Rabbit had a bad feeling. It wasn’t just that there was no one there to meet him when the elevator doors opened onto the thirteenth floor, or the eerie feeling that the narrow hallways stretched on into infinity before him. The main thing contributing to the almost painful anxiety that was building up in him was the music the elevator was playing--a baroque string quartet that he vaguely remembered--and above that, the sounds of heavy, rhythmic breathing coming from the surveillance room.
He eyed the buttons for a moment before steeling himself and stepping out of the elevator. He knew he couldn’t leave the floor without the elevator key, and he had work to do. No matter what going on in the room he had to work in, he intended to get the job done.
The elevator doors slid closed behind him, cutting off the strains of music. This didn’t provide as much relief as he had expected though; it only made the huffing and panting from the surveillance room more prominent in the silence. He slipped his hand into his pocket to make sure the repair disc was still there, and forced himself to move forward. He reminded himself that he was just there to do a job and leave, but it did little to ease his discomfort or the growing feeling that this was all very familiar somehow.
The door to the room was open when he got there, and he took a few steps into the room before he stopped. He couldn’t breathe and his throat began to burn as bile rose in it. Tunnel vision magnified the scene that was playing out on more than a hundred screens in front of him.
Though he had some fond memories of his adoptive father, nothing could ever mask how fundamentally wrong many aspects of their relationship had been. As he watched the middle-aged man on the screen thrusting into the much smaller body of his son, everything about the situation came back to Rabbit. He remembered the feel of it, the shame when it felt good and the struggle to keep back the tears when it didn’t. In that moment, he was a child again, no older than ten--old enough to know this wasn’t normal, it wasn’t right, but too young to know what to do about it. Sweat trickled down his skin as he watched in masochistic horror, overwhelmed by memories he normally worked hard to suppress.
The muzzles of a gun pressing against the nape of his neck brought him back to reality. The hairs on Rabbit’s arms and neck stood on end, and a shiver prickled down his spine. He felt cold all over, but despite the intensity of his anxiety, he was livid. He tried to turn his head to the man behind him, but was stopped by the gun pressing more firmly against his scalp. The message was clear: face front and don’t move. Swallowing his rage and disgust, Rabbit complied.
“Enjoying the show?” Maxwell’s voice was rich and conversational, rising above the scene playing out in front of them. His voice came from several feet away, and Rabbit could hear him moving pacing into the room as he spoke. That meant there were two people privy to this display; who felt it was necessary to parade these memories like trophies in front of him.
Rabbit clenched his hands into trembling fists at his side, feeling droplets of sweat drip off of his knuckles. “Where...did you get this?” he asked, unable to keep some amount of vulnerability from soaking into his words.
“An old acquaintance of mine. And Sam’s, coincidentally. Seems he raided Sam’s personal collection when the old bastard died--he was kind enough to let me borrow this one.”
Shaking his head, Rabbit began to pull himself together. He riffled through his memories of the past few weeks, but could think of nothing he’d done to incur Maxwell’s wrath. The politician was not an impulsive man; he would have planned and schemed for hours over just the right way to bend this situation in his favor. Why, though? Why with one of Sam’s recordings? Why with anything at all? “...Why?”
“Because I wanted you to remember what it felt like to be at the mercy of another man. Not to say I in any way intend for you to be making those noises for me, nor do I intend to engage you in such a situation, but I think you understand all the same.” The older man’s voice dripped self satisfaction. Rabbit imagined him wearing a smug grin, hands buried in his pockets to emphasize how he’d easily broken Rabbit’s defenses down without lifting a finger. He tried again to turn and look and again felt the gun jabbed against his scalp again, harder this time.
“What do you want?” he asked, dredging up his hardened exterior to mask his fear, unwilling to give Maxwell the prolonged satisfaction of a job well done.
“Definitive proof.” Footsteps resounded as Maxwell approached, but he remained across the room. “After reviewing some interesting information, I am of the opinion that you are probably the Surge.”
Rabbit’s breathing stopped again.
“Where were you between March and July of last year”
He closed his eyes. “Dead.”
“Dead? Interesting. And yet you’re alive here now. That at the very least speaks of something supernatural. Are you aware that the Surge, during that time frame, was also missing in action?”
Rabbit remained silent.
Maxwell continued. “You fit the profile, Nicholas, and there are too many coincidences for me to take your word for it one way or the other. That's why Julian is going to shoot you in the head. If you are the Surge, I expect you will have no problem disappearing in time to save yourself. If you are not, it's a small shame.”
So it was Julian. Rabbit’s fists shook with anger as he concentrated on the metal on his skull. Though he hardly knew the other man, this betrayal hurt more than Maxwell’s. He expected this sort of thing from the older man; Julian was friendly to the point of being annoying, and has not appeared to construct the same sorts of barriers around himself that his father did. Yet he was the one standing behind him with a gun and the intent to end his second chance at life. With his previous, less than subtle advances, had Julian found pleasure in watching the video, a small taste of his body in the grip of sexual exertion?
“Any last words?”
Rabbit was still mute with rage. Maxwell’s plan was visible in his mind’s eye: there were three possible outcomes to this encounter. The first was that he was not the Surge and his brains would soon be splattered across the terminal screens in front of him. The second and third, which were possibilities only if he was the Surge, were that he escaped into the wires or that he killed Julian with an electrical shock. Maxwell would have a gun as well, obviously, and should Julian be injured or killed, he would shoot Rabbit himself from a safe distance to wound and capture the elusive vigilante. It was nearly flawless--nearly every foreseeable outcome had been taken into consideration, and he would get his answer no matter what happened. Running was not an option: he’d be shot and probably killed the instant he moved.
Rabbit wracked his brain for a plan, but continued to come to a dead end. The noises from the video signaled that the display was almost over. The sound infested his thoughts, not only overriding his ability to think clearly but instilling in him a very obvious, very prominent message: This was the end.
“I suppose there’s no reason to draw it out any longer,” Maxwell conceded, taking his cue from Rabbit’s continued silence. “Goodbye, Rabbit. We’ll do our best to remember you by more than your...legacy.”
Rabbit’s mind scramble in the heavy fog of memories, trying to find a way out that Maxwell had not foreseen.
“I’m sorry.” Julian spoke quietly, so that his father wouldn’t hear him over the video. “He threatened Phineas.”
“This is bullshit,” Rabbit bit out, trembling like taut wire and just as high-strung.
He pulled the trigger. The bullet exploded out of the gun. Then his face was bleeding, his ear gashed between piercings, and in front of him a terminal screen rained sparks over the consol. His eyes were open but could not process for a moment. There was the clatter Julian dropped his gun and then wrapped his arms around Rabbit’s trunk, as though to pull him away from the brink of an abyss.
“How can you miss with a hair’s breadth between the gun and his head?” Maxwell did not sound pleased. Some aspect of his plan had indeed gone awry.
“Who cares? He didn’t know I’d miss. He’s not the Surge.”
Rabbit ripped away from Julian, no longer paralyzed by fear or struck dumb in disbelief. He stepped away from them both, turning to face them, shouting in outrage. “Of course I’m not, you absolute dumb fucks!” He breathed deeply, his eyes like those of a man possessed. “If I were the Surge, why the fuck would I be working for the SPD, you total fucking douche bucket?”
“For the same reason I work as a government official.” Though it had not gone according to plan, Maxwell seemed unfazed and more than willing to explain his logic. “Not all the information you need is in the places you can get to when you only work in opposition. I would not imagine the information the SPD may have on the Surge would be put on the wires where he could access it. Being part of the SPD would give you access to whatever crude materials they keep that information on. But that’s not really a concern right now. You’re just Nicholas Rabbit. I suppose you’re even more interesting in that case, though.”
“Fine. If I were the Surge, why would I ever let on about it to you?” Rabbit dug into his jacket, taking out the disc he’d brought, and threw it on the floor at his feet. “Here’s your fucking repair. Have your son install it, he should be smart enough. Now let me the fuck out of here.”
Maxwell knelt down and picked it up. “I do hope you won’t let this deter you from future business transactions.”
“Fuck you and your family for seven generations. Get me the elevator.”
Relenting to the other man's anger, Maxwell pulled out a phone and called for the elevator. Rabbit waited until he heard the request being made, then stalked out of the room toward the elevator, needing more than a stiff drink and a pack of cigarettes, but willing to settle for the moment.
"Rabbit?" It was Julian, but Rabbit felt no reason or desire to turn and face him. "I didn't want to be a part of this. It was Phineas or you and you're already dead.... I didn't know what else to do. I'm sorry. Please forgive me."
"Whatever." Rabbit took several deep, long breaths, listening for the elevator as he stood in front of its doors. His face was hot with more than just rage. He was humiliated. His ears burned as he tried to focus on breathing, staving off an attack until he was away from the sadistic, white hell. He didn't have time for Julian and his conscious.
The elevator arrived, Rabbit boarded, welcomed by the same string quartet that had accompanied him at his arrival. He punched the button for the lobby and then smeared some blood off of his cheek with his fist as the doors slid closed.
Moments later, he left the building in a trembling rag. He left behind streaks of blood and dents in the smooth, polished walls of the elevator and the smashed components of the speaker system littering its floor.