Chapter 53

Bob blinked.

A lot can happen in a blink. A moment can pass, a heart can beat, and the left half of an administration building can disappear. Notably the half where Bob was intending to run from the official, who was now holding him to the floor.

Bob watched the dust disperse in the wind and did his very best not to blink again.

"Thank God I got to you two in time." The administrator said as he rolled off of Bob. Bob decided to lay there and fight the growing need to clear the dust layering on to his eyeballs.

"Needless to say, Phi Black is effected..." The administrator paused, then bent over Bob. "Excuse me, sir, are you ok?"

Bob blinked again. When he opened his eyes this time, nothing else disappeared. "Yes, I..", Bob stammered as he got up. "I'm sorry, I'm.. uh.. new here."

The administrator smiled in a knowing fashion. "Ah, then I don't have to worry about you not paying attention to me asking that you take shelter in your rooms or safehouses until we can get the TSD's back on line, do I?"

"No," Bob said.

"Good, you two will be safe, I'm not detecting any more peril about you."

Out of the corner of his eye Bob saw two individuals fly toward the center ring. Neither of them were wearing the normal superhero tights, but instead were dressed in suits that were the unofficial uniforms of the administrative staff. He noticed that on the ground there were other admins apparently establishing force walls between the inner rings and various residents.

That's when it hit Bob. The admins were doing what they could to protect the residents. He turned to see the admin say a few quick words to Tony and then run off back the way he came.

Bob looked to Tony. "Oh, sorry, he said that apparently there's going to be an attack on 3-312 and he will be needed."

"He knows there's going to be an attack?"

"Oh, you've never met Timpson? He's got some kind of precognition thing. It allows him to see peril and know it's outcome. Kind of sent him over the edge for a while. I talked with him for a while last month. He likes it here because the dampeners keep him 'out of the loop' most of the time, and when they go off-line, he's too busy to think about it."

Tony grunted a laugh. "Nice guy, but he cheats at cards." He then looked around, "where's your partner in crime?"

Bob remembered Chris' hasty retreat. Fortunately for Chris, it had not been toward the part of the building that was now settling across the farmlands. "He ran off."

"Typical." Tony snorted. "Well, my room isn't that far away. It shouldn't take us that long to get there."

Bob hesitated. "Are you sure we'd be safe there?"

Tony laughed. "Bob, there we've got a bunch of ems trying to keep us from not going dead. Here we've got less than half of a building. Which would you prefer?"

Bob stepped briskly, "You've got a view of the lake, you say?"

Once again, Chris learned that he should be more careful about the things he wished for.

The hallway was abandoned, just as he had hoped. Granted, that hope had come before the Facility had gone under lockdown. An empty hallway meant no prior warning if things were to go suddenly bad.

He took a deep breath and tried his best to forget all the things that screamed to the front of his mind answering the as yet to be asked question of what could go wrong. Worse than that, he also found himself worrying about Bob. It would seem that Chris had the most annoying habit of dragging innocent people into the chaos that was his life, first JB, and now Bob.

Granted, Bob was significantly less "innocent" than JB, but Chris needed to build his allies, even if it was with his sworn enemy. Well, at least his nemesis on the job.

Jeez, Chris, way to reduce the chaos.

The door swung open again as Chris pushed the cart apparently oblivious to the chaos undoubtedly swarming around, knowing full well that if put to the challenge, he could probably beat it with one arm tied behind his back. Hopefully his arm, but any would suffice.

Chris checked the room numbers carefully before stopping beside one of the non-descript gray doors. A few doors had post-its stuck to them, reminders of meetings, missed acquaintances, future plans for world domination apparently involving some form of mechanized cat toys.

Chris tried to ignore that last one.

He stopped beside one of the rooms. The door was similarly festooned with various messages, although there was a notable lack of notices about sales on thigh-high patent leather footwear. He checked the number again, ensuring that this was indeed the room he was looking for.

He raised his hand to knock gently when he heard the crash and piercing scream from inside the room. Chris had the door open a moment later. The next moment he was blinded and plastered against the far wall by a torrent of water. Although it felt like hours, a few moments later Chris was released from the fury and dropped back down to the floor.

"Allow me to introduce myself," Chris coughed out as his lungs once again grew accustomed to air. He dropped to his knees. "my name is Chris Reid, I'm here to rescue you." Chris said as he fell face first against the ground.

"I don't trust him."

"Well, neither do I, but it does sort of look like him."

"Fine, but why would he want to rescue us?"

"I don't know. This is all confusing. I wish Sandy was here."

Chris woke up on something softer than low pile carpeting and looked around. He put a hand to his head, or at least tried, before realizing that he was tied down

"He's awake."

Chris realized that the two blurry shades now hovering above him were the owners of the voices that roused him from dreams of lying underneath Niagra Falls. His eyes still stung and he tried to blink them clearer. "Madams McCovey, I presume?" Chris asked hoarsly.

"Who wants to know?" The darker blur asked.

"My name is Chris Reid. I believe we've met previously, however it was not under the best of circumstances. I am also known as The Grayhound."

"I told you he was the creep!" The lighter blur spat.

"But why is he here?"

"To put it plainly, I wanted to get the two of you out of here." Chris said as the world gained more clarity, well, enough to tell that the two women were looking at him in a state of near total confusion.

"You what?" they asked in harmony.

"Look, I'm not saying you two are innocent or don't have a debt to society, but I am saying that I had no idea what this place was like. Plus, from what I understand, neither of you are eager to return, right?"

The lighter one shook her head. The darker one wasn't buying into it. "I don't trust him."

"Fair enough", Chris said. "I do know that your sister misses you and that you probably feel the same way. I'll also say that while the two of you aren't the most dangerous people here, it would still be a good idea for you to lay low. I'll provide you with a place to stay, aliases, and phones. Likewise I'll make sure that Sandy knows where you are and is able to contact you, but it will have to be infrequent otherwise we'll raise suspicions. Consider yourselves on probation under my guidance."

"And what do you want in return?" The red(?Yes, or maybe more auburn) haired figure asked.

"Easy. I'll need to talk to you about this place. The parts that worked, the parts that didn't."

There was a pause. "And..?"

"And you two stay out of trouble. Look, in case you hadn't worked it out, I'm risking quite a bit getting the two of you out of here. Enough to wind up staying here much longer if anyone figures out who I am and why I'm here. Right now I can't offer you anything other than my word that I am telling you the truth. Likewise, if you wish I'll leave now and you'll never hear from me again."

The two semi-blurry figures walked away from Chris and whispered back and forth to each other in alternately excited and angry tones. Snatches of something either German or Gaelic didn't help clarify the mood. Chris kept his eyes closed and waited for some answer.

"What's your plan?" The redhead asked. He could finally start making out features.

Chris figured that now would probably be a good time to stop procrastinating about that part of the rescue.

So, we meet again.

Your blank, meaningless stare betrays your ignorance, but rest assured, I know you, perhaps, too well.

You're here to fulfill the placid tidings of your day, waking, going to your ultimately meaningless job, where you toil like a good, mindless drone. Yes, I can sense it, the meaningless toil wearing away at your soul like the wind slowly grinds a mountain into so much dust.

Yet, unlike a mountain, you have an escape. You can tear yourself from the toilsome wheel for a few all too precious moments of joy. A few minutes of bliss, before returning to the life draining pit of endless drudgery that provides the pittance for the parts of your life, stolen.

And yet you squander your stolen minutes here, standing among the other sheep. Begging for you packets of joy.

Yes, I believe I will grant you your request, although you should know that I do so not out of pity, or benevolence. No, I do so only because the mockery that is your life continues to amuse me.

But before I hand you your false semblance of happiness, I require you to answer a simple question, one that I ask all of your kind.

Would you like to super-size that?

Very well, here is that which you seek. And here is the large cup. The soda fountain is behind you to the right. Have a pleasant existence.

Welcome to Machiavelli's, may I take your order?

It was getting late. Tony had been a wonderful host for Bob and they had spent the afternoon chatting away about old school chums and how to avoid hat-head while wearing big metal buckets. Still, the hours before lockdown had ticked away.

Bob had no intention of staying, but he also realized that unlike his erstwhile associate and long time foe, he had little idea of how to get back to his truck. He had spent the last hour quietly kicking himself for letting himself get into this situation.

There was another lull in the conversation. A lull indicating that although the time was well spent, it should come to an immediate end. Bob knew that lull far too well. He was a master at it. What's more he taught courses in it.

Bob rose from his chair and thanked his host. Bob lied about seeing Tony again soon while he thought about how he was going to avoid the lockdown headcount and survive the night. He also thought of new and interesting things to do to Mr. Reid, provided he lives to return to Boise. Bob hoped Mr. Reid didn't.

Bob calmed his nerves and reached for the door handle. There was a knock. Bob froze, uncertain what to do. Had he miscalculated when lockdown was?

"Yes", Professor Doom called from behind Bob, "Who is it?"

"Laundry." The voice replied, "Here to... pick up."

"Laundry? At this hour? On a Wednesday?" Tony began.

Bob pivoted and again took his host's hand, "Ah-yes-had-a-lovely-time-really-must-do-this-again-fun-fun-thanks-for-lunch-my-it's-late-must-get-going-good-night." He punctuated his flurry of courtesy with the door slamming shut behind him. "Where the hell happened to you?"

Bob's less than graceful, mid-sentence pirouette occurred at the same time he looked at Chris. Chris, completely aware of the more than disheveled look being suddenly caught under a misdirected waterfall after a full days sunbathing delivered in a matter of minutes. Plus he was very out of breath as he bent over and wheezed menacingly at Bob.

Bob was about to return fire, but stopped as a question ran the gates of the tollbooth of his mind. "Why did you come back for me?"

"Because... I don't... leave my team... behind..."

"Ooh, you know, that really is going to come back to haunt you eventually." Bob said with growing concern.

"Right, I'll remember... that next time... you can still stay if you like... You seem to be settling in nicely..." Chris did little to mask the sarcasm in his voice.

Bob was properly chided and harrumphed his thanks. He tugged on the laundry cart and immediately knew why Chris was so out of breath. "What do you have in here, a ton of bricks?"

A muffled voice from the hamper grumbled "Watch it. I'm retaining water, but I feel like sharing."

Chris shoved the cart, jostling the contents quiet as Bob quickly pulled as well. "The pick up?" Bob enquired.

Chris nodded, "It would have been easier to call ahead but considering the circumstances, I decided against it."

"Good idea."

"And I figured I could use your help if we need to pick up speed at any point."

Bob smiled. "So that line about not forgetting your own."

"Mostly true. I'm also one who likes to plan ahead." Chris deadpanned.

Bob laughed, "Well, Mr. Reid, there's hope for you yet."

"There is no way I'm going to put on something so... eewww."

Chris was seriously beginning to reconsider the whole 'Go get Sandy's sisters out of The Facility plan', Not because of any issue regarding the actual plan. All of that had gone reasonably smoothly. His issues were taking on a more personified form.

Chris remembered why he preferred working alone.

Alexis held the camouflage outfit at arms length. The material was lightweight but water resistant. "It looks like something Sandy would wear."

Chris counted slowly to ten. Somewhere around eight, he tried to banish the thought of having stopped off at Annie's to see what he had in stock for such an occasion. Chris doubted either of the women would take any kinder to combat stilettos.

Fortunately, Chris didn't have to say anything. Bob did the favor. "Ladies, I'd note that right now you are both wearing very bright orange shirts and cotton pants. The former will allow any sniper located in a guard tower to easily spot you, the latter will quickly absorb every bit of freezing water we happen to run through. While the garment in question will never grace the runways of Milan, it will keep you alive for an hour or two." Bob quickly removed his shirt and yanked on the garb. "Plus I'm damn sure that regardless of what I'll be wearing, I'll be wearing something else in a coffin."

The two grumbled as they changed clothes. Both Chris and Bob turned their backs so as to provide gentlemanly discretion. Of course, they both also complained about the fact that neither of the outfits fit correctly. Chris had based his measurements off of Sandy, who was neither as tall, nor as svelte as her siblings. Still, the vast majority of the sisters lay beneath the collective folds of camouflage.

Chris checked the building number one last time, consulting the map he had carefully memorized.

He gave a few parting instructions to stay low, stay quiet and not to stop moving before they headed off across the wet grasslands toward the forest and hills.

You're sure I can't give you a ride back?

No, Mister Reid, I'll leave you among the charming company of our acquired guests.

You really are an evil bastard, you know that.

Thank you. Mister Reid, I feel that I may have been wrong about you.


Excuse me?

You're not wrong at all. We're not friends, we are both very much on opposite sides, it just so happens that we both agree about one thing. When we get home, I'd prefer if you didn't mention this little outing. Rest assured, I have several air-tight alibis already in effect so denying it will be a simple matter. Like I said, I prefer to have several plans in hand.

I've come to expect that from you Mister Reid.

Good. I like that. Keeps folks like you on your toes, the same way that you keep me on mine.

So, what are your plans regarding the point of our mutual interest.

I'm not certain yet. As is usually the case, there's far more going on here than can be simply defined. It's as dangerous as it is needed. Frankly, I know that I'm not going to be able to take care of this overnight. and I'm also not going to be able to do it alone. I'm going to need your help, Bob.

Wait, you've said that we're in effect enemies and that you nee my help? You're very confused Mr. Reid.

Maybe, but sometimes chaos is the only way to resolve a problem. I will keep you apprised of any actions I plan, if you'll do the same for me. Please, let's agree not to do something stupid, no matter how tempting it may be. There are a lot more lives than our own riding on this, a the chance to right a good many wrongs. Failing all else, there's the other option.

And that would be...?

A chance to rightly tick off a whole mess of self important morons who are giving themselves line of sight colonoscopies.

You know, even if I were to agree with you after the first point, that second one is far more compelling.

The truth usually is.

It's been a pleasure working with you, Mr. Reid. We should plan another weekend getaway like this again, some time.

Perhaps, Mr. Malevolent, perhaps.

It was far too early in the morning as a figure rested in the shadows. Three robberies, a foiled murder attempt, and a recovered car-jacking, it was a rather relaxing night, really.

It felt good to be needed again. He strolled down the nearly abandoned streets. In the distance he heard the garbage men making their rounds through China town. It was the start of a new day. He adjusted his hat as he walked into a coffee shop.

The waitress had his cup ready for him, along with his Danish. He had tried to pay her, but after he busted up those punks two weeks ago, the staff at the store steadfastly refused to let him pay. He still left a tip to make up for it anyway.

He might as well. It wasn't his money.

A much younger, but far more tired man slid onto the stool next to him. The two were dressed remarkably the same, however the older man's stature gave him a more towering appearance.

The waitress poured the new customer a cup of coffee and was properly thanked. A sunburned hand reached for the cup.

After a sip, the younger man spoke. "I want to thank you for filling in for me. I hope things were quiet enough."

"Actually, no, it was more like I prefer it."

"Careful what you wish for. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy, well, not for a while at least."

The two sat quietly, listening to the hustle going on about them.

The younger man spoke again. "I have to admit, I am mighty grateful that you answered my ad so quickly. I also hope that I can rely upon you to keep this employment opportunity quiet.

"Have no fear, I'm quite used to keeping secrets, Mr. Reid. Although if you don't mind me saying so, you could use a few lessons on dealing with the criminal element. There's far more involved than simply beating people up. A true hero isn't there in the nick of time, he's there before he's needed."

"Careful, you're starting to sound like someone my brother knows."

"Ah, yes, probably because that's who I am."

"Excuse me?"

"Now that I'm no longer filling in for you, allow me to introduce myself. My name is irrelevant, but you may call me The Detective."

Is this the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Bob and Chris?

Can I get fries with that?

What happened to Myron's voice?

These and many more questions will continue to go unanswered in the next thrilling chapter:

The Shortest Distance
Abridged Too Far

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