Amp leaned one shoulder against the side of the alley, eyes closed in concentration. Her head swiveled slowly back and forth as she listened to things only she could hear. I shifted impatiently as we waited, I’d grown up in the city and never seen the streets so dark before. An empty building looks a little sinister lit by streetlights as you walk by it but, in near total darkness, crouched by a looming wall and wondering what it was Amp was hearing, the city itself seemed alive and malevolent.
Maybe it was just because I knew there was more to listen for than I was used to but I found myself focusing on the soft, inconsistent breeze that blew down the alley, almost like the hissing of breath. A sudden metallic popping sound echoed down the alley. All of us except Amp jumped.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Probably a trash can or something, cooling down from the heat of the day,” Clark answered.
“Or something’s rummaging around in it,” Al suggested. “Anything yet, Amp?”
She didn’t answer so I took the opportunity to ask Al about something that had been bothering me for the last few minutes. “Didn’t she say the acoustics in the city aren’t right for this kind of thing?”
“I can’t here clearly over long distances,” she said, annoyed. “The streets are like canyons, they make echoes that muddle words up. But I can hear across one street fine. Now shut up, all of you.”
We did as instructed. There were a few seconds while Amp just listened, then finally she said, “There’s three cameras on the front of the building, one stationary at the main entrance, two at the corners with a five second interval panning from one side to the other. And I think there’s someone inside the building, although the noise is coming from the top floor.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem, utility rooms are always on the first floor when they’re not in the basement so they’re easier to hook up to the grid,” Clark said.
“Except they could see us coming across the street and, if it is some kind of guard posted by Circuit or whatever sick mind knocked the power out, they might have reinforcements they could call in.” Al tapped Amp on the shoulder and, once he had her attention, motioned for us to move further back into the alley. “Clark, how likely is it that Circuit would bother to guard these locations?”
“Honestly? Not terribly.” He was quiet a second and I caught flickers of movement that may have been him counting things on his fingers. “He has to have at least forty or fifty of these things in town, maybe a little more, maybe a lot. It’s hard to say, since we don’t have a clear picture what the radius of effect on his EMP weapons is, or, for that matter, whether that’s even a primary part of his strategy. Remember, Helix didn’t know how he’d taken out the thugs he found. If he has armed response teams ‘protecting the city’ like he’s said his goal is then he’s fielding a lot of personnel already and they’ll have a hard time also guarding these installations.”
“And if he’s not dealing with looters using hired guns he’s not protecting his toys with them either,” Amp finished. “Nasty situation.”
Actually, from the way they described it the solution seemed pretty obvious to me. “Why don’t I just throw you all onto the roof here, then across the street to the roof of the store? Whoever’s down there probably isn’t expecting us to come in from the air and-”
“Okay, wait.” Amp cut me off with an emphatic wave of the hand. “Maybe you and Massif can survive that but Clark and I are squishy, remember? Regular people and most talents cannot survive a direct shotgun blast.”
“Neither can I,” I said patiently. “The way this goes down is, I toss Massif up to the roof, he breaks his fall and catches the two of you when I toss you up.”
There was a grunt of comprehension of Clark. “Vector shifts can transfer momentum from one object to another. If Massif does catch us he can literally break our fall by moving the momentum from us to the building at his feet. The key being his actually catching us. Have the two of you actually practiced this before?”
“It’s not actually been a priority so far,” Massif said, “since she was theoretically a couple of months away from testing for field work. It’s not that complicated a maneuver if the precision is there but, no offense, Izzy, based on the way you tossed that planter at Lincoln’s place the fine control isn’t there yet. Plus there’s the added complication of doing it in the dark. If we were just trying to get up on a roof I might say try it but going across the street? I’d rather not. Other suggestions?”
“Actually, I think that idea can work,” Clark said, “And it does have the plus side of giving us an angle of attack Circuit might not be expecting. Although I can’t remember if there was a rooftop entrance or not…”
“We’re not tearing out a skylight just so we can get in the building,” Al said. There was a moment of quiet, I think he was waiting to see if anyone else had ideas, then he sighed and said, “Okay, I was hoping someone else might have a better idea but I guess not. I did come with a plan, it’s just a little risky. Lincoln’s family knows the owner of this shop – I think they know every small business and franchise owner in the state – and they use the same security provider. He has a master key for most of their security doors.”
“Why?” Amp asked.
Al laughed. “If I knew that there’s a real chance someone would be in jail and we wouldn’t have them now.”
My eyes widened a little. “What, is he a part of the Triad or something?”
“So here’s what we’re going to do.” Al handed a huge ring of keys to me, ignoring my question, and said, “Izzy, you take these, Clark, you’re with me, Amp-”
“Don’t tell me. I’m the communications relay.”
“And long range artillery,” Clark added quickly.
Al didn’t let the byplay slow him down too much. “Speaking of weaponry, Clark, you’ll need to leave the tire iron here.”
“You’re still carrying that?”
“Like I said, Izzy, I don’t have-”
“Tire iron. On the ground please.” Al waited until the soft ting of metal told him Clark had done as told. “If there are no other interruptions? Good. This is what we do…”
So my plan wasn’t really all that far off from what we wound up doing. I did wind up jumping from rooftop to rooftop, which I’d never done before and is not nearly as cool as you think it is. Okay, it’s pretty cool when you can see where you’re going and don’t have to worry about where you’re going to land or if there’s anything there to trip over or if you’re going to smash your face into something on landing. But trying to sick a landing in the middle of the night, during a power outage, after jumping over a street that looks more like a river of ink is not fun.
I managed to make the landing in spite of not being able to see anything although I did wind up having to use the break fall technique Al’s always praising as the basis of superpowered hand to hand combat. Apparently we spend a lot more of our time getting thrown around than we do blocking or throwing punches. Still, I was over on the roof of the bookstore with no problems other than a few scratches and a racing heart.
At a glance I couldn’t see any security cameras along the back side of the store. It was a short drop from up there to ground below. Now under normal circumstances there would have been plenty of light to see by and unlock the back door of the building with. There was a carriage light above the door and a street lamp in the small parking area behind me. But with the city still out of power I was reduced to pulling out my cell phone and using the dim glow from it’s screen to help me figure out what I was doing as I fumbled to unlock the door.
The building had a fairly standard security setup. The door was a standard lock and deadbolt assembly, but once you were past that you had to enter a security code into a control panel near the door or alarms of some kind went off. Except, of course, that there was no electricity for any of that stuff to run on and a bookstore does not exactly have the budget for a backup generator like the concert venue did.
It was kind of scary how dependent on electricity I was finding life in the city to be. As I let myself into the back of the shop I started to wonder how safe my mother and two little sisters were at home. No one had a clear idea how far the outage extended but from the sound of things most of the city was in the affected area and we certainly didn’t live out in the suburbs.
Worries about family were quickly squashed by the sound of pounding on the front door of the shop. That would be Al and Clark, providing a distraction for me by walking brazenly up to the door and knocking. I let the door swing closed behind me and stumbled through the back of the store. The checkout counter was to my right, stacks of books ran off to my left and in front was a shapeless gloom that the glow from my phone didn’t illuminate far enough to show anything.
According to Clark and Lincoln’s fuzzy memories of the building layout the utility room was behind the counter. I crept quickly up to the counter and, rather than look for a way behind it, just climbed over. There was a door in the corner behind it although it was locked and the key I had didn’t open it. I was fumbling through the keyring, hoping one of them might unlock the door, when Al pounded on the door again and a deep voice like James Earl Jones boomed out saying, “This is the police! Open up!”
I hadn’t known Amp could do that with her voice.
To my surprise we actually got an answer. A couple of gunshots cracked from the second floor and I heard a surprised yelp from out front. Without thinking I dropped the keys, threw my arms over my head and jumped.
Breaking through the floor or a wall is no more fun than jumping over a street. Mostly it’s just a sudden, sharp pain in your forearms. Even concentrating on pushing up and out like papa taught me to the pain of impact was pretty harsh. Almost as bad was the knowledge that somewhere back at the regional office stacks of paperwork was spontaneously printing and collating itself for the inevitable after action, property damage and expense reports. Worse was realizing that I had again overshot the mark and smashing into the roof of the building – from the inside this time – after going clear through the second story in spite of the fact that crashing through the floor really slowed me down.
Fortunately I’d put a bit of an angle into my jump so, although the impact stunned me a bit, I didn’t fall straight back down to the ground floor but instead landed in a heap on the second floor. Winded, I staggered to my feet, absently brushing debris off of my arms and shoulders as I tried to get my bearings.
Up on the second floor was most of the café part of the establishment so sight lines were a lot better. Also, there was just enough light filtering in the windows that I could actually see vague shapes like tables, chairs and a man leaning against an open window frame. I couldn’t see his face but from his posture it looked like he’s just turned around in surprise. “Drop the gun,” I croaked, my voice not really big on the talking thing at the moment. “And put your hands in the air.”
After a second’s hesitation the silhouette bent down and I heard a soft thunk, then it straightened back up with it’s hands over it’s head.
“Muey impressive,” Amp said, her normal voice drifting in through the window. “Massif says good work, bring the shooter downstairs and let us in. Might as well figure out who this guy is while we look for EMP weapons.”
“Right,” I said.
“Right what?” A nervous sounding male voice asked. Apparently Amp had directed her voice so only I could hear it.
“Never mind. Come with me, sir, and we’ll go for a little walk. We need to have a little talk with some nice people.”
For some reason, that idea didn’t seem to appeal to him much.
As it turned out the store’s owner had stayed behind to lock up and guard the shop against looters once the power had gone out. I’m not sure why he thought that was necessary, bookstores aren’t exactly the kinds of places that get looted in survival situations. Maybe he’d just never seen The Day After Tomorrow. Not that I blame him.
Anyway, he hadn’t hit anything other than ground and Al managed to get him calmed down and assured him that we weren’t interested in dragging him off to jail, mainly since he was still under the impression we were local police when we were actually Federal agents. Saying you’re the police when you’re not, even if you are still technically law enforcers, is the kind of thing papa used to do but is now against the rules so we didn’t want him realizing we’d lied to him and possibly spreading word about it.
He was even nice enough to unlock his utility room for us and let us rummage around in it. After about fifteen minutes of rummaging around by the light of a small flashlight the owner had produced, stubbing toes and clunking heads, Clark finally found a metal box in the drab olive color power companies seem to favor tucked in a corner underneath the water hookups. It was locked but Al gave me the okay to break the latch and open it up.
Clark took one glance inside and whispered, “Jackpot.”Fiction Index Previous Chapter Next Chapter