Thursday, 28 March 2019

P Squared, chapter 3

(CW today for office politics, murder and staff toilets.)

A body hurtles past P and Klaire as they’re heading down yet another stone stairwell, a man in a shirt and tie who tumbles awkwardly head over arse like a ragdoll, before ending up face-down on the landing with what looks like a half-dozen metal rods sticking out of his back.


P grabs Klaire by the arm and pulls her around the corner before three crossbow bolts thunk into the wall inches from Klaire’s head.

P puts their arm around the corner and peels off a burst before retreating. “Crossbows? Who uses crossbows?

“Oh, that’ll be the Alumni Office. I doubt they’ll follow us.”

P crouches down low, reaches out and grabs the dead man by the scruff of the neck, drags him back around the corner, turns him half over. He’s maybe late thirties, a thin ginger beard scattered across pasty jowls.

“Oh, it’s Glen,” says Klaire.

“You know him?”

“THR. Arsehole.”

“We just got in the way?”

“I expect so. They’ve been out to get Alumni for months.”

P nods. “So we just shout out that we’re Quality Office and they leave us alone?”

Klaire “God, you can tell you’re new. No, tell them we’re Quality Office, they’d fire at us and keep firing and use our bodies for target practice after that. Chances are, right, that last salvo was just for self-defence. We just wait here for a minute and stop shooting back, they’ll draw the same conclusion and head back to their office.”

P nods towards the corpse on the landing. “What about him?”

“Oh, the cleaners’ll get to him eventually. Alumni should know better than to mess with the bodies.”
P, back to the wall, gun held up, clicks the barrel against their earphones a couple times. “They mess with the bodies?”

“Sometimes. But not with THR. Reprisals.” Klaire looks around. “Anyone up there?”

P enters the network, scans the staff locator. “No tags nearby.”

“Good. We’ll be heading down, then.”

Klaire leads P around the Administrative Network. Bullet-marked paintings on the wall, ancient carpet with wide brown stains, the smell of something old, like mould and rusty metal. A display board near one of the doors depicts the building when it was a medieval abbey, all cells and secret passages; a second shows it post-Tudor, its time as a manor house; a third and fourth show later expansions of the building, its repurposing as the foundation of an old university; a fifth board is unreadable, a huge circular indentation of black, the result of an impact from an incendiary projectile.

The fire exits need card access to open; likewise the kitchens. The toilets, though, have chip-and-pin readers. “I can never remember how much it costs,“ says Klaire. “I mean, I could check my bank balance, but I think it’s 3.50 for a piss and 9.95 for a shit. In advance, obviously.”

“I wouldn’t worry,” says P. “I don’t. I’ve got cartridges.”

Klaire looks down, looks up at P. “Oh,” she says.

A single bullet whizzes between them.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” says Klaire.

P draws, covers Klaire as they dive behind the nearest corner — P suddenly appreciates the near-impossible number of corners in this place a great deal more than they did half an hour ago — and finds an appropriate combat-ready stance.

“I’m sorry,” says Klaire. “This can be one of the most monotonous parts of the job.”

“It’s all right,” says P. A few more shots ring out; bits of plaster explode from an already-shot-to-pieces corner. P looks into the network, sees two staff tags at the other end of the corridor. “Do they have a tag scanner?”

“Nah. Probably just a barcode reader. For the stats.”

P nods. “OK, then. Advantage ours.” They look into the network, frown. “Shush.”

Klaire makes a What? expression.

“They’re advancing,” says P in a whisper. They point at Klaire’s taser, lift a finger. Klaire powers it up.

P, seeing two glowing dots move closer and closer to two stationary dots, raises a second finger, a third, pauses, and drops their hand.

Klaire darts out the corridor first, head down, points the taser in front of her without really looking. She sends the darts, high, into the neck of a middle-aged woman in a flak jacket, just under the chin; the woman convulses, and her assault rifle goes off towards the floor before she drops it, shooting her companion’s foot almost clean off. He falls down, sends a burst into the ceiling at the precise moment P steps out and puts a single bullet between his eyes, dropping him. Silence follows, apart from the gurgling noises issuing from the tasered woman, until about ten seconds later the ceiling collapses on all of them with a sudden, echoing boom.

P has already pulled Klaire back, pushed against the wall, head covered, protecting her against the falling debris with their body. Before the dust clouds have even dispersed, P has helped Klaire up, has holstered their gun, is brushing down their uniform.

Klaire is staring at a still body under the remains of the ceiling.

“One second,” says P. “Checking for you. No, you haven’t killed her. Or, at least, she’s not dead yet.”

“Yet?”

“Yes.”

“Is she—? No, don’t say.”

“OK.”

Klaire looks down at herself, steps over the two HR assistants. “Well,” she says, composing herself. “I think that’s it for the tour, then. Better head back.”

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