“Your parents would be very disappointed in you,” Epstein tells Jones. Very dangerous words to someone who has a knife at your throat.
“Where are they?” she growls. “If you hurt them–”
“I have no idea where they are,” he replies flatly. Even in this dire moment, he is able to keep calm. “The mayor ain’t given that kind of information.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Here then, let me go over to my phone and call Chief Baranowsky,” he says. “We can sort this all out so we don’t need any more senseless–”
“You have to stop this, Jones,” I say. “Only you have the power NOT to kill this man. Doing it will destroy everything.”
“I have to stop all of this,” she says. “Atlanta has to burn to the ground. It has to start over. It’s the only way to… purge itself.” Her words are dramatic, but her tone is uncertain, more hesitant.
“No,” I say. “Atlanta is worth saving. I’ve tasked my life from protecting it from people like Epstein, but I’ve also tasked my life with protecting it from people like you. So lay your weapons down.”
Jones’s scowl deepens. She lets go of Epstein, shoving him onto the ground again– and charges towards me. “And I told you NOT TO FOLLOW ME!”
Since this is a rather small arena for a fight, I push Karina backwards and deal with Jones myself. She slashes several times at me, but it’s in the exact same pattern as the last time we fought, so it’s easier to dodge. I just have to think like I’m dueling a basketball player with knives, rather than a trained fighter. She knows how to jump around and tussle against other players, but she doesn’t actually know how to kill another human being. I hope.
She makes stabbing motions towards me using both knives. Last time she was trying to injure me, but these are kill points she’s aiming for now. A lot has changed in the past couple days between us. I really feel like we’ve made some progress in our budding friendship.
I punch. It misses. I’m wide open. She makes a lunge towards me, but just before her knives swing at me I do a backflip over her head and land behind her.
Karina steps back in, slamming into Jones’s shoulder and knocking her off-balance. We come at her at both sides, but she fends us both off by slicing away wildly. We can’t get close enough to knock her out or do anything else.
“Just get out of here so I don’t have to kill you too!” Jones yells.
“No can do,” I say. “I’m making sure you’re getting out of here safe and sound.”
“I’m not getting out of this alive,” she says. “Don’t bother.”
Oh, hell no. I’ve come too far to let go of her. Without regard for my own safety I charge at her and grab one of her wrists. She slashes my arm with her other hand but I fight through the pain. Then I headbutt her in the face.
Her nose gushes blood. Jones drops her knives as she clutches both hands to her face. Karina kicks the knives away.
I let go and collapse on the floor, trembling from the electric shock of the magi-knife.
“You’re ruining everything,” Jones says. “I don’t understand why you have to be so cruel!”
“You’ve done enough,” I tell her, shaking off the pain and sitting up on my knees.
Her hands are now covered in blood, and I offer her a napkin that had been sitting in my pants pocket since the last time I ate carry-out, which must have been when Karina and I got food at the convenience store. What was that, Tuesday?
It’s been a long week.
Jones takes the napkin and wipes her palms off. For just a moment, we look at each other without hostility. It almost all works out.
Keyword is almost.
Several bullets barely miss us, shooting into the walls behind. Epstein is now on his feet again, holding a pistol with a shaky grip.
“One way or another, my legacy is restored,” he says. “The Ascendancy will take its rightful place in Atlanta. If I die here, I’ll be a martyr for the cause. If I kill you, I’ll be a hero protecting the city. So I don’t care what happens. All of us here will be dead in the end.”
“What is the ‘Ascendancy’, Epstein?” I ask. “What are the ‘Ascendants?’”
“Why the fuck would I tell you that?”
“Well, you’ll be telling someone. The police ought to be here any minute.”
Epstein’s eyes go wide. “Wh… What do you mean?”
“I mean, I took the information about you from Jones’s computer and uploaded it to the internet,” I say. “You’re now a criminal suspect for misuse of office and corruption.”
“Ah. Well…” Epstein takes his gun and points it to his forehead–
A knife flies through the air and strikes the gun, knocking it out of Epstein’s hand and disabling it.
“You… were right,” said Jones, standing up from the carpet. “It took until now for me to realize it, Morgan, but you were right. Thank you.”
Loud footsteps reverberate through the office floor. More people are coming, and they must be wearing heavy armor.
“That’ll be the police, then,” I say.
Jones nods in affirmation. “I’ll see you around, Morgan.” She kisses me on the cheek and sprints away, climbing back into the ventilation shaft.
“Hey now, everything ain’t just hunky-dory now because you…” I trail off, because she’s already out of earshot.
“THIS IS THE POLICE. GIVE UP YOUR WEAPONS AND PUT YOUR HANDS UP.”
The office door comes crashing down. Epstein falls to his knees and begins to sob. Karina and I raise our hands.
Jones escaped again. But maybe that’s for the best, for now.
Before the police handcuff me and drop me to the ground, I look out the window to the Atlanta cityscape. It’s a bright Spring morning and the skyscrapers glitter like towers of silver.