In which we meet Nina, see the team in action, and hear some more Wurlitzer.
It was a fancy hotel of the kind that caters to rich tourists and business travelers, and can be found every three feet in Old Montreal. Through its front windows, Ricky could see a pleasant lobby with dark, classic furniture and old, bare stone walls. A man in an elegant suit sat in a leather chair and typed on a laptop. A black briefcase lay by his feet, on a plush, persian carpet.
The team was suiting up, which involved, as far as Ricky could tell, putting on canvas vests and what looked like WWI aviators’ leather helmets that covered the ears and made everyone look insane, except the grey-blond lady, who didn’t wear one. Bare copper wires protruded from both pieces of clothing in several places. Each team member then put an old, ebonite laryngophone over their necks. The old blind man took a seat in the back of the van and switched on an old short wave radio.
“Testing,” he said. “Marie-Ange, can you hear me?”.
“I hear you, Gaston,” the nun answered.
Gaston, since that was his name, proceeded to test the connection with every team member. Then Marie-Ange unfolded a strange map of the city marked with hundreds of coloured dots. Waving her finger around Old Montreal, she gave her orders
“Ok,” she said, “what Aurélien has given us is coordinates to this place, and a time. This means that StormBrainOne will strike someone here, in eleven minutes. We don’t know who, and we don’t know StormBrainOne’s reason’s for choosing that person. We have analyzed its previous hits, and we think we’re seeing a pattern emerge, but we’re unsure. That means we have to find out who’s the target. Nina, that’s your job.”
The grey-blond lady nodded distractedly, her gaze lost in some faraway though.
“As usual, we can expect StormBrainOne to be watching, and we have to assume it can hit us too. So we have to make it blind. There’s two main signals to disrupt. One’s on the roof of that building across the street, the other at the back of the souvenir shop on the corner. Eddie, you take the roof. Raven,” she turned to Crew Cut, “you take the souvenir shop.”
Ricky frowned at Crew Cut. “Raven?” he mouthed.
Raven shrugged. “Hippy parents,” he said, as he hopped out of the van and ran towards the street corner.
“Gaston,” Marie-Ange went on, “you stay on the radio and listen. Oldie will likely try to give us more info on the target, we need to be ready. I’ll run point from the van. Nina,” she finally said, turning to the grey-blond lady, “as usual, you go in. Good luck, and God be with you.”
Nina gave an enigmatic little smile, said “I don’t believe that God is anything else than a fluid power that rests within the human self and creates itself constantly through the collective unconscious and the universal human experience,” then climbed out of the van and walked to the hotel with careful little steps.
“And me?” Ricky said, “What do I do?”
“You stay here with your foot on the gas. We may need to get out in a hurry.”
Ricky watched Crowbar disappear into an alley, heading for a fire escape. “Fine,” he said. “Now, can you tell me why we’re here?”
“Not sure yet,” Marie-Ange said, “but Oldie sent us those coordinates over the telegraph. That means that StormBrainOne, the digital entity, will strike here.”
“The Analog entity. Its communications are imprecise, and it’s slower than StormBrainOne, but it sees a lot, and StormBrainOne has no access to it.”
“And how will that StormThingaling strike?”
Marie-Ange shook her head and looked worried. “It used to be it would steal money or hack into databases, that kind of thing, but as I said, recently it’s started to kill. We’re not sure why.”
“But you have an idea?”
She nodded. “We believe it’s eliminating witnesses.”
“You mean people who know about it,” Ricky said.
“Yes. But we don’t know much more.”
“How does it kill?”
“Unknown. Several victims seem to have just disintegrated.”
Ricky’s heart skipped a beat. “Just like Hans,” he said.
Marie-Ange nodded. “All we know is, it acts better if there’s strong digital signals in an area. That’s why Raven and Eddie are disabling the cable boxes. Gaston is also jamming cellphone signals.”
“Ok. Now please tell me why you sent that sweet, small, older lady into danger.”
Marie-Ange smiled. “She’s the one of us whose the least in danger, Ricky.”
Ricky was about to ask why when the line crackled.
“Ok, Angel,” said Crowbar’s voice. “I’m on the roof. Opening the box. I should have the thing down in a minute.”
“Good work, Eddie,” said the nun. “Raven, what’s your status?”
Raven’s voice came on the line, sounding tense. “The box is behind a fu… frigging dumpster full of cinder blocks. I’m trying to get to it, but I don’t know how long.”
“Alright,” Marie-Ange said, keeping her voice calm, even as her face betrayed her worry. “Nina?”
“The front desk clerk just told me his life story,” Nina said over the line, “but I don’t think he’s the target.”
“Understood,” Marie-Ange said.
“How the hell does she know that?” Ricky asked Marie-Ange.
Nina’s voice came on again. “Same way I know you’re the second of three children, have an older s sister who’s a nurse or a lawyer, have lost both your parents when you were between sixteen and twenty-three, like to watch car movies and romantic comedies (which you’re ashamed of), and… no I’ll stop there, I believe that last part you don’t like people to know.”
Ricky tried to prevent his jaw from dropping and failed.
“Nina was a police psychologist for thirty-five years,” Marie-Ange said.
“Ah, profiling criminals,” Ricky said.
“No, the cops,” Marie-Ange said.
“The psychopathologies are very similar, in fact,” Nina said over the com link, “especially regarding ego weaknesses and the pathological detachment from the self. Jung actually wrote that…”
“Nina,” Marie-Ange said gently, “Please focus. Who else is in the lobby?”
“Ah. Yes. The lobby. A man by the window with a laptop. A janitor mopping the floor in front of the elevators. A chambermaid with a cleaning cart. A piano man playing music in the bar. A mother and her two kids. A couple of customers in the bar too, I can’t see them well. Marie-Ange, there’s no way I can get sort through them all. There’s no time. I need more data.”
Gaston was turning dials and flipping switches on his machine, shaking his head and frowning. “I have nothing,” he said. “Sorry.”
Raven’s voice broke in over the com link. “I can’t get to the box. That dumpster’s just too damn heavy. How much time left?”
Marie-Ange looked at her watch. “Three minutes. Keep trying.”
Raven’s only answer was a strained grunt, probably as he gave the dumpster another push.
“It’s not the janitor either, I just talked to him. I don’t think he’d be a threat to StormBrainOne. I’m moving to the man with the laptop. Marie-Ange, you have to give me more time.”
“Raven,” Marie-Ange said, “you heard her. We need that box taken out now.”
“I’ll go help him,” Ricky said suddenly.
He opened the door and ran to the corner.
“Wait! You don’t have your protection suit,” Marie-Ange called after him, but he was already in the alley.
Raven was wedged between a massive blue dumpster and a brick wall, pushing hard, face red and veins swollen with effort. The thing wasn’t moving. Ricky ran to the other end of the dumpster and started pushing too.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Raven said. “It’s not safe.”
“Just push, Van Damme,” Ricky said.
The dumpster was made of steel, and filled with concrete blocks. It had wheels but they were caked with rust. Sweat poured down Ricky’s forehead.
“It’s not the laptop man,” Nina said over the com link. “He’s too normal.”
“Gaston, do you have anything?” Marie-Ange said.
“I got music,” Gaston’s raspy voice said. “Some Fender Rhodes track. Or Wurlitzer. Nothing we can use.”
“Wait,” Ricky said through clenched teeth, “Wurlitzer? As in that shitty music Marie-Ange made me listen to on our way to the convent?”
“I… yes,” Gaston said, puzzled, “we found that some specific pieces keep StormBrainOne away somewhat but…”
“Nina, check the piano man,” Ricky said between grunts.
“He’s right,” Marie-Ange said. “It’s the only lead we have.”
“I’m on it,” Nina said.
“Raven, Ricky, any progress?” Marie-Ange said.
The dumpster was moving, inch by inch. In a minute, they had enough room for Raven to wiggle behind it and get to box. “We’re in,” Ricky said. “Van Damme’s opening it now.”
Nina’s voice came on again, this time a whisper. “I’m with the pianist. I don’t think it’s him either.”
“Too late. Strike time is now. Stay with him and protect him. He’s our best bet.”
“Understood,” Nina said, her voice strained. “He was just telling me about how he lost his cat three years ago.”
“The box is down,” Raven said, as he ripped out a fistful of wires.
“Good work,” Marie-Ange said. “Now you and Ricky get yourselves back in the van.”
“Marie-Ange?” Gaston said.
“Not now Gaston,” Marie-Ange said. “Strike time’s in three… two… one… Nina, brace yourself.”
Ricky climbed back into the van. There was a long silence over the com. Strike time came and went. After what felt like an eternity, Nina’s voice came on again. “Marie-Ange. Nothing’s happening.”
Marie-Ange frowned. “Nothing?”
“Marie-Ange,” Gaston intervened. “I’m listening to the Wurlitzer track again and… it’s not the real thing.”
“What do you mean?” Marie-Ange asked, worry in her voice.
“Oh shit,” Marie-Ange said. “It’s a trap. Nina, Eddie, get back to the van, we need to get out of here now!”
“I’m on my way,” Nina said.
“Eddie?” Marie-Ange said. “Can you hear me? Get back to the van.”
“Eddie?” Marie-Ange called again, her voice weaker. “Crowbar?”
Raven tried to hold Marie-Ange back, but she was already out of the truck, running towards Crowbar’s last position. Ricky swore and followed.
TO BE CONTINUED.