“If you wanted to eliminate me, you would have done it by now, so go right ahead. I respectfully decline the rights I don’t have to the fair hearing I wouldn’t get anyway. Order the meatbags to fire at will. What’s stopping you?”
I threw up my hands and hit him with a glare of derision that would have frozen lava. Two can play at the intimidation game, and what did I have to lose? My life? I’d lost that anyway along with almost everyone who ever mattered.
Once my eyes were open, it didn’t take long to piece together the logic from everything I’d observed as far back as I could remember. That’s how they operate. Obtain and use anything and everything of any value until there is nothing left and then toss the bones aside. Just business, right? – The potential and projected gains, inflated costs, the losses always carefully manipulated onto people who were quickly moved out of the picture and dusted under the rug, perhaps not even so hidden—try shot in the head and left to die on the floor to be discovered by his daughter. Furthermore, let’s not forget the troops paid to clean up these messes from the inside. And who was going to stop them?
To put it into perspective, the faces of the innocents I passed daily just moving through life— they either didn’t know or resigned themselves to it as just what life is. Maybe that is the way of the world and what it takes to get anywhere, but I choose my path. Not them. Not him.
The only reason I wasn’t already dead was because I held some inexplicable value for them. I’d come to that realization in the midst of my panic and withering fortitude when they gave me the chance to run and subdued Flip instead, and I ran like hell after considering with the both of us snagged, we couldn’t get anywhere. He was expendable and cost them nothing. He was a bargaining chip for them, and worth more to me than myself, so I decided to bet all in.
“Miss Mackey, if you will kindly come with us, I believe we have much to discuss, including the release of your boyfriend, and I’m certain we can reach an understanding. I am regretfully sorry that this situation has escalated beyond our expectations.”
“Oh well I do very sincerely appreciate the sense of decency and compassion you have exhibited thusfar, but to be perfectly honest, Mr. Ito-san, I don’t fucking trust you. So spare me the patronizing bullshit. Release him. Now. He doesn’t know anything.”
“Your manners are quite lacking, Miss Mackey. Remember who you are addressing. Normally talking like an uncivilized ingrate will get you treated as such, but I’m willing to afford you the latitude since you are clearly angry and scared. I can alleviate that for you, if you will simply stand down and come with me.”
“You think you're going to suddenly convince me to forget? Downplay my being locked up. Half-starved. Held against my will along with someone else who has nothing to do with any of this. You want me. You got me. Here I am. Solve the problem. Or is that not the problem you wish to solve in this spectacle you, I would like to remind you, set into motion. Not that you care, but your fucking decorum is nothing but a farce. There is no level of etiquette that will ever soften what you’ve done. All due respect, and bearing in mind that I owe you none, shove your manners up your ass. And you still haven't answered my question. Why am I still here?”
His face twisted into a sour grimace, and he sized me up giving a nod to another of the horde who had me backed onto the proverbial ledge, but everyone just stood there for the moment, I assumed, thinking of the next approach, so I took moment to look around.
The night was starless with silvery clouds rolling past swiftly. A gauze of smog and humid ocean air obscured the moon to a soft glow of light, and the wind burst around me and went still in long intervals. Off in the distance, behind Ito and the horde, a flicker of lightning caught my attention, as though rolling in from the ocean. If I were up there for any other reason, the view would have been breathtaking and thick with energy. It was anyway, all things considered.
A helicopter was humming off in the distance with its high beams piercing the sky over and over as it hovered closer. I glanced over my shoulder and down at the street below. The cars rolling down the busy street were the size of the toy cars. How tall is this building anyway? I started thinking back on my high school physics class. Why didn’t I pay closer attention? Terminal velocity – Downward force of gravity equals upward force of drag, right? Asymptotes or something, right? Whatever, it’s still splat at the end.
I snapped to as Mr. Ito-san started laughing sardonically, and I hit him with a flat bored look. Assumedly, they had just been standing there waiting for me to respond to a question I clearly missed.
“Ms. Mackey, I’m afraid you don’t understand the magnitude of what has transpired here. You simply do not have any choice in this matter if you and your remaining friends and family wish to continue to live.”
I just looked at him and said nothing for the time being. As if… I’m standing on a rooftop looking at a bunch of tailored goons trying to mindfrag me. My parents are dead. And I don’t understand the magnitude of all of it? Seriously? Why the big production anyway? So now it was my turn to laugh, but I only managed to get out an exasperated cough before a steeled myself and stared him down.
“If you want me to go anywhere with you, or tell you anything, you’re gonna have to stuff me in a sack or tranq me to keep me from ripping every single one of your heads clean off or die trying, and then I would still get away.” Okay, maybe that logic wasn’t exactly sound, and I probably couldn’t do it anyway, but it sounded good. Dead people can’t get away from anything, but whatever. Go with it. …Wait…
A thunderous baritone male voice boomed from a loud speaker. Through the distortion I knew it was Ezra by the name he used to refer to me. It was the name my father gave me when I was little. No one else could have known.
“QUINTESSENCE, YOU HAVE NO CHOICE.”
The surprise and volume of it made my heart jump.
“LIKE FUCKING HELL I DON’T! YOU WANT TO STAY SO YOU END UP BLEEDING OUT ON THE FLOOR ONE DAY? THEY’LL DO IT TO YOU, TOO! YOU’RE NOT EXEMPT. LET HIM GO, AND WE WILL LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE.”
“I HAVE MADE THIS RIGHT, AND YOU WILL BE SAFE.”
“IF YOU’VE MADE THIS RIGHT, WHY AM I STANDING HERE LOOKING AT THESE ASSHOLES? AND WHAT DOES MAKING IT RIGHT EVEN MEAN, EZRA? NO ONE DID ANYTHING WRONG TO BEGIN WITH FROM WHERE I’M STANDING.”
I didn’t even know if he could hear me. I shot Mr. Ito with another scathing glare, and it was clear he was tiring of my tenacity as he stepped aside and his perfectly manicured and coifed cohort took over, “Your little boyfriend is dead, too. Didn’t put up much of a fight really.” She shrugged and said coolly, and with a motion of her hand and wicked red-lipped smile, the meatbags all stood at ease in unison. I’d never seen her before.
A ball of flame burst faintly out over the water off in the distance and dissipated, but I was barely aware as the emotions speeding through me swiftly drowned out any ponderance. Though, I did look around me once, and closed my eyes a moment, feeling a wave of wellbeing come over me that seemed too real to be real in this situation and after all of the adrenaline. The emotions passed through me like flipping through a chip of images in the midst of it. I remembered the favor. I remembered Flip’s face the first time I saw him, the lifeless body of my father and blank stare mirrored in the pool of blood on the floor, my mother’s voice singing when I was small, my first glance at the Matrix and everything held within and the regret now associated with all of the temptation I couldn’t resist. I remembered the name that was said on the phone. . “I need you to put me through to Ms. Esquival…” I wanted to scream for the lack of being able to verify if they were bluffing or if they had really killed Flip, too, but that emotion suddenly left me, too, and was replaced with calm. Maybe I bet wrong. If he’s dead, it doesn’t matter, and what’s done is done. If he’s alive, I will find him. Ezra’s dead anyway… eventually. He won’t budge.
The woman looked at me, and I glared back, trying to steel myself once again to not give her or any of them the satisfaction, although it was written all over her face as I was failing. Something in her gaze wavered for a flicker of a moment, just enough for me to catch it. I was suddenly aware of her presence in my mind. She smiled again as though mocking me, and what she said next hit me like a punch in the gut.
“I’m sorry. Mr. Ito-san has not had a moment to introduce us, what with all the calamity. I’m Nicolina Esquival.”
"You punched me in the boob! Prepare to die obviously!" - Roxy Richter.