Mr. Polus walked into a conference room. It was nice. Bright lights, a long table made of real wood, clean walls. Lots of red and gold. He shook his head.
“Ever the extravagant one, aren’t we, Hyperion?”
“Take a seat,” Hyperion said, his voice tinged with contempt. He sat at one end of the table, and Polus sat on the other.
“None of this should be necessary, you know.”
“You have made it necessary, Mr. Polus.”
Polus chuckled. “Touchy. I meant the room.”
“I like things to look professional. Unlike that slag-heap you call a headquarters.”
Polus smiled. “Just like old times. Me trying to be civil, you trying to insult me. But I didn’t come here to argue with you about office décor. And since your time is so valuable, I’ll cut right to the chase.” He leaned back. Hyperion leaned forward, his chin resting on his fingertips. “I’d like to propose an alliance.”
Hyperion frowned. “We already have an alliance.”
“Ah, yes. But a real one. Not one for show, just for the people. An actual alliance.”
Hyperion scoffed. “I think you already know my answer to that.”
“I do. Because you’re a stubborn old fool stuck in a past that wasn’t even yours. Look at this.” He waved his hand, indicating the conference room. “Look at all the money and rare resources that went into making a room that I’m sure you use as little as possible. Listen to me! That world is over!”
“You turned your back on me when I needed you the most, Polus. I am not about to forget or forgive that.”
“I’m not asking you to. You and I both know what happened, and I’ve said everything there is to say, and so have you. We’ve been over it God only knows how many times over the years, and it’s always the same. But whether you like it or not, this new world is run by the Estates, and it’s in our best interest to work together.”
“Together? So you’ve talked to Ms Themis as well?”
“Not… no. Not yet.”
Hyperion smiled. “So you wanted to talk to the easy one first.”
“We’ll stand a better chance of convincing her together.”
“And what makes you think I want to ally myself with her?”
“We will be stronger united. For God’s sake, Hyperion, look at us. Look at mercenaries and cutthroats like this Nyriki Rocco you’ve been hunting. Do you know how many of our agents he’s taken down?”
“Too many,” he said. His demeanor turned cold at the mention of his name. He had every confidence that John and Fox would apprehend him, but all the same, he hated Rocco.
“And look at Corona. You had to nuke the whole city just because of a few terrorists. That’s how desperate we are, Hyperion. We’re desperate enough to employ the very measures that put us here in the first place. And what worries me is that you had those measures at your fingertips, ready for immediate deployment. You’re paranoid. But as much as I hate to admit it, you have every right to be.”
“So we should just forget the past, and worry about our future?”
“Exactly.” Polus smiled, but his smile faded when he saw the poisonous look on Hyperion’s face.
“That’s exactly what I’m doing, Mr. Polus. I’m worrying about my future. I’m watching my back.”
Polus slammed his fist on the table. “Dammit, Hyperion! How many times must I give you my word that I will not harm you again?”
“Your word means nothing to me. It’s ruined me once already.”
“If you don’t trust me, you will surely be destroyed again. But not by me. Not this time.”
* * *
“All our gear’s in the jeep,” Tariro said. She held Rocco’s gun with one hand, and supported him with the other. He had one arm around her shoulders, the other holding his bruised stomach.
When they reached the window at the end of the hall, Tariro handed Rocco the gun and used her free hand to open it.
“You’ll have to go first,” she said. “I won’t be able to help you. Can you manage?”
A door slammed open. Shouts echoed through the empty hallway. Rocco looked back and saw a big guy with a revolver, and a smaller guy with a long rifle pointed directly at him.
“Think so,” he said. She let go of him and grabbed the gun from his hand. A bright flash of red light shot down the hallway. Their two assailants took cover behind the two corners of the hallway. She heard a soft plink, and glanced back at the window. A long, thin dart stuck out of the glass.
“Rocco! Tranqs!” She fired again, blasting a hole in the floor near the shooter’s foot. Rocco swore, and eased himself out of the window onto the fire escape.
* * *
“Dammit! John, he’s getting away!”
John reloaded his tranq gun. He looked down at the smoldering crater in the floor beside him. “She’s got that turned up pretty high!” Another blast blew apart a chunk of the corner. The smoke gagged him and stung his nostrils. “She’s expendable, take her out!”
Fox leaned out and squeezed off two shots. One hit the wall, the second hit the window.
“Cover me,” John said. Fox fired another shot while John aimed. A laser streaked by his ear as he pulled the trigger, causing him to miss. He took cover to reload.