Updated: May 24
Blair handled the wheel as they cruised in her red Tesla along Lakeshore Boulevard. She scanned the mirrors and rear displays for signs of pursuit, zig-zagging through the manual lanes. Klaxon was stretched out in the back. His black smart-fabric jacket squeaking on the leather seat as he fidgeted.
The car pumped cool air at Dodge in the passenger seat. Still only nine in the morning and already a scorcher. Warmth faded from his sweat-damp body, causing his clothes to clutch and rub. He tugged at his shirt self-consciously and pushed the vent off to the side.
Then he realized he was sharing a car with Klaxon Overdrive. The most famous man in the world was directly behind him. He snuck a quick glance back. Klaxon Overdrive. But he didn’t look like he knew where he was. Or even who he was.
Len would never believe he was …
Better not to think about Len right now. He’d been Dodge’s one and only friend. Now he was gone.
“What the hell have I gotten into?” Dodge muttered, more to himself than Blair.
“Show business,” Blair responded as she swerved between a semi and an autovan. “We need to get to a secure position. Then, when we’re safer, I’ll tell you exactly what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into. Our friend back there is an attention magnet.”
“Who are you? Really? And why isn’t he,” Dodge jerked his thumb at the back seat, “in a billion atom-sized pieces hovering around the Needle?”
“I told you, I’m the Klaxon Overdrive brand manager. That’s all you need to know for now.”
“Brand manager? How does a brand manager learn—”
“I said ‘later.’”
Later? Later when, after she had killed him and dumped his body in the lake?
“You just show up, tell me my best friend has been murdered, shoot some people, and then expect me to trust you? I want to know—"
She swung her arm out and landed the side of her fist in his stomach without taking her eyes off the road. Dodge’s breath shot out in an explosive gasp. He tried to complain but couldn’t suck in enough air to speak.
“Later means not now.”
Dodge wheezed, trying to force oxygen back into uncooperative lungs. She was going to kill him.
He jumped at the door handle and pulled, his thoughts purple from lack of oxygen.
“You’ll end up a smear on the pavement,” she warned, but didn’t try to stop him.
A trickle of air finally entered Dodge’s lungs and he realized what he had been doing, abandoned the handle, sat back and tried to inhale.
“The sooner you understand I don’t give a damn what you want, the better. If you co-operate, you’ll to walk away from this, I promise. But before I’m done with you, you will give back to me what you stole.”
“How …” Dodge said, his voice unsteady. “How do you know about the Needle?”
“Your real name is Montrose Douglas Dodgson, a fact you’ve manage to conceal for some time now.”
How did everyone know who he was?
“I asked you about the Needle. Besides, you could have got my name from the news.”
“I could have,” Blair said, with a tone that implied even though she was entitled to be smug, she wouldn’t condescend to it. “But I didn’t. Who do you think told them?”
Then she looked over at him, and winked.
Anger flushed through his body. She was responsible for dragging his name back into the news? She had ruined his life.
Even though he could barely breathe, his skin burned with rage. If he was a different person he would have leapt at her.
“You told the feeds?” Dodge asked through clenched teeth, fighting to keep his fury in check.
Blair ignored his question and began to list his personal details as though she were reading the ingredients list on a cereal box. “You started pre-med, but flamed out in spectacular fashion and ended up working towards a PhD in technogenetics, a field in which you didn’t have to deal with real people. There, you and your colleagues created the basis for what became replactor technology. After the scandal, discarded by your university and overwhelmed by infamy, you went into hiding, only to reappear a few years later, using the name Dodge. You survived by selling the stolen g-codes of protected genetic therapies, convinced you were saving the world from the oppressive grip of the patent holders.”
Dodge burned, even under the cooling AC.
“Ok,” he muttered. “That’s enough.”
“You were a bright child who lived an unremarkable life until the age of twelve, when your parents, Susan and David Dodgson, split. You left home in your late teens and have been estranged from them since.”
“I get it,” Dodge said, wanting to grab her and make her stop. “You’ve made your point.”
She seemed to be enjoying this.
“You also had a brother,” she paused, just for a second, long enough for Dodge to involuntarily conjure the memory of a young face. “Nick, who died tragically while your family was vacationing—”
“Okay,” Dodge yelled. “Enough!” He was trembling. He shut his eyes and squeezed the armrest. Just breathe. Shut her out.
“Fine,” Blair said, apparently satisfied. “Now we understand each other. If you work with me, it will be much easier on you.”
Face flushed, Dodge took a few deep breaths before raising his head and glaring out the window.
Nick. Dodge couldn’t think about his brother without a hollow feeling coming over him, leaving him completely washed out.
He couldn’t deal with this. Not now. To distract himself, Dodge switched the car’s environmental control screen to a news feed. It showed, as he expected it would, a long-shot of the Needle, taken from somewhere on the mainland. The grounds were churning with people. From the distance it looked like a music festival taking place. The image shrunk into the upper left corner of the screen, revealing Jolene Tewksbury at the Needle’s base. She’d done another costume change, and was now wearing a blue and white jumpsuit with her hair up in pigtails.
“As we reported a few minutes ago, the HomeSec threat status has been upgraded to eight, or auburn, signifying a ‘High Alert.’ The airports have been closed, and will remain so until authorities assess the threat of further possible terrorist attacks, although it is still believed the explosion was the work of one man, one Montrose Douglas Dodgson.”
At the mention of his name, Dodge glanced over to gauge Blair’s reaction, but she remained silent, watching the taillights ahead of her.
“It is believed he was working alone, with the intent to steal Klaxon Overdrive’s genetic code. Another theory suggests that Dodgson possessed a psychotic, unrequited love for Overdrive that resulted in—” Dodge darted out his hand and swiped the screen back to the environmental controls.
This was how it started. He’d be the subject of every opinion piece and feed story for months to come.
At least this time he looked different enough that people wouldn’t stop him on the street and harass him. Hearing the same talk show monologue joke repeated at him for the three hundredth time had brought him right up to the edge of taking one of the many death threats up on their offer.
Out of the corner of his eye, Dodge saw the side of Blair’s mouth turn up. She was enjoying this.
Blair changed lanes and maneuvered them down into the Gardiner Tunnel, heading out of the city. Dodge gripped the armrest even tighter as they descended into the giant tube, and his anger at Blair’s intrusion into his life liquefied and drained away. His thoughts went silent, for just a second, and then a stark, hungering terror rushed in to fill the void.
They would soon be driving along the bottom of the lake. Zipping through a straw made from nothing more than a few inches of concrete and carbon lattice, with millions of gallons of suffocating water surrounding him. He could feel the building pressure on his ears as they—
Leaden waves pounding, the liquid pressure squeezing his body.
Slippery undertow fingers tugging goblin-like at his feet.
‘Help,’ a small voice, sputtering, calling his name. ‘Don’t let go.’
A spasm of arms. Tumbling, the ocean eager to clench him, to hold him forever. Eyes bulging as his lungs burn for air.
Then the brilliant flash of sunlight above the surface.
—neared the lake bottom.
Dodge closed his eyes and took slow, calming breaths. It was just the tunnel. Just another attack. It was all in his mind. All he had to do was breathe. Nothing was going to hurt him.
He fell into the hum of the tires, let the rhythmic beat of the passing tunnel lights flashing red through his eyelids lull him, let his weight sink into the car and through it into the ground.
The terror passed, leaving him exhausted.
It took a few seconds to realize she had said something.
“Sorry,” Dodge said quietly, opening his eyes but not moving them from the chevron pattern in the floor mat. “What?”
Blair gave Dodge a curious sidelong glance.
“I’m fine,” Dodge said, realizing the color must have drained from his face. “I just don’t like confined spaces. Or being underwater. Or around people.”
“Aren’t you on meds for all that?”
She did know everything. “I haven’t had a chance to hit the pharmacy lately.” Saliva surged into his mouth as he thought about the pill caressing his nerves.
“Too bad. You’re just going to have to deal with it.”
The road finally inclined as the car left the cool dimness. The sunlight had enough time to burn the pressure from his chest before the windows darkened, throwing the interior of the car into moving twilight. His heartbeat slowed.
He would need to find a new source of pills though. That was first thing on his list—right after staying alive. And getting paid.