Part Fourteen: Haruspex Analytics
The Chairman is on the phone again, speaking to the Eye of the Labyrinth.
“Your initial mode of egress is no longer available,” The Labyrinth says. “Metahumans have destroyed both helicopters. I am preparing a direct transfer to the remote site, but there are some limitations.”
The Chairman nodded. “Go on.”
“First is power. The power it will require for the teleporters to function will delay the full activation of tower defenses, and the delay will allow the attackers the time to progress further and inflict more damage before full reprisal is possible.”
“I see,” the Chairman says. He bows his head for a moment, eyes closed, as he thinks it through. “That may be unavoidable. Project Recall must take priority.”
“Acknowledged and agreed,” the Eye of the Labyrinth says. “However, the greatest danger is that you and the other principals of Project Recall are still here. You are in danger because our defenses are not sufficient to stop the metahumans from reaching you. Our greatest asset, at present, is that they do not seem to know where you are.”
The Chairman nods again. “We need to keep it that way.”
“We cannot trigger the Incursion Protocols until you have left the building.”
“Because of the power consumption?”
“Primarily. But also some in your group would be affected.”
The Chairman glances at Jason Kline. The young man was doing a fairly good job at looking calm, but there were signs that wasn’t entirely the case.
“Very well. Do what you can, to the extent you can. Sacrifice what you must to ensure our exit.”
There’s silence on the other end of the line as the Labyrinth considers this.
“How necessary is it for the Senator’s ritual to succeed?”
The Chairman frowns. “I would prefer that it did. However, I believe I understand your gambit. It is acceptable.”
“Thank you, Chairman. I will attempt to give the artificers enough time.”
“Thank you, Ty,” the Chairman says. “Good work.”
“Acknowledged.” There is a note of pride in the part of the voice that was still human. “Good fortune.”
The line goes dead. The Chairman puts the phone back in its cradle and turned to the others.
“We have to get to the Thirteenth Floor,” he says. “And we don’t have a lot of time.”
* * *
Outside the building, three figures—two handcuffed and propped up against a park bench, one standing on his own, shivering in the cold—are watching a glowing crack in the world.
The crack is shaped like a Persian arch, and one side of it is the grounds in front of the Haruspex Analytics building. On the other side is the lobby of Haruspex Analytics. It’s a kind of teleportation, obviously, but it feels almost familiar to them… in a way that it shouldn’t, given who created it.
“I can’t believe you guys tried to kill me.” The young man rubs his arms, feeling much colder than he should, even in the early morning air.
The older man sighs, then winces as he shifts his weight. The skin on his face is welting. “You are such a fucking moron,” he says in a raspy voice.
“Hey.” A man in a black suit and long, dark trenchcoat—one of the teleporters, it seems—half-turns toward them, looking annoyed. “Shut up. Cops will be here soon, then you talk all you want as far as I care.”
The older man glowers at Mr. Trenchcoat. The other handcuffed figure, a woman with steel-gray hair, says nothing. Instead, Madeline simply watches. She watches, calm and remote, and waits.
The arch appears to have been created by a second man. This man, dressed in blue jeans and wearing a light tan jacket, is extending his hand toward the Persian arch and swaying slightly as if exerting effort. It’s not a lot of effort, from what she can tell—he’s not gritting his teeth, or sweating, or shaking from exertion—but it’s something that’s requiring most of his attention. That, from her perspective, is useful. Mr. Trenchcoat is more of a problem, since one of the things he’s actively doing is keeping an eye on them. He’s doing other things as well—relaying information to the man in the tan jacket, for one, and he seems to be coordinating the distribution of equipment to other teams, but that doesn’t seem to distract him enough for them to do anything other than talk—and even that is getting harder to do, now.
It isn’t until the second (third?) teleporter arrives with the other woman that he’s finally distracted enough for her to make her move.
“Peter is right,” she finally says, in a low voice. “You really are a moron.”
“I called him a fucking moron,” the Peter says.
“Be quiet,” Madeline says, and he obediently falls silent.
The young man stares at her, his expression a mix of defiance, anger, and betrayal.
“You weren’t the one who was going to die, Justin,” she explains. “You were the one who was going to live.”
Justin goes very still. “Not like that,” he whispers.
Madeline nods gravely. “Exactly like that. And you know why you will. Because one way or another, Haruspex will demand that you honor your employment contract, and this is the way you want to honor it.”
Justin shakes his head violently. “Why would I want to honor it that way?”
“Because,” Madeline says, “you love your wife and son so very, very much.”
There is a moment of silence, then the younger man’s shoulders shake as he suppresses giant, wracking sobs.
She lets him weep for a few seconds, then says, very gently, “we don’t have a lot of time.”
Justin takes a deep breath. He nods. He wipes his eyes with his sleeve. And then he looks around.
“Wait until those two go into the portal,” he says finally. His voice is even, drained of emotion. “Then I’ll need a distraction.”
Madeline relaxes a bit. The kid is finally back in the game.
“I got this,” Peter says. Then they wait.
Mr. Trenchcoat appears to be briefing the new man and woman about the gas, then his silhouette blurs slightly, and he’s holding two more of those gas masks. He hands one over to each. They put them on and step through the glowing Persian arch, disappearing into the lobby.
Justin looks at Peter, his eyes clearly saying now.
“Because you are a stupid little shit!” Peter shouts. “If I’d known you were going to fold like you did, I would have cut your fucking throat months ago!”
Justin takes a step back, startled. Mr. Trenchcoat whirls on them, looking annoyed.
“What did I say, sunshine?” He blurs for a second, then holds up a roll of duct tape. He kneels next to Peter, waving it in his face. “Do I have to gag you? It’s gonna be real fun trying to get it off your burned face. Might take half your face with you! Normally they’d have rules against me doing shit like that, but guess what, pal? I’m officially dead!”
Mr. Trenchcoat is focused completely on the older man, and the man in the tan jacket is torn between Mr. Trenchcoat and keeping that portal open. It’s the perfect opportunity. The young man backs up slowly, angling not for the glowing archway, but for the man-sized hole cut out of the first floor blast shielding.
The hole is still glowing with heat at the edges, but Madeline approves of the choice. He doesn’t need to make it inside undamaged. He just needs to make it inside undamaged enough to do his job.
“Right. Where exactly are you going, kid?”
Justin turns and gapes as he sees Mr. Trenchcoat staring at him. Madeline frowns as she looks between the Mr. Trenchcoat shouting at the older guard, and the Mr. Trenchcoat blocking the young man’s way.
Metahumans are annoying.
“It’s just…” Justin turns to point back at Peter and Madeline. “I don’t want to stand next to them.”
“Tough,” Mr. Trenchcoat says. “Look, count your blessings. All he can do is shout at you, now.”
“I wish that were true,” Justin says. Then he maces Mr. Trenchcoat in the face.
They’d searched him, of course. They’d taken his knife, his taser, his sidearm, and his riot stick. But they hadn’t searched him—any of them, really—as thoroughly as they should have. The mace was in a tube up Justin’s jacket sleeve. Mr. Trenchcoat shouts in pain, disappears… then the one in front of Peter reappears next to Justin, grabs his arm, and twists, disarming him as expertly as he did Madeline earlier… complete with shoulder throw.
That was a tactical mistake. The throw placed the guard farther from the glowing arch, which was probably what Mr. Trenchcoat wanted, but it also put him nearer to the tear in the blast shield.
Mr. Trenchcoat pulls out another pair of handcuffs. “Christ Almighty, talk about ungrateful.”
Justin rolls to his feet with surprising speed, racing to the tear. Mr. Trenchcoat snarls, pulls down his gas mask over his face, and disappears.
The act of pulling on his mask cost precious time, but he still appears in front of the tear before the young guard reaches it.
At that moment, Madeline finally finishes burning through her handcuffs.
The acid splashes on her hand, causing her vision to blur from pain, but that’s not important. She rolls away from Peter, who has almost cut through his own, and charges the man in the tan jacket. He turns, startled, and the portal wavers. Then a dark shape rises off his shoulder, something birdlike and fierce, and slams into her like a ton of bricks. She falls on her back, gasping, as the bird-thing rakes a claw across her face. She feels a deep cold seep into her. She fights the urge to pass out.
The man in the tan jacket turns to Peter. Peter grins wickedly, pulling his hands from behind his back. He holds a tiny revolver.
“Gun!” the man in the tan jacket shouts.
He reaches out his hand, a dark energy flickering over it…
…the bird-thing launches into a sky with a screech of rage, descending on him…
…and Mr. Trenchcoat blips into sight right next to him, kicking him in his gun hand so hard Madeline can hear the bones break.
She nods to Justin. Without hesitation, he bolts toward the still glowing tear.
“Crap.” Mr. Trenchcoat blurs again, but Justin has already thrown himself through the gap, crying in pain as he brushes against still-glowing metal. The pocket knife in his right hand has already punctured his neck by the time he hits the floor.
Madeline sighs in relief as she feels the energy release. The kid did it.
Inside the Haurspex Analytics lobby, six vaguely Greek statues begin to move.