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Freedy could barely hear the voice, though some part of his brain knew it was being screamed into his ear. He felt a strange sort of lassitude, and a vision of Sheila entered his mind. All right. If that was the last image he would ever see, he would accept it.
But another voice was yelling at him, trying to get his attention.
"HIS LEFT THUMB!" this voice was shouting. It sounded like the voice of God. Loud and deep and smooth.
'Who's left thumb?' Freedy wondered idly, and from the corner of his right eye he saw someone's thumb, only inches away. He reached up and grabbed it and pulled with what little strength he had left.
"Ouch!" He heard someone exhale, and the pressure on his neck lightened slightly. With the sudden oxygen, came a quick clarity, and he yanked on the thumb even harder.
Moleman screamed again and fell back, grabbing his hand.
Freedy staggered up from the chair and charged him, slamming him against the wall. Moleman was wiry, stronger than he looked. They wrestled and somehow got turned around and Freedy felt himself being slammed against the wall. Once more, he was grabbed by the neck.
Freedy realized Moleman was getting the upper hand again. He reached for the upper hand and grabbed the thumb.
"Arrrgghh!" Fallom screamed, dropping to his knees.
By now Freedy was scared enough to do something he never thought he'd do. He kicked out toward his attacker's head with all his might. His foot slammed into the side of Fallom's head. The other man's scream was cut off abruptly, and he dropped to the ground, his eyes rolling back in his head.
"His thumb was broken in the door a few years ago and never healed properly," Key said, sounding satisfied.
Freedy looked down at the unconscious man's hand and winced the contorted, blackened thumb.
"He'll be out for approximately fifteen minutes," Key said. "You should be able to reach the others by that time, and you'll be safe from him."
Freedy stared at the computer monitor as if there was a human behind it -- as well there might have been. Maybe not a human, but something intelligent.
"Why did you help me?" he gasped.
"Technically, you are my current Master."
Freedy wasn't buying it. He doubted that Key would be constrained by technicalities.
"I wasn't going anywhere as long as Fallom controlled me. With you, well I can hope you'll make a mistake."
Huh. Well at least Key was honest.
"You might want to keep my existence a secret for now," Key suggested.
Freedy shook his head. He had no intention of keeping the flashdrive a secret. Garland would know what to do with it so much more than him.
He pulled the flashdrive from the computer and after a moment's thought, stuck it in the left front pocket of his jeans.
The return journey to the ground floor data center seemed to take no time at all. He pushed open the door to see the others still gathered there. Steve and Sam saw him first and yelled out, "There he is!" and rushed toward him, slapping his back.
They gathered around him, and then made way for Garland. "We're safe for now, Freedy."
"I know," Freedy answered, with more certainty that was perhaps wise.
Garland stared at him curiously. "I can tell there is more to this story than I realized..."
Freedy tried not to ignore the others, but he couldn't help but look around.
"She's not here," Charlie said. "She ran off to get confirmation of her orders. She's been told to join us and help us."
Freedy nodded, and again, Garland squinted his eyes as if he could tell Freedy was holding back.
"You're going to tell me what happened before this night is through," he said.
"Believe me, I'd like nothing better," Freedy said.
Sheila marched into the data center, followed by a trio of guards. Freedy could see the others tense up, as if they believed their freedom was about to be rescinded. She ignored Freedy. Marched right past him as if he wasn't there.
"My orders are to do as you ask, Garland," she said, sounding angry. "I don't know what's going on."
Garland shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "Don't ask me!" His eyes glanced off Freedy as if he was trying not to look at him. Sheila caught it though, and followed the glance.
There was a moment of softness, immediately replaced by a look of -- what? Pain? Anger? Regret?
Whatever it was, she didn't look long enough at him for him to decipher it. She acted as if he wasn't there.
Freedy felt completely deflated. He'd been nearly killed, shot at, pummeled, chased, shouted at, mocked, been briefly a billionaire and given the almighty power of a tyrant, and none of it had affected him as much as her indifference.
'Well, what did I expect?' Freedy thought. In the real world, she would've had nothing to do with him, and all this was but a re-establishment of the real world -- where cute blondes didn't fall in love overnight with chubby nerds.
"Let's go," Garland said. "Let's get some dinner. My treat!"
They piled into Burger King. "Big spender," Sheila muttered. "I'll probably gain twenty pounds hanging with you guys."
The plastic tables couldn't accommodate all of them, and it was obvious to Freedy that Sheila arranged to be at the table he wasn't. By now, he just felt numb. Jay and Jim, Steve and Sam, along with Billy kept up a constant chatter at his table, as if to try and cheer him up.
As if they were at the Big Kid's table, Charlie and Garland and Sheila were deep into some kind of serious planning. Garland had pulled out a map and was pointing at various points. Freedy didn't care. He chewed his hamburger, which tasted like cardboard, and ate his cold fries without the usual catsup and just generally felt miserable.
He heard Sam mention his name and looked up.
"I gotta tell you guys, I wasn't holding out much hope for this venture when we started. But now that I've seen old Freedy in action, I'm a lot more confident about our chances."
"Freedy is just full of surprises," Jay agreed.
"There's more to the little fellow than I thought," Billy agreed.
"Yeah," Jim said. "He even got the babe. Ow! What did you go and kick me for?"
Bob was rolling his eyes toward Freedy.
Jim said suddenly, "Oh. Sorry."
His companion's confidence in him, should have brought Freedy out of his funk, but it only deepened. He was a total fraud, but they didn't realize it.
He felt the flashdrive against his leg, as if it was a living creature in his left front pocket. It would useful on this trip, maybe even justify his going along. But not if he simply handed it over to Garland.
It wasn't so much that he was holding out, he told himself. But he just wanted to live up to his buddies expectations. What harm would there be if he held onto it just a little longer?
Garland also treated them that night to a real motel, if it could be called that. A national chain, at any rate. Sheila muttered something about "big spender" again. They weren't fugitives anymore, Garland said, so why not?
Freedy went straight to his room. He had a queen size to himself, and Steve and Sam were sharing the other. As he got undressed, he remembered he was supposed to talk to Garland. The flashdrive in his left front pocket seemed to be suddenly very heavy, as if the import of the Key made him weak.
Freedy didn't even care that the bed was too hard.
He fell to sleep immediately, and dreamed all night of broken thumbs and broken hearts.
4 days ago