Chapter Fifty-Two

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Hysteria seizes the lobby. Only a few of us know about the charges, but anyone can look at Oleg's industrial-grade padlock and recognize bad intentions. Jared and Minosh grip the inner door handles, heaving, leaning to no avail.

A random salesman is shouting about breach of contract—"You said forty hours, not one minute more!"

"Break a window!" I yell myself. I try hoisting the pub-style table in front of me, but it's bolted down.

Susan directs other efforts, marshaling small teams, calling out particular windows to target. Carter struggles under one corner of a loveseat. Prisha dumps apples off a porcelain platter and slings the platter discus-like at the glass-which bows and thunks and trembles in its frame, but won't break.

"Paul!" I say. "You know some EE, right?"

He is grinding two knuckles into a crack of a south window, but the crack isn't getting bigger. "I—well, yes, I minored electrical at Carnegie."

"Let's go, come on!" I plow through the roiling crowd to pull him away. "I saw the trigger—I know where they put the trigger!"

Cursing myself for not disabling the charges when I had the chance—when I had time—I race upstairs to Ten. I grab wire cutters from Security Kyle on the way, ripping open his toolbox, upending nails and nuts and stud finders. Paul hustles after.

We zoom through E-wing to the workspace of Omar Mohammed.

How many minutes do I have? How many seconds?

I have no idea. Oleg doesn't know I know about the charges—assuming again Graham didn't sell me out—so maybe he'll wait, make some progress on his getaway before blasting this place into a tomb.

Or maybe he won't. Maybe having slapped on the mega padlock, he'll figure we're going to try escaping immediately and jump onto his metaphorical bomb plunger the instant they round the corner.

Omar left behind a windbreaker, the blue Cisco logo sagging off his chair back. I motor into his cubicle and dive underneath his workspace counter to the baseboard. Two wires run here from a small hole in the ceiling, of which I saw the other side earlier. Somebody has stapled the wires flush to the wall and painted them over white—a slapdash job, but nothing you'd notice at a glance.

Here at the baseboard, connected to the wires, is a metal box sized like a lunch pail. It has a single indicator light along its top edge, which currently shows solid green.

The detonator.

And up in the ducts, the bang-bang.

Separate detonator from bang-bang, problem solved.

I spread the jaws of my wire cutters and slip one between wall and wire, separating the two, breaking a thin coat of freshly dried paint. I'm about to squeeze the handles and snip before second thoughts come.

Maybe it's less simple.

Maybe what sounds infallible inside your brain is actually...fallible.

Footsteps pound nearer. I decide to wait for them before snipping. In the meantime, I stare at the detonator, willing it not to change state or otherwise bring three floors crashing down onto my head.

Paul lunges into the cubicle, clutching his side.

I begin, breakneck, "Here is the detonator"—pointing to the box—"and there're the explosives"—now to the ceiling—"and eight or nine floors have 'em up in the ducts, all networked together wirelessly. I was going to snip both wires to take the detonator off the circuit."

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