“Well, now, you got to, don’t you?” The old-timer showed his rotting teeth in a smile. “We’re too old and tired to kick your asses.”
Mercurye finished his whiskey and asked for directions to Ten Falls Road, where Tesla’s remote lab lay hidden from the world. The locals all knew it as a cinder-block building distinguished only by the electric fence at its perimeter. He hoisted the body bag to his shoulder and left the bar with a wave.
Striding through the air, high above the sporadically lit rural highway, the farms, the swamps reflecting moonlight, and the carpet of firs, he tried to resist the thoughts that burrowed up from his subconscious. That woman—that entity—had frightened him more than the Nazis had when they slaughtered his friends. Violence, hatred, death—these were human experiences, grounded in the natural world. Mercurye had encountered telepaths as well, who could rifle through his mind like a customer in a record store, yet he had been taught techniques to resist their intrusions: the mental version of hiding around the corners of your own house from an intruder.
Yet the woman—what could he call her anyway?—the angel had ripped open reality itself to spread his entire consciousness out before him. As a child he had believed angels would show up on one’s doorstep with bland good tidings; so were they depicted in his mother’s surfeit of Christmas imagery. He had expected to see them at the mall, placid and mild, handing out presents or inviting hobos to soup kitchens.
The fiery woman atop the Suntrust building had been neither bland nor mild. As though a star had come to life, she had regarded him as if he was an ant. He could appear on worldwide television, address a stadium full of screaming fans, face down superhuman monsters, but after contact with her, had there been a nearby cave, he would have huddled in it like a Neanderthal terrified of lightning. His face ached from forcing a stoic expression ever since.
Mercurye concentrated on the resilience of the air beneath his feet. Ramona’s wry grin welled up in his consciousness like a remembered candy in his pocket. The plump detective had become a beacon of sanity for him during this miserable time. Glamorous women pursued him relentlessly. Once he dropped off this corpse, he could be in one of their beds within the hour. Yet Ramona blotted out their faces; her voice drowned out the professional coos of groupies as famous as he was.
She was a comrade. He could call her. He knew she would welcome it.
On a night like this, he wanted to share the darkness and the misery with comrades who understood pain and loss, not sympathizers whose caresses were intended to make his grief disappear as if no one had died.
He shouldn’t have kissed her. A stupid mistake—and not the first time he’d acted without thought around women. A call from him at so late an hour had connotations he didn’t want to tangle with, not today.
All at once, he spotted sodium lamps illuminating gray brick with pale orange light. The Echo lab building. From his vantage point, it resembled an abandoned gas station.
Mercurye landed in the overgrown yard, crunching gravel and dried weeds under his boots.
“Last stop,” he said, lowering the body bag containing the dead German metahuman. Crickets chirped in the grasses; bats flew overhead. Nothing indicated that the lab had been used in the last five years. The blue paint on the metal front door had succumbed to rust. A deadbolt held the door against his tugs. He could have knocked it down with a good rush, but what was the point? There was no one here.
I must have made a mistake, he thought, until he glanced at the side of the building and saw the correct address in tarnished brass numbers bolted to the wall. A small plaque with the alchemical symbol for air, Echo’s adopted logo, declared it for authorized personnel only.
He fished out the pay-per-call cell phone they had handed out at the campus. Alex had programmed into it the number for his emergency crisis center in the Omega Airlines complex. Mercurye felt too foolish to interrupt Alex in his efforts to rescue the database from the Thule virus.