Ghost // Male // Age 18 // Training Instructor // Erudite to Dauntless
“Hey, kid? You all right? Nod if you can hear me, else I’m callin’ an ambulance.”
There was a whisper of cloth and then warm fingers were wedging themselves beneath Ghost’s chin, probing his neck for a pulse. Alarm flared up in him bright as a sunrise. His heart skipped a beat and he instinctively flinched away from the touch, but the suddenness of the movement sent a spasm of pain through his body, starting in his ankle and radiating up the length of his left leg. If he had had a little more control over his fine motor skills, Ghost would have scowled in confusion as he racked his brain in an effort to remember when and how he might have hurt his ankle, and drew up at a blank.
“Whoa, kid, relax. I ain’t gonna hurt you. Just wanted to see if you was still breathin’, is all.”
Ghost attempted to crack an eye open and immediately regretted it when white-hot light flooded in. Scrunching his eyes shut again, he buried his face in the crook of his elbow, but the brief glimpse of his surroundings was enough to determine that he was lying on his back on the stone-cold floor of the Dauntless compound. He wasn’t sure how much time had elapsed since he’d left the lower levels reserved for the training and housing of initiates, but he had, fortunately, collapsed nowhere that an initiate might accidentally stumble upon his unconscious form. He intentionally reminded himself of this morsel of good luck as he attempted to roll onto his hands and knees and a wave of nausea swept through him. Ghost let his head hang limply between his shoulders and took a long, shaky breath of the stale subterranean air, fighting off a dangerous twinge in his stomach.
“Kid, is there somebody I can call for you? A concerned mom or pop, a delinquent friend, or an ambulance maybe? Because you look a lil’ green around—”
“Call an ambulance and die,” Ghost panted in a voice like ground glass. The delivery of his threat would have been decent if he hadn’t dissolved into scraping coughs immediately after. He braced himself and then managed to pry his eyes open. Tears fractured his vision, but through them he caught his first glimpse of his hopeful rescuer, a man with a goatee in the nondescript blue coveralls of a maintenance worker.
The man’s face soured. “Well, fuck you too, asshole,” he sneered as Ghost first pushed into a crouch, and then with some wobbling, to his feet. His head hurting too much to muster an appropriately scathing reply, Ghost turned his back on the man and headed down the first tunnel stretching away into blackness that he encountered. He had no idea where it was going, but he quickly decided anywhere was better than here. The last thing he needed prior to the Parks job was getting in an altercation that resulted in a stranger remembering his face well enough to pick him out of a lineup.
The Parks job! Ghost thought with another prickle of panic. He had no idea how long he’d been out; might his rendezvous time with Blair already come and gone? And here he had spoken so sternly to Blair in the simulation room this morning, certain that if the job went awry it would have been her doing. He folded back the cuff of his coat, where the little silver hands of his watch pointed at 2:03. Relief and urgency battled inside him. At least he hadn’t missed showtime, but he’d still have to haul ass to have everything ready for three o’clock. Ghost felt blessed that last night, after purchasing the truth and memory serums from the same factionless dealers from whom he acquired his lull, he’d had the good foresight to hide them away from his apartment, in the event that Jeremy Daniels did a follow-up search to ensure that it was free of illicit substances. Having to return to his apartment right now would have just about guaranteed that he missed the meetup with Blair.
Ghost followed the twisting, turning corridor until he arrived at a staircase that would lead all the way to the upper levels of the compound, where there were ground-floor exits to the outside. As he ascended, he retrieved a vial from his breast pocket, flipped the cap up, and tipped the translucent liquid contents down his throat. Snorting lull made Ghost feel less than genteel, so he had dissolved the lull into water beforehand in preparation of oral consumption. He swallowed, and the burning sensation that filled his throat was only half due to the astringent taste sliding down it. Ferris Jacobi had been a scared and scarred twelve-year-old boy who had just watched the brutal murders of his parents when he’d promised himself that he would never be helpless again. And here, six years later, he was a slave to a drug that took the lives of the factionless on a semi-regular basis. It was true that Ghost was no longer at the mercy of another human being, but he was just as weak as he had been as a naive and stupid kid. The only difference was that by now he should have known better than to think himself strong and powerful. Self-loathing coursed through him, because Ghost knew that his weakness was the kind that was correctable only through death; his addiction would take him to his grave.
Unlike the previous days of this week, the summer heat was pleasant instead of oppressive. The sunlight was the color of butterscotch, and a warm breeze kissed Ghost’s face when he let the exit door fall shut behind him. Trying not to look too purposeful in his wanderings to any possible onlookers, Ghost began circling the compound building, which stabbed into the sky like a dark dagger. Eventually he arrived at a hunk of wall that had been spray-painted with a gang logo of a heart with devil horns, and he proceeded fourteen paces to the right of it. There, a loose piece of brick gave way beneath Ghost’s prodding fingers, and he unearthed the sturdy cigar box that he had planted there last night, containing the serums that would make his and Blair’s interrogation of Obadiah Parks possible. The security camera of imposing proportions that loomed almost directly above him had been disabled for as long as Ghost had been living in the compound; he knew because he’d been the one to cut the wires himself. This was the door he always reentered the compound through after a drug deal, and he didn’t like the idea of someone being able to track the pattern of his comings and goings.
Ghost replaced the brick, stood, and cast a furtive glance to both sides. The only answer his questioning stare received was that from the wind. Moving at a brisk walk, he headed southeast, toward the intersection of Twentieth and Magnolia Street.
* * *
The only sign of damage on the ZT Valor was a shattered passenger-side mirror as Ghost glided up beside a black-clad figure waiting at a deserted corner about halfway between the Dauntless compound and Baneberry. This was his third driveby in anticipation of Blair’s arrival—stopping for longer than a few minutes would have attracted unwanted attention—and Ghost liked to think that he was finally getting the hang of timing right-angle turns. Embarrassing truth be told, this was the second car that he had hotwired in the space of forty minutes. It had been a humble reminder of his own youth for Ghost to successfully break into a car and bypass the ignition with the help of a screwdriver only to belatedly discover that the car operated on manual transmission. Ghost could barely drive automatic; a stick shift was far beyond his abilities.
And so he had come upon the equally inconspicuous gray Valor, which had admittedly been slightly more inconspicuous before Ghost had clipped the rearview mirror clean off. But considering the fact that he had driven only twice before in his life, Ghost would consider himself lucky so long as he didn’t crash at all today.
He flipped the switch to unlock the car doors, and Blair sprang inside as fast as a spark of lightning, clearly not wanting to linger in plain sight for any longer than she had to. “You’re two minutes and twenty-five seconds late,” Ghost remarked with a surly glance at his watch. In the rearview mirror he met her turquoise eyes and gave a disapproving shake of his head. “Time is of the essence during heists. You’ll have to work on that before you ever entertain thoughts as a career criminal, Miss Avalon.” He looked over her all-black attire with a disapproving eye. “I didn’t realize we were shooting a ninja movie today. Do you think you could try to look any more suspicious if I paid you?” Blair started to retort something about how it would be abnormal for a Dauntless member not to wear black, to which Ghost tersely replied, “We’re a long way from Dauntless, and we’re only going to get farther. Look, if you don’t think you can do this, get out of the car now. If Parks is already on his way to Washington Park under the assumption of meeting with you, then theoretically I can handle everything from here on out by myself.”
It had been two years since Ghost’s last job of this proportion, and he knew that pre-heist nerves were making him irascible. Don’t take it out on Blair. She’s already been so brave in just agreeing to this insane plan, Ghost reminded himself. He closed his eyes and slowly exhaled. “My apologies. I shouldn’t be so hard on you.” His fingers itched to worry at Jarvis’s gold bracelet, but before they could he turned around in his seat so that he was looking at Blair. Suddenly his face lit up like a candle. “If you don’t mind telling me,” Ghost began with a slight twitch of his lips, “how ever did you get Parks to agree to meet with you? I wish to learn whatever I can about my foes prior to opposing them.”