The concluding part, bar the short epilogue to follow tomorrow.
Chapter 26 cont.
At the same time as Connor, Lewis, and Linford rounded the corner to check on Shona and Elina, the two women burst through the restroom door and back out into the main corridor. Both groups slowed from their sprint and jogged over to Sinclair’s elevator. Just as they were all asking if everyone was alright the lift arrived. As the doors slid open the Ronin and his sister pointed their weapons into the carriage, determined not to get caught unprepared again. The lift car was empty.
Lewis Carson was the first to step in and the rest quickly followed him as he pressed the button for the top floor. The doors slid shut and the group waited in silence as the car began its ascent to the penthouse/office on the top floor of the tower where Mark Sinclair both lived and worked. The only sound was the gentle hum of the machinery as it pulled the car upwards.
After a few minutes, the elevator slowed to a halt and the doors slid open revealing Sinclair’s office. The room was expansive with a dark-blue carpet emblazoned with the McKenzie double-helix logo. Rows of massive view-screens filled most of the wall space and there was a single wooden door on the far right that led to Sinclair’s private suite. The only furniture was a large, green leather-topped desk bearing a single flip-up monitor screen. Behind the desk was a wall-sized window that offered an impressive panoramic view of the corporate sector of Asimov. Breathtaking as the view was, it failed to draw the immediate attention of the group standing in the open elevator. It was the fact that Mark Sinclair himself was sitting in the high-backed chair at his desk observing something on the monitor screen. The grey-haired man looked up at the collection of what looked like armed maintenance staff standing in his personal elevator. Mild surprise registered as no more than a slightly raised eyebrow. He then recognised Lewis Carson and a sigh escaped his lips.
‘Well,’ he said in calm tones. ‘I can’t say I’m completely surprised to see you here Lewis.’
Connor and Shona raised their guns. Elina did the same even though she knew hers was empty from the fire-fight with the guards in the toilets.
‘Don’t move!’ Elina yelled as she and the others stepped into the office. The suited chief executive simply pushed his seat back slightly and placed his elbows on the armrests of his chair, raising his hands to show his empty palms.
‘Have you and your friends come to “do me in” for all my evil deeds then?’ Sinclair asked Lewis with more than a hint of mockery. ‘Best be quick before my security teams arrive to take care of you.’
‘Your people aren’t coming,’ retorted Shona. ‘Our Runner is in your systems and has locked you down. No one knows what’s happening here.’
The executive inclined his head slightly. ‘Very good. So, do what you came here to do and be on your way.’ He lowered his hands, lacing the fingers together and placing them in his lap.
Elina frowned as she lowered her useless weapon. ‘You’re very calm for a guy that’s most likely not going to live past the next few minutes.’
Sinclair shrugged. ‘My dear, you don’t get to my kind of position in a corporation like this without dealing with threats on a daily basis. Do what you must. At the moment you are all no more than an annoyance.’
Lewis Carson shook his head and turned to Linford. ‘Just get over there and get what we came for.’
The young programmer nodded and took a deep breath as he walked over to Sinclair’s desk. The grey-haired man stood up from his seat and offered it to Linford who hesitated for a moment before taking it.
‘Um… thanks,’ he said uncertainly as he sat down on the still warm leather and pulled himself over to the active terminal.
Sinclair walked over to the wall-window and turned to look at the group before him, folding his arms across his chest as he regarded the weapons aimed at him.
‘Are you telling me that you’re not going to kill me? You’re just going after some data from my files?’ He sounded a little disappointed.
‘Well-’ started Lewis but he was interrupted by Elina.
‘If you don’t keep your fucking mouth shut I’ll kill you right now!’ She raised her gun. Sinclair didn’t know it was empty but, even though he seemed completely unfazed, he chose not to push his luck with the obviously unbalanced woman and kept his mouth closed. Satisfied that he was going to remain silent for now, Lewis and the others approached the desk where Linford had positioned himself. The young programmer pulled out a Sphere interface cable and blank data-chip from the thigh pocket of his utility overalls and placed them on the desktop. After a brief glance at the screen he looked up at the others.
‘The system’s open. He must have been working on something when we came in. Means I don’t have to crack his password or have Elina here beat it out of him.’ Linford glanced over his shoulder and gave Sinclair a suggestive smirk. The still calm executive smiled in return.
‘Great, so get on with it will you?’ A hint of impatience began to show in Lewis’ voice.
The programmer placed the data-chip into a download receptacle ready to receive the data once he retrieved it. As he plugged one end of the cable into an interface port in the terminal, Connor moved to the door of Sinclair’s suite and went in to do a quick check to make sure no one else was with them. Lewis began to pace up-and-down, Elina returning to the now closed elevator in case anyone else came up and Shona sat down on the end of the desk to watch Sinclair, her pistol no longer aimed directly at the man. He was obviously no threat.
Linford prepared himself then plugged the Sphere cable into the socket in his skull and activated the “Direct User Interface” from the touch-screen monitor, closing his eyes as his perceptions were sucked into the machine.
Linford Johnson’s avatar was no more than a plainly dressed representation of his real world body, just him dressed in slacks, a t-shirt, and trainers. It was no more than he needed for what he had to do. The domain he had appeared in resembled a grand personal library with ceiling-to-floor, wall-to-wall mahogany bookshelves that were stacked with row upon row of volumes of varying size and colour. In the middle of lushly carpeted floor was a large reading desk with a decorative lamp. Oddly, there was also a representation of a human skull sitting on the desk. A large mural depicting the stages of human evolution filled the ceiling space and there seemed to be no obvious windows or doors.
Looking at the vastness of the volume of books, that obviously represented files in the domain, Linford knew that manually checking them would take time that he didn’t have. Unless blind luck was on his side he could spend literally hours in here pouring through the assorted documents before he found what he was after.
Knowing that Lady Luck had a tendency to spit on him, rather than smile, Linford decided to see if he could speed things up.
‘Activate search program,’ he said to the air.
In the next instant a short woman with long, greying hair, glasses, and a turtle-neck black sweater and pleated ankle-length skirt appeared next to him.
‘Hello,’ said the woman with a smile. ‘I’m the librarian. How may I help you?’
Excellent! thought Linford. ‘Um, show me files relating to nanotechnology experiments.’
‘Of course Mr Sinclair.’ the search program obviously thought that Linford was the executive as he had accessed the terminal while the man was logged on.
The petite woman walked over to a bookcase and levitated several feet into the air before selecting a green book from the shelf. She then returned to the carpeted floor and handed the volume to Linford. ‘There you go, sir.’
‘Thanks,’ said the young man as he took the book. He turned it over and noticing that the cover bore the McKenzie double-helix logo.
‘Is there anything else Mr Sinclair?’ enquired the librarian.
‘Uh, no that’s everything. Thank you.’
The search program smiled and promptly vanished. Linford quickly seated himself at the reading desk and placed the book on the desktop. Flipping it open and riffling through a few of the pages, he saw enough to know that this was what everyone was after.
‘Menu,’ he said.
A transparent screen winked into existence next to him displaying a list of basic function options. Linford touched the “DOWNLOAD” option on the screen, selected the port that the data-chip was resting in and then tapped the cover of the green book he had been given. It emitted a brief golden glow and a small progress bar appeared in the air above it. The avatar watched as the bar began to slowly fill, drumming his virtual fingers on the desktop as he waited.
A shadow suddenly fell over the desk from over his shoulder and his impatient finger-tapping abruptly ceased as he sensed that someone had just appeared behind him.
A sudden chill that ran up his spine told him that it wasn’t the helpful librarian.
Slowly, he turned in his chair. Standing no more than two feet away from him was a tall figure with jet-black skin, flaming red eyes, and pure white hair. The figure was dressed in an expensive-looking black suit.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ enquired Cain in his deep, resonate voice.
Linford gulped at the vision before him. ‘Just downloading a file,’ he said weakly, trying to sound innocent.
‘You are not Sinclair. You are not supposed to be here.’ The A.I. grinned menacingly, showing perfect white teeth as he raised his right hand. Bright blue flame erupted from his fingers. Linford knew when he was fucked. He took a split second to glace back at the file transfer progress and saw that it was just about to complete. Time to leave.
‘Exit!’ he yelled and promptly vanished just as the download finished. Cain roared and thrust his burning hand into the green-coloured book, sending an immensely powerful surge of energy through the remnants of the last of the file as it transferred to the data-chip.
Back in Sinclair’s office, Linford’s eyes flew open and he yanked the Sphere cable from his head as he gasped. Everyone looked at him as he reached for the data-chip and they were about to ask what had happened when crackling streaks of blue energy flashed across the terminal and it exploded in a large fireball. The gout of flame, mixed with terminal and desk shrapnel, engulfed Linford and threw him backwards. His face and chest were scorched and peppered with metal and wooden shards.
The explosion killed him instantly.
The blast blew Lewis and Shona from the desk, the concussion from the explosion flattening them to the ground and, fortunately, sparing them from the majority of the flame and shrapnel resulting in nothing worse than superficial cuts. Shona’s weapon flew from her numb fingers and skittered across the floor to land a few feet from Sinclair. The startled executive had instinctively crouched down into a ball and covered his head with his arms as the terminal detonated. Connor staggered back as he returned from his reconnaissance of Sinclair’s rooms, but he was otherwise unhurt. Elina flinched at the sudden explosion but, from her position at the elevator, she was untouched. It was shock at what had just happened, rather than concussion from the blast, that held her fast.
The burned and smoking body of Linford Johnson continued to roll backwards in the office chair, propelled by the force of the explosion, until he came to a halt as the chair bumped against the glass of the wall-window. The glass was strengthened so, while the blast had been devastating, it hadn’t been enough to shatter it. There was a moment of stunned silence following the detonation, both Lewis and Shona rendered briefly unconscious from the force of the blast.
In the McKenzie domain, Angel’s ninja avatar continued to monitor the various systems. Apart from picking up the ill-fated security team’s communication for reinforcements, things had been pretty quiet. Even the bound and gagged corporate Runner seemed to have resigned himself to his fate and had lay perfectly still. The ninja was, therefore, more than a little surprised when a black-skinned man with flaming eyes appeared in the chamber without warning. Angel wasn’t stupid and knew she was looking at an A.I. She had figured it was a possibility that such a thing might happen, but she was still somewhat taken aback at the white-haired man’s sudden, unannounced appearance.
Following his discovery of Linford’s avatar in Sinclair’s personal files, the McKenzie A.I. realised that there was an incursion taking place and was swiftly and personally checking all the sub-systems. He wasn’t in the least surprised when he found another intruder lurking in the security section. Angel, however, was swifter to react than the ill-fated Linford. With a snap of her virtual fingers she vanished in a cloud of pink smoke before the A.I. could so much as take a step towards her.
When the Runner opened her eyes and looked around the environmental systems chamber, intending to tell Jacob that they should go as the whole gig had been rumbled by the corporate A.I. her words died on her lips as she took in the scene of carnage before her.
Angel’s eyes widened in horror as she realised that the mangled, bloody heap that was practically lying in her lap was the remains of one of the desk security guards. She looked down at herself and saw that she was covered in blood and fleshy remnants of the man’s body. Her breath began to quicken and come in short gasps as she reached up and touched her face. When she felt dampness there and looked at her bloody fingers she began to retch and desperately fought the urge to throw up. Closing her eyes against the sight, she pulled the jack cable from her head and let the cable recoil back into her S-Box. Upon opening her eyes again, she forced herself to focus on her blood-splattered Sphere-Box and detached it from the maintenance terminal. Slowly, she got to her feet and slid the device into her thigh pocket while she took deep breaths and stared up at the ceiling. A sudden thought occurred: where was Jacob?
The exact same instant that the thought entered her head, an alarm began to sound throughout the building. Angel guessed that the corporate Runner had got himself free. She looked around wildly as panic began to grip her. She found Jacob’s body lying a few feet away, his dead eyes staring up at the panel lights of the chamber ceiling. The sight was too much and the pink-haired girl fell to her knees and screamed, tears welling instantly and running down her cheeks. Even as the alarm sounded, she could feel herself being taken by the same feeling of hopelessness that had almost pushed her to suicide as she had lain on the floor of Pixel’s bathroom following the encounter with the landlord. What was the point? She was fucked. She may as well just stay here and await her fate.
An image of Shona appeared in her mind’s eye, as clear as if the red-haired woman was standing right in front of her. Shona. She had to get to Shona.
The Runner’s weeping stopped and her eyes focused on the flechette pistol resting in Jacob’s lifeless grip. With a sense of grim determination, she reached out and took the weapon and got back to her feet. Only one thought ran through her mind. She had to find Shona. Shona would know what to do.
Angel stepped over the bodies and made for the open door to the metal stairwell.
Lying on the floor near the shattered ruins of Sinclair’s desk, both Lewis Carson and Shona Rourke groaned as consciousness slowly returned. Lewis was reminded of the feeling he had experienced during the explosion outside the McKenzie building all those months ago. To Shona the sensation was reminiscent of the events that had taken place years ago that had resulted in the loss of her left arm. Neither of them could manage more than a moan.
Connor ran to the desk, jumped over the slowly stirring body of Lewis, and crouched down by his sister. She wasn’t seriously wounded and the fragments from the explosion had given her nothing worse that a few cuts and scrapes. A brief glace at Linford’s body made it apparent how lucky both she and Lewis had been.
‘Hey,’ he whispered in a concerned voice. ‘Are you okay?’
His sister’s only reply was another moan and a gasp as she slowly began to drag herself to her hands and knees. The Ronin quickly looked up as he heard Elina yell.
During the confusion that had followed the explosion, Mark Sinclair had edged his way towards Shona’s discarded flechette pistol and was midway towards bending down to pick it up. He froze when he heard the woman by the elevator shout and saw that she was pointing her own gun at him. Sinclair didn’t know it was empty. Connor did, and raised his own still partially loaded weapon to aim at the grey-haired man. The CEO cursed silently and stood up, stepping away from the pistol. As Elina strode over to the gun, Connor raised himself to his feet, placed one hand under his sister’s arm and gently pulled her up. Shona clutched her head and cursed.
‘Son of a bitch!’ she said with a pained expression as she tried to stop the room from spinning.
‘Well, if you’re complaining it means you’re okay,’ said her brother with a sense of relief. ‘Can’t say the same about Linford.’
Shona looked from her brother to the corpse of the young programmer.
‘Fucking hell,’ she murmured to herself.
Elina reached the pistol and picked it up, never taking her eyes from Sinclair. She tossed her own gun and pointed the fresh weapon at the grey-haired man. Lewis Carson reached a hand up to the edge of the destroyed desk and pulled himself to his feet, adjusting the glasses that had skewed on his face when he had been flattened to the ground. The first thing he saw was Linford’s body.
‘Oh no,’ he whispered.
Suddenly, the sound of an alarm tore the air and pulled everyone from their mournful contemplation of the programmer’s charred and cut body. Sinclair folded his arms and smiled.
‘So much for your Runner,’ he said.
Connor gritted his teeth and turned to Elina. ‘Get the chip and let’s get the hell out of here.’ The Ronin turned to the elevator and Shona broke from his supportive hand.
‘We have to get Angel!’ she demanded.
‘Of course we will! Come on!’ Connor grabbed the swaying and disorientated Lewis and turned him towards the elevator door.
Elina stood before the obliterated terminal and quickly rummaged through the wreckage until she eventually located a burnt and cracked data-chip. Anything that was on it was obviously irretrievable. She stood up, holding the ruined piece of technology.
‘It’s gone,’ she said to Lewis. ‘Completely destroyed by the explosion.’
The ex-McKenzie employee turned and looked at the blonde woman holding up the ruined chip.
‘Nothing,’ he said in disbelief. ‘All this, everything that’s happened. It was all for nothing.’ Lewis just stood and stared as the alarm blared throughout the building.
A cold feeling enveloped Elina. She stared at the chip in her hand and let it drop from her fingers then turned to look at Linford’s corpse. It had been for nothing. Mina, Liford, probably Jacob and Angel too. All gone for no reason. Her heart felt like it had been replaced with a lump of ice and she turned her gaze on Sinclair. The half-smirking McKenzie executive recognised the look and, for the first time during the whole intrusion, he felt a slight sense of fear. Elina turned and strode over to the man, gun raised to point directly at his head. At any moment she half expected one of the others to say or do something to try and stop her, but no such gesture occurred as she came to a stop with her pistol resting on the grey-haired man’s forehead. They stared into each other’s eyes.
‘You won’t do it,’ said Sinclair with firm confidence.
For a moment the blonde-haired woman faltered in her resolve to end the life of the man. Then the image of her daughter’s face flashed through her mind and she pulled the trigger.
At point-blank range the flechettes exploded Sinclair’s head as if a bomb had gone off within the confines of his skull. Blood and brain matter rained out in a wide arc and splattered over Elina’s grim face. The headless corpse stood for a second then fell to the ground. As the alarm continued to blare, she turned to the others. No one said anything to her, though Lewis bore a pained expression.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ said Elina in a flat voice.
The elevator in the McKenzie building foyer pinged open at the exact same time that a blood-splattered Angel walked through the stairwell door. The alarm echoed loudly in the large space and the remaining guard on the desk was talking franticly into his com system as he gave and received instructions from the main security office. Both he and the receptionist turned as the elevator and stairwell door opened simultaneously. Seeing the remnants of the maintenance team armed with weapons, the guard reached for his still holstered pistol. Without a second of hesitation Connor raised his gun and fired the remainder its clip. Eyes wide, the receptionist threw herself to the floor behind her desk, seeking cover from the flechettes. The burst of micro-needles tore into the guard and his perforated body slammed backwards onto the counter of the reception desk, his gun falling from his limp fingers.
Angel recoiled from the sudden burst of gunfire then saw that it was Shona and the others.
‘Shona!’ she called as she dropped the weapon she had taken from Jacob and ran to the red-haired woman.
‘Angel!’ Shona shouted with a deep sense of relief, detaching herself from the group in the elevator and running to intercept the pink-haired girl. The two women quickly embraced then Shona held Angel out at arm’s length as she took in her appearance.
‘Shit! Are you hurt? Are you shot?’ She began to quickly check the gore-smeared Runner for wounds or holes.
‘It’s not my b-blood,’ said Angel with a tremble in her voice.
The absence of Jacob was all Shona needed to know to figure out that things had gone bad.
As Connor and Lewis moved towards the reception desk and the cowering, quivering woman that hid there, Elina ran over to Shona and Angel.
‘Where’s Jacob?’ she demanded.
Angel’s only reply was to stare at the blonde and shake her head.
Shona spoke up: ‘Take a look at her, Elina. She looks like she’s walked through a slaughter house. It’s obvious he didn’t make it.’
Elina’s jaw clenched and she let out a breath as she closed her eyes.
‘I’m s-sorry.’ murmured Angel.
‘Hey!’ yelled Connor from the reception desk, having to shout to make himself heard over the blaring alarm. ‘We have to leave. Now!’
Lewis had already made his way to the glass doors of the exit and Shona took Angel by the shoulder.
‘Come on,’ she commanded. ‘Let’s get out of here.’
Without another word, the three women ran for the doors, Connor joining them as they ignored the receptionist and dashed out onto the plaza outside the McKenzie building.
Can you say "ANITICLIMAX"?
Was hard for me to kill Linford as I had grown to like him somewhat.
Thank you for reading and for any comments.
A short epilogue will follow tomorrow and then we can put it to bed.
Nov 9, 2012 11:31:51 amby SidheRoseGraphics Homepage »
Not anticlimatic at all, Alex. Really, destroying that information so no one else could ever use it was probably the best thing in the end. Elina blowing Sinclair's head to oblivion at point-blank was the best thing in the end (yay!) (Those guns are wicked.) Yes, I was hoping Linford escaped and for a moment hung on the edge, only to face the inevitable. An excellent story all around!!
Nov 9, 2012 4:02:59 pmby RodS Homepage »
Too bad they didn't get the data, but destroying it - and Sinclair - was the next best thing. And it does leave the door open for more adventures. Hated to see Linford go, but I'm really glad Angel (I really like her..) made it out along with Shona, Connor, Elina and Lewis. Think they'll all have to lay low for a while....
BTW....... I WANT one of those guns.....
Excellent and gripping story, Alex! You're one hell of an author!