Chapter 26

Blood dripped down the face of a young man tied to a chair, matting his blonde hair. He’d been dragged, unconscious, through alleys with the combined effort of several men, brought in through the maintenance entrance of the building and deposited in an interrogation room on the building’s hidden floor. He was large and as useless awake as he had been asleep; he told James Maxwell little that he did not already know. Leaving the urchin in the hands of one of his more dutiful interrogators, the rich politician retreated to his observation room to bask in the glow of his monitors.

His chair was comfortable and broken in. The surveillance hub was his favorite place to sit and think; the room made him feel invulnerable, invincible. It was a little like being God. The surveillance feeds made him omniscient and floor thirteen was both heaven and hell, a place for him to find refuge and peace, and a place to punish anyone who opposed him. In a world that had no meaning, what better god could there be than James Maxwell?

As far as he was concerned, God was as real as the tooth fairy or the boogieman. Any intelligent person could plainly see that. Such ideas as God got all their power from people, not the other way around; gods existed because people wanted them to, people with weak enough wills to desire something to blame their poor, unfortunate lives on. They got fired because of some divine plan rather than the fact that they were lazy and quick to shrug off responsibility onto an imaginary friend.

Maxwell knew well enough from personal experience that there was no divine plan to guide his life and give it meaning. He had worked hard and fought against any obstacles in his path all his life to earn and take what he had in the world. It was not by some capricious god’s will that he had gotten where he was, and as testament to his own power, Maxwell held in his hands the lives and futures of every employee on his black payroll. If there was any god that men should fear, it should be him and not the imaginary, whimsical variety. Maxwell’s judgments made sense; he was tangible, and when his wrath was visited upon someone they knew why and repented with eloquence.

Alone on his leather throne, Maxwell searched the monitors for his younger son, and found him in his room with a screwdriver in one hand and a metal box in the other. Promising as he was, he still lacked a great deal as an heir. He was the son of a manmade god, after all, prince of his own underworld kingdom, and there he was, content with his tinker toys, his mind vacant of criminal intentions. For all his genius, it had never occurred to him to produce a device of torture. He made nothing but toys. There were no words to describe Maxwell’s continued disappointment with him. First Julian and now Phineas, both of his sons had discovered new ways to dash his dream to one day pass on his knowledge and power to one of his own blood line.

Phineas was a sore spot for Maxwell--his recent antics struck an especially strong cord inside his chest. Not only was what he had done in direct violation of household rules, it left them all at risk. All it took was one loose thread for a tapestry to unravel. The blond giant in his interrogation suite could have been one such thread, possibly filled with information that, once leaked, would tear everything Maxwell had established to pieces. What other threats existed? What had Phineas truly done in his time away? Without surveillance there was no way to know or to prepare for any possible repercussions--to sculpt a reality that could work favorably for them all. This time, he was reliant solely on his son’s word; if he were that trusting a man, he would not have gone to the great lengths he had to keep an eye on the things that happened in his own home.

A computer monitor flickered, catching his eye immediately. It was a camera set up in his office. Running transparently over it was the scratchy, saturated footage from years past, his teenaged elder son sitting in what had been an empty chair, fading in and out of focus as it haunted the screen.

It lasted only a minute, then sank back into the vault. At least, Maxwell hoped it had and that it wasn’t another minute lost forever from his archive. The minutes he was losing weren’t important ones, but they represented a flaw in his system and compromised the integrity of his entire operation. If he couldn’t keep a fair archive of the things that had gone on in his home ten years ago, what was to keep the more recent footage from falling through the cracks as well? Were something to happen, there’d be no record of it, no way of reevaluating the situation without bias. It was unacceptable. More unacceptable was the thought of the culprit being the Surge.

It was almost absurd. The Surge was a vigilante, well known for his Robin Hood approach against tycoons who Maxwell knew made their money in assorted black market deals or spent it on particularly immoral things. One day, they would be rich and on top of the world, and the next their deeds had somehow been leaked to the press and police, their fortunes were gone, and their lives completely ruined. The Surge struck once, struck hard, and never warned his targets as far as Maxwell was aware.

And yet, according to Nicholas’s reasoning, here was the Surge leaving him a message. “I know what you’re up to,” it seemed to say. So why simply destroy old footage of his home life and the surveillance of floor thirteen? If he had access to them, why not use it against Maxwell like he had everyone else he’d attacked? What did the Surge gain from something so seemingly harmless?

Maxwell stared at his monitor bank as though it held the answer. Nicholas Rabbit was a fool to mention the Surge in regard to such mundane activity. Why would the renowned terrorist stoop to annoying him when he could dethrone him? Nicholas was smart enough to know the difference between technical difficulties and cyber terrorism, so what connection had he seen but hadn’t shared? It was clear to Maxwell that the Surge had nothing to gain through just destroying data, and Maxwell himself had lost little. The only person who stood to get anything out of the loss of the footage was Julian, who certainly didn’t have the connections to get rid of it himself.

Unless Julian knew the Surge or the Surge at least knew of Julian. His elder son was very quiet about his lineage, as ashamed of his father as Maxwell was of him. Destroying the evidence of his childhood and teen years would earn him more freedom than even he would know what to do with, as well as spare him should the operation crumble at the hands of the SPD. James Maxwell II would almost cease to exist if the surveillance were lost, and, if he truly knew the Surge, it was more than possible that he could have engineered that loss.

But how would Julian know the Surge? Another lover? Perhaps blackmail? Maxwell had surveillance of the outside of Julian’s apartment building, a standard procedure for keeping tabs on his regrettable offspring, and so he had records of everyone who’d ever gone in with him or been seen with him outside the doors. The most surprising visitor to date had been Nicholas Rabbit, but he’d only paused long enough to deposit Julian on the curb one night weeks ago. It was more than improbable that the two should have met, and regarding recent information, practically unthinkable that they would be working on a case together. Nicholas worked alone. Always. He even seemed to dislike Maxwell’s presence whenever he came to the compound to work. And yet they were, together.

Nicholas Rabbit was clever, somewhat abnormally so. He had underworld connections, a certain soft spot for justice, and money enough to indulge in flights of fancy. Perhaps he was hiding more than he seemed to be. It was him, after all, who decided to credit a possible system failure to the city’s greatest antihero.

Maxwell leaned forward in his chair, his brow furrowed in contemplation. Was Nicholas the Surge? The pieces seemed to fit. It was so hard to discern whether he was completing a picture though or hammering the most convenient pieces he could grasp into the gaps whether they fit or not. It was almost too perfect; it put his greatest fear and possible nemesis within easy grasp.

What was he to do if he had unlocked the greatest mystery in the history of Solace? Kill him? Find a way to bend the vigilante to his will and utilize whatever talents he had to carry out his own vengeful justice? If nothing else, Maxwell was an entrepreneur; the idea of having his own Surge was almost too tempting to fully wrap his mind around.

He was getting ahead of himself though; thoughts of potential conquest were overshadowing his current problem. He would need to find proof of his assumptions before any steps could be taken, and a trap would need to be laid. But first, he had more pressing engagements; on the screen in front of him, writhing in a chair that looked almost child-sized in comparison to his frame, sat a man who did not exist but whose fingers may or may not have taken the first, hard tug at Maxwell’s carefully woven lies. There could be no loose ends.