Updated: May 24
The silver doors sealed behind him and a burst of frosty air swept over his body, frozen fingers invading his clothes and tickling his skin as though searching for something. He looked up and then, overcome by vertigo, dropped his gaze immediately back to the gleaming floor. The lobby seemed to be alive, like he had walked into the innards of a giant metal beast. Furniture flowed seamlessly into the walls, which arced up into hallways that branched off like arteries. Three mammoth, bone-like supports stretched up and merged with the distant ceiling. A horseshoe of elevator shafts rose like a spinal column in the center of the room. And, most disconcertingly, a rippling gradient of light radiated from the surface of the walls, from floor to ceiling—as though the room was breathing.
Klaxon’s image was everywhere, shining out from the walls and on holograms striding across the floor. Klaxon in an open stadium, holding a microphone to his lips, surrounded by a million screaming fans. Klaxon walking with the Pope. Klaxon teaching a group of kids in sharp new uniforms. Klaxon looking pensive as he sat with the President, chewing on the end of a pen. There was no mistaking who lived here. And every shot of Klaxon’s perfect face was a reminder of exactly what the stakes were. He’d never get this close again.
Len’s cover ID must have worked, because no one ran to intercept him. As a matter of fact, the lobby was completely deserted, except for a young man behind the reception desk. His projection lenses were the same silver color as his suit, which was the same color as everything else around him. Dodge had assumed the place would be lousy with security and scurrying minions, that he’d be strip-searched and questioned, but so far it had been easy. Too easy.
Where was everyone?
The clerk kept his eyes fixed on the doors while Dodge approached, as if expecting someone more important to enter at any second.
“I have an … um … appointment to interview Mr. Overdrive,” Dodge said as he finished his trek across the lobby. He’d thought an eleven o’clock in the evening meet time was odd, but apparently Klaxon was a night owl, which suited Dodge fine. He barely slept anyway.
The clerk wrinkled his nose and twitched his silver-tipped fingers. His eyes glowed blue as the projection lenses activated.
“Yes, Mr.… Tiberius?” He pronounced the name as though it contained an overdose of a carcinogenic artificial sweetener.
Dodge nodded, not trusting his voice, and scanned the lobby again. He didn’t like being the only one here. He was too exposed. If something went wrong, there was nowhere to run. No one to hide behind.
“I have your appointment confirmation here,” the clerk said. “Mr. Overdrive is, as always, in the penthouse. Please take the express elevator at the center of the hub. Your biometrics have been recorded and authorized for one round trip.”
“Where’s…?” Dodge cleared his throat. “Am I the only one here?”
“You are Mr. Overdrive’s only registered guest this evening.”
“I thought there would be—”
“Mr. Overdrive does not like to be kept waiting.” The clerk gestured toward the elevators, then then shuddered and blinked from existence.
A projection? A fucking projection?
How did he not notice he was talking to a clerk-shaped beam of light? A premonitory quake ran thorough him: they were onto him. Entropy knew who he was and this was all about to come crashing down. That’s why the place was empty—they were avoiding collateral damage.
He’d spent the past six months obsessing about exactly how fucked this could get, imagined every excruciating detail. First, the world would finally learn where the fugitive Montrose Dodgson had been hiding. And after the feed vultures picked the few remaining shiny bits out of his sanity, they’d lock him in a tiny cell and forget about him until he died, at which point someone would edit together a fifteen-second memorial clip scored by sad piano music, relating how Montrose Douglas Dodgson—architect of the Replactor Scandal and for a brief period in the early mid twenty-first century the most-hated man on the planet—had died alone and forgotten in prison.
He shook his head. Why couldn’t he just stop thinking? No one was coming to get him.
Just go. Get it over with.
Case hanging from his shoulder, Dodge scurried over to the central elevator pod. The sight of it was enough to constrict his throat like the neck of a balloon pulled tight, and he inhaled with a shrill wheeze. Fighting the stronger-than-ever urge to turn and run, he crossed the elevator threshold and stepped into the enclosed space.
He took a breath and waited. It wasn’t so bad. An elevator ride laced with gut-wrenching claustrophobia was nothing compared to what waited for him at the top. And on the bright side, he’d never again have to endure the nauseous agony of entering a cramped space. Well, once more—he still had to come back down—but when he finished the job and was richer than he’d ever need, he’d make sure the doctors scrubbed the claustrophobia out of his brain while they were cleaning up the rest of the garbage in there.
Dodge turned to face the doors as they squeezed shut on the empty lobby. The pod dropped minutely and then, with a single peristaltic undulation, shot skyward.
The elevator greeted him by name. Its voice—smooth and emotionless—explained the technology behind the elevator itself.
You are riding on a cushion of air, it told him. No wires, no cables. A silver pea in a more than kilometer-high straw, the only way to facilitate a single unbroken elevator ride in such a tall structure. A vacuum pump sucked the air from the top of the shaft, pulling the elevator up, and the pressurized air below kept it afloat when the elevator came to a stop.
His mind rebelled, trying to force a protective shutdown before the urge to flee became too much to bear and he shredded his fingers trying to claw through the elevator walls. He was being held up by air? Not four or five redundant cable systems? How could air hold anything up?
With his will gone, his only protection from an implosion of ego-shattering anxiety was the tryptoxetine, the thin pharmaceutical shield that kept him from living his life curled in a frightened, quivering ball.
He squeezed his fists and pinched his eyes shut. Just a few more seconds.
Dodge tuned the elevator out and concentrated on what life would be like without anxiety tainting his every thought—while clinging desperately to the remnants of soft pharmaceutical fuzz lining his skull—and prayed for it to be over.
His body weight increased as the pod stopped. The doors opened and Dodge fell to his knees, gasping, fighting the urge to throw up on the carpet. It seemed like the floor was throbbing—then his brain squidged and he snapped to his senses.
He was on his hands and knees on Klaxon Overdrive’s foyer carpet, stifling the urge to hurl. He scrambled up, searching the hallway for anyone who might have noticed him on all fours, and as his feet left the elevator, someone killed the lights.
The sudden dark echoed in his head. A hint of ozone prickled the air. His fear became so intense it ceased to register as fear and shifted back around towards confidence.
“Hello? I’m here to interview Klaxon Overdrive. ” His voice buzzed in the compact room. “I have an appointment.”
The elevator doors hissed shut behind him and he stifled a yelp. Fear swung back and dug in. The darkness seemed to gain mass and rush at him, as though it had every intention of smothering him. His lungs smoldered. He spun and groped the wall for a call button but couldn’t find where the doors ended and the wall began.
No cracks. No buttons. The elevator had disappeared.
He was trapped.