My heart stops, then I feel like I'm going to faint. Phaiara grabs my hand, and pulls me out the door, and I nearly fall over in surprise.
"Wait!" I shout, and dash back into the room. There's a strange smoke leaking from the vent, and I now know that at least Drake wasn't lying about one thing: we are about to die.
I grab my jacket, wallet, Sky Rider, and Phaiara's bag, then sprint after Phaiara and Drake. I stop.
"Where'd you go?" I say to myself. "Phaiara!"
"Asheik!" From the right corridor. I dash through the halls and finally catch up to them at a dead end. "What's going on?" I ask, covering my mouth and nose with my jacket.
"The gas isn't here yet." Drake said. "And we can't use the main exits. They're trying to flush us out."
"You mean YOU can't." I say pointedly.
"No." WE can't." He says, gesturing back and forth between me and him. "There are cameras in every room. So far, every person I've talked to for more than five minutes is a new addition to their 'to kill list'."
Phaiara reaches out and slaps him. Pretty dask hard. "Then why'd you talk to her at all? Did you want to get her killed?"
Drake shakes his head. "I accidentally got into the wrong room. I tried to leave, but she asked if I needed help finding my room, and I said yes. I left for ten seconds, then when I came back she went ballistic. She cornered me. And called the Feds."
"Aww...you poor thing." Phaiara makes a mock pouty face.
"Whatever." I say, pushing my way in between them. "Just get us out of here."
Drake nods. He reaches into his backpack and pulls out a chip. He materializes it, and I take a sharp breath in astonishment.
"Yup." He jams it into the wall, and tears right through it. "I'm old fashioned." Then I realize it isn't really a wall at all, but a door. Someone had painted this door to look like another section of wall. Drake drags the knife up and down along the seam between the wall and the door. He rams his shoulder against the door and a splintering sound echoes down the hallway.
"Guys!" Phaiara points down the corridor and I turn to see the gasses rolling like a wave about to drown us. I barely suppress a scream. The next thing I know, I'm sprinting out the door and into the late afternoon haze. Drake slams the door behind us and leans against it in relief.
After about thirty seconds, Phaiara walks over and pulls me to my feet. "Come on. We're going to my parents' house."
"Ah, no, you most definitely are not."
"Oh, yeah? Just try and stop us." Phaiara snarls.
"No. I won't. But you might want to hear me out first."
"I've heard enough." Phaiara walks off.
"Wait." I say. "He just saved our lives. We owe him at least a chance to explain himself."
"FIne." She turns around, arms akimbo, eyes blazing brightly.
"Okay. Here's what happens when I talk to someone. First, the Feds try to kill them like that." Drake gestures towards the tiny trickle of gas leaking through the damaged door. If they fail, they send out assassins to the most likely places you will go to hide. They know who you are. You talk to me, you become me in their eyes." He grabs my arm and stares me down gravely.
"They. Will. Kill you. Period. No questions asked."
We stand there like that for way too long. His eyes turn from blue to grey, and back to blue when Phaiara yanks me away.
"Okay, Draconius." She growls. "Listen very closely. If we can't get rid of you, you need to understand this. In my mind, you may not be what the Feds say you are, but until you prove otherwise, you aren't any better than it. You are simply the thing that will take me and my friend to a safe place. This is YOUR fault, and YOU are gonna clean. This. Up. Oh, and for the record, I will defend Asheik with my life, and if you lay so much as a fingertip on her, I will kick your a** so badly, you are going to wish the Feds would just come find you and put you out of your misery. Got it?"
"Good. Now. Where are we going?"
"You have a safehouse? Why don't you just live there? Why go to all the trouble of avoiding the Feds?"
"Because it's for emergencies. If I lived there, they would find me instantly. I usually just register with a new House in a new city every three days or so. I've changed my name in the school system so they don't realize I still go to school. I just have to keep moving."
"Why don't you just turn yourself in?" I ask. "Worse case scenario, you get intense rehabilitation. No one else has to die."
He laughed again, and I am taken aback. "That's the thing. The 'secret' encompasses that subject as well. If you had even a faint idea of what goes on in rehab, you'd probably cook up some elaborate and pointless plot to assassinate Aerthas himself."
"Okay. Let's just quit questioning each others' motives and get to where we're going." I push my way past the other two and take in our surroundings. The door we cut through opens into a narrow balcony branching between House2 and House3. I glance over the edge and see, sixteen stories below us, two Fed guards talking into their ear pieces.
"Oh, God. Guys, company." Phaiara and Drake walk over to see what I'm gesturing towards.
"Okay, guys. I'm gonna take them out. You get your Sky Riders ready. He leaps onto his Sky Rider, and jumps one of the guards. He lands on top of one of their heads and instantly knocks him out, then uses the butt of his knife to take out the other. He flies up to the House3 balcony and gestures for us to join him.
I materialize my Elrix 360 Sky Rider and glance down at the guards. Out cold. I gulp. I look up determinedly, raise my chin bravely and join Drake on the opposite balcony, Phaiara inches behind me.
"Okay." Drake sighs. "They were wearing heart monitors, so the others will know they're out within minutes. We should probably not be there when they do." He uses the knife to open a door into House3 identical to the one we just exited, and we find ourselves in a hallway that is way too similar to our own.
As Drake guides us through the halls, we talk about what to do next. "I think we should go straight to the safe house and get help from...a friend." Drake says.
"No." Phaiara shakes her head. "If we're going to become refugee runners we can at least do it with some decent clothes and supplies."
He rolls his eyes in frustration. "I've got those at the safehouse."
"Oh, yeah, we'll just wear your madras farm-boy tees and boxers. Perfect."
"I think she's right." I put in.
"Okay! Fine. We'll go downtown on our way."
Phaiara nods in approval. "Okay then. Lead the way."
"Okay." Drake stopped for a second, and let out a long breath of frustration, running his fingers through his hair. "We can't use the main exits here either. The Feds next door will see us coming out."
"Hmm..." I think for a moment. "We could use the fire escape on the other side of the building." I suggest. Drake and Phaiara look at me strangely.
I shake my head in mock-despair. "No matter how much Phaiara here tries to make it seem otherwise, I'm not completely helpless."
"Right. Okay, that'll work."
"Then quit gawking and let's go. I'm not frekking stupid either."
We activate our Sky Riders and fly right out the fire escape exit. We circle around the back of House 4, and speed as quickly as possible down the highway.
"Quads!" I shout. "We're in the wrong lane!" I avoid a collision by mere inches, flying 100 feet into the air to join the skyway. I take a deep breath of relief, glad to be back in my element. Flight is where I'd be all the time if I could. I've become a sort of legend, having never lost a boarding competition. It's also nice to be better at something than Phaiara and Drake. For once. We take an exit, and join the highway again. Stores and houses line the streets, and we stop at a SuperStore.
I open my wallet and count my money.
"So how much cash have we all got?" Drake asks, digging into his pocket.
"I've got about 250 marks." Phaiara says, digging into her bag.
"Same." Drake drops his marks into Phaiara's hand. "What about you, Ash?" I hand them my wallet.
It seems that it's going to become a habit for the two of them to stand gawking stupidly like some dodo bird.
"I was saving for a board upgrade." I mumble.
"Alright." She leads us up the front steps.
"Actually, I think I'd better wait out here." Drake says, gesturing towards a poster on the wall.
"Oh." I say. It's a wanted poster for Drake, identical to the one on his profile. I rip it down and tear it to shreds.
"Wait here." I walk into the store and find a rack of cheap ComGlasses by the checkout stations. I buy three pairs and walk back outside.
"Here." I hand them each a pair. "Better than nothin'." I shrug, and we amble back inside.
"Phaiara, I'll get food, you and Drake see if you can find any decent clothes. Deal?"
They nod, and traipse off to the other side of the store.
I get us about a week's worth of canned beans, rice, and vegetable slop ('Won't Drake and Phaiara be thrilled?'), then I head over to the checkout stations. I pass each item through a slot in the wall, and it comes out through another slot, bagged and ready to go. I pay, and walk out into the parking lot to store the supplies in storage compartments inside the boards.
Phaiara and Drake walk out with bagfuls of clothes. I dematerialize each item, and stuff the chips into a sack.
"Okay, I think we're ready."
I telepathically connect to my board, push all stress and worry out of my mind, and rocket skyward with and adrenaline renewed strength. I fly vertically upward a few hundred feet, then somersault in the air and freefall.
At the last second, I yank backwards on my mind's imaginary joystick, using my velocity as a slingshot. My speed slows none, and I make a sort of "L", coming parallel to the street. I loop back and see Phaiara and Drake cheering. Phaiara reaches up and gives me a high five as I pass them.
I continue riding, but slow down considerably so I can activate the ComGlasses. Immediately, a message pops up on the screen implant of the glasses. It's a chatroom request from Phaiara. Chat rooms are also telepathic, allowing you to concentrate on steering.
FAERAH: Showoff! That was epic.
ASHAED: Thanks! I've been practicing that for a long time.
DEEJAY: No kidding.
ASHAED: Drake? Where'd you come up with that screenname?
DEEJAY: My initials. D-J. Dee Jay.
I quickly flip my board to autopilot, then turn around. I see Drake and Phaiara, desperately struggling to keep up.
FAERAH: Slow down a bit! You don't even know where we're going!!!
I jerk my board to a stop, let the two of them pass me, then speed up to meet them. Drake has taken the lead, and Phaiara and I follow behind him.
DEEJAY: Okay. We rejoin the skyway, then take exit 322, cross into the midway, and ride Halier Street.
FAERAH: Got it.
We ride for a few more minutes, but miss our exit.
ASHAED: We missed it!
DEEJAY: Oh. We'll turn back. Keep together, we don't want to get separated in the U-turn.
He misses the U-turn. He falls back until he is riding right in between Phaiara and I.
"The chat rooms are bugged." He says simply. "Trash the glasses. They can still read your thoughts."
'Just my luck.' I think miserably. I shiver at the thought of the Government reading every thought I have. Down the glasses fall, hundreds of feet to the ground, shattering with a satisfying crack. Drake takes up the leading position once again.
By the time we take an exit, we are on the opposite side of the city. We fly over the farming section of Hathrax, and a mile or so down a poorly paved road, we come upon an isolated and poorly kempt residence. He lands, promptly followed by Phaiara and I. He walks confidently up to the door, but turns to us before entering.
"Okay. So, I have a...friend. He might be in here, and if he is, he's not going to be happy to see us. So just...just keep your mouths shut and let me do the talking And don't take anything he says personally. He's good-hearted, but likes to make people think otherwise."
Drake pulls a key out of his pocket.
'Oh, God, I've never seen a key outside of history LC's.'
He inserts it into a slot on the doorknob, and twists it to the left. The door opens, revealing a long, darkened, hallway. The lights don't instantly turn on, but instead wait until he flips a little switch on the wall.
"Welcome to my safehouse."