“No wonder Entropy wants Joshua back so badly.” Dodge said. He wanted her to turn the Godwave back on. Wanted more than anything to curl up with it cuddled to his chest so he wouldn’t have to deal with the shit he was in.
“That’s why I’m getting him out before they destroy him completely. Without Joshua, Entropy has nothing.”
“And this whole religion thing was all your idea?”
“This wasn’t how it was supposed to be, believe me.” Blair lowered her voice. “And we should have been long gone by now. I only stopped to help you because, after I realized you had escaped the explosion, I felt responsible for your safety. I’m starting to wish I hadn’t bothered.”
“You want me to thank you? You’d be happier if I’d been atomized.” Dodge mopped his perspiring brow with his forearm. Blair didn’t seem to be the least bit affected by the heat. Though it was probably as much his anxiety making him sweat as the temperature.
“I’ve done some things I’m not proud of. But I’m trying to make up for it. If I can get Joshua away from this insanity maybe I can help give him the life he wants.”
“So you busted him out?”
“In a manner of speaking. Plus, I—disabled—their bioprinting facilities. Now they can’t make any more copies. They’ve got a religion starting in two days and their messiah has gone AWOL. They aren’t going to give up until they get him back.”
“Which explains the Burning Spear.”
“They’ll be coming for Joshua and the DNA you stole …” A strange look passed through Blair’s face. A look that danced shivers across Dodge’s shoulder blades. She straightened, arching her back, causing her breasts to press distractingly against her thin blouse. “Where is it?”
Even though he knew she was playing him, he found it hard to resist. Dodge mustered all his resolve and tried to remain aloof. “Don’t worry, it’s safe.”
“I hope so, because I want it.” Blair’s shoulders relaxed, head drooping slightly. “I need to destroy it.”
“Destroy it?” He shook his head. “That sample is going to make me very rich. Especially now that Klaxon Overdrive is supposedly dead. It will be worth even more. I’m not just going to give it away.”
She blew a breath through her tight lips. “Being the Klaxon brand manager, I also controlled his finances. I’ve moved most of Joshua’s money to a numbered account. Give me the sample, and I’ll pay you double what the Paradise Mind was offering. You’re not going to get anything out of them now.”
“Yes, double. Do we have a deal?”
“I don’t know.” Double … ? A point of light appeared in the black cloud of anxiety that had been shrouding him. A way out. “Just let me think about it.”
Blair’s eyebrows shot up in momentary disbelief, then furrowed. “Think about it? Think about this while you’re at it. I could give you nothing for it, knock you senseless and let the Paradise Mind and the Burning spear come fight over your corpse.”
She had a point. “Double will be fine.”
Blair immediately regained her composure. She got up from the bed, checked the clip in her weapon, threw her jacket back on, then walked to the couch and opened the duffel bag. Dodge tried to peek over her shoulder to see what the bag contained, but her body blocked his view. Before he could move to a better angle Blair stood up, pocketing what looked to be a replacement clip for her weapon and a rectangular box Dodge couldn’t identify.
“You can be fairly certain that unless you or I call them, the Paradise Mind won’t find you here.” She re-zipped the bag. It was as though threatening to turn him in hadn’t happened at all.
“I give the Burning Spear more credit though, so we can’t stay here long.”
“So what do we do now?”
“You’ll do nothing,” she said, again all business. “I need to meet with a contact and arrange transportation for Joshua and myself off the continent.”
“What is wrong with him? He seems like he’s operating underwater or something.”
Blair paused, considering her next words. “I need your help, so I’ll be straight with you. But if you ever repeat it, I’ll hunt you down and make sure you never speak again. Understood?”
Dodge could only nod.
Blair moistened her lips and began to speak. “Joshua suffered a psychotic breakdown a little over six months ago. He has been playing Klaxon so long it overwhelmed him. The persona took over for a while, which is why he has to quit. He can’t take the stress. It’s killing him.”
“Shit,” Dodge said and glanced back at the bathroom door. He knew about mental exhaustion.
“No one knows except Entropy’s doctors and some upper management, and it has to stay that way. Klaxon being dead is the best thing that could have happened to him. Now Joshua is free to live his life.”
“Is he going to be okay?”
“He will be. I think the video upset him. He’ll calm down, his short term memory isn’t great as it is.” Blair gathered her long hair into a ponytail and secured it with a tortoiseshell clip. “Just keep an eye on him until I get back.”
“We’ll be fine.”
“I’m only worried about him.” She had already pulled the door open, and was merely a dark outline against the intensity of the light streaming in. “Be back soon.”
She shut the door behind her and left Dodge staring at the room license. He walked over to the bathroom and knocked. “You okay in there, Josh?”
“Joshua,” came the reply from behind the flimsy door.
“Right, Joshua. Everything all right?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Ok, well, if you do, I’ll be out here.”
Dodge crossed the small room. Now that he was finally alone he was feeling the full weight of his exhaustion. He fell onto the nearest bed, pulled the gun from his waistband and placed it in the drawer next to him. He didn’t know what else to do with it. He probably should have gotten rid of it by now but it made him feel safer to know he had it nearby, even if he didn’t know how to use it.
Sinking back onto the foam pillow, Dodge closed his eyes. He wouldn’t sleep. He’d just rest.
Except he felt the Godwave generator gleaming at him from across the room. He tried to ignore it, but that didn’t last long. His eyes snapped open and there it was, ready to lull him back to serenity.
Maybe just a few minutes. Blair would never know.
He crawled across the bed, stretched out his arm, and pressed the buttons on the cylinder.
Immediate peace engulfed him. He wasn’t in the hotel room, he was floating in a blue foam.
He fell back onto the bed, his fingers wiggling out in the blue as the room returned around them. He could endure anything under the influence of this. Any tragedy. Fear melted away and for the first time in years, he felt peace.
Then Nick walked out of the bathroom, naked, his hair wet. Nick, all grown up. Like he hadn’t died that summer at all.
Dodge jerked up. He was cogent enough to realize he should either be scared out of his mind or scurrying to the nearest twenty-four hour pharmacy and downing every anti-psychotic they sold, but he felt great. Delighted even. More than anything else, even though he knew it was just the Godwave spasming his brain, it was good to see Nick again.
Maybe now he could say goodbye.
“What are we doing here?” Nick asked, browsing over the room. “In this shit hole?”
“Resting,” Dodge said. “How are you?”
“Fucking incredible. Never better.” Nick stepped across the room, spotted the duffle bag, and began to root through it. He pulled out fresh clothes and pulled them on. “These yours?”
“I’ve missed you,” Dodge said.
Nick stopped and cocked his head at Dodge. “You and every-fucking-body else. I’ve been busy.”
Which made sense. Heaven had to offer plenty of extra-curricular activities.
Nick put on Joshua’s shoes.
“You’re leaving?” Dodge asked. “Can’t we talk a while first? It’s been so long.”
“Don’t think so. Places to be.”
Dodge jumped up and clutched Nick by the shoulders, tried to wrap his arms around him.
“Get the fuck off,” Nick said and shoved him away.
“You’re a dream,” Dodge said, reaching out to grab his brother once more.
Nick chuckled. “Oh, we’re much more than that,” he said as he grabbed the generator. “And no one touches us.”
Dodge watched Nick cock his arm back and swing the generator out like a stubby baseball bat. Pain burst from his temple and he stumbled back, thudded against the wall and bounced to the floor. The Godwave cut off.
Blackness snaked through the fading tranquility, clouding everything except for the red flare of pain arcing through his head. He tried to fight back, swimming upwards to remain conscious, but the blackness won. Red faded into shadow, and the smell of cheap carpet shampoo filled his nostrils as he passed out.