Bryson pushed it and it lit up. Michael had been working at his screen and finally slipped past the firewall protecting the camera controls. He shut it down so that anyone looking would think it’d been caused by a power malfunction, maybe spurred by the crash of the police hovercar.
“Cameras are down,” he said, filled with relief as he clicked off his NetScreen. They didn’t know where the cameras were or if they’d been spotted by them yet, but it was good to have one less thing to worry about. A loud crack sounded with the latest impact of the battering ram.
“Now let’s go hide,” Sarah whispered, already on the move. Michael and Bryson followed her into the hallway, turning right into the red-tinted darkness. The elevator doors closed behind them. “I faked the heat sig on that car, and then I’m gonna wipe it out completely once it stops on thirty. With that and the cameras shot, they won’t have a clue where we are.”
Michael was just about to ask her how long she planned for them to hide when a ringing, metallic crash shook the air, followed by shouts and a rush of footsteps.
“We need to hurry,” Sarah said flatly, an understatement if Michael had ever heard one.
The green glow of Sarah’s NetScreen lit the way as they scurried through a spooky world of cubicles and desks and potted plants—the employees had long since evacuated. The sounds of pursuit echoed throughout the floor, shouted directions and the rustle of footsteps on carpet. People were spreading out until it became impossible to tell what noise was coming from where. Michael could feel every thump of his escalated heartbeat in his throat and ears, the blood pumping. Finally, Sarah stopped at a large breakroom, where a full kitchen and several tables had been set up. Michael knew they couldn’t risk going any farther—there were too many people following them, and they were too spread out.
“Under those cabinets,” Bryson whispered, pointing at some wide doors under the long kitchen counter, where a toaster and coffee machine were tucked away.
“Perfect,” Sarah replied. “I’ll keep throwing them off.” She opened a cabinet in the middle and dropped to her knees.
Michael went to her right, crouched down, and opened one of the wooden doors. There was plenty of space, just a few paper plates and plastic utensils scattered along the bottom. He pushed them all to the side and crawled in, turning to sit and face the door. He pulled his knees as close to his chest as he could and reached out and closed the cabinet. The sudden darkness tempted him to squeeze his EarCuff and bring up his NetScreen again, just for the comfort of it, but he resisted. He waited blindly, concentrating on slowing his breath and heartbeat and listening for activity.
Soon there was silence. Michael didn’t know when it had happened, but at some point the alarms had stopped clanging. It showed how anxious he’d been that he hadn’t noticed. Besides the soft sound of his own small breaths, everything was quiet and still. And dark.
Several minutes passed. He couldn’t get comfortable in the small, cramped space, no matter how much he shifted. His back ached and his muscles were stiff. He knew Sarah was in the next cabinet over, her NetScreen probably dimmed as much as possible, working on a way to get out of there. There had to be a way. And if there was, Michael had no doubt that she’d figure it out.
Still, he hadn’t stopped sweating. His nerves were a jumble of frayed cords, ready to snap. People were out there, in the halls, throughout the building, looking for him. And not just as a missing person—they thought he was a terrorist, a kidnapper, an accomplice, a fugitive. Once the police had them, it wouldn’t be long before Kaine knew where they were. And then his people—who he guessed were former Tangents like Michael—would come next.
There was a sound somewhere nearby, and not from the other cabinets. A cough or clearing of the throat. Michael froze and listened.
The shuffle of footsteps, more than one person. They moved in bursts, as if they were sweeping the area bit by bit, going from one spot to the next. He couldn’t tell if the people were in the hallway or the kitchen. But then came the voices, and it sounded like they were just a few feet away.
“Call in downstairs,” a man said in a tight whisper. “Get the latest.”
“Just a sec,” came the reply. A woman.
Michael felt his heart almost leap out of his chest—they were so close. He steeled himself. One wrong move or sound and they’d be on him.
There was a chirp and a tinny sound of static that was barely audible. Then the woman spoke again.
“Systems are all jacked up. Cameras are down, and the heat sigs are acting loopy. The sarge sent a team to the thirtieth floor for some reason but told us to sweep this one. Make sure they left.”
“You really think the Sarge meant it?” the man asked.
“What?” the woman replied. Michael closed his eyes and concentrated, as if that would help him hear better.
“You know what I’m talking about.”
The woman paused before responding. “Yeah. I think he meant it.”
One of them made a clicking sound with their tongue, and then there were a few seconds of silence.
“Whatever,” the man finally said. “Dead, not dead, I don’t care. As long as I get home for supper. I’m sick of this crap.”
The woman snickered. “Cry me a river. Come on, let’s search these cabinets. It’s a perfect place to hide.”
Panicked, Michael realized he had to reposition himself to be able to strike out when they opened his cabinet door. Quietly, slowly, he shifted to get onto his knees, his back scraping the low top of the space. He’d come too far to turn back now. When that door swung open, he’d launch himself like a KillSim, screaming bloody murder.
Footsteps approached. A drop of sweat stung his right eye, and he swiped at it, waiting for the inevitable. Someone stood just inches away—he could sense their presence, almost like a shadow. He heard the person shuffle their feet right outside his door, then get quiet. Maybe he or she had crouched down, reaching for the handle of the cabinet that second. Michael braced himself, hands clenched into fists.
Nothing happened. Seconds ticked by.
One, two, three, four, five.
Not a sound.
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
Then the scrape of a shoe against the floor, still close.
Michael realized he’d been holding his breath, as if it had been locked inside his chest. Carefully, he exhaled through his nose and sucked in a slow pull of air. Another scrape, then more of nothing. Neither of the people in the kitchen had said a word.