Ben lifted a hand to pull the plastic hood of his rain jacket farther forward. Rain dripped an incessant, offbeat cadence from the dark gray sky onto the corrugated steel of the nearby shanties and the chain link fence that had been strung horizontally across the gap between buildings. Rice leaned over the gap, Hexsuit pneumatics hissing, and looked down at the drop into the water fifty feet below the rickety bridge.
“That’s not going to hold my Hexsuit,” she said, her voice grim. She stepped back and swore, then leaned over and looked across the gap at the building, a dilapidated, neon sign-plastered mid-rise with just the original top few floors above water level. A mess of structures had been built on the roof, piled one on top of the other like a half-played Jenga game. Black windows stared through glowing lights, and moss grew on the rotting wood and gray adobo façade. The rickety chain link fence connected the Third Avenue Bridge to a darkened hole in the building’s side.
“You’re sure it’s in there?” Rice asked, turning to Zee.
Zee nodded inside the hood of her rain coat. She looked strange in a dark gray jumpsuit and boots instead of her usual business attire. “GPS says this is it, and witness statements corroborate,” she said.
“But they couldn’t tell us the building doesn’t have Hex accessibility?” Rice said.
“They said it did,” Zee said. “I think they meant that.” She nodded at the chain link bridge.
“Can you jump the gap, Rice?” Ben asked. He fidgeted and ran a hand over his eyebrow, picking at a scab. The Hexsuit had begun to attract an audience, a handful of observers that would withstand the rain for a front row seat to even a hint of violence. Their curiosity put goosebumps on the back of his neck.
Rice shook her head, the Hexsuit barely twitching. “I’m not risking Freda for one of the governor’s stupid toys.”
“We need to go,” said Zee, glancing at her built-in tab. “The drone’s battery will run out soon and then its resistance systems won’t be able to protect it from the elements.”
“Shit,” said Ben. He paused only a moment longer. “Rice head back to the hangar to secure the Hexsuit. I’ll head in and try to locate the drone—”
“You can’t go in without backup—”
“Zee will back me up,” Ben said. He glanced at Zee. “Do you have a gun?”
Zee blinked. “Yes, but—”
Ben nodded and turned to Rice. “Once you’ve dropped off the Hexsuit, follow us.”
“I don’t like this, Ben,” Rice said. “You’re supposed to be—”
“I’m fine. Everything’s fine,” he said. “Let’s go.” He moved toward the chain link bridge and tested it with his weight. It creaked when he placed one foot on it, but it held. He began edging across, arms out for balance. “Seems to be stable,” he called without taking his eyes off the chain link surface. “But wait until I’m all the way across before—”
“Oh,” said Zee. He looked back over his shoulder to find her right behind him, arms out for balance. “Oops,” she said.
Ben grimaced, but turned to focus on the bridge. “Keep going,” he said. The bridge turned out to be stronger than it looked, but it still creaked and jingled ominously as they moved across it. They reached the other side after a few breathless moments.
Ben looked back. Rice had gone, and with her departure the crowd had dispersed, disappointed that the Hexer hadn’t done anything interesting. Zee had drawn a handgun, a small semi-automatic.
She cleared her throat and said, “I don’t typically do this kind of work.”
“Know how to fire that gun?” Ben asked.
“There have been a few occasions that required it,” said Zee.
Ben scratched his eyebrow. “Really? When wa—”
“We’re running out of time,” Zee said.
Clapping his mouth shut, Ben turned to the building. He stepped towards the dark hole that served as the entrance. He paused at the darkness and Zee shone the light of her built-in tab, pointing it away from her face. It brightened to illuminate the space just inside the building. Though intact, the floor looked half-rotted, and the walls dripped with slime and algae. Clear footprints on the moldy floor indicated someone had been there recently. Most buildings in Rust served as shelter no matter how dilapidated they were.
“If there’s anyone in here, they’ll be on the lower floors,” he said. “We should avoid them.”
“The drone’s signal is stronger downward,” said Zee. “We’ll have to look for it on the lower floors. We have the governor’s charter, so no one will bother us.”
Ben muttered something about wishful thinking and shifted to step forward, but Zee placed a restraining hand on his shoulder. “I’ll go first and test the floor,” she said. Ben opened his mouth to argue, but Zee glared at him. “I should have gone first to test the bridge,” she said.
“Should have?” Ben snapped.
“Are we going to do this now?” she asked. “We are running out of time.” She watched the battle on his face. Zee nodded as he swallowed back his arguments.
Pointing the tab embedded in her arm forward, Zee held her gun up and swung it into the illuminated space. She cleared the room visually before entering. Beyond the short landing, a flight of stairs led up and down. Zee moved towards the first step.
She heard the crack of wood and paused. Shifting her weight, Zee lifted her foot to step back. The floor disintegrated beneath her feet. Her stomach swooped into her throat, and she forgot to scream. She released the gun. Hands flailed for something, anything. The floor flew up, splinters and darkness tumbled her around. A wood spar struck her head and darkness swallowed her vision in a red flash of pain.
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