Axalis stood on the brink of disaster. In front of him, the concrete ended and the thick summer air stretched down forty stories before coming to an abrupt end at the street. Behind him, the echoes of footsteps resounded through the stairwell, signaling his incoming pursuers. "So it has come to this," he mumbled aloud.
Jordan Burk kicked open the door to the roof with the full force of resentment. He saw the hacker standing on the ledge top, raised his gun. "Give up, Axalis. You don't have to die for this. Turn yourself in."
Axalis took one look over his shoulder, his face a complete blank. If Jordan had been asked, he would have said it looked like the last emotions had been drained out of the man. The last look was merely an instinctual reaction to being spoken at. Then Axalis took one step beyond, and even before Jordan's reflexes fired his gun, the hacker had vanished from sight. The shot echoed into the dead summer's night as two more police finally reached the top of the stairs. Huffing, and puffing, Lt. Shande asked where Axalis had gone. Jordan didn't hear him.
* * *
Axalis did not dream well. He had once enjoyed dreams of falling, flying, soaring through the endless space of uninhabited air. But he awoke in a cold sweat this time, almost certain he had just faced his own dream-death. You were supposed to wake up before it happened, he thought... but what should happen is not always what does happen. Axalis felt the phantom pain of crushed limbs and a skull leaking his life-blood into the corrupted night.
The radio was blaring out a wake-up call to Axalis when he awoke. "Look around us," it said, "at the world we've made. Look at the achievements of industry. Look at the quibbles of politics. We've spent hundreds of years advancing technology to the point where our lives are meaningless. Our greatest advances and developments have left us with a life that is easier than we can handle. We go to incredible efforts to merely perpetuate our glut of free time--"
He shut it off. Axalis wasn't interested in some pseudo-religious rambling this early in the morning, especially when his head was throbbing like this. He must have had a hell of a night to be so hungover, he thought to himself. Yet, he could not remember a single detail about the night. Where he had been, and why... they were a mystery to him.
Without stopping for breakfast, Axalis fired up his hacking rig. It hummed to life with a familiar rumble, and Axalis punched in his password as usual. It didn't work. He entered the same password again, in case he had made a typo the first time. It still didn't work.