Echoes from the gunshots were still ringing in the elevator shaft as the Enchanter crumpled to the ground. One problem solved. Helix sprinted forward, but even though he was problem number two on my list of things to deal with, I wasn’t ready for him just yet. His turn wouldn’t come until Chainfall was finished.
As an officer of the law Helix had an obligation to check on the Enchanter before anything else, just one of many difficulties that he has to deal with which I do not. So, while he was doing a middling impression of the Good Samaritan I lowered the strength on my magnets just enough to let me slide down the elevator shaft. In a couple of seconds, maybe less, my feet touched the top of the elevator and I switched the magnets off entirely.
From the top of the elevator it was a simple matter to open the emergency hatch and drop down into the car, trailing the wires that still connected me to the building’s electrical grid. I knew that Project Sumter had established some sort of surveillance setup when they began watching the school building and the school itself probably had some cameras as part of the security. That would make it easier than I would like for them to figure out what part of the building I was moving through and how they might intercept me as I left.
So before I disconnected from the grid I charged up my capacitors for an EMP. With four separate magnets pulsing at once from the right position in the building I figured that I could knock out all the cameras that could see me as I made my exit. I took the half second the capacitors needed to charge to compose a text message to Grappler, telling her to start the van and come pick me up at the appropriate place, then disconnected the electrical hook-up and stepped out of the elevator.
Leaving the building from the roof was exit route six. The best entrance routes for the Project to use to reach the roof made two of the three stairways poor choices for my exit and for some reason it looked like this elevator had been moved, so I couldn’t necessarily count on empty elevator shafts as easy routes through the building anymore. I’d have to take the third set of stairs and exit the building through the service door on the west side of the building, which unfortunately would pass right under the windows in the block of offices where I’d left the church pastor a few minutes ago. But unless he was looking out the windows at the exact moment I left the building and someone was in a position to hear him yelling it wasn’t likely anyone would know I was out on the street in time to do anything before Grappler met me and we made good our exit.
So as soon as I was out of the elevator I sent the message to Grappler, telling her to pick me up on Diversy Street and do it fast. Then I took off down the halls of the school, headed towards the west stairway. About half way there, I was planning to set off the EMP and wipe the cameras on that side of the building.
I’d forgotten that some of the classrooms in the school let out into hallways on both sides. I certainly hadn’t expected to find anyone from the Project on the second floor, with their excellent response time I was certain they’d all be up on the roof with Helix, trying to sort out what was going on for at least another thirty seconds or so.
So when a woman in a crisp, professional suit that screamed government agent burst out of one of the classrooms, apparently using it as a short cut across the building, I was caught by surprise. From the brief glance I got of her face, she was too. We both tried to stop but it was clear a collision was inevitable. With an unthinking twitch of talent I switched my vest rig over to it’s taser mode and threw my hands up to block her.
It was a split second decision that didn’t take into account anything but the immediate situation. I only remembered that I’d prepped for an EMP as we slammed into each other, one of my hands grabbing her on the shoulder the other snatching her by the opposite wrist. There wasn’t time to try and keep the circuit from closing, the capacitors vented their stored potential in a heartbeat dumping far more current into her than is even remotely safe.
The woman made a muffled sound, barely even a groan, and crumpled to the ground. There was no time to check her. With a twinge of regret, I continued my headlong rush towards the stairs.
The gunshots took me completely by surprise and I still wasn’t sure what was happening when the person in the elevator dropped out of sight accompanied by the sound of the soles of boots being dragged along metal.
Without realizing it I’d run over to the Enchanter and flipped him on his back. He looked woozy but was still breathing. I was in the process of cuffing him when Jack and the rest of my team burst onto the roof. Jack was by my side instantly, yelling, “Why did you shut off your radio?”
On a scale of one to enraged Jack was hovering around seriously pissed. “There was a lot of noise coming that wouldn’t have done you any good,” I snapped, letting the Enchanter fall back down to the ground. “He’s been shot but he was wearing a vest so I think he’ll make it.”
“A vest?” Jack prodded the Enchanter’s chest with a couple of fingers, prompting him to groan.
“May be the only smart thing he’s done all night.”
“Who shot him?” Jack asked, glancing at the other three, who were giving the roof a careful look over.
“There was someone in the elevator shaft,” I said, quickly double checking my count. Yes, there were only three people on the roof. “Where’s Mossburger?”
“On the second floor,” Jack said. “He did say he noticed something off about the elevators but I didn’t catch what. He and Mona were going to reposition them in the building.”
A bad feeling settled in my gut and started playing hackie with my kidneys. It was a couple of steps over to the elevator shaft. I shouted, “FBI, put your hands in the air!” Then I peered over the edge of the doorframe. There wasn’t anything there but the emergency trapdoor in the top of the elevator car, sitting open. I glanced at Kesselman and waved him over. “Secure this waste of space,” I gestured at the Enchanter, then looked back at Jack. “I think we need to be downstairs.”
“Circuit?” Jack raised an eyebrow.
“Who else?” I called over my shoulder as I practically dove down the steps.
Two floors of steps isn’t a lot but after my climb and brief rooftop brawl I wasn’t at my freshest and by the time I reached the second floor my legs felt a little wobbly. The elevator door was closed when I stepped out into the hallway, but that was no surprise. There hadn’t been anyone visible in the car when I looked down and it’s not like there’s a whole lot of hiding places in a place like that. Circuit had already flown the coop.
Jack burst into the hallway a few seconds after I did, saying, “Herrera’s got the people on the ground moving to secure the building, but the local cops aren’t here yet and we’re short staffed. Surveillance people are watching the cameras but nothin yet.”
I ground my teeth for a moment and said, “Split up. You head that way,” I pointed off to the right, “I’ll take this way. If there’s no sign of him we head down to the first floor, we flush him, fine but don’t get too close.”
“No kidding,” Jack muttered. “Turn your headset back on.”
Once I was plugged back into the radio channel we parted ways, moving cautiously down the halls. That part of the second floor basically consisted of three long rows of classrooms, with the elevator at one end. From the elevator, the hall wrapped u-shaped around the middle row of classrooms, and if I recalled the blueprints right, those classrooms exited into the hallways on either side. If Circuit was trying to dodge us the fact that he could move freely from one hallway to the other was horribly inconvenient, but I didn’t expect he was planning on staying on this floor. On the other hand, if I needed Jack’s support he could just cut through a classroom and be right there.
Provided the classrooms were unlocked. I cursed and wished I had thought to check on that little detail at some point over the last few days. The halls were dark, and as I rounded the corner from the elevator and started down the long hall, with classroom doors on either side I planned to carefully check each door, to make sure there were no nasty surprises waiting for me. That idea went out the window when I saw a crumpled heap lying in the middle of the hallway.
I sucked in a breath and headed straight towards it, keeping an eye out to my sides as best I could moving at a fast walk. When I got there I realized it was Mona. I thumbed my radio and said, “Agent down, I repeat, agent down.” I quickly gave my position as I reached down and felt for a pulse. And froze, for just a second. “She doesn’t have a pulse. We need an EMT up here, now.”
At some point I’d gone from a normal speaking tone to yelling. “He’s up on the roof with the Enchanter,” Sanders said, “I’m sending him down now.”
Jack slid around the corner and came to a stop on the floor beside me. We quickly but gently flipped her onto her back and he started CPR. There was a surreal quality to it, just sitting there and watching. With startling clarity I saw Jack’s shoulders pumped up and down, I heard every creak and snap Mona’s ribs made under his weight. I felt grit from the floor between my fingers and the lingering hot spots where Mona’s suit was charred on her shoulder and arm. I was even aware of the subtle heat differences that marked people moving about on the stairs and on the roof, even moving across the street outside.
Across the street and away from the building, moving fast.
There weren’t any visible injuries on Mona’s body besides the burn marks, but somehow her heart had stopped. Like she had taken a large electrical shock. And I knew from who, and where he was.
I scrambled to my feet and crossed to the classroom that bordered on the street…
There are some things you learn to recognize from experience, like the expression of exasperated patience you will see from many so-called civil servants. There are others that you’ve never encountered before but instantly recognize, like the sound of your nose breaking under a lucky punch. Then there are some things that you only recognize because you’ve wondered, over and over again in the back of your mind, exactly what they might be like. Here is a sound that falls into the third category:
Glass breaking, the roar of an overlarge blowtorch, the sound of a giant taking a deep breath and a funnel cloud reaching to touch the earth, all at once.
That was the sound that had been playing in the back of my mind, ever since my unfortunate brush with the agent back in the school building. As I hurriedly climbed over the low chain-link fence around the outside of the school property I thought I might have gotten away without hearing it at all. But it finally came as I dashed through the faltering rain, across Diversy Street towards the street corner where Grappler would pick me up.
I knew even before I looked back that Helix was coming for me. That’s how this game is played, after all – I do something he disapproves of, then run when he chases me. He’d just never gotten that close before.
There was a moment as I spun to look back at the building when the air itself seemed to be pulling me back towards the building and Helix. I knew it was just the heat moving. In a way, heat itself is motion and when Helix had melted the window between himself and the outside the building no longer insulated the world around it from Helix’s heat sink. All the heat rushed towards it at once, dragging everything nearby in that direction at the same time.
But the mad rush slowed almost immediately as the available heat bled away, leaving ice forming on the ground and sleet replacing the rain. I felt my jaw drop open. I’d read that Helix was one of the most powerful heat sinks on record but I’d never really heard anything to suggest exactly what it meant.
Apparently, it meant he could wrap summer up into a ball, hold it in one hand and let winter fall from the skies.
For a second he just stared at me from the high ground, ignoring the hail, the wind and the last few shards of falling glass, letting the metal window frame and concrete wall slowly melt and drip down the building. Then he climbed up onto the window sill and jumped. I expected him to fall the two stories like a lead balloon but instead he pushed the intense heat in his hands down below his body, catching himself in the updraft and breaking his fall.
He landed lightly, incinerating the grass and hedges within two feet in the process, sending a rain of ashes floating upward in a bizarre counterpoint to the sleet falling all around him, and started forward. It wasn’t exactly a run but he wasn’t moving slowly either, and the way he melted the fence into slag without breaking stride told me his usual reluctance to cause property damage was on hiatus. He left footprints in the in the blacktop crossing the street.
I backpedaled a dozen steps, glancing over my shoulder to see if Grappler had arrived. She hadn’t. On the other hand, Helix hadn’t caught up with me until I was outside, and that gave me a decided advantage.
With a thought I sent a text from my phone, activating the heat sink countermeasures on the roof. A pair of powerful electromagnets kicked on, creating a large enough of a field to encompass a couple of city blocks and give me the reach to touch the bottom of the clouds overhead with my talent. The roiling masses of hot and cold air that heat sinks make work just like normal storm clouds, they cause wind, shed rain and, most importantly, they create some of the largest concentrations of static electricity in the world.
Helix may be one of the most powerful heat sinks in existence. He had definitely blown my expectations of his capabilities out of the water. But even if he had just done the best impression of human flight I’d ever seen, even if the earth under his feet was melting away and he held enough plasma in his hands to pass as an avenging angel, I still held the trump card.
Because if fire has always been the sword of the angels, then so is thunder the hammer of the gods.
I gave a Helix a touch of the hat, tugging it down over my eyes in the process, then traced a connection from him up to the clouds above based purely on the electric potentials involved. Then, with a snap of the fingers I closed the circuit.
Even with my eyes closed and and the hat brim shielding them the flash was still blinding. The thunderclap was worse, probably rattling windows in buildings several blocks away. Immediately after the lightning strike I felt the heat come rushing back, a moment of painful warmth followed by a more normal, if less humid, summer evening’s temperature. An eerie silence fell, or possibly I had managed to temporarily deafen myself. I pushed my hat back to its normal position and blinked the stars out of my eyes.
Helix had been knocked about a dozen feet sideways and lay sprawled on the ground. He was out of action but I could make out the gentle rise and fall of his chest that suggested he was still alive. For a second I wavered where I stood. A few minutes ago I had deliberately avoided confronting him on the roof because I felt, as I have always felt, that people with his character and training will be necessary to bring about the world I intend to create. Even if I never convinced him to see things my way he could still play a very valuable part in the events to come.
But not if I got caught before things could be set in motion. That chance run-in on the second floor had just changed the game. From the outside Helix probably looks like something of a loose cannon, the way he approaches and corrects problems in the most direct way possible can cause people a lot of worry. It’s also startlingly efficient. I’ve never known his methods to cross the line into overkill, they’ve always been just enough to stop me in my tracks.
I knew that if he’d gone on a rampage it could only be because I’d killed that woman. And that meant problems. Project Sumter would go to condition one. Every person in the country who knew about talents and had any kind of official standing would be out for my head. I could probably evade that kind of man hunt. But not if it was led by a man who had already had eight years to perfect the art of frustrating my plans. Regretfully, I drew my SIG and glanced around to make sure the coast was still clear.
It saved my life.
Barry’s desk was hurtling towards me, gracefully flipping itself end over end, side smashed from its impact with the window, drawers hanging open and dropping office supplies along behind it. The sight was so absurd I froze for a split second and nearly got my head taken off. I just barely managed to duck out of the way, cutting it so close my hat was snatched off my head by one of the dangling drawers.
The desk crashed to the ground ten feet away, slid a few more feet in a shower of sparks and came to a stop. Grappler’s van careened around the corner just beyond it, fishtailing badly on the ice. Helix forgotten, I sprinted towards it, sparing a glance back towards the school building as I ran.
I spotted a human shape leap out of a shattered window on the third floor covering far more distance in that one jump than was humanly possible, crashing to the ground in the middle of the street a few hundred feet away. In front of me, the van’s back door sprang open and Heavy Water leaned out, grabbed my left arm and hauled me into the still coasting van, yelling, “Go, go, go!”
There was a mad scramble as I got my feet under me and Heavy slammed the door closed behind me. We both grabbed for handholds to keep upright as the van picked up speed. Heavy wasn’t able to grab one before something hit the van and a large, desk-shaped dent appeared in one corner of the back, sending the vehicle fishtailing again.
Heavy cursed and tumbled to the ground, I clung to a crash bar in the van’s ceiling for dear life. I could hear Grappler in the front seat, muttering, “Come on baby, pick it up.”
The van surged forward at the same time a hand slammed into the van, from the side opposite where the desk hit us, tearing up from the back corner of the floor and closing on the hinge that held the door in place. The van rocked forward a bit, kicking off it’s rear wheels, then the engine clunked into high gear at the same instant I hit the door release, flinging the them open again. I should say door, the damage from the desk hitting us kept one side from opening and the other, now attached to the van by nothing but it’s top hinge, simply tore off. I pointed my SIG out the gaping hole it left and emptied the clip.
Since the armor plating was one of the van’s many nonstandard accessories there was little chance I would hurt the man who’d hit us, who was still holding our back door across his body like a shield. But it did keep him from following us. Heart pounding, I pulled the trigger until the slide locked back.
By then we were careening around a corner and, by some measure, safely away. The last thing I saw before High School 44 was out of sight was pastor Manuel Rodriguez tossing my van’s rear door away and turning back to check on Helix.
Heavy scrambled to his feet and wiped sweat from his face, spitting curses. “What the hell was that, Circuit?”
“The van stands out too much now,” I said absently, still trying to process what had just happened. “We need a new vehicle.”
“Circuit.” Heavy grabbed my shoulder and pulled me away from the back of the van, then spun me to look him in the eye. “What. Was. That.”