Screams of men and metal streaked the variegated horizon above the burning subterminal warehouse. Blending discordantly with the pungent odor of seared solvents and fulminant fire alarms. The vast mechanical construct creaked hideously as dark particulates streamed skyward from every billowing aperture. The high central spire buckled and collapsed as dozens of men and women ran from the lobby to the vehicle-crammed shift-yard that partitioned the intensifying raze from the space-shuttle launch-field, alight, flailing, swift-succumbing to their injuries, falling thereafter to beetle-black heaps as thick plumes of dust hung as a throttling mist, like strange cancerous growths upon an invasive alien world. Melted faces frozen mid-scream looked out upon a massing crowd, residue of vain pleas to a deaf or disdainful god.
Ryard Vancing stared at the roiling ruins of what had once been Kryos’ astral shipyard depot from his perch in the Vilar Corp lev-han, idling before the former repository’s vehicular storage zone, leather-gloved hands tight upon the console. No words availed themselves to his tight-drawn lips, nor thoughts to the desultory corridors of his mind. Sirin, who sat to Ryard’s right, looked askance and gently placed a plated palm on the tense man’s shoulder.
He jostled in his seat, as one woken from a disturbing dream.
He shook his head, senses returning, and exited the vehicle, Sirin following, “Take my lev-han. Go straight to the Arch Terminal. Tell the staff to seal the exists. All of them. Whoever did this might still be here.”
“We don’t know it wasn’t an accident.”
“Nor do we know it was. Every member of The Board was there.” He lowered his voice. “This was no accident.”
“Sir, with respect, given the Chancellor’s acquisition of this property, you don’t have authority to dictate to Consortium staff.”
“Richter wouldn’t have been able to clear out all of Kryos’ men and keep the facilities running. I’m confident they’ll listen.”
He looked grimly to the adjacent inferno.
The woman flinched, taken aback by the uncharacteristic brusqueness of the order. Momentarily, she inclined her head, put on her helm and entered the CAV-keep’s resting lev-han, whereafter it whirred to life and sped down the causeway to the neighboring spire which served as the administration hub for the whole of the sprawling aerospace complex. Ryard ran toward the blaze, heart pounding, scanning the assembled lev-hans and mag-rays of the multi-tiered shift-yard as he went, looking for any sign of Salis’ craft amongst the suspended machines. “There’s still a possibility he got out of there in time,” he muttered erratically to himself as the lobby came into view. There the CAV-keep was met by a convoy of Consortium peacekeepers in the midst of establishing a perimeter about the burning facility, led by a middle aged, soot-smeared SecCom official wearing a breathing apparatus. The masked leader of the party extended his hand as if casting a spell, calling, “Hold.” When Ryard did not stop, two peacekeepers sallied forth and blocked his path.
“I came to help.”
“Appreciated, but, not your job. Its dangerous beyond this point. Stand back,” the masked man shouted over the din; behind him a woman wailed, “Cai, oh gods below, Cai!”
“All we know is there was an explosion and the building is unstable. Now stand back, or you will be detained for obstruction.”
“I’m KSRU.” Ryard proffered his affin module much as he was able due the officer’s constriction and flashed his ID.
“Mr. Vancing.” The man removed the face-plate breathing apparatus, features smeared with grim from the billowing wreckage. “Didn’t recognize you through this damned thing.” The man paused and whirled suddenly as the wailing woman fell to her knees, obstructing the medical drones ferrying the injured, “Hoppler, get that woman out of here.” The man named Hoppler, some yards hence, snapped to attention and jogged to the hysterical woman, taking her gently by the shoulder and leading her from the path of the oncoming rescue drones, their words lost to the consumptive, mad chatter of the bystanders and the ferocious rumble of the blaze.
“Its Vogel, right?”
“That’s right. I’m the lead division officer here.” Vogel gestured to his men, who quickly released the CAV-keep and returned to fill the gaps in the security cordon, before which a number of shocked onlookers, comprised of local laborers, errant journalists and minor, well-groomed dignitaries, late to the ceremony, congregated in increasing numbers. Between the flux of bodies, Ryard noticed the silvery gleam of Salis’ automated cabriolet from the corner of his eye and pivoted to the machine, passing through the murmuring mammalian river and placing his hand upon the hood, then turning, frantically scrying the crowd for any sign of its owner. Vogel barked orders to his men to clear the new wave of pedestrians and pushed his way through the throng to where Ryard stood.
“The board members?” The CAV-keep inquired dejectedly.
Vogel froze up, the man’s prematurely crevassed face drooping to despair as a charred corpse ferried by a large multi-legged medical automaton passed by.
“They were inside when it happened.”
Ryard slumped against the cabriolet, color draining from his face as Consortium drones crawled forth, frothing fire retardant foam over the putrescent, igneous tomb.