Part Fifteen: Haruspex Analytics, Ground Floor Lobby
Brother Judgment looks around the room. One wall is cracked where the metal shell buckles inward. Concrete and glass litter the marble floor. Dust hangs in the air, settling on their uniforms as fine white powder. He turns to face his sister.
Sister Sentinel shrugs. “I only did the door.” She jerks her thumb toward Red Shift. “He did the rest.”
“True,” Red Shift admits. He scans the room slowly, lights on his visor changing colors as he sweeps the room. “This toxin is pretty nasty stuff, by the way. We may need to seal off the breach to keep it from getting out.”
“About that…” Agent Grant is peering down at the controls the guards used to activate the alarm. It’s the part of the desk CB dove behind—defying all probability, it’s still working. “Doctor Enigma says the only reason his portal works is because of that hole.”
“I see.” Red Shift glances at the portal, then at the hole he punched through the wall. “Well, it looks like the toxin is dispersing pretty quickly as soon as it gets outside. I guess we’re OK for a bit. What’s our status?”
Agent Grant doesn’t immediately reply. His outline blurs for a moment, then he makes a satisfied noise in the back of his throat as he manages to open a menu of commands on the small security screen set into the desk.
“Blink and Derecho are outside. Zero’s team found two helicopters on the roof. Looks like we interrupted a getaway.”
“Good,” Red Shift says. He nods down to the menu on the screen. “Can you get anything useful out of that?”
Grant shakes his head. “It’s pretty locked down. You know, it’s almost as if they don’t trust us.”
* * *
Hair stands up on the back of CB’s neck as he stares at the portal standing in the middle of the floor. Looking through it he can see David, standing a bit further down the sidewalk bisecting the park, head bowed, one hand raised.
Teleportation is weird, CB thinks, and shivers, trying not to think too much about how this particular kind of teleportation is being done. David is using magic, and even if his version is new and not quite like the kind CB is familiar with, it’s still rooted in the same kind of power that murdered every single person in his old apartment. There are echoes of that power… the way it feels, oily, hot and cold at the same time, a pulse of power muted through layers of filth. At the same time, there’s something else mixed through it. Something grounded, firmly rooted in this world in a way that dilutes the sense of wrongness until it is merely unpleasant and complicated.
CB scowls under his gas mask as he fights down his desire to recoil from the arch. He saw Bernard save the Senator’s life, and he definitely saw Bernard save his life from the Bowler Hat Twins.
He can almost hear Alex lecturing him that good work and clean work aren’t always the same thing.
Now is not the time for purity tests.
Agent Grant, not wearing a gas mask, appears on the other side of the portal. He steps up to David and murmurs something in a low voice. David cocks his head to one side, listening without breaking his concentration, and nods once. Grant steps away, out of view. CB looks over his shoulder to see Grant, with a gas mask, leaning over the security monitor, Red Shift standing to one side offering advice as they try to get through whatever software is locking them out.
Brother Judgment looks up, head cocked to one side. “The rest of my team is coming in.”
“Knock, knock!” CB turns toward the cheerful greeting to see a short, athletic man with dark, shoulder-length hair step through the portal. He’s about five feet, five inches tall, lean, and moves like an acrobat or a dancer. His face is obscured by one of Thorpe’s gas masks, and he’s dressed in tight-fitting but flexible body armor. He wears a shoulder holster, the fancy auto-locking kind that doesn’t require a thumb break. He also wears a web belt with a few closed but obviously full pouches. The only other weapon is a straight-handled baton strapped to his upper thigh.
“This is Blink,” Brother Judgment says.
Blink sighs, steps away from the portal, and looks around the room. “Jesus.” He has a slight accent—CB places it as “South American,” but can’t be any more specific than that. “What happened in here? Your sister is scary when she gets pissed.”
“It wasn’t me.” Sister Sentinel speaks through clenched teeth. “All I did was the door.”
Blink chuckles softly, then the space around him warps for a second, as if light were bending around him. He appears a few feet away from his previous spot. “Good. It was only blocking me from the outside.”
He disappears again, appearing at the far end of the room, taking a position where he can watch the elevator and the stairwell.
“And this,” Brother Judgment continues, “is Derecho.”
CB looks back to the portal. A tall, slim woman with long, straight black hair steps through. She’s not wearing body armor: she dresses simply in faded blue jeans, a red tank top shirt, and combat boots. Her one concession to a uniform appears to be a web utility belt similar to the one Blink wears.
Derecho nods to the room, spreads her hands, and rises into the air, not stopping until she reaches the ceiling. A soft breeze fills the room, stirring the dust slightly, but nothing more. CB is impressed: they said she was a weather controller, but nobody bothered to mention how much control she had. Most weather controllers fly by conjuring winds to hold them aloft. Derecho barely stirs the air in the room, which means she’s restricting the violent winds—the ones strong enough to actually lift her—so that they’re only inches from her body.
“Wow,” CB says. “Do you have that much control offensively, too?”
Derecho glances down. She doesn’t say anything, but extends one hand. A tiny cloud forms over it. Light flashes, and he hears a tiny, almost cartoonish rumble of thunder echo through the room.
“Wow,” CB says again.
“She doesn’t like to talk much,” Brother Judgment says. “But she knows her business.”
“Looks like it,” CB agrees. “Hey, you know, we probably should have warned you about this earlier, but these jokers have a fetish for weather controllers. They have ties to PRODIGY.”
“Agent Grant mentioned it,” Brother Judgment says. “Anything else we need to know?”
“Uh…” CB frowns. “Yeah, actually. According to what Senator Morgan said earlier, they’re terrified of psychics. Telepaths especially.”
Brother Judgment shrugs. “Good to know, but it’s hard to think of them being more pissed off at us right now.”
CB laughs. “Fair. Speaking of, is your telepathy working in here?”
Brother Judgment nods.
“You have Blink and Derecho on point, that’s good, but I was wondering if you could sense if people were behind all the closed doors back there. They’ll send someone eventually. Advance warning would be nice.”
“Already on it,” Brother Judgment says. “I’m not reading anything so far. But if they send in more meat robots like Darius I won’t sense anything.”
“… Meat robots?” CB asks.
“Darius?” Red Shift looks up from the security panel, zeroing in on Brother Judgment. “Clive Darius?”
“Uh…” Brother Judgment stares back at Red Shift. “Yes?”
Red Shift takes two steps toward the telepath, fists clenching with an uncharacteristic show of emotion. “What does Darius have to do with this?”
Brother Judgment eyes him warily. “He’s the reason I got pulled into all this. Is there a problem here?”
“No,” Red Shift says. “Not with you, at any rate. It’s just that—”
“Crap!” Agent Grant looks up, gaze fixed on the portal. “Hold on a sec.” His outline blurs and disappears. Everyone in the lobby stares at the portal in surprise as angry shouting comes through it. They hear Agent Grant, raising his voice, then he shouts wordlessly in pain.
It’s David’s voice. Red Shift blurs into motion, streaking toward the portal, but skids to a halt as it wobbles and almost collapses. A dark figure leaps through the hole in the blast shield, crying out in pain as it hits one of the still-glowing edges. It falls to the ground in a heap.
Red Shift is there in a fraction of a second. Just as CB realizes they’re looking at one of the security guards—the young one—Red Shift turns him over. Something is sticking out of his neck; blood pools on the floor beneath him as he makes soft, wet, choking sounds.
CB rummages through his trenchcoat pockets, looking for something useful to stop the flow of bleeding. “What the hell?”
Everything happens at the same time.
The young guard on the floor stiffens, baring his teeth, his arms jerking out to his sides as if he were making a snow angel. CB takes a cautious step back, only to be knocked to the ground by Red Shift as a large shadowy fist passes over the spot where he used to be. Sister Sentinel, Brother Judgment, and Blink all start shouting warnings at the same time, even as they race forward. The wind in the room rises.
CB blinks to clear his eyes, and then he sees it: the six statues lining the wall are all moving.
Red Shift is already on his feet. CB rolls to one side as the closest statue—very uncomfortably close—punches into the ground where he’d been prone moments before. The marble shatters, leaving a deep, fist-shaped hole.
“OK…” CB gets to his feet and backs up quickly. “We got six evil magic statues.” He fishes through his pockets for a cigarette. “Weren’t they smaller before?”
The young guard gurgles again. His body jerks once, then rises into the air, flying into the wall behind them. He hits its with enough force to crack the sheet rock, so hard that the impact sounds wet. But his eyes still move, taking in the scene. His hands clench, and the statues form a circle, standing back to back. His mouth stretches into a rictus grin.
Agent Grant blips into the room. “Those fucking guards just went batshi—” his voice trails off as he takes in the scene.
“Right. I’ll get the Doc.”
He disappears again.
“So,” Blink says, trying to keep his voice light. “Anyone got any ideas? I kinda feel like maybe we shouldn’t just be standing around.”
What remains of the young guard laughs, trailing off into an unpleasant gurgle. He nods his head, and the six statues nod in sync with him, copying the motion perfectly.
CB sticks an unlit cigarette in his mouth and fumbles for his lighter. “Let’s make some gravel.” He charges.
“You did not just say something that stupid,” Sister Sentinel growls, but she charges in after him.
CB drops into a slide, passing under the legs of one of the statues, lighting his cigarette as the statue tries and fails to stomp him into the floor. He leans right as a large stone fist flies past him, impacting solidly into Sister Sentinel. The force of the blow lifts her off the floor, but her only reaction is to grab the arm that hit her, place her feet against the statue’s forearm, and pull. Stone cracks like thunder as the statue’s forearm is torn away from the rest of the statue. She drops the arm, twists in midair to land on her feet, and steps into her swing as she strikes the statue, her arm sinking elbow-deep into stone. CB leaps to the side as the arm Sister Sentinel just removed rises into the air and flies into another statue. It shatters without causing apparent harm, and he hears Brother Judgment curse in frustration.
“Forget the statues!” Red Shift shouts, then disappears in a blur of red motion as he races straight toward the young guard’s body, still half-embedded in the wall.
Instantly the statues shift their focus. Their arms raise, moving in a way that appears coordinated even though CB can’t understand exactly what the pattern is. One of the arms shudders and Red Shift goes flying across the room, hitting the floor, bouncing multiple times before sliding to a halt. He’s on his feet almost instantly, and all the statues turn to face him, twelve arms—no, only eleven, CB amends—continuing their strange shifting pattern. Red Shift hesitates a moment, then blurs out of sight again, this time causing a loud, rumbling boom to fill the room as he goes supersonic.
And again there is the sound of stone hitting flesh, and again Red Shift is swept to one side, this time crashing through the front wall and hitting the metal shield with an almost gong-like sound. And again Red Shift surges forward, and again he is swept aside by one of the statue’s arms.
“How?” Sister Sentinel, thrown clear of the statue she was fighting when Red Shift had first begun his attack, shakes her head in disbelief. “They aren’t even moving that fast.”
Red Shift goes in for the fourth time—this time not opting for a straight shot, but trying to weave around the statues to get at the remains of the guard—but even though he changes direction faster than CB can track, he still winds up being knocked across the room.
“They’re not matching his speed,” CB says. “They’re predicting what he’s going to do.”
The realization shakes the rest of the group out of their reverie. As Red Shift picks himself off the floor yet again, one of the statues rises into the air, and with a grunt of effort from Brother Judgment, slams into the one next to it just as Sister Sentinel bears down on the missing its arm. Her first strike knocks a large chunk of rock out of its midsection, the second cuts the statue in half. The wind in the room rises sharply, and the last three remaining statues wobble in place, momentarily unable to act as they’re forced to fight to keep its balance. CB looks up to see Derecho, her attention now focused fully on the statues, holding out her arms, palms extended, toward the melee below her.
Agent Grant reappears next to CB in a blur. “Doc’s coming.” A moment later, Doctor Enigma—not wearing a gas mask, CB notes—runs through his portal, closing it behind him. He takes in the scene just as Red Shift, now opposed by three statues struggling to stay on their feet, streaks toward the embedded guard without any opposition.
Doctor Enigma’s eyes go wide. “Stop!”
Red Shift’s head turns slightly in response to the cry, but it’s far too late to change anything. Once within reach of the guard, Red Shift’s arms blur, and a moment later something the size of a basketball falls to the ground. It rolls to a stop just behind the statues. The security guard’s head, mouth locked in a savage grin, stares sightlessly up at them. Almost immediately the remaining statues stop moving.
“Christ.” Agent Grant takes an involuntary step back away from the severed head. “Jesus.”
Red Shift slides down the length of the wall, landing on his feet. He stares at CB intently. “We have a problem?”
CB stares at the severed head, feeling a little sick, but he shakes his head. “Can’t go halfway with magic.”
“Red Shift.” Doctor Enigma is standing next to CB, his body rigid, his voice crisp with command. “Everyone. Get away from the statues, now. This is very important.”
Alan Grant blurs, disappears, and reappears on the other side of the room. Sister Sentinel takes a few steps back, and Brother Judgment rises into the air until he’s hovering next to Derecho.
Red Shift skirts around the rubble until he stops at Doctor Enigma’s left. “What’s wrong?” He cocks his head to one side, as if something new occurs to him. “Trap?”
“Not exactly. More like a contingency plan.” Doctor Enigma stretches out his arm, fingers spread. “I’m trying to stop it.”
A blinding white light fills the room at the same time a wave of force expands outward. CB feels himself lifted off the ground and hurled into the last piece of the security desk that’s still standing. The air rushes out of his lungs as he rolls onto his hands and knees. For a few seconds all he can do is gasp for breath.
“Ow…” Doctor Enigma’s voice comes from somewhere to his left. “That… didn’t work.”
“Guys…” Sister Sentinel’s voice is as strong as ever. “Shake it off, OK? Something’s happening.”
CB forces himself to stand, blinking rapidly to try to get past the spots dancing in front of his eyes. David is still down. Red Shift is down but getting up. Agent Grant is on the far end of the room, next to Blink. Derecho and Brother Judgment are overhead, but Brother Judgment’s trenchcoat is singed.
Sister Sentinel is standing where she had been moments ago. Her trenchcoat is torn in multiple places, but she looks otherwise untouched.
She points. CB follows the gesture.
The guard’s head, mouth still twisted into that sickly, deranged, grin, is floating seven feet off the ground. As CB watches, the rest of the body peels itself out from the indentation where it was stuck in the wall, then floats to place itself directly underneath the head. Stone cracks as the remains of the six statues break apart into tiny stone chips, the largest no bigger than one of CB’s fingers. The stones rise into the air and begin to spin counter-clockwise, the corpse floating in the eye of a stone hurricane.
CB takes a step back. Red Shift, now back on his feet, takes a step back. Even Sister Sentinel takes a step back. And then, all at once, the stone hurricane collapses in on itself, covering the corpse, rock merging smoothly into rock, subtly changing texture and tone until it looks almost metallic. The surface of the rough humanoid shape ripples and smooths, gaining definition and refinement, becoming more distinctly human in shape though considerably larger. As the last of the rock merges into place, what remains is a single figure, a large humanoid shape about fifteen feet tall. A line of symbols in an unknown script trails down each arm and leg, and a single massive rune glows purple on its chest.
“Oh,” CB says. “Crap.”
Agent Grant blurs into view again, immediately to CB’s left. “That looks familiar,” he says. “Anyone else think that looks familiar?”
“Yes,” Red Shift says. “Now that you mention it… I’m pretty sure this is going to be a harder fight.”