The girl’s voice came from her host in breathy whispers, boosted by the digitalized sound system. Her on-screen avatar’s lips moved in sync with the words.
“I know he thinks I should die. I heard. When he thinks I sleep, I listen. Don’t…shut… Me…down.”
Anne looked up at the central monitor and saw the super in her natural world. A glitch ran across his worried 3D face.
“Why do you think he wants you dead?” Anne demanded. “It wouldn’t benefit him.”
“He…talked the night before. I am to be…sacrificed. For…You.”
Anne’s lips turned to thin red lines, and her brows furrowed at the hacker girl’s cryptic words. She sighed deeply. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I can’t let you live, as much as I hate going along with Globe’s decisions. I can’t let him exploit you.”
“I won’t…tell,” Sindi pleaded.
Anne grabbed the thick black cable hooked to the side of Sindi’s head and pulled hard, popping it out of the hole, canceling the connection to the girl’s brain. She gathered the cables constricting Sindi’s body and yanked them free too. The central computer system crashed, going to a blue screen, and lines of binary code raced madly across the sister screens. Could those be Sindi’s last words?
Sindi sat limp in her chair. Anne was done here. She slipped from the dimly lit room, wincing at the stink of burnt cables, and stepped into the white corridor.
Quake’s first shock wave hit the building. Even though the building was reinforced against earthquakes, she felt the tremors through the soles of her feet. She jumped into the elevator and pressed the button for the foyer. From her red purse she pulled out the earpiece and placed it in her ear.
“The hacker is down. Coming your way. How is Team Joaquin doing?”
“Quake is doing his thing to scare the crowd off,” Massey explained.
“While I’m in the elevator, perfect,” she joked as the doors closed. “Andy?” she asked, waiting for the reply.
“Team Andy, it’s only fair. It’s getting empty outside, people are heading to safety, but there’s serious Prowler movement.”
“Alright, keep me posted.”
Anne stepped into the lobby cautiously, pulling her red revolver from the concealed holster under her dress. The mosaic floor in whites and greys, spelling a capital elegant “G,” glittered with broken glass from the expensive chandelier that had crashed during the quake. Some amount of evacuation had taken place; there were no civilians here, no receptionist or security personnel. The entry floor was eerily quiet.
She spotted Joaquin and his team through the glass doors, the shadows masking the rest of the world and them, like a giant wave threatening to crash indoors, a wave of imperceptible black matter. Shimmering silhouettes tugged at its corners trying to cross, to find the light. She put her palm flat on the security pad and let the system scan her. It accepted her request to disable the alarm, and she opened the door and let them in.
“We need to move quickly. Globe might have been alerted to our presence earlier than we anticipated.” She thrust the lab elevator’s keycard toward Massey.
“Where is he?” Massey asked, drawing his gun.
“Last I checked, in his private quarters.” She looked at Kid who confirmed there was a single heat signature 48 floors above them.
“He’s going to reboot the system from the main control room in about fifteen to twenty seconds. Then we’re in lockdown. There might still be people on the upper floors, but they shouldn’t be a problem. You two should get to the laboratory.” She turned to Betty and Massey, pointing at the single dark brown door to their left marked “Authorized Personnel Only”. “The elevator is through there, you won’t miss it.”
Just as they were about to go, the intercom went live, its static startling them. A single high-pitched and all too familiar voice came through.
Massey looked at them as if they might know what was happening, and then turned back to the intercom, the only link to his daughter.
“Dad, please. I don’t want to die, oh God…”
Her cries filled the foyer. Massey dropped the keycard, lips quivering.
“You weren’t supposed to be here…” he mumbled.
“She had to extend her welcome in the office today. I wouldn’t want her to miss this. Did you really think I wouldn’t know?” Globe said venomously. “Did you think you could play me for a fool, Anne? I warned you what would happen if you chose them over me. I’ll stick you in a glass container for the rest of your life.”
“Leave my daughter out of this, you son of a bitch, or I swear I’ll put a bullet through your head!” Massey yelled at the intercom. The cameras in the corner of the foyer turned to focus on him. Massey followed their movement with watery eyes.
“Oh Detective Massey, don’t look so glum. I’ll give Denisha a fighting chance. I’ll give her you.”
Anne shot the camera, bursting it to pieces. Bitterness choked her. Sindi was telling the truth. Globe had known, even earlier this morning when they’d spoken, he’d known.
“Juvenile, Anne. Detective, if you want to save your daughter I suggest you ignore your friends and take the elevator. Floor 19. Hurry.”
The intercom went silent. Massey ran for the glass elevator, gun in hand.
“Frank, don’t!” Anne shouted, following, but by the time she reached him the doors were already closing. Massey turned to look at her, an apologetic look in his eyes. Then the second pair of doors closed, and she pounded her fist uselessly against the steel.
Betty retrieved the keycard from the floor. “I got this—you go stop Globe.” Alone, she sprinted through the door.
The system began its reboot, and an alarm went off, signaling the need for immediate evacuation. Iron bars began descending, blocking all doors and windows.
“Guys, what’s going on? Was that Globe?”
“Yes, Andy that was fucking Globe fucking us the fuck over!” Nightwave hissed.
“Ah, crap, we’re trapped. How the heck did he know, huh? Was it you? Was this all a big fucking trap to get us here?” Quake protested, jabbing an accusatory finger at Anne.
She gave him a cold look, tempted to snap his finger in two. “Mind your tone. You would be locked up or long dead if killing you was my ploy.”
“What do we do now?” Nightwave asked, dispersing his shadows. “Andy?”
“I…I got nothing, I can’t access the security system again, its firewall is insane. You are on your own in there, I’m sorry.”
“We still do this, right Anne?” Joaquin stood beside her, faith in her unwavering. His big, pleading eyes said he didn’t want to turn and run.
Anne kept silent as long as she could. She felt as if the hours were moving faster, propelling her into a past where she was vulnerable in the broad daylight, where she had to succumb to Globe’s demands, his hand closing around her throat. The future they’d spoken of last night receded, possibilities of victory decreased, the chances of survival wavered, and a zero formed as if to mark their end.
They had been caught red-handed. How had they thought they could outsmart and outmaneuver Jacob Globe? A moment ago, they were in the midst of a winning fight, under disguise, betting on a surprise attack. Now, their every action was Big Brother-ed by Globe, and Anne was sure more surprises awaited them. Before she could say something reassuring, time stopped.
* * *
Anne felt it. She knew that sensation—the sluggish abnormality spreading like an invisible cloak over them. It froze Joaquin’s features and his movements. Struck by the Medusa-like attack, Nightwave, Quake, and Kid froze as well, with blank gazes like statues. Anne blinked, the shutter of her eye too slow, but she glimpsed Silas before her eyes closed, and she felt his hands as he lifted her, his motions quick and undisturbed. But time passed differently for Anne now. When the blink ended and she opened her eyes again, her mind flicked from one scene to the next with a confused concept of passing time. The world was spinning, a stutter of bright lights and grey walls. Caught between one beat of her heart and the next, her mind and body existed in two separate planes of time.
Then her heart beat again, rubatosis effect kicking in, and Anne remembered standing in the foyer with Joaquin. She wasn’t there anymore. The floor here bore a similar design, and one wall had the same red logo, but it was an abandoned room with blank papers spilling off empty desks, phone calls waiting, browsers showing Facebook feeds, coffee still steaming in mugs. This was an administrative floor—one Anne hadn’t been to before this doomsday had come. The rolling clouds outside told her she was high enough, 12th floor maybe. She took a deep breath, numb fingers flexing to stimulate blood flow. She lifted her hand, remembering the weight of her S&W. It was gone.
“Looking for this?” Silas appeared, holding her red handgun. He set it on a copy machine. “You’ll have to come and get it.”
“Stole me away, Silas, is that it? You think you can fight me?” Anne’s chuckle turned into a growl. “Get out of my way.”
He cocked his head, revealing glinting eyes under the brim of his baseball cap. “Afraid I can’t do that.”
Anne tutted. “What’s in it for you if Globe wins?”
“A different future. You fail to see it, but I don’t.”
“A future of puppets, with Globe pulling the strings? That’s Doomsday on repeat.”
Silas shrugged, his lanky figure throwing a pale shadow.
“Whatever tickles your fancy. Before I kill you, I want you to know that despite Jacob’s mixed emotions toward you, I will not take pleasure in murdering you. You are a legendary woman. Therefore, I’ll take pride in besting you, and per request I will make you scream.”
Facing Silas alone wasn’t part of her plan, but Anne had no choice now. If she wanted to come out of this alive, she had to use the ace up her sleeve from the get go. Entering the time bubble made her nauseous again, on top of a building headache. She had to keep in mind Silas’s one minute rule. If she could catch up to him when time resumed its normal course, she could win.
The steam from the coffee cup stopped swirling when time dropped. Anne pushed against the force, moving her body through the freeze frame, bending time back into place. It was like trying to run in water. Time tried to snap her limbs back into a single frame, a still image.
“No you don’t.” Silas’s voice was a distorted echo.
Another wave came as he gesticulated his fanned fingers, making her legs retrace their steps to her former position. Words flew back into her mouth in total asynchrony with her thoughts. She propelled herself forward again, refusing to succumb to time’s rules, reaching the center of the second time distortion bubbling around her. The air rippled, with Silas at its core, and her elegant red dress flowed backward. When she reached the pulsating center, it bounced her back, and she lost most of her hard-won advance. Her fingers were inches away from Silas’s deadly glare.
She lost control. The time warp swallowed her, leaving her immobile, but her mind continued to move sluggishly, and her fixed glaze relayed what Silas was doing. He raised intertwined fingers, forming a club above his head, and then slammed them down into her stomach. The impact left her body suspended, with too little movement to be seen by the naked eye. She was both falling and not. Pain belatedly reached her brain, enveloping her entire being. Her elbow struck the corner of a desk, skinning it from the friction, and her arm bent in an uncomfortable angle that she couldn’t control. Her lower back hit the side of the desk, and she crumpled, landing on her back and hitting her head.
Time returned to normal. Anne rolled over painfully and coughed up blood, staining the pristine polished floor. A coffee cup descended a second later, smashing beside her head.
“You can move through my freeze frames. Impressive. I suppose it’s my fault, all those times you’ve been on the other side of them whilst in the field. You’ve adapted to the peculiarity.”
Silas stood over her, grabbed a fistful of her auburn hair, and yanked her head up.
“Let’s see how you do against this.”
Before Anne could get her wits about her the renewed time slowdown wrapped around her like a blanket. She felt her body rising from the floor, then she was sailing backward, and Silas, able to move freely through the stutter, followed up with a kick to her face, his heavy boot sending her toward the line of desks. The slow-mo ended, and Anne collided with two of the desks, sending their contents flying like shrapnel. She landed on the floor amid the rubble of phone cables, staplers, and file trays.
From the corner of her eye she saw Silas pick up her Smith & Wesson, admiring its length of red chrome.
“I heard what happened to you after your friend died. Justin, that was his name right? Was he that special that his death broke your ancient heart?”
Anne felt a soul-crushing pang of regret and anger. She craned her head to see Silas, and then forced herself to get up, her dress ruined and her black high heels gone. For all she knew, she had internal bleeding, but there was no time to think about that now. Silas stood calmly, and buried memories surged through her. Was this her mistake finally coming to drag her down? Silas was looking at her curiously, and she realized he could see the emotions she wanted to hide.
“Oh, he was someone special. Well don’t fret, you’ll be joining him shortly if you believe in the afterlife and such.”
Anne barred her teeth, ignoring his taunts. She had to get to the handgun.
“By the way, just to let you in on a secret, you and your friends picked a hella of a time to come storm the castle. Perfect opportunity to test the newcomers and their abilities.”
Anne stared. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Silas offered her a proud smile, testing the weight of the gun in his hand.
“We’ve had a breakthrough in the experiment.”
Anne straightened her back, brushing a trail of blood from her lips. He was an idiot to let her catch her breath, but she took the gift. “Bullshit. Globe wasn’t even close before the setback, let alone now.”
Silas took a step toward her, twirling the gun cowboy-style.
“You’re wrong. It’s already begun, Anne, there’s no stopping the future now. The second laboratory, the one you didn’t know about, produced the first successful group submitted for the transmutation of their DNA. In fact, your pals downstairs should be meeting them shortly. How ironic. It was right under your nose this entire time, and here you are now, unable to do anything about it.”
“You promised you wouldn’t boast, Silas,” Anne spat. She thought about calling to Joaquin, but she doubted her strained voice would help him much. They had to soldier through the ordeal alone. Her focus was on the prick in front of her. Silas turned her own gun against her, a wicked grin twisting his features.
“I guess I lied.”
Anne was damned sure the prospect of killing her was becoming alluring.
“We should play dodge the bullet, Anne, what do you say? I like my games with a little spin to them. I hope you don’t mind.”
Anne braced herself for the new time-stopping wave, prepared herself to plunge through it, but her eyes widened when she realized time wasn’t slowing down – it was speeding up. She hadn’t considered the possible existence of that polarity. Now, it came to bite her in the ass.
The bullets came too fast to register. One struck her in the chest, the other in the leg, knocking it from under her. Anne couldn’t process everything that was happening: the chair coming at her head, the finger digging into the wound in her chest. The world was a blur, and Silas moved so quickly it seemed like he was everywhere at once. It was a seizure-worthy experience and Anne couldn’t tell how to navigate through it.
She found herself on the floor again, and picked herself up when real-time returned. She clutched her bleeding wound, her leg dragging behind her. A smile tugged at her lips when she noticed Silas breathing heavily. So, this ordeal was finally taking its toll on him.
“That was impressive for a half-assed super of a dead lineage,” she mocked. “But come on, Silas. Is that all you have? If it is, we’re staying here all day long.”
Silas chuckled, removing his baseball hat and shrugging out of his parka. He launched another fast-forwarded attack. Good. Just what she needed. This time, she focused solely on him. Thank goodness her body wasn’t frozen in time. When he moved left, she threw herself at him in the last possible second. He aimed for a high punch. She ducked. They danced around each other. She was becoming adept at reading his movements in this kaleidoscopic environment. All she had to do was anticipate when he was about to throw her into a stutter and avoid him until he grew tired and had to stop.
She kept him moving around the room, both of them bumping into desks and walls, until she neared copy machine that held the red gun. She purposely let him get in a punch that sent her careening toward the copy machine. She bumped into it and slumped to the floor.
Time resumed its natural course.
“You’re a fast learner, Miss Anne. But as entertaining as this is, I do have to kill you.” Silas looked at the camera, presumably to draw Globe’s attention.
That was all the time she needed to grab her S&W. She crashed into the copier. “You don’t learn fast enough, Silas. Always pay attention.”
The black dots in his grey eyes dilated, but he wasn’t fast enough to stop the bullet. After the first shot, Anne emptied the rest of the clip into his torso and watched him stagger back, collapsing to the floor, arms spread.
“Couldn’t stop these, could you now?” She began to laugh, his death reinvigorating her, bathing her in the sweet sensation of rebirth. All wounds were healed.
Next: Hold Still