat across from Erik. “You wanted to see me?”