Delusions of Grandeur • R.D. Rhyne

Short Story

The Grandfather

Barnebus Trumble rubbed a spot on his left arm. A reminder of his morning injection. Reminder of this catastrophic mission.

“Sir, you have a call—”

Trumble dismissed his aide with an inconsiderate gesture. He tapped the intercom and barked toward the integrated speaker.

“Stamford, report.”

He hated waiting.

We tracked Hammersmith heading downtown, towards—

“A drug den.”

Trumble stacked the pages of Gertrude’s dossier, then slammed the folder back onto his desk.

“... dammit!”

After a moment, Stamford confirmed.

Yes sir. A drug den, run by—

“Yes, I know. How long before you intercept?”

30 minutes, depending on resistance.


Well yes, sir. There’s no police downtown, and we’ll be cut off from our sup—

Trumble grimaced.

“It’s a bunch of skinnies with pop guns!”

Uh, yes… sir.

“We can’t lose them again.”

Trumble waited as Stamford considered his next question.

What about… um, Hammersmith… sir?

“What about him? He betrayed us.”

Yes… sir. But how do we… um, know that for certain?

Trumble started counting on his fingers.

“He didn’t report his location. He lied to you, and went off grid. What more do we need?”

Another pause from Stamford.

Of course, sir. I understand.

“Do you, Stamford? Do you understand everything that is at stake?”

Yes sir. Of course, sir. It’s just…

Stamford was an instinctive agent. Too instinctive.

“Speak your mind.”

Um… Sir, what don’t I know?

Trumble huffed, then leaned back. He stared towards the horizon, chair creaking as he rocked back and forth.

He needed results. Now.

“Your most important task is to retrieve Michols… alive. Do that, and your questions will be answered in time.”

Understood, sir.

Trumble muted the line after his secretary knocked on the open door.

“Uh, sir. They’re here…”

The secretary pointed towards his arm.

Trumble held up a single finger, then waved him back out of the room. Once clear, the old man unmuted.

“Very well. You have your orders.”

What if Hammersmith gets in the way?

Trumble again rubbed the spot on his arm.

“Eliminate him.”

“Who’s Thad Michols?”

Gertrude didn’t hear Thad’s question at first. She was still attempting to process what Hammersmith said. Kinsley kept her pistol trained on the cloaked man.

“He’s lying, Trudy. Let’s dump his body and get out of here… before his friends show up.”

Todd’s stare remained fixed on Gertrude.

“You know what I’m saying is true. I—”

Kinsley interrupted.

Shut up!

She pleaded with Gertrude.

“… we really need to go.”

Thad’s anxiety was about to boil over.

“Will someone tell me what the hell is going on?

Everything started to spin for Gertrude. She held her fingers against her temples and bent over. Breathe in, breathe out. Memories of the questionnaire and those desperate first years outside of the compound flooded in. If she could just get a moment to piece everything together…

“Everyone stop.”

Realization struck. She walked over to Thad, and rolled up the sleeve on his right arm. The fabric was soft. It wasn’t synthetic like the other’s. Thad wasn’t a flyer, he was…

Gertrude looked back towards Todd, who gave her a knowing smile.

“You are telling the truth.”

He nodded. She looked back towards Thad.

“… He is Thad Michols?… If you’re lying… well, Kinsley isn’t. She’ll shoot you the moment your story doesn’t add up… and I won’t stop her.”

Thad reached his breaking point.


Everything froze for a moment, as Thad’s words lingered in the air. Gertrude still faced Hammersmith. She closed her eyes, then whispered back to Kinsley.

“I’ll take this one.”

Kinsley swore under her breath. She doesn’t believe Todd. Instead of further protest, she lowered her pistol and nudged Todd towards the compound.

“Fine. I’ve got some more questions for the deacon here.”

Hammersmith didn’t resist.

He knows this is gonna be awkward.

After Todd and Kinsley disappeared into the compound, Gertrude flipped open her communicator, and found a familiar photo. She showed it to Thad, who looked dumbfounded.

“What is this?”

Gertrude chose her next words carefully, still not sure what to believe. She pointed at a small child in the photo, who was seated on the lap of an older man.

“The young girl—that’s my mother… It’s the only photo she had with her father. He was really sick when this was taken, and died shortly after.”

She hesitated.

“… his name was Thad Michols.”

“I don’t understand. He looks kind of like my older brother, but… I don’t have an older brother.”

Gertrude took a deep breath.

“It isn’t your brother—it’s you.”

“How’d he take it?”

Gertrude found Kinsley and Todd together in the main gathering room. Todd was tied to a chair, of course. At least Kinsley’s pistol was holstered.

“About as well as he could. Had to give him a sedative…”

Todd spoke up.

“He needs medical attention. The fever means the gestation period has started. He—”

Kinsley whacked him in the head.

“Who said you could talk right now?”

“Kins, let him speak.”

Gertrude nodded towards Todd. She needed some answers.

“He knows what kills Thad… don’t you?”

Todd nodded.

“Tycho-Mattheson. About to enter Stage 2, if my hunch is correct.”

Kinsley looked incredulous, but Todd continued anyway.

“I saw him die. Analyzed a blood sample to confirm the cause.”

“You saw him die? How does that work?!”

Gertrude put a hand on Kinsley.

“It makes sense, if you think about it. Thad’s not the man in our photos… well, not yet.”

Todd looked towards Kinsley and threw his eyes back towards his bound hands. Her expression replied not a chance, so Gertrude walked over and released him from the chair.

Kinsley didn’t look happy about it, but she didn’t stop her.

“That’s a nifty trick, time travel… how do you do it?”

Todd rubbed the spot on his wrists where they were restrained.

“It’s called the Nero Engine. That’s what lets us travel through the time streams.”

“So you travel through…”

Kinsley bent her fingers in a mocking gesture.

“…time streams …and bring people forward in time?”

Todd nodded.

“We can send people backwards, too. Like your grandfather…”

Gertrude winced when Todd said “grandfather”.

“… we could send him back to his time stream when we grabbed him, as though he never left.”

She started to think back to her questionnaire.

“You work for NeroCorp?”

Todd nodded, reluctantly. Gertrude narrowed her gaze.

Did Todd know who she was when he rode in her taxi?

“That’s how you knew Thad was sick? That he would die?”

“Yes. We knew what you told us… in your questionaire.”

Kinsley eyes went wide, then darted towards Gertrude.

“Wait… You told them? Why?”

Gertrude turned her back toward both of them. She couldn’t hide her embarrassment. About her desperation, and the questionnaire she thought would save her. It was her fault Thad was in danger.

She fought to hold back tears.

“I didn’t think anything came of it. I saved money for years. I wanted to change my life, make it mean something… not end up like trash on the ground.”

She spun around on Todd.

“… but after I submitted that stupid questionnaire, nothing changed. All that money… it was a scam. But now Thad’s here… because of me. He’s sick… because of me!

Gertrude ran from the room.

Kinsley caught up with her in the hallway and pulled her big sister into a huge embrace.

“Oh, Trudy.”

Gertrude sobbed, and Kinsley held her even closer. Those horrible years on the ground, the isolation. Gertrude let it all out.

When she had nothing left, and the tears slowed down, Kinsley whispered in defiant tone.

“You changed everything. Yes, Thad is here because of you.”

Kinsley gestured back towards the room.

“… but this asshole says we can send him back. Maybe we can cure him first. Do you know that that means?”

Kinsley put her hands on each of Gertrude’s shoulders and looked right into her eyes.

“…we can save him.”

Gertrude accepted her sister’s warmth. She was right. Thad still needs our help. She dried her eyes with her sleeve and took a deep breath. As she did, a happy thought brought her back into the present.

I’m not alone.

Gertrude hadn’t realized how much she missed her sister.

“Thanks Kins. I’m sorry I brought you into this. You were always the strong one.”

“Nonsense. You’re stronger than you realize, Trudy. You remind me of Mom… with that big heart of yours.”

Kinsley poked her in the chest. Gertrude smiled and squeezed her sister’s finger. The two sisters looked at each other, determined.

They knew what they had to do.

“So… how are we gonna get Thad home?”

Todd cleared his throat.

He was standing on the other side of Kinsley, apparently eaves-dropping on their conversation.

“That isn’t going to be easy.”

Trumble emerged from his personal lap pool and grabbed the towel from his attendant. He shook his head to loosen water from his ears, then pulled the towel over his face to dry it.

When he lowered the towel, his personal secretary was waiting with a communicator and cigarette case on a metal platter.

“Sir. Another report.”

Trumble lit a cigarette and sharply inhaled.


“No, sir. It’s um… Hammersmith.

Trumble draped the towel around his neck, while gesturing for his attendant to step away.

He activated the communicator.

“Agent Hammersmith.”

Sir. Made contact with Michols, and I’m bringing him in.

Trumble looked back towards his secretary, who took the hint and walked from the room.

“That’s good work. Any problems?”

Minimal, sir. Weathers and her party fled the scene… after I got the drop on them.

“Do you require clean-up?”

A few casualties. Little consequence… Weathers appeared unharmed as she escaped.

“Very good. I’ll send Stamford along with the cleaners.”

Understood, sir. What about Weathers?

“What about her?”

Trumble extinguished the cigarette in a nearby tray. He stared back towards the direction where his secretary fled.

Should I pursue and bring her in too?

“Does she suspects us?”

There was a moment of hesitation in Hammersmith’s response. That was the sign.

No, sir.

Trumble should’ve never shared that dossier with him.

“Good. This is outstanding work, Agent Hammersmith. Bring Michols straight to me.”

Straight to you, sir? Shouldn’t we have medical take a look?

“I’ll alert medical. They’ll be in my office when you arrive.”


After the line went dead, he fingered his communicator, and put it back to his ear.

“Get me Stamford.”

Moments later, the agent responded.


“Hammersmith is on the move… Michols is with him.”

I see his beacon moving east.

“He cannot make it back here. You have to intercept him... secure Michols by any means.”

The line went dead.

“Stamford?... Stamford?!

A clip of static played over the communicator, then the line re-activated.

I don’t understand, sir. You want us to terminate them?

“No, Stamford. Michols must be alive. Understood?”

The reply was not automatic.

I… uh… Yes, sir.

“I know this is difficult, son. Agent Hammersmith has betrayed our faith. You must deal with him accordingly… Remember your duty.”

Yes, sir. I’ll do what my faith requires.

“Dis plan, e wan’ work.”

When Gertrude volunteered to steal calibration files for the Nero Engine, she didn’t realize it meant pushing Franklin into the main entrance of the NeroCorp building.

“Sshh. You’re supposed to be Thad. If any of these guards hear you open your mouth, our rouse is up.”

“No re-ward is wort ‘dis.”

“If we don’t calibrate the engine for Thad’s DNA, we can’t send him back.”

Franklin might appear your average vagrant to a random person on the street, but Gertrude knew better. He was an expert at cracking sophisticated encryption.

Never underestimate a junkie in need of a fix.

The entrance to the central floors were just as Todd described. Gertrude supplied his access code, and no one asked questions. The security docent smiled as they escorted Franklin and Gertrude through the gate.

“Thank you, Agent Hammersmith. You may escort Mr. Michols to Lab 27. Lift is down the hall, to the left. 634th floor.”

Franklin squirmed when they said “634th floor”. Once they were out of earshot, he whispered.

“Wha day caw you?”

“Sshh. Todd said the agents were rarely seen on lower floors. Their work is pretty hush-hush, so they don’t include photos in their security files.”

“We gonna die.”

“Not if you keep your mouth shut… and do what I brought you to do.

As they waited for the lift, Gertrude smirked at the sight of Franklin. She wasn’t used to seeing—or smelling—him this clean.

“You smell nice.”

“Flirtin’ wit me wan ‘elp. I gonna get shot in deez fan-cy treads.”

Once on floor 634, Gertrude searched for a nearby terminal.

“Todd said to look for heavy conduit. Those are the terminals directly connected into the mainline.”

“‘ou told me five times a’ready. I know. O’er dare.”

Franklin spotted what they needed, but it was at the end of a large corridor. There were dozens of wheeled beds lined-up along the walls.

This wasn’t a lab, it was a hospital.

“How many kidnapped people can they keep in here?”

Franklin pinched her and gestured towards the terminal. Gertrude needed to focus, but she was dazzled by the scale of NeoCorp’s operation.

A stern voice brought her back.

“What are you doing on this floor? It’s restricted.”

The voice belonged to a spectacled individual, with sharp creases on their brow, and closely cropped hair. Exactly how Gertrude imagined a proper doctor would dress.

No time to consider if this person knew Todd.

“I’m Agent Hammersmith. Escorting Mr. Michols here back to his bed.”

Franklin lowered his head into his right hand. Gertrude watched nervously as the doctor thumbed their tablet.

“Mr. Michols… ah, here we are. Patient TZZ-34663?”

Gertrude smiled in false recognition.

“That’s the one.”

But the doctor didn’t leave. They continued thumbing their pad and nodding.

“Oh, gosh… I’ve heard about this case, but didn’t know he was on our floor.”

Gertrude saw her opening.

“Nor would you… doctor?”

The lab coat stiffened at the challenge.

“Ah, Sanders. Doctor. Sanders. Sorry… forgot about protocol for these cases.”

Their face flushed with color, and they quickly walked away. After the doctor turned the corner, Gertrude continued to wheel Franklin towards the terminal.

When they arrived, Franklin pulled out his toolkit, and went to work.

It only took a few minutes.

“I in.”

“Okay. Look for the calibration files, and send them to my communicator.”

She read out the prefix code Todd had her memorize. After several minutes of searching, Franklin flinched.

“Problem. Dey too many files.”

“How many?”


Gertrude’s mouth opened as she saw pages of file names race across the terminal. Millions.

All of them could be a story like Thad’s. Her face hardened, and she pursed her lips.

“Delete them.”


“All of them. Get what we need, then purge everything from the system. And the backups too. I want them really gone.”

Franklin swallowed hard.

“Ya, ‘kay… bu day know. Day fine out.”

“We’re not gonna leave anything behind for them to find.”

Gertrude opened her bag, and showed Franklin what was inside. His eyes grew wide.

“We gonna die.”

“He’s on the move. We can catch him after he clears the neighborhood.”

Stamford pointed at the readout on the tablet in front of his driver. This was their best chance to get the drop on Hammersmith. Stamford wondered if his old friend knew they were coming.

He raised his communicator.

“Willis, Talmund. Split up and take opposite approaches down the approaching corridor. We’ll force him into the alley.”

The agent looked in his mirrors to confirm the trailing hover cars peeled off in different directions.

“Victoria, bring us in close.”

The driver paused, and looked towards Stamford.

“Are we really doing this? To one of our own?”

“The old man’s instructions were clear.”

Victoria looked away.

She was an excellent agent. Trained by Hammersmith, like most of the others in Stamford’s detail. Even if Todd didn’t put up a fight, this wasn’t going to be easy.

“I understand. Todd is my friend, too.”

Victoria frowned at the sound of his name. Stamford placed his hand on her shoulder.

“Help me get his car on the ground, and focus on your team. When the time comes, I’ll handle Hammersmith myself.”

Victoria quietly nodded, then pushed the throttle. Stamford watched the vehicle grow larger in the front window, when the agent in the backseat shrieked.


Stamford’s eyes darted just in time to see a small trail of smoke racing towards them. The explosion flipped the car end-over-end.

The sudden change in acceleration lifted them from their seats. Stamford grabbed the door handle so he could glance down the corridor behind them.

“Did you see the shooter?”

The rear agent had already leveled their weapon out the window. They replied to Stamford by emptying an entire clip towards the source.

Victoria managed to counteract the spin, but now they were in a stall. Stamford barked.

“Keep us off the ground.”

Victoria understood before he finished. Everyone recognized the tactical danger: The ground is a killing field.

She redirected their remaining momentum from the fall towards a nearby building. Glass shattered as they sliced into a wrecked mid-level floor. An exposed steel beam slammed the front-right of the car, whipping the vehicle into a lateral spin. The remains of their hovercar shed debris as it slowed to a stop.

Stamford was on his communicator.

“Willis. Talmund. We’re down. Report in.”

Nothing but static.

“Willis! Talm—”

Two rounds whistled over Stamford’s head. A third hit the hull of the car. The backseat agent returned fire, giving Victoria cover to kick her door open, and leap behind a desk that was turned over. Stamford made his way towards the door, when several reports ran through the vehicle.

Victoria yelled back at him, as she returned fire.

“Get down!”

Three shots cut through the rear window killing the other agent. When Victoria finished her magazine, she grabbed Stamford with both arms and pulled him from the wreck.

A bullet pierced his lower abdomen right as she threw him to the ground. His vision blurred, and the proximity to Victoria’s return fire muffled his hearing.

The rest played out as a distant tragedy in slow motion. Victoria took one in the neck. The force of the shot spun her body right on top of Stamford.

He felt her pulse fade, then his vision sparkled black.

Stamford woke as his body struggled for air.

The weight of Victoria’s body had crushed his chest. The agent wiggled onto his side, providing enough relief to refill his lungs. A blurred vision of Hammersmith’s familiar cloak approached.

Stamford tried to speak. He wanted spit venom at his former mentor and friend in his final moments. As he struggled, the vision came into focus.

It wasn’t Todd.

The vision was female. Slender, with an emaciated face.

“Expecting your buddy?”

She pulled Victoria’s corpse from Stamford, then propped him against the remains of their vehicle.

Sitting up made it easier to speak.

“Who are you?”

“Kinsley Weathers. You’ve been chasing my sister... you Stamford?”

Stamford felt a sharp pain as he tried to respond. His lung must be punctured. And the wound in his abdomen was not in a good spot. He looked down and the color of the blood oozing from it confirmed his fear.

Kinsley noticed too.

“Oof, that’s bad. Todd hoped you’d survive our little ambush.”

She sighed, then surveyed the carnage around them.

“… he wanted to keep everyone alive. Shit. I have to hand it to you church boys. You put up a helluva fight.”

Stamford gritted through the pain.

“My… agents?”

Kinsley shook her head. Her eyes were kind.


The sting of his team’s death hit Stamford hard. They were led here. Lambs to the slaughter house. He didn’t know this woman, or understand why they were chasing her sister.

Rage overwhelmed him. What was the point of their loss? How had their faith earned this sacrifice?

Would their deaths matter?

Stamford should’ve trusted his friend. Todd figured it out. This rotten mission. Sent to kill those he should have defended.

That mistake cost Stamford his life.

He closed his eyes, and smiled as much as his broken body would let him.

“If you see Todd again, would you tell him something for me?”

Kinsley cradled his broken face and listened.

All set.

Todd read Gertrude’s message, then pocketed his communicator. He turned to Thad, his former prey, who was standing next to him.

“It’s time.”

Thad looked queasy. The sick man’s eyes darted around the forbidding skyline created by the all-glass elevator.

Todd leaned in.

“You get used to it… eventually. Focus on the horizon.”

“So if this works… I’m cured, and y’all get me home… what happens to Gertrude and Kinsley? Are they going to be okay?”

Todd hesitated. And couldn’t look Thad in the eyes.

“… you don’t know—do you?

Thad grabbed him by the shoulder, so they were facing one another. Todd could only shake his head.

“We have no other choice.”

Thad hardened. He looked back towards the horizon. There weren’t many buildings poking above the clouds on the 978th floor.

“When you were building all of this… did you ever stop to ask yourselves… why?”

“I used to think I knew. NeoCorp wasn’t always like this. Our founder…”

Thad sighed.

“… my mentor wanted to give strength to those who needed help. He believed in the power of an individual.”

“Like Gertrude?”

Todd nodded.

“I thought we were helping her… and well—you. It’s…”

“What changed?”

“Our founder died, and his son took over. I didn’t want to believe things would change. But…”

“But you suspected better? You knew the son?”

“He was a teacher at the school as well. Used to single us out in class. Was intolerant of mistakes. Both men were devious, but I wanted to believe in the father.”

“Believe in what?”

“That he made me a better person.”

They both stared out towards the sun as it fell into a pillow of storm clouds. The slow moving elevator added to the majesty.

“So why didn’t you just… leave?”

“I couldn’t.”

“Couldn’t? Or didn’t want to?”

“They saved me… or so I thought…”

Saved you? Like they saved me?”

Todd hesitated. Touché.

“You wouldn’t understand, I was really young when they took me. NeoCorp is all I’ve known.”

“Sounds like nothing has changed.”

It was always in front of Todd. He just never wanted to see it. His faith was nothing more than manufactured loyalty.

Todd thought back to the day Cornelius visited him in the basement. The day before he was to be executed.

The day I chose to become a killer.

Thad was right. Nothing has changed. Todd still had faith, but it was the faith he always had. Not in NeoCorp, but in individuals. Like Gertrude and Thad. In his fellow agents like Stamford, and Victoria.

His stomach knotted at the thought of their fate. NeoCorp would answer for their abuse. He would make sure of it.

Todd opened the restraints that bound Thad’s hands.

“Don’t need these anymore.”

He handed Thad a pistol, and showed him where to stash it under his shirt.

“I don’t remember this part of the plan.”

“The younger Trumble will need some persuasion. Once the door opens, I’ll lead you in as though you’re still bound. Get behind me when the shooting starts.”

Thad looked alarmed, but Todd put up a reassuring hand.

“We’re getting you home. Safe… and inoculated.”

Thad went to say something else, but thought better of it.

“Thanks for your help, Todd.”

“Call me Simon.”

The former agent extended his hand.

“… that was my name, before NeoCorp changed it.”

The two shook hands, then turned as the elevator approached its floor.

The chime sounded, and the door opened. Barnebus Trumble, along with two armed agents were there to welcome them.

Weapons drawn.

“Welcome back, Mr. Michols. I trust Agent Hammersmith has shown you around our humble facility?”

Trumble wore a devilish grin.

He nodded towards the agents flanking him. They patted down Simon and Thad, removing their weapons and communicators. Then the two meatheads thrust them into lounge chairs opposite Trumble.

“There. Now we can have a polite conversation. I find others are more honest when they have guns pointed at them.”

Trumble nodded again to his agents.

“That will be all. Seal the lobby on the lower floor. No one gets in the elevator up… no interruptions.”

Once confident the elevator was away, Trumble shot Simon in the arm. Pain coursed through the former agent.

The old man tossed him a cloth.

“Cover that wound. I don’t want you to bleed out before your little plan go up in flames.”

Thad protested.

“You’re a monster.”

“Am I? Did I not save you from a slow and painful death? Or did my agent not tell you anything about Tycho-Mattheson? It’s quite gruesome… how your organs slowly disintegrate until you can’t digest food… or remove toxins from your blood.”

Thad made to leap at Trumble from his chair, but the bearded man trained his weapon on him first.

“You can’t die yet.”

Trumble pulled back Thad’s shirt sleeve, and pricked Thad in the arm with a blood sensor.

“…you still have a part to play.”

The old man’s desk flashed to life and displayed a blinking red box with the word “positive” inside of it.

“And I see you’ve contracted T-M, just as we expected. Very good, Mr. Michols. If you hadn’t tried to escape, then Ms. Weathers would’ve never treated you with her cheap medcuff. And you never would’ve gotten sick.”


“Oh yes. I know all about your grand-daughter. Pitiful really. That gutter rat’s destitution was your undoing… and my salvation.”

“I’m that much of a threat to you?”

“A threat? You?

Trumble’s laughter filled his entire office.

“Mr. Michols… if only you knew what you were talking about. I’d try to explain the details, but it’s a little technical for a simple farm boy.”

Trumble fiddled with an extraction tube. Simon’s face darkened as the old man approached Thad.

“What are you doing?”

Trumble slammed the extractor into Thad’s arm.

“Fulfilling Mr. Michol’s purpose.”

That was it! The piece that Simon was missing. All of the missions, all of the sob stories about sick relatives suffering…

From the same symptoms.

“You have Stage 3.”

Trumble grinned.

“And you thought I gave a damn about helping Weathers. Pathetic. She was born a nobody, and will die a nobody.”

The old man removed the extractor, then moved back towards his desk. He rolled up his own sleeve, and placed the tube of Thad’s blood into a syringe.

Thad stared at the needle.

“I don’t understand.”

Simon filled in the details.

“There is a vaccine that treats Tycho-Mattheson in Stage 1. Everyone is inoculated as kids. But for some the vaccine isn’t effective and it oftens advances to Stage 3 before it’s caught. T-M is untreatable once it reaches Stage 3.”

Trumble raised his finger.

“Correction, Agent Hammersmith. There is a treatment.”

Simon clenched his teeth as Trumble continued.

“… you can cure Stage 3 with antibodies from someone in Stage 2. Like our friend here. As you can imagine, Mr. Michols, there aren’t many today with Stage 2 given our available vaccine. It took a lot of time to find you.”

The former agent seethed.

“Your father would be ashamed.”


Trumble spun around, face full of disdain.

“… was a fool. And you defend him, even after everything he did to you. Hmph. He wasted my grandfather’s fortune. Chasing dreams and trinkets. Only to invent an engine that gave him immense power.”

The old man took a sample of his own blood for analysis. He smiled in satisfaction once the result flashed.

“Instead of using that power, he quoted scripture. Walked around like a prophet. Talked about saving the masses.”

He turned back towards Simon.

“But for all his charity, he understood that to accomplish great things you must not shy away from getting your hands dirty. And that is why he amassed his… faithful flock.”

Trumble had a twinkle in his eye. He raised the pistol towards Simon, and went to finger it when Thad interrupted.

“You’re the one who’s really pathetic. Your father wasn’t a saint… he used people, but for a higher purpose. You treat them like they’re expendable.”

“Oh, but they are… as you’ll soon find out. You think me shallow and worthless, but I will endure long after you.”

A notification bell sounded on Simon’s communicator.

Trumble grabbed it from his desk and read the message out loud.

Ready for pickup.

He flashed the communicator towards Simon.

“Poor fool. Turns out all of my loose ends are coming right to me. I have to hand it to you, Agent Hammersmith. This was the worst rescue plan.”

Simon laughed out loud.

Trumble scowled, then smacked Simon across the face with his pistol. The impact opened a gash across Todd’s cheek.

“Something amuses you?”

You amuse me… always the last to catch on.”

Trumble smacked him again, but Simon remained defiant.

“Still have to explain to you the difference between necessary and sufficient causes?”

Trumble face turned to stone.

“What did you say?”

“This wasn’t a rescue plan, you old fool. It was a diversion.”

Before Trumble could respond, a massive explosion rocked the upper floors of the NeoCorp building.

Trumble’s shot ricocheted off the concrete floor next to Simon.

The old man struggled to maintain his balance after a second wave of explosions.

Simon saw his window.

He bull-rushed Trumble and slammed him onto the floor.

The former agent’s left hook met Trumble’s jaw, and the bearded man was out. Simon looked back towards Thad, and pointed towards windows on the far side of the office.

“Shoot through the glass. I’ll look for the controls to Trumble’s engine.”

Thad rushed towards the back windows.

A cool breeze blew into the room as shards of glass flew from the building. Moments later, a hover taxi pulled alongside the opening.

Gertrude stepped into the office, alongside Kinsley.

“I’ve got the antidote.”

The floors below them shook again, as explosions engulfed more floors. Simon grabbed a syringe from Trumble’s desk and tossed it to Gertrude.

“Use that. Inject it into his left arm.”

Gertrude started to roll-up Thad’s sleeve, when he put his hand over hers.


“We can’t. It isn’t safe here…”

“I can’t take the antidote.”


Kinsley was helping Simon flip switches and warm up the Nero Engine. She stopped and walked towards Thad.

“But you’ll die…”

Thad appraised his two granddaughters with a warm smile, then looked towards Simon.

“We don’t know what will happen to you if I take this antidote.”

Gertrude also looked to Simon.

“What’s he talking about?”

The former agent returned a resigned glance. Thad pulled Gertrude’s chin back towards his own.

“You’ve done so much to save me. To protect me and keep me safe. I have to do the same for you.”

Tears filled Gertrude’s eyes.

“I don’t understand. How are we going to be together if you don’t take the antidote.”

“Look at the two of you. All that we have been through this past week. We are together.”

Gertrude shook her head.

“It’s not fair. Your life was taken from you. You never had a choice.”

Thad pulled her close and tight. Gertrude squeezed back and didn’t want to let go. When she finally did, Thad took a deep breath and looked at his family.

“You always have a choice.”

Thad glanced toward Simon.

“… right?”

Simon nodded, and triggered a switch on the desk.

“The engine is calibrated. It’s time.”

Thad extended his hand towards Simon, who shook it with a polite nod.

“Thank you for restoring my faith.”

Before Thad stepped on the pad, he looked back towards his granddaughters one last time.

“You should be a family again. Save each other… like you saved me.”

Gertrude and Kinsley stood side-by-side, wiping tears from their eyes when Simon started the countdown.

“3… 2… 1.”

Kinsley put an arm around her sister and squeezed until Thad disappeared.

When he was gone, Simon let out a deep sigh.

“It is done.”

Then he collapsed.

“C’mon, wake-up. We gotta get out of here!”

Kinsley slapped Simon hard on the face, and the former agent opened his eyes.


He raised his hand to the still open wound on his cheek.

“… did you really slap me?”

“No time for questions, pretty boy. We need to scoot. Trudy, I’ll get him to the taxi while you set the last charge.”

Gertrude acknowledged.

“One more engine to blow.”

Kinsley set her gun on the desk, then threw Simon’s arm over her shoulder. She slowly lifted him to his feet.

Gertrude watched them approach the opening where the taxi hovered. That’s when she heard the click of a pistol safety.

“Stop where you are, Miss Weathers. Both of you.”

Trumble had his weapon pointed directly at Gertrude.

“Drop my agent… or watch your sister die.”

Kinsley glanced towards her pistol on the desk, just out of reach. Her face hardened.

“Your agent? Make a habit of shooting your agents, mister whats-your-name… I’m just gonna call you crap-face. Mister. Crap-face.”

“Charming, Miss Weathers. As much as I’d enjoy getting lectured on morality by a drug dealer, your fireworks display on the lower level has left me short on time.”

Trumble tapped a communicator on his desk.

“So much destruction. And all for not. You see, I have enough money to rebuild it.”

He gestured towards the pad where Thad disappeared earlier.

“… and the means to start over again. I don’t expect your feeble minds to under—”

Gertrude put three shots directly into Trumble’s chest, dropping him to the ground in a heap.

Kinsley rolled her eyes.

“Geez Trudy, it took you long enough. That old geezer was gonna put me to sleep with his monologue.”

“I was trying to be sneaky.”

The building shook again. The sound of twisting metal gave renewed urgency to their situation. Simon groaned as Gertrude wrapped his other arm around her shoulder.

The two sisters gently slid him into the back of the taxi, then Gertrude jumped into the driver’s seat.

An impatient Franklin was seated next to her.

“Still think we’re gonna die?”

Franklin just shook his head.

Once at a safe distance, Gertrude pulled a communicator from her pocket. It was the one Trumble held when she shot him. She passed it back to Simon, who was starting to come around.

“Thought you might want this.”

Simon held it for a moment in his hand.

“Enough good people have died because of this information.”

He threw it out the window, then looked towards Kinsley.

“My agents back near the compound, did they…”

Kinsley shook her head and Simon swallowed.

“… so many good people.”

“Your friend Stamford wanted me to tell you something. Told me told me right before died.”

Simon looked out the window toward the horizon, as Kinsley continued.

“… the friends you meet along the journey—

Simon smiled.

“—are the ones you trust once you reach your destination.”

“Yeah… pretty deep for someone bleeding out.”

“They would tell us that during training. Those agents… they were my closest friends… my family.”

Kinsley put her hand on his leg, and nodded around the taxi.

“Here’s to new journeys.”

Simon smiled.

“Not sure you’ll like me as a friend. I don’t have anything, with NeroCorp gone and all.”

Gertrude looked up from the steering wheel.

“You’re in good company… and I blew Franklin’s wad getting this bucket put back together.”

Franklin cleared his throat.


Gertrude shook her head.

“Oh no, what did you do?”

“I… myyy have stolen maw dan caly-brasions from dat termnal.”

Simon looked to Kinsley then Gertrude, confused.

“What’s he talking about?”

Gertrude pursed her lips, giving Franklin the side-eye.

“How much?”

Franklin leaned back in his seat, and put his hands behind his head. A sly grin across his face.

“Oh, none much. Billion or two… day wan miss it.”

Kinsley laughed out loud.

“I love this team.”

Distant on the horizon behind them, the once mighty tower of NeroCorp was a smoldering ruin.

The crown jewel of the flyers. The constant reminder of their manufactured importance crumbled from its own weight.

It fell from the sky, hurdling back to the ground.