Part Eighteen: Haruspex Analytics, Ground Floor Lobby
The massive stone fist misses CB by inches. The floor shatters, stone chips flying into the air like shrapnel, forcing CB to twist even further to avoid the debris.
He stares at the fist, gaze traveling the length of the golem’s arm, taking in the intricate blue-glowing runes cut deep into the stone. Three of the runes at the wrist have gone dark. Each time a rune goes dark, the golem repairs itself.
There are a lot of runes on that arm. And the other arm. And both legs.
“This is getting old…” He tries to keep his voice casual as he rolls to his feet, noting the golem shifting its weight as it prepares to advance.
“He’s not ready yet.” Agent Grant’s voice is casual—of course, he’s on the other side of the hall, kneeling in front of David Bernard, watching him closely. David sits cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, muttering something beneath his breath. “His eyes aren’t open yet.”
CB grimaces. David said he wouldn’t be able to speak while preparing, so that was the signal they were looking for. “Well, great.” He takes a deep breath, yells, and charges directly at the golem.
He wouldn’t have minded a little more backup, but this needs to be done right… and if everyone is in the middle of a grand melee when it starts, it won’t be. So he has to do it the hard way.
I hate the hard way…
He feels the world shift around him as possibilities begin to fall into place. If he steps here, then turns there, twists at just the right angle, at just the right time…
The golem’s fist swings uselessly over his head as CB slides between its legs. He’s on his feet before the golem has a chance to turn, and then in two steps and a jump he’s on the thing’s back, one arm wrapped around its neck.
He hears laughing. Thin, ragged laughter, muffled through layers of stone, rises out of the golem’s torso. The security guard—or, more accurately, the guard’s corpse—is in there, somewhere, and he finds this amusing.
The golem stops turning and straightens to its full height. It’s growing, and is now so tall that CB can touch the ceiling if he really wants to. He inches to the side as one of the golem’s hands tries to grab him. Stone fingers brush his trenchcoat, but close on nothing.
The golem turns sharply, trying to shake CB off. It backs into the wall where it had once been six greek statues, trying to smash him to pulp. CB lets go just before the golem hits, ducking into a roll as he hits the floor. He’s on his feet again as the golem pulls itself out of the wall. He takes a ragged breath, preparing for its next move…
“Eyes open!” Grant shouts.
CB steps back.
A stiff wind rises, followed by blinding white light as lightning arcs across the room, enveloping the golem in a halo of blue and white fire. Its torso smokes, the stone turning glassy and smooth where the lightning hits. It staggers, but doesn’t fall.
A loud booooom splits the air as a red blur streaks across the room, smashing into the golem at Mach 2. The impact would tear any normal statue to pieces—in this case the golem staggers again, arms flailing for balance, and finally topples over onto its back. Red Shift rolls nimbly off to the right as Sister Sentinel, shouting at the top of her lungs, lifts the torn revolving door and brings the entire weight of it down on its right leg.
The leg shatters, bits of stone and stone dust fly everywhere. She doesn’t take a moment to appreciate her work: instead, she hefts the door up again and brings it down on the golem’s left leg. This time, it’s the door that breaks, unable to handle the second blow, but it takes a chunk of leg with it. Sister Sentinel drops the remains of the door, clenches her fists, and starts pounding away at the crater in the left leg. One, two, three blows, and the leg splits at the upper thigh.
The golem is not idle, however—it props itself up with its left arm while its right fist descends, at great speed, toward the small of Sister Sentinel’s back. CB starts to shout a warning, but the fist stops abruptly, inches from the woman as she kicks the lower portion of the left leg away from the body. CB glances at Brother Judgment. He stands rigid, left arm extended, hand trembling. He can’t see the man’s expression, his face covered by the gas mask as it is, but he can see sweat on his forehead.
“Sis.” Brother Judgment’s voice is shaking too. Restraining the fist is taking a lot of effort.
Sister Sentinel looks up and starts in surprise as she sees the fist. Then she wraps her arms around the wrist and steps aside. “Got it!”
Brother Judgment relaxes. The Golem starts to raise its arm again, trying to pull her off the floor, but she flips over the arm, places both feet against its side, and pushes, twisting with her waist. Stone snaps and cracks as the forearm breaks off, causing the remaining stump to flail uselessly.
Red Shift descends on the other arm, fists blurring, generating a continuous string of sonic booms as he leaves small holes in the golem’s sole means of support. Just as Sister Sentinel tears off the right arm, the left collapses on itself, and once again the golem is prone.
“Now!” Sister Sentinel shouts, as she and Red Shift race down the length of the lobby to the far end, where the others are waiting. CB backs away, still facing the creature, just in case he needs to distract it again.
The air above the golem’s torso ripples and blurs, and then Agent Grant and Blink appear, both crouching on its chest, each holding what looks to be a miniature claymore mine. They both set their munitions on the golem’s torso—Blink’s near the waist, Grant’s near the neck—and then the air ripples again, and both are gone.
“Come on, Chief!” Grant calls. CB turns to see that he and Blink are both holding detonators in their hands.
CB runs toward them.
“Now!” Grant shouts, and he and Blink both close their hands in the same way. The room fills with yet another loud BOOOOOM, and CB turns to see the golem—or what’s left of it—lying in absolute ruin, it’s limbs destroyed, it’s torso blown apart. He can see bits of white mixed among the rubble, and realizes with a shudder that he is staring at pieces of bone.
The room is silent a moment, other than the sound of heavy breathing through gas masks, and then blue light shines from the destroyed golem, bright enough to fill half the room.
“It’s starting!” Red Shift calls out, and CB can see the dust and rock and yes, the bits of bone start to move. The torso comes together in a rough outline, and in a matter of seconds the pieces of rock fuse together as the golem begins to reform.
Still, it isn’t happening instantly. This one is going to take a little time. That was the point—to break it down enough that repairing itself would take time.
David Bernard runs forward, passing CB with his arms extended, purple-white energy swirling around them like miniature alien storms. He stops in front of the reforming golem, thrusts his hands forward, and the energy pours out of his hands into the reforming torso. The golem twitches, then goes still, seams in the torso reappearing and widening. More blue light flares, and the rocks begin to fuse together again. Bernard sets his jaw, narrows his eyes, and the purple-white light grows brighter, causing the rocks to start falling apart again.
And then the blue lights flare. Again.
Jesus, it’s still going, even with our own wizard.
“Help him!” CB gestures to the reforming rocks. “Break apart the big pieces. Make it work harder to do less!”
Red Shift is there in a blur, arms almost invisible as he starts punching holes into the golem at supersonic speeds. Sister Sentinel is only a few steps behind him, pounding at its torso with such force that she breaks off a quarter of it even as more blue light flashes and other bits reform. Some of the stone skittering across the floor toward the golem slides away from it as Brother Judgment passes his left hand across the floor in a sweeping motion. Even Agent Grant joins in, having acquired a sledgehammer from somewhere. The black-suited man starts pounding away at the arm Sister Sentinel tore off the golem, sending stone chips flying.
CB looks up at Derecho, floating just below the ceiling, overlooking the scene. She notices, and shakes her head slightly. She can’t use her lightning with everyone right on top of the target.
Derecho can’t get a shot, and Blink and I are pretty useless right now. Outstanding.
The blue light flares again, brighter this time. Once again, the torso starts repairing itself, and once again the rubble in the room is dragged toward it.
“How many times is it gonna do that?” Brother Judgment asks. He sounds tired. CB doesn’t really understand how telekinesis works, but he knows that interacting with magic makes everything more difficult.
“Depends on our wizard,” CB says.
“Hmm.” Brother Judgment’s voice is wry behind his mask. “Not sure I’m ready for a world where that’s a thing.”
CB snorts. “You and me both…”
He takes a moment to assess their progress and shakes his head. “Grant! We need more firepower. Can you spare Jack and Hu?”
Grant brings his sledgehammer down on a corner of the separated arm. A chunk of stone breaks off and almost immediately moves back into place, filling in the hole as if nothing happened. He swears and swings at the same spot. “On it.”
They redouble their efforts, but it soon becomes clear they’re only managing to just barely keep the golem’s ability to heal in check. That’s fine in theory—letting the golem burn itself out trying to rebuild itself is a workable tactic.
Unfortunately, everyone is getting tired.
Light pours through the Red Shift-shaped hole in the outer wall, and Agent Hu, already transformed into living flame, flies through. She gives the room a once-over and focuses on the golem.
“Clear out!” Hu positions herself directly over the golem. Red Shift and Sister Sentinel back away. Agent Grant teleports to the other side of the room.
The blue light flares again. Immediately the torso begins to close up, and the right arm slides across the floor, placing itself into the stump. Then Hu flares, and a stream of white-hot fire erupts from her hands, burrowing into the golem’s chest. An enormous wave of heat washes over the room; CB feels his eyebrows singe. At almost the same time, Derecho—who finally has a clear shot—summons lightning striking nearly the same location.
The torso shatters. It reminds CB of seeing a pane of glass being dropped to the floor. He vaguely remembers reading that extreme heat can make stone brittle, and wonders exactly how much heat Hu is generating.
Blue light flares up again, but it’s different this time. It flickers erratically, like a fluorescent light just before it goes out. When the last trace of blue flickers away, David Bernard sinks to his knees, shoulders slumping, and exhales heavily.
“It’s done.” The man sounds impossibly weary. “It almost didn’t work.”
Hu rises slightly into the air surveying the damage. She looks over to Derecho and nods once, who nods in return.
At that moment, Scrapper Jack leaps through the hole in the wall. He hasn’t bothered to put on a mask, which doesn’t surprise CB at all. The guy is almost as impervious to gas as Vigilante.
Jack takes in the room and frowns. “I thought there was another magic robot.”
“Too slow,” Hu says, sounding smug. “I took care of it.”
Jack looks vaguely annoyed, then glances up. “We left Zero and Street Ronin alone.”
“Hey,” Grant says. “I’m still there. It’s fine. Zero just found a building schematic. She says our objective is probably six floors down. She’s printing out a floor plan. Speak of the devil…”
Grant blurs and disappears for an instant, then reappears right in front of CB, holding a printout of a floor plan in his hands. CB takes it, studying closely.
“Right.” CB looks toward the far end of the hall. “Everyone take a minute.”
Brother Judgment’s head jerks up, and he swivels to look at the stairwell. “Don’t take a minute. Something’s coming.”
“What is it now?” Bernard climbs to his feet, swaying slightly.
“It’s…” Brother Judgment hesitates, uncertain. “They’re not meat robots. But they’re not… quite… human, either.”
CB stares at the stairwell at the end of the lobby, then at the group, still recovering from the golem. “How many?”
Brother Judgment shakes his head and shrugs. “I stopped counting at fifteen? A lot more than fifteen.”