It’s Friday afternoon and the bank lobby is crowded. Special Agent Alan Grant sighs in irritation as he glances at his watch, noting with displeasure that they’ve only moved up two spaces in the last thirty minutes.
“You’re not supposed to be the fidgety one, Grant.” Special Agent Lijuan Hu suppresses a grin as she stares at her partner. “You can be doing other things while we wait.”
“I am doing other things while we wait,” Grant says. “But none of them are ‘getting closer to Farraday City,’ which is what I want to be doing.”
Agent Hu is out of uniform, dressed in dark blue jeans, a light gray tank-top and a tan purse that looks so new it still squeaks when she shifts her weight. Agent Grant remains steadfastly in uniform: black suit, white shirt, black tie, and a long, black trench coat that doesn’t quite fit with the approach of summer in North Carolina.
“We need cash,” Hu says. “And it’s on me, so…”
She didn’t bother to add because you’re officially dead and Travers is wanted for terrorism. Grant nods, still annoyed but conceding the point.
Hu drops her voice lower and leans in to her partner. “You could try dressing a little less… conspicuously.”
Grant snorts. “I’m a guy in a suit standing in line at a bank. Trust me, everyone’s paying attention to the hot Asian chick with red skin.”
Hu scowls. “My skin isn’t that red.”
“Red enough.” Grant rocks back on his heels, looks around the lobby again, and sighs. “I think there’s only one teller on duty. Hu, can’t you use a bank card or something?”
Hu raises an eyebrow. “Not really.”
Grant mutters something obscene under his breath. Of course she can’t use her ATM. They’re trying not to be traced.
“Hurray for computers,” Hu says.
“I know, right?” A thin, balding man with a patchy red beard turns to look at Hu and grins. “I’ve been trying to get off the grid for years, but there’s always something that keeps pulling me back in. At least this branch uses older tech. It takes them a few days to report all their transactions, so I’ve got a little time to do things with my money before Big Brother finds out about it.”
“What things?” Grant asks.
The man blinks in surprise and shifts his attention to Grant. His eyes narrow. “Who wants to know?”
“Well it ain’t Big Brother,” Grant says. “I’m more like that other uncle—the one who always gets drunk on Thanksgiving, then tries to pick a fight with your dad.”
“Hey, pal,” the man says, raising his voice a little. “I don’t think I appreciate your tone.”
“Well I’m hurt,” Grant says. “I was just asking a question. You seemed awfully pleased that you had a few days before Uncle Sam figured out what you were doing with your money, and I wanted to know why you needed those days.”
“I don’t need them,” the man says. “I want them. On principle. And don’t act innocent, Mister Man in Black, because I’ll bet you two chose this branch for exactly the same reason.”
“Not exactly the same,” Grant says. “I don’t have principles…”
“Grant!” The exasperation in Hu’s voice is readily apparent. She turns to the other man and smiles. “I’m sorry, mister. He gets jealous.”
“What? We’re not—ow!” Hu steps squarely on his foot. She knows how to make it hurt.
“She’s right,” Grant says through clenched teeth. “She has a thing for squirrelly guys. So naturally, when you started talking to her…”
The man turns away, body rigid. Hu looks reproachfully at Grant. Grant rolls his eyes.
“Be nice,” Hu whispers.
“Not my strong suit,” Grant says.
Two minutes later he says “oh, fuck!” Then the front wall of the bank explodes.
* * *
Peter Travers tries not to fidget as he pretends to be asleep. The passenger seat is tilted all the way back, and his loosely-woven straw hat covers his face. People walk by the car, glance down and move on without so much as slowing. There’s nothing unusual about a man sleeping in a car, or a man covering his face with a hat to keep the sun out. The fact that the weave of the hat is loose enough that he can easily see through it—and keep an eye on anyone who might be a little too interested in him or his nap—is one of the reasons he bought it, Agent Grant’s ridicule notwithstanding.
The caution is sensible, given his fugitive status, but so far it’s been unnecessary. Nobody pays him a second thought. It’s starting to get warm in the car, but not uncomfortably so. The windows are down halfway and a pleasant breeze wafts through, just strong enough to keep the air moving. Travers is on the verge of succumbing to his own deception—of actually falling asleep in the car—when he hears a high-pitched shriek fill the air. He almost has enough time to form the thought that sounds like a high-speed missile when the car rocks as something hits something else, and then explodes.
Any consideration of sleep is promptly abandoned as Travers sits up and scans his immediate surroundings. The people on the sidewalk are staring at something behind him—he turns and sees a thick, black column of smoke rising from a few blocks away.
From the bank, it’s from the bank.
Travers has his hand on the door-handle when the air blurs in the back seat, and the agitated form of Special Agent Alan Grant appears.
“We got a thing,” Grant says. “We’re gonna need you to move the car.”
Travers nods once, then reaches for the car key in his shirt pocket.
* * *
Grant had been keeping an eye on the building from across the street, but he hadn’t thought to add missile attack to his list of things to look out for. He recognizes the sound as soon as he hears it, but by then it’s too late.
The initial surge of panic inside the bank lobby quickly lapses into confusion when all of the expected side effects of an explosion—searing heat, carnage, debris—fail to appear. There’s plenty of smoke and dust, as bits of the wall are pulverized and sprayed across the room, but there are no large chunks of rock and glass strewn about the floor. People are not trapped under collapsed portions of wall or roof. When the smoke and dust clears, Grant sees why: it’s not an ordinary missile.
“I see it.”
There’s a hole in the side of the wall, pretty much where they expect it should be. There’s debris from the wall, too—suspended in mid-air, lodged in an unknown substance that has hardened into a strange umbrella-like second ceiling.
“What. The. Fuck.” Grant stares at the strange shape in disbelief. “How is that even possible?”
“Focus,” Hu says.
“No, seriously.” Grant shakes his head. “In order for the bomb to catch the debris like that, it would have to… parts of it would have to move faster than the actual explosion. That’s impossible, right? I mean, I should talk, I guess, but I expect tech to obey the laws of physics at least a little…”
“Grant,” Hu’s voice sharpens. “Company.”
The air smells faintly of ozone as a blinding yellow light flashes just beyond the strange hole in the wall. As the light fades, three humanoid figures wearing gold-plated body armor and helmets, each carrying a rifle of unknown but clearly advanced design, step through the hole into the bank lobby. The yellow light flares up again, and again three gold-armored figures step through the wall.
“Teleportation,” Hu murmurs.
“That doesn’t make any goddamn sense,” Grant says.
The light flares three more times, until a total of fifteen soldiers have stepped into the bank lobby, their weapons trained on the crowd. As they advance the crowd presses back against the walls—Grant and Hu following along with the rest—until finally the center of the lobby floor is clear of everyone but the soldiers.
The soldier in the middle of the group steps forward. The voice that comes out of its helmet is perfectly modulated in tone.
“You will all move over to the right side of the room. You will all sit on the floor. Anyone who fails to comply will be shot. There will be no other warnings. Move now.”
Immediately the bank patrons start to move to the right side of the room. Grant and Hu follow, making sure to stay on the outer edge of the group, closest to the soldiers. Two soldiers go to the far end of the room and start demanding identification.
“I think we’re going to have to blow our cover,” Grant whispers.
“No shit, Sherlock.” Hu’s expression is sour. “But I’m going to need a little more space when I light up.”
Grant looks around. They’re definitely too close to the civilians.
“OK,” Grant says. “When I find the right opportunity, I’ll create a distraction…”
The thin, balding man with the patchy red beard is in the same part of the group they are.
“Hey. Red. Pssst.”
The man glances at Grant nervously. “Leave me alone.”
“Shut up and listen. In a few minutes I’m going to be loud and charming. You know. When that happens, I need you to try to get the crowd away from me and my friend here. Understand?”
“You’re crazy,” the man says.
“No, I’m charming. Keep it straight. What’s your name?”
“Lester,” the man says.
Of course it is. “Well, Lester, I’m Alan. Look, remember a few minutes ago when you thought maybe I was a Fed?”
Lester nods slightly.
“Well you’re right. I’m a Fed. But I’m more than that, Lester, I’m a Fed with a plan, and part of the plan involves making sure nobody but the bad guys get hurt. That means you need to make sure everyone takes a few healthy steps back when I start making friends and influencing people. Got it?”
“I’m not squirrelly,” Lester says.
“What? Look, this is not the time to—”
“I’m not squirrelly.”
Grant grits his teeth. “Pal, if you do your part you won’t only not be squirrelly, you will have helped take down a bunch of asshole terrorists robbing a bank.”
Lester thinks it over, torn between a genuine desire to help and a genuine desire to not get shot by soldiers in gold armor.
Grant curses silently. It’s only a matter of time before the soldiers notice them talking and make them stop. “Also, if you do your part I will personally take you off The List.”
Hu raises an eyebrow.
Lester’s eyes widen. “Seriously?”
“Hell, we do more for people who never stick their necks out. All it takes is a phone call.”
“OK,” Lester says. “When you start being an asshole, I’ll get everyone back.”
He knows me. He really knows me.
Hu inches closer to Grant, leaning her head in so only he can hear her. “What list?”
“I dunno,” Grant says. “Worked though. Look, he’s gonna give you enough room to light up. I’m gonna make sure they’re not looking at you when you do. All we need is the opportune moment for me to—”
The smell of ozone fills the room again, and another flash of bright yellow light fills the gap in the bank wall. When it fades, what stands there isn’t a gold-armored soldier, but something much larger. The heavily armored figure stands at least ten feet tall, as wide as at least three of the gold-plated soldiers standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Affixed to its right arm is a massive cannon, similar in design to the rifles the soldiers carry but obviously so much more.
Everyone stops what they’re doing—soldiers and captives alike—as they watch the huge armored form step through the hole and tromp into the lobby, the floor shaking with each step. When it finally speaks, its voice is lower and deeper than the soldiers, but it has the same modulated tone.
“I am Doctor AEvil,” the armored figure says. “You are all my prisoners.”
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” Grant mutters.
“What?” Doctor AEvil’s form turns toward the crowd of prisoners. “Who dares?”
Hu nudges Grant, the expression on her face clearly saying I think you found your opportune moment.
Grant looks at the armored figure and his mouth twists into a sneer. Finally he shrugs, stands up, and steps forward.
“Yeah, you caught me, boss,” Grant says. “That was me.”
Immediately four guards line themselves between Grant and Doctor AEvil, each pointing their strange rifles directly at the man in the trench coat.
“And what,” Doctor AEvil says, “did you think was so important that you dared speak before being spoken to?”
“Just this,” Grant says. “Studio 54 called. They want their cage dancers back.”