“We’ve got to get out of here,” he said to Bryson after they’d both taken long gulps from their drink tubes. “I feel like every person I come across is watching me, then messaging Kaine or Weber or the cops as soon I move on. It’s really giving me the creeps.”
Bryson took another lengthy swallow. “Come on, dude. What good does running do? If he can follow us everywhere, then what’s the point of changing places?” Another glug. “Just chill and let’s do what Helga and her posse tell us.”
“That’s what we’ve done from the very beginning,” Michael said, halfheartedly fighting back. He mostly agreed with his friend. “It’s like we’re mice in a maze—loosed by Weber, manipulated by Kaine. I’m sick of it. There’s no reason the two of us couldn’t hack into the Hallowed Ravine all by our lonesome.”
“Well, yeah,” Bryson responded. “But it’d be awfully tough without Helga’s help and protection. At least you trust her, right?”
Michael thought about that. He did. He really did. “Yeah,” he finally answered. “But there’s still a tiny little bit of doubt hidden in there. Who knows, man. Maybe Kaine created her years before he captured me, had it planned out all along. I trust her, but I’m done ever trusting anyone one hundred percent again.”
“Even me?” Bryson asked.
Michael lay back on his pillows. “No. You’re different. You, I trust. Now go to sleep.”
“Helga might want us soon.”
“I’m sure we won’t start until morning. It’s still dark out.”
Michael closed his eyes, tried to relax. He saw that old lady peering at him from her hotel door. The whole world had gone nuts. Including him.
He fell asleep. Sarah smiled at him in his dreams.
Bryson woke him up early with a nudge. “Hey, considering the way you snored all night, I think you’re ready to get your lazy butt out of bed. Man, you sounded like an old-school lawn mower. I kept having Griever nightmares.”
Michael felt like death awakened from the deepest, darkest crypt of hell. He let out a long groan that didn’t do a thing to make him feel better. “Griever? Seriously? I thought your parents banned you from that game.”
Bryson stared at him until they both burst out laughing. Maybe life would go on after all.
“Come on,” Bryson said. “Helga and her alliance of superheroes are waiting for us in the next room. She called it a briefing. That’s right. A briefing.”
Bryson pulled out his horrific British accent again. “Quite extraordinary, my dear chap. Perhaps she’ll serve some biscuits and tea.”
“What’s up with this accent all of a sudden? You sound like an old lady from Monty Python.” The comedy group had been dead for decades, but were probably more popular than ever in the Sleep nostalgia cinemas.
“I’ll take that as a compliment. The summit’s in London, remember? London’s in England? They have British accents there? Try to keep up. Now come on, let’s go.”
Michael slowly got to his feet. Something smelled terrible. It didn’t take long to figure out what it was. Himself.
“Tell her I’ll be there in ten minutes—I swear I haven’t showered in a week. I gotta wash off this stink.”
Bryson looked awfully grateful.
They crowded into one room, about fourteen people in all. Most of them hadn’t been introduced to Michael yet, though their faces had become familiar enough. Helga stood in front of the window, where early-morning sunlight showed that the mist and fog had finally burned away. Walter, as always, was right by her side, actually looking as if he didn’t want to kill someone today. Gabby was there, and she awkwardly met Michael’s eyes when he entered. He gave her his best smile, trying to show that he didn’t hold anything against her.
Trust no one, he thought, almost as if Jackson Porter were sneaking back into his mind and trying to send him a message. Trust no one ever again.
What a way to live.
“Michael,” Helga began, summoning his attention and embarrassing him. “Bryson. Gabby. We’re all glad you’re here, safe for the moment. There’s no possible way we could find the words to express our condolences on the loss of Sarah. I’m truly sorry. But like I’ve said—”
Michael finished for her. “There’s always hope.” At that moment, he actually felt it a little.
Helga responded with the sincerest of nods. She was his Helga, he had no doubt, no matter what secondary voices might argue in his mind. The thought made him feel a little better.
“Truer words were never spoken,” his nanny said. “There’s always hope. Always. You just never know what life—or death—might bring. I think we’ve all seen that the world is a little more complicated than we ever could have imagined.”
Helga paused, as if for a moment of silence, then started talking again.
“The World Summit is tonight, held in the new Union of Earth audience chamber. A lot of the world leaders have physically gone to London, but obviously not everyone could make it. So there’ll be quite a few connected through the VirtNet, as holograms. I want a chance to plead our case right there on the chamber floor, and since it’s far too dangerous to travel to London”—she gave Michael a flat stare, then Bryson, then Gabby—“we’ll use the Sleep to get there. Somehow, some way, we will be heard.”
“You really think we can hack into the most highly secured meeting…maybe ever?” Michael asked. He already loved the idea.
“Absolutely,” Helga replied. “We inserted Alliance Tangents strategically, some of whom have taken over an embassy here in Washington. I thought it best to pick a country big enough to be invited to the summit but small enough to stay under most anyone’s radar. We have to be smart about this.”
Michael nodded. Things were sounding more and more fun.
“One of our Tangents,” Helga continued, “is now the chief of staff for the prime minister of Latvia. He’s been on the job—well, his likeness, I should say—has been on the job for over twenty years. Before we sent our man into his mind—a Tangent known by the name of Levi—we did an exhaustive, hyperspeed analysis of the staff chief’s life, history, mannerisms, personality, everything. We knew that a big part of our plan could hinge on Levi’s ability to blend in.”
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