I gain my feet and grip Hedgehog Eleanor Roosevelt and start down, not pausing to see what grisly sight accompanies the grisly sound. My left ankle throbs, a starburst of pain at every other stride. The same-side hip is refusing to participate in locomotion, locked firm, dead-weight calcium. Still I'm hurtling downstairs at speed. The main Codewise entrance is free and clear, and must be mine.
Between the fourth and third floors, I hear a telltale click below. It came from Two, where my fellow engineers and I sit. I skid to a halt at the balustrade above.
Two yellow shirts emerge. The first, dark-complected and bald, rushes out to the stairwell on stocky legs. I don't wait around to ID the second, planting a foot and reversing direction. Halfway up the flight, though, my step hangs in the air. I stop and, spinning Hedgehog Eleanor Roosevelt in place, think.
I could hurdle it. Soar three stories, hopefully missing Semperinity. Pop up and run—or at least hobble quickly—through the lobby, collapse into the arms or a cop or bus driver or good Samaritan with cell phone.
I lean my weight back that way, but my legs revolt. Tiny weaknesses pip at me from deep within, from the marrow. I suppose they're not keen on being shattered.
I race upstairs. The yellow shirts thunder after me from below, calling out, their walkie-talkies crackling. I have a flight and a half on them, but I'm lame.
"Deb!" I hear from far below. "Deb, are you cool up there?"
It's the faintly dopey voice of Security Kyle, crouched at Semperinity, looking up skittishly from the body of the Elite guard.
There is nobody between him and the revolving doors.
"Definitely not cool!" I scream without breaking stride. "Go, go get the cops!"
I lose sight of Kyle swinging past the entrance to Six, then glimpse him halfway to Seven from the balustrade. He is halfway out of his crouch, wavering toward the entrance.
"Go, man—GO!" I shout.
This breaks his deer-in-the-headlights stare. He jumps up. As I pass Eight heading to Nine, I think we're in business.
A blast rents the air. I peek down and see a gun extended past the balustrade—a gun and a dark arm, which is attached to a yellow shirtsleeve. Kyle is back on his knees, a quivering lump.
I keep running. The last thing I need is more ominous noises, but that's just what I get passing Eight: clinky banging, a thunk, then a second, more pronounced thunk.
The dragonflies must be putting up a fight. I hopefully imagine them swarming Fedor, dogging him down the hall, stabbing their indigo tails in those flattop ears.
How many are still kicking? The initial status ping reported 43 responsive. Say a dozen missed the elevator. Say another half-dozen didn't make it off. How many bought it fighting Elite?
Sandals slapping pine, I pass the balustrade at Nine. The yellow shirts have gained. Before they were staggered by a half-flight, not visible, but now I see them at every turn.
The gap is one flight.
Now those noises at Eight give way to another door click. Seconds later, a silver-and-indigo swarm flashes forth like sparks from a firework, shooting horizontally over the balustrade and into the lobby's high canopy.
The dragonflies stabilize in place, a sort of rocking shimmy-shake that's the bane of my existence because it looks nothing like the graceful hover real dragonflies exhibit, no matter how I futz with their flight matrices.
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Blackquest 40Mystery / Thriller
** WATTYS 2018 WINNER ** Deb Bollinger has no time for corporate training. Her company's top engineer at just twenty-seven, Deb has blocked off her day for the one project she truly cares about: the launch of Carebnb, an app that finds spare beds fo...