Portable huts sat in rows between the barrier and the stage, and Entropy staff rushed around, finishing last-minute jobs. Dodge moved forward, keeping his taser low as he stepped over the thick cables criss-crossing the ground.
He didn’t remain unnoticed for long. So much for luck.
“Hey,” a clipboard-carrying man called to him. “Where’s your badge?”
Dodge flashed him with the taser and he collapsed. A passing PA wearing a headset witnessed her colleague fall and yelped in shock, dropping her tablet and covering her mouth with her hand. Dodge disabled her next, but her shout alerted the area. He broke into a sprint, heading toward the rear of the stage, lashing out with the taser whenever someone came too close. Immobilized bodies formed a trail behind him.
A deafening cheer arose from the crowd, its power shaking the stage’s metal scaffolding. He was too late. The show was already starting.
“Welcome to the future!” Jolene Tewksbury’s voice shouted, spurring the cheering to new heights. “You have come here to pay tribute, to honor a fallen hero.” Dodge couldn’t imagine a space cruiser launch as loud as the sound that ripped from the crowd. He continued toward the stage, shocking anyone who got in his way. “Love like yours has power.” Jolene paused. “It has the power of resurrection!”
Music started, an upbeat remix of Klaxon Overdrive’s ‘Taillights,’ and the crowd went hysterical. A full-color hologram of Joshua, nearly as tall as the Needle’s remains, materialized in the air above the crowd. He looked miserable, with his head bowed and his eyes sunken. Resigned grief projected fifty stories high.
Jolene Tewksbury’s voice boomed from the loudspeakers, “Klaxon Overdrive. Has. Returned.”
Joshua’s broken image ignited a hot cinder of anger in his guts and it spread through his body, filling the emotional pathways carved out and left vacant by the happiness that had drained away at Blair’s betrayal.
He charged around to the stage’s rear stairs, flashing the green beams around him. The entire compound was on high alert. Shrill voices pierced the air. People were following behind him, taking cover behind the metal buildings, trying to out-flank him. A bullet hole burst in the trailer next to his head. Dodge replied with a blind volley from the taser.
In the middle of the shot, the taser died, powering down with a whine. When his pursuers saw the taser go out, at least ten people charged him, most wore tool belts or suits, with only three security personnel among them. They were just Entropy employees attempting to protect what they must have thought was an attack on Klaxon Overdrive.
Dodge fumbled the second taser free from his pocket and thumbed the firing stud just as the first man got to him. The attacker froze, the wrench he had been brandishing poised in a swing that would have split Dodge’s skull. Dodge spun, a tornado of green energy, catching everyone within radius.
A satisfaction burned within him he hadn’t felt in years. Maybe ever. Even if he didn’t make it to Joshua, at least he’d know he tried. He hadn’t backed down, put his tail between his legs and slunk away like he probably would have only a few days ago. This whole half-baked plan was surely destined to fail, but he hadn’t quit. That was something, at least.
Ahead lie a short flight of stairs, and beyond that the smoke-shrouded stage. Before he could make his way up, his temples buzzed and creeping blue tendrils snaked in from the edge of his vision.
An all-encompassing warmth embraced him.
He fought the desire to slide down into the warm bath massaging his emotions, couldn’t let himself succumb to the euphoria. Unlike everyone else. They had lost interest in pursuing him, instead they were all bursting into tears of joy or giddy laughter.
Dodge slapped himself in the face and concentrated on the pain, forcing himself not to look over his shoulder. He could feel Nick’s ghost there, watching him.
He stumbled up the steps and into the wing of the stage, where a man and a woman stood behind Jennifer, all three lost in the depths of the Godwave effect.
Dodge brushed past Jennifer and her chaperones and out onto the stage. Joshua stood at the center, unmoving, staring off into the distance. Clouds of blue-tinged smoke billowed around him.
The crowd stretched out for what seemed like a kilometer, and he had never seen so many people so uniformly still. All of them were paying rapt attention, blissfully waiting to see what Klaxon Overdrive would do next.
Beside Joshua, but not hologrammed into enormity, were two helmeted chaperones and Jolene Tewksbury herself, wearing a thin tiara. Everyone else, on the ground, on the stage, everyone within reach of the powerful EMF generators, was witnessing the birth of a new messiah.
“And there,” Jolene said, pointing off at the horizon toward Studio Alley, “shall be his home.”
Out on the horizon, a blue flash erupted and the sky burned over Studio Alley. The flames lightened to silver and solidified into distinct shapes—rectangles and narrow conical pyramids. A city was coalescing before their eyes, a city that gleamed with promise and hope. That explained the display curtain.
“Behold,” she paused, and the hidden microphone caught and amplified her last word, “Entropolis.”
Dodge had seen enough. He shuffled forward, carefully lifted the taser, and hit Joshua’s first guard in the back with a pulse. The figure convulsed and dropped backwards. The people near the front of the stage gasped in a collective intake of breath, the sight of sudden violence at odds with the bliss foaming in their heads. Joshua looked over and his eyes burst in surprise. When his partner fell, the second guard stepped back, putting Joshua between him and Dodge. Jolene tried to run and Dodge zapped her.
“Behind you,” Joshua yelled.
Dodge spun out of the way just as a security guard, apparently able to keep his concentration through the Godwave serenity, shot his weapon at the spot Dodge’s torso had just occupied. Dodge returned fire without aiming, waving the beam in an arc that only just caught its target.
Joshua elbowed the remaining guard and ripped her helmet free. The Godwave crashed over her suddenly unprotected brain and the urge to struggle fell from her face. With a glance at the collapsed guards to either side of him, Joshua rushed over to Jennifer. She stared at him, cow-eyed, lost in the paradise inside her head.
He turned to Dodge. “What’s wrong with everyone?”
The Godwave wasn’t affecting him at all.
“You can ask Blair the next time you see her,” Dodge said, and just then a fresh wave of unease pulsated through the crowd.
“Ask me what?” Blair said, lurching up onto the stage and bending to pick up a guard’s gun. She pointed it at Dodge.
Blair? How had she survived?
Dodge opened his mouth to respond but Blair beat him to it.
“Actually, I don’t care,” she said, scowling, and pulled the trigger.
Dodge felt something hot poke his lower right side. He looked down as blood blossomed over his abdomen. The crowd rumbled, agitated even through the Godwave.
“Let’s go,” Blair said to Joshua, waving the gun. “The locals are getting hostile.”