My consciousness returns…
I wake up with a pounding headache, in the back of a moving van.
Everything comes flashing back to me, just as my eyes begin to open.
The Ascendants. Their big plan.
Jones. R8PR. The church.
Karina. Lamar. Amy.
Dragon. Dragon holding a damn sledgehammer to hit me with.
Why am I… Why can’t I move?
I can’t move.
I’m restrained. My arms and legs are bound. There’s metal discs encircling me, and if I move, they just squeeze tighter, like a Chinese finger trap around my whole body.
I wrestle my fingers out of the grip so I can move my hands around just a bit, but I can’t reach any of the discs from where my wrists are stuck.
There doesn’t seem to be a way out for me. I’m just plain stuck.
This might actually be the end of things for me. I might actually die this time.
And I didn’t even get to kiss Karina. I didn’t even get to tell you my origin story. What an awful time to get killed.
Speaking of awful times for things to happen, the van has stopped moving. Some people get out of the front and make their way towards the back.
Two people dressed in the same all-black armor as the goons who attacked me open the back of the van. They pick me up, one on each side, and begin carrying me towards some sort of warehouse.
It’s the earliest flickers of dawn. I don’t know how long I was unconscious, or where in Atlanta I am– if I’m even in Atlanta.
Yep, of course it’s a completely empty warehouse, dim and dark, except for those giant computer monitors over by the far side of the building. And of course they’re going to carry me all the way over there wordlessly. This is too stupid for me to make a snarky comment about. Also I don’t want them to hurt me more.
I just know this is far from the first time I’ve been dragged in a warehouse, and I don’t know how that speaks for the way I spend my life, but it’s not a very positive thing in most people’s eyes.
The guards set me down on a chair and tie me to it. I’m still trapped by these stupid metallic discs binding my arms and legs and chest, but I have a feeling that, if I exert pressure in the right way… I may just be able to break them.
That might be my key out, but we’ll see.
There’s eight guards standing around me right now. Eight I can see, at least. Each of them have guns and electric batons. I won’t be able to take all three of them if I just jump and lunge, and I won’t have the ability to use my arms for anything else. I only have one chance to do anything. Dammit. Dragon is here, too, no longer holding a weapon and simply pacing around like he has somewhere more important to be. How is he involved in any of this? I haven’t been able to pinpoint this, and I feel like if I did… Agh, it’s no use right now.
As I look further out past the guards, I see one man off to the side, shrouded by shade, barely more than a silhouette. That is, other than his piercing white eyes. Then, the beaming rays of his bright, crooked teeth.
“Who… Who are you?” I ask, though it comes out as more of a mumble than I wanted it to.
From the shadow, a red dot appears, and then smoke rises. The figure emerges, and I see him. Slicked, greasy hair. Skin as pale as a vampire NEET. Long, black trenchcoat and combat boots, but he’s too skinny, too sickly to be anywhere near a warzone. His fingernails are craggy and chipped, and in one hand is a lighter. In his mouth is a lit cigarette.
Tobacco, in Atlanta… a rolled cigarette, even… Somehow, it surprises me that a criminal will have illicit drugs on him. It’s so rare to see.
“Who am I?” the man asks with a distinct Spanish accent. Then, just as he says it, it hits me: “You may call me Dr. Gonzales.”
“Oh. It’s you.”
Dr. Gonzales, the Data Broker.
The one who’s been collecting information on the Social Media Killer–on me–for months, and selling it all to high-rolling buyers. He’s finally here in front of me, and it took just a look for me to realize it.
And if he’s here, that means that… He’s the one who’s kidnapped me? What’s even going on right now?
I look at Dragon, who stands to the side with his arms crossed. He is just standing there silently. Dr. Gonzales has taken center stage.
“Yeah, it’s me,” the pale-faced man says. “Are you surprised?”
“Uh… yeah. Honestly, yeah.”
Dr. Gonzales laughs a shrill laugh. “You probably think I’m the one who brought you here.”
“Uh… once again, yeah.”
“Oh, no. I don’t harm people. I am only here to pick up a payment.”
“So, uh… who brought me here?”
“Well, my friend Dragon did, of course,” Dr. Gonzales says, beckoning to the giant next to him.
“I still can’t believe his name is actually Dragon.”
“But your gracious host for this afternoon has not arrived yet,” he says. “It will be a moment longer.”
“I’m getting pretty impatient.”
“I can guess,” Dr. Gonzales says. “You and your friends have done a good job so far. Your search for the Ascendants was more fruitful than I would have ever expected. The data you’ve collected… Well, I’d like to see it someday.”
“How much are you willing to pay?”
He lets out a hoarse, whispy laugh. “Let’s focus on the present.”
And no sooner than the moment those words leave his mouth do the warehouse doors behind me open up. All of the guards snap to attention. Dr. Gonzales gives a small bow and backs up a few steps. Dragon unfolds his arms and does the same.
I hear the clacking of metal against concrete. Metal… shoes? What is this person wearing?
And as the person, my gracious host, as the Data Broker referred to them, grows closer, I can’t help but feel a few beads of sweat at my brow. It’s too bad I can’t move my arms to get that off.
The figure enters my eyesight–
It’s Karina Kodama.
No, not really. I can’t see the person yet.
But I already figured out who it is, don’t worry.
It’s pretty obvious.
There’s only one person who could have ever been linked to all of this. I may have been fooled by the events of the Atlanta Annual Tech Expo, but as they say, fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, and I won’t get fooled again.
When I see his pale blue eyes, and his clean, black suit and silver tie, when I see his clean-shaven face with nary a scar to be found, I don’t feel an ounce of shock.
I only say to him, “Donald Blyth. You’re alive.”
“Oh boy, am I.”