“What did you do to him?”, the Hulong man asked in a voice that only partially hid his concern.
“Nothing. He was sitting there, anticipating being able to watch this little show you are about to put on, then he slumped forward. Maybe it was all the excitement,” Devra replied.
The Hulong man touched his fingers to the unconscious mining truck driver’s neck, looking for a pulse.
“Lucky for you he’s still alive...”
“Lucky for me? Or what, exactly?”
The man slammed the driver’s door of the control cabin shut and moved around to the passenger side. He angrily pulled it open and practically yanked Devra from her seat.
“Walk,” the Hulong man ordered.
“Sure. Why not?”, Devra replied. With her hands zip-tied in front of her, she had to be careful as she navigated the stairs down from the front of the truck to the ground below. Two stories down.
And nowhere to go but lower.
As Devra’s foot reached the hard earth, she squared herself and began walking toward the SUV where two other Hulong men had Hubert Farlowe propped up against the side of the vehicle.
“Hubert... you don’t look so good,” Devra told him as she approached.
Hubert Farlowe forced a smile. “At this point, what does it matter?”
He was right, of course. Devra realized that she was fast approaching death. And in a way that Devra still couldn’t explain, she knew that Hubert was already there.
The angry Hulong man stepped up behind Devra. He called out to his associates.
“Watch them both. And when I say watch them both, your eyes stay locked on them. Clear?”
The men nodded. Satisfied, the angry Hulong man stepped away. Devra studied her captors. Chinese nationals by the looks of it. Ex-military. Merciless. Men who would have intimidated her only a few years ago. Now they irritated her. They let go of Farlowe and stepped a few steps away from him.
His feet no longer able to hold his weight, he collapsed down near the back tire of the SUV.
Devra moved to him and pulled his face out of the dirt.
Looking at the Hulong men, she saw they were more amused than concerned.
“This is funny to you, huh?”
Neither one answered.
“Because the driver of that truck thought this was funny too. He’s not laughing now,” Devra spat out the words.
The Hulong men looked at each other and took a few steps back. They looked toward the cabin of the truck. Through the glass, both could see the top of the driver’s head, his face on the steering wheel. He wasn’t moving. Without realizing it, both reflexively reached for their weapons.
“I’m in their heads,” Devra thought.
What good would it do she couldn’t yet figure out, but she felt a pang of satisfaction. A few years ago, she wouldn’t have been capable of being this intimidating. Now with ADA’s help, she had the Hulong men questioning their situation.
“Hubert, I told you not to follow me. Why didn’t you listen?”, Devra asked him.
“I tried. But I guess since the cave, I’ve been a moth to your flame.” Hubert smiled again.
“What happened to you?”, she asked.
She knew the answer before he said it. “This is a Hulong mining operation. Must be one of their largest deposits. What happened to you... Exotic Matter makes it possible. Now we are both being dosed with its opposite,” she replied.
“Yeah. Smith hit me with some sort of weaponized version of it. “
“Where is he now?”
“Smith? Don’t know. He turned me over to these clowns and left. Best guess, he is a safe distance away from whatever is about to happen. But I guarantee you he is watching.”
“No doubt. You and I are expected to put on quite a show,” Devra said.
“I’m already on stage...”
Devra looked at the man who once was supposed to take her life, and then in the process of trying to save it had been transformed into something else. Now, because of his concern for her, he was suffering. And she wasn’t sure that his suffering would ever end.
“I’m sorry, Hubert. I’m truly sorry about... everything.”
“I know. My fault, though. Should have anticipated this, but Smith’s trap came out of nowhere. Ticked me off, because that’s my play,” Hubert laughed, and then began to cough.
“Your play?”, Devra asked.
“Coming out of nowhere. And now, that’s where we are both going, doc,” Hubert coughed.