“OK,” CB says, leaning forward over the table to glower at Robert. “Please tell me this is some kind of sick joke.”
They’re all sitting in a conference room at the Nautilus’ stern. The bulkheads are a latticework of steel polymer and a transparent sheet of something significantly stronger than glass. At the moment, the windows (portholes? CB isn’t sure what to call them) show nothing but solid darkness—they’re too deep for light from the surface to filter through, and they’re not running with external lights at the moment—so the only light in the room comes from fixtures in the ceiling. The interior lighting combined with the near absolute darkness of the water outside serves to turn windows into mirrors, reflecting the interior of the room from nearly every angle. CB finds it disconcerting.
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” Robert Thorpe doesn’t bother hiding the weariness in his voice. CB can’t blame him for that—the last twenty-four hours have been brutal, and it doesn’t seem to be letting up. “No, I think the most logical conclusion is that LaFleur went to New York to try to handle this personally.”
Their arrangement around the conference table is almost a cliché: Robert sits at the far end, his back to one of the larger viewports looking out into the lightless ocean. On one side sit Jack, Street Ronin, Red Shift, Vigilante, and David Bernard. On the other are Regiment, Pete Travers, Agents Grant and Hu, and Jenny. It’s the classic villain-hero split, with Bernard, a former cop, as the only outlier sitting on the villains’ side.
Devils to the left of me, angels to the right…
“Handle what personally?” Agent Grant looks up and down the table, trying to get a read on everyone in the room. “He’s off to fight his… what did you call it? Evil twin?”
“I showed you the pictures,” Jack says. “That guy looks just like Artie with his Overmind face on.”
“And he suckered Overmind into going to face him alone?” Vigilante shakes his head. “Jack, you know him better than I do, but I’ve squared off against him enough to know that doesn’t sound anything like him.”
“We all have,” Robert agrees. “It’s not like him. Artemis LaFleur is a tactician first and foremost. For a very long time I didn’t know he had any innate abilities at all. I would expect him to react with caution, to plan ahead for every eventuality. This reaction is… well, sorry CB, but it’s the kind of thing I’d expect you to do, not him.”
CB snorts. “It’s fair.”
“You’re right,” David says. “It’s not like him. But you don’t understand what just happened.”
Everyone in the room looks at David.
“We just fought something we couldn’t beat,” David says. “The only tactic we had that worked was to slow them down long enough so we could gather up everyone and run away. It worked, but the fact remains that Doctor Thorpe’s island will be gone by this time tomorrow.”
CB scowls. He wants to argue the point, but he can’t think of anything to counter what David said.
“Picture what we just went through,” David says. “Now imagine the same thing happening to the entire world. It’s hard to picture, but try: those creatures appearing off the shoreline of every continent on earth, and marching constantly onward, never stopping.”
Jenny looks a little green at the thought. So does Travers, come to think of it.
“None of you remember this,” David says, “but there was once a time on this world when that actually happened. I saw a part of it, when I went off with Artemis to that island. Esperanza. There was a version of this reality, once upon a time, when some of you were fighting the very same creatures, only the threat was worldwide and there was no way to escape it.”
“Hm.” Regiment’s brow furrows in concentration. “When you say that, I feel a… I don’t know. A kind of tickle? As if I should be remembering something. But I don’t. I don’t have any memory of that at all.”
“There’s no reason you should,” David says. “I’m surprised you’d react to it at all. That timeline doesn’t exist any more. All of the events leading up to it have been erased from reality. That specific scenario where the world ends has been unmade. It was Artemis who did that. He feels… very responsible for all of it. Believe me when I say that if anyone wanted to find a way to strip all rationality away from him, to make him so angry that he was incapable of clear thought… setting those creatures loose on this world is the perfect way to do it.”
“OK.” An expression of pure distaste settles in as Agent Grant leans back in his chair. “OK, so his evil clone pushed his button, now he’s on the warpath. Where’d he go?”
“If I had to guess I’d say New York City,” Jack says. “Specifically the Haruspex Analytics building.”
“Doesn’t look like it,” Grant says. “I mean, maybe he’s being real low key about it? But people have been going in and out of it all morning. Nothing unusual.”
Now everyone in the room has fixed their attention on Special Agent Alan Grant—except for his partner, CB notes, who doesn’t look the least bit surprised.
“How do you know this, exactly?” Robert asks.
“I’ve been watching the building for the last week,” Grant says. “Look, you guys said you thought Haruspex was deep into this, so I thought it’d be useful to keep an eye on their HQ. I’ve been staking it out for the last two weeks, and today is no different than any other day. People go in, people go out, no unusual security movements, nothing on the police bands.”
“You’ve got eyes on the building?” Street Ronin leans in, a mixture of excitement and exasperation in his voice. “Who’d you put on it? I thought we’d agreed not to bring anyone else in.”
“I didn’t bring anyone in,” Grant says. “I’m doing it. Personally.”
“You can operate at that distance?” Robert asks.
“What distance? I’m right there. Joined a health club across the street, getting in a lot of cardio. Treadmill has a pretty good view.”
“How is it?” Hu asks.
Grant shakes his head. “It’s one of those ‘looks good until you join’ deals. Most of the regulars are creeper Yuppie scumbags. Ludlow’s better.”
Hu makes a disappointed sound in the back of her throat.
“Hey,” CB says. “Excuse me. Hate to interrupt. But Grant, how the hell did you get from here to New York City?”
Grant looks at CB, then looks around the room, noting that everyone else appears to want to know roughly the same thing.
“I… flipped? How do you figure Overmind got there? We’re teleporters. Getting from point A to point B is kind of what we do.”
“From the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?” Jenny asks, incredulous.
“Well it’s not really the middle,” Grant says. “We’re kind of down and to the left. But for me it’s not distance, it’s familiarity. I’m pretty familiar with New York, I can go there any time I want.”
“And you can get back?” Robert asks.
“Well… no,” Grant admits. “But I’m already here, right? So it’s not an issue.”
“That raises a lot of questions,” Robert says, “but I’d like to table them and focus on this building. You’re certain Artemis hasn’t arrived?”
“I can’t swear to it,” Grant says, “but if he’s on the warpath like you claim, well, the building isn’t acting like a metal guy with razor-sharp arms just popped into the lobby and started killing people. Even if they don’t want to call in the police, I’d at least expect them to stop traffic in and out of the building.”
“Maybe Overmind didn’t go there,” Street Ronin suggests. “Maybe he just wanted us to think that, and he’s planning something else.”
“Doubt it.” Jack’s mouth twists into a grimace. “I agree with the Lieutenant. Artie snapped; he was out for blood. If he didn’t get any… well. It means they got him first.”