When I came to, I was alone, save for the darkness.
I tried to get my bearings, tried to rally my thoughts, but my head was a mess of jumbled memories and pain. I remembered the hotel room, taking the Vert. Remembered someone knocking on the door, being chased, and then…
Tasered. I’d been tasered.
My hand twitched toward my chest, but stopped short as it met resistance – a loop of cold steel pressed tight against my wrist. It dug into my skin, sending a stab of pain up my arm and a stab of fear into my heart. Handcuffs.
My pulse took off at a sprint.
I fished around in the darkness, feeling with my free hand. I lay on some type of cot, the coils groaning each time I shifted my weight. My body ached. I’d been beat up, almost raped, shot at, and electrocuted. All in the last 48 hours. Or at least, I thought so. Stuck in the dark, I had no perception of time, had no clue how long I’d been locked up.
I fought against the cuff, yanking it this way and that. What did these guys want with me? What were they going to do to me? A stream of horrid possibilities wound through my head, each worse than the last.
Which would it be? Fuck if I was going to stick around to find out.
I propped myself up with my elbow and ran my free hand along the wall, looking for cracks – for anything really. But the wall was soft, padded. I twisted around and dropped my feet to the ground. Cushions gave way under my weight. Mattress cubes. They seemed to line the whole room, pieced together like one giant quilt.
I cursed under my breath. It was a padded cell. A rubber room. Which meant there’d be no windows, no metal – nothing but the single door to escape through. And I was still cuffed. There was no way around that.
How the hell would –
Footsteps echoed outside the door. I heard muffled voices, the clank of keys, and my stomach turned over. They were coming for me; I was out of time. I lay back on the bed and stretched the handcuff chain taut. It tore into my wrist, drawing a thin trail of blood, but I ignored the pain. Instead, I found the point where the chain connected to the cot and kicked.
A bead of sweat dripped down my cheek. Acid rose into my throat on a wave of panic. I kicked again and this time the frame warped slightly under the force. Yes! Come on! I drew my foot back once more but paused as I heard something else, something awful: the turn of a key. A sharp click echoed through my cell and it struck me like a death toll. This was it. With a creak, the door opened, sending a cascade of light flooding into the room.
I raised my hand to shield my eyes. Ponytail stood in the doorway, backlit by a long corridor of overhead lights.
“Morning,” he said.
“Go fuck yourself,” I said.
“Guess I deserve that.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. Casually, he tossed them to me. “Don’t say I never gave you nothing.”
I caught the keys with my free hand and lay back on the cot, stunned. They were letting me go? It didn’t make any sense. I fit one of the keys into the lock and gave it a hesitant turn, as if this was all a set up and the lock was rigged to explode. The key clicked into place and the handcuff dropped off my arm. “What is this?” I said, massaging my wrist. “Some sick joke?”
“No, nothing like that.” Ponytail gestured over his shoulder. “Come on. The boss-man wants a word. I believe we owe you an explanation.”
I wanted to say, “no fucking shit,” but I held my breath. Ponytail looked harmless enough, standing there alone, but I knew not to be deceived by first impressions. The bulge at his hip told me all I needed to know. He was carrying. I looked past him. It was a single hallway, barely wide enough for two people side by side. Even if I could disarm him, I’d have a hell of a time getting away if I ran.
I shrugged. I didn’t have much of a choice. “Lead the way.”
Ponytail shook his head. “Not this time, girly. Ladies first.”
Not this time? What? I got off the cot and walked out of the room, noticing how Ponytail squeezed himself against the wall as I passed.
If the rubber room hadn’t given it away, the rest of the facility certainly did. Walls of peeling paint and crumbling plaster. Identical rooms with odd electrical wiring. Gates blocking off each corridor.
“An asylum?” I said, as we passed through another gate and turned a corner. “You’re set up in a crazy house?” I racked my brain, trying to think of any closed down mental hospitals in Jackson. Were there any? I didn’t think I’d know even if there were. Not unless it happened to be near a bar.
“We like it,” Ponytail said. “You know how it is: the best place to hide –“
“Is often the last place anyone would think to look,” I finished. Where had I heard that before?
Ponytail narrowed his eyes. “Exactly…”
We turned another corner, Ponytail pointing the way, and walked straight into what must have been the mess hall back when the asylum was still running. Only now it was rigged with more electronics than I’d ever seen before. A hacker’s wet dream.
Ponytail walked past me and spread his arms wide. “Welcome to the Hive.”
At the center of the room, two rows of long tables bisected the space. Though they probably served as dining tables in the past, they were now littered with various gadgets, each in some stage of deconstruction. I recognized some of the objects – a military grade stun gun, an ATX geolocater watch (I’d pawned one off two years ago) and a child’s walkie-talkie set. An odd mix, for sure.
Overhead, electrical wiring hung low from the rafters, connecting to circuit boards scattered across the walls. A series of flat-panel monitors wound around the room, displaying maps of the region, the stock exchange, the news, and various bus and train schedules.
But what really caught my attention was the computer station in the corner. It lay sectioned off from the rest of the room by large, towering CPUs. Drawings and schematics had been taped to the units, depicting constructs of some sort and what looked to be weapon designs. And sitting around the central console in disposable lawn chairs, talking animatedly, were three people I recognized – two from mug shots.
Kiro Nagamachi and Olivia Yates were the easiest to spot. They’d been strewn across the front page of the paper recently as the two most prominent members of ROOT 4. Pretty reasonable considering they’d derailed five E-trains in the past week. I shook my head. This wasn’t some two bit job. As far as hacker collectives went, these guys were the real deal. And for some reason they’d taken an interest in me. That set me on edge.
The third face threw me. It was the guy I’d seen my first night out in Jackson – the one I’d run into on the steps of the Health Services building. How the hell was he involved with this?
“Come on,” Ponytail said. He nodded toward the hacker circle jerk. “Time for those answers.”
“Do I have a choice?”
Ponytail pulled back his jacket, flashing the handgun tucked into his waist. It was a small victory that I’d been right about the weapon. He drew it and, before I could even flinch, removed the magazine and racked the slide back. The last remaining bullet fell from the chamber.
“Look,” he said, holding the gun up for me to see. “I know everything that’s happened so far is telling you otherwise, but we are the good guys. Just give us a chance to prove it.”
He tossed the handgun onto a nearby table.
I hesitated. I’d trusted him once already and look how that turned out. Could I really afford to do it again? A part of me knew this was an important moment. I could still run for it, could still roll the dice. After all, they’d gone through a lot of trouble to get a hold of me. There was a good chance they wanted me alive – at least, enough not to shoot me on the spot.
But could I really outrun ROOT 4? As shitty as my life was now, how much worse would it be trying to do what I did and evade hackers?
In the end, it wasn’t much of a choice.
I followed Ponytail over to the computer alcove. As we approached, Kiro looked up and motioned to two empty chairs. I sat down across from Olivia.
My first thought was that her mug shot didn’t do her justice. She was strikingly gorgeous, with jet black hair that fell to her shoulders, deep brown eyes, and full red lips. She wore two spikes in her right ear and a small stud above her left eyebrow. She was the type of girl who couldn’t go anywhere without garnering attention. The type of girl I’d envied before everything in my life went to shit.
She winked at me, then punched a code into the disk nailed into the center of the circle. The surrounding CPUs hummed to life. A low whine echoed off the panels. Suddenly, a cylinder of blue light erupted from the disc, forming a digital display in front of us.
Kiro looked between the display and me. He was much different than Olivia. Harder. Older. His face was tanned and age weary; his hair was just starting to grey. Unlike Olivia, I had no problem seeing the edge to his features – the quality that said: this man is not to be fucked with.
He turned to me and said, “Let me start by apologizing. The way you were brought in was not ideal. You were still connected to the Grid and we couldn’t afford to have our location compromised. Unfortunately, electricity is the quickest way to sever the link.”
Absently, I touched my chest where the rod had burned me. The skin still tingled. I knew I should reign in my anger, knew that the man in front of me was as dangerous as they came, but I just couldn’t do it. After three horrific days, I’d finally had enough. “What the fuck is all this about?” I said. “Why is Valtronic after me? What the hell do you guys want with me?”
Beside me, Ponytail coughed. “Hey,” he said. “Easy…” He looked to Kiro, but the older man waved him off. Olivia chuckled. The guy I’d met on campus – well, he glared at me.
“You have a lot of questions,” Kiro said. “That’s understandable. The short of it, Rainey, is that Valtronic wants very much to get it’s dirty little hands on you.”
“But why? That makes no sense.”
“We thought the same,” Kiro said, glancing at Ponytail. “Until this morning.”
This morning? The hell? How long was I out for?
“Imagine our surprise,” Kiro continued, “when JJ here couldn’t remember anything about rescuing you. Couldn’t tell us a single thing, even though he’d already told us the whole story when he arrived with you last night.”
Crap. I’d forgotten I touched him. Still, what did it matter if they knew? I didn’t get the connection. I’d been this way for the last six years. How could my talent be what Valtronic was after?
“What’s your point?” I said.
Kiro smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He leaned closer to me, close enough that I could smell the tobacco on his clothes, and said, “did you think you were the only one?”
Finally! We get to see some more powers! I wonder… Is it the same power, or different for everyone?
Don’t want to give anything away, so I’m not gonna say anything on that front.
Good, I’m just speculating.
It always makes little sense to me that people in this type of situation, where they deal with a character who, to put it mildly, is vastly out of her comfort zone, and they want to work together with them but still behave like antagonistic douchebags. At this point, am hoping that Rainey does something permanent to Ponytail Guy.
Well, I am curious as to what kind of nature the rest of the powers will be and if it is possible for Rainey to improve her control, like being able to make people forget specific stuff or larger time-frames, like months or years. Pretty terrifying that one touch would wipe away years of training and whatnot. Or just the fact that Rainey is an enemy. Or how to use their powers or whether or not they have powers. Or how to walk.
Small question: This part “The guy I’d met on campus – well, he glared at me”, who is meant here? It doesn’t seem to be neither Ponytail Guy nor Kiro and I don’t think anyone else was mentioned. It either is Ponytail Guy, it is something on the display or there is another person in the room. Might just be me, but it got me confused.
Thanks for sharing this.
Hmm.. I’ll have to reread this then. That wasn’t really the vibe I was trying to get across with Ponytail. As for the “guy from campus” – I can see how that was confusing. There’s three people, other than Ponytail/JJ. Olivia, Kiro, and the third is actually the guy she ran into at the very beginning of the story.
With Thanksgiving and family being in for the holidays, it made this a really tough chapter to write. I might have to take a look at it again. There’s one thing in particular that I’m really struggling to fit into the story/next chapter without going crazy and dropping a thousand words of exposition. Thanks for reading.
Root 4 didn’t know why Rainey was special until after they rescued her, so either Root 4 are “selfless warriors of justice, endangering their lives to rescue strangers [and not calling the police like sane people]” or else they really enjoy yanking Valtronic’s chain. I’m leaning towards the latter.
I’m getting a Dark Angel vibe. That’s not a bad thing. 😉
It should all make a little more sense next chapter, if I can pull it off right. Dark Angel vibe? I’ll take that hah
I know I’m extremely late in posting this, but there is the good old (particularly for Go) proverb: “My best move is my opponent’s best move”. If their opponent is going to great lengths to get or kill this girl, then it is very likely she has or knows something very valuable.
When I first read this chapter, I didn’t realize that I’d missed the previous one, and it didn’t make much sense to me- the transition straight from taking drugs to waking up in a padded cell was just too weird. It makes a lot more sense now, and I feel a little silly.
Anyway, great writing, and it’s really cool to see the plot starting to pick up.
Picking up good. Of course, not the only one.