Downward



"Hands on your head, sir. Step away from the desk.", the cop commanded. His voice was harsh as it spat out of the helmet speaker. The lights of the city reflected off the polished black surface. "Do it now!", he added when he saw that Deck was hesitating.

Deck hadn't moved since they came in the room. He had just sat there, like a rodent in the headlights. He still held in his hand the small metal tube - an EMP grenade. It was time to see if this thing was worth the money.

He thumbed the detonator on the end of the EMP grenade as he placed his hands on his head.

There was a pop in his hand, and muffled cries of confusion from both officers. Deck counted himself lucky that neither of them pulled the trigger in panic. They stumbled back as their helmet displays died, leaving them completely blind. The screen on the desk winked out for good, and Deck cursed as he realized he had just toasted his rig.

In one graceful motion, Deck scooped up the burned-out rig and slid across the desk. The cop in front of the desk was the first to realize what was wrong and struggled to remove his helmet. Deck smashed him in the back of the knee with the corner of his rig - one part of the body where he wouldn't have any armor.

Without the built-in helmet speaker, his scream was severely muffled. By the time the he hit the floor Deck was in the hallway and running.

Deck pulled the memory core from the side of the rig and slipped it into a pocket as he ran. He tossed the rig aside. He rushed forward to the doorway capping the end of the hallway. If his floorplans were correct - and they had been correct so far - this would be a fire exit. The elevators would probably be either locked down or full of cops.

The fire door slammed open as his momentum carried him through. A second later the tight springs of the door snapped it shut behind him. The stairwell was the same as every other emergency stairwell ever built. It was a narrow cement box filled with a crude set of metal steps that spiraled all the way down the side of the building. The stark concrete walls reflected the slightest sound and turned the entire shaft into an echo chamber. The railing was a hollow metal pipe covered in peeling white paint.

As he reached the first landing the the door was again hammered open with a sharp explosion of sound and energy, as if someone had nailed it with a sledgehammer. Deck glanced back to see a 4-inch exit wound in the center of the steel surface.

He leapt down each short flight of narrow metal stairs. After two floors he heard the door slam open yet again and the stairway above was filled with the sounds of footsteps. Deck began opening random doorways as he ran downward, hoping to throw off or confuse his pursuers. They would never be able to hear his relatively silent steps over their own hard-soled boot stampede. They would hear the doors opening for each floor, and be faced with the choice of stopping to examine each floor to look for him or risk blundering by him if he left the stairwell.

He was probably gaining ground and widening the gap between them. They would not be as swift as he was under the best of circumstances, and right now they were burdened with body armor and some heavy-duty weapons hardware. Also, one of them was probably dealing with a severe limp. But Deck knew he couldn't hope to simply escape this way. There would be more units on their way up the stairs to meet him, and if he stayed on this route too long he would get sandwiched. He stopped opening doors and just concentrated on getting more distance between himself and his pursuers above.

The pounding from above stopped and Deck slowed down. They were probably standing still, listening for his footsteps. He returned to the graceful, smooth walk he had used earlier. He heard voices from above as the cops whispered between labored breaths. Deck wondered how many levels he had between them. The footsteps began again from above, but more steady this time. They were pacing themselves, trying to keep the noise level down so they could hear him opening doors.

Most of the doors in the building were of the modern, sliding variety. However, law required that emergency doors be equipped with breaker bars, and be operable without power. Thus the emergency doors were massive, hollow steel beasts that thundered when they were thrown open. Deck wondered if they could be opened quietly. He slowed as he reached the next landing and gently pulled the door. If it made an audible sound, he would throw it open the rest of the way and continue downward.

It was almost silent, just a small creak. Deck hesitated, then slipped through and eased it gently closed. It made a soft thud as it sealed shut. He hesitated again. Would they have heard that?

He still seemed to be in the upper echelons of the company. The walls were a lower grade of wood paneling than he had witnessed on the sixty-fourth, but the carpet was still deep.

Deck frowned as he spotted video cameras tucked away in various corners. He knew there was nothing he could do about that. The only comfort he had was that they couldn't possibly watch all the cameras at once, so there was still a chance they might miss him, particularly if they didn't know what floor he was on.

His current floor seemed to be combined with the one above. Even though the lights were dim, he could see that the ceilings were two levels high, and there was a balcony running along the wall above him. To his right was a restaurant style dining area, with a long table in front that was presumably to hold the catering. To his left was a large conference / meeting room. On one of the tables inside, Deck could see a scale model of Citadel Station. Its three meter frame dominated the room as its many arms reached out from beneath its immense upper dome, like a great steel jellyfish.

He proceeded down the corridor and made an arbitrary left. He didn't know where he was going, but he at least wanted some distance between himself and the stairway. On his left he saw conference rooms of varying sizes and styles, while on the right was a small-sized auditorium that might seat a couple hundred.

Most of the level seemed to be made of open areas, or areas walled in glass. There did seem to be a few rooms that might offer hiding places, but they were behind closed, featureless doors with a black panel set beside them, much like the doors on the executive level. His counterfeit card would probably grant him access, but if the police were worth anything they would certainly be watching for things like executive cards being used. He would just be advertising his position.

He arrived at an intersection and went right. He was aiming for the opposite side of the level where he could access the other set of stairs.

He had no way of knowing what floor he was on - he had neglected to count on the way down. His best guess was that he was somewhere in the high forties. It wouldn't matter much if he did know - he hadn't bothered to study much of the layout between the first and sixty-fourth floor.

At the next intersection he made a right and spotted two open, darkened rooms.

Bathrooms.

It was hardly a creative hiding place, but it was relatively dark and it didn't have any video cameras.

The absence of urinals suggested he had chosen the women's restroom. Not that it mattered. The whole bathroom was decorated in tasteful black and white ceramic tile, with all of the plumbing fixtures in brass.

He leaned up against the pristine marble countertop, breathing heavily. He hadn't stopped moving since he fired the EMP and he needed a rest. Deck looked around and sneered, wondering for a moment if more money was spent decorating this one bathroom than was spent decorating the entire office area on the first floor.

He ran some cold water in the sink and splashed it on his face. He knew he needed to think of something, to form some sort of a plan of escape. He had several ideas, but they all had being on level ten or lower as a prerequisite. He was going to need to somehow reach the lower levels without using any of the elevators. That meant using one of two known sets of emergency stairs or finding another route that wasn't mentioned in the floorplans he bought.

In an older building he might consider using the elevator shafts, but the TriOp building was new enough to have defenses for dealing with that sort of nonsense.

He closed his eyes and tried to imagine what they would be doing to search for him. They had almost certainly set up shop in the security station on the third floor. What would he do in their position? If he was searching a 64-story building for a single individual, he would lock down all of the elevators but one, and use it to send two teams to the top. From there, they would move down the staircases while another pair of teams would begin from the bottom. The main floors then would be watched with video cameras.

He knew they were determined to use deadly force. This made things easier for him, since he didn't have to worry about committing further crimes in the process of escaping. He was either going to escape or die. He had only been in this situation once before, and he found it both terrifying and liberating. From now on, there were no crimes he could commit that could make his situation more dire.


Fear. That was his enemy now. Fear would cause him to choke if he was cornered, and that would get him killed. He had choked back in the office when they surprised him, and it was only by luck that he had even been holding the EMP.

How many were there? Where were they looking?

He realized he might be able to eavesdrop on their chatter using the vox he had lifted from the guard in the lobby. He retrieved it from his pocket and lowered the volume so that it would be just barely audible.

After a couple minutes of silence he began searching other channels. Most were blank or uninteresting to him. Many of the channels featured the standard emergency / rescue chatter that was simply part of the background noise of a city. He continued to cycle though the channels until he found one that seemed to be a series of short garbled bursts that could only be encrypted transmissions. The TriOp security communicator obviously didn't have the key needed to decrypt police transmissions. Deck probably could have cracked it himself if he still had his rig. He put the vox away.

He had no way of knowing where they were or what they were doing. Waiting around was only going to give them time to close in on him. Attempting to use the elevator would advertise his position, so he decided to try the stairs again.

He dropped into his familiar rhythm of movement, gliding along the corridors, slowing for just an instant at each intersection to make sure the way was clear.

He passed a pair of elevators and checked the display. He was on the fifty - third floor. Deck frowned. It had felt like he descended a lot more than eleven levels. One elevator was sitting at the bottom, the other was just a few floors down and on its way up. Somebody had obviously figured out where he was and they were coming to pick him up.

He thought of the gun he was carrying, but that was out of the question. He couldn't hope to win a firefight if there were more than one or two of them.

His hand dove into a pocket and got a flash ready. He had a grenade, which would also do the job, but he needed it to get out of the building, and he really didn't want to blow up an elevator full of cops.

He stood beside the elevator with his back to the wall. The elevator reached his floor and chimed. He popped the flash, chucking it in the doorway as it slid open. With the other hand, Deck covered his eyes as he looked away.

The flash went off and brilliant light engulfed the corridor. The world turned pink for Deck as the intense burst of light passed through his hand and stung his eyes.

He removed his hand and found that his eyes were a bit dazzled, but working. He peeked into the elevator and saw that it was empty. The doors slid silently closed.

Crap. Who had just sent him an empty elevator? Deck realized he had just wasted a lot of time and a very expensive flash, and all he had managed to do was mess up his eyes for a few minutes.

As he moved away, the elevator chimed and opened its doors again. The down arrow blinked repeatedly.

Deck took off running and headed for the nearby stairwell. Halfway down to the next level he began to think that someone obviously knew where he was. He determined to cross over on the next level to the opposite set of stairs in hopes of throwing them off.

He swept down the stairs and opened the door in a single swift movement. As the door swung open he found himself facing a pair of equally surprised cops. The pair was a mere three meters away from him. There was a subtle pause where both parties seemed to wonder what was going to happen next. Deck acted first this time.

He stepped back into the stairwell, bringing another flash out of his pocket. He popped it and dropped it on the landing as he tossed himself down the stairs. The cop in front had just drawn his weapon when the flash went off.

The pop was punctuated by cries of pain and dismay. These cops had either decided not to wear helmets, or had learned of the EMP Deck had used earlier and had elected to remove them. In either case, their eyes were completely unshielded when the intense explosion of light filled the doorway.

Deck had done his best to shield his eyes, but this time he was facing the flash, and only a couple of meters away. The dingy white walls of the stairwell reflected the light more efficiently than the dark wood paneling of the floor above, so Deck absorbed a much bigger dose this time around.

The shock of the flash threw him off balance, and he slammed into the wall at the bottom of the stairs. The air was knocked out of his lungs and he slumped to the floor. He pulled his hand from his eyes and saw that his vision had taken a nasty hit, but he could still see. Everything looked dim and pale, and his vision was flickering like some cheap display screen. He groaned as he picked himself up. His right hip and shoulder had absorbed most of the impact and they were numb and tingling.

He forced himself onto his feet and back up the stairs. He needed to deal with the cops before he moved on.

One cop was on his hands and knees, his eyes opened wide and darting around but unable to see. His weapon was still in his hand. His blindness would last for hours or perhaps days. The other one was laying on his side, vomiting.

Deck unhooked the keychain stunner from his ring of keys, so that he just had the plastic handle and metal prong. He jabbed it into the spine of the first cop and zapped him.

His victim flopped forward with a grunt. Deck then jabbed the other cop and zapped him too, but the stunner had run out of charge. The cop just convulsed a bit and went back to throwing up. Deck shrugged. That was close enough for him. He lifted their vox units and pocketed them. He left them with their weapons since they would both be too blind to make use of them, and he didn't want to carry any more hardware. Without a vox or the ability to see, they wouldn't be able to tell anyone where they were or what had happened.

Instead of a weapon, the second cop was holding some equipment. It looked like a stripped-down rig hooked up to some sort of camera. Deck didn't know what it was, but he was guessing it was something to help them look for him. Perhaps a thermal camera. The rig was too primitive to be of use to him, so he left it there.

Deck's eyes stung and watered, and tears ran down his face. He kept rubbing them in a vain attempt to clear them, but his vision remained darkened and flickering.

He needed to get moving.

He sprinted full speed across the level, ignoring caution and stealth. By the time he reached the stairwell, his hip and shoulder had begun to throb, and his movements had become heavy and uneven. He knocked open the door and began a long spiraling trip downward. This time he kept count. He needed to cover at least forty floors before he could think of leaving the stairs.

After ten floors his hip was in agony and he had to slow his pace. He could feel his shoulder stiffening up as well. Ten floors later he needed to rest. He came to a stop at the landing for the thirtieth floor. He wiped the sweat and tears from his face with his left hand and then combed the sweat out of his hair with his fingers. He missed his shaved head.


Deck leaned against the wall, breathing in short, uneven gulps. Every time he expanded his chest, pain shot across his shoulder and up his neck. His need for air and his aversion to the pain played tug-of-war with his breathing patterns.

He realized that he wasn't getting out of there. He had come to this conclusion at some point during his run down the stairs. There was just no way he was going to escape though the net of police that was surely making its way up through the building. For him, it was no longer a question of how he would escape, but how far he would get before they brought him down. This gave him a kind of sick desperation that fueled him onward. He was no longer running for his life - he was already dead. Instead, he was running out of spite, out of sheer stubbornness and vengeance. They were going to get him, and he was going to make them work for it. He was going to see how far he could get before they stopped him. Nescio had been right after all.

He decided to shed some of the extra weight that had been dragging on his suit. He pulled out the UIU and tossed it. He dumped the useless TriOp vox he had been lugging all over the building for no apparent reason. He dumped the two police vox units he had picked up several minutes earlier. He dropped the few spare parts he always carried for his rig, his duct tape, and a couple of blank phones.

He looked at his reel of fiberline and and decided to keep it. Just in case. The same went for his knife. Both of them were fairly light anyway.

Deck considered the gun. It was heavier than anything else he had dumped, but it also had the potential to let him last a bit longer. He didn't have any spare ammunition for it. He decided he would keep it until it ran dry.

Deck looked at the pile of junk on the floor and realized he hadn't tried the police vox.. Shaking his head in disbelief, he picked one up and switched it on.

"Floors thirty-four and thirty-five clear. Starting our run on thirty-two and thirty-three."

"Roger that."

Deck smiled. He couldn't tell who was talking, but he would at least know what was going on. Somebody was obviously just a few floors above him. He wondered if he should try to double-back to floor thirty-four now that they thought it was clear.

He stood up straight and paced back and fourth. His hip was really stiffening up. He needed to get moving while he could still run. His breathing had almost returned to normal, and his vision had improved slightly.

He took the vox and clipped it to his shoulder.

"Floors thirty-two and thirty-three clear"

What the hell? How had they swept two entire levels that fast? Perhaps there were multiple teams of units on multiple floors...

"Beginning sweep of twenty-nine and thirty"

Deck hesitated. How were they "sweeping" the levels? The stairwell was empty and he hadn't heard anyone above or below him changing floors.

"Base?"

"Go ahead."

"You have anyone in the south stairway on thirty?"

"Negative."

Deck's eyes widened.

"Then I've got him."

"Acknowledged. We have a team en route. Which way is he heading?"

"He's not, the target is stationary."

Deck lunged down the stairs.

"Woah! Target is moving now... heading down."

"Roger that."

Deck hit the landing for level twenty-nine.

"Passing twenty-nine... still going down. It looks like someone must have nailed him. He's limping badly. I'm still with him... passing twenty-eight... twenty-seven..."

Deck continued his descent while the voice continued to broadcast his every move. He had no idea who or what was watching him. There were clearly no cameras in the stairwell, so it must have been someone on the outside.

"Okay, our men are on level twenty. Heading for the south stairwell."

Deck hit the landing for floor twenty-three.

"Better hurry, he's moving fast."

Deck cursed the unseen voice. Who was it? Where were they? How were they watching him?

"Roger that. Almost there."

Deck hit twenty-two.

"Gonna be close. Target just passed twenty-two."

Screw it, Deck thought. If he was going to have a crowd bust in on him, he was going out with a bang. He slipped the grenade out of his pocket and held it in his right hand, ready to go. He was jumping most of the stairs now, despite the explosion of pain he experienced every time he landed. He passed the door for floor twenty-one.

"Here he comes."

He hit level twenty and kept going. His legs were in agony. His lungs burned. Tears streamed down his cheeks again.

As he rounded the corner, the door above slammed open and the stairwell filled with the sound of echoing footsteps.

"Your team just missed him, he's just above nineteen."

"We have units on the way up from ten."

Deck changed his mind and exchanged the grenade for his last flash. Doing so slowed him down a few steps. Above him he heard voices yelling and radio chatter from some channel he wasn't getting.

"Man, your guys are right on top of him."

Deck popped the flash and dropped it as he ran.

"Woah! What just happened? Half your team just went down?"

"I can't tell, they're all yelling at us at once. Wait, it sounds like... Yeah, the target dropped another blinder on them."

"Roger that."

Deck was in too much pain to enjoy his little victory. The flash had gone off a level above him, probably in the middle of the pack of cops. The stairway was instantly filled with screams and profanity as they toppled over each other.

Deck heard footsteps coming up from below.

"The second team is on thirteen."

"I see them. Target is still descending."

Deck exited the stairwell onto floor fifteen.

"Base, target has exited the stairway onto level.... looks like level fifteen."

Deck burst though the door and found himself in a carbon copy of the first floor office area. There were cameras everywhere.

"Use caution, you don't want to get hit with another blinder."

"Roger that. Our team is ready for it."

He stumbled over to a nearby desk and fell across it, gasping from both the lack of oxygen and the pain his injury inflicted on him for each breath. His hip was a nexus of pain and every step felt like he was tearing something new. He needed some distance between himself and the team on its way up the stairs.

On a whim, Deck grabbed a chair and jammed it under the breaker bar of the door. He didn't have any idea if that would hold them or not.

Deck knew he was almost done. His lungs had never, ever burned this bad. He wondered if he was going to vomit. He headed for the closest doorway he could find, anxious to escape the open area.

"He's heading deeper into the structure now. I'm losing him... I'm gonna change position and see if I can get him back."

Deck had to slow down, his body was giving out on him. He paused at a nearby desk, leaning on it as he panted. He drew in sporadic gulps of air as he wrestled with his burning thirst for oxygen and the stabbing pain in his shoulder. Suddenly the screen on the desk lit up.

2-4601:

He blinked. The monitor wasn't even connected to a local machine.

Elevator is empty. Use it.

He glanced up to the nearby elevator. It was on its way up.

He drew his pistol. The elevator may or may not be empty, but someone definitely knew where he was. As the elevator came to a stop, he crouched behind the desk and leveled the pistol at the door. He tried to steady his breathing. His hands were shaking.

The elevator chimed and he fired six shots through the doors, trying to cover all the corners where someone might be hiding.

The doors slid open to reveal the perforated back wall of the elevator.

Deck had no desire to trust the anonymous messenger who seemed to be sending him elevators. There was nobody in the world that would be both willing and able to provide this sort of assistance to him. He could only assume it was some strange tactic the police were employing. Nothing would make their job easier than for him to just jump into an elevator. Anyone in the security station could then override the controls and send him wherever they wanted.

As he knelt by the desk, he thought for a moment that he might feel better if he threw up, but he didn't have time to wait for it to happen.

He could only assume jamming the breaker bar on the fire door had held them, otherwise he would have been overrun by now.

He picked himself up and got moving again. The corridors were a homogenous blur of identical offices and clusters of cubicle spaces. Nothing had any identity, any distinctive markings. There was nothing to even let him know he was really progressing from one side of the building to the other.

He rounded a corner and found himself in a corridor walled on one side with windows and offices on the other. At the midpoint of the hallway was another pair of elevators. As he ran out in front of the window, a light shone though and pointed directly at him.

"Base, I have reacquired the target."

Deck stopped and turned to see a helicopter hanging in the air, just outside the window. The thundering of the blades was slightly muted though the windows.

"You got him?"

"He's on the west side, looking right at me through the windows."

"Roger that. I don't know how he got past our cameras."

Deck sneered into the blinding floodlight as he finally beheld his tormentor.

The voice returned, "He looks bad. You really ran this guy down."

"Acknowledged. What's he doing?"

"Target is not active.", there was a brief pause before the pilot added, "He's just staring at us like a moron."

"My team will be there soon. I think we've got control of the elevators again."

Deck glanced over his shoulder to see that one of the elevators was on its way up.

Deck whipped out the pistol and leveled it at the cockpit. He squeezed off two shots. The window in front of him cracked and bent under the force of the bullets, but held firm.

The helicopter broke onto the channel in a fit of laughter, "Base, target is firing on us."

"Say again?"

The was more uncontrolled snickering, "Target has initiated hostilities with an attack helicopter."

"We have him boxed in. You are cleared to pull out."

"Negative. A sidearm is not a serious threat to us." There was a short pause before the pilot added, "It can't even shoot through the structure windows."

"Roger that."

Deck gave him the finger and was answered with more laughter.

Deck was gasping for breath. He felt defeated, humiliated, exhausted. He found himself wishing they would get their act together and finish the job.

"I've got units coming up the north stairs and the elevator. The rest are trying to pull the hinges on the south doorway to gain access. We got him."

Deck considered hitting the north stairs and heading up, since there didn't seem to be anyone in that direction, but he decided he would rather shoot himself than run any more stairs. Besides, even if he was up for the run, he needed to go down, not up.

Deck looked out the window to the city below. He could make his stand here and see how much damage he could do before they stopped him, or he could pretend he was on the tenth floor and execute his escape plan anyway. He was five stories too high and the drop would probably kill him, but the idea appealed to him a lot more than a bloody gunfight.

He pulled out the grenade, armed it, and dumped it on the floor in front of the window he had just shot. He turned and ran.

The helicopter cut in, "looks like he's heading back the way he came."

The grenade detonated and blew out the window in front of it, along with its neighbor.

The climate-controlled air of the office exhaled out into the night. The cold, humid outside air rushed through the office, propelled by the blades of the helicopter The wind drove through the corridor, stirring papers and debris already thrown by the explosion.

The vox barked out more chatter, but Deck couldn't understand it over the wind, the helicopter, and the ringing in his ears from the explosion. The rush of displaced air died down as the sound of the thumping rotors grew distant. This was as good a chance as he was ever going to get.

The fiberline was actually a ribbon of high-strength cable only a few centimeters wide. Fiberline was strong enough to support an adult with only a few dozen strands, but the extra width was needed to provide a good braking surface. He hooked one end of the fiberline to the pockmarked window frame. The fiberline was already threaded though his suit. He just grabbed the brake and dove out the window. He didn't even look down.

He repelled downward in large, sweeping strokes. Each time he touched down on the side of the building, the impact created a spear of pain that shot from his right hip, traveling up his spine.

He had allotted himself enough line for a ten-story drop, plus slack, plus a little extra 'just in case'. In the back of his mind, he hoped he had made some large error and taken too much, possibly enough to traverse fifteen floors. He knew this wasn't the case, but it was enough of a fantasy to let him keep going.

Deck reached the end of the line and simply dropped off.

The impact with the ground was surprisingly soon, and predictably brutal. The already damaged parts of his body cried out on touchdown, and he bounced the side of his face off the rough gravel surface underneath him. Deck went from wondering how he was still alive to wondering how he was still even conscious. He wavered on the edge of blackout for a moment.

His stomach finally decided that it was time to puke. He rolled over onto his side and retched several times, but all he came up with was impotent dry heaves.

Deck lay motionless, catching his breath and staring up at the sky. He wondered how long he could lay there, sprawled out like a swatted bug before they found him. The cool night air washed over him, chilling the sweat that clung to his body. For a long moment his injuries seemed distant and unimportant.

Far above, near the top of the building, the helicopter was moving back and fourth over the face of the structure, pointing inward. The noise of its blades were just a murmur at this distance. All else was silent. Above, the sky was a dark, featureless ceiling of black. Clouds had rolled in and covered the city in a dark canopy. It was cooler than it had been when he arrived here a few hours ago.

He should have hidden the body of the first guard instead of running off. TriOp security probably discovered the guard soon after Deck left him. He had stayed far longer than was safe. He had underestimated almost every security system he encountered this evening. He panicked when the cops burst in on him the first time. He hadn't studied any of the internal layout of the building between the top and bottom floors. He hadn't thought to check the police vox until it was too late. How many rules had he broken this evening? The entire night had been a series of blunders, reckless gambles, and and rookie-level mistakes. It should never have come to this.

He closed his eyes. This was an unproductive line of thought. He would have plenty of time to second-guess himself if he ever got out of this.

A cool breeze rolled over his face again and he opened his eyes. He noticed that it didn't look as though he was actually fifteen floors down from the blown-out windows.

The fiberline was too thin to be seen in the relative darkness, but Deck judged he couldn't have fallen more than three or four meters. While still a hard fall, it was nothing compared to the two or three floors he expected. The padding in his bodysleeve had absorbed a lot of the blow as well.

He struggled to sit up and figure out where he had landed. He didn't even know what side of the building he was on. He seemed to be on some sort of lower roof area. The surface underneath him was a mix of blacktop sealant and coarse white gravel.

The helicopter was on its way back down to the gaping wound on the fifteenth floor. It had apparently missed his dive in its absence, and was sweeping across the front of the building as it descended. It was anyone's guess as to whether or not it would be able to spot the thread of black fiberline running down the length of the building.

He pulled the bloody gravel from the side of his face and stood. He noticed that the vox had been smashed in the fall. He pulled it from the straps on his suit and let it fall to the ground.

Looking over the edge, he saw that he was on top of a two-story block protruding from the side of the main building. The surface of the windows curved out of view, promising a gentle slide followed by a sheer drop. The protruding windows made it impossible for him to see the ground directly underneath, so he had no idea what sort of surface he would find at the bottom.

He found himself wishing there was some way to recover the fiberline he had just used. Just a few meters of it would be more than enough to see him safely to the ground.

There was no use in waiting. Deck eased himself onto the smooth convex window surface and began to slide down. He tried to limit his speed by dragging his palms against the window, but his hands were lubricated with fresh blood and sweat. As he slid past the point of no return, he spotted a narrow ledge below him, where the curved windows joined the vertical window below. He grabbed for it and almost took hold, but the hours of abuse had stolen his strength, and his grip failed.

He slammed into the concrete ground a few meters below and he felt something pop in his left ankle, followed by the side of his face slapping the sidewalk. He lay there, crumpled and broken, hovering on the edge of consciousness.

Deck was piled in the shadows clinging to the side of the TriOptimum building. He was on a narrow sidewalk of some minor street. While not exactly an alley, it was as close as you could get in Uppernet. The only illumination came from the lights on the adjoining streets.

A police car turned the corner and headed his way.

He was completely unable to stand, much less run. He wondered if they would still shoot him now that he was obviously helpless.

Probably.

The police car passed him without reacting. It either failed to notice Deck lying in the shadows, or mistook him for some homeless wretch.

Another car turned the same corner and followed the same path. It was a sleek black sedan with opaque black windows. It proceeded silently up the street and stopped in front of Deck.

The door opened to reveal a pair of guys in TriOp security uniforms. They grabbed him and chucked him into the back. The car pulled away.

As he passed out he heard a voice from the front seat, "Idiot. Should have just taken the elevator."


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