Damon watched the number on the elevator’s position indicator drop with every floor they passed. With plastic cable ties to hold his wrists behind his back, he was helpless. Val was in no better state, and both agents behind them had their hands on their weapons, ready for anything their two detainees might try in this closed space. Their circumstances bordered on the absurd, as far as Damon was concerned; whatever had happened to Arthur Emmerich and his shadow organization in the past few days, this was no simple change of mind.
As the plastic strips grated against his skin, he continued watching the number drop, keeping himself calm—they would hit the first floor soon.
Then the elevator stopped.
One of the agents pressed his thumb against the button for the first floor a couple more times, getting no response, as his partner listened in on a message through his ear-piece.
“Bravo team isn’t responding,” he said.
With a lurch, the elevator ascended back the way it came, going up three floors before coming to another sudden halt. Already assuming the worst, the agents shouldered both Val and Damon behind them, aiming their handguns at the doors. As if nothing were amiss, the elevator gave an approving ring and the doors slid aside.
Damon couldn’t help but smile at the sight.
Standing before the two agents was a figure in crimson armor, strands of blue racing up the black and white body armor—Danny, staring down the agents through Ridarin’s petrifying neon eyes. In each hand he held an MP5, grooved and cracked, pulsating with lighted nanomachines, aimed directly at both of the suited men.
“Believe me,” he told them, “my aim is much better than you think. Hand over your guns and radios—slowly.”
The two agents glanced at each other, then back at their primary objective, not at all sure what to make of the situation. After some wordless deliberation, they set their weapons on the floor, kicking them past Danny; then they tossed their individual ear-pieces at his feet.
“Good. Now step out.”
As the agents stepped out, they found Arras near the adjacent wall, her hand on the elevator’s panel, strands of light passing between her fingers and the metal cover.
In her free hand she held an M1911 pistol, a .45 she had taken off a member of bravo team; waving the pistol lightly at the agents, she gestured them out of the elevator car. Danny led the agents farther into the office space as Arras entered the elevator and cut the ties from Val and Damon’s wrists.
“Glad to see you’re unharmed,” Damon told Arras as she sawed his own bindings with a combat knife.
“Likewise,” she said, moving on to Val once Damon’s ties were severed. “Do you know what’s going on?”
“Regrettably, no, but I’d very much like to find out,” Damon said, picking up his cane, which hung from the nearby handrail. Rubbing at his wrists, he stepped from the elevator into the dark offices, following Danny and his two hostages.
“So, who wants to talk first?” Danny asked the suited men, his weapons still raised.
Neither man replied. Even staring down the barrels of two SMGs that bore little resemblance to their original models, these two agents held their ground.
“Gentlemen, please,” Damon insisted, standing over Danny’s shoulder. “All we want to know is why you’ve come for us.”
Damon was still met with silence.
“None of us wish for violence,” he went on. To emphasize his point, he gently rested his hand on one of Danny’s arms, prompting him to lower both his guns. “We’re only trying to understand what’s happening. Perhaps we can still work something out.”
One of the agents looked as if he was coming apart at the seams, losing it the more he stared into Ridarin’s flaring eyes.
“You know how this works, Hale,” that agent finally said. “They send us in with an objective, tell us to get it done; that doesn’t mean they fill us in on every detail. All we know is that whatever that thing is—” he threw a finger at Ridarin, taking a cautious step back— “it’s got everyone freaked out.”
Damon matched the agent’s step backward with his own step forward. “Please, if you know anything…”
“You’re all neck-deep in trouble,” the other agent added firmly. “That’s all there is to it.”
Val watched from beside Arras as Damon tried to reason with these men. All the while, she could see flashes of that final evening on Zero Point, of everyone trying to reason with one another. The militia, Ekren, Visum—and Nulem.
“We’ve got more coming,” Arras announced, holding the ear-piece from before between her fingers. “Reinforcements, approaching the building now.”
“I’m sure they’re heavily armed, too,” Damon said. “Come along, Daniel, it’s time to leave.”
Hesitating for a second, Danny looked back and forth between Damon and the agents. Soon enough, he followed the others back into the elevator car, watching the agents as they watched him with ghostly stillness. Their eyes remained locked until the doors slid shut.
“What the hell is going on?” Danny sighed to himself, feeling his guts knot up as he processed everything that had happened thus far.
Damon, holding the two Glock 23s the agents had left on the floor in the office, checked the weapons’ magazines, counting how many rounds they had left. Confirming that both had the same amount, with a round chambered in each, he handed one of the pistols to Val, who awkwardly fumbled with the weapon before getting a proper grip.
“I hope you’re all ready,” Damon said, pressing the button for the tenth floor. “I can promise you this isn’t going to be fun.”
On the first floor, another squad entered the front lobby, crouched, weapons up, dressed in the same body armor as bravo team. On their way to the stairwells, they checked the elevators, finding only one car active, rising to the tenth floor. Prying off the panel beside the doors, a technician worked the wires behind the cover, taking control of the car; the elevator was stalled then redirected, sent on a non-stop descent to the ground level.
As the doors slid aside, they prepared for a firefight, or at least a swift takedown of the four objectives—but they found no one in the car. As the tech who had recalled the elevator from its trip to the tenth floor checked the others cars again, one of the men stepped inside the elevator they had just recalled. He found two smashed cell phones and a number of ear-pieces on the floor. Looking up at the car’s ceiling, he poked the end of his M4 carbine at the paneling until his suspicions were confirmed—though it blended in with the rest of the ceiling, the emergency trap door lifted with ease, revealing the open shaft above.
“Check the other floors,” he ordered the rest of his team. “Search from the ground up.”
Up the elevator shaft, there was a grate covering an opening wide enough to comfortably accommodate one person at a time—nothing that would catch attention, at least for those who didn’t know such a passage existed. After all, it was nowhere in the schematics for the Teleios tower; this was something Damon had discreetly added to the building after its completion. Through that gap, around a couple of sharp turns, down a few narrow spaces between walls, there was a sturdy metal ladder leading down a tight concrete shaft.
As the FBI continued their frantic search of the rest of the building, their four targets made a slow but nerve-wracking climb down the vacuole only a handful of people in the world actually knew existed—one of those few being Damon. No one daring to breathe a word, their movements slow and quiet, they moved from one metal rung down to the next.
The ladder took them directly to a safe room beneath the tower, sealed off from the outside world by a solid steel door, held in its thick frame by a number of locking bolts. Against one of the walls was a row of lockers, one of which Damon wrestled open; he removed an already prepared duffel bag and tossed it to Danny, who had already suited down.
“There are a few burner phones in that one,” Damon said as he pulled a few more items out of the locker. “I’d like for us to stay together, if we’re separated, we should still have a secure method of communication—limited though it may be. Still, whatever agencies may be after us won’t be able to track us through them. Just avoid certain keywords if you use them.”
“What is this place, Damon?” Danny asked, looking around the tight, dark room.
On all sides, they were boxed in by cinderblock walls, with no other entrance or exit than the ladder and the security door. The deafening silence suggested that the walls were heavily insulated, holding back the noise outside—or perhaps to keep any noise from escaping this safe room.
“When you’re in a business like mine,” Damon said absently, pulling another packed duffel from another locker, tossing it on the ground, “you prepare for every contingency. I wasn’t a consultant to federal government’s intelligence and security agencies for nothing.”
Damon pulled a few leather holsters from another locker, handing one off to Val, another to Arras, before wrapping a third around his own waist, under his shirt.
“These aren’t perfect fits,” he said, tightening the band around his body, “but they’ll keep your weapons from going on in your pants. They’re fairly subtle, too.”
“Do you anticipate further combat?” Arras asked him, holstering her .45 before helping Val with her holster. “I’d like to avoid a war on the US, if we can.”
“I thought Arthur was convinced,” Val said, holstering her Glock at her lower back.
“Apparently not,” Damon said plainly, handing Val a coat to cover her weapon. “It seems we’ve gone from potential partners to enemies of the state.”
“If that’s the case, then why wait this long?” Danny asked. “They could’ve just jumped us in Ithaca.”
“If I had to guess,” Damon reasoned, “I don’t think things are as they were when Arthur first approached us. He was clearly moved by our little presentation, but it seems something’s changed, and not in our favor—obviously.”
“Our first move should be to secure the gunship,” Arras said.
“Indeed,” said Damon. “If they knew about my testing room, then they may already know the ship’s location, which means time is not on our side. We should be able to get there easily enough from here.”
“What about Eli?” Danny asked. “If they came for us, they’ll probably go after him, too. If they haven’t already…”
With a heavy sigh, Damon took the duffel from Danny and slung it over his shoulder. “We’ll need to prioritize our next moves. For now, let’s get the ship—at least that way we can get you three off the planet.”
Danny wanted to protest that, to insist that they try to get Eli first, but he couldn’t help but feel as if they were already too late.
“And my family?” he asked before Damon could reach the door. “Do you think…?”
Damon paused, then glanced back at him. “As I said, we’ll need to prioritize our next moves. The ship is the most important asset, which means it must come first. I’ll need you to take point, Daniel; we may need Ridarin.”
“Hang on,” Arras cut in. “You can’t just turn Ridarin on these people, not even if they are hostiles. That would be barbaric.”
“Excuse me,” Damon said sharply, “but it seems you’re hardly in a position to say such things.”
Arras felt almost wounded by his response, and Damon caught himself.
“Right now,” he said in a more patient tone, “the best thing we can do is ensure that you and Daniel can continue your mission. Negotiations have failed, and they’re already willing to spill blood, which means we need to prepare for the worst.”
“This isn’t any different than before, Arras,” Val suddenly said, staring her down. “It’s no different from my home. We do what we have to do to destroy Rededication. That’s all there is to it.”
Looking away, Arras assented.
Damon unlocked the steel door’s numerous bolts and pulled Danny to the front of the group, sending him out of the room first. As Damon gave him hushed directions from behind, the four of them travelled deep into Manhattan’s complex weave of subway tunnels and sewer systems, moving quickly, their destination already chosen.