Hint 17. Pay Attention To Your Surroundings
A gunshot echoes around the upper regions of the mansion as I appear. It’s a disconcerting fanfare for any arrival and Shark strides purposefully past whilst I hover, confused.
“She likes to get a few shots in if she’s on edge,” he says.
The last time I came here they were both itching with excitement, dancing around eagerly. That mood has changed. Now there’s something electric coiling through the dead air of the mansion. It’s not entirely unwilling but rather a wary resolution, an expectation of violence to come.
“You don’t have to be a part of this, Maya,” Shark says, crouching down to go through a box at the corner of the room.
“Yes I do,” I say, grabbing my mask from where it rests, dangling over the arm of a dining chair, and securing it to my face. “I’m Whisper now.”
Shark stands, contemplating for a second.
“Alright then, Whisper,” he says, nodding to the rest of the clothes. “Get ready.”
Five minutes later I rejoin him in full regalia, pulling studded gloves onto my hands. They’ve got fingers this time - we don’t want to be leaving prints. Shark straightens as I join his side. He’s back in his dystopian apocalypse outfit, right down to the scrap of red around his throat, and I can’t help but bite my lip as I take him in. He grins, widening his stance.
“You look ready to take on the world,” he says.
“As do you.”
Shark’s grin grows as I finish my sentence, nodding towards the door. “Not as much as her though,” he says.
I turn, taking in The Lady in all her glory. If I had thought her intimidating the last time, it’s nothing compared to how she is now. There are three different typesof knives on her right thigh alone.
“Where’s the sword?” I ask.
She just shrugs, gesturing to the pistols on her hips. I really do think she has a pair of grenades hanging off her belt but I studiously look away so the policeman in me doesn’t have to say anything.
“I’m travelling light,” she says, “might need to do a lot of running.”
I swallow nervously at her words. Things are about to get real serious real quick and I’m just standing here making quips about swords.
There’s no way around it. We were locked in discussion for hours and hours; Shark’s a real stickler for perfection and if there was a less risky way to manage it, he would have found it. We need to add proof to his previous words. We need to demonstrate the true capability of the Sapient+ operatives that slink along, hidden, in the endless ranks of law enforcement. He wants to scare the people onto his side but we can’t do that with our own abilities lest we risk pushing public opinion against his cause.
So, tonight, we’re making mayhem.
There’s a small part of me that’s excited. After a lifetime of upholding laws, the concept of letting go is appealing.
Until Shark hands me the gun.
“What’s this for?”
He furrows his brow.
“You know how to use it, right?”
“Then it’s for self defence.” He pauses a second. “Maya, do you even know the range of abilities we could be confronted with tonight?”
Not really. I know what I can do but apart from the generic subset of typical superpowers and Shark and Lady’s unique abilities, I don’t have a definitive list. I don’t even know what Gloria can do and she sits two desks over from me.
“I once met a guy who could excite atoms with his touch,” The Lady says. “Literally all he’d have to do is touch a finger to your face and boom. Cleaning innards off the walls.”
Shark glares at her.
“We don’t have to worry about him, though,” he says as though it’s comforting. “He was far too dangerous for them to keep around.”
“Too dangerous to keep around? What does that even mean?”
Shark and The Lady share a look, a look with a lot of meaning.
“But why would they even need to do that!?” I wail. “Why would they kill anyone when they can reverse the effects of the serum? It’s easy. They did it to at least three people I know.”
“This was a very long time ago, Maya. We were just children. The serum was inelegant, incomplete.”
“The more I hear you talk about your past, the more I understand this cause of yours. Perhaps you should just write a memoir instead of bothering with all this effort.”
Shark laughs and I take it as a sign that this conversation is over, wrapping the holster around my waist. The gun sits against my side, heavy and threatening. I really hope I don’t have to use it.
The Lady turns, walking across to the other side of the room. She frees a pistol from her belt, examining it closely for any sign of dust. She lifts it to her eye, testing the sights. Shark pulls a rucksack off a table, rifling through its contents. As he bends over I see the gun tucked into the waistband of his trousers. He grabs a knife from the recesses of the bag, strapping it to his thigh. We are all armed tonight.
“Alright,” he says, swinging the bag onto his shoulder. “I think I’m ready. Lady?”
“Not even slightly ready,” I say, holding out an arm, “but let’s go.”
Shark takes my left hand, Lady takes my right, and we reappear in darkness.
“Don’t move,” Shark says, his voice echoing down the empty corridors of Townhall.
We’re standing in the heart of bureaucracy. Left down that corridor will take us to Enforcement, that means police headquarters, MI6 and some military subsidiaries. Right down that corridor will take us to Comms, national tv, radio etc. Straight ahead, down that corridor, will take us to Justice, where laws are made. Justice continues down a level where three national courtrooms can be found. And finally, seven flights of steps overhead but of no interest to us tonight, is Parliament.
Just the simple act of standing here constitutes a threat to national security that’s high enough to warrant the use of half the city’s Sapient+ operatives.
My eyes flick to my right and I take in The Lady. Despite Shark’s ‘Don’t Move’ command, she already has a knife in each hand. I don’t know how she managed it without setting off any of the alarms but I suddenly wish I had the comfort of a blade as well.
No point in having a knife, Whisper, unless you’re prepared to use it on a man.
He makes a good point.
“Right,” Shark says, talking quietly now. “Careful you don’t move, I’m just going to…”
He stretches out an arm but it’s barely moved six inches before he cuts through some invisible barrier and a shrill alarm wails into existence.
“Perfect,” he says, grin almost manic in its excitement. “Run.”
He takes off immediately, sprinting down the right corridor towards Comms. The Lady joins his side in an instant and I hang around just long enough to hear her scream.
“You bastard! You didn’t have anything you were trying to do. You just wanted to be the one to set the alarms off.”
“Too slow, Lady, too slow.”
I chuckle before going my own way, materialising right in the heart of Enforcement. The sound of the alarm is much louder in here, almost deafening, but there’s nothing I can do about it.
My job for the time being is plain and simple: create as much mess as physically possible before they catch up to us. I have to make it look like we were searching for something and, if I can be that subtle, I have to make it look like we found it.
As I look around the rows of neatly lined up desks, my vision flickers, a double layer of images playing on top of each other. I shake my head, focusing harder on reality and pushing the second view to the back of my mind. Shark only allowed me to participate in this if I agreed to let him broadcast a constant stream of his sight straight into the back of my mind, showing his location, so that if I got into trouble I could be at his side with a single thought.
The Lady’s already given me everything I need to make this really believable, hacking into Townhall systems to retrieve a password for one of these desktops. Shark spent two days trying to read an employee’s mind instead but Townhall’s so well guarded during work hours that he was never able to get close enough to be certain the information he was pulling came from a reliable source.
I slip a piece of paper from my pocket, my notes for the evening. It contains just a name and I waste three minutes walking up and down between the desks until I find the right computer. Each user can only access their own desktop so I can’t just log on to any of these machines. I have to find the corresponding name on the little badge above the screen. I lean over, shaking the mouse, cursing when the computer is slow to load.
In the video reel in my mind, Shark is having a whale of a time. Lady’s working the electronics as planned, switching all television sets over to emergency broadcast. It’s only about eight thirty at night so there should be a good audience. He’s preparing himself, still hasn’t started yet, but in about five minutes he’s going to be talking to the entire city.
The plan is to make out like we’ve found a list detailing all currently active Sapient+ operatives. This gives us a plausible motive for being here, especially when I’m done, and is enough for them to authorise the use of violence to bring us in.
Shark’s relying on this. He’s relying on a real demonstration of government power. Shark has spent a lot of time rifling through minds over his lifetime so he’s very capable of giving an accurate subsection of the promised information. He’s going to sit behind a camera, singing his sweet song, listing real names and real powers, until half The Facility turns up on the scene. At this point his plan gets ever so slightly loose. We’ll see how it goes.
The monitor in front of me finally comes to life, blinking blue. I type the username and password combination and then search for a scrap of paper. I want to write the password down so it looks like I just stumbled across it but I’m worried it’ll be suspicious if it’s different from the real handwriting of this desk’s daytime inhabitant.
Don’t worry about it, write it with your left hand so it can’t be identified as yours. They’ll just assume it was given to her on her first day and she never bothered to change it.
I do as he says and toss the paper back onto the desk, artfully arranging it so it looks more casual.
As soon as the desktop loads, I slip a USB into the drive. It takes three turns to get the bastard in there but as soon as the connection is made, Lady’s script launches immediately. It’s very satisfying to watch the command prompt pop up, text scrolling over the little black box at a pace.
The tiny programme doesn’t do much. It plants a file in the computer system with a title that implies it could contain the information we supposedly stole and then trawls through, deleting every file it can access before finishing by making a sloppy delete of the file it originally planted, as though we did a bad job of cleaning up after ourselves after we found what we were searching for.
I straighten, rippling a stretch up through my back. Now that I’ve finished with the subtle stuff I can start tearing shit apart. In the second world in my mind, Shark has begun his broadcast. Combine this with the alarm and I’ve probably only got three minutes to make it look we were here for hours.
Remembering how Ripley always complains about his paperwork, I start hopping round the room, displacing enough air to whip up a miniature tornado. Paper hits the air in plumes and I grin, turning my attention to the offices that line the room.
I start tearing drawers open, tossing their contents across the floor. One guy only has cake in his bottom drawer but I chuck that across the office too, just for good measure.
Watch your back, Maya. They’re here.
They’ve found Shark and The Lady. I give myself a minute to tune into the pictures he’s sending me. It’s like a weirdly detailed daydream except I’ve got no control over it whatsoever.
Shark’s still talking but he’s acting edgy, making sure the people watching know the police are closing in. Strangely, The Lady’s in more trouble. She’s got a gun out, no surprises there, and she’s flinging it wildly, threatening anyone that looks as though they’re in a position to shut off Shark’s broadcast. He keeps looking up at her, concerned. She knows she can’t be seen to be firing the first shot, so I imagine she’s currently in her own personal little hell.
No one’s expecting to find me here so I turn back to the job at hand. I take off at a run, finding more Enforcement offices to destroy. The next ten minutes of utter carnage may possibly be the happiest of my whole life.
Maya, get here. We may need you.
I don’t even break stride, reappearing in Comms at a run. A knife thuds into the wall at my ear and I draw to a stop, staring at it in confusion.
“Shit. Fuck, Whisper.” The Lady walks past me, tugging the blade from the plaster. “If Shark hadn’t told me not to hurt anyone yet, I’d have killed you.”
Now that I’m not looking at it through Shark’s eyes, I can take make a proper assessment of the room. The Lady and I are trapped in a small sound tech conclave, above where Shark sits in the studio below. There are, I peer round Lady’s shoulder to check, too many police officers outside our tiny room to count. Below, Shark is ringed by at least ten more. He’s still talking but he has thrown his arms above his head as he speaks. It’s not quite in surrender but it’s very clearly not aggressive, shows everyone who’s looking exactly where his hands are and what they’re doing.
As I watch, he looks up. I give him a little wave and he winks before turning back to his soliloquy.
The Lady growls, a senseless, frustrated noise. I look over, realising she’s back to waving the gun.
Are you ready, Maya? I’ll get Lady to turn the sound on for you.
The Lady darts a quick glance my way.
“You hear what he said?” She asks. I nod but I don’t know what he meant by it.
Someone outside steps forwards. I can see them reaching for the door handle through the glass and in a second I’m holding my weapon too. The Lady tosses me a nod as people shuffle backwards nervously. Keeping her pistol trained at the door, she leans back with one hand, flicking a switch. Shark’s voice leaps out of the woodwork, filling this tiny room immediately.
“…tropolitan police, elemental manipulation, water. George Tumberson, metropolitan police, telekinesis….”
“You ready for your five seconds of fame?” Lady asks.
“… Timothy Jenkins, metropolitan police, super strength. Maya Kurtis, metropolitan police, translocation. Gloria Calzada, metropol…”
The Lady leans back a second time, flicking the switch and silencing Shark.
“He only started listing actual names about forty seconds ago, I imagine they’ll make a move soon enough.”
I’m still busy getting over Shark’s announcement. Tim’s Sapient+? I go to the pub with him almost every Friday how could I not know? Super strength… it certainly explains why he’s broken everything Alex has ever leant him. Actually, they’re partners. Does Alex even know? If Alex knows and he hasn’t told me, I’ll kill him.
I’m really starting to wish I’d been listening to Shark from the beginning.
Down below, The Lady’s prediction is coming true. A shout echoes around the room but it’s muffled by the soundproofing effect of the glass. I flick the switch again, bringing voices into the room.
“Hold these guys for a second,” Lady says, stepping aside so I can guard the doors.
She slips the pistol back into its holster, bending over the mixing deck. At first I can hear only Shark but Lady knows what she’s doing, bringing up the levels of background noise so that it becomes very clear, both to us and the people at home, what is being said as Shark struggles on with the broadcast.
“Not much longer now,” Lady says, “and the fun begins.”
There is some general shuffling outside and The Lady’s immediately back on high alert, pistol steady. I slip my gun into my pocket, trusting in The Lady at the door, and lean over the mixing deck to peer down at Shark.
“Keep your hands where we can see them, sir, and step away from the camera.”
A commanding officer has appeared amongst the ring of law enforcement that surrounds the stage. I can tell he’s a CO by the way he holds himself, by the way he steps within the ring, speaking with confidence.
Shark’s eyes flick upwards briefly and then they return to the camera. He keeps listing names.
“I am obliged to inform you that every man in this room is biologically enhanced under the Sapient+ initiative,” the CO continues, words I have had drilled into my head but have never used. “If you do not cease this behaviour, they will be authorised to utilise their abilities, in any form, in order to apprehend you.”
I watch Shark pause. He has been sitting on a stool in front of the camera the entire time but now he stands, slowly, keeping his hands above his head.
“Oh, I know they’re Sapient+,” he says.
And then, in a flash, he’s moving, latching onto the camera mount. He swings the lens around until it’s facing the first man in the ring.
“Gregory LaBombe, Townhall Enforcement agent #146, elemental manipulation, fire.”
At my side, The Lady’s laughing. This was not planned.
Shark swings the camera again.
“Maria Delanon, Facility Agent, force field generation.”
Shark swings the camera a third time.
“Whisper!” The Lady shouts. I whip back round to our own troubles.
The first officer breaks through the door, darting into the room with us. The Lady screams her fury, sending a knife thudding into his chest. He’s wearing his riot gear, good old riot gear, so the knife never even touches skin. It gives him pause for thought, though.
Hold them off, Maya. They can’t do anything to me with the cameras running.
I holster my gun, not prepared to shoot anyone just yet, and elbow a woman in the nose. There’s not enough room in here to fight properly. I think I’m just as likely to end up with one of Lady’s throwing knives in my eye as anyone else.
“And there’s just a few more.” I hear Shark announce from downstairs. He swings the camera back to its original position, jumping back onto the stage.
“Card Shark!” he shouts, thumping his chest. “Agent of the People, joint powers of flight and telepathy.”
He turns the camera one final time, displaying the battle we’re having upstairs. I can see what’s recording on a tiny screen to my right. It just looks like chaos up here.
“The Lady, Agent of the People, shapeshifting. Whisper, Agent of the People, teleportation.”
It sends a thrill up my spine to realise that I am an ‘Agent of the People’.
Shark has made a mistake in turning the camera away from the stage. The ring has been closing in and now that he’s off-view, he hasn’t the time to do anything but surrender. The barrel of a gun nudges into his skull and he doesn’t even fight. They force him to his knees.
The Lady takes my wrist, holstering her gun.
“Go,” she hisses.
I do as she says, dropping onto the stage at Shark’s side. I don’t even allow myself time to materialise properly before I’m scrabbling for his raised wrist and getting us out of there.
Shark’s still on his knees as we land on the roof. I look down at him, his head about level with my navel as my eyes slowly readjust to the darkness outside. He tilts his head back, catching my eye from below.
“Aren’t we the wrong way around?” He asks, eyes sparkling playfully.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m rather enjoying the view.”
A news copter sweeps overhead, so close to the roof that the downdraft of its whirling blades hits my shoulders like solid matter. Shark places a gentle hand on my stomach, holding me up, and when the wind has gone, he uses that same grip to pull himself to his feet, fingers brushing lightly over my hip as he releases his hold. I suddenly find myself fighting the urge to take his hand in mine, wrapping our fingers together.
Shark has other ideas, however, slipping the rucksack off his shoulder. He rifles through its contents, pulling out a wad of paper.
“Let’s get them up here,” he says, jumping into the sky.
Shark flies like he’s street jumping, clambering up over invisible steps, swinging himself higher on nonexistent poles. When he’s satisfied with his height, he plants his feet in a wide stance, waiting patiently until a police spotlight pulls him out of the darkness.
“Here’s your truth,” he shouts, “or as much of it as we could find.”
“We’ve got company,” The Lady breathes.
Shark’s head snaps over but he keeps talking. I watch as he scatters his paper, his list of known Sapient+ operatives, to the wind, returning to our side.
I’m temporarily blinded by the flash of a camera. Turning, I peer over the edge of the building. My breath catches instantly. I’ve never seen so many people in my entire life. If I thought the crowd beneath the Alliance Group Building at our previous stunt was large, it’s nothing compared to the current mass of humanity, pressing up against Townhall’s impressive railings. In a hundred different places they’re scrabbling, snatching sheets of paper from the sky.
I would spend longer staring except Shark’s fist wraps into the collar of my jacket, pulling me back so fast I almost lose my footing. A bright splash of orange fire washes across the grey cement at my feet.
“Yeah, you can say that again,” Shark hisses. “I thought you were a policeman. Pay better attention.”
“Incoming!” The Lady screams and Shark pulls me back again.
“Alright,” I hiss, fighting free. “I get it.”
“Keep out of trouble, Whisper,” he breathes with a smile and the sudden loss of his frustration makes me wonder if The Lady was right, if he’s manipulating me.
“You know what,” he says, “how about we save this domestic until later.”
I don’t have time to reply.
“Shark! For fuck’s sake. I need you.” Lady leans back, bracing herself as she sends two shots rocketing into the darkness. Shark hisses, flinching.
“I hit someone?” She asks.
“Fatal?” She asks.
I wonder what it must be like, to hear the agonised thoughts of a wounded man. The Lady hardly seems to care.
“Tell me if I get another one,” she says, firing another four shots into the dark.
“Honestly,” Shark says, answering the question I never formed out loud, “it’s just deafening nonsense. He’s a big boy; he’ll be fine. I just want him to stop wishing his mother were here. She’s a secretary, she has zero combat experience.”
Fire washes over the cement again and we all dart backwards.
In the flickering afterglow, I take in the people opposite me. They’re all vaguely familiar, perhaps I’ve seen them at The Facility or maybe it’s just a memory from downstairs, in Comms.
“Alright,” The Lady says, slipping her pistol back into its holster and rolling her shoulders. “I’m sick of this bastard with the fire and I’m sick of being in control. I’m halfway gone already.”
“Stop lying to me,” Shark says, “you’re perfectly in control. We’re supposed to be the good guys, at least try and fight the blood lust.”
“Too late, Shark, too late.”
She grins, allowing that uneasy sensation to coil out from her body, losing herself to the change. In a second she has been replaced by the massive lupine beast that had once seemed so friendly, lying by the fire. As she launches herself into the darkness, claws pulling sparks from the ground, it seems as though there’s nothing friendly left. She’s all teeth and madness and endless, endless hunger.
Shark grabs my hand, tugging me forwards.
“We’ve got to cover her,” he says, sprinting into the darkness. “She’ll lose all sense of self-preservation.”
There’s a scream and as it echoes out across the rooftop, the rain begins to fall. In less than a minute, it’s chaos up here. With the rain and the darkness and the mass of bodies, I can’t help but lose Shark. It’s impossible to tell friend from foe. This is with the exception of The Lady, of course. She’s very recognisable but she hardly stays still for a second.
I find myself on the outskirts of the group, watching tumbling bodies as if through a window. The darkness reveals the shape of a woman. She’s coming my way and I’m all alone. Panic stabs through my chest for just a second before my training kicks in.
The gun at my hip finds its way into my palm and I pull it up, holding it steady, a sensible double handed grip. I want to give her the standard warning, set words we’re meant to say every single time we draw our weapons, but I hold my tongue. We already agreed that Whisper was mute, to reduce the risk of someone I work with recognising me, and if I say the words, she’ll know where they originate from. It’ll pile the suspicion onto me.
She must see that I’ve got a weapon, though.
There’s no way she could miss it but she’s still running. I hold my aim true. She keeps getting closer.
My heart’s pounding in my throat. I don’t want to pull the trigger.
My body reacts immediately. I close my eyes, whisper a quick prayer, and squeeze the trigger, staggering back under the power of the recoil.
She’s still running.
I fire again, twice more, but the bullets go straight through her. I seem to be incapable of processing this information, repeatedly shooting harmlessly through her torso.
She’s almost at me, right arm reaching around behind her and pulling out a set of handcuffs. With an unexpected burst of speed, she takes hold of my wrist, snapping the first half of the cuff into place and shoving her elbow into my face. I come to my senses as my head jerks back, shooting twice more at point blank range. As she slips into insubstantiality, I disappear.
Shark’s voice pulls me back into reality. My head whips over my shoulder, searching for him through the black. He’s fighting; hand to hand combat, body twisting with almost dance-like precision. He darts forwards, laying three rapid punches to his opponent’s face before retreating to safety. Telepathy must make this kind of battle much easier.
As I appear at his side, he snatches the gun from my hand, slamming it down on his opponent’s temple. The man crumples and he spins the pistol around his index finger, blowing across the barrel like a cowboy in an old western. With that red bandana around his throat, he certainly looks the part.
“They’ve got The Lady,” he says, “but I think we’ve given a good enough show. If I can make it so we can get to her, will you be able to take us home?”
I nod and his brow creases slightly. He leans over, a light smile brushing his lips, and knocks the set of cuffs dangling from my left arm.
“What happened here?” He asks, chuckling.
“Fashion statement,” I say.
It’s not difficult to find The Lady. They have her trapped beneath a glowing dome of blueish light and she prowls the perimeter steadily, hackles raised.
“Maria Delanon, force field generation,” Shark says. “Can you see her?”
Shark’s eyes follow the direction of my point, taking in Delanon’s motionless figure, a slight woman, crouched in concentration.
“Are you ready?” He murmurs, checking how many bullets there are left in my pistol. I nod, grasping his shoulder in preparation.
He drops to one knee, taking time to aim properly through the sights.
“Three, two, one…” he breathes and shoots her twice in the thigh. She crumples to the floor. As the force field flickers once, twice and fades, I play my part perfectly, bringing us to The Lady, wrapping a fist in her shaggy fur and pulling us out of there.
In that brief moment where I slip into nonexistence, I lock gazes with the woman on the floor, writhing. I find myself wondering if Shark aimed to incapacitate and not to kill. I find myself wondering what he might have aimed at if I hadn’t been there.