We’re all gathered together once more around Q and his computer. Laika is sitting on the floor, resting her back against the gurney and not making eye contact with me. Good, that will make this easier.

Q is glaring at the two of us as we stand side by side, alternating between Emma and myself with clockwork regularity. He probably thinks we’ve run off and made a decision on his fate without consulting him and in a way I guess we have. I think he’ll like it though.

The Bear is back in his chair, working his way through his book with solemn dedication. I really hope we can trust him - one word from him and this house of cards will come tumbling down, taking us with it.

“Alright, I have a proposal,” I tell them and have to stop to swallow a nervous lump as the silence in the room deepens to all new levels. Public speaking is for politicians. I bet Wilkerson would shine in this situation. “Let me finish and we’ll hear voices of dissention and alternative options at the end, okay?” Am I not a leader, but they are looking to me for leadership. I hope that following my clueless lead won’t get them all killed.

Puppy gives me a sort of half-nod, half-shrug, half-smile. Q grunts noncommittally. The Bear regards me with something between interest and mild curiosity. Emma starts to reach out to me, either for an encouraging pat or a punch in the arm, but her hands fall back down to meet each other in a nervous embrace at her waist. I take a deep breath and dive in the deep end.

“Q - I think it would be best for you to stay here. Keep working on the mayor’s CD and continue to rest up. Bear, if you’re willing, can watch over you here and keep you fed and safe.” I nod in the Russian’s direction and he gives me a wry smile. I think that might be the first time I’ve called him that out loud.

Q’s face darkens and he begins to hammer at his keyboard. I'm torn between rolling my eyes and being legitimately concerned. I settle for shifting my weight off my bad leg and taking a deep breath that could easily be interpreted as a sigh.

“So you are lea-ving me be-hind again? Just like that?” I’m taken aback by his response. I was so sure he would be grateful to be given this easy out. But Emma knows him better than I do and has an answer ready.

“No Jim, not leaving you behind. Keeping you safe and giving you time to crack that encryption. Whatever is on there has to be important and you’re the only one who can get at it. And we can use this as a command center of sorts - I’m sure you can hook us up with a secure communication system of some kind so that we can all keep in touch.” Her tone softens as she adds, “And it’s not like we can just keep wheeling you around the city without being noticed.”

Q and his computer fall silent as he mulls that over. I launch back into my spiel before he can interrupt again.

“Puppy - I want you to work your street connections to locate the mayor. He got a message to us and that message had to have started somewhere. Somebody out there was the first person in this game of telephone tag - if you can find that person we’ll be one step closer to finding Wilkerson. The mayor’s office is out of the question and if Gr… if he’s really running for his life, then he must be in hiding. As the official head of this city I think he should be our main target.”

The lie tastes like paint on my tongue and I struggle to keep the disgust from my face. I feel more than see Emma stiffen at my side. She was shocked that I would resort to this but she eventually saw the sense in keeping Puppy away from any business involving her father. That didn’t mean she had to like it though.

Puppy finally looks up and our eyes meet. My heart skips a beat or twenty as she stares at me with a blank expression. Eventually, after much too long for my comfort, her hands fly into motion.

“What about us? Well, we’re the misdirection - I’ll call the mayor back and tell him we’ll do what needs to be done to get your father.” The lies are easier to swallow now; practice makes perfect, right? I feel like a monster though. “While Emma and I are making a show of going along with him, Q will be hacking away at his secrets and you’ll be tracking him down. He’ll never see us coming.”

My words are left hanging in the room as thoughts turn internal, possibilities are considered. I want desperately to sit down but I remain where I am, looking from one to the next to the next. Not challenging, but open. As open as a liar can be.

“So… thoughts, objections, brilliant alternatives?”

The End

615 comments about this story Feed