Rocco’s vision faded in and out. He tried to get up, but he was too weak. He planted his hands on the ground to try again, but stopped when he felt how much blood there was on the ground.No way I’m standing up. He put the arm that wasn’t stabbed out and used it to drag himself forward. The concrete scraped on his skin. His impotence filled him with rage. He gasped for air, and crawled forward a few inches. The door might as well have been a mile away. He hated feeling powerless. He wanted revenge.
But he had a job to do. Mustering all the strength he could, he dragged himself another few inches. Trying to breathe through the blood in his mouth was excruciating. He coughed some up, but it hardly helped. He felt like his lungs had collapsed. Another few inches.
He wondered how long the councilwoman would take to get the transportation to him. Those guards were well-trained… not just regular city guards. Another few inches. He had made it out of his cell. He tried again to stand up, but only managed to get to his knees. He moved a couple feet before collapsing again.
The door slammed open, barely missing Rocco’s outstretched hand. He looked up, and saw the outline of a very familiar set of armor—one of the city guards. The guard took out a stun baton and half-blinded Rocco with its intense flash of blue against the night sky. With a sickening crunch, the guard’s head turned sharply to the right and he collapsed.
“Get up, Nyriki,” said the councilwoman, stepping over the guard’s body. She lifted Rocco up. He was mostly dead weight, so she struggled to get him to the transportation―what she called a jeep. She sat him on one of the seats, then got in on the other side. The jeep growled to life and began moving. Gunfire cracked behind them. Most of the bullets hit the ground, but a few slapped against the back of the jeep. Rocco heard the gunfire fade. The councilwoman said something, but he just coughed and passed out.
In a mine several miles outside the town of Oceanside, a cave-in halted progress. Three arms and a head stuck out from under the rubble. The foreman threw his hardhat to the ground, swearing uncontrollably.
“This is the fifth damn time this year! Someone’s gonna have to tell Hyperion, and it sure as hell’s not going to be me.”
“Hey, it’s your head on the line no matter who tells him,” said one of his workers.
“Shut your mouth, or you’ll be the next guy buried under there.” He pointed to the pile of rubble covering half a dozen miners. “All right, someone take charge, I’m heading topside to give the bad news.” He swore again, then left.
Outside the mine, he sat on a rock, wiping the sweat and grime off his face with his hand. He tapped his wristband to open a line of communication.
“Hey, North Cal Hub, this is Myers, Oceanside mine. Need you to relay a message to Hy—Mr. Hyperion… Yeah. Yeah, another one… We think it’s only six this time… yeah.” He turned it off, swore, then put his face in his hands.
These cave-ins were becoming a problem. He’d heard reports of them happening all over the west coast. No way they’re accidental. Someone’s trying to break us.
The sun was directly overhead. One of the workers came up to ask him whether they should dig out the dead or go down a different passage. Myers knew it was callous, but he couldn’t afford to be delayed. In the past, the Hyperion Estate had sent some workers to clear cave-ins and dispose of the bodies. Hopefully, Mr. Hyperion would be kind enough to extend this courtesy for another time.
But Mr. Hyperion wasn’t exactly known for his kindness and mercy. Which is why when Myers’ wristband blinked and the word “FIRED” appeared, he knew it was more than just his job he’d lost.
Rocco opened his eyes with difficulty. He was sitting in a musty old building that he figured was the Redwoods Monastery. The whole building was falling apart. The bricks were black with soot, and not so much as a vine crawled up the ancient walls. He tried to move, but couldn’t. Footsteps echoed through the large, open building, then the councilwoman knelt beside him.
“I think it’s time I introduced myself, Nyriki. I am Tariro Chena, councilwoman at Whitethorn and member of the Chimera.”
Through his pain, Rocco managed a sneer. He’d heard about the Chimera. A rogue organization dedicated to overthrowing the Estates. Now he had an idea of why she was helping him.
“I know you don’t know if you can trust me, but I’m not sure I can trust you either. But hopefully this will help.” She handed him a folded piece of paper. “This is the dead drop. I haven’t looked. And right now, neither can you. The Whitethorn authorities will be after us, and we can’t stay here. We can head to a town called Redway, about fifteen miles north of here. But we can’t stay there long.”
She helped him up and sat him in the jeep. “I’ve heard stories,” she said as she took the wheel. “This place used to be a forest—lots of trees. Now it’s a dead land. Almost nothing grows here. Just dust. Dirt.”
Rocco coughed, and leaned back in the seat.
“You ready, Fox?”
Fox grunted, focusing on checking his gun.
“Do you have the tranqs?”
“Yeah, here’s yours.” He dug into his pocket and handed John a dart. John took off the cap and sniffed the point.
“Pretty strong. Where’d we get these anyway?”
Fox shrugged, then, apparently satisfied with his pistol, holstered it and checked his knives.
“Too bad we can’t coat our blades with this stuff. Might be pretty useful.”
The timer went off. John climbed to the top of the train for a moment, then returned.
“We’re almost there. Sign says ‘Whitethorn Upcoming,’ but doesn’t say when.”
“Jesus, you get quiet when you’re nervous. Makes me nervous. Say something.
“Shut the hell up.”
“Right, fine. You ready?”
“All right, let’s go.”