A Vyrian Incursion Story
by Lance Schonberg
Two escalators took me to the third floor and two turns along the hardwood path between the carpets brought me to the back of the store, as far from the front doors as I could get without going into staff areas I couldn’t see. Not worth the effort. I’m sure the Vyrians had all possible covered.
At the end of the aisle, a set of windows stretched floor to ceiling along forty feet of wall, and let me look out over the roof of the movie theatre next door. Two stories high, and flat except for some ventilation units, no one crouched there waiting. I looked down into the partly lit area between the two, expecting to see someone looking back, but no one stood in the light, and the darkness and shadows hid anyone who might not want to be seen.
Chewing my lower lip, I mentally measured the gap between the two buildings as somewhere between twenty and twenty-five metres. Employee parking with more than enough space left over for delivery trucks to get through, maybe even a little two-way traffic flow for commuters looking to save a fraction of a second on the way home if they knew the space was there. “I think I must be crazy.”
A throat cleared behind me and it was all I could do not to draw my stunner as I spun around, but the dark blue polo shirt and name tag marked the wide-eyed woman as a member of the bookstore’s staff. She leaned back a bit at my sudden motion and swallowed twice while considering what to say. Taran, still asleep on my back, hesitated mid-snore for a moment, but resumed without stirring. “Um, the store closes in about ten minutes, sir. Is there anything I can help you find?” Her voice didn’t tremble through what was probably a well-used sentence, but in her place, I’d be wishing I’d forgotten it was my job to get people out of the store for closing.
I had to wonder what she saw in my face, but tried to turn whatever it was into a smile. “No, thank you. I’m just up here to get away from the crowd on the first level while I avoid the Vyrian extraction team outside.”
“Um, right.” She backed away a couple of steps before turning to walk briskly between two rows of shelves, probably headed for the nearest phone to call her manager about the mentally unbalanced person with a toddler on his back.
Actually, since I’m sure someone would have called them from the cash area, that manager would probably already be on their way, likely with whatever passed for store security in tow, but I had no intention of waiting around. Delaying wouldn’t help me anymore.
I dug in my pocket for the vibra-tool. As long as the bank of windows in front of me wasn’t made of bullet-resistant glass, and the building seemed too old for that to be likely, I’d have a new exit in about thirty seconds. I tapped the power switch and thumbed the dial up to maximum before sticking it to the middle of the window. Something else for someone to clean up, and I almost felt guilty about it.
Backing up a dozen steps, I waited for the fractured result. It took a little longer than I hoped, long enough to start hearing voices on the escalator, but in a few seconds the vibration in the window built to an audible level, a deep hum but with a quickly rising pitch. Starting at Do, I think it got to about Fa before the window shattered, and not just the pane I’d put the vibra-tool on, either, but the ones to either side of it, too. Satisfying.
Sometimes, I loved the sound of breaking glass.
Tiny shards of transparent material rained down, most of them bouncing into open space to cascade through the night, catching stray photons along the way and redirecting them someplace new. Sadly, the vibra-tool followed those tiny jewels to the cement three floors below and I hoped I wouldn’t need it again.
I did need the gravchute, which had more than enough charge left for what I intended. Actually, if it worked, I’d only use a fraction of the remaining power, so that would be one toy I’d still have in reserve. For what, I didn’t know.
Footsteps pounded down the hardwood aisle behind me as I started running. The thought spilled through my head again that I must be crazy. It didn’t stop me from jumping, and it may have even helped me to time activating the chute, engaging just as my right foot pushed off the edge I’d made. Too bad I hadn’t thought of the maneuver sooner. Weeks or months sooner would have been nice, but at least far enough in advance to have practiced once or twice would have made me happy right then.
In that moment after I ran out into the air, I had the same feeling as jumping out of an airplane for the first time: committed, but not a hundred percent sure of what was coming next, but the chute did what it was supposed to.
The gravchute was a wonderful thing, but falling very slowly is an odd sensation until you get used to it. Falling very slowly while you’ve got some significant forward momentum just feels wrong until some tiny little perspective shift convinces you that you’re flying. That came half way across the open stretch, just before the electric crackle of the stunner hit me in the chest to prove anti-stun mesh was also a wonderful thing.
Someone shouted, probably in Vyrian but I didn’t catch anything that sounded like words, and I had just enough time to think about all the things I’d like to do to the idiot who shot me before my feet hit the roof and I started running again. Without the mesh, my forward momentum would have kept me moving to hit the roof in a small pile. At best, Taran would have been startled from a sudden sleep to some scrapes and bruises and a guardian who couldn’t answer his cries. I tried not to think about the worst, but hoped whoever might be in charge down below would at least smack the shooter in back of the head.
Feet firmly on the roof, I turned the chute off again and tried to check the charge as I ran. Through the brief bouncing glimpses at my belt, it still looked like more than enough.
Something hard bounced off the back of my head and the breath from a light snore tickled my ear. I couldn’t believe Taran had stayed asleep through shattering glass, flying across the gap between buildings, a stunner impact, and now running across the movie theatre roof. Wondering if I’d slept so well as a child, I didn’t turn down the luck. It was a lot easier to run with twenty kilos of dead weight on your back than it would be with twenty kilos of kid trying to look in every direction at once. Still, I’d been wearing him for a long time now on only a couple of hours’ sleep, and he was starting to get heavy.
I dropped down from the roof to a green light at the crosswalk and a clear path to the subway entrance. Over my heavy footsteps down the stairs, the hollow roar of an incoming train made me move a little quicker and the turnstile didn’t stop me from joining the sparse crowd just as the doors slid open. So many book store customers leaving all at once seemed unlikely, especially considering the show in the magazine section, but maybe a movie had let out in the last few minutes. Not being in a position to complain, I’d take whatever witnesses I could get.
Four other people got onto the same car, joining the seven already there to make an even dozen of us, plus Taran; really not a bad crowd for one-thirty in the morning even if I would have preferred rush hour at the moment. Three descending tones gave us all a short warning before the doors began to slide closed and I enjoyed the little hiss-pop as the rubber merged with the car’s frame. With the train in motion, I perched on the edge of the seat and let myself relax just a little and tried to get my breathing under control, letting the muscles in my back sag and rolling my head from side to side a few times.