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Jess followed Mer, smiling at herself. She had wanted to be found. She knew Tom was around and he would have surveillance. If Mer had been Bill’s people, she would have enjoyed the fight. She may have left her agent role, but her last three years were far from a luxurious vacation.

She followed Mer into a parlor that lead them to a patio connecting various buildings surrounded by broken garden beds and overgrowth weeds. Jess’s heart sped up when Mer pulled the emergency ladder of a building and climbed up. Among all the things she missed from her past, confronting her fear of heights wasn’t one of them, and her shaking and sweaty hands agreed with it.

“Hurry up,” Mer yelled from several floors above. “We are too exposed here. You are going to give us away.”

Jess rolled her eyes. She wanted to yell that her shouting wasn’t keeping them hidden either, but her all her attention was in putting one step after the next one while breathing.

After what felt like forever, Jess finally reached the last step, where Mer stood near the edge. That woman would definitely push her down if it wasn’t for Tom.

“Get in shape,” she said, walking through an office door.Jess’s eyes betrayed her, and looked down, which revealed the considerable height of the tenth floor. Once before, Tom explained to her that the actual fear of heights was the inexplicable call of falling. In that moment, that call made Jess to lose her breath, and it seemed to stop her heartbeat.

She forced herself to turn away and instead counted backwards, not focusing on the ground, too far below, or if anyone was watching her. Her hands covered her abdomen as if that would help her control her breathing. After a few seconds, Jess took a step towards the door, resisting the urge to kiss the floor or rush towards the opposite wall.

“We don’t have too much info about the campus,” the familiar high pitch of Heli-3’s tone reached her when she stepped inside.

She walked towards the voice and came across a front desk with a panel that provided a view of a meeting room with a large table in the middle and chairs piled against the walls. A long window let the light in and allowed a perfect view of Main City.

Jess walked inside and recognized the monitors and lights from the devices that Heli-3 used to track things in Chaos. A set of blueprints rested on the table, and a bunch of explosives and mechanism covered the rest of the surface.

She walked faster but stopped when she recognized Frank sitting by the table, resting his head on his hands. Tom stood on the other side with his back to her.

“Are you certain this is the best position?” Tom said to Heli.

Mer sat on a chair and started spinning, but at every turn she kept her eyes on Jess.

Heli pushed his hair back and when he saw Jess, his weird smiled showed up. “About fifty-fifty, but she may know better.” He moved his head towards her and Tom turned immediately.

A similar feeling from the climb rushed to Jess when he turned and, for a second, he looked the same way he did when she used to walk into his grandfather’s workshop. All too soon, his expression hardened and somehow the sky behind him seemed darker.

Frank sat up and with a shy smiled waved at her.

“Mer?” Tom said. “Care to explain.”

Mer stopped spinning and leaned forward. “I found her lurking around on the street, boss.”

“Alone?” he said, shaking his head. “Not smart.”

Jess bit her lip and sighed. “I talked to—”

“Not now,” he said and turned his attention to the blueprint and Heli. “Fifty-fifty isn’t good enough. If we are going to blow this up, we don’t want to risk it.”

“Don’t you think she can help?” Heli said, pointing at Jess.

“She didn’t before,” Tom said. “And that was a better plan. She had nothing to say on this one.”

Jess walked closer to the table and when no one stopped her, she leaned closer to see the blueprints.

The paper illustrated the Agency campus in lines and circles, showing a rough outline of the place. She recognized the main buildings and the labs, along with the dormitories and the library. However, they didn’t have the interior blueprints, and all buildings lacked of labels. In the middle of some structures, Jess noticed small red chips, and along the gardens a few blue ones.

She pointed at them, and Heli’s smiled widened. “Those are our blowing points and the running line.”

“Your are really blowing it?” Jess looked back at the table and then at Tom. “You can’t be serious. Why would you blow it up?”

Tom crossed his arms and kept his eyes on the blueprints.

“This is madness, Tom!” Jess touched his arm, forcing him to look at her. “People live here. They will die!”

“And you think I don’t know that?” Tom’s tone sounded just like the one he used when he kicked her out of his grandfather’s funeral. “I went to you first, and you didn’t want to help or even be here. You are free to go. I don’t need your help anymore. I have a new plan.”

Although Jess’s knees weakened and her eyes prickled, she didn’t move back and attempted to sound calm. “I’m sorry I didn’t jump in when you sort of explain your crazy mission, but I’m here now. I talked to Marshall, and I’ll find what he wants. You don’t have to hurt anyone.”

Tom pushed his hair back but never answer.

His eyes opened wide before she heard a buzzing sound approaching them. The next second, he covered her with in his arms and tried to push her down, but she never hit the floor.

A flashing light illuminated the room, followed by a loud explosion. Jess’s ears popped at the same time she got propelled out of Tom’s arms and smashed into the wall behind her. Her lungs shrank with the impact, but it was the heat and smoke that prevented her from breathing.

Pieces of the ceiling fell around, and one of them hit her leg. The skin below her knee got pulled to the side and a stabbing pain ran up along her nerves to her spine while a warm liquid slid her way down her leg. She tried to look at it, but the smoke was now blocking everything, and she couldn’t hear a thing above the buzzing in her ears.

She crawled along the wall, trying to catch her breath. A brief prayer escape her mouth when she stood up, and her leg didn’t send her right back on the ground.

“Tom!” she tried yelling, but she couldn’t be sure if her ears weren’t working or if the surrounding noise was too loud.

“Tom!” she yelled again, this time taking a few steps forward.

Her foot got stock, and she tripped down.

“Jess—” said Frank almost inaudibly. “Jess what—”

“Dear Maker,” Jess said, failing to contain her tears.

Frank was lying on the ground. Blood soaked his shirt and had a large cut on his head.

“Stay still,” she moved her hands along his abdomen, trying to find the wound. “Tell me where—”

He groaned the second she touched his side, almost at his heart level. She pulled his shirt up and a bleeding cut crossed from his cage rib to his belly button. Jess pulled down the shirt and looked around. She needed to find something to stop the bleeding.

“Here,” Tom said, kneeling at her side while handing her a piece of fabric.

She took it, but didn’t move, trying to find anything broken on him.

“I’m fine,” he said, standing up. “I need to find Coba and Heli. Stay here with him… please.”

He hadn’t taken two steps when another explosion echoed in the room. She did her best to protect Frank and waited for stuff to collapse on her back. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, Tom’s arms covered her and the moment things stopped hitting the floor, he pulled her up and nuzzled his hands on her face.

“Are you all right?”

Jess nodded, but didn’t have time to ask about him.

“I found them,” Mer yelled, pushing things while she walked towards them.

Tom let Jess go and touched Frank’s shoulder. “How about we get the photons out of here?”

Frank tried to answer, but his voice got cut off, so he only smiled.

“Coba! Help me here.” Tom yelled.

Jess recognized the big guy when he came into her view. He had been in the mansion where they rescued Arlett. He figured who was Tom’s father. 

“I told you it was better for you to stay pouring drinks,” Tom said as he slid his arm underneath Frank’s shoulders and, with Coba’s help, they pulled him up.

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Frank groaned and frowned, but didn’t pass out or scream. It would have been a good sign if Jess hadn’t noticed how his shirt now dripped blood down his pants. A detail that didn’t escape Tom’s eyes.

“Mer,” he said, taking a gun from his carrier and handed it to Jess. “You and Jess go ahead. Heli, you are on the back. Shot to anything that moves,” he said to Heli and turned back to Mer. “We need to get down and far away. Marshall won’t be able to reach us up here.” Then he looked at Jess and she wasn’t sure she just imagined it, or he lowered his tone when he talked to her. “We need a safe place where we can reach out for help. Air help.”

At her side, Mer charged a gunshot and attached a smaller gun to her belt. Jess just hoped her hand didn’t shake too much when she grabbed Tom’s gun, and not trusting her voice, she nodded. It was the first time she witnessed that side of Tom, and although she never doubted his leadership skills, his confident and cold expression scared her. Most likely because it was her fault he had become that person.

“I don’t think we can bring him down on the ladder,” Mer said.

“We are taking the main stairs,” Tom said. “The chaos below will be enough to cover us. No need to hide, anymore.”

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