Autumn, Part Six
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
The halls rang with the slap of Mars' boots, sharp and sudden against linoleum. In his feverish, mortal mind, he considered the Labyrinth of Minos, imagining Theseus' pursuit of the deadly creature at its core; and considered Long, coiled and waiting in the center of his office complex.
Long would have an emergency exit. A way out which only he knew of, but he'd never reveal it to the others unless all hope had been lost. He was hiding, still; kept silent within the lair he had built with the money and labor of Solstice.
Where was the justice, wondered Mars, that let such greed overrun his home, and sent him overseas when he should have been needed here? Why had he woken so late, and Long so early, realizing their essential natures? Had someone awoken Long, as he was awoken?
He glanced up toward the hemispherical mirror in the corner, saw nobody lying in wait. It was two more halls from where he stood, the end of the line, and as he stopped to watch he heard the sounds of pursuit on its way. The cries of the celebration were long past, but the swift and regular tread behind him...two, maybe three. Police, certainly.
Mars didn't want to shoot them. He was, in a way, on their side. Didn't Long hold too much power here, wasn't he corrupt to the core? Mars would bring Solstice the justice he had been denied, and then would vanish. He would leave the place forever and escape into the wider world. If he shot a police officer, vanishing would become all but impossible. The call and hunt would be too great to escape, even for a god.
He took to his heels. There was no more time for the short stops, no more time for reflection. He raced around the corner, brought the rifle to his shoulder, turned the second corner and saw the door to Long's offices, a window stretching along its length.
He fired, and saw the spider web pattern form against the bulletproof glass. A muffled scream came from within.
"Son of a..."
He fired again out of frustration, into the door near the lock, to even less effect. The sounds of police pursuit grew louder, and he turned to the left, raced around the corner, and then checked the door to the next office. It opened and he ducked within, pulling the door mostly closed behind him.
"Security door. Idiot," he muttered, back to the wall. "They showed up too soon."
Sheriff MacIntyre turned to the office door and shouted, "Mayor! Long, you in there?"
"Stephanie!" The voice was heavily muffled by the strength of the door and thickness of the walls. "The maniac shot the door!"
"I see that!" She turned to the officer beside her. "Watch both sides. Radio our position. This is a bad spot." Turning back to the wall, she shouted, "Where is he?"
A moment of silence, then, "Down the hall! Security says he's holed up in Streets and Sanitation."
Her voice rose with anger. "Which one is that?"
"Second to the left! Left corner, second door!"
Turning to the officer, she nodded, holding out one hand for the radio. "This is Mac. Shooter's in building three, holed up. No way out. Hostages coming with us." She handed the radio back, then rapped on the window.
Inside, Mayor Long stood to unload his gun, turning casually now to the cabinet in the corner. "Corbin, open the door. Miss Soon, Mr. Schilling, we'll be headed out in a second. Thank you for keeping your heads."
"He's just around the corner," said Schilling dubiously.
"And staying there," came the voice from the speakerphone. "Don't worry. I've got him on camera and I've got the PA ready to go. If he moves, I'll tell you."
"Thank you, Walter." Long locked the cabinet, smoothed the front of his jacket, and gave a soft smile. "Miss Soon, ladies first."
She stepped out quickly to a smile from the Sheriff, who motioned the four to move quickly to the end of the corridor. "Get them out," she told the officer, "I've got this area covered."
"We're on security tape, Stephanie," warned Corbin. "If you're thinking what I think..."
"Thanks." Her hand went to her coppery hair, wiped away the sweat. "I wasn't."
She watched them leave and stayed pressed to the wall, watching the mirror which concealed the security camera.
Inside, Mars shook his head against the hammering in his chest. The police had shown up too soon. With even an extra three minutes, he could have made it work.
Reaching into his jacket pocket, he withdrew the small explosive. There was enough to take a security door and anyone standing behind it. More than enough to take out anyone who came for him, if he wanted to go that way.
He'd seen it. Twice, overseas, seen the cloud of smoke erupt from where a man once stood, saw the grey mists erase everything that the man had been, had seen, had thought. It erased the unfairness of the world and left behind...nothing.
There was nothing for it. He'd gambled, and lost, and if he hated himself for it he gave no sign. Instead, the God of War carefully placed the explosive on the floor, placed his rifle beside it, and opened the door.
"I'm unarmed!" He shouted. "I'm unarmed. I'm coming out."
The PA system overhead crackled to life. "He's put down his rifle. He's out of the door, Sheriff."
She hissed through gritting teeth. "Great." Then raising her voice, she called, "All right, Monroe! Stay put! Understand?"
"Hands on the wall. Legs spread. Understand?"
"I understand." He turned, taking up the position he'd seen so many subjected to. She came around the corner, pistol trained on him.
"I know who you are," she said quietly. "Understand that?"
A moment passed, then he began to laugh. "Is there anyone in town who doesn't know?"
She didn't answer, patting him down carefully with one hand while keeping the pistol trained at the back of his neck. "Just letting you know. Good to be careful. It's murder."
"All right, stay put. Anything else I should know about?"
He considered a moment. "There's a bomb, disarmed, in the office I hid in. It's got my prints all over it, so you might as well know."
"Good. That would've cost you."
"Happens," she said slowly, listening to the approaching backup. "You learn, you go south a while, you come back. Most don't get so far as you."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Surprised me," she admitted as she took out the handcuffs. "Won't happen again."
"No longer an asset, then?" Corbin's feet were propped upon the coffee table, a mug of strong coffee in his hands. The speakerphone blinked at his side with unheard messages, surely friends wanting to know he was all right after the events of last night.
"I was wrong," said Long. "I underestimated his capacity."
"Mmm. First time I've heard you say those words, I think."
"I rarely have cause to." The Mayor's voice was tired and flat, betraying little. "But no. We'll not be interfering with the trial or the outcome. He's going to be away for a long, long time; and Venus isn't likely to return."
Corbin smiled, thinking, You've been wrong before; but didn't voice the opinion. "I'm sorry about Jorge, Nathaniel. I liked him."
"Thank you, Corbin." A few moments passed. "You know, he blocked him. I saw the security footage. He was in his sixties, and he stood up and tried to block the man from coming in. It was..."
"It was ridiculous." He spat the words. "He ran a restaurant. I don't know that he'd been in a fight since he was a teenager, Corbin. He overcame that compulsion and he...I don't know."
Corbin remained silent, reaching for a hard candy and toying with the wrapper. "Yeah, he did. Up until the end. You can't really change it, boss. You can fight it, you can bend it, you can twist it all around. But you can't actually change our nature, you or anyone else. There's no point in trying."
"And what should I think of that advice, coming from a trickster?"
He shrugged and smiled. "Dunno. It's not in my nature to tell you. But I'm telling the truth when I tell you I'm sorry."
Silence again, then: "Take the week off, Corbin. Fly somewhere, see something. I don't know. I won't need you this week and I don't see anyone trying anything so spectacular for a long time to come."
"I don't mind hearing that. Call it a sabbatical, then. I'll keep the phone with me."
"Ever and always. Have a good week, boss."
Corbin pressed the button to end the call and looked out the window, casting his eyes toward the park. A walk, he thought, to start things off. A short rest, which was a long time coming.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2010