Part Twelve: Haruspex Analytics, Ground Floor Lobby
The lobby looks like a cross between a bank and a tomb.
The floor is polished marble tile, gleaming white beneath dimly lit fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling. Standing in the gaping hole where the revolving door used to be, CB sees a row of faceless statues lining the wall to the left. The statues that are vaguely Greek, stylistically. They all wear togas, and each has one arm raised in an authoritative manner, as if they were in the middle of teaching some great truth to the multitudes. Six statues in all, evenly spaced down the length of the long hall. At the far end are elevators, the stairwell, and a few other closed doors.
On the right is the lobby desk made of dark, polished wood, with a stone top that matches the marble floor. It’s huge, stretching the entire length of the wall, and looks ridiculously oversized given that there are only three people behind it: two men, one middle-aged and balding, one younger with a full, dark beard, and an older woman with steel-gray hair pulled back into a tight braid. All three are dressed in guard uniforms—dark slacks, gray buttoned shirt, badges—and the men have drawn pistols. The woman with the steel-gray hair doesn’t move at all, calmly taking in the scene.
Sister Sentinel stands in the middle of the long, empty room, next to the shattered remains of the revolving door still spinning slowly in place. The grin on her face is equal parts adrenaline and dare.
The woman with the steel-gray hair regards her impassively. “This is private property,” she says. “You’re trespassing.”
“I’m gonna count to ten,” Sister Sentinel says. “And if you haven’t dropped your weapons by then, I’m gonna assume—“
The two men open fire. Both have excellent form, and they’ve obviously trained with their firearms. The shots all find their mark, bullet after bullet impacting somewhere on Sister Sentinel’s body. For all their accuracy, the shots are ineffective: despite taking an initial step back when the first shot impacts, all the guns do is put tiny holes in her shirt and jeans. She looks down, annoyed, and then leaps through the air, closing the distance between them in seconds. She lands behind them, and before they can turn they’re already disarmed. Holding a gun in each hand, she squeezes slightly. Both guns shatter.
Still not visibly reacting, the woman with steel-gray hair presses a button on the desk. An alarm sounds, something similar to the noise a fire alarm makes, but deeper.
She presses a second button. CB hears the hiss of hydraulics and springs forward, feeling the air move behind him as a massive, metallic clang rings through the air, shaking the ground. He half turns and to see a thick armored wall where the gaping hole of the revolving door used to be. Moments later he hears a slight buzz thrumming behind the sound of the alarm.
The woman with steel-gray hair is shouting something into her sleeve as she backs away from Sister Sentinel. The men are also backing away, in the other direction, both fumbling at utility belts. The young man pulls out a taser; the older man pulls out a knife.
Sister Sentinel rolls her eyes. She’s saying something, but CB can’t make it out. The alarm is too loud. The young guard looks intimidated, but the older man and the woman with the steel-gray hair don’t. They look… resigned.
The older guard steps behind the younger, wraps his arm around the man’s head and jerks it back, exposing his neck. Sister Sentinel starts in surprise, and the woman with the steel-gray hair takes the moment to press a third button on the front desk, causing the alarm to end and killing all the lights in the lobby. The sound of the deep klaxon is immediately replaced the sounds of the young guard shouting in incoherent alarm, then changing to pleas of “No! No!” as he feels his head being forced back and his neck exposed.
CB draws deep on his cigarette, then throws the coffee.
Emergency lights switch on just as it leaves his hands. It’s a perfect throw, tumbling end over end, the plastic lid firmly in place as tiny trails of coffee leak out the lid’s spout. It crosses the width of the room just as the older guard steadies his knife on side of the younger man’s neck, ready to jerk the blade across exposed flesh. The styrofoam cup smashes against the side of the older guard’s face, the plastic top facing the floor, and as the side compresses the lid slides off. Coffee that is still far too hot for drinking pours down onto the man’s neck and shoulder; he screams. The knife tumbles from his hand as he stumbles away, clawing helplessly at his shirt and the beet red flesh beneath it.
Sister Sentinel curses, grabs the younger guard, and shoves him behind her as she turns to keep herself between him and the others. The young guard stumbles, eyes wide. The woman with steel-gray hair draws her own knife.
CB starts running. Sister Sentinel angles herself to keep an eye both guards—the woman and the burned man—and waits. CB is vaguely aware of a soft blur as Agent Grant blinks into the room, taking a moment to get his bearings.
The woman with the steel-gray hair jerks her head back, exposing her own neck.
“Stop her!” CB shouts. Sister Sentinel takes a step toward her, but hesitates, eyeing the burned guard. She’ll leave the young guard unprotected if she moves in, and there’s no guarantee the burns on the older guard will remain a distraction for much longer.
No, protecting the young idiot is the right call. But he’s not going to get there in time; the woman’s knife has already started to move.
With a quick jerking motion, the woman pulls the knife across her neck. The air blurs behind her and Agent Grant appears, grabs her wrist and twists sharply. The woman cries out in surprise and pain as her hand opens, knife clattering to the floor. A tiny droplet of red oozes from her neck, but nothing more.
Grant grunts as the woman twists in his grasp, then fades and disappears as her other hand slices across the air where he’d been a moment before. He reappears an instant later, inches away from her now-outstretched arm, and grabs it, heaving the startled woman over his shoulder and onto the marble floor with a thud.
“Jesus,” Grant mutters. “They grow ‘em crazy in here.” He reaches down to take the woman’s right arm, and as she struggles to get to her hands and knees he pulls it behind her back, slipping a pair of handcuffs over her wrist, then does the same with her left. She sags, then stops struggling, too woozy to act without the use of her arms.
“They were gonna kill me!”
The young guard keeps Sister Sentinel between him and his former compatriots, scrambling over the front desk and backing away, eyes wide with fright. He points in the direction of the other two, turning to CB, his voice rising in pitch and incredulity.
“Did you see that? He tried to slit my throat!”
“I saw,” CB says. He turns to the guard and points at the heavy metal shell covering the door and windows. “Can you open that thing back up?”
“Two years!” The man’s voice is getting hoarse now. “I worked with them for two years, and this is what happens. Jesus, they came to my wedding!”
“You got cuffs for this one, too?” Sister Sentinel points to the burned guard. “He’s starting to calm down.”
Agent Grant blurs for a moment, then a second Agent Grant appears over the burned guard, forcing him onto his stomach. “Good call,” the first Grant says. He’s staring down at a console set into the front desk, frowning. The second Grant finishes handcuffing the burned guard, then turns to examine the metal shell enclosing the floor.
“Brother Judgment can’t get in,” the second Grant says. “His telekinesis is pretty strong, but this thing doesn’t want to bend. And the Doc can’t portal in, either. Something’s blocking it. I’m gonna guess there’s an anti-teleportation field set up.”
The young security guard is still wild-eyed, gaze darting around the room like a paranoid rabbit, but he’s stopped babbling at this point. CB turns his gaze away from him for a moment to regard the heavy shell surrounding the building. “How’d you get in, then?”
Grant shrugged. “I work different.”
“OK,” CB says, “is the shell just this floor, or does it go all the way up?”
“All the way up,” Grant says. “It’s not the same, though. The ground floor looks like it was deployed from the second floor—dropped down like big metal blinds. The other floors look like they’re just re-enforcing windows and other weak points.”
“Great,” CB says. “What’s the status of B Team?”
“Up, up, and away,” Grant says.
“Outstanding. Maybe Sister Sentinel can do something about these plates—”
“Gas!” Sister Sentinel’s warning is sharp and direct. Grant nods once, his image blurs, and a moment later he reappears, standing in front of both CB and Sister Sentinel, gas masks dangling from his hands.
CB takes one and slips it over his head. “You need one, too.”
“I’m puttin’ it on outside.”
The masks are based on one of Robert’s designs, both thinner and more rugged than the standard fare. CB slips his on quickly and it immediately seals itself over his face. A heads-up display on the goggles identifies the gas as a potent neurotoxin. It hasn’t reached lethal levels, but its rising steadily.
“We gotta get the guards out of here!” CB shouts. A tiny speaker set into the breather portion of his mask amplifies his voice, making it easy for everyone to hear.
“Get to the other side of the room!” Grant shouts. “We got incoming!”
Grant blurs gain and reappears behind the front desk, much closer to the elevators. Sister Sentinel picks up the handcuffed guards, one under each arm, and hurries in that direction. CB curses, grabs the wild-eyed younger guard, and drags him along as he follows.
“Hey!” The young guard grabs at CB’s arm, and tries to twist out of his grip. “Hey! Let go!”
“Shut up!” CB snarls. The guard lapses into surprised silence. “Come on, we gotta get out of the way.” He half-pulls the man over the front desk, then hunkers down as he hears the dull rumble of a sonic boom grow louder and louder.
“Duck and cover!” Grant shouts.
“Dammit.” CB drags the guard down to the floor and covers him with his own body.
Then the entire building shudders as a boom fills the air, shaking CB to his core. Stone and glass and metal fly overhead. The young guard screams in terror as chunks of front desk immediately to CB’s right and left are torn to shreds by flying debris.
A moment of silence follows. CB pokes his head up from behind the lone piece of front desk remaining in that section.
Red Shift stands just inside the building. Behind him, the entire wall is broken: the windows shattered, the metal turned to twisted bits of ruined steel and the concrete turned to flakes and dust. The outer shell buckles inward, and a small, smooth cylindrical hole, slightly larger than Red Shift himself, is punched through it. The edges of the hole glow white with heat.
CB climbs to his feet, brushing marble dust off his trenchcoat, then hauling the now-whimpering guard up after him. “How fast was that?”
“About Mach Nine,” Red Shift says. “Too many obstacles to go full speed.”
“Damn,” Grant mutters.
CB checks the levels on his gas mask’s HUD, then sizes up the hole Red Shift left in the shield. “Kinda wish the hole was bigger.”
Red Shift shrugs. “Munroe effect. With any luck, it disrupted the—”
There is a low hum, sort of a mix between a buzzer and a chime, then a faint gold spark appears to Red Shift’s right. He takes two steps to the left as the spark brightens, expanding into the shape of a Persian arch, its borders purple-black shadow mixed with radiant gold light. A moment later the interior of the arch shifts, and they’re looking out into the pre-dawn sky.
“—anti-teleport field,” Red Shift finishes.
Brother Judgment steps into the room. A gas mask has replaced his sunglasses. His eyebrows rise over the top of the mask.
“Damn,” he says. He looks over at his sister. “What did you do?”