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The Willow Society

By franklet All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Thriller

Chapter 72

Chapter 72

When the figure, finally, made it close enough for Taylor to see her completely, his heart nearly dropped out of his chest. Not Helen after all. She's dead and that's that... a hard-edged part of him growled inside his head. No, it was Alexander. One of her feet was trailed a piece of frayed plastic, her mouth was bloody. But both her hands were raised, holding onto a gun which was slowly sweeping an arc across the hallway and the elevator lobby beyond. Taylor ducked back behind the wall, the vague hope that he could make it to the stairwell door fifteen feet distant, blooming inside him. But it was not to be.

Stop!“ Alexander's hoarse shout came down the hallway and her footsteps increased as she ran. Taylor dashed, had just gotten to the door and pulled at it. It's locked! Alexander came running into the elevator lobby.

“Don't move!“ Alexander whispered, twisting a silencer to the barrel of her gun. Why is she whispering? A beep sounded and the elevator doors opened. Alexander hunched slightly, grunting, as if it pained her to do so. The doors parted, Alexander aimed and she let off three gunshots, muffled by the silencer. Her shoulder recoiled only a slight amount. Three distinct and hard thuds sounded from the elevator. Taylor turned to look, slowly.

“Stay there, kid.“ Alexander ordered. What is going on?

Alexander moved, gingerly, around the already collapsed bodies of the guards who had mysteriously fallen while carrying Taylor to the elevator. She bent down to inspect the carnage inside the elevator. Taylor peaked inside. He saw vague shapes of motionless guards, Alexander probing them. Alexander dragged each bodily out of the elevator and piled them atop the others. Looking over at Taylor, she said, “OK. It's clear now, kid.“ Her head tossed in the direction of the elevator.

Taylor started to say something, but at the last moment he bit the comment back. He had to think. What the hell is happening?

Alexander sensed Taylor's hesitation. “We don't have a lot of time, kid.“ Her head turned and Taylor saw more blood, this time trailing from her ear. A surge of something like wild hope flashed inside him.

“You're free of the implant!“ Taylor blurted out, low. Alexander inclined her head at the guards who had been carrying Taylor and said, “For now. Something changed a few minutes ago. Whatever it was, I think it took out those guards before I shot them...“ She coughed. “We have to get out here.“

“We can't! We have to make sure they destroyed all the wipers! We have to!“ Taylor said nearly whining. Alexander coughed more.

“No way kid,“ she said, shaking her head, “It's too dangerous! Who knows how long before they switch this thing in my head back on!“ The satellite network! Someone interrupted it and it shorted her implant! “I need to get out of here. Let the Director know what's going on...I can't be... I won't be...“ She swallowed hard,unable to say the words. “He'll know what to do!“

Taylor couldn't believe what he heard. After he had conquered his own fear, had decided to fight; this grown, fully-trained NSA agent was backing out? Worse, she was clearly doing it out of fear. Fear of being a mind-controlled zombie robot again. It was a terrifying thought. Just from the little Izzy had said, but if Taylor could conquer his fear, Alexander should as well. Besides she was supposed to risk her life to stop this! If this isn't a risk to national security, then what is? Of all people, she should understand just what TwinStar can do, unchecked. She had been investigating them, hadn't she?

Taylor knew the next words out of his mouth had to convince her. If they didn't nothing would. But he also knew despite her he could leave. Whatever Alexander did. He would not abandon his friends and the world to TwinStar. Those wipers and all the tech have to be destroyed. And that's that. He nodded to himself.

“What if they're controlling your Director? Huh? What then? They have the Mayor of New York City. What's to stop them from doing worse?“ Taylor said. It actually had an effect. Alexander shook slightly and her gun lowered a bit.

“Where are your friends?“ Alexander asked with a loud sigh, Taylor wanted to cheer.

“They're went upstairs, to the lab. I'm hoping they made it out already! They were trying to destroy all wipers, the implants, and the schematics. The network back-ups. I've already disabled the satellite network,“ he hesitated to tell her though that might have been because of his own actions. “with a progressive virus...“ As he spoke his voice trailed off, his eyeballs rotated up and his mind raced. Lines of code ran through his mind's eye furiously. The virus! Maybe that's what overloaded the implants!

Alexander looked skeptical. As if she could hear his thoughts. But Taylor didn't care. He might have dealt TwinStar a serious blow, who cared if Alexander believed it. But why had it knocked-out the guards carrying him, but not the ones in the elevator? Why had it busted Alexander's implant but not knocked her out? Too many unanswered questions.

They entered the elevator and Alexander pressed a button as she cocked a round in her gun. She looked down at Taylor and said, “This isn't going to end the way you think.“ The elevator began to move.

“You know how to get to the lab?“ Taylor asked as they rode in the elevator, which was playing a Muzak version of Ke$ha's “Tik Tok.

“I do. They made me go there several times...“ Alexander said, “But I've never been allowed inside. How many of your friends are there?“ she asked.

“Two. Lou and Winston, I think.“ Taylor said. He didn't want to tell her his hope they might have succeeded and already left.

“Do you know how many Units they have posted between here and there?“ Alexander asked.

“Units?“ Taylor asked confused.

“Implanted guards. They call them Units.“ Alexander said, though she seemed a bit distant. As if her mind were occupied somewhere else.

“Oh. I think Winston said twelve? But Winston has a Taser and Lou and a wiped guard, they might have taken most of them out by now.“

Alexander gave him a bemused, doubt-laden smile. Taylor realized what he had just suggested. That two teenagers and a rogue guard had taken out twelve grown, large men. It was rather silly.

“Units have guns, kid. Normally they shoot to kill. We have orders. Had orders.“ her head shook as though shaking something loose, “not to kill any of you kids.“

Helen.

“They killed Helen.“ Taylor said.

Alexander's face showed no expression, no remorse, no sadness. Just a tightening around the edges of her mouth. “Orders were not to kill any kids. Just capture them. Alive.“ She gave a shrug.

The elevator stopped and the doors opened.

Taylor saw bodies the minute he stepped out from the elevator door. Alexander went first. She was already leaning down to inspect bodies, checking necks to see if they had pulses. As she moved one of them, Taylor saw his face was savagely beaten, nose a swollen bloody mess, lips busted. Taylor swept his eyes around looking for any sign of his friends, but they weren't there. He spotted the guard that had been wiped earlier, the one they had jokingly named Butch. Butch had a hole blown in the side of his head.

Congealing blood oozed, slowly, from the wound. Taylor inched backwards. Alexander didn't bother checking the man's pulse.

“What the hell happened here?“ Alexander asked. “Your friends couldn't have done all this.”

“I think maybe they did.“ Taylor said pointing at the door. “They must have...“

My friends. Did they kill Butch? Did Lou and Winston beat those other two so savagely? It seemed more likely the rogue guard, Winston's aptly named Butch had done the damaged for them, then maybe been shot in a last desperate attempt by one of the men Butch had wounded. The other guards were clearly still alive, their chests rose and fell, but none moved otherwise. Alexander didn't consult with him as she searched the comatose men. She located enough wire-ties to bind the unconscious men.

Did Lou and Winston get carried off, or beaten half to death? The doors to the lab ahead were open. Maybe they managed to make it inside... The thought was enough to buoy Taylor as he climbed over the bound guards and edged into the room. Alexander had slipped in just ahead of him.

The room was a mess. Bits and pieces of smashed electronics were everywhere, scattered about. Some didn't look damaged beyond repair, though most did. Tables were overturned, though not all. There were no signs of anyone else in the room. The second door across the room was open. Taylor rushed to a computer in the corner. He quickly determined Winston had been able to get at it. “Winston was in here!” he murmured. It was running through a routine, systematically searching for files with a certain bit pattern, file extension, or contained in certain directories. The script would shred those files, overwriting them with junk. Simple but effective. If clunky. Clearly a calling card of Winston. Taylor smiled. Winston got this far, somehow. It was a very good sign.

Taylor didn't have time to completely check Winston's work, just then. See if his friend had actually found every schematic, any replicas. Winston had done a thorough job for the time allotted. It would have to be enough.

Taylor got up from the computer and saw something on the floor, just under the desk. Something had obviously slid under, only one corner of its sleek black shell could be seen. Alexander was flitting about the room smashing wipers which had already been smashed. “The Director is going to kill me...“ she mumbled.

Taylor made sure she wasn't looking and he shoved the device into his pocket. “I think my friends must have gone that way...“ he said, pointing towards the open door. “Do you know where it goes?“ he asked her.

“The helipad, the rooftop, I think.“ she said. “Let's find out. You do know that if we make it out of here alive,“ her tone didn't betray whether she thought that a likely possibility. “you can never talk about this stuff, right?“ She waved her arm around the lab, her eyebrows knitted together angrily. Taylor nodded, the sudden feel of slick hardness in his pocket almost making him blush. She doesn't get to tell me what to do.

Alexander led the way down the hallway, gun drawn. Taylor edged behind her. They encountered nothing, until they reached a small anteroom, where a lone shoe was in the middle of the floor in front of two identical doors. Taylor knew the shoe. That's Lou's. He rushed past Alexander, towards it, picked it up.

“One of your friends'?“ Alexander said.

Taylor nodded sadly. Holding up the half-height black boot, Taylor wondered what could have knocked it off Lou's foot when he felt something wet on it. Pulling his hand back, he saw it was blood. The same color as the blood which had stained his fingers after he had touched Helen. Holding back a scream, Taylor dropped the boot and rubbed his hands frantically on the carpet and his jeans.

How many times am I going to get blood on my hands?

“What is it?“ Alexander asked. She saw the blood and nodded tersely. “I recognize that boot, now. The fighting girl. The one who beat me. Those were on her feet.“ Taylor nodded.

“They went in there.“ Alexander pointed towards the wall near one of the doors. A spot of brownish red with a zig-zagging line through it was splattered on the wall. “She must have struggled, I think that came off her shoe.“ Alexander said as she examined the red line. She tried the handle. Nothing. It was locked. An access panel was near near it with a keypad.

"Can you get past this?“ she asked Taylor.

Maybe if I had my iPhone, my ring of access cards. He shook his head no sadly. No, even that wouldn't help. There's no access, except via the PIN panel. Taylor imagined what might be happening to his friends and he gritted his teeth. He walked over to the panel and pressed "0000" a light flashed red, but nothing else happened. He pressed another set of buttons, but he couldn't see any way past it, he just guessed common numbers. There was no place for an access card, no magnetized reader, no ports. Myth might have been able to do something if she could access the guts behind the panel, but he couldn't. He didn't even see how the thing was attached to the wall, much less how to remove it. Alexander grunted and moved him out of the way.

“Let me try something,“ she said. With a grunt she backed away from the door and just kicked it as hard as she could just above the handle. The sound of metal vibrating, bending, then snapping followed. She fell backwards, but the door swung open. Unfortunately, an alarm also sounded.

“Shit.“ Alexander mumbled as she got up. “Come on, we have to be quick.“ They barreled down the hallway behind the door. It opened up into a wide landing with a chest height rail, about two hundred feet away. A slight breeze blew. Were outside on the roof, or part of a roof. The building still loomed over them, clearly there was another roof higher up.

It was a semi-sheltered helipad. Off to the right was an open door, they went inside it. In the smallish room was Lou, tied to a chair. Two of the burly guards, looking bruised and battered, but uncaring, bending next to her as they secured ropes around Winston. One other person in the room, someone Taylor knew. When saw her he blinked several times before he could be sure it was really her, her presence seemed so unlikely. She was wearing a white lab coat which marked her as one of the techs they had seen working in the lab earlier. That meant the other tech was around here somewhere, they hadn't seen any body in a labcoat in the lab or anteroom behind them. That also made Taylor all but certain whom the other tech must be.

“Phaedra?“ the name came out before he could stop himself. She twirled to face him, her face livid, and bruised.

“Shoot them!“ Phaedra screamed at the two guards. Hands went inside blazers, but Alexander reacted quicker. One guard went down, a bullet in his chest. The other flew back against the wall with a shot to his shoulder. The boom from Alexander's gun sent Taylor's hands to his ears. Alexander was on the man she had shot in the shoulder in a heartbeats, bashing him across the face with the butt of her gun. He slumped against the wall. Dead or unconscious. Phaedra moved quickly as well, almost as quick as Lou might have in the same situation. The girl had a hand held device; sleek and black. A next-gen wiper, like the ones the had seen on the monitors earlier and destroyed in lab. Phaedra placed the wiper near Alexander's head and snarled meanly as she pushed a button on the device.

Alexander went rigid and fell forward on top of the guard she had been kneeling near. This clearly wasn't what Phaedra had expected. Taylor's head swam, still in shock. Between the guns, his friends tied up and unconscious, and Phaedra Behrstable he could hardly process the scene before him. Phaedra kicked at Alexander, who just lay there, absorbing the kicks. Phaedra kicked again and again, then shouted, “Get up you bitch!“ She gathered herself and sounded commanding, “GET UP!“ Still nothing happened. “Fuck!“ Phaedra said. She turned towards Taylor.

Phaedra held the device out towards him, her hand shook. He moved towards Lou, Phaedra edged farther away than the range of the device, as far as Taylor knew. He pulled at the wire ties binding Lou, but to no avail, all he did was make them tighter. He nearly cut his hands on them, trying to pull at the plastic with his fingertips.

“Back up, Taylor.... now!“ Phaedra ordered. Lou still slumped unconscious, head hanging down on her chest. Winston's head was moving slowly, like he was coming to. Taylor didn't know else to do. If he gave her a chance to use that wiper on him, it was over. She was smiling as though she knew that as well. Oh well.

Without warning, Taylor rushed her.

He pulled his shoulder down as he rushed, tucked his head under his outthrust arm, hoping to shield it from the wiper.

Colliding into Phaedra, his elbow, then shoulder crashed into her stomach. The crash pulled a loud, umph noise from her. Taylor pumped his legs and they slammed hard into the wall behind her. Unable to see, he heard the clatter of the wiper as Phaedra dropped it to the floor.

It was a short-lived triumph. Phaedra brought a knee up, slammed it into Taylor's chest and head. Pain shot through his face, she hadn't been able to put much into it, not enough to knock him out. Still it was enough to push Taylor off. She wasted no time, scrambling to the floor and the wiper. Her hand reached for the device. He threw himself upon it. Already overextended, leaning over, Phaedra fell forward across him. There was crunch of glass as he fell. When he moved away, squeezing out from underneath her, the device was shattered, its touchscreen useless. Wires showed through and bits of plastic dangled. Small pinpricks of pain in his front caught his attention. Little bits of glass had cut him. Shaking the pain away, getting to his feet, as Phaedra floundered to grab at the shattered wiper, Taylor drew back his foot and kicked as hard as he could.

A voice cut through the din as his foot made contact. It startled him enough Taylor lost balance and his kick all but missed, grazed Phaedra's cheek, instead of slamming into her face, full-force. She screamed and grasped at her cheek, drops of blood coming away where his shoe had scored her skin. Phaedra scuttled away from him, falling over a dead guard and the unconscious Alexander.

“Leave. Her. Alone.“ the voice had said. It came from the door behind him, the door he had used to enter the room. Slick hardness of plastic and metal was pressed against his head. I know that voice.

Philomena Behrstable.

Taylor raised his hands slowly. What the hell is this about? How could their father involve them in this? Then he remembered: he was a fourteen year old boy. Himself as involved as could be. Why should it be different for them? Perhaps they were in it against their will? Could John Behrstable be that horrible?

Taylor shook his head from side to side. Took deep breaths.

“What is pleb?“ Philomena said. “Are you shocked? People always are. They just think we're just pretty little rich bitches, obviously brilliant, but still just useless girls. But we've shown them all! Now we're going to show you. Too bad Izzy Chatham isn't here, I would have loved to use this on her, then have her be the one to shoot you. Crush to the death, as it were. Wouldn't that just be darling?

She looked at Lou and Winston and glared. Winston looked almost revived, he was beginning to look around, groggy. Lou was still out cold. “I should just kill you all, but orders are orders.“

“Yeah, you 'ye got to do what Daddy tells you!“ Taylor snarled, not sure why. He wanted to be insulting and it was the best he could come up with under the circumstance. His words did have an immediate effect upon Philomena. By the expression of contempt on her face and the change in the tone of her voice, he knew. She was almost laughed now.

Not really the effect I wanted. Bitch.

“Daddy?“ she said, “That jackass? You think he's running this? Command wouldn't trust him with a fucking thing without us. We run this. Phaedra and me. The tech is ours, we invented it. And when Goldberg is President, we'll be brought into Command itself. Daddy? What a fucking joke!“ The derision in her voice was acidic. Taylor wondered at it. She didn't seem all that different than the Philomena he had known from school. Just, strangely, more open, rawer. The real Philomena. She's been dying to say that stuff to me. It's though she had been turned up from a seven setting to an eleven.

Here were two of the most privileged kids in the City. They had not only seemingly bitten the hand which fed them, they had likely wiped their own father. Maybe they even implanted him, used him to do the same to others. Maybe that's how they got the Mayor. Taylor remembered back to things Behrstable had said, how had seemed to be blank, emotionless at times. I hope he can find a way to fight it. If there is a way for someone with an implant to fight at all. As the reality sunk into him, Taylor found it didn't really shock him to find out the Behrstable Twins were capable of what they seemed to have done. The shock was only that they had actually managed to achieve it. Apparently gotten away with it, up until now.

“Just wipe him Phil.“ Phaedra said, rubbing the scratches on her otherwise flawless cheek skin. Her eyes were rabid with anger, and fear. “We have to get out of here. They've made too much of a mess. They deserve what will happen to them when the cops and the FBI get here. They'll be blamed for everything and we'll be gone.“

Philomena might have the only wipers left which still worked. Except for the one Myth had and the one he had in his pocket, which seemed to grow larger in its confined space. Alexander stirred. Winston was now fully awake, wide-eyed and goggling. The girls seemed not to have noticed him yet.

“Command will be unhappy,“ Philomena said to Phaedra, as if they were the only people present. “They want him. Clean.

That's odd. Who is this Command they keep referring to? And why would they be concerned about me? He went back to the things their father had said earlier. The Twins have been trying to get me for some time, maybe the whole time I've been searching for them! Certainly since Staten Island. They could have killed me then, but didn't. We sprung their trap, sprung it too hard and unexpectedly caused it all to go to chaos.

“as clean as possible?” What does that mean? Is there some cumulative effect caused by repeated wiping? Myth suspected as much. His mind wanted to race, connect more dots, but Philomena interrupted him.

“Oh well. Command will just have to deal, besides, we got them three for one.“ She's going to use the wiper on me. Just then Taylor knew something else: they had wiped his friends already. He snarled and hoped his timing was right as he lurched forward and down, towards Phaedra's knees. She shouted and tilted forward, then went rigid. Seconds later Philomena shouted. Phaedra had fallen to the floor, halfway atop Taylor, again. He hadn't intended it but it seemed he had thrown Phaedra in the path of the wiper Philomena had tried to use on him. Whatever was it-was she intended to do to-him had hit Phaedra instead, if her quivering atop him was any indication.

Taylor squirmed and got from under Phaedra just in time to see Philomena wave the wiper at him. He dodged behind the first thing he could, Lou and Winston. Winston's sagging shape went rigid, slumped again. Taylor swore, cursing silently.

“You can't win, pleb, don't you know that?“ Philomena snarled. Taylor darted around the small room, trying to keep himself moving, make himself a harder target for her. He knew the wiper needed a period of two seconds or so to be effective, remembered from Myth's random lecturing. As long as she could not get a bead on him for that long, he might be safe. But he couldn't dodge forever, not in the small room. He needed to get out. Draw Philomena out after him, if he had any hope of beating her. Getting his friends out. There was no longer any question of leaving, could he manage it. They had done enough damage. The Behrstable Twins would have trouble getting it all back. Suddenly, TwinStar made a perverse, ham-handed sense. How vain! They have to name things after themselves, leave clues. So smart and so stupid. Yet still it felt like a hard slap between the eyes, the whole time they had been right under the nose of the Society, right under his nose. All that stuff on Philomena's computer. I should have known! It was her all along. Everything they had been searching for had been walking the halls of Willow Prep, if they, if he, had only been able to see. Taylor and the others had done enough damage the Twins were retreating. Leaving the TransClarion Building behind. Maybe they'll end up exposed. Taylor didn't want to imagine what other machinations they possessed. How much wealth and resource. If they could abandon the millions upon millions which likely had been sunk into this building, this operation. The scope of what he faced, what he had unwittingly placed himself up against, was mind-numbing. Precisely at the moment when he needed to focus the most. Taylor's eyes darted towards the exit, a few seconds before he dashed in that direction.

Just as he was out the door, a pair of guards appeared. Taylor ducked under their arms. One of them went rigid, fell to the ground. Philomena must be right behind me. He didn't stop or turn around to look, just ran back towards the stairs which had led him up in to the roof in the first place. More than one set of footsteps followed. Philomena and the other guard were close behind. That complicated what he needed to do, but it didn't make impossible. Taylor wasn't sure he would ever believe anything impossible again. Not after what he had seen at TransClarion. Not after what he had done.

“Get him!“ shouted Philomena, from behind. Just the warning Taylor needed. He shifted to the right, skidding as he did so. Falling on his side, not hard, but enough to feel immediate pain, Taylor gasped. He saw the guard barrel past, where seconds before Taylor had been, finding nothing but air. The guard crashed into the closed door which led to the stairwell. The door swung easily inward against the man's weight, taking the guard with it. Taylor heard grunts of air being expelled loudly from the man's lungs, not really cries of pain. Whatever had been done to these guards precluded most pain somehow. They felt some pain, but didn't seem to acknowledge it, maybe didn't care about feeling it. Though they had to deal with the consequences still, bleeding to death was still bleeding to death whether you ignored the blood or not.

“You fucking idiot!“ Philomena screamed. She was on top of Taylor, but he hadn't wasted his one chance. He had his wiper out of his pocket now, his finger on the activation button. He wasn't sure what was going to happen, after all he had not yet used one of the devices. It had a lot of options from what he remembered of Myth's lectures and the docs he had skimmed. He hoped it had a default, that it would be enough to stop Philomena. He turned, aimed, and pushed the button.

It seemed the device wasn't default set to wipe, but rather to inflict some kind of stun. Philomena went rigid, fell hard to the concrete ground of the roof area. Taylor got slowly to his feet, breathing hard, panting with exhaustion, fear, and sudden exultation. I beat her! His foot reared back to kick at her, to inflict pain on her. More of the pain she deserved for everything she had put him, his family, his friends through. But his foot stopped short, mere inches from the comatose Philomena's chest. Her chest rose as she took breaths, her lungs pushing air in and out. The very idea of breathing suddenly seemed silly to Taylor. So fragile. He struggled to reconcile the simple human act, breathing, with the all to human evil Philomena now represented for him.

I could end it, her, easily now. Surely the guard back there had a gun in blazer. It would be so quick, so easy.

His foot hovered in mid-air, quivered with potential, with choice. His head tilted back and his eyes scanned the pre-dawn sky above Manhattan. The stars wheeling overhead were rapidly giving way to the coming Sun. I won't become her. I won't. Slowly, Taylor brought his foot down. Tentatively, but more firmly with each step, he made his way over towards the comatose guard lying on the pavement of the roof deck. A loud sound jerked his head around though, brought his attention back to the doorway leading to the stairwell.

Two men were climbing out of the doorway, the sound of the building's alarms followed them. Taylor had to imagine the whole place would be like a kicked anthill now, with guards and personnel and everything else stirred up, running about. Guards would swarm this area any moment. But these two weren't guards. One was very tall, lean, silver-haired, older; the other shorter with curly hair and wire-rimmed gold glasses. John Behrstable and Mayor Goldberg. Neither looked afraid, or happy, or worried, or much of anything, not even startled. They were all focus. Single-minded.

Behrstable nearly tripped over the prone form of his daughter. When his eyes caught her face, he stopped cold, a wide-eyed rage battling for control on his features. His face twitched, its blank emotion still held firm but it wavered, the man's eyes blinked rapidly, as though tears were fighting to break through. Whole body shakes quivered through Behrstable. Mayor Goldberg just stood there, staring, watching, but seeing nothing, disinterested. Behrstable's hand stretched out towards his unconscious daughter; slowly, haltingly. The hand seeming to fight itself. The man's face shattered its emotionless void. Whatever had held him back burst and he was on his knees seconds later his face crumbling in pain, arms cradling Philomena. He might have even been crying. Clearly he had not yet seen realized she was breathing. He thinks she dead.

“Phil...Philomena!“ Behrstable cried out, gently shaking Philomena. He stopped. His anguished face changed and he noticed she was just knocked out. “What have you done, Phil?“ He moaned. “Christ what have you done?“ His question was quiet, desperate and pleading. As he cradled her, anger in his voice was plainly at war with wrenching pain. Finally, the distraught man looked up and saw Taylor. His eyes narrowed, hardened. The Mayor just stood there, blinking, robotic.

“What did you do to her, you piece of white trash?“ Behrstable shouted. “Where is Phaedra? So help me if you've hurt them, I will see you dead kid, you and your entire family and everyone you've every known!“ He looked like he believed his own threat. Behrstable pulled his child to his chest, looked down tenderly at her. When he raised his eyes they went back to Taylor. Taylor stood, stunned; his hand holding the wiper twitching, in case Behrstable made any sudden move. It was odd for Taylor to see a grown man behave this way, and especially this grown man. How can he love his daughter, even now? Taylor knew what the horrible girl had done to the man. How do you love someone so foul? It amazed Taylor someone could willfully overlook such things about a person. About a loved one no less. Taylor looked at Behrstable, sure his face betrayed his incredulity at Behrstable's affection. He wasn't trying to hide it. Who knew how long Philomena had been controlling the man? What things she had made him do?

She might have even implanted him, though that seemed unlikely judging by the way Behrstable acted now. The Mayor seemed different. Taylor assumed Goldberg was implanted. Perhaps it's something about being a parent. Taylor loved his parents, if in a compulsory, loose manner. They were a huge part of his world, but he would never be blind to the betrayals Philomena had done to her father. He could never love them if they were like Philomena. Something pulled Taylor out of such thoughts: the sight of the wiper Philomena had been holding lying a foot away from her. Where it had clattered, apparently, when she had fallen, stunned.

Taylor moved quickly, hoping to act before Behrstable noticed it. He smashed the wiper with both feet and kicked the guts across the pavement of the roof deck. Taylor looked towards the small room where Lou and Winston were tied up and saw the guard Philomena had stunned, coming back around. He knew he had to move. With one last look to make sure Behrstable did not follow, the man was still kneeling - wrapped up in his daughter, Taylor moved. Behrstable did look up, shouted, “Where is Phaedra, damn you, Zachary! Where is my daughter!“ But Taylor moved away too fast, he had no trouble forcing himself to be unmoved by Behrstable's pain. I hope she's dead somewhere.

He skirted around the twitching guard, still lying face down, but trying to push himself up. Taylor kicked the man's arms from underneath him. Inside the room, Taylor was met with another shock: Lou and Winston were no longer tied to chairs. Lou was groggily shaking her head between her hands as she leaned over, swaying, making coughing noises. Winston was on the ground, back against the wall, but he was awake, blinking, a small smile on his face. Alexander knelt in front of him. She had turned at the sound of Taylor 's approach. Her hand was pulled back as though she had been in mid-swing, about to slap Winston. When she saw it was only Taylor she turned back to the boy on the floor and dropped her arm in relief. The smile at the corners of his mouth widened into a devilish grin which quickly became predatory. Winston's hand lowered, reached out to grab at Alexander's shoulder, which was bare, thanks to a large rip in her button-down. Winston's hand came down over the woman's sport's bra strap. His fox-like smile touched his eyes and they twinkled. Winston leaned in lightning quick and without a word pulled Alexander into a kiss.

Taylor gaped. The kiss lasted only moments before Alexander shoved Winston away, hard against the wall and drew back. She stood up quickly. Her face was a mingling of flushed confusion and stunned consternation as she stormed out of the room. Winston's face was aglow, radiant. The boy smiled wider; a huge, self-congratulatory smile aimed so Taylor could see it. His chin lifted and his lips pursed outward as his eyebrows shot upward dramatically. It was a symbol between guys of unclouded success, something Winston had shown Taylor before, apparently originating in prison, and replayed as a meme. Winston's head sagged back into the wall as though he were suddenly drained of everything, and happy about it.

“Um, Winston, we need to go. Now.“ Taylor said. Lou was holding in laughter, despite the dire nature of their straits. It was one the oddest moment of Taylor's life so far, but not unwelcome. It was almost as strange seeing Lou about to laugh as knowing what Winston had just done, or that they situation had happened at the moment it had.

“If you guys are done being children?“ Alexander said, clearing her throat and coming back from a quick jaunt outside the room. “There are Units headed this way and a helicopter coming for Behrstable and his cronies. If we're going to get out of here, now is the time. “ There wasn't too much urgency to her voice, she sounded almost casual. Taylor felt for a instant too tired to keep going, too worn out at what he had just endured. But he snapped out of it and was soon moving just behind Alexander. One of his arms helped to prop a still sagging Winston up between himself and Lou.

“Glad to see you again there, old man.“ Winston mumbled through his grin. “Did you see that kiss?”

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