Outmaneuvered

Lorden sighed. He had spent the last hour trawling through Devil's hijacked security camera feeds, but there was still no sign of Percy. He was forced to conclude that she was either still in the palace, or that she had already been brought to a CT base.

Lorden ground the heels of his hands into his eyes, forcing his brain to stay alert. He hadn't slept in more than thirty-six hours and exhaustion was beginning to take its toll. But he couldn't give up. Percy's life was at stake. Lorden hated to think what could have happened to her by now. And worse still was the thought of what Oakstaff would say when he found out. Lorden hadn't told him of the dangerous mission he had sent Percy on.

Lorden wheeled his chair back from the computer screen he had been gazing at and looked around him. Devil was tending to an impossible number of telescreens and consoles simultaneously, clawed hands doing frenzied tap-dances over dual keyboards, while he controlled several other computers via electrodes hooked up to his skull. Against the wall behind him, Elenia lay sleeping, the colorless light of the dozen or so plasma screens turning her face a ghostly white color. Whitney sat beside her, blank eyes staring eerily at the wall across from her. Lorden recalled the brief brush he had had with her mind and shivered. It had been so mechanical, so alien . . . and yet, sometimes Whitney showed such undeniably human qualities that Lorden sometimes wondered how different she really was.

She seemed to sense Lorden watching her, because a moment later she turned those unnaturally pale eyes upon him.

"Still no luck finding your friend?" she asked.

Lorden shook his head.

"You look tired," observed Whitney.

"I suppose I do," said Lorden uncomfortably. It was a bit unnerving talking to Whitney. Something about the way she never seemed to blink and always seemed to be thinking much more than she was saying.

"I think I'm going to try calling Percy again," said Lorden after a moment, more to escape the conversation than because he thought it would do any good. Whitney nodded and returned to her contemplation of the wall.

Lorden took out his PI and put in another call for what must have been the tenth time that night. He waited as a series of rings sounded in the receiver. He was on the verge of giving up, when someone finally answered. But it wasn't Percy.

"Hello there, Lorden."

The voice was familiar, but it took several seconds before he could put a name to it.

"Grimwald?"

"Yes indeed," said the voice. "I'm assuming you're calling to inquire after your dear friend, Percina Oakstaff?"

"What have you done with her?"

"Oh, concerned are we?" said Grimwald mockingly. "If you don't want your friends to get hurt, you shouldn't send them to do such dangerous things for you. Did you really think a child could outsmart the CTs and entire palace security?"

"Listen, if you've done anything to her--" Lorden began.

Grimwald ignored him. "Just what were you trying to accomplish by hacking into the palace security station, may I ask?"

Lorden thought up a quick lie. "We were trying to steal the palace's security codes."

"Even though you already had them?" asked Grimwald. "Oh yes, I know about Whitney. I'm not as stupid as you constantly seem to think I am, Lorden. Listen, stop playing games with me or someone is going to get hurt. Take your friend Percina for example. If you're not at the top of the Holt factory building to surrender by five o' clock -- that's just under two hours from now -- dear Percina is going to take a little walk off the edge. . . ."

Lorden's heart skipped a beat. "You can't do that," he protested.

"Why not? Who's going to stop me? The law?" Grimwald chuckled mercilessly. "I absolutely can and will do what I say, Lorden. It's wartime. Maybe you should have thought of that before you started meddling with powers that were far beyond what you could handle."

Lorden opened his mouth to respond, but Grimwald had already hung up. Lorden let the PI drop slowly to his side. Elenia had awoken and both Devil and Whitney had stopped what they were doing to stare at Lorden.

"Looks like we may have a bit of a situation on our hands," remarked Devil with a good deal less concern than Lorden felt was appropriate.

Lorden nodded mutely, mind awhirl with horrible thoughts. Then he looked up at Devil.

"I need to know where the Holt factory building is, and fast."

The End

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