(Sorry for the late post. I forgot to schedule things out ahead of time last week… January was a rough month.)
According to Elizabeth Sykes, Waltham Towers was supposed to have three layers of defenses. The first were the EMP weapons we’d already encountered throughout the city in building after building Keller Realty had worked on in the past five years. Elizabeth called these empion stations and there were literally hundreds of them scattered through the city. Massif and later Samson had spent a good chunk of the early morning clearing a path to Waltham Towers through the empion stations so that was taken care of.
Beyond that, there were roadblocks set up around the building itself. These mainly consisted of large water barrels stacked one on top of the other, blocking the road and doubling as a kind of emergency water supply for those in the tower. When Circuit had planned the scenario he’d also intended them to be a crowd control option for his viscosity manipulating henchman Heavy Water, who could drain the barrels to lay down a half-inch deep layer of gluelike water and neutralize most of what Project Sumter had to throw at him, save people like Samson or myself. Elizabeth thought it most likely that this was the layer of defense most likely to be left out of the scenario, both because he’d had no part in designing it and, since Heavy Water had gone into retirement at the same time Circuit did, there probably wasn’t anyone to work the carpet of adhesion angle of the roadblock. As it turned out, she was right on that count.
The third layer of defenses was the real problem. “It’s a deathtrap. A deathtrap with your name written all over it.”
This was also the third time I’d heard this basic line of thought. “I know, I know.” I leaned back against the side of the van that brought me and my team out from the office. l’d met Darry out there, where I’d explained the strategy we’d worked out. “I heard this from Jack and Teresa when we were back at the office and Sanders was all to happy to repeat it on the ride over. Can we assume that I’ve already met every objection you can think of and skip to the part where you agree and give Coldsnap and Frostburn the go ahead?”
“No.” Darryl glared at me from over the top of his cane, I’d found him seated on a bench on the sidewalk, watching the Sumter tactical teams as the rolled in and started setting up two blocks out from the Towers. He’d been happy to see me when I got there but it hadn’t lasted long. “When I left the building you were getting ready to question Elizabeth Sykes like the sane, if impulsive, agent I worked with years ago. In a little less than three hours you seem to have gone crazy. You don’t actually believe Circuit’s working against implementing a plan he spent ten years of his life building, do you?”
“He’s a control freak, so yeah, if he felt it was being implemented in a way he didn’t like I could definitely see Circuit doing just that.” I folded my arms over my chest and stared at him for a moment, hoping he’d cave and agree but Darryl’s always been more patient than me. “I’m going up the tower, Darryl.”
He scooped up the pile of blueprints I’d given him to look over and waved them at me. “Did you look this over at all? The entire inside of that tower is rigged with Circuit’s lighting funnel gizmos, he could fry you just about anywhere on the top twenty floors. Even if we cut the power from the building he’s got generators to keep it going.”
“But only on the inside.” I tapped my foot on the pavement. “The concrete in the building is nonconductive and he didn’t mount funnels to hit the outside walls of the building, he wasn’t planning on our taking this approach.”
“Oh, you mean he wasn’t planning on you committing suicide?” Darryl snorted. “Color me surprised. Samson should do this. He’s best equipped, best trained, and his daughter being in that building somewhere gives him more in the game.”
“Best trained? Darryl, he hasn’t done serious, full-time field work in years.”
He stamped his cane in frustration. “You know what I mean. Taxmen are trained to do a lot of solo work, you’ve always worked with a team. Now you want to try a plan that requires you to ditch them?”
“Not ditch them, just get a little bit ahead.” I held up my hand because we both knew that was pure semantics. Sixty to seventy floors up was effectively the same as working alone. “Samson can’t jump that kind of distance without a specially constructed surface to jump from. If he tried to do it here the ground would give under him and he’d completely miss the jump. At least I can break my own fall, he can’t. It has to be me, Darryl.”
“Because you’re the best choice or because you want your own piece of Circuit?” Darryl pushed to his feet and limped over, crowding me like a man who expected to have his say even if he had to beat it into me with his own two fists. “I know you, Helix. This guy has been a thorn in your flesh practically since day one and you’ve never been one to let go of things like that. But that kind of attitude gets people hurt. That’s why you lobbied to have me pulled out of the hunt for Circuit, remember?”
Getting angry is my thing, not Darryl’s. Even after Mona died he’d only really lost his temper once, Darryl was more the type to slowly burry his feelings and now was no exception. I’d known him to long not to notice the edge of unease under his hostility. He wasn’t mad at me – well, maybe a little – but getting mad was a good way of hiding what he was really feeling. “What do you want me to do, Darryl? There’s two agents missing, one of them has a father who is able and willing to tear that whole building apart brick by brick to find her, and going in is the best way to make sure they’re safe. If we wait for the man who started this mess, whether it’s Circuit or his engineer, to come out and show themselves odds are they’re going to make some kind of messy getaway attempt or at least have caused more problems for the city. And we’re talking about a guy who orchestrated a hacking attack that shut down five major cities across the nation. We need to go in now.”
“You’re being reckless, Helix. Reckless is how people get killed!”
How his wife got killed. “Darryl…”
“Do not patronize me,” he snapped. “You think I’m being irrational? Name one other person who’s contributed as much as you have to the future of talented people.”
“Corporal Sumter,” I answered without hesitation. “And Sergeant Wake. Chief Stillwater and Saint Elmo, for that matter. Even Rodriguez has been doing just as much as me, the last few years. Don’t pretend like I’m irreplaceable.”
Darry snorted and stalked off a few steps, stewing. That wouldn’t really help his mood any and I really needed his help. Maybe it was time to change the subject. “Did I ever tell you why I joined Project Sumter?”
“Because it was the family business?”
“Sort of.” I tipped my head back and stared up at the clear morning sky. It was midmorning and the buildings were catching the sun. “Mostly, I wanted to be a part of something as big as what those guys were.”
He laughed quietly. I couldn’t tell if it was meant as bitter, ironic or just tired. “You wanted to be a hero.”
“No.” I pushed away from the van and stepped over beside him, resting a hand on his shoulder. “One thing I learned from my grandfather’s stories. A hero is judged by what he gives, not what he has or what he does. I never signed up to die, and I don’t think I’m going to today. But if that’s what it takes, then that’s what I’ll do. I’m afraid of dying, sure. But what I do is worth more than fear.”
When Darryl didn’t say anything in response I gave his shoulder a squeeze and said, “And I think it’s more important than pain, too.”
Finally he sighed and pulled out his phone. “Get going, Helix. I’ll make the call.”
Heat rises. That’s physics and, more importantly, not the part of physics that a heat sink messes with. I’m a heat sink and that means heat is my bread and butter, my modus operandi, the one thing I know better than a third grade kid arguing Superman versus Batman. I’m good with it is what I’m saying.
The Plan, my great method for getting into the building without having to run the gauntlet of inside defenses, boils down to this: Superheat a lot of air, creating an updraft. The hotter the air, the faster it would move and the bigger the updraft. Spread out a heat sink far enough, make it hot enough, and the updraft would push me up the side of the building. I figured I’d have to run along the side of the building, since even I’m not that strong of a heat sink, but sixty or seventy floors with a tail wind couldn’t be that hard.
The catch was, on my own, I couldn’t even create enough of an updraft to coast upward on. I’d actually done exercises to test that. I could use one to break a fall, and had in the past, but go up a building? Not likely.
If Frostburn and Coldsnap helped me it was a different matter. The two were identical twin cold spikes, people who dumped heat out of the environment just like I sunk it in – long story short, them helping me was the difference between one man holding a bucket to catch rainwater and that same man catching rain in his bucket while two other people are emptying their own buckets into his. It’s not quite the same as tripling the heat at my disposal, but it’s close.
With the two of them posted at either end of the block, Waltham Towers was at the center of one of the most unnatural weather phenomena the city had ever seen. The street began to ice over at either end as the two ladies spiked as hard as they could. The heat that was frantically fleeing the touch of their power poured around them and into my hands until the air just in front and above me was shimmering like it was over the world’s biggest black top parking lot. After twenty seconds or so, it started to glow.
The windows in the building were shaking under the unnatural onslaught of wind and, since I weighed all of a hundred and thirty pounds, I was nearly taken off my feet. That meant it was time to get a running start and dash up the side of the building.
As it turned out I wound up more skipping than running. Sticking to the side of the building was tricky but the vortex swirled in a clockwise pattern and I stayed near the building for the most part. Not that I really wanted to be there all the time. One thing I hadn’t anticipated was the windows of the building, well below the freezing point of water thanks to the twins efforts, swelling in their frames until they burst. I wound up ascending the building in a cloud of plasma and half melted glass, looking for all the world like I was chasing the sun on some kind of mad flight, except I’d forgotten my wax wings.
Or that’s what Sanders said when he showed me the video he took with his phone afterwards.
Thankfully the trip up took less than a minute, although I’d have sworn it was much longer at the time, and as I passed the large conference room window I’d been told to aim for I kicked my feet towards the side of the building, getting decent purchase and convulsing my whole body, heat sink and all, into the side of the tower. One quick, messy trip through molten glass and softening concrete later and I was inside Waltham Towers. I took a few deep breaths to slow my heartbeat and promised myself whoever was behind this had better be ready for me because at the moment I was not a happy customer…