Chapter 10 - Infiltrating the Elites

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Queens, New York

Athena waited until they were a mile from the spaceport before loosening her chokehold around the taxi driver's neck. "Pull over right there," she ordered, pointing to the entrance of a subway station.

The driver slammed on the brakes, the rear end of the taxi fish-tailing from side to side. Athena braced her arm against the back of the driver's seat to keep from falling over. It was a miracle they didn't flip over.

She hopped out, the hood of her suit pulled low enough to hide her face in shadows, and paused long enough to use her bracelet to transfer enough money to cover twenty times her fare. She hated that she'd scared him the way she did, but she had no idea how else to get his cooperation. "For your silence," she said, keeping her voice as low and threatening as it'd been when she'd hopped into the taxi.

The driver's eyes widened when he saw her payment. "I never saw you," he replied before driving off at a normal speed.

Her pulse pounded in her ears, and she rubbed the heels of her hands against her stinging eyes. I've jeopardized her mission in more than one way. I was spotted by the GEA. I damaged and abandoned my suit. And now, someone's seen my face.

The list of her mistakes weighed upon her until her knees shook. Her breaths came hard and sharp, each one reminding her of how she'd let Dr. J down. She stumbled forward, her shoulder colliding with a wall as she sought darkness. The force whipped her around, and the back of her head smacked against the cool stone.

The blow was just enough to jolt the panic from her and clear her mind. She was a soldier. She'd trained years for this mission. And if there was a way to salvage it, she'd do it.

Mind refocused, she took in her surroundings. A thick layer of grime covered the crumbling buildings, and her eyes watered from overwhelming stench of rotting trash. This was far worse than the pristine colony she'd come from, and yet it was ten times better than Mars. The few people she saw looked as tired and rundown as the colonists on the moon, wearily trudging down the dirty, cracked sidewalks. The vacant look in their eyes strengthened her resolve. If she could destroy the GEA, maybe they'd benefit, too.

But as far she could tell, no one had followed her. She dove deeper into the deserted alley and shed her spacesuit.

This would've been much easier if the weapons system had worked.

The ocean water must've shorted it out because when she'd pressed it, all she'd gotten was a few sparks. And now that someone had seen her, she now had to deal with an additional complication.

Her breath quickened, a sign of the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. What if he reported her to the authorities? If she didn't act quickly, everything she'd risked her life to obtain would slip away from her grasp.

No, I can't give up. I can make it right.

As soon as her mind whispered those words, her breathing slowed.

Athena stripped down to just a tank top and a pair of shorts, tucking her precious student ID into her pocket. The warm sun on her skin was a novel experience, something foreign and yet delightfully soothing. The thick, humid summer air seemed alien to her compared to the sterile, recycled air on the colonies. Drifting clouds offered brief respites from the blazing sun. And yet, despite the newness of it all, her body embraced the environment instead of recoiling from it. It was as though it was telling her she was where she belonged.

As strange and delightful as it was, she couldn't afford to linger. She shoved her suit into dumpster and clung to the shadows as she made her way down the subway station's stairs.

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