Hint 6. When It's Time To Leave, Leave
From the look of the map, I had expected Docklen’s directions to take us to a large warehouse on the outskirts of town but as we arrive, outside the building so we can scout around quickly before I take us inside, I realise that it’s more like an abandoned factory.
“Fun fact,” Docklen whispers as we hunker beneath the shelter of a few scrubby bushes. “It used to be used for glass blowing, back when that was a thing people cared about.”
The building stands on it own, surrounded by a great swathe of empty concrete. This wide expanse is punctuated only by the odd pothole or piece of litter. Plastic shopping bags roll past like tumbleweed in an old western movie. I can tell why Docklen needed me to get in.
“Can you see anyone on the door?” Docklen asks. “I can’t see anything in this dark.”
I squint, trying to make it out. The building’s weirdly ornate for a factory, a relic of an older era perhaps, so it’s quite difficult to discern the shapes of people in the shadow of decorative buttresses and arching windowsills.
“One or two,” I say. The figures draw a threatening silhouette, broad shoulders and assault rifles cutting sharply across the delicate engraving of the building behind them.
“Armed?” Docklen tuts, continuing before I even get a chance to reply. “Obviously,” he says.
I nod, shuddering as my movement displaces an icy drop of water from the leaves above my head and it drips down my spine.
“Alright,” Docklen says, “One or two is to be expected, I guess. Although it is surprising. I’m glad we stopped out here. Normally these guys work alone. This must be something big if they’re not taking any risks.”
His words strike a sudden nervousness in me.
“Do you really think this is the best idea?” I ask.
“Come on, Kurtis,” he says, “we’ll be fine. You’re a superhero.”
“Some superhero,” I say, looking down at my jeans and T-shirt. “Where’s my sexy outfit? Don’t I get a mask and a cool nickname?”
Docklen bites his lip, giving my jeans and T-shirt a quick once over. I know that’s not what he’s seeing in his mind’s eye though and I suddenly feel self-conscious.
“Good point, Kurtis,” he says. “Perhaps we can see to that when we get back. You can get any outfit you please.”
I shove him and he laughs.
“Alright, alright. Let’s go before you get second thoughts, superhero.”
Docklen takes my arm and I make us disappear.
If anything, the bowels of this old factory are even more beautiful than the outside. Instead of the wide-open space I was expecting, we appear in a tiny room. It’s floors are made of rich, red wood and the whole wall is punctuated with rippling glass panels. The dust lies thick over everything and it’s apparent that I made a good choice when I decided to bring us to the upper floor instead of the ground. This room hasn’t been touched in decades.
Docklen puts his finger to his lips and the meaning is apparent. No more talking now until the job is done.
He crouches down, keeping low to the floor so he can’t be seen through the glass, and makes his way to the door. I follow, mimicking his movement, and we make our way out into the corridor.
I almost gasp, throwing my hand to my mouth just in time. I had expected a closed hallway but instead the room opens onto a towering gangplank with just a set of rusty railings for safety. Thick cables soar up from the metal at my feet and I hate to think that they’re the only things anchoring us in place.
Docklen crawls forwards onto his belly, keeping his body as low as possible, and sticks his head out under the railings to get a better view of the gloom below. My heart lurches into my throat as I realise I have to follow suit. I shouldn’t be afraid of heights; if I fall, I can just materialise myself back onto secure footing before I hit the ground, but there’s something about this fear that common sense simply can’t cure.
Docklen looks back, frowning when he realises I’m still not at his side. I close my eyes, mustering up a bit of strength, and drop down onto my stomach. There’s no way I’m going to stick my head out like him, though. I wrap my fingers around the edge of the walkway and peek timidly over my knuckles. I’m lucky that I’m Sapient+ because I can probably still see better like this than Docklen can.
Well, Docklen was certainly right, anyway. The first thing I make out, as I peer into the gloom, is a stack of familiar metal crates, all with the Facility logo stamped proudly on the side. Behind the crates is a second, unmarked van, presumably the getaway vehicle. A lone figure stalks amongst the crates, stopping at each one to snap the clasp open and peer inside, taking a stock count, no doubt. She’s very obviously female. From the shape of her slender figure, highlighted by skintight clothing, to the way she strides confidently across the floor, everything she does oozes femininity. I’ve never seen someone move so fluidly in heels.
She flicks her hair over her shoulder, bending down again, and Docklen obviously takes this as some kind of cue. He stands, the whole gangplank creaking with his movement. I’m on my feet without thought, jumping back in sudden terror at the lurching metal beneath my body.
“I thought I might find you here, Lady,” he shouts and, strangely, I can hear the smile in his voice.
Her head snaps around immediately. I can see her peering up into the darkness, marking our position above her. She stands sedately, placing a hand on her hip.
“Jack,” she asks, “is that you?”
“The one and only,” Docklen replies. He moves forwards, pulling himself onto the railings and swinging his legs over the top so that he’s suspended over nothing. I grab his arm instinctively.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I hiss.
“Relax superhero,” he smiles. “It’s fine.”
“You sure?” I ask, tentatively letting go.
“Sure,” he replies, and throws himself out into open space.
I almost scream. Almost. My hand flies to my mouth and I rush forwards, expecting to hear the thump, to see him broken on the floor below. My knuckles are white on the rusty metal of the railings and I can’t quite believe my eyes as he lands, elegantly straightening before turning to look up at me.
He should not have survived that, not in a million years, but I squash the thought, pushing it to the back of my mind and materialising at Docklen’s side once again.
The woman before us raises an eyebrow, impressed. She’s a lot more intimidating up close. She wears a small, black mask, covering her eyes, and the pair of pistols strapped to her waist are very obvious. I’m a police officer, though, so I know how to hold my own. I draw my shoulders back, standing proud.
“Who’s the girlfriend, Jack?” She asks.
“Tell you what, Lady, I’ll tell you her name if you tell me yours.”
The woman that Docklen keeps calling Lady laughs. “Fair play.”
“I’m not his girlfriend,” I say.
That eyebrow cocks again and, this time, it’s accompanied by a small smile.
“Really?” she says, clearly in disbelief.
“Superhero’s just a colleague,” Jack says.
“Superhero?” Lady laughs, “I like it.” She holds out a hand and I take it with caution. “You’re Superhero and I’m The Lady. We’re called as we are: simple.”
“The Lady’s the worst kind of criminal,” Docklen adds but, for some reason, he doesn’t seem concerned by this in any way.
I just nod, finishing the handshake. He’s putting up a front, he said it already: he's relying on a lingering relationship with these people from his undercover days.
As soon as I let go, The Lady sighs, rolling her eyes.
“Shark says there are no superheroes,” she says, “but I reckon if you’re Sapient+ you get to be a super-something, even if it’s not a hero. It comes with the territory.”
“Where is Shark?” Docklen asks and I notice the tone of his voice darken, getting down to business.
The Lady just shrugs, turning back to the crates behind her.
“On his way, I’m sure. Will you give me a hand with these, Jack? I’ve got to count them and switch everything into unmarked boxes before we can move on and Shark’s too busy playing Lord of the Underworld to actually lend a hand.”
I look over at Docklen. He’s frowning, expression heavy.
“Lady, you know I’m a policeman now.”
“Yeah,” she says, not turning as she sifts through another crate. “See your beautiful face on the tv all the time, don’t I?”
“So you know I’ve got to ask you to forfeit these stolen goods. I’m not asking you to turn yourself in, I’m not stupid, but the serum’s got to go back.”
The Lady looks up. She’s not smiling anymore.
“We’re family, Jack,” she says “or we were once. So you’re going to give up this good boy front and help me out.” She points to a stack of crates away to her right. “Start with those ones, I haven’t done them yet.”
Docklen folds his arms. “No,” he says.
The Lady moves so fast I don’t even have time to blink. Her hand drops to the holster at her waist and she darts into the space in front of him. The tip of her gun hovers in between his eyes, just an inch away from skin.
“Put the gun away, Lady,” Docklen sighs, not intimidated in the slightest.
“No,” The Lady smiles, mimicking his defiance.
They’re stuck in some sort of stalemate, staring intently into each other’s eyes. I wonder if she’d notice if I moved my hand just six inches to my right, so I can take his elbow in my hand and get us both out of here.
They’re so busy trying to communicate without words that I’m the only one that reacts to the sudden sound of a body hitting metal. I look up, trying to find the new arrival.
There’s someone on top of the van. I have no idea where he came from or how he got there but, as I watch, he straightens from a crouch, folding his arms as he stands. He’s just as hidden now as he was on the tv earlier, when I watched him from my desk as he calmly walked away with all this Sapient+ serum. I can tell that he’s male and that’s just about it.
“Put the gun down, Lady,” he growls.
“Why should I, Shark? He’s turned traitor, bought himself a blue hat and badge. I should just spread his brains out across the floor before he ruins everything.”
“Except he turned up here more or less alone. Where’s all his police sirens and back-up if he’s going to sell us out?”
The Lady says nothing and her arm doesn’t move. Docklen just glares at her.
The figure on the roof of the van sighs, striding forward until he reaches the edge of the vehicle. He swings himself over the edge, dropping lightly onto the floor below. He steps forwards into the dusty silver light of a distant window and my breath catches in my throat.
He is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. He puts Docklen to shame. Muscle almost seems to ripple beneath his shirt and the little of his face I can see beneath his mask looks like someone cut it out of a magazine. I’ve never seen anyone like this in my entire life and I can’t look away.
Shark strides forwards. Watching Docklen and The Lady, he hardly seems to notice my presence but for the brief flicker of his eyes. As our gazes meet, for less than a second, my pulse jumps and I finally understand what it means to have my heart skip a beat.
Shark draws to a stop at The Lady’s shoulder. She doesn’t react as he reaches up, slowly pulling her arm back to her side. She narrows her eyes one final time before coming to a decision. The safety is flicked back on and the pistol stashed back in its holster with the same rapid movement that she used to draw it in the first place.
Docklen slowly releases a breath and I realise that, just maybe, he was a little more concerned than he let on.
“You left, Jack,” Shark says, “What are you doing back? And with company?”
Shark looks at me now, properly, for the first time. I want to say something but I can’t. My eyes are trapped in his gaze and he seems to know it, refusing to look away. I want to reach up, slip my fingers over his face and untie the mask. A man like that should never have to hide anything. I want to wrap my fingers in his hair, press my lips against his skin.
“I might just let you,” he says with a smile.
I step back, shocked. From the way the others are looking at us, I can tell I said nothing out loud. Shark winks, breaking the bridge of our gaze, and turns his attention back to the conversation.
Docklen doesn’t look happy.
“I’m not back,” he says, “I'm just here to talk some sense into you. What are you doing with serum, Shark? You know you can’t use any of this stuff.”
Shark just shrugs and The Lady grins, teeth flashing white in the moonlight.
“Maybe we can, Jack,” she says.
“Or,” Shark holds up a finger, “maybe we can’t.”
The Lady laughs. Docklen shakes his head.
“Don’t do this,” he says.
“Don’t do what?” Shark asks. Throwing his arms wide, he turns to take in the hundreds of crates that surround us. “Jack, it’s already done.”
“I’ll give you an out,” Docklen says, “Leave the serum by the river somewhere and I won’t bring the police snooping round here. They’ll never have know about your little secret safe house.”
Shark’s eyes narrow dangerously behind his mask. Quick as a flash, he lifts an arm, palm held out in warning. The movement is not meant for us. I follow the line of the gesture, watching The Lady as she slowly releases her grip on a pistol.
“You’re upsetting her, Jack,” Shark says. “She won’t be able to control herself much longer.”
“What’s she going to do?” Docklen asks with a shrug.
“You know what she’s going to do,” Shark replies, keeping his arm outstretched, as if it somehow has enough power to still The Lady. “Those guns are the least of your troubles and you know it.”
Docklen actually starts to look a little worried at this. His gaze flicks between the two criminals before landing on me.
“If I touch you, you get us out of here,” he says. “You got that? No hesitation, just take us home.”
I nod solemnly, reacting to the urgency in his voice. Docklen breathes out, one big sigh, as though he’s trying to expel too much stress on the hot stream of air.
“Good,” he says and I suddenly realise that not all is going to plan.
“You should just leave now, Jack,” Shark says, not unkindly. His gaze flickers over to me again. There’s some magic in it, I don’t understand, but as soon as he looks at me, my restraint buckles. It terrifies me. It mesmerises me. I fight the overwhelming urge to touch him. He smirks and my face heats instantly. There’s no way he can know what I’m thinking but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. At the very least, he seems perfectly capable of reading some subtle desire in the way that I look at him.
Docklen looks distressed, fidgeting slightly. He’s losing here and he hates it. I don’t know what he expected. These are very obviously professional criminals, he was never going to dissuade them with words.
“Shark,” he asks quietly, “what are you going to do with all this stuff?”
“Maybe if you’d helped out, Jackie-boy, we might have told you,” The Lady calls out. I realise she has stepped back, beginning to switch the serum out of its telltale Facility crates and moving it into a different set of subtle, unmarked boxes.
Shark folds his arms and I try, desperately, futilely, to ignore the way it makes his biceps bulge.
“Look,” he says, “you’re our friend, Jack, so I’ll do my best not to have to kill you. Part of that includes keeping secrets. You switched sides, you wanted to be good. And good on you for that. I don’t think it’ll last, that’s why I’m being so patient now, but that’s my business, you don't have to believe me. When you want to come back, though, and back for good mind you, we’ll let you in. No sooner, no later. There’s a space for you if you want it.” Shark nods at me. “Space for her too,” he says.
“That’s not going to happen,” Docklen says.
Shark just shrugs.
“Then I think you should go,” he says.
“My conscience won’t allow me to leave until you have returned what you took, Shark.”
Shark furrows his brow.
Shark takes in a deep breath. The Lady disappears with a crate, stashing it in the back of the van before reappearing for another. Docklen’s looking between them, nervous, but I don’t know why.
“Lady…” Shark begins.
She looks up, cocking her head slightly. The air crackles, jacked up with a strange tension. I don't know what's happening. She takes a thoughtful step forwards and Docklen’s palm slams into my elbow, squeezing so tight my fingers tingle. I don’t even question it. I remove us immediately.