I had no way of knowing if Barnes was still alive. Sitting on the landing in the stairwell, I took stock of the situation. My cell phone was ruined. No help there. I hastily rummaged my pockets.
My overly soaked fingers found a sodden scrap of paper – a last line of defense. Barnes made me swear that I wouldn’t dial the number written on it unless I was absolutely sure we couldn’t contain the Copyoid army. The prognosis was rather bleak.
With the sprinkler system triggered, the whole building would be a sodden mess in short order. I imagined kayaking down the remaining stairs waterfall-like, until I arrived at the lobby. If only it were so.
Hauling myself up, I hobbled one step at a time, trying to rub feeling back into my chilled calves along the way. With all of the office phones soaked, there was only one choice. Barnes switchboard. It must have survived the deluge, given that the sub-basement pre-dated the sprinkler system by a good decade or more.
Unless they had bothered to upgrade things down there. I coughed out a short laugh, knowing it was highly unlikely.
Voices echoed up the stairwell. I increased my descent, squishing softly down the stairs.
I had to bypass the advancing Copyoids below. The best way was exiting to the nearest floor, then shifting over to the secondary stairwell from there.
I walked softly down the office hallway, avoiding some of the larger puddles forming in the carpet. It was useless though, my shoes were soaked and my sodden socks squished with every step. Wonderful. I thought of my neglected pot of coffee, diluted with sprinkler water.
Rounding the final corner to the elevator block, a Copyoid lunged out of the shadows.
Oh damn it all.
It was James, the mail room clerk. A slick of drool covered his goatee, crooked glasses slanted before blank eyes. He piled into me with his shoulder, knocking me flat on my back. Jumping on top, he began raining blows down on my head and ribcage.
I pawed at the floor, trying to find an object to hit him with.
My hands closed on something vaguely metallic.
I whipped the stapler in a blind arc, colliding with his forehead. James rolled off, howling. I gave him another good whack while rising to my feet, spewing cheap staples all over the floor.
Well, that’s ruined. I tossed the shattered stapler into a nearby bin.
James clutched his forehead, whimpering. More footsteps. I wasn’t about to take on the entire Copyoid army by myself. I dashed to the secondary stairs, pulling the door closed just as multiple footsteps splashed to a stop outside the door.
Abandoning stealth, I pounded down the stairs like a madman. Passing bits of garbage and expanding pools of water seeping from under the floor exits.
Lobby, then B1. Finally B2. I burst through the doorway, knocking over a large pile of printer parts with a loud crash.
Barnes cubicle was in the corner, desk lamp glow illuminating the cracked ceiling tiles.
Miraculously the power was still on. Half the lights were still buzzing and flashing, but it was enough to make my way to Barnes cubicle unscathed. Shoving the old chair out of my way, I leaned on the switchboard and started pulling cords.
There, a cord labelled “Ext to Outer”. That should be the external line access. I pushed in the brass-plated jack, securing it with a satisfying click. Taking the operator’s headset from the side, I dialed the emergency contact number Barnes had written on the paper.
Not “hello”, or “who are you”. Just a cold and somber voice that sounded like it had been through hell and back.
“I have a situation here. Need containment.”, the words spilled from my mouth just as I had rehearsed with Barnes. I hoped he was still alive.
“Confirmed. ETA 10 Minutes. Cut Power, make egress.”, the voice cut out, and I was left with a blaring dial tone.
Hanging up the headset, I plucked some old take out napkins from the nearby desk and mopped my brow. I’d have to hit the main breakers. Barnes had explained that it would prevent more “converts”, while allowing the Agency to perform their duties. Apparently they excelled in low-light conditions.
Face semi-dry, I walked towards the large utility boxes mounted on the wall. Two huge circuit breakers, with large levers exuded the aura of “Don’t touch unless you really know what you’re doing”. I certainly hoped I did. Both hands on the handles, I pulled down with my full weight.
Two simultaneous flashes of electric-blue from the insides, and the remaining lights above went out. It was pitch black, with only the slight murmur of dripping water from the stairs to keep me company. Hands out, I felt around until I was at Barnes desk again. Opening the top drawer, I felt a familiar cylinder.
A flashlight. Thank heavens. Flicking it on, I slowly picked my way back to the stairs. I had to find a way outside before the Agency arrived. I was tired, soaked, and deliriously decaffeinated.
I wondered if the Agency would bring a fresh thermos of coffee for survivors. One could only hope.
Taking to the stairs again, I achingly climbed towards the lobby landing, images of steaming coffee swirling in my brain.
(To be continued…)
Next – Part Seven