Lyan’s eyes opened to darkness. His forehead rested on something cold and smooth.
He started back with a yelp, striking out blindly. His knuckles hit glass and glanced off. He scrambled backward, panting, and touched sleek leather.
Lyan froze. He knew where he was.
Across from him, a long shape in the heavy dimness, was the other train seat. Empty.
Silence draped the train car like a thick fog. Like the darkness. Why was it so dark?
His memories slipped back, he remembered Jazzy on the ground, Falconer leering down at him and then clambering into the plane thing.
Cold struck into his core and he jumped off the seat, hands coming up defensively as if he could swat away the dark.
“Jazzy?” His voice shook. “Jazzy!”
Lyan stumbled into the center aisle, toward the end of the car. The door was a slit of gray against the black—he beelined for it.
He squirmed through the door, landed with one foot on the station platform, almost fell. If anything, it was darker outside the train. Dark like a place where the sun had never existed. Where there had never been people, or voices, or Jazzy.
Lyan crouched in front of an empty wooden bench and put his hands on the back of his head, tried to breathe. His thoughts buzzed like static, refusing to form themselves into anything helpful.
She was gone. She was really gone.
He dug fingers into his temples and rocked on his heels. Everything had gone so wrong, so quickly. And he didn’t know why, or how, and the weight of everything he didn’t know piled on his shoulders like the infinite miles of darkness above him, crushing his shoulders down to his lungs.
No. There had to be some way to save her. What was it that guy had said, the crazy guy? Quint. He’d been trying to tell him something, to help him.
But everything had collapsed before he’d finished.
Lyan breathed in until his chest hurt. He was on his own.
Falconer knew about his visits to the Grid. Maybe even manipulated him into going, somehow, there was no telling. Because they’d wanted him to, what, get Jazzy into the Collection? That’s what Falconer had said, but why?
What was it Jazzy had said—Weedly can’t get into the Collection. But that means other things can. Falconer and the rest couldn’t enter the Grid, because they didn’t have miniature Firewalls in their brain–If they linked their minds to the virus’s playground, they’d be fair game. So they had to lure Jazzy into the Collection.
She hadn’t even wanted to go there. Had she known they were after her? Lyan ground his teeth. He was an idiot.
But now that he knew the jig was up with Falconer, he didn’t have to plug back out into reality to keep up appearances. He could stay indefinitely, dig around and maybe find some kind of clue as to where they’d taken her.
Well, indefinitely until Falconer came to his cell with some tech guys and forced his cerebrals to release their death grip on the Grid.
Lyan stood and moved toward the back of the station platform, squinting for the door. There it was, ghostly and pale in the side of the station building. He jogged the last few steps to the door, grabbed the knob, and had a split-second of fear that it wouldn’t open, and he’d be stuck out here.
But the knob turned, the door opened, and he jumped to leave the empty station behind.
Halfway up the staircase, he noticed the music.
A faint pulsing drifted down from Jazzy’s house. He could hear the throbbing bass first. Then as he neared the top of the stairs, a stuttering drum beat.
For a second he thought it might be Jazzy, and his heart thudded twice as fast as he stomped up the stairs two at a time. But then he reached the top, and halted. It couldn’t be her. He’d seen her lying on the walkway. They’d taken her away in that copter.
He walked slowly into the big foyer area, stood in the empty tile room. The muffled beat drifted down from the upstairs balcony.
Lyan turned and started up the stairs.
Maybe it was her, that tiny, illogical part of his brain insisted. Maybe she’d gotten away. Or maybe she was trying to send him a message, somehow. Maybe he was supposed to go up there.
And he kept walking even though most of his brain screamed for him to stop and think about this. One foot after the other, his hand tracing the top of the balcony railing, following the music.
Lyan stopped in front of the farthest door. The music pulsed, barely muffled by the cream-colored wood. He put his hand on the ornate knob, and the metal vibrated under his palm.
He tried to remember—what was this room? All the doors looked the same from the outside, and his brain was all foggy and he couldn’t really think.
Then he opened the door.
The music crashed around him, shivering in the bones of his face. He couldn’t tell exactly how big the room itself was, because it was filled with a thick, bluish haze, like smoke. Frenetic red and yellow lights strobed the haze, flashing in time with the repetitive, hypnotic beat.
And in front of Lyan, a silhouetted figure danced.
Danced, what the heck. The shadow twisted, gyrated, slung its arms around like it was trying to scoop out a hollow in the mist. No features were visible except for what looked like a wide-brimmed hat that was somehow staying on.
Lyan stood transfixed, and then realized that he was standing in the room now. He didn’t remember stepping away from the door. He shot a look over his shoulder, expecting to see a rectangle of regency-era balcony, but there was nothing but more fog.
Lyan’s mouth went dry. He turned and backed away from the dancer, who didn’t appear to have noticed him. Groped backwards, hoping to touch the door frame, or a wall or something, but there was nothing.
Then the music stopped, the strobe lights disappeared, and the dancer went still, arms hanging by his side as the blue haze dissipated into thick darkness.
Only for a second, and then the lights came on. Lyan stood in a long white room with clean light, no trace of the haze that had been there before. In the center, a glittery disco ball hung from the ceiling, and just under it stood the figure who had been jiving just a moment before.
A short man with long, straight hair and a cowboy hat straight from one of the cheesy westerns in the Firewall’s film archives. A pair of large dark sunglasses covered most of his round face, perched on top of a thin protruding nose.
“Right? Right?” The stranger wiggled his shoulders. “It gets to you. I just feel so deep right now.”
Lyan just stared.
“Sorry, we don’t really know each other,” the guy said, and grinned. “I’m Weedly. You may have heard of me, I’m a little important around here.” He pointed an angular finger at Lyan, like the barrel of a gun. “And you. Lyan, right? Kinda funny, just a few minutes ago I was swearing this eternal and binding oath to ensure that your every molecule died in excruciating agony.”
He chuckled. “But that can wait. Let’s get to know each other. Do you like ponies?”
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