A DOOR HISSED QUIETLY behind Leon and Boss as they stepped into the last room in the hall. It housed large terminals and pillars of cables with idle screens attached. A cough signalled Dubbs’s presence. Boss stepped a bit further into the dimly lit room, Leon close behind. In the centre was a large object darkened against the stark brightness of the screen behind it. Another belt of coughing shook the object alive, and only now did Boss see that what he had mistaken for a computer terminal was in fact Dubbs.

“Jesus Christ, man.” Boss gasped as he looked the figure over. It moved again, and Boss had to squint through the wash of screen glare to see that this figure was indeed human. It vigorously rubbed its eye lenses on an excess fold of shirt. Boss continued to stare, wondering if maybe his human eye was struggling to interpret what was actually in front of him. Surely this mass of skin and sweat wasn’t the genius he had been working with all this time?

“Sorry, I can’t…” Boss leaned his head forwards even more, making it obvious that he was struggling to see in the dark. “Is that you, Dubbs? I’m missing an eye.”

“Ah, that explains why you didn’t see my directions while you were wandering around up top.”

The voice was familiar. This was Dubbs. Leon had kept quiet, and he couldn’t honestly say if it were out of respect or fear. With introductions complete, Leon stepped out from behind boss and looked directly at Dubbs. He wasn’t anything like Leon had imagined. What he had imagined was someone not too dissimilar to Hughey. The figure that towered over him was absolutely hideous, with a body more suited to a bug than a human. Leon couldn’t help but stare into those deep, narrow pits above his cheeks — not even a faint glimmer of life in them. Dubbs spoke again, though Leon didn’t hear him. He was too distracted by Dubbs’s chins dancing beneath his face.

Thankfully, Boss was paying attention and gave an appropriate response on Leon’s behalf. Leon wondered if Boss was struggling as much as him. For now, he found himself forced to look away to avoid staring. Some more words were exchanged, and Boss held up a fresh transmitter with a new encryption key. Dubbs stopped scrubbing his eye lenses for now and let them rest on his stomach. Boss threw him the transmitter. “That’s as secure as you can get. Once my shop is no longer surrounded by cops, I will get the method and radio it across.”

“That wasn’t the deal,” Dubbs snapped.

“It’s a complicated method and I don’t have it on me. I would have brought it, but the shop is still locked down. Give me a few days.” With that, he turned to the door they’d entered through. “Let’s go, kid.” Then he lowered his voice. “Before this guy mistakes us for an entree.”

Leon instantly broke out in sweat, afraid of what Dubbs might do if he heard that remark. He usually felt safe around Boss, but Dubbs seemed to reduce the badass Boss to nothing more than a mohawked mouse. When the door to Dubbs’s office hissed closed behind them, Boss let out a chest full of air and relaxed. He patted Leon’s back as he shook his head. “Can you believe that?” He turned to Leon, who was still completely dumbfounded. Boss laughed. “You look more terrified than me, and you weren’t even the one talking to him!”

“But I had to watch him respond.”

Boss burst into laughter. “I feel bad for you, kid. One eye was enough for me, let me tell ya.”

Leon continued to follow Boss as he led them to the safe-room Dubbs had specified. Ahead was a smaller door, and an assistant was waiting nearby to open it as they approached.

“I tried not to laugh when I asked Dubbs how he got out of that search area. He starts going on about ambulances and emergency rooms, and I’m just thinking, ‘No, how did you get down the bloody stairs!’” Boss roared with laughter, clapping his hands and walking in zigzags, a lone tear venturing down his cheek. Leon laughed as well, then suggested that Dubbs might well have used an elevator. Boss lost his laughter then and stared at Leon.

“Moment’s gone, kid. You ruined it. Congratulations.” Boss had nothing more to add as they quietly entered the room.

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Jonathon Best is a science-fiction / fantasy poet and writer, from the burning wastes of Western Australia. Find his books at jbestbooks.com

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Jonathon best

Jonathon best

Jonathon Best is a science-fiction / fantasy poet and writer, from the burning wastes of Western Australia. Find his books at jbestbooks.com

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