I finally managed to squeeze my hands out of the shackles and carefully set them to one side on the floor. Then it was back to the hole in the wall to glance in on Clark. “Alright, I’m out. From the way you were moving around I’m guessing they didn’t bother to tie you up?”
“Just took away all the furniture and jammed the door somehow. If you’re ready to move then so am I. What’s the plan?”
“We need to get out of here.” I drummed my fingers on the wall for a moment. “And if possible, we need to try and wreck whatever system Circuit is using to keep in touch with the outside world. If we can blind him he’s crippled. He was tampering with all those development projects to build a network we couldn’t tamper with, right?”
“That’s a good guess.”
“So where would the connection to that network be?”
Clark thought about it for a few seconds. “Well, in a building of this size it’s going to be somewhere in the basement or subbasements. Probably not down too low, Sykes Telecom wouldn’t have wanted to run too much extra cable through the ground to wind up lower down so I’d guess somewhere in the first basement. Mind you, I have no idea what floor we’re on now.”
“Wonderful. Just a sec.” I crawled over to the door, still careful of my stinging feet, and gave it a once over. It was a wood or faux wood thing that looked hefty enough that it might be useful as something to throw, if I could find enough space to heft it, but probably wouldn’t stop bullets. Assuming I could even rip it off it’s frame without shattering it into something useless. I went back to the wall and asked, “How tall is this building again?”
“Eighty-six stories. Give or take.”
I squeezed the bridge of my nose between the palms of my hands. “And Circuit was pretty far up in the video Helix saw.”
“That’s what he said, yeah.” Clark gave me a worried look through the hole in the wall. “Why? What are you thinking?”
“We could just go straight down from here,” I said, glancing down at the floor before remembering he probably couldn’t follow the action.
Fortunately he caught the idea. “We might, although I’m not going to try and guess what that might do to the building overall. Smashing through eighty floors just to get to the basement doesn’t strike me as the smartest idea if we want the building to keep standing. On the other hand, we might only need to go down a few.”
“Right. The guys who were in here a little while ago seemed like they were overworked. Probably short on people. There’s no way they fill this whole building.” Which reminded me. I waited for a moment, listening to see if there were any signs of life coming from outside. But all was quiet. “I don’t suppose you memorized floor layouts for this place, or anything?”
“No. But Waltham Towers doesn’t have a large footprint, as skyscrapers go. It shouldn’t take us too long to find stairs or an elevator shaft. The real question is did they rig the building in any way? My gut says yes, just because Circuit seems to rig just about everything. If he hasn’t it’s probably a red herring or a trap of some other kind.” Clark thought for a moment. “Five floors. That should put us outside their reach and give me enough time to check over whatever route down we discover before we commit to it. Think you can get us that far?”
That was a stupid question and I answered it by sticking my hands into the hole in the wall, pushing outward a few inches until I touched the joists on either side of it, and said, “Stand back and get ready to move.”
He stood back and got.
One thing you never appreciate about being a human demolition charge until you do it is how dusty the job is. After the first experience or two you either learn to hold your breath really, really well or you get used to coughing and puking everywhere. Tearing through the wall was easy but the bigger mess, drywall pours out huge clouds of dust everywhere and it didn’t settle fast. That meant holding my breath as I stepped into Clark’s room and dropped an elbow on the floor. Under normal circumstances we were supposed to discuss strategy before pulling a forced exit (entry?) like that but the longer we sat around in enemy hands the greater the chance that someone would stumble on us and we’d be in deep.
Breaking through floor is generally less of a mess than walls, it’s mostly insulation, wiring and supports, nothing as powdery as drywall.
The problem is, while I’m pretty muscular my cardio is kind of weak. It comes from not really having to exert much to do anything. While Al’s been working on correcting that in training we haven’t made as much progress as he’d like. And with my feet still in pain and a long night already under my belt I wasn’t exactly in top form to begin with.
So I botched my landing. After coming in through the ceiling I landed in a pile of debris and went down flat, wheezing in a lungful of dust and coughing spastically. I caught a glimpse of a big room, later I’d learn we’d come down in a reception area on the floor below where a singe guard was on station. He couldn’t have gotten a good glimpse of what was going on since one of the light fixtures broke free and went swinging unpredictably through the room on its wiring and casting weird shadows all over the place. The light had just slowed enough that guard man was okay with getting close to see what had happened when Clark dropped through the hole and onto his back, putting him to sleep with a quick follow-up kick.
I didn’t see any of that personally but the dusty footprints on his shirt and sneaker shaped bruise already forming on the guard’s head when I got clear of the wreckage gave me a pretty clear idea of what happened. Clark was frisking him and had already taken his pistol and a spare magazine and was in the process of freeing something else from the man’s waistband. He looked more like the street thugs we’d been seeing all night than the trained paramilitary people that Circuit had used during the Michigan Avenue Proclamation and later at the Chain O’ Rivers state park.
“Circuit must be at the bottom of the barrel,” I said.
“Maybe.” Clark glanced at the gun. “But it’s not like he didn’t have the tools to hurt us.” Then he hefted his other prize. “And this.”
I rolled my eyes. “Your tire iron.”
He grinned. “My tire iron.”
“Just get ready to drop again.”
He collected the sidearm and down we went.
The next three floors were empty, in fact that guard Clark KOed was probably the outer edge of security in the building. But that didn’t mean we were out of the woods. When he failed to report in Circuit’s people would come looking to see what was wrong and it wouldn’t take them long to figure it out. But we hit kind of a snag when we got to the stairs since Clark didn’t want to go down them.
“Just give me a few seconds,” he said, carefully looking over the doorframe. “If this thing is rigged it will be faster to know about it ahead of time.”
After about fifteen seconds of time wasted he finally decided the doorway was safe and we pushed it open with a desk I grabbed out of a nearby office. Well, more like I threw the desk at the door from about twenty feet away. Nothing exploded or shot out of the stairwell at us so he ruled it safe to go in.
In, mind you, not down.
“Stairs and elevators are part of the skeleton of a building.” He rand his hand absently along the stairwell wall. “The major utility wiring runs alongside them. If we can cut it off here we can cut Circuit’s headquarters off. No electricity or Internet will go a long way to blinding him and helping us retake the city.”
“Do you know where the cables are?” I asked, looking around at the blank walls. “And can I rip them out without hurting the building?”
“Oh, a few holes in the wall shouldn’t be that big a deal,” Clark said. “But we don’t want to cause too many or hit anything loadbearing. It won’t drop the whole building but it probably won’t be great for us.”
“Perhaps I could offer an alternative.”
I froze, quickly examining my surroundings even as my brain told me the voice I was hearing was exactly like Amp’s. Which is to say, it had that weird distant quality and no visible source, it sounded much like a tired old man doing the talking.
Clark recovered first. “Can I ask who’s talking here?”
“I’m Special Agent Stillwater of Project Sumter,” the voice answered. “I heard you break into the stairwell just now and you don’t sound like you’re here to ruin our plans. Which is what you’re very close to doing right now. So, again, might I suggest an alternative?”
Clark and I shared a quick glance then I asked, “What did you have in mind?”