Rocco had no idea what he was doing or where he was going. He had never driven a motor vehicle before and had been unconscious while Tariro was operating it. The keys were already in the ignition and after slamming his foot on the wrong pedal, he was off. But she hadn’t mentioned where they were going next. He just put as much distance as he could between them and their pursuers.
He slowed the jeep, drove off the road, and stopped. He didn’t feel strong enough to go on any further. It was dark and he didn’t want to go the wrong way for too long. He checked Tariro’s pulse for signs of speeding up, leaned back, and fell asleep.
* * *
“So what’s it going to be, Hyperion?” Polus leaned back and crossed his arms.
Hyperion leaned forward, hands on his forehead. “It seems I don’t have much of a choice.”
“We always have a choice. This is just the best one. For all of us.”
Hyperion scowled, noticing that Polus said “all” instead of “both.” Themis was still a variable. A very unwanted one.
“I have a contract ready, Hyperion, but I want to hear you say it.”
“Signing the damn thing isn’t enough for you?”
Polus’s expression was stern. “No. It’s not.”
“Very well. I will join your alliance.”
“Not mine. Ours.” He pulled out a paper from his briefcase and walked to Hyperion’s side of the table. “Sign at the bottom.” He set down his pen and stood back.
Hyperion sighed. He read through the document, signed his name, and walked to the door.
“I have business to take care of, Mr. Polus. Contact me when you’re ready to pay Ms Themis a visit.”
“I’m ready now. I have a helicopter waiting for us outside.”
“Good day, Mr. Polus.”
Hyperion stopped. His fists clenched. He turned. And for the first time in decades, Polus saw splotches of red on his pale, old face.
“You arrogant…” He restrained himself. His voice was soft and icy. “How dare you call me by that name?”
Polus stood his ground, though he felt fear rising in his heart. “Because I remember a brave young man who would lay down his life for his friends and his country. You may have changed your name, and even your heart, but I know the man I fought with is still there.”
“You killed that man long ago, Mr. Polus.”
“No.” He shook his head sadly. “No, he was dead long before that. Your secretary can handle your affairs for a short while. She’s meeting us halfway. You have no reason not to go, other than your own pride and stubbornness.”
* * *
Mountains of fire plagued Rocco’s dreams. Memories of war and death and dying woke him up. He looked up at the moon to see how long he had slept, but it was obscured by clouds. He looked at his wrist, before remembering he wasn’t wearing his watch.
He felt her pulse again. She stirred. He shook her.
“Wake up,” he said. She mumbled incoherently in response. After a couple of moments, she was up.
“Where are we?” she asked.
“No idea. About an hour out from Redway. Whichever way the jeep was pointed. Didn’t make any turns. We’re a few dozen feet from the road.”
“Where are we headed, Tariro?”
“Just Tari. We’re going to a Chimera base on Thunderbolt Peak in the Sierra Nevada. It’s about twelve hours from here. Let’s switch spots.”
They got out of the jeep, and Tari put a hand to her head and sat back down.
“You okay?” Rocco asked.
“Yeah. Just… a little dizzy still.” She slid over to the driver’s side and Rocco walked around the front and sat beside her.
“You sure you–”
“I’m fine, Rocco.” She started the car and drove off.
Miles and miles of blasted landscape lay before them.
“I’ve been wondering,” Rocco said. “Are you going back to Whitethorn?”
“No. I was a sleeper agent. Chimera put me there several years ago. They want officials in as many towns as they can. But I can’t go back now. Anyway, Whitethorn’s relatively unimportant for Chimera, save for Councilor Jegkrig.”
“The one who tortured you. He was under Hyperion’s thumb long before he was on the city council.”
“And I’m sure he was put there because of Hyperion, too.”
“Actually, for his part, he was good at his job.”
“He tortured me, Tari. I’ve only experienced pain like that once before. He almost killed me.”
“I know. He was just doing what he thought was best for the city.”
“There’s an old expression I heard in the war: the road to Hell is built on good intentions.”
“Whitethorn has good people. Him excluded. I can only imagine what the others would do if they found out what he did to you.”
“They won’t know. They won’t find out. There’s no way they can.”
“If Chimera wins, he will be brought to justice. You have my word.”
Rocco snorted derisively. “I’ve heard that before.”
“You’re very cynical, Rocco.”
“What’s their endgame?”
“Chimera. What’s their endgame?”
“To overthrow the Estates. To return power to the people.”
“And you think that’s a good idea?”