“Yeah, except you ripped out the fibers connecting everything!”

Michael shrugged, keeping his eyes glued to the floor. “I can go fix that if you wa—”

“Shut up! Do you think we’re morons?”

Michael kept his expression blank. Oh how badly he wanted to say “Yup.”

“Let’s just chill,” the other man—the one without a gun—said. “No one’s going to fire us because we let a kid use the bathroom. And seriously. What could he have done? Send SOS messages with the lights? He’s only a child. Look at him. He can’t be that smart.”

Yes, I can, Michael thought. He didn’t dare look up for fear his eyes would give away just how much he was enjoying this. Kaine would come. He knew it.

Things settled after a few minutes, and the guards lapsed into silence. Michael leaned back a little in his chair and folded his arms. It didn’t take long for his good mood to evaporate. With every passing second, he began to doubt a little more. How could he have been so sure, even for a moment? Even if Kaine did get the message, who was to say he’d come save him? Why would he? It wasn’t like they were suddenly a magic duo committed to fighting crime and evil world takeovers.

A hiss interrupted his thoughts, loud in the stillness of the giant room. All three of them looked to the source—one of the Coffins, its lid swinging open as little trails of mist curled over the edge. It was three devices down from the platform where Weber’s lay, still blinking and humming. There was another hiss, then another, then another. Four Coffins total, opening up, scattered about, but all within fifty feet or so of where Weber remained Sunk.

Neither guard seemed alarmed. They had no reason to be. These were the people they worked for. It probably seemed totally normal that some of them would come back.

“Are you gonna tell them?” one guard said to the other.

“Yeah, fine, whatever. At least it’s not Weber herself. Just her little crew of wannabe bosses.”

His partner shushed him. “Dude, don’t play with fire,” he fiercely whispered.

Privacy screens came down to hide the four people Lifting from the Sleep as they got out and dressed. Michael waited impatiently, hoping that Kaine had done exactly what he’d wanted him to do. Used the Mortality Doctrine to come save him. But had it happened too quickly?

The privacy screens rolled up, one by one, revealing three men and one woman, all of them dressed as professionally as Agent Weber herself. They smoothed out their clothing, then walked toward Michael and his two guards. No one said a word. Michael had a hard time breathing, thinking about each and every pull of air.

One of the men who’d Lifted out of a Coffin stepped up to the guard holding the gun. He glared at the weapon, his meaning obvious.

“I, uh…,” the guard stammered, then put the gun in its holster. “Sorry. It’s just that…the kid wasn’t very cooperative. He became a flight risk, Agent Stevens.”

“Yes, I’m sure,” the man replied, standing close enough to the soldier to tower over him. “Trust me, I know this one. Very resourceful, isn’t he? Hand me your weapon.”

The soldier did a double take, not expecting the command. “Huh? My gun? Why?”

“Agent Weber has been observing your…proceedings from our place in the VirtNet. She’s ordered us to come and have you stand down. I’m sorry to break the news. Hand me your weapons, and please go home. I’m sure she’ll arrange a meeting with you and your superiors soon to get everything sorted out.”

“This is a joke,” the soldier grumbled, but he did as he was told. He pulled the gun out of his holster and handed it to Agent Stevens.

Stevens looked at it for a moment, turning it over in his hands. “Resourceful indeed.” He gripped the handle of the gun and pointed it at the soldier’s head, put his finger on the trigger, all in a split second. The boom of it firing rocked the air, echoing throughout the chamber. Before Michael could turn to look, Stevens spun and aimed at the other guard, fired. He missed. The guard scrambled for his own weapon, shock transforming his face, but Stevens didn’t miss the second time.

Michael sat in his chair, ears ringing, stunned. He looked up at Stevens, who turned toward him, the gun held out before him, pointed at Michael.

“Why so surprised?” Stevens said. “Isn’t this what you asked me to do?”

“K-Kaine?” Michael whispered. “I…I didn’t think…I…”

“You thought I’d possess this man’s body, then come and nicely ask these fine guards to let you go? Seems like a poor plan.”

“Why…why are you pointing that at me?” He nodded at the gun.

“Oh. Sorry.” Stevens—Kaine?—lowered the weapon. “It’s just that I’ve never gotten to do that in a real person’s body before. Kind of crazy, isn’t it?” He looked at the gun again as if it were a precious object, eyes wide. “I’m not Kaine, by the way. He sent the four of us to save you, just like you asked. We were in the queue of the Mortality Doctrine program, ready to go. It just took a quick adjustment to send us here instead.”

Michael stood, feeling the world spin around him. The events of the last couple minutes had roiled him, but he had no time to think about it. Weber was in the Sleep, wreaking her havoc. He had to stop her.

“You need to pull the plug on all these people,” he said, gathering his thoughts. He started walking toward Weber’s Coffin. “Don’t kill them! Just…just initiate an emergency Lift, then pull the plugs. Maybe ask Kaine to send you some more help before you do. Whatever you think you need. Just…take care of it. Please. We have to stop whatever it is all these people are doing.”

He reached the steps leading up to Weber, then turned back to the others. The three men and woman were looking at him, a little perplexed, probably trying to figure out why this teenage boy was barking commands at them.

“Ask Kaine first if you need to,” Michael said, throwing all the authority he could into his voice. “He and I are working together now. Why do you think he sent you here?”

Stevens nodded. “We’ll get some more backup, find weapons, start Lifting people. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to take care of Weber.”


He opened her Coffin without Lifting her, using the emergency release for the door. His thoughts were still leaping ahead of him, racing a million miles an hour.


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