The door to the shop slid open. I looked up from my work, quickly tucking my blueprints away. Lars stood in the doorway for a moment, illuminated against the darkness by the light inside the shop.
“Here late again, are you?” he said.
I nodded. “Yeah, I couldn’t sleep so I figured I’d get some work done.” I patted one of the canisters.
Lars nodded to himself. “Right. Your big project. The flamethrower.”
Lars came over to my workbench. He looked me up and down but he didn’t tell me to get my flame-retardant overalls on tonight. He looked me in the eye as though taking my pulse.
“What’s it for again?” he asked.
My pulse quickened. I had a conditioned dislike of probing questions. “Just burning stuff. Trash piles, melting metal. Wanted to see if I could build something that utilizes pressurized tanks.”
Lars put his hand on one of the tanks. “Glenda and I know about Texas.”
My heart stopped. I mentally scanned the room for exits. I could make it out the window if I got on that table, I could make it out the door if I pushed Lars into that coatrack…
“And Glenda, she thinks these flamethrowers have something to do with that.”
I had wasted my chance to feign ignorance. He had already seen the look of shock on my face.
“How’d you find out?” I asked.
“Oh, we keep a pretty close ear to the ground concerning ultras. And that Mr. Ashby, well, he’s in the news a lot. We’ve known for a while, actually, if you’ll allow me to be honest.”
I scuffed my shoe in the metal shavings on the floor, crushing the weak ones to make sooty smears on the concrete.
“Do you know who I am, then?” I asked. It was the topic I didn’t want to bring up, but I desperately needed to know if I had been compromised.
“We know you’re an ultra,” Lars replied. “Ceres’ son.”
Everything was crumbling around me. My safety, my comfort, my oasis in a world that sucked overall.
“Have you told anyone?” I asked.
Lars frowned, offended. “We aren’t gossips, nor are we thickheaded. If we find a kid wandering, lost in the country, who has obviously, consciously left wherever he used to live, we don’t go blabbing to every grocery store clerk we meet. Doubly so, if he’s connected to the ultras. That could likely get him killed.”
I swallowed and breathed. “Thanks,” I said.
“Don’t thank me,” he said, waving me away, a shadow coming over his brow. “That’s not why I came by.”
I was too afraid to ask why. Lars sighed and looked over my machines again. “You’re planning on going after him, aren’t you?” he asked. “That Ashby fellow.”
I didn’t have to answer. My face said it all. Lars sighed again. He massaged the bridge of his nose, under his glasses. “From what I’ve heard, he deserves it for some of the things he’s done.”
“He does,” I confirmed, vindictive fury bubbling in my voice.
“But,” Lars said with force. “I can’t—Glenda and me—we can’t be part of this. And by letting you build these flamethrowers on our property, you are making us part of this.”
“It won’t come back to you,” I promised. “He won’t see me coming. And besides, he only cares about getting rid of me. He doesn’t care where I’ve been for the last six months.”
“It’s not that,” said Lars. “It’s a morality thing.”
I frowned. He was using the morality argument against me. “The whole reason I’m doing this is moral. I’m stopping an evil man from killing more innocent people.”
Lars looked at me sadly. “We both know that isn’t true.”
I looked at the floor, now black with crushed metal shavings.
“We just don’t want you to bring this home. We’ve worked hard to make a place of peace. We don’t want you working on this on our property. We can’t finance your revenge.”
“I’ll leave then,” I growled, putting my tools away.
“We’re not kicking you out,” Lars said. “You’re free to stay here—“
“But I’m not allowed to do what needs to be done while under your roof, is that it?”
“If you want to put it that way—”
“Then I’ll have to leave,” I said.
“Now don’t be hasty,” pleaded Lars. “Like I said, I’m not kicking you out.”
“But it would happen sooner or later, wouldn’t it?” I said, pulling out and folding up my blueprints. “You can’t betray your morals, and I can’t betray my mom.”
I closed up my tool bag and wrapped my unfinished fuel tanks in a cloth and put them under my arms. I pushed past him and headed towards the doorway.
Lars followed me out.
“Please don’t do this,” he said. “Where will you go? Do you have a safe place to stay?”
“I’ll survive,” I retorted, walking to the back door of the house to gather my belongings. “It’s what I’m good at.”
A/N: And so, Luis left. With nothing but the clothes on his back, his machines, and the two dozen chocolate chip cookies Glenda snuck into his backpack.