Part Thirty Three: Haruspex Analytics Golem, The Labyrinth
CB follows the trail of cable down a long, doorless hallway. Faint red light surrounds him—it’s not much, but it’s strong enough to allow him to follow the cables.
He forces himself to keep walking, to keep alert. He takes another drag of his cigarette—his third so far—and lets the feel of the world spinning around him continue unimpeded. Right now there’s nothing to do but follow the trail and see where it leads. He notes the hallway always turns right, and is doing so with with ever-increasing frequency. It’s a spiral: he started from the outside and it’s leading him ever closer to the center. When he sees a much brighter red, flickering light emanating from the turn up ahead, he suspects he might finally have arrived.
CB keeps close to the wall as he approaches. The air is filled with the sound of clicking. At first he thinks it might be some kind of bug, but he quickly realizes the sound is too regular to be natural. This is mechanical clicking, like a series of relays opening and closing in complex patterns.
The clicking is interrupted briefly when a massive explosion booms below him, carrying enough force to shake the floor. It comes from the general location where he senses Jenny and Street Ronin—that must be Jenny’s “distraction.” As if in response, the clicking grows louder, faster, almost frantic.
Somewhere below him, someone is firing an automatic rifle in short, controlled bursts. That would be Street Ronin. The short bursts turn into longer, more sustained bursts—Street Ronin becoming concerned.
“They were not happy about that!” Jenny shouts through the link. “Very unhappy cables!”
Pressing close to the wall, CB peers around the corner.
The room reminds him of one of the server rooms Robert had at the old Guardians base, just before he moved everything in. It’s a big rectangle, a raised floor with panels covering the entire floor. Some panels are open, and each open panel radiates that red blinking light. Ethernet cable is everywhere: falling from the ceiling, creeping out of the panels, coming out of the walls… and all of it converges on something at the very center of the room.
There, suspended from the ceiling, is a… man? Woman? A human, or something human-shaped. It’s difficult to tell, precisely, because cables appear to burrow into every inch of it. Each cable blinks red at the point where it touches flesh; each time it blinks, it makes a clicking sound. That’s where the sound comes from. Right now it’s blinking and clicking like crazy.
CB has to take a moment to remember not to talk out loud.
“Found the target.”
“You sure?” Brother Judgment asks.
CB takes in all the cables—every cable in the room—as they snake across the floor and inevitably wind up somehow attached to the figure dangling in the center.
“Pretty sure.” He scans the room slowly, judging distances. “I’m going to need to get closer. Blink, start with the extractions. Do Street Ronin and Zero first—I think they made some uncomfortable friendships in the last few.”
“We did!” Jenny confirms. “I think we would like to leave now!”
“On it.” Blink’s presence disappears from his mind for an instant, appears somewhere below, then disappears with Jenny and reappears at the Alpha site. The automatic fire is replaced with the deep boom of a shotgun, followed by two small explosions.
Very cautiously, CB takes a step into the room. Nothing happens.
He senses Blink move again, this time extracting Street Ronin. The sound of gunfire and explosions stop.
CB takes another step forward. Nothing happens.
“Now?” Blink asks.
CB gauges his distance from the figure. “No. I need to get closer, and it’s going to notice. Not yet. I need to get closer. Everybody clear the building. Brother Judgment, tell Sky Commando to call the retreat. I’ll yell when I’m ready.”
In a matter of seconds LaFleur and Agent Grant disappear from the building and reappear at the Alpha site. Jack takes a little more time, but doesn’t seem to be any more inconvenienced: he knocks a new hole in the side of the building and jumps. He can sense Sister Sentinel, still fighting on the building’s exterior, doing the same. And then he senses Red Shift moving, for the first time in a while. It takes CB a second to figure it out, but he finally realizes the man is using his speed to help the ground forces get out of range.
My turn, then.
CB takes a long pull on his cigarette, notes the world spinning around him, and very deliberately tells it to stop.
“Hey!” he shouts. He winks.
Somewhere in the distance, there is a very faint pop.
Nearly half of the cables attached to the figure in the room detach themselves and streak toward CB, moving at speeds that very clearly indicate they don’t intend to do anything less than rip through him and then tear him apart. CB starts running, ducking and twisting as the cables brush past him by inches. They try to wrap around him, and he rolls to the side. They try to skewer him again and he twists, then drops prone as one tries to wrap itself around his neck. He rolls again as more try to pin him to the floor, and manages to make it to his feet and dart forward as cables rush toward him from both sides of the room, trying to catch him in a crossfire.
None of the cables hit their mark. He glances over his shoulder to find them all tangled together, frantically trying to work themselves lose. He turns back to the figure, noting that more cables have detached—but instead of rushing toward him, they whip around the figure in a blur of motion. CB’s pretty sure if he gets any closer those cables will cut him to pieces. Fortunately, he doesn’t need to get any closer. He just needed to get this close.
He smiles as the world, frozen in place, waits.
Instantly Blink and Hu are there. Hu takes an involuntary step back from the whirling cables of death.
CB puts a hand on her shoulder. “Ready?”
She blinks, focuses, and nods.
He moves his hand to Blink’s shoulder. An instant later they’re both at the Alpha site.
He looks up just in time to watch the entire top of the building get blown to bits.