Curveball Issue 12: Forces Gather

Part Five: Albany City

The only reason it takes Red Shift fifteen minutes to get to Albany is because he doesn’t want to break the sound barrier.

It’s not hard for him to run faster than sound—he can run considerably faster if he has to. The problem with breaking the sound barrier is the sonic boom: it’s not a one-time event, it’s a continuous, window-shattering sound that follows you, a sonic wake, and he doesn’t want to attract that kind of attention. Anyway, he doesn’t need to go supersonic: 700 miles an hour is more than sufficient to get to Albany.

Interstate 87 is the most direct route. Night running is perfect for stealth: his dark uniform makes it easy for him to be overlooked, especially when he’s moving much faster than anyone expects a man-sized object to travel. The night vision enhancements in his visor, combined with the hyper-awareness he has when he’s pushing any kind of speed, makes it trivial to avoid traffic, dodge tolls, and generally remain unnoticed.

Senator Morgan’s house isn’t actually in Albany, it’s in Schenectady. Schenectady is usually thought of as Albany’s poor cousin these days, full of neighborhoods in steady economic decline, but parts of it have been set aside for the rich and powerful. Senator Morgan qualifies as both.

The house is set on the outskirts of town, a three-story colonial on not quite an acre of land, surrounded by old trees and a tall iron gate. It’s much more room than the Senator needs—he’s one of those rare politicians who is a bachelor—but he probably describes it as “modest” to his friends.

Red Shift perches on a billboard set on a hill about two miles out from the house, gazing down at the estate through his visor.

“I don’t see anyone,” he says. “The house is completely dark.”

“There may be no one in the house, but I’m pretty sure there’s someone on the grounds.” Street Ronin’s voice comes clearly through his earpiece. “I’m linking up with your visor now. Stand by.”

A few seconds later his visor displays a layout of the house and grounds.

“The detached garage,” Street Ronin says. “The security detail is stationed on the second floor of the detached garage.”

“Are they private security?” Red Shift asks.

“I expect so. He doesn’t qualify for a dedicated Secret Service detail. But I also expect they’ll be upper-tier professionals.”

Red Shift sighs in frustration. “Guys, the easiest thing to do is take them out first, then search the house. That’s my vote.”

There’s a moment of silence, then Street Ronin comes back on the line, sounding vaguely amused. “Both the Lieutenant and Overmind believe that’s a bad idea.”

Red Shift almost laughs out loud. “OK, I’d like to know why.”

“The Lieutenant thinks anything that results in harm coming to the staff of a US Senator—even the non-lethal variety—will immediately put Crossfire so high up the danger list we’ll be spending all our time dealing with that instead of making progress on this,” Street Ronin says. “He’s probably right. Overmind thinks that taking out the Senator’s guards will only tip him off that we’re interested in him. He also says if the guards are worth the money the Senator is paying them, one of the ways they establish an all clear is to remain in constant communication with an outside office. If that communication is disrupted it’ll trigger a red flag and they’ll bring extra resources to bear. He’s probably right, too.”

“Remember when the bad guys were dumb? No offense to Overmind or Jack. Fine, I need a plan. I don’t have one.”

“Do a drive-by on the west side, throw the snoop over the fence.”

It takes a little under ten seconds to reach the house. Deploying the snoop is the tricky part: it’s a small metal globe, a little larger than his fist, and he can’t just toss it through the bars as he races by. Something thrown by a man running seven hundred miles per hour continues traveling at seven hundred miles per hour, and not only would it not survive the landing, the noise involved would attract a lot of unwanted attention. Red Shift has to come to a full stop in front of the gate, put the snoop through the iron bars, then set off again before anyone has time to react. All told, he stops in front of the gate for little more than half a second. It feels longer. Ten seconds later he’s back on top of the billboard, watching the grounds carefully.

“OK,” he says. “Turn it on.”

A few seconds pass. “OK, sit tight. I’ll get back to you when I find something useful.” With that, Street Ronin breaks the connection.

Red Shift lies on his back on top of the billboard and relaxes, waiting patiently for the snoop to do its job. It’s a clear night, and they’re far enough on the outskirts of the city to actually see stars. He takes the opportunity to enjoy the moment. He doesn’t get them often.

“OK, I’ve got something.” Street Ronin’s voice returns, businesslike but sounding pleased. “The snoop found the encrypted wireless network the security firm uses. I was able to hack in. I have access to their monitoring station now, and I’m mapping the network. I just need a few more minutes.”

“So who are these guys?” Red Shift asks. “Anyone we know?”

“Group called ‘Forward Point Security,’” Street Ronin says. “Never heard of them before today. Approach from the back of the house. Over the gate, across the grounds, straight to the back door. You’ll need to bypass the lock. Don’t worry about the security system. I’ve got everything looped.”

Ten seconds later Red Shift is up to the gate. He vaults over it easily, staring a security camera straight on as he pitches over the top and lands in the grass on the other side. Moments later he’s at the back door, quickly working at the lock with tools from his belt. The lock is mechanical, and it’s a good one—it actually takes him a minute to get all the tumblers in place. Finally the door clicks open. He steps through.

“I’m inside.”

The kitchen is a spacious, open room with a tile floor and marble countertops. An island with a sink sits in the middle of the room. All of the appliances are black and polished chrome. None of them look like they’ve ever been used.

“This is the tricky part,” Street Ronin says. “I have a floor plan of the house—it’s the one Forward Point uses when they’re monitoring the alarms. Problem is, the floor plan fits the house perfectly.”

“That’s what it’s supposed to do, isn’t it?”

“Sure,” Street Ronin says, “if you’re not storing information about a conspiracy that resulted in the murder of your very famous grandfather in it. If you are, I think you want it kept in a place not accessible to the help.”

“Wall safe?” Red Shift suggests.

“I don’t think so. He’d need someplace to work. He needs a secret office.”

“Right,” Red Shift says. “Well, where’s the fusebox?”

The wine cellar, like the kitchen, is fully stocked, meticulously clean, and apparently just for show. The circuit breaker box is set at the far end of the room, the only wall not covered with wine racks. It’s a large, modern box, and when Red Shift opens it he sees rows of circuit breakers, all clearly labeled.

“You getting this?”

“Yes,” Street Ronin says. “Take the backplate off.”

Red Shift produces a multitool from his utility belt, and removes the cover and backplate from the circuit breaker box, exposing all the wires as they connect to each circuit.

“There we go,” Red Shift says. “A power line that bypasses every single breaker on the panel…” He traces it as it passes its way through the box, notes the wire as it comes out the other end, then screws everything back in place. “We just need to see where it goes.”

“Sure,” Street Ronin says, “but once it disappears into the ceiling the only way to do that is to—”

“Found something,” Red Shift says. “It doesn’t disappear into the ceiling. It disappears into the concrete wall, behind one of the wine racks.”

He waits a minute to allow Street Ronin and the others to see what he’s seeing.

“This is starting to feel a little cliched,” Red Shift adds. “Want to put money on one of these wine bottles opening a secret door?”

He starts pressing wine bottles at random. Finally one of them clicks, and the entire wine rack pushes out, swings to one side, and reveals a vault door set into the wall.

“I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t take you up on that bet,” Street Ronin says. “Let’s take a look at that door.”

It’s not an old-school vault door with the large spinning lock set in the center. It has an electronic screen on one side, a thin slot that looks like you could insert something the size of a credit card into it, and a keypad beneath the slot.

“I think we’re screwed,” Street Ronin says. “Obviously you need to enter a numerical combination to open the door, but you also need some kind of card. The Senator probably keeps that on him at all times.”

“Maybe,” Red Shift says. “But you know, every time I buy something that needs a key, it always comes with a spare.”

There’s a wall safe in the master bedroom; it’s tied in to the main security system. Street Ronin is able to pop the safe remotely while simultaneously masking the alarm. In the safe is a stack of legal documents, a watch, and an electronic key the size of a credit card.

“OK, we have the key,” Red Shift says. “Now we need the number.”

“Just put it in,” Street Ronin says. “I’ll try to hack the PIN through the card.”

The key fits into the vault door slot perfectly, and when inserted the digital panel and keypad light up. The digital panel starts counting down from a minute.

“Uh…” Red Shift says.

“God damn it,” Street Ronin snarls. “Hold on.”

Red Shift watches the countdown, tension rising with each second that slips away. At the thirty-five-second mark Street Ronin gives him a number, and he punches it in.

“No dice,” Red Shift says.

Street Ronin swears again. Red Shift continues to watch the countdown, wondering what will happen if it reaches zero. At the fifteen-second mark, Street Ronin gives him a new number. This time the countdown stops: the door buzzes, clicks, and swings open to reveal a very small office with a chair, a desk, and a computer.

Red Shift sighs in relief. “We’re in.”

He can hear Street Ronin laughing on the other end. “Thank our resident mastermind supervillain. Overmind guessed it was either the date he was sworn in to the House or the Senate. It was the House.”

“Well let’s see what we’ve got.” Red Shift steps into the room, moves around to the front of the desk and sits in the chair. “I’m about to turn it on.”

He presses the power button. The monitor blinks on.

“Greg! Get out!”

The urgency in Street Ronin’s voice combined with the use of his real name causes him to look up in alarm. He hears a loud click echo through the room, and sees the vault door swinging shut with surprising speed.

He moves. His perspective shifts.

The world slows to a crawl as his hyper-awareness kicks in. He’s dimly aware of the sonic boom as he vaults over the desk and races out of the room—he can’t hear it, but he can feel it forming around him. The vault door is half open, appearing to have frozen in mid-swing. He sidesteps through it with inches to spare, surging across the room and up the stairs into the kitchen. He lowers his head slightly, instinctively raising one arm as he runs through the outer wall at nearly three thousand miles an hour, ripping it to pieces as he bursts free into the night air. He feels heat behind him, the shuddering beginnings of an explosion, but he doesn’t turn to look. He gathers speed, leaving a furrow in the grass, then bursts through the iron gate. Twisted bits of iron and brick fly in all directions as he turns and tears down the road, still gathering speed. The sonic boom follows him as he runs, sounding like the unending snap of an infinitely cracking whip. A few seconds later he stops and looks back the way he came. He’s miles away now, but he can see the glow of fire on the horizon. He can feel the reverberation of the explosion, even from here.

“Looks like I made someone angry,” Red Shift says.

“Jesus,” Street Ronin says, relief flooding his voice. “Jesus Christ, that was close.”

“I try not to get blown up more than once a month,” Red Shift says. “It’s inconvenient.”

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