Part Thirty Two: Haruspex Analytics Golem
The half of the room looks normal, the other half looks insane.
The part of the room closest to the door is in almost pristine condition: there are two cubicles set face to face, and a stand in the far corner that does in truth have one of those fax/copier combinations resting on it. Nothing looks out of place, except for the lack of any kind of window and the gaping hole Jack tore in the side. The building stopped having windows shortly after the first air force attack, and even the gaping hole is being repaired before their eyes.
The rest of the room isn’t so much a “room” as it’s an ever-shifting series of shapes passing through, traveling from one part of the building to another. It reminds CB of conveyor belts, or maybe trains pulling very strange cars behind them.
“What now?” Jenny stares at the large conveyor contraption, then turns to the rest of the group. “I’d suggest just following that, to see where it goes, but for some reason I half expect it to start passing through a series of hammers and anvils and cleavers.”
“You want us to start the distraction now?” Jack asks.
CB nods. “Might as well.”
“OK then.” Agent Grant turns to Jack and LaFleur. “You two are pretty much immune to munitions, right? I don’t have to worry about friendly fire?”
“I’ll be fine,” Jack says.
“As will I.” Even LaFleur’s voice sounds metallic in that form. “Depending on what part of the Crossfire munitions stash you’re stealing from.”
“Hey, it’s not stealing,” Agent Grant protested, gesturing to Street Ronin. “He’s the one who showed me where it was.”
“As long as you’re there,” Street Ronin says, giving his equipment a once-over, “I could use an ammo refresh.”
“Sure,” Agent Grant says. His outline blurs as he hands over a cloth pouch. “Two more left.”
Street Ronin nods his thanks, hooking the pouch onto his utility belt. “I don’t think there’s anything there that’ll hurt you, Overmind. Which means, Agent Grant, you should feel free to be as distracting as you can possibly manage.”
Agent Grant actually grins at that. “You have no idea how many forms I’d have to sign at work to do what I’m about to do right now.”
CB pulls on his cigarette. The world is right there, waiting. He pushes, watching the way it starts to tumble. He moves to the outer wall, Jenny and Street Ronin following. “Make some noise, gentlemen.”
Jack grins, then charges through the conveyor belt, pushing deeper into the building’s center.
Jack Barrow is, as far as CB knows, one of the world’s strongest metahumans. His only rival in that department is Regiment, which means that the amount of damage Jack can do, if he really sets his mind to it, is hard to quantify. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that this building is held together by magic, which is why Jack couldn’t just tear off each of those cables he wrestled with earlier.
Still, attacking from the inside is different. Even magical extra-dimensional beings from a different reality tend to focus more on defending against enemies from the outside trying to force their way in—things are different once the enemy find themselves already inside. Jack tears off a cube of concrete from one of the “conveyor belts” and throws it into a column, shattering both. Almost immediately the building responds, dropping swarms of cables from the ceiling, all reaching out to grasp Jack, but even as they wrap themselves around his limbs, he tears them off their moorings.
LaFleur enters the fray, metal form disappearing and reappearing to Jack’s right, bladed arms sweeping, cutting through concrete and cable alike. Even more cables drop from the ceiling, seeking to tangle LaFleur as well, but any time he’s unable to cut through enough of them to remain free he simply teleports to one side and continues his fight.
“My turn!” Agent Grant shouts gleefully, as he rolls two cylinders along the floor, each coming to a rest near LaFleur and Jack. They flash red twice, then explode, causing cable and bits of concrete to go flying. Neither LaFleur nor Jack appear to be affected by the blast in the least, though Jack’s outer clothing is in tatters.
“Bad news, Hu,” Grant says. “Looks like Dr. Thorpe gave Scrapper Jack some kind invulnerable bodysuit.”
Even though she’s not with the group, her sigh is clearly audible through Brother Judgment’s mental link.
CB takes a moment to tune in on the events outside. The building is still focusing most of its energy on Bernard, who is still managing to keep his shield up. Red Shift has stopped punching through it, taking some time to recover spent calories instead. Thorpe gave him a new device that more efficiently replenishes his energy when he runs, but when he pushes for too long his body still burns faster than it gets. He’s been pushing through the whole fight. Derecho is back in action, having found a place that gives her a good view of the building while keeping mostly out of sight, but she has to be more selective about what she does now that there are more forces on the ground.
In short: they’re holding their ground. There’s still time to pull this off.
CB turns to Jenny and Street Ronin. “OK. We split up. Shout out when you find the brain.”
Jenny and Street Ronin nod. CB takes another drag of his cigarette, watches the last of it burn away, and flicks it into the corner. “Let’s do this.”
* * *
Other than sparring with her great-grandfather, Jenny never did any formal training in much of anything. She exercised regularly and learned to fight hand-to-hand from one of the greatest melee combatants of all time. As impressive as that might be, looking at the constantly moving shapes she has to navigate through she kind of wishes she’d taken some parkour classes when she’d had the opportunity.
Due to all the disruption Jack, LaFleur, and Grant are causing—Grant has now appeared with a freaking flamethrower on his back and is cheerfully demonstrating that the inside of this monstrosity is not up to fire code standards—she’s starting to see gaps between the moving rock and writhing cables that are wide enough to pass through. The problem is that she has no idea if they actually go anywhere. She sees Street Ronin choose one at random, grab some cables that are busy attacking Jack, and swing himself up and through, disappearing from sight. CB takes his time, choosing to light another cigarette first, then simply walks past the fight, disappearing behind a curtain of cables like he was going into the back room of a tattoo parlor.
Jenny follows Street Ronin’s lead, grabbing a mesh of cables and climbing onto what looks like a catwalk stretching across the fight below. It’s not really a catwalk; it’s another conveyor, though Jenny can’t tell what exactly it’s conveying because there’s nothing traveling across it. She crouches, letting the conveyor pull her along its path, ready to leap aside if there really are any random anvils or hammers or chopping sawblades appearing out of the ceiling.
There are no anvils, no hammers, no chopping sawblades. It seems the building is focusing its attention on the three madmen who are trying to wreck it from the inside out. She glances down at the melee as she passes overhead—Jack is nearly sinking through the floor as he creates an ever-widening and deepening crater as he punches, kicks, and smashes everything in sight. LaFleur isn’t damaging infrastructure, but anything sent his way is sliced to pieces. His blades must be incredibly sharp to do that to stone. And Agent Grant cuts the most bizarre figure of the bunch: at first glance he appears to be choosing targets at random, letting loose with the flamethrower at anything moving, but any time something tries to hit him he always winds up teleporting to one of the spots he’d cleared away just moments before, giving him a moment before the building heals itself where he can select a new area to burn clean.
She returns her attention to where she’s going and tries to keep her movements as limited as possible. The catwalk/conveyor continues on for a minute, moving so slowly she’s tempted to start crawling on her own to make up lost time. But then she notices that the “catwalk” turns sharply downward, and if she stays on it she’ll wind up being dumped down what might be a very deep hole.
Down is the wrong direction. Brother Judgment placed them below the target. She needs to go up. She starts scanning above her for anything that might give her a way up. It’s then that she finally recognizes where she is: a brief flash of a metal door and some torn carpet through a mass of stone and cable and she realizes she’s near the stairwell.
She waits as long as she can, then rolls off the catwalk, slipping through a tangled mesh of cable as she falls. For a horrifying instant she’s convinced the cable will immediately constrict around her, but it actually slithers away as it feels her brush past. She lands on her feet, in a crouch, and makes her way forward.
This part of the building has fewer conveyor systems, but it is positively teeming with cables. Most of them appear to be Ethernet cables, which she finds interesting. The external cables look more industrial, like the kind you’d use to pull elevators around, but the internal cables look almost exclusively like the heavy duty Ethernet cables you’d find on a data center floor. They drop from the ceiling, writhing like snakes, but they never drop farther than halfway to the floor. And they’re all moving, some traveling farther down the floor’s main hallway, others traveling back the other way.
Jenny crouches low, practically crawling down the hall to keep as much distance between herself and the cables as she can. She doesn’t know what will happen if she touches one—they seemed to regard her as something to be avoided or routed around when she fell through them—but she doesn’t want to risk being wrong. She crawls down the hall until she reaches the metal door, then pushes against the crash bar. The door opens into the stairwell; once she crawls through she lets it close shut behind her.
There are no cables here. There’s not really anything: other than the lack of light it appears exactly the same as it had when they were descending it earlier. She activates the nightvision function in her helmet and begins jogging up the stairs at a brisk pace, keeping an eye out for anything out of place.
“Hey.” Calling out through her mind still feels weird, but she’s starting to get used to it. “If you can reach the stairwell, it doesn’t look like it’s used for anything.”
Through their link, she can sense the position of both Street Ronin and CB. Street Ronin is actually pretty close to her position—he’s in one of the offices just a little way down the main hall, if she remembers the layout correctly. CB is a level above them, on the other side of the building. She has no idea how he got there.
“I thought I recognized this room,” Street Ronin mutters. “OK, heading your way.”
“I’m gonna… stay here,” CB says. “I don’t think I can go back the way I came. But the cables aren’t moving around like claymation snakes any more, so that’s something.”
“What are they doing?” Jenny asks.
“They’re… just being cables. Like, have you ever sliced open a telephone cable?”
“Sure,” Jenny says. “But Dad doesn’t know, so don’t tell him. He thinks it was ‘hooligans.’”
“Well, it’s like that. They’re all flowing the same direction. I’m gonna see where it leads.”
The fire door opens, and Street Ronin crawls into the stairwell. When the door closes behind him he stands, stretches, and sighs in relief. He nods to Jenny.
“Why isn’t there anything in the stairwell?” he asks.
Jenny shrugs. “I really have no idea. Honestly, it looks like the building has been shifting its insides around for repairs and things like that. I don’t know why it would need a stairwell. If I were in control of a big skyscraper monster that could shift its insides around, I wouldn’t keep it.”
“Part of the spell…” David Bernard’s voice sounds a little shaky, and very tired. The cables haven’t managed to get through his shield yet, but he’s had to decrease its size to conserve energy. “Most golems are human shaped—or animal shaped. Shaped like a thing intended to move. So it’s easy to get it to move, because it has a consistent form. This building was never intended to move. I don’t even know what gave them the idea to do this. But in order for it to work, there has to be some kind of constant that runs through the entire length of the structure. Stairwells and elevator shafts are pretty obvious choices for that.”
“That makes as much sense as I guess anything about magic ever will,” Street Ronin says. “What I want to know is, why isn’t it guarded?”
There’s a brief silence. Jenny can almost feel David shrug.
“Hubris?” David suggests. “That’s all I got.”
“I’ll take hubris,” Jenny says.
“Maybe.” Street Ronin doesn’t look convince. She suspects a healthy amount of paranoia is useful in his position.
“Let’s climb up,” Jenny says. “It’s either hubris, which means we get easy access to the bad guy, or it’s a deathtrap and we’ll wind up starting another distraction so Curveball can save the day.”
That provokes a sharp bark of laughter from Curveball. Street Ronin stares at her for a moment, then shrugs. “Nothing better to do right now…”
They trudge up the stairs single file, Jenny first, Street Ronin trailing behind. At the next landing Jenny stops dead in her tracks, staring at the door in mute astonishment.
Street Ronin steps up beside her. “What…?”
Cable twists around the doorframe, starting from the floor and traveling around the length of it, forming an arch of its own.
“Sorta feels like there might be something interesting behind that door,” Jenny says.
Street Ronin doesn’t reply, but he gives his rifle a quick once-over.
Jenny turns the handle. The door clicks and easily swings open.
Whatever this is, it’s not the kind of room you find in an office building.
A brightly polished marble floor stretches before them, gleaming in the soft light of lanterns hanging from a high ceiling. Rows of glass display tables are organized along the walls of the room, with more set up in a grid across the floor. A simple white card is set on each display.
“Be careful,” Street Ronin says. “This could be a—”
Jenny steps into the room.
“…nevermind,” Street Ronin finishes. He doesn’t follow.
The marble echoes softly as Jenny walks to the closest glass table. It’s not very wide—about the width of a small drafting table—but the only thing in it is a small clump of what Jenny finally realizes is hair. Thick, blonde hair. She looks at the card. It’s someones name—she doesn’t recognize it.
“Anyone know someone named Marvin Ellis?”
“There’s a governor named Marvin Ellis,” Agent Grant says. “Nebraska, I think? Or maybe Kansas. One of the ones in the middle.”
As Jenny takes in the names of some of the other displays, her throat starts to tighten. “Hey… uh… remember when my uncle said these guys were keeping samples of powerful people so they could threaten to kill them with magic? I think we just found their stash.”
She doesn’t recognize the name on every card, but every name she does recognize is a congressman, or a Senator, or a governor, General, or someone highly placed in the bureaucracy.
“Jesus,” she says. “Is that the Attorney General of New York?”
Street Ronin is now in the room, moving quickly from display to display, taking note of each name.
He’s probably recording them, Jenny thinks. Wish I’d thought of that.
“What’s it doing here?” Street Ronin asks. “It wasn’t here on the way down. We would have noticed this.”
“It wasn’t here before,” Jenny says. “The building probably moved it here when it… you know… changed. After we escaped.”
There’s a blur of an outline, then Agent Grant is standing next to them. Jenny has to block out the sensation of Agent Grant’s presence. He was already in three places; four is just too weird.
Agent Grant looks around. “I think this was probably close to the place where they were casting that spell. If we’d had a chance to nose around a little we probably would have found it.”
“What should we do now?” Jenny asks.
“I still have the flamethrower,” Agent Grant suggests.
Jenny thinks it over. It might not make a difference at this point, but this does represent a hold Haruspex has over people. It’s not the kind of thing that should just be left hanging around.
She looks at Street Ronin. “You get pictures of everything?”
Street Ronin nods.
“OK.” She takes a deep breath. “Curveball, looks like we’re about to create a third distraction.”