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Broadcast Intercept (decrypted): 23/08/2023, 16:32

37.7 MHz (gov/nongov shared, land mobile).

Source unknown (.mp6 transmitted anonymously to Cpl. Edward Truth Newton, USMC [ret.]). Identities of JACOB HARGREAVE and DOMINIC LOCKHART confirmed via voiceprint comparison with public archives.

Hargreave: Hazel sectionwhat the hell do you think youre doing? This is Jacob Hargreave! I order you to cease fire!

Voice (presumed Hazel Sec.): Blow it out your ass, old man! Tin man dies here!

Hargreave: You idiot! The suit, you idiot! Youll destroy our only hope! Cease fire!

Lockhart: Take him down, gentlemen. Maximum force. I want this abomination ended now.

Hargreave: What are you doing, Lockhart?

Lockhart: Im doing what the CryNet board should have done three years ago, old man. Im pulling the plug on your obscene cyborg dreams.

Hargreave: You foolyou think you can hide from the future? We have no choice in this!

Lockhart: That dog wont hunt now, Hargreave. The board sides with me this timetheyre not buying your bullshit anymore. I am in command here. Now you will stand down.

Chino and chums are as good as their word. They take the heat and I slip from cinder block to sewer pipe: cloaking as I cross the open spaces, uncloaking behind the shelter of a bakery truck or a pile of concrete, fading to black and sneaking to the next blind spot. Occasionally I pass too close to a grunt and it hesitates, sniffs, stutters trains of soft clicks into the air. I never let them see me, though, and they never press the issue. Theyre too busy trying to kill my friends.

The ramp drops me below line-of-sight in an instant. Im up to my knees in scummy water by the time I reach the corrugated door at the bottom. Its jammed half open. I duck down and under. Im up to my waist. The ramp continues down. I take another step. Im up to my chest. The ceiling slopes down ahead of me, mindlessly parallel to the ramp beneath, and cuts off the airspace.

I wonder if maybe Id be better off lending Chino a hand against the Ceph.

Jesus Christ, you fucking girlyman. It was twenty years ago. Get over it.

I dive under, and push forward. The water pushes back, dark and dirty and full of swirling shit. The harder I stroke the thicker it gets; it kills my momentum, turns my reflexes to tar. I look up but theres no surface overhead, just pipes and cement crossbeams and a few silvery bubbles sliding around like mercury. My inner eight-year-old is shitting bricks; the rest of me just hopes we make it through before I hit the rebreathers immersion limit.

After about two hundred years the water starts to brighten up ahead; shafts of dirty gray light stab down onto two-lane asphalt, finally sloping back up. Now the surface is back; now the waters low enough to stand in. It never recedes entirelythis whole levels floodedbut its only up to my knees. I stand and my inner eight-year-old goes back to sleep. Suit clock tells me the whole trip took forty-five seconds but I guarantee, Roger, at least five minutes went by every time that second counter ticked over.

Pylons and parking spots to one side; the cinder-block wall of a service closet to the other. Maybe sixty meters past that wall is a stairwell that should take me straight to the lobby.

I hear voices.

What the fuck. Hargreave said this place was sealed.

Cant hear the words. The voices float around the corner, low and easy, clarifying as I approach: the usual idle bullshit about hardware and poon. Maybe Hargreave sent a couple of grunts to meet me.

You hear that?

I freeze. I cloak.

Ill check it out. Hold your position.

Good plan. Split the party. Go off on your own.

Gotta be CELL.

It is. He sloshes around the corner, the muzzle of his MP5 waving around like a stoned bumblebee. He pans toward me, through me, past me

stops, and looks again.

Ive noticed by now: The cloak isnt perfect. It turns you to something clearer than glass, but if you keep an eye out you can see the occasional refraction artifact in bright light. Even in semi-darkness theres the barest bit of motion shimmer you might be able to pick out. If you know what to look for.

Let me tell you, this goon is looking hard, and I see it just before he does: the wake Ive been kicking up as I move, that insignificant little bow ripple still playing itself out across the waters surface.

But by then hes opened fire, and lensing artifacts are the least of my worries.

Im hit, hes dead, the echoes of our conversation are still ringing off the walls and I hear bodies churning through the water just around the corner. Cant count on the cloak down here. Theres a big box of circuit breakers hanging on the wall beside an abandoned Prius. I put out the lights. Someone yells Switch to thermal! and SECOND ccs me some local comm: Hes in the building. Repeat: Prophet is in the building.

Game on.

I can see the stairwell. At least I can see a bunch of body-temp false-color heat prints clustered around the exact spot where the stairwells supposed to be. They had me pegged, they knew just where I was going. Fuck, did Hargreave set me up? Who else, this is his building after all, he lured me in here, hes got eyes on

Roger that. Kill order is in effect.

Not Hargreave.

Lockhart.

He got in here somehow, snuck his people right under Hargreaves nose. Hacked the telemetry or something. Lockhart, you stupid asshole, not Hargreave.

I circle away from the stairwell. Not nearly as many CELLulites guarding the elevator, and a couple of those fan out into the level as I watch: They know that only an idiot would use an elevator under these conditions.

Im too smart to be as smart as they expect; but I still leave two of them bleeding out in the disabled-parking zone. By the time Im in the elevator and punching L, hostilities have spread beyond the local airwaves: Hargreave has broken into the freq, and he and Lockhart are having a slapfight all over the thirty-eight-megahertz band. Hargreaves ordering Lockhart to stand down, Lockharts telling him to get stuffed. Lockhart says some not-very-nice things about me, too: abomination is the word he uses, I think. No big deal. Words will never hurt me.

Sticks and stones, on the other hand. Not to mention our old friends Heckler and Koch...

The elevator decelerates smoothly to a stop at the lobby level. I kick the cloak back into gear and boost armor, flatten myself against the side of the car, crouch down.

They almost take me out anyway, the moment the doors open. Its the view that does me in.

Im underwater. The whole damn building is. I look out into that lobby, that turret, that grain silo I saw in the wireframes: Its glass, the whole things glass, a single vast cylindrical space ten stories tall. I look past a great sweeping arc of windowpanes onto the bottom of a lake: wrecked cars, sluggish clouds of suspended sediment, dim shapes in murky green water. I look up, up; wave-bottoms slop against the panes thirty meters above me. Theres all sorts of shit floating around up there: office furniture and cardboard boxes and big wooden telephone poles snapped like toothpicks.

This whole damn buildingand the buildings beside it, and the chunks of buildings jammed up in the streets betweenits a big piecemeal dam, holding back a deep pocket of floodwaters north of 36th. We came in from the downstream side, and it was just our good luck that the whole pile of junk didnt give way and wash us out to sea like logs down the crapper before we even got here.

I cant help but wonder how long that luck is going to last. How long those windowpanes are going to last. Something creaks, way overhead: a billion tonnes of water looking for a way in.

And in those instants Ive wasted staring like an idiot, they hose down the elevator with so much lead I take five random hits to the chest.

They dont get through. They do knock me back against the wall of the elevator, though, and my head back into the game. Hazel Six has obviously called ahead for reservations, and invisibility isnt much of an edge when every gun in the place knows youre somewhere in a box two meters square. I crank the N2s strength setting and jump into the lobby like a frog on a trampoline.

I take out two of those CELLulite fuckwits before I even hit the floor. But there are six left, my cloak is down, and public lobbies are not what you would call rich in available cover.

I bounce off the wall, make it to the back side of the security desk, come down hard on some merc who evidently thought he had dibs on the spot. The air is fucking incandescent with crossfire, and Im almost wishing that these guys were better shots because half the rounds that dont hit me are smacking into the windows. Spiderwebs are cracking through the glass everywhere I look. I cant believe the windows havent shattered yet.

Fortunately, fragging CELL asses and covering my own is a full-time job. My inner eight-year-old can take a number. And believe it or not, when the dust finally settles and I am the Last Corpse Standing, that whole round wall of windows is still keeping the water at bay. Half a dozen panes are almost opaque, theyre so shot through with cracks; there are more trickles and rivulets and needles of spray than I can count. But theres a whole orphaned chunk of the Atlantic leaning against those windows, and goddamn it, theyre holding.

Lockharts gone offline. Or maybe hes just sulking because I wiped the floor with his toy soldiers. Hargreave keeps the flame alive, though, riding my ass to reboot the upper-level elevators from the main desk. I still cant take my eyes off the windows, off all that dark heavy water piled up on the other side, but Hargreave nags reassuringly in my ear: No need for concern, super-nanoglass, guaranteed floodproof. Go on, get over to the desk, reboot the system. What could possibly go wrong?

I go over to the desk. A couple of brain-dead monitors flash test patterns at me.

Something goes wrong.

I hear it before I see it. Glass against metal; ice cracking on the surface of a frozen lake. A sharp, cutting sound, halfway between a crack and a ping.

Half a dozen windowpanes split from side to side. Water sprays in fine sheets of mist.

Somethings moving out there in the murk, something big. I cant even make out a silhouette; its hidden behind the mud and shit swirling up off the street.

Just past the front doors, three cars lift majestically off the bottom, turn slowly end-over-end, then settle back down in billowing clouds of mud.

More windows crack. Two trickles upgrade to small waterfall status. Inner eight-year-olds eyes go wide, watching the water run down the inside of the panes; but then motion catches my eye again and drags it back down to street level.

Somethings standing on the bottom, just the other side of the glass. It towers over the muddy cumulus boiling around its legs. It looks in at medown at mewith one glowing vertical slit of an eye.

It crouches.

Every pane in front of the thing shatters in an instant. The ocean reaches in with big battering fists and takes me away.


The impact doesnt knock me out this time. I wish it had.

I am deadwood, man. I am flotsam and jetsam. I am a fly on the goddamn jet stream, and I have no say at all in where Im going.

Maybe that saves my ass, I dont know. Maybe if I had managed to fight the current I wouldve ended up skewered on rebar or wedged under a bus until my rebreather gave out. But Im just a speck in the current, carried by a million tonnes of water following the path of least resistance; and water tends to flow around the rocks in the road, not into them. It fires me through doorways already smashed open, shoots me down halls and out broken windows, swings me around corners like a rag doll but it doesnt smash me into anything. Way down in some sub-basement it finds a hole in the floor, slings me around it like a turd in a toilet bowl, flushes me down into a breached sewer pipe. Corrugated steel blurs past on all sides, and it goes on forever before spitting me out into

I dont know where, exactly. Water spills over my shoulders in a brown cascade, loses steam, subsides to a trickle. Theres a strip of sky overhead, fractured walls of dirt and gravel and bedrock looming on either side. Now that the deluge has tapered off I hear water running in rivulets down a thousand cracks and crevices. Im at the bottom of a tiny canyon, a rift in yet another Manhattan street thats buckled and split and left me exposed like a grub dug out from under a rotten stump.

And all I can think is I made it, I made it. Dragged underwater, underground, away from air and sunlight, that stupid eight-year-old whiner inside trying to scream his fucking head off but I gagged him, I kept him down, I held it together. Not so scary this time; not fun by any stretch but at least I didnt panic, didnt even verge on it.

The whole fear-of-drowning thing. Im almost getting used to it.

I listen to water lapping against concrete. I hear gulls screaming at one another. Its almost peaceful. I close my eyes.

What a goddamn mess. Now of all times; those boardroom idiots.

I keep my eyes closed. Maybe itll go away if I ignore it.

Alcatraz, it seems I am facing a boardroom coup at the worst possible time. I can no longer control Lockhart or his forces. I am effectively under house arrest. And the Ceph are deploying in force. Until I can find some way to reverse this... palace revolution, our objectives are blocked. You must attempt to hold back the Ceph until I can stabilize the situation.

Oh, must I now.

Good luck, sonI will be in touch.

Take your time, old man. Dont hurry on my account.

Wait: Chino.

If he got caught in that flood he could be nothing but teeth and strawberry jam by now. I wonder if

An icon pops up center-right on the BUD: comm log from a restricted band. I sacc PLAY.

Alcatraz, if you can hear melisten, man, Im sorry. We cant hold here. Repeat, cannot hold here. The Squids are just hammering us. Im pulling the squad back to Central Station. Get there if you can, manwere going to need you.

I check the timestamp: ten minutes before the dam broke. If they were lucky, they got clear in time. Weird, though. I didnt know the N2 did voicemail. I wonder why I didnt hear it live.

Wait a second: I didnt say anything. I didnt even sacc anything. All I did vis-`a-vis Chino was think about the dude.

And you know, by this point Im not even surprised anymore.


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