The passageway to the ring road was empty, their footsteps echoing against the concrete floor.
Liam stopped by a parking stand, swiped his card at the reader and punched in a code. The platform lowered, returning moments later with a motorbike. He slung one lean leg over the bike and pressed his thumb against the scan. The engine hummed to life.
Emma shook her head. “I am going nowhere near that thing.”
Liam’s smile was mocking. “Afraid, Red?”
“I prefer ‘cautious’,” she retorted. “Did you know that 45% of all road incidents involve a motorbike?”
“That’s because the police don’t know how to drive. I, on the other hand, do.” He held out a hand. “How else are you going to get there?” When she hesitated, he added: “You said you’d come with me. For Lilith.”
She’d survived vampires; she could survive this. Emma bit her lip, nodded, then clambered on behind Liam. She’d barely managed to wrap her arms around him before they were tearing down the road, deeper underground, headed for Precision Horizons.
Emma kept her eyes closed, felt the wind sting her cheeks. The tunnel air was poorly ventilated, and only got worse the further underground they went. The motorbike’s electric engine hummed loudly, blocking all chances for conversation. Emma kept her cheek against Liam’s back, her arms locked around his middle. Her stomach flip-flopped unpleasantly each time the tunnel curved.
Finally the motion gentled, the bike slowing. Emma dared to open her eyes in time to see Liam take a turning into an abandoned passageway, weaving the bike around the large no entry signs. Here the overhead lights were flickering or broken, and the painted lines on the ground were faded to a pale grey.
Liam cut the engine, rolled the bike to a halt. He motioned for Emma to get off, then pushed the bike along with his feet to a small alcove in the wall. There was a bundle of tarp on the floor. He parked the bike and covered it carefully.
“Where are we?” Emma said.
A tiny smirk. “Let’s call it the back entrance.”
A little further down the passageway was a air vent. He stretched up to take off the cover, then cupped his hands to give Emma a leg up. His expression was serious, his gaze steady. “Are you sure about this? There’s no going back.”
In answer, Emma placed her foot in his hands.
She pulled herself up into the vent, took the cover from Liam and backed up to let him climb in. As he replaced the cover, she took in her surroundings—a narrow square corridor of aluminium which faded into darkness. The flashlight on her phone did little to dispel the shadows.
“Sometime today,” Liam drawled from behind her.
Emma flushed, crawled forward on her hands and knees, sliding her hands against the cold metal. They crawled deeper into the vent, Emma’s phone lighting only a meagre path before her. With every move she bumped against the metal walls, her legs scraping against the ground. Liam, albeit larger than her, was almost silent.
“Left,” Liam said as they approached an intersection. “Quietly now.”
It wasn’t long before they passed a grate. Emma glanced through the slats, looked down upon an empty corridor. Was this really Precision Horizons? For one of the richest companies underground, it seemed so bare and utilitarian. They crawled the entire length of the corridor, then the vent cut through a wall and opened again onto an empty room. Liam grabbed Emma’s foot to stop her. He eased in beside her, peered through the slats. Then he pushed off the grate and, twisting it sideways, pulled it into the vent. He handed it to her and slid out of the hole feet-first. The drop was two metres at most; still Emma didn’t like the thought of it.
“Pass me the grate,” he said, on his tip toes. He took it and placed it on a table nearby. “Come on. I’ll catch you.”
She’d come this far . . . Emma dangled one foot out of the hole, then the other. She wriggled backwards, her toes straining towards the ground. One more inch. Another. Still Liam hadn’t caught her. Her feet swung helplessly in the air.
A hand wrapped around her ankle and dragged her out of the vent.
Emma didn’t have the time to cry out, her hands scraping against the metal edges of the vent as she fell into Liam’s arms. He lowered her the rest of the way gently, his body warm against hers. For a moment she couldn’t move, her breath catching in her throat, then she pushed away, embarrassed. Liam said nothing, dragging a chair over to replace the grate. Then he was at the door, peering through a crack.
“Let’s go.” When he opened the door, Emma followed.
They emerged into the drab corridor. Liam walked quickly but confidently, further along the corridor and then through a series of doors into a stairwell. “Two floors up are the staff rooms,” he informed her as they climbed the stairs. “Everyone’s on holiday so it should be empty. They’ll be meeting in Dr Gray’s study. We can use the vents, crawl through to his room.” He gave her a look. “Quietly.”
Emma nodded, her hand on the railing, her head down as she climbed up the stairs to avoid her true thoughts from showing. Liam hadn’t just been here before; he knew this place like the back of his hand. Once again Emma found herself wondering who he was, what secrets he was hiding. If Liam betrayed her to the DEI . . . If all his help turned out to be a cruel joke . . . She wouldn’t be able to bear it.
The corridor they exited into better matched Emma’s expectations. The floor was carpeted, the walls painted a rich red. Stern portraits decorated the walls between each doorway, featuring the key figures of Precision Horizon’s history.
“Half of Lilith’s family must be here,” Emma breathed, looking at the names as they passed.
Liam’s response was curt: “More.” He held up a hand to stop her from speaking, and nodded towards the corner just ahead. “Gray’s study is on the left,” he said. “Three doors down.”
But before they could move any further, a door opened and two sets of footsteps came towards them. Liam grabbed Emma’s wrist and dragged her into the nearest room. It was dark inside.
“Where are we?” Emma whispered as the footsteps approached. She squinted, but could not make out more than the basic shapes.
“King’s study,” Liam breathed into her ear. His proximity sent shivers down her spine. “Let’s move away from the door. I didn’t have the time to close it.”
They tiptoed through the room, to the large desk at the back, both breathing shallowly as the footsteps approached.
“We need to talk,” a woman said, stopping right outside the door. Emma and Liam ducked down under the desk as the door was pushed open. “Now.”
She stepped into the room and turned on the lights. The man with her grumbled. “Of course you’d pick in here,” he said.
The voices froze Emma in place. It was Lilith’s parents. From the slim gap under the front of the desk she could see a pair of high heels and a pair of dark brogues. Lilith’s mother was pacing. Her father was standing near the door.
The door clicked shut. The lock turned. They were trapped. Emma glanced at Liam but he was still. His eyes were half-shut, his expression unreadable.
“You’ve gone too far this time,” Lilith’s mother said.
“The vampire attack wasn’t our doing.”
“Is that so?” Lilith’s mother scoffed. “How strange then that it coincides with your plans to kill the infected.”
“My plan?” Dr Gray stepped away from the door, towards Lilith’s mother. “Humans belong above ground,” he said. “You know it as well as I do. We can’t live underground forever. The Upper Halls have already sunk into poverty and hunger; how long until the rest of us follow? How long until it is us begging the infected for help?” With each word his voice rose. Dr Gray stepped even closer to her, the tips of his shoes scant inches from her heels. “You believed it once, Arlene,” he continued, gentler now but still so very insistent. “Come back to me. We could shape the future together.”
A pause, then the whisper of cloth. As the silence lengthened Emma felt her cheeks begin to warm. She glanced at Liam again, noticed now that he looked . . . pained? When he noticed Emma’s stare he turned his head away.
“Dan—No. I can’t.” She turned away from him.
“You’re picking the wrong side, Arlene,” he warned.
“And I’d pick it again and again! And however many times I would have needed to pick it to keep our daughter safe.” Her voice grew cold. “Still, it wasn’t enough. You got her in the end.”
“Don’t make me out to be the villain,” he snarled. “It was your idea to begin with. You knew what we would use her for. You agreed to it.”
For a long moment, Lilith’s mother didn’t reply. Then, calmly, she said: “At least you’ve ruined your plans now, haven’t you? Lilith is dead.”
The choked cry escaped from Emma’s lips before she could censor it. Liam’s eyes widened as he turned towards her, but it was too late: Dr Gray had found them. He saw Emma first, his lips narrowing with displeasure, and then he looked past her, to Liam, and froze.
“What’s going on?” Lilith’s mother said sharply. Emma straightened up from behind the desk, her heart racing. But Arlene barely looked at her; she was staring at Liam as he stood up, the colour in her face draining.
She staggered, clutching her chest. “No—!”
Liam lifted his green eyes to hers.
“Hello, mother,” he said.