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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 26: Brown 108
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 25: Slade 100
Ferris rushed down the stairs, trying not to think of how many there must be in a building this tall. He told himself that tourists did this sort of thing for enjoyment, at places as diverse as the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. Climbing stairs was not a pastime he could imagine enjoying, no matter what was at the top. This wasn't the Empire State Building certainly, but there were a lot of floors here, and that meant a long way to the ground.
Suddenly a sound stopped him. A door had just slammed shut on the stairwell. Was it above or below him? The echo of the stairs made it difficult to tell, even when you were listening, and he hadn't been listening. Did it mean someone who had been on the stairs already, and might have heard his descent, had left them? Or did it mean that someone had now entered the stairs, possibly ahead of him, possibly coming his direction?
Whoever it was, wherever they were, caution was dictated. If they had just left the stairwell, they might have heard him coming, and they might have decided he was not one of them. That could mean an ambush at any door (of which there were still probably dozens between here and the ground). On the other hand, if they had just entered the stairwell, he did not wish to be heard, and had to move with more care.
He was walking barefooted; Ferris didn't own shoes, although he wished he'd thought to bring socks as his feet settled on the cold metal and concrete steps. Morach didn't need shoes because he flew more easily than walking anywhere. Derek had shoes, packed in his backpack, with the lieutenant. Ferris had never been more than a transitional form before. He had no shoes. Perhaps that was better; he could creep more quietly on the stairs.
An image of himself as Ferris, toddler-sized winged teenager with slightly pointed ears, sitting almost gargoyle-like in a shoe store in a mall brought a smile to his face. Shoes for Ferris would have to be procured some other way. It's a good thing Morach didn't need them, he mused. Morach's tiny feet would require doll shoes. Then again, shoes would pinch terribly when he transformed. Socks would be bad enough. Shoes were out of the question.
Now he heard the man--one man, it seemed, whistling something as he walked on the stairs below. The clumping seemed to be receding; the man was going down. Ferris continued following, slowly. He was tempted to try to get a glimpse of this terrorist; but that would tell him nothing he did not already know, and risk the possibility that he would not finish the mission. He moved slowly, keeping back from the descending terrorist, following the sound and listening intently for any other sounds that might tell of others.
A door opened below him, and closed again, and the stairwell was quiet. His terrorist had moved into the building. He wondered whether he should have killed the man when he had the chance; but then, he would rather not have to kill anyone if he could avoid it.
The stairs ended. He was at the last door, the ground floor. It was time for the next step. He took a deep breath, let it out with a sigh, and opened the door.
This would not be the back door area; there were staircases near the outer walls of the building, but the one that reached the roof was more toward the center. It would take a moment for him to get his bearings and find the way to the desired door. He closed this one behind him gently. Realizing that by now Calloway would have his pack near the back door, he relaxed and reached out for that direction sense. One of the two vectors he sensed angled slightly upward--his apartment, the gear he left behind. The other was nearly level with his location, so that would be the direction to the back entrance.
It also occurred to him that this was almost certainly the door through which that terrorist he had followed had left the stairway. He could be going anywhere, but the odds were pretty good that if he came down to the ground floor he was headed for one of the doors. That might mean his bad luck--there might be two by the back door at this moment, and he might not be able to avoid being seen long enough for one of them to leave.
It was time to scout ahead.
His mind went back many years, to a time when he was a young sprite in the forest and he focused his mind completely on his senses. He had enhanced his hearing and his vision for brief spurts back then, to the point that he could hear the wings of the insects and see details he had hardly been aware existed. He tried to do this again now.
There was a conversation somewhere, not far away; it echoed up the halls from his right--the same direction as his gear. He struck out in that direction, watching and listening as he moved closer. It took a few minutes, but soon he was in the hall just beyond the back door. As he had feared, two terrorists were there, talking as they watched. His companions had been seen outside, and apparently were subject of much speculation as to what they were going to do. That might explain why the extra man was here; he might not be leaving.
Ferris was not at all certain he could stop two men, particularly if they were wearing vests and armed with automatic weapons. He could try shooting them, but he would be a rather easy target for them. Darts in the legs wouldn't work quickly enough to save his life; darts in the necks, arms, or faces would be a tricky shot from his height, and this time he had no place from which to descend. This was going to be a problem.
He fell back to consider; there was a side office, and he thought this might make a good temporary hiding place. The door was unlocked, and he slipped inside and closed it behind him.
There seemed only one option. Morach would have to deal with them. He was smaller, harder to hit; he would be more of a surprise, coming in from above them in flight. His skill with the bow was considerably better than with the darts, and if he flew between them they would be hard pressed to shoot at him while he delivered his attacks.
The question was, would he be able to let his team in through the back door once he'd made the transformation? He would have to try; it was the best chance he had.
His thoughts were interrupted by a somewhat tenuous voice. "What are you?" it asked. He turned to find the speaker. It was a man in a pastel blue shirt, dark trousers, a dark tie, and polished shoes--clearly not one of the terrorists. It appeared that one of the office workers had managed to find cover and avoid capture, but had not escaped from the building.
"I'm the cavalry," Ferris said.
"What I am," he said, "is classified, top secret intelligence stuff. All you need to know is that I'm here to stop these people."
Then Ferris had a thought.
"You could probably help me," he said.
"Me? I'm just a systems engineer."
"Yeah, well, I don't really need help with computers," Ferris said, considering the irony of that thought. "But I am going to need someone to open the back door for my team after I've taken out the guards. I might not have the strength to do that myself by the time I get there. Anyway, I'll leave this gun with you," he said, placing the weapon on a desk in the room, "and if I manage to get both of those guys I'll swing back and get you. Once my people are inside, you can make a run for the building across the street, where someone can take care of you. That's probably a bit risky, but I'm not really sure whether you'd be safer staying in hiding here or making that run."
He seemed to think about it for a moment.
"All right," he said, "I can do that."
"Good. In a moment I'll be ready; it will help if you can open the door for me here."
"O.K. Oh, what should I call you?"
"Theian Toreinu Morach," he said, as he again shrank to half his height, his wings now large enough to support his weight. Crawling into Morach's outfit, he tossed off the folds of the larger robe and got his sprite weapons in place. "Now, let's see if I can surprise them. If you would be so kind as to get the door?"
As the door opened, Morach flew out into the hall, back toward the rear entrance.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #226: Versers Adapt. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: