Still tied to the chair, still got metal rings constricting my body. Still got Donald Blyth standing next to me, forcing me to watch a large computer monitor broadcasting two attack helicopters flying across southern Atlanta.
I know exactly where they’re going.
“You know, that Mercenary Prince ally of yours is a real professional,” Blyth says. He looks at me and flashes his shiny red eye at me. Is it actually an eye? I’m not sure what it is. “She sends her men, the very best of them, and they get the job done. Nothing but courtesy and action. I expect they’ll extract your friends quite soon.”
My heartbeat accelerates. I’m not even sure how it can be going this fast when I’m sitting still. I think I’m having a panic attack.
“Picking your brain was quite possibly the most fascinating thing I’ve ever done, Morgan,” says the man whose metallic hand is now resting gently on my shoulder. “The others were right not to want you dead. I suspected there was more to your uncanny ability to get mired in every dangerous situation that could possibly happen in Atlanta, but I never knew you were genuinely special. Do you even realize what you’re capable of? I can’t imagine you are, or you wouldn’t be here.”
“You know, Mr. Blyth? Can I call you Donny? You know, if your left eye were a bit brighter, it’d look like you’re wearing 3D glasses. Is that what the red one is for?”
“It’s all thanks to you that I now know Jones is not alone,” he continues, ignoring me completely. “I had heard whispers of the first sentient robot, the great Sage of Atlanta… but to find that he is working directly with you… I must see him for myself.”
“He’s not as cool as he sounds. He’s a bit irritating, to be honest. You’d be better off never meeting him. Trust me on this one, Donny.” I feel like I’m going to explode, I’m so afraid right now. Hopefully when I do, it’ll break these stupid restraints and my ghost can clobber this asshat.
The monitor, its screen split in two vertically, shows feeds from both helicopters, now hovering in the air above a street I instantly recognize, and a musty old two-story building with no signage that fills my stomach with dread.
“You’re going to make me watch this,” I say.
“Of course. I can’t kill you NOW,” Blyth says. “We have so much more to learn about you, Morgan Harding. Isn’t that right, Doctor Gonzales?”
“Very,” I hear in response. I didn’t realize that man was still here, but then again, I still smell the rank odor of cigarette smoke all around the warehouse. That smell’s never coming out of my suit. Also, my suit has all sorts of cuts and holes in it. Also, I’m probably going to die soon, despite what Blyth may say.
“Tell the good doctor he can take his data and shove it where nobody can analyze it.”
“Morgan, enough with the banter. This isn’t one of your fun detective adventures.” He removes the hand from my shoulder and paces in front of me, covering the left half of the computer monitor. “Honestly, you and your robot friend render Jones basically useless. I’m almost considering scrapping this whole operation and letting the poor girl run free. But seeing as my hired soldiers are already at the church… Oh well.”
On the screen, the helicopters land, and a dozen armed men, Motokawa’s men, in combat armor step out and assume formations as they advance towards the church.
“Ready surgical strike,” I hear from a nearby radio, followed by a lot more tactical chatter I can barely make out, it’s so staticy.
The helicopters lift back into the air; one circles around to give a full picture of the action while the other keeps its camera focused on the front door. Either way, we can’t see inside.
The sounds of gunfire over the radio are the first thing I notice. Then, from the screen, I see one of the soldiers being hurtled out of a second-story window and crashing onto the pavement of the empty parking lot.
Dragon, the mohawked man resting creepily behind me all this time, steps up and into my field of vision to take a closer look at the gunfight.
“They set up traps,” he says. “Good for them.”
There’s screaming orders on the radio and I see some bright flashes through the church windows. One of the soldiers is stumbling around, maybe blind from a flashbang, maybe hit on the head too hard, and then collapses a moment later.
Blyth says nothing. He doesn’t smile, or look worried, or anything. He analyzes this like he would a quarterly report.
I see Jones through a first floor window, tackling one man to the ground while fending another off with her magi-knives. Can’t believe she still uses those, but she is destroying these guys.
And on the radio, I make out someone shouting, “The robot! The robot’s got a fuckin’–” and then it cuts off.
The monitor shows a fierce battle raging, but one that Motokawa’s men are clearly losing. The church was well-protected; it always was going to be. And the fact that literal mercenaries can’t penetrate it means that R8PR and Jones really are ready for anything.
I start to smile.
And then Blyth cuts in.
“Oh, just when I thought I could have it all,” he moans. “I didn’t want to risk it, but… It’s a necessary loss. Oh, go ahead. Finish this already.” He types something on the keyboard.
The helicopters stop flying in recording positions and join up together, side by side, a good distance from the church.
Over the radio, one man, more clearly, asks, “Do you really want to do this, sir?”
Blyth does not respond. The helicopters float for a few seconds, with no sounds but the rotating blades.
The helicopters, in unison, fire off a volley of small missiles that hit the church and explode in bright balls of fire with each impact.
I have to look away.
I can’t see this.
I hear more screams on the radio, but they quickly go silent.
When the sounds of explosions from the monitor stop, I open my eyes. The church is completely obliterated, a pile of rubble and ash where a building used to be.
“I should have sent Dragon,” Blyth says. “What a waste of good men.”
“I’m up for anything,” says Dragon.
“Well, I hope you’ll wait a bit longer, because now I’ve got to go meet with the other Ascendants. When I show them the robot, or what’s left of him maybe–” he chuckles as he says this–”I’ll win them over. We’ll finally be able to strike. Dragon, you stay here and… get to know Morgan a little better.”
Dr. Gonzales, still behind me, chimes in. “I won’t be in attendance. There are other pressing matters. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
“No worries. You’ve done your part. Anytime you grace us is a worthy moment.” Blyth picks up the radio he had been ignoring this whole time and says, “Strike team. Go down to the ground level for extraction and clean-up. Make sure to find the girl, or her remains, and recover as much of the robot as you can. The robot takes all priority. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir,” the voice on the other end says.
He turns off the monitor. “Thank you so much, Morgan.”
I don’t say anything this time.
“Take care, you two,” Blyth says. “I’m leaving Dragon in charge, though. Do what he says.”
Most of the guards file out, and Dr. Gonzales and Blyth leave.
“So, if I’m babysitting you… What will I do first?” Dragon asks.
Dragon picks up the back of my chair and tosses me forward, letting me crash on my side. The chair breaks, but I’m still tied up to its legs. I still can’t move.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a while,” he says.
“I can tell…”