Molly looked at the double doors to the building across the street as they opened, and Aster came out. He was tall, with a measured step, and he was darting across the street, towards her. He wasn't even shivering in the frigid afternoon air.
She felt a sting in her eyes as he got closer. The world became blurry. He said, "Mohy. I need your help."
She shook her head, because it didn't seem real. None of this seemed real. He had the same, slightly-monotone voice, the same silky white hair and shifty eyes. But his back was straight and his arms looked solid, strong. And God, he was so tall.
"Please," he repeated.
Samuel hadn't said a word up until now, but Molly felt his presence behind her. It was suddenly clear to her.
"No," she said. The wind rushing past her ears and the silence of the parking lot made her repeat it again. "No. You used me. You knew I had feelings for you. You made me feel so... Stupid. So, so stupid."
The tension in Aster's body never broke, but he had the decency to stand still, to look into her eyes. Then just as quickly his glance flitted away. "It is something I… Regret immensely. You understand why I behaved in the manner I did. And I am sincerely remorseful."
"No, I don't understand!" The blood rushed to her face, the familiar feel of rage inside her. "I don't know why led me on like that! And now you have the gall to-"
She felt a pressure around her forearm. "Molly," Samuel said.
Molly took a deep breath. Aster kept glancing back across the street, rocking on his heels, puffs emerging from his lips and then disappearing in the cold.
"I probably hate them more than you do," Samuel said quietly. He was still behind her. "But you came back here. You wanted to help, remember? Don't you think we should undo what we did?"
Molly pursed her lips. "This conversation is not over," she said to Aster, who was expressionless, as usual. "What do you want us to do?"
The thing about wormholes is that they were easy to find, since they existed everywhere- tiny irregularities on the smallest of scales, where matter and time were indistinguishable. It took minimal energy to enlarge them, and perhaps a light bit more to keep them open. Passing through them was the only issue, for most people. Not for Aster or Cassia, though. They'd been built that way.
Right now,the issue was getting to one. Aster decided to escape from the inside. He just had to get to her.
He unlocked the janitorial closet on the ground floor of the building, where he'd left the nurse. He found the man slumped in the corner, motionless but not dead. He had fallen asleep. Aster tapped the nurse on the head.
"Bring me back down to the lab," Aster said. "You will then escort me to where I need to be, then you can leave. You may spend the rest of the day at home."
Yawning, and not quite to his senses yet, the nurse struggled to make sense of this. "Okay, but… Aren't you worried I'll tell on you?"
Aster shrugged. "It will be far too late by then. Please stand up."
The elevator operated normally, without any ID necessary, until they got to the basement. Then the nurse flicked on a seemingly random spot on the shiny wall, an a tiny door popped open, revealing a shallow slot. The nurse slid his tongue inside, raisng himself on tiptoes, and the elevator jerked into downward motion again. Compared to the high-speed vertical transportation of cities like Rhodium, Twenty-First Century elevators were unnervingly slow.
When the doors finally slid open, Aster was face-to-face with the Doctor.
The older man frowned. "I didn't authorize his being taken off grounds," he told the nurse.
Before either of them could answer, Croton pushed past them. They stepped out into the corridor.
"Hold him in a room until I get back," the Doctor said, jabbing the 'up' button. He seemed to be in a rush. Molly and Samuel were working quickly, apparently. He'd asked them to threaten the Doctor with the one bit of leverage they had: knowledge. They knew too much, and it would be dangerous if they made that knowledge public.
Now that Croton was out of the way, hopefully things would be easier. Aster stood tersely behind the nurse as the man asked a fellow worker where Cassia was. Aster was close enough to hear the conversation, far enough to seem like he wasn't listening.
The nurse switched suddenly to Tagalog, a language which Aster didn't know. And standing there he realized his mistake. He looked past their heads down the hallway, and started to run.
All the doors he passed were closed. Arms and bodies lunged at him from the sides, and he was pretty sure that the nurse was after him from behind, but he only felt the brush of fingers, sweaty grips that he simply shook off, leaving yells in his wake. His vision narrowed to the blue chrome door ahead, a spot of color in an otherwise landscape. It was open, someone was passing through. He lunged for the entrance, sliding in before the doors closed. Inside the arena, the door-control panel was on the right, locked behind a glass with a lock. He wrenched it off and jammed the 'lock' button. Glass sprinkled at his feet.
It was suddenly deathly quiet. The chaos from outside was muted, and Aster knew that only Croton had the auxiliary controls around here. So he had a few minutes.
He turned and Cassia was there, right in the center of the room, still unclothed but in a different position. She was lying on an examination table under harsh blue lights, and he could see where they'd cut her skin. She had a line of bruises below her tight collarbone. Her eyes were closed, but he could see her twitching. He ran up to the bed, setting his hands over her wrists, which were squirming in tight straps that held them to the table.
Clanging came from the door behind him. Aster set her free, but Cassia didn't move to sit up, only opened her eyes, slowly.
"You're standing," she said. Her lips were cracked.
"Shh," Aster said softly, still standing over her. "I'm going to get us out. I can build the wormhole right here and we can go home."
"We don't have our Q-bands," Cassia said. He helped her sit up and she clutched her head, wincing. "You can't-"
"I'll have to to channel the energy through myself," Aster said. There was definitely enough of it being harnessed for all the machinery the lab to enlarge a wormhole,and if that wasn't enough, he could always borrow some from the city of Buffalo, New York.
The banging outside intensified. Cassia caught his arm in a surprisingly strong grip. "I don't let you try," she said. "It's too dangerous."
Metal screamed and the the door fell over, smashing into the floor. Behind it, Andrew stood quivering, brandishing a long, cone-shaped weapon. He was nothing to worry about but there were three men behind him, twice his size each.
Aster turned to towards Cassia to support her as she stood, but she brushed him away, instead rising unsteadily to her feet.
"Get on my back," he said, watching as the men at the door just stood there, blocking the only passage out. The arena was large, and he backed into it, Cassia's arms securely around his neck. He couldn't fight in this position. But he could run.
Andrew advanced and the others behind him. Then he dropped his cone.
"Wait," he said. "Wait right there. Guys, we don't to hurt you. Really. So just-"
Aster ducked his head and scrambled past him, and again he felt meaty arms grabbing at him as he slid through the narrow space between men. They couldn't get hold of him. In the corridor, he ran. Uncertain of where to, then there was a door left ajar and he turned into there with Cassia and as slammed it shut with his shoulder. Cassia released him and slid to the floor.
"This is not going to work," he said, panting. They were a storage room- Cassia was already rummaging through a wall-to-wall closet, and putting on a white coat.
"Hold on," she said. Someone rammed themselves against the door, and Aster heard splintering.
"If we could get more people," Cassia said. "You could still make the wormhole, but each person could share the brunt of-"
Once again, the door smashed open. The two of them froze. But when the dust settled there was no one there- just a vacant entryway.
Soon, an out-of-breath, jacketed man appeared where the door used to be. Croton was back. He motioned with his fingers with a 'come here's gesture, and Molly and Samuel appeared behind him. He held a small, metallic square- apparently, he had plans to operate on Aster again.
Molly looked stoic, but Samuel was barely disguising his curiousity.
"These two couldn't keep quiet so we've got company," the Doctor said, stepping over the splintered door. "Now, I hear you've been making trouble, Aster. I see we have an escaped patient."
Cassia coughed. It was a fake cough, but it sounded sickly.
Aster met Molly's eyes. She nodded.
"Can we just say goodbye?" She asked.
Croton chuckled. "Of course. Do it quickly. Then it's back to the table for Cassia, I'm afraid."
Aster hated hugs but he endured a short one from Samuel, who stepped forward first. Molly was behind him, hugging her chest and waiting for her turn. When it came, Aster held her tightly. She didn't say anything, content to anchor herself against him.
"I hope you will one day forgive me," he said quietly. "I acted the way I did because you… you made feel like I was a man. I-"
"It's okay," Molly said. "You're not a bad guy, Aster."
He released her slightly. "Thank you. I will miss you, Mohy."
She looked up, her eyes shining and genuinely happy. Croton was a few places away. "You're leaving?" She whispered.
"If you'll help," he said.
"What should I do?"
"Hold me tightly, and Samuel also. This will only take a moment."
In the slightest of movements Molly looked off to the side. Samuel and Cassia were both watching them. Aster nodded at Cassia and she took his arm, and Molly put out her hand to Samuel, who accepted it.
Aster looked at the floor and remembered the bringing-together, but this was a different kind of channeling, not reaching for a person but a tiny, tiny speck of matter.
"Time's up," Croton announced.
The floor began to quiver, either that or Aster was quivering himself. Croton caught on and he took a step closer. "Let go, now," he said. He raised the square.
There was a high-pitched whine in Aster's mind, and a wind about their hair. Croton stretched out his arm and slammed the cold square onto the back of Aster's neck. Aster smelled fire. Soon the wind was howling in their ears, and Cassia was screaming for Aster to take off the square but he just yelled, "Don't let go!"
They were huddled together when the lab exploded outward. The lights went out. There was a moment before it where there was no time, no temperature, just the fourth of them squeezed together and at the climax of that squeeze everything erupted outward.
The Aster tumbled to the ground, as beams caved around them and fire licked at the ceiling. Books followed as things far away collapsed, like dominoes. He heard himself yelling for Molly and Samuel to go before the building collapsed.
Then it was just the two of them, in a tiny clearance amidst destruction. Cassia wrenched the square from Aster's neck.
He fell under and then surfaced, Cassia's face swimming above. The heat covered his skin.
Sweat rolling down her neck, Cassia lifted him off the ground with visible effort. "I've got you," she said. "Ready?"
He nodded. "Don't let go."
She kissed the top of his head, stepping forward. "You know I won't."
The wormhole shimmered, and they fell through it, together.