Thunder Clap: Ups and Downs

Helix

The worst part was, it was a really good plan.

Both Circuit and I made a few adjustments but for the most part Izzy planned our general strategy in a very solid and flexible way. I guess I should have been proud of her, since she was a junior agent from my branch, but I hadn’t really had any direct influence on her training or really worked with her directly outside of occasionally being on hand when Jack or Teresa were running her through something. So mostly I alternated between feeling awkward at how little I was contributing and frustrated because Circuit was right there and I couldn’t do anything about him.

So for the most part, it was business as usual.

The worst part was finding out that Circuit didn’t know exactly where the master switchboard that gave Davis and his cronies control of the tower was. “I thought you cooked up this plan, Circuit,” I griped. “How can you possibly not know where the nexus of your plan is?”

“Contingencies, Helix, contingencies are all. There’s at least a dozen reasons the placement of the switchboard might need to change.” Circuit jabbed a finger at me. “You finding me or discovering a draft of my plans. Problems with the contractors who did the construction. Further renovations to the building. Other circumstances. There’s eight different places across six floors it might have been installed.”

“What’s the most likely one?” Izzy asked, prompting the hint of a smile from Circuit for some reason. Then she held up a hand and said, “No, wait. I have a better idea.”

Circuit and I exchanged a glance. He raised an eyebrow and said, “Such as?”

She went out into the hall where we’d trussed up the three thugs the two of them had been brawling with when I got there, using all but one of the sets of cuffs I’d brought with me.

For anyone else four sets would be excessive but for Circuit, it pays to be prepared.

I followed not far behind with Circuit’s chair struggling to keep up over the rough terrain. Yeah, that was another thing taking a lot of getting used to. Circuit was supposed to be a specter who loomed over my career with the promise of constant danger. He wasn’t supposed to be fumbling around in a wheelchair, laughing at my people as we unraveled everything he’d ever worked for. Normally, I’d think it was some sort of sham but with the wheelchair there, constantly reminding me of what he couldn’t do, it was hard to doubt any of the rest.

It didn’t help that the situation wasn’t leaving a whole lot of time for thought. I found Izzy in the hallway, ripping open the front of the hoodie on one of the three thugs they’d taken down. Underneath the baggy shirt was a complicated and bulky harness. She hefted him in one hand so we could look at him and asked, “Sykes, can you levitate this guy like you did the ones down in the basement?”

“It’s not levitation, per se…” He trailed off and thought for a second. “Well, I suppose the name is short for magnetic levitation. So yes, provided he’s near a relay. Which we’re not right now.”

“As long as it didn’t get broken earlier,” she said, hefting her thug up in the air and starting towards the elevator shaft.

I gave Circuit a curious look. He started to shrug but stopped with one shoulder lifted in a comical way. A smile slowly spread over his face, like oil over water, and he started his chair towards the elevator shaft saying, “I think I’m going to enjoy this.”

And that wasn’t worrying at all. It didn’t take Izzy long to get to the elevator shaft, she was hopping over debris like rubble strewn battlefields were where she’d grown up. Actually, considering where her dad’s church was located that might be a real possibility. For some reason the doors to the shaft were lying bent and twisted on the floor when we got there. I had no doubt how it had happened and I was more concerned about why we were there than why Izzy had wrecked the door earlier.

She shook the man she was holding gently, mixing in a smack or two, until his eyes opened and got halfway focused. Then she asked, “Where is your boss at?”

It’s amazing how belligerence focuses a person’s attention. The thug went from bleary eyed and lost to focused and angry almost instantly. He also pressed his lips together firmly and refused to say anything. After about three seconds of that Izzy got a grip on the door frame, hefted him up one handed and shot a glance back at Circuit, who gave a slight nod.

Then she threw him up the elevator shaft.

From the sound of the screaming he went up a good three or four stories before gravity took over and he came back down. This is known as juggling answers and it’s actually an accepted interrogation tactic for taxmen, the catch is you’re supposed to practice it a lot before you actually apply it in the field because if you miss the catch, or even just don’t make the catch quite right, you can wind up with a splatter mark and not an intelligence source. That’s why I’d been kind of leery when Izzy headed towards the elevator shaft. It was the only place in the building with enough room for Izzy to perform the juggling part of the trick but so far as I knew she’d never actually practiced it before. I was worried she was going to drop him.

In point of fact, she didn’t bother to catch him.

He went by so fast I almost missed it, even with the building’s power restored elevator shafts are dark places and by the time I realized what happened he was long since gone back the other way, his scream dopplering out behind him even as he found all knew levels of hysteria to vocalize. I stared at Izzy blankly for a second, she’d never struck me as the stone cold killer type, but almost as soon as the idea of saying something occurred to me there was a clicking noise from Circuit’s chair and the scream cut off. I glanced from him to the shaft and back. “You caught him with the maglev harness?”

“I did indeed.” He leaned back in his chair with a self-satisfied smirk. “Let’s see if he’s in a mood to be more forthcoming now, shall we?”

The guy was whimpering as he came into view over the edge, grabbing desperately for the floor before Izzy scooped him up by the back of the harness and shook him like a ragdoll. I felt a little sorry for him, a little, not that he was getting the crap scared out of him but I had been shaken like that once or twice in my life and my stomach twinged in sympathy. Izzy gave him an unforgiving look and said, “Want to point me towards your boss now?”

“You don’t understand,” he said between gasps.

“If I had a nickel for every time I heard that…”

“Agent Rodriguez,” Circuit said. “Please do keep in mind that if you handle him roughly and his harness breaks I can’t catch him in the maglev system.”

“Good point.” She adjusted her grip so that she had the man by the front of his harness and started to lean out into the elevator shaft again. “Let’s make it a little more unpredictable, shall we?”

“Wait, wait!” The thug kicked at the floor frantically in an effort to stay in place. The struggle got him nowhere but Izzy did wait like he asked.

“They’re on the seventy-eighth floor,” he said, calming down a bit when it became clear he wasn’t about go airborne again. “I don’t know what room they’re using but we checked in with a fat guy at the southeast meeting room.”

“I know the place,” Circuit said. “Sounds like Davis is there. Give him here, Rodriguez.”

Izzy handed the man to Circuit with a quizzical look but Circuit just shocked him back into unconsciousness. Between that, getting thrown around an elevator shaft and whatever beating he’d taken before I’d gotten there I suspected he was going to be in a lot of pain when he woke up again. “Right,” I said. “What floor are we on now? And how are we going to get that chair up to the seventy-eighth floor?”

“We’re six floors beneath where we need to be,” Circuit said. “And I was planning to just float my way there. The chair is maglev equipped and Izzy can jump the distance. How are you planning to get up there?”

“What’s wrong with the stairs?”

Circuit raised an eyebrow. “You mean, besides the fact that they’re very slow and the most heavily trapped part of the building? We can do better than that.”

I planted my hands on my hips. “Yeah? What you got in mind?”

“Hm…” Izzy was holding the unconscious thug up by his harness like she was studying an outfit at a shopping mall. She glanced at me, then back at him. “I don’t think he’s quite your size. Maybe one of the others.”

I looked from her to Circuit, who was nodding thoughtfully, and put up my hands. “Oh, no. I am not putting one of those on.”

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Thunder Clap: Putting the Foot Down

Izzy

They caught up to us on the seventy-fifth floor.

Partly that was because, after almost ten minutes of grueling ascent, we’d finally left the elevator shaft and started searching for what Sykes called the master switchboard. “It’s not all talent,” he’d explained as we left the shaft behind us. “There’s a certain amount of smoke and mirrors that goes into making a deathtrap like this work.”

“Can’t say that I’m terribly surprised,” I said, carefully picking my way behind him as his chair, wishing the motors in it weren’t quite so loud. It was probably my imagination but the empty cubicle farm we were passing through seemed to echo with the noise and it was hard not to see thugs with assault weapons in the shadows of each of the cramped compartments as we passed by them. “I can’t image you packed all that hardware into that thing you’re sitting on.”

He snorted. “It would be twice the size and have none of it’s current functionality.”

“Yeah, I’ll take your word for it.” I jumped slightly at what looked like a face peering out from beside the utilitarian desk to my left but it turned out to be a large photograph of an attractive thirtyish man tacked to the wall of the cubicle.  “Want to tell me what we’re looking for? In case we get separated or something.”

“Oh?” His voice managed to sound condescending and skeptical even though he kept his eyes forward and scanning the room instead of turning to let me see his face. “How do you know I’m not going to send you after some random piece of equipment to get you out of my hair? Or make you smash something that will benefit me?”

I shrugged, then said, “How am I supposed to tell the difference anyway? From the sounds of it there’s only two experts on this kind of tech in the world. They’re both in this building and I can’t really expect the other one to help me so that leaves me with you. My options are you telling me what to smash and letting you disable it yourself. I just want to have both of the available.”

“More thinking ahead than I’d credit to someone your age.” He held his hands up about as far apart as his chest. I noticed his chair kept moving even though his hands weren’t on the controls anymore. “We’re looking for something about this big, looks a lot like a mixing board. Which is exactly what it was before we repurposed it.”

I wasn’t sure what a mixing board was but before I could ask him we came to the end of the large cubicle farm we’d been moving through and to a hallway that led to office space. Sykes kept rolling towards the opening but I held back, figuring this was another good place for a boobytrap of some kind. In a way I was right because almost as soon as I stopped three guys – well, technically two men and a woman – burst out of the first door on either side of the hallway.

Time slowed down for a second and I saw Circuit’s chair jerk backwards, pivoting to the left so fast it actually rose up on one wheel. The thugs were dressed in shapeless gray and black clothes and had some kind of bullpup assault weapons. Jack’s voice in the back of my mind chided me for not being able to identify them. He was mostly drowned out by dad’s voice reminding me that when I’m in serious trouble there’s nothing wrong with grabbing the heaviest thing at hand and throwing it.

Sheet metal desks aren’t that heavy all by themselves but once you fill them with paperwork and files and pens and stuff it all adds up and the cubicles had a lot of them.

The thugs fell back, one stopping to spray a few bullets out the door at us, and unfortunately the first desk I threw caught the edge of the hall doorway and crashed to the ground, blocking it. One of the guards braced his gun barrel on top of it then jerked upright and collapsed when Circuit arced an actual bolt of lightning from a photocopier ten feet away over to his chair and from there into the metal desk. One of the remaining guards kept up covering fire while the other collected the fallen man and started dragging him back into the offices.

Circuit was straining to see around the corner without tipping his chair over or exposing too much of his profile but he still managed to see what was going on. “Don’t let them get back into the offices! If we loose sight of them they’ll be able to maneuver and regain the initiative.”

I hefted another desk and got a grip on the narrow end of it. “Stand clear, Sykes. Or, whatever it is you do.”

“Funny.” He didn’t sound amused but he got out of the way.

Smashing two desks down the hallway left some serious marks on the floor and walls and I struggled to maintain my footing on the uneven carpeting as I pushed the office furniture down the hall like a prize winning linebacker. It was a lot noisier than I expected, with the desks banging together, bullets bouncing off or punching through the sides, a couple of meaty thuds as I caught up to and ran over the thugs and what sounded like an entire stained glass cathedral shattering at once. The source of the last noise eluded me but I didn’t have much time to think about it.

The last guard had been smart and, instead of trying to out run the desks down the straight away she’d actually jumped on top of them. The whole mess had been moving pretty fast and she wound up tumbling over onto the floor next to me but she kept hold of her weapon and most of her wits. I made a snatch for the rifle but she made no attempt to hold onto it beyond squeezing down the trigger and spraying bullets all over the place. That made just wrenching the thing away from her kind of dangerous so I just kept the barrel pointed away from us while I broke the weapon’s sling and body checked her away from it.

In the time it took me to do that she’d pulled a knife from somewhere on her person and managed to open a shallow gash on my arm. I flipped her rifle around, switched on the safety and threw it at her, spinning stock over barrel. It caught her in the shoulder, spinning her back a half step and practically dumping her into Circuit’s lap. He grabbed her just long enough to give her a nasty shock before tossing her aside. “Not bad, young lady. Not bad at all. What was that noise?”

I blinked and looked around, wondering if he’d gone a little crazy. “Which noise? There were a lot of them.”

“The glass -” He paused, looking up at something behind me.

I spun and followed his line of sight, expecting more guards to be coming. Instead, the ceiling was glowing cherry red. “Better back up, Agent Rodriguez.”

I shared the sentiment so I did as Circuit suggested. About five seconds later the ceiling just sort of melted and my boss fell through. He was surrounded by an aura of shimmering heat and it looked like he was holding a chunk of the sun in each hand. I backed up a little more, leaning against the sudden wind. Almost as soon as the hole in the ceiling opened up all the air in the hall decided it was time to head out through it.

As fast as it’d started the wind died down and the hallway seemed to get warmer. At the same time the glow around Helix died and he was just a normal guy of below average stature. “Izzy?” He dusted his hands off, and I noticed something like concrete pebbles scattering on the floor around him. “I heard gunshots. Are you okay?”

“Fine.” I looked up at the ceiling then back at him. “How did you get up there?”

“Long story.”

“Better save it for later, Helix.” Circuit’s chair whirred up behind me, maneuvering to avoid the torn up carpet. “We need to find the master switchboard and shut it down before Davis gathers all his men into the building and flushes us out.”

Helix’s head snapped around and his expression cleared kind of like the sky right before a big storm rolls in. “Circuit.”

“Be mad later, Helix. For once in your life, believe that I am here to help.” He parked his chair and grabbed the armrests like he was bracing himself. Which he probably was. “I’ve always been here to help, we just never agreed on the method before.”

“And we do now?” Helix asked the question in a calm tone but I felt a chill in the air, one that faded as he stalked past me and came back twice as cold as soon as he was past.

“This has to stop.” Circuit said each word slowly and clearly. “We will stop it, you and I. And then Project Sumter will take me in, I promise you. I’ve never lied to you before, Helix. I’ve no reason to start now.”

“Not even to get out of a mess you’ve caused?” Helix growled.

“This was not how things were supposed to go, Helix! This was not-”

Helix grabbed Circuit and yanked him half way up out of his wheelchair. “Listen, your wife may claim this you didn’t okay this and maybe I even believe it, but when you boil it down this is your fault. Your plan, your paid psychos, your idiot ambitions. Just because someone picked up where you left off doesn’t mean you’re not culpable for giving him everything he needed to cause this mess. I don’t care how you want to play this, we’re going to do it my way. And that means you-”

“Better idea, how about we do it my way?” Both men stopped mid argument and looked at me. Helix looked even scarier than the stories always make him out to be – and that’s no mean trick – but Sykes quickly went from surprise to outright laughing.

“Helix, whatever you’re paying her it’s not nearly enough. Is she fast tracked to senior agent yet?”

“Not funny, Circuit.” He shoved Sykes back into his wheelchair and said, “Tell me something, Rodriguez. Why would I want to listen to a field agent with little to no experience that just got captured by hostile forces?”

“Because he,” I pointed accusingly at Sykes, “planned this whole thing. Whether or not he did it recently or wanted things to happen this way isn’t the point, what matters is that whenever Circuit planned something your were the first thing in his mind. This place is built to stop you from getting in.” I looked at Sykes. “Am I wrong?”

He straightened out the front of his suit and shook his head. “Accurate enough. Only the lightning funnels are really meant to prevent Helix from using his talents fully – or to punish him if he does – but I anticipated that would be enough.”

“Lightning funnels?” I asked.

“They can trigger lightning strikes when there’s atmospheric disturbances like a storm,” Helix said. “Except we’re inside, Circuit. Even the unnatural weather heat sinks make when they’re active won’t cause a storm in here.”

“The building draws enough current of the grid to do the job,” Circuit said.

“If these funnel things are the only Helix specific defense in the building, what else is there?” I asked.

“The stairwells and elevator shafts can be collapsed, if need be, and the surveillance systems can all be run from the master switchboard or,” he patted his chair, “with this, if we park it in the right place and if there’s not a stronger fuse box at the switchboard – which there isn’t. Whoever’s running the system for Davis is passable, and keeping him locked out of the system is taxing and prevents me from using any of the systems myself, but the other side is locked out as long as I’m here and conscious.”

I pursed my lips for a moment, thinking. “Stillwater? Can you still hear us?”

“Stillwater is here?” Helix asked.

“I was wondering if you’d forgotten me.” The old man’s disembodied voice said from over by the door. “I’m still picking up your echoes but it’s not as clear as I’d like. Fill me in?”

“In a sec. That water worker, Heavy Water, is he still with you?””

“Yep. We’ve moved another floor down to play keep away but right now it doesn’t look like anyone’s looking for us.”

“Okay.” I took a deep breath and looked both men in the eye. “I have an idea.”

Helix snorted. “I’m still not seeing why we should listen to you.”

“Circuit planned for you. When his underlings stole the plan they adjusted it for him.”

Circuit smiled a wicked little smile. “But no one’s planned for her.”

Helix looked like he’d just taken a bite out of something rotten. “Okay, fine. What’s your idea?”

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Water Fall: Cracks in the Dam

Seven Hours Before the Michigan Avenue Proclamation 

Helix

I threw my go bag down on my desk and slumped into my chair. It felt like it had been well over a year since I’d visited my desk, although it was really more like two and a half weeks, but by some miracle it had been kept clear of paperwork. Of course, I had a small book’s worth of handwritten notes in my bag that would have to be typed up and turned into something Cheryl could file. I wasn’t really looking forward to that, since it all basically boiled down to, “We talked to a lot of people who say they haven’t seen Circuit ever, or, if they’ll admit to that, not in the last six months to a year.”

That was probably to be expected, Circuit had to have been planning his most recent job for some time and for something of this size it’s no surprise that he avoided using any contacts we already knew about. It’s entirely possible that he’d even set up an entire network just to carry out this one job. That would be the kind of ridiculous groundwork I’ve come to expect from him.

Jack deposited his bag on the ground next to his desk, which was right beside mine, and gave me a critical look. “You should go home and get some sleep, Helix. You look like you’ve been awake for the past month.”

“How do you know I haven’t?” I gave him a critical look. I had no doubt I looked pretty rough, I sure felt like I’d run the whole way from Evansville back to the regional office. But never let it be said that Agent Jack Howell let a little road trip get him down, he still looked like he always did: like he was too big to quite get his suit to sit right. Today that was enough to make him look fresher and more alert than anyone else on the team, even the normally unflappable Teresa.

And he wasn’t about to pass up the chance to rub it in. “Because, unlike some of us, you look like you’ve been sleeping on park benches, not beds.”

“Some of the places we’ve stayed, that might be what those beds started life as.” I rubbed my eyes blearily, seriously tempted to do as Jack suggested. After two weeks on the road, no one was feeling their best. But I’d seen Teresa headed off towards her office a moment ago and I was willing to bet she wasn’t planning to leave any time soon. Bergstrum and Kesselman were at their desks just behind us and Mossburger had headed back towards Records. Now was not the time to be lying down on the job.

I glanced at the time and shrugged. “It’s barely after noon. I can put in a few hours before knocking off.”

“Suit yourself.”

Jack started unpacking his bag and I did the same. In about ten minutes I had all the stuff that was supposed to go back in my desk put away and my notes in a pile on one corner of the desk. With a sigh I picked them up and started sorting them into chronological order…

——–

Five Hours Before the Michigan Avenue Proclamation 

Massif

Lincoln claimed he was getting closer to finding Hangman, who he insisted was not as inactive as people had originally thought. Apparently he’d spent the last two weeks dragging Records personnel off of whatever assignments they’d been given and running them through archives and computer code from all over the Internet to help him find traces of Hangman’s activity. It had become almost an obsession for him.

I knew this partly because, when I’d gotten back into town two days ago I’d checked in with sifu to see if Lincoln had found anything. Sifu told me the family practically hadn’t seen him since the week before. Now, outside of wushu training, I hadn’t really gotten to know Lincoln much and I couldn’t tell if that kind of behavior was typical. But sifu didn’t seem to find it that surprising so I didn’t worry myself. If there was anything worth reporting I figured I would hear about it.

The other way I knew it was because, as soon as she heard I was back, Cheryl asked me to drop by so she could complain.

“Look, Agent Massif, I know that he’s working on an assignment that’s important to the Project but he can’t keep diverting our resources like this.” She leaned back in her chair, drumming her fingers on the empty desk. We’d moved into the vacant Records supervisor’s office since Cheryl wanted privacy for this conversation. There was only the one chair in the room at the moment so I was standing. Looming over Cheryl like that should have given me the upper hand in the conversation but it really didn’t feel that way. “In fact, in the last two days I don’t think he’s called for a single file from the archives. Put him out on the floor or turn him over to Analysis but get him out of our hair.”

“No.” I folded my arms over my chest and did my best to give her a hard look without anything more than a vague idea of where her eyes were. “Lincoln’s probably familiar with a lot of the big picture, our structure and a general idea of what some talents do, he’s still not cleared for the specifics of our open cases. He doesn’t even know about Circuit, just that Hangman is a person of interest in an open case. There’s too much classified information he could overhear in Analysis or on the floor. You Records people don’t discuss what you file; you just keep it in order. I think it’s the best place to keep him and Harriet agrees with me.”

“He’s in the way,” Cheryl said, sitting up and dropping her voice. “We don’t discuss active cases as much as you field agents or Analysis do but we still have to watch our step when he’s around.”

“Look, I know you’re busy but my team has been busy suppressing rumors related to the Emancipation Proclamation theft for the last four days, and before that we were all over the state of Indiana trying to find traces of Circuit.” I spread my hands helplessly. “We just don’t have the people to keep an eye on him right now and he’s part of an active investigation. If it’s becoming a problem, take it up with Voorman or apply for field work and take over that angle of the investigation yourself.”

I turned and headed towards the door because I really felt I didn’t have time to argue any more. Helix was supposed to be getting back sometime that afternoon and I wanted to see if he had anything new we could follow up on. Lying to the media and the victims of crime is a part of our job but it’s never sat well with me. My priest tells me I’m forgiven when I go to confession but it doesn’t do much for the guilt. And I have to wonder what the lies do to the people we tell them to. At the very least, in the case of Agent Herrera, I heard they created long term issues. As I reached for the doorknob I found myself almost envying Cheryl her dilemma-free Records work.

Then she said, “I transferred here in the oversight program, you know. Made it halfway through the training course before I got sidelined. Some sort of autoimmune problem led to a dethatched retina. There was a surgery and a long recovery time.” I heard the chair she sat in push back from the desk, caught a glimpse of movement as she stood and approached me, resolving into a solid shape as she got closer. What I could make out of her face suggested she was mad. Really mad. “I’m legally blind without corrective eyewear, get something like 20/80 vision with it. And I have permanent gaps in my vision. It’s enough to keep me out of the field. But don’t ever think I’m just here to babysit your files and extraneous personnel. I could do deskwork for any hidebound bureaucracy on the planet, I stay here because I know how important Project Sumter is. Let me do my job and I’ll let you do yours.”

The bitterness in her tone was strong enough I caught myself cringing, just a bit, and straightened back up. “I’ll talk to Lincoln.”

“Good.” Cheryl pushed past me and out of the office, leaving me feeling a little disoriented and very ashamed.

——–

One Hour, Fifteen Minutes Before the Michigan Avenue Proclamation 

Circuit

I tugged the scarf around my neck, accepted my long jacket from Simeon and slung it over one arm. The small garage on the city outskirts we were staging from wasn’t particularly cold, compared to outside, and I was already feeling a bit warm. The heavy pillar containing the Emancipation Proclamation had just been loaded onto the main van and strapped down. I touched my fingers onto the electrical contacts in the palms of my hands and ran a quick final check on the wiring in my gear. It wasn’t too late to cancel if things weren’t just right but it turned out I didn’t need to worry. Everything checked out.

Time to call it. “Heavy?”

“Everything looks good, boss,” he said, poking his head out of the back of the van and patting the Proclamation affectionately. “You want to make ’em let your people go? I think maybe they’ll hear you with this.”

“Grappler?”

She took off her signature long vest, folded it and handed it to Simeon, who slung it under one arm without comment. Then she slung her SMG and said, “I’m ready, so is crowd control.”

I nodded at her weapon. “Make sure the CC teams know we’re not actually planning to hurt anyone unless we absolutely have to.”

“Hurting regular people means they’re less likely to help us later.” She shrugged. “I get it. But you know how it is.”

Another nod, because I did know, and it was back to addressing the room at large. “Wallace?”

A van’s hood closed with a bang and Wallace leaned on top of it, wiping greasy hands. “Everything’s hooked up and running to Davis’ specs. I dunno if it’s gonna work as advertised but that’s not my department.”

“No it’s not. You and Simeon beat feet to Chainfall and see if there’s anything you can do there. Hangman?”

“No one’s ever done anything exactly like this before,” she said, tapping the bulkier than normal laptop she had an equally oversized shoulder bag. “But I should be able to kill satalite coverage of the city for fifteen minutes. We’ve got no more than that.”

“That’s still five more than we were expecting.” I rubbed my hands together and looked over the crowd of people we’d pulled together for this, the bang that signaled the opening of Operation Chainfall, the prelude to Thunderclap and the beginning of the end. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s showtime.”

——–

Helix

“Hey.”

I snapped awake and nearly slid out of my chair. Lying face down on your desk is not a comfortable way to sleep so I’d apparently decided to drift off leaning back in my chair instead. When Teresa woke me I’d slid so low I would have jerked myself straight onto the floor if I hadn’t grabbed onto the edge of my desk first. I took a moment to get myself in a better sitting position, ignoring Jack’s snickering and the papers I’d dropped on the floor, and said, “Something up?”

She smiled slightly and tossed another stack of papers onto my desk. “Latest write-ups on the efforts to keep the Proclamation theft quiet.”

“By which you mean the use of talents in that robbery quiet,” I said, picking up the stack and looking it over blearily. “The robbery itself was in the news for almost a week, I think they know about it in sub-Saharan Africa already.”

“Maybe.” She shrugged. “So far none of the major news agencies have mentioned women walking on walls or men jumping off balconies without getting hurt.”

“Sounds like there’s a ‘but’ in there.”

Teresa smiled. “In this case the key word is ‘major’. Several local news sources have hinted at strange goings on, to say nothing about the tabloids.”

“Did we feed any of the tabloids the real story to help discredit it?”

“Better than that.” I glanced over the top of the papers in curiosity. “We broke the details up into two stories and sold them to different rags. Now if the real story comes out it will look like someone just took them and ran them together to try and make things more sensational.”

I tossed the report on my desk in disgust. “This is still threatening to get away from us. Sooner or later someone’s going to be able to put out real, solid proof and we’re going to wind up looking like fools. We’ll wish we’d thought about our own credibility then.”

She sighed, picked up the report and put it on top of my go bag. “For now, just make sure your familiar with the story so you can stick with it in the field.”

“I guess I’ll have to.” I picked up the papers again and opened my bag, looking for a free spot to put them.

I’d just decided I could squeeze them under the laundry and next to my shaving kit when I heard Voorman yelling. That’s about as common as snow in June around these parts. My head snapped up and I saw him come rushing into the room, Samson trailing behind him like a thundercloud, yelling, “Clear the floor. We are now at Condition One, clear the floor!”

Clear the floor is one of those phrases that has it’s own unique meaning in Project Sumter. In fact, we drill on clearing the floor once a month, at least when we’re actually in the office. I was turning my chair upside down and shoving it on top of my desk before Voorman was finished talking. Desks started sliding towards the edges of the room within fifteen seconds. Mine was near the center of the room and I never got a chance to move it myself, Voorman said something to Teresa, who had stopped on her way back to her office to see what was going on, and she came and pulled me aside.

The first thing I said was, “What happened?”

“I’m not sure but Voorman wants you on it.”

There’s a giant map of the US built into the floor of the room, which is why the euphamism for that palce is “the floor” and not something else, but there’s not enough room in most buildings for a map of that scale to be left clear all the time so it doubles as the field team’s staging room. Voorman was pacing along one wall, waiting for the carpet over the map to be rolled back, when we got through the chaos and over to where he was.

“Open Circuit just hit Michigan Avenue,” he said without preamble. “A couple of city blocks were knocked out by EMP, he gave a speech while flying-”

“Flying?!” Teresa and I demanded in unison.

“Flying! Don’t ask me how.” Voorman shook his head in exasperation. “We heard through the police switchboard once they got a clear picture of what happened.”

“When was this?” Teresa asked.

“Minutes ago, less than ten, I believe. They were very excited about it.” Voorman gave no sign of amusement at that colossal understatement. “There were hundreds of people there.”

I thought about what I’d just been reading. “How are we planning to keep this quiet?”

“I don’t think we can. The fallout from this could break the Project. Only chance we have of weathering this is to grab Circuit before he can make things worse.” Voorman gave me a surprisingly steady look for a man who was usually a big ball of nervous energy.. “I think we all know you’re the best person for that job. Find Massif, take Samson and get it done.”

In spite of the insanity of the situation I felt a satisfied smile creep across my face. “It would be a genuine pleasure.”

Fiction Index
The Michigan Avenue Proclamation
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