The elevator stopped sooner than Lyan would have liked. The walls slid away and he crouched, ready to explode running if anything came at him.
The siren wailed unmuffled now, vibrating his molars.
Falconer usually took him to a lobby, a ground floor where a squad of guards waited to escort him through a pair of giant glass doors into the rest of the Firewall. This place, though–he’d never seen it before. The room was gigantic, high-ceilinged, with stairs and ramps leading to multiple levels where lights flashed and screens glowed.
And it looked like he was the only one here.
Lyan stepped off the elevator platform, muscles taut. He had to get to ground floor somehow, get out of the tower. But he didn’t know where he was, if he was above or below where he needed to go.
Also, Weedly had brought him here, for some reason. Probably not a nice reason.
There were computer systems in this room—maybe he could hack into them and find a map or something for getting unlost. He started up a ramp, heading for a promising-looking computer station. The monitors looked a lot like his own, all showing that sick green color instead of the Zero logo.
He froze, looking up toward the voice. Falconer jogged down a ramp to his left. His hair was disheveled and plastered to his sweat-slick forehead, his eyes were wide and staring, and he held a pistol in one hand. “Stay there!”
Nope. Nope, nope. Lyan whirled and ran back toward the elevator.
“Stop! I’ll shoot you, son!”
The wild rasp in Falconer’s voice froze Lyan to a halt. He gulped, turned.
Falconer strode toward him, pistol leveled. Lyan set his feet, tried to remember the moves he’d learned in the combat simulator, but his brain just fuzzed over.
“You’re gonna keep it out of my head.” Falconer stopped a few paces away, breathing hard. “Do your thing. Keep it out.”
Lyan stared blankly. “I don’t know what—”
“Don’t give me that!” Falconer shoved the mouth of the pistol toward Lyan’s head. His mouth twisted in a snarling version of his usual grin. “You keep this virus out of my brain, or I’ll blow yours out of your skull.”
Realization dawned. Lyan’s stomach clenched. Falconer wanted him to save him from Weedly. But he didn’t know how, he hadn’t even known he could do that.
Sweat dripped down Falconer’s nose. “Three seconds, son. I will kill you, I swear.”
Helplessness gripped Lyan, and he did the only thing he knew to try, he closed his eyes and reached out with his cerebrals. Maybe he had to connect to Falconer’s implants somehow, just—
Lyan’s eyes tore open and he ducked, hands coming up in defense. But Falconer was clutching his own temples, eyes popping in horror. The color drained out of his face and he screamed again, dropping to one knee.
Lyan backed away. His heart pounded. He had to do something, he thought crazily, but all he could do was stare as Falconer convulsed, white fingers digging into his forehead.
Then he stopped shaking. His hands dropped away from his head. Slowly, he looked up at Lyan, and his face had gone still and empty.
A shiver ran up Lyan’s spine. He stepped back.
Then Falconer smiled. Just his mouth, curving up in a U that didn’t touch his eyes. “Aw, Lyan. Why didn’t you help him? Didn’t you see how scared the guy was?”
The voice was Falconer’s, but with an odd inflection that seemed familiar, somehow. Lyan’s mouth went dry.
“You know what I’ve noticed about you, buddy? You freeze under pressure.” Falconer’s body stood up. “Like, just if you’re looking for positive criticism here. You do this whole deer-in-the-headlights thing. It’ll get you killed, bro.” He twisted his torso left, then right, popping his spine. “Probably not before very long, either. I mentioned my friend Demo, right? The one who is hunting your butt down right now? Here, lemme give you a better idea.”
With a burst of static, the monitors in the closest computer station came to life, showing some kind of video feed. Lyan walked closer, his legs like wood.
In the greenish tint of the screen, a high angle showed a hulking monster leaping into a group of armored Firewall soldiers, smashing them left and right, impervious to the weapons they fired into him point-blank. The video was blurry, hard to make out, but he was pretty sure one guy’s arm came off.
Then the video froze, stuttered, and looped over again, the monster jumping back into the same group of soldiers and slaughtering them all over again. Nausea swelled in Lyan’s gut, but he couldn’t look away.
“Of course, that video’s about half-an-hour old,” Weedly said. “Who knows where he could be right now? Like, he could be in that elevator.”
Lyan turned slowly to face Weedly. His hand shook, and he curled it into a fist. “Look, I was never trying to do anything to you.”
“Okay. Okay!” Weedly grinned wide, but his eyes narrowed to slits. “So you didn’t really sneak into my world, break into my house, steal my only friend and the light of my life, and drop her off to Beardie and his minions. Glad that’s cleared up for me.”
“I didn’t know they were after her,” Lyan said, and winced, because it sounded even more pathetic than it had in his head.
“I never said it was all your fault. Which is why you’re going to get dismembered semi-quickly, and Beardie’s soul is going to spend eternity in utter torment while his body decays and turns into a mindless metal zombie.” Weedly winked. “My impeccable sense of justice is something I pride myself on.”
He flipped his hand at Lyan. “Now get out of here, bro. I’m only gracing this body with my presence for the shock value, and I want to get out. This dude is old and gross, and his beard smells like somebody burned their garbage in it.”
Lyan stood still, his fingernails digging into his palms. He felt like he should be angry, furious at this virus grinning out at him from Falconer’s face, but he didn’t. He just felt scared, and he hated himself for that. Weedly was right there, in front of him, and he was about to run again. He was sick of running.
A stupid idea came into his head, and his neck went cold, but he did it anyway.
He sprinted the two yards between him and Weedly. Threw his heel into the kneecap that had once belonged to Falconer. Cartilage crunched.
The muscle memory he’d learned in the simulator came trickling back into his limbs, and almost without thinking he whipped his elbow into Falconer’s throat, went for the hand with the gun, twisted and yanked.
It actually worked, he was holding the gun now, and he yelled wordlessly as he fired point-blank into Falconer’s face. Kill the brain, his mind was saying, you have to kill the brain.
The man’s body convulsed and dropped like a stone.
Lyan backed away, his entire body shaking. Falconer’s body lay still, staring up with a ruined face.
Exhilaration pounded through Lyan, burning his lungs. It had worked, actually worked. He’d killed a real Infect.
What about Weedly himself, was he dead? He’d had been in Falconer’s brain, right? He took a step toward the body, peering closer. He kept the pistol out in front of him, finger on the trigger.
Music blasted through the room, abrupt and pulsing. Lyan whirled.
On every screen he could see, a silhouette danced—the same one he’d seen back in Jazzy’s house, in the room with lights and smoke. Hat and all.
Lyan’s heart sank.
White lettering appeared above the dancing figure—I SAID, RUN.
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