Chapter 9:


Pyro's Grand Demise

The hallway is long, dark, and entirely eerie. My footsteps are the only sound in the concrete tunnel. Each step echoes back at me, making it sound like someone is approaching me when in reality I am approaching it. Whatever it is. A door hopefully, because I’m starting to get the creeps from being down here.

“How long does this go on for?” I whisper to the darkness.

Almost there, Joe assures me through the earpiece. If even the gruff sound of his voice is comforting, I know I must be on edge.

“This isn’t exactly what I had in mind when you told me to break into your mother’s multi-million-dollar mansion.”

How so?

“Well,” I begin while eyeing a suspicious rust stain on the wall, “I guess I was expecting more grandeur. Expensive vases, servant people, perhaps the occasional table with strips of white powder on it.”

There’s a harsh chuckle, sounding almost like a cough. Are you insinuating my mother snorts cocaine?

“That’s a rich person's drug, right?” I’ve seen enough movies to figure out that much, what with not being a rich person myself.

No, my mother doesn’t do any of that, he returns with more stability in his voice. If anything, she’s addicted to her work. She’s notorious for her thirteen-hour workdays. Sometimes she pulls one-hundred plus hours per week.

I make a disgusted noise. “No wonder your mother is such a raging bitch. No offense.”

None taken.

“I bet if she had sex, it’d make her more likeable.” There’s a choking sound on the other end, but I ignore it and plow on, “It releases happy chemicals in the brain. Sounds to me like your mom could use some of that.”

Joe clears his throat and says, Fucking hell. You really don’t have an off-switch, do you?

“Nope,” I say with a sly grin. “It’s why the chemicals in my brain are happy. Most of my partners have been glad for my lack of an off-switch I’d say.”

There’s inherent muttering on the other end. Then, Serotonin. That’s one of the chemicals released in the brain during… sexual intercourse.

I snort when he hesitates. “What’s wrong, Joe? Cat got your tongue? Does the word ‘sex’ make our little rich boy nervous?”

There’s more muttering before he says, And just when have you been meeting up with these partners? Is that what you were really up to when you snuck out the other day?

I snort. “No. I came back with a bloody nose. I like it rough, but not that rough.”

When Joe doesn’t respond I take it that my bluntness has shocked him into silence. Alright, I can stop teasing him I suppose. I almost feel bad. “Sorry for messing with you. I’m honestly kind of nervous so you’re making me feel better.”

Glad to be of service. There’s a pause. Do you really like it, er--”

He clears his throat to finish his sentence, but I finally see the end of the tunnel. “Oh! There it is.”

Several grooves in the concrete wall make a ladder leading up to what appears to be another trap door. This one looks nicer somehow. Polished.

You should see a ladder leading upward, Joe details. If you climb up, it will lead you into a closet. Don’t touch anything.

I slowly climb upward, the concrete cool against my fingers. There’s no latch or knob to turn, so I push upward on the trap door. Then I push harder. It’s quite a bit heavy in comparison to the previous one, and instead of swinging open on a hinge, I have to push upward and slide it. When I pop my head out, I can see why.

The floor in this closet is made up of large tiles, and the trap door is meant to blend in seamlessly. Of course it’d have to be sturdy so it won’t move around when walked on.

The closet is, of course, massive. I was expecting a supply closet, but am instead greeted by rows of color-coordinating pantsuits, ties, purses, shoes, and every other accessory you can think of. Gee, I wonder which workaholic woman this closet belongs to.

I crawl out of the opening and carefully slide the panel back into place. If you weren’t aware of the secret passage, there’d be no way of knowing just by looking. Standing, I quickly scan the room once more. There’s an entire glass case dedicated to watches, all of which are of course name brands.

“Your mother collects watches?” I whisper.

That is your first concern? Joe asks.

I shrug even though he can’t see me. “A working woman who also knows how to dress. You can’t always get both.”

Just pay attention to the mission, he chastises me. That closet leads to both the bedroom and bathroom. You’re going to exit into the bedroom and wait at the door on the other side of the bed.

I huff. “So bossy.”

The bedroom is far too big for cozy, but it does manage to look fashionable down to the very last silken pillowcase. It’s dark, and hardly any light comes in from the translucent curtains. There’s a night light plugged into an outlet, but it’s the practical kind and not the kiddie kind. What’s the point if it doesn’t look like a unicorn or stegosaurus?

“Even your mother’s choice in nightlights is boring,” I whisper. “Everything is so colorless and… sterile.” Indeed, the entire room is in varying shades of white. From the eggshell walls to the ivory sheets. I understand being unable to decide on a color scheme, but you need some splash of color.

She’s not really into colors. Practicality is what matters to her.

“There’s nothing impractical about a fluffy pink throw,” I retort. “Alright, I’m standing in front of the door. What now?”

Wait until I say go. There’s about to be a rotation, so a guard will be passing by the door in two minutes. After he’s gone, you’ll go out and take a left. But slowly. You don’t want to run into anyone, so it’s best to keep at a leisurely pace to remain between guards.

“You gonna give me the exact miles-per-hour I should be walking?” I mutter.

Approximately three-point-four mph.

I scrub at my face with both hands. “Of course you calculated it.”

No. I just Googled how fast a leisurely walk is.

I snort. “I appreciate your honesty.”

The wait is short, but it feels longer. I begin picking at my hangnail which is a bad habit of mine. “I need a manicure,” I murmur to myself.

It’s almost time. Go out in three, two, one…

I open the door and walk out into the hallway as if nothing is wrong. As if walking out of the GravityTech CEO’s bedroom is no big deal. I take the left then follow Joe’s instructions as he has me turn down various corridors. Each and every hallway has its own small chandelier and there are indeed expensive vases filled with flowers at intervals. White roses because of course.

Even the walls look expensive. The molding is elegant and the paneling comes halfway up the wall before cutting off into thick wallpaper. Watery floral patterns decorate it.

The last door down this hallway is the one you’ll be entering. Go inside immediately.

It looks like every other door, but I suppose it’d be more suspicious if this one had a dark aura surrounding it. Or barbed wire.

I quietly and quickly enter, making sure the door is properly shut behind me. I’m greeted by a room surrounded by overflowing bookcases on three sides. A large mahogany desk sits in the center, a laptop laying shut on top of its glossy surface.

Are you inside? There should be a desk with a laptop. The thumb drive will be plugged into the laptop. Take it and then you can get out of there. I’ll tell you when the next rotation is.

I peer around the personal office. It’s strange how everything in here is so disorderly in comparison to the rest of the building. There are so many books that stacks of various sizes tower almost to my height. Papers and other office supplies are forgotten on the floor. A corner of the shaggy, blue rug is upturned.

If anything, this looks like it’d be Joe’s office. Not his mother’s.

A heavy sense of dread begins to build in my chest. It’s small at first, but quickly grows. When I don’t speak for a while, observing the cluttered room, Joe speaks up.

Hey, what’s wrong? Did you get the thumb drive?

“Not yet,” I say as I approach the desk. “I thought I heard something, so I was staying quiet. I think I’ll lay low for a minute before going back into the hallway.”

Instead of unplugging the thumb drive, I open the laptop and swipe a finger across the mouse pad. It breathes to life.

That’s not a good idea, Joe says. Trust me on this. Wait another thirty seconds before going. I haven’t gotten you caught yet, have I?

“Yeah,” I say half-heartedly as the laptop asks for the password. After living with Joe for the past two weeks, I have several solid guesses on what it could be. I get it on the second try: robotwizard3! If I hadn’t thought secretly knowing his passwords would come in handy, I would have made fun of him for it a long time ago.

Sometimes I’m glad guys are so simplistic. Or maybe it’s just Joe. He’s a genius, sure, but he’s also a slob and easy to please.

“Thirty seconds you said?” I ask as the laptop unlocks. I click on File Explorer and scroll until I see the thumb drive. I click on its icon.

Yeah, but that was like twenty seconds ago. Are you ready? You have to go.

The wariness in his voice is in turn causing me to stress out. Right now he’s just confused as to why I’m acting strange, but he’ll soon realize I’m procrastinating. I could just pretend to be following his instructions, but I’m pretty sure there’s a tracker in his ear piece. I could break it, but that would hardly solve anything.

When the file opens, I scan the various titles. Most are spreadsheets, but there are also pdf’s and other documents. All the names are gibberish or in code, so I begin to click through each one of them and quickly observe the contents.


When he says my name in that questioning tone it sends a shiver down my back.

“Yeah?” I’m halfway through scanning the documents. Most of them are projects I don’t understand, but I have faith I’ll recognize what I need when I see it. Probably.

Why are you still in the office?

Not his mother’s office. His office. He’s definitely suspicious now.

“The thumb drive is stuck in the laptop,” I fib, knowing very well that it’s a horrible lie. My multitasking abilities aren’t the best when it’s not purely physical movement. I’m using a lot of brain power right now.

Then I see it. The bold print titling the pdf says ‘Project Malware.’ This could be anything, but it’s when I read the subtext that I understand exactly what this pdf is.

Pyro, I need you to leave that room right now.

I ignore his taut voice and stare at the blueprint. It includes detailed instructions on a device which very well might ruin the lives of millions. A device which, when attached to the back of a cyborg’s neck, can remove their consciousness and turn them into a mindless robot.

Body hacking. What a purple type can do, but so much worse. This has the ability to turn us into mindless machines, and I can already think of a dozen reasons people in power would want an army of obedient, powerful slaves. Or even just one.

And Joe is the one who designed it. These are his notes. His drawings.

Pyro, you’re seriously starting to freak me out.
Steward McOy
Haru Yumera