Chapter Thirty-Seven

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I get cracking, heavily motivated by the larger Elite force now searching the floor. Between five and eight judging by sound.

The dragonflies' navigation is geared toward the 3,000 square-foot theater where Bailey's Buzzy World will be performed; they have nothing like Raven's or even the droid-Hot Wheels' free-form pathfinding. I can't feed them GPS coordinates for the elevators and trust they'll get there. They won't. They'll say, "Um, two numbers that are almost 37 and -122." And hover stupidly in place.

Fortunately they are durable. One of Universal Studios' use cases called for interaction with kids—and whenever kids are in spec, the requirement is bulletproof.

I write some bare-bones logic to route them to the elevators. No turning, no floor map-reading, no collision avoidance.

     while (not at_location(elevator)):

          direction_vector = route_to_elevator(myPosition)

          go(me, direction_vector)

     loop

They're going to do a lot of slamming into walls, but that's okay. As long as they keep trying, keep vectoring—and this is the beauty of WHILE loops—they will eventually make it.

What's next? Finding the Up button, boarding the car, pushing the button for Eight—each component problem has its own pitfalls. The dragonflies' "eyes" are brutal, definitely not capable of identifying numbers. I run my fingers over Hedgehog Eleanor Roosevelt's quills, thinking. Now shapes ... shapes they could do. Also colors.

I know! They can build a list of all round objects of a given size, say one-inch radius, that aren't red (i.e. the alarm button) and press the top one. Should work.

Two problems solved.

I am just considering what they should do off the elevator at Eight when the search becomes suddenly boisterous—Elite is in my hallway.

Deciding there's no time for elegance, I dash out the first logic I imagine might work. The dragonflies will crudely measure the movement of all objects in their field of vision, and the first they identify that's not stationary, they zoom at. I finish the script and upload to BAILEYS_BUZZY_HIVEMIND.

Elite clambers outside. The air pulses with their heat and crosstalk. Their belt buckles and military boots and probably guns clack. I think I smell Fedor, a metallic tang that comes back from our confrontations on Two.

"The cabinet."

The voice is close, maybe at the threshold of the copy nook. Now quick feet. Two pair? I inch back as far as possible and split my legs—my groin muscles scream—to confine them to the edges of the cabinet, out of view of the mouth. I suck in my stomach and stop breathing.

Ding.

The elevator chime cuts the tension. There is a brief confusion. Heads snapping around? Guns being drawn?

"Nobody works on this floor!" calls Fedor's sharp voice. "She must have called it—she is going for the elevator."

He and the others ramble off.

I give it two seconds—no more; I need the cover of their loud boots—then sprint from the nook, around the corner, whizzing by chilly air from the hole in the window and Raven's acrid fumes.

I round another corner and make the stairwell door. It's unguarded. Yes! Everybody ran for the elevator shaft. I blow through to the lobby overlook.

What's my plan? Where can I go? My best hope is for that lobby guard to have joined the pursuit. If he's at the elevator bank getting bombarded by angry dragonflies, maybe I can book it down eight flights and escape outside. Maybe the Banh Mi dude is prepping his cart and I'll grab his cellphone out of his apron pocket and dial 911.

I skip three steps down, anticipating smells of coriander and pickled carrots.

It'll have to wait.

Because here is the lobby guard, rushing up, at Six now and charging higher. He sees me. He pauses to shout into his walkie-talkie, then starts up again. He rushes from Six to Seven, fists pumping at his sides.

I remember being thirteen and running from thugs with mom up a fire escape. I can't remember why—maybe we'd squatted in the wrong apartment—but that feeling of pursuit, of men devouring steps, closing the gap, was identical. We raced up and up, then finally running out of space, held each other on the roof until they took us.

Well, I'm not running out of space now. I'm not going up either. Twenty-seven-year-old Deb knows physics. I have one advantage over his guy, and it's substantial: altitude.

He's halfway up the flight below, I gauge by sound. I slow briefly to a slink, timing my run-up. I take the fifth and seventh stairs in stride, skip down eight, then launch myself—feet leading like the tip of a spear—toward the landing.

The guard turns the corner just as my body reaches parallel with the sloping stairs. My sandals drill his chest. I've sailed six feet in the air and been accelerated by gravity, which gives my kick tremendous force. My body snaps like a ripcord at the impact.

All my momentum transfers to the guard, who somersaults violently backward.

As I land in a heap, he keeps rolling, boots over head a second time, gaining velocity rather than losing it. His body whips down the last step to the landing, and he tries standing immediately.

It's too fast.

He gains his feet, but his torso is still accelerating. His thighs hit the glass balustrade and suddenly I'm looking at the soles of his boots as he tips forward.

He shrieks. The nose dissipates as he falls over the balustrade. I don't see the drop, but I hear the sickening crash-splat of its end: seven stories down into Semperinity.  

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