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“Susan?” Hale panted, his face in hers.

He was sitting, one leg on either side of her, his full weight on her midsection. His tailbone ground painfully into her pubis through the thin fabric of her skirt. His nose was dripping blood all over her. She tasted vomit in the back of her throat. His hands were at her chest.

She felt nothing. Is he touching me? It took a moment for Susan to realize Hale was buttoning her top button and covering her up.

“Susan.” Hale gasped, breathless. “You’ve got to get me out of here.”

Susan was in a daze. Nothing made sense.

“Susan, you’ve got to help me! Strathmore killed Chartrukian! I saw it!”

It took a moment for the words to register. Strathmore killed Chartrukian? Hale obviously had no idea Susan had seen him downstairs.

“Strathmore knows I saw him!” Hale spat. “He’ll kill me too!”

Had Susan not been breathless with fear, she would have laughed in his face. She recognized the divide‑and‑conquer mentality of an ex‑Marine. Invent lies‑pit your enemies against each other.

“It’s true!” he yelled. “We’ve got to call for help! I think we’re both in danger!”

She did not believe a word he said.

Hale’s muscular legs were cramping, and he rolled up on his haunches to shift his weight slightly. He opened his mouth to speak, but he never got the chance.

As Hale’s body rose, Susan felt the circulation surge back into her legs. Before she knew what had happened, a reflex instinct jerked her left leg back hard into Hale’s crotch. She felt her kneecap crush the soft sac of tissue between his legs.

Hale whimpered in agony and instantly went limp. He rolled onto his side, clutching himself. Susan twisted out from under his deadweight. She staggered toward the door, knowing she’d never be strong enough to get out.

Making a split‑second decision, Susan positioned herself behind the long maple meeting table and dug her feet into the carpet. Mercifully the table had casters. She strode with all her might toward the arched glass wall, pushing the table before her. The casters were good, and the table rolled well. Halfway across Node 3, she was at a full sprint.

Five feet from the glass wall, Susan heaved and let go. She leapt to one side and covered her eyes. After a sickening crack, the wall exploded in a shower of glass. The sounds of Crypto rushed into Node 3 for the first time since its construction.

Susan looked up. Through the jagged hole, she could see the table. It was still rolling. It spun wide circles out across the Crypto floor and eventually disappeared into the darkness.

Susan rammed her mangled Ferragamo’s back on her feet, shot a last glance at the still‑writhing Greg Hale, and dashed across the sea of broken glass out onto the Crypto floor.