Hobson's Choices

Azure looked up at the tall, imposing building a hundred and fifty feet ahead of him. It stretched at least twenty stories high, towering over the nearby buildings (not a one of them being more than eight stories). Though it was hard to see at night, Azure knew the building was made of black marble—not something one could obtain at the drop of a hat. The windows were made of an unusually thick glass, too, and that didn't come cheap. According to the Unity faction members who tried to look into the corporation's legitimate side, the lobby was two stories high and had a quintet of ridiculously large mana chandeliers. None of that was cheap.

It was just possible that the Sila Corporation Headquarters in front of him just had that many more employees, that many more offices, than everyone else, reflected Azure to himself. But then again, it was just possible that they just had that much more space needed for, say, weapons, or training, or... He shook himself. Now was no time for speculation. That's why he was here, after all—to find proof, and cast away all the speculation.

Azure turned instead to the problem of approaching the building. He was safely ensconced behind a smaller corporate building, so he had almost as much time as he needed to plan this out. Still, though, he was not looking forward to the approach. No amount of planning could deal with the fact that walking across a hundred and fifty feet of open space, without cover of any kind, was fraught with the danger of being spotted, either by the ailing Republic Enforcement or by someone inside the building. Azure glanced upward and saw a clear sky and a full moon. It just keeps getting better, he thought to himself as he glanced back at the building.

He was on the front side, and he had a nice view of the front door—which itself was probably worth more than the entire revenue generated by the corporation whose building Azure was using as a hiding place—and the surrounding two-story floor-to-ceiling windows. That made entry through the front too impractical. Of course, Azure wasn't actually expecting they would have the front door open and the security all on coffee break, but the front was as good a place to start as any.

Azure edged around the Sila building by availing himself of the nearby buildings, keeping a healthy fifty yards and a building between him and Sila Corporation HQ where possible. He was dismayed to find that the lobby's windows stretched around the entire building. Why the hell didn't they tell him that at the briefing? That would certainly have been easy to find out... who the hell did they use?

Never mind, said Azure to himself. Think vertically. Can Sila HQ be climbed?

He looked up. He knew instinctively that black marble was hard to climb, but maybe he'd be able to find an overhang? He looked up, half daring to hope. But of course not.

Well, this certainly is a pickle, thought Azure to himself. What the hell am I going to do now? He spent a few seconds thinking.

Suddenly, he was struck by something. That something told him to check the front again.

As he made his way back to the front side, again keeping plenty of space between him and his target, he looked up again at the sky. Still clear, still full moon. The moon was almost directly above him—the night was almost half over. Azure arrived at his original reconnaissance spot armed with a new feeling of foreboding.

He looked again at the building. At its overly imposing front doors, framed by an imposing arc de triomphe. And suddenly, it hit him.

He looked around the corner carefully for any sign of movement. Finding none, he slipped stealthily out. Keeping to the small shadow of the building on his left, he moved quietly but quickly. Before too long, Azure found himself on the other side of the building, and a mere forty feet from the door.

From this new perspective, Azure was able to confirm his instinct—the arch was not a design etched onto the building surrounding the doors. It was its own structure, and it reached two stories high. It, too, was made of black marble and thus would be a difficult climb... but two stories was a lot easier than twenty. The fact that he could brace himself between the sides of the arch was a blessing, as well. And with the archway a mere six feet from the building, Azure could very well leap from its top and grip the windowsill of the third floor windows, and pull himself up. Of course, there was a good chance of his being spotted during any part of this, but what choice did he have? He had already checked around the sides of the building, and honestly it was either this archway or through the front door with his hands up. A Hobson choice, in a way. Not unlike the briefing.

"I'm asking you again. Why can't I have a squad?" he remembered having asked his superiors.

"Because we still aren't sure we really should be acting at all yet," the Strategist had calmly replied.

"Well, in that case, why the hell are you sending me at all?"

"We're really hoping you will find something... the potential gain outweighs the risk just enough to send one man, and we know you are the best man for the job. And we think there's something in there."

"So I don't have a choice about this?"

"We don't have a choice about this."

Azure had been unable to make head nor tail of half of that—even by OUTCRY's standards, the briefing had been terribly disorganized, not to mention cryptic. But then again, the Strategist had been right about the uncertainty aspect—technically, there was nothing to show that Realm was out of order. So he was the one who had to find out.

He shook himself mentally. It was too late to worry about the briefing. What could he have done—quit? Hell no. He turned his mind back to the problem at hand...

He had to clear thirty-five feet of open space to approach the arch. Long distances were hard to clear without cover, but Azure was less worried about thirty-five feet. With a little help, he could clear that distance in less than a second.

He reached behind him, to a sheathe he had strapped across his back, and drew out of it a rapier. This was no ordinary weapon—although most weapons these days were enhanced every way possible with the surrounding mana, this particular weapon was of a different kind altogether. In addition to being a light, balanced, quick weapon, it also was a source of some special powers Azure had. Well, no, that wasn't quite true. More accurately, it was a channel for those powers. The source was a remote being that Azure hoped never to see... though fate has its ways of being annoyingly unresponsive to the hopes of individuals.

Azure clasped the rapier with both hands and concentrated into it, holding the rapier point straight up above his hands. Concentrating into it, he raised the rapier slightly, and it began to glow faintly as he did. A few seconds later, he let go of the rapier with his right hand, continuing to hold it in his left. He drew it back, and did two things in quick succession. First, he pushed off with his left foot, as if to run; second, he stabbed through the air in front of him with his glowing rapier. Whatever enchantment he had evoked in the rapier seemed to completely push aside the air in front of him, so that when he ran he experienced no drag. As a result, he cleared the gap in about a second, with anyone who might have been looking his way seeing only a faint blur.

He drew to a halt right behind the left side of the archway, more or less safe from anyone who might be looking out the front. But the next part was the hard part- the climb.

He sheathed his rapier—it was not going to be of any help for the climb. He then looked up at the arch, calculating angles in his head.

The arch sides were six feet apart at their narrowest Too far apart for bracing, just barely enough to be bounced between. Azure sighed inwardly. He hated bouncing between walls—it was an ability he naturally had, like the rest of his agility, but he hated having to exert his muscles so repeatedly. It really tired him out after hardly any work... but this was yet another Hobson's choice.

He peeked around the arch, to see if he could see the guards that were no doubt inside the lobby. Sila Corporation was not one to disappoint with regard to security. He could count three in the lobby, all with flashlights. And who knows how many more of them were there, leaning against the wall, hidden in the darkness, looking outside the window—looking, perhaps, for him?

Azure cursed again. If he got spotted... but what choice did he have?

Well, here goes nothing, Azure thought grimly to himself.

He waited until he was absolutely sure that none of the ones with flashlights were looking his way. Then he leaped toward the other side of the arch, on the inside. He was four feet off the ground when his feet hit the arch and kicked off once—twice—thrice, and one last time when he was able to get his arms up and around each side of the top of the arch. Then it was a simple matter to kick a little toward the building, swing back, forward, and then jackknife back, up, and around, landing cleanly on his feet in a crouch. One split-second glance at the window ahead—nobody around—he leaped forward, drawing his still-glowing rapier and thrusting forward at the window. The rapier, and he, went straight through the window thanks to the magic of the rapier.

The millisecond he got through, he expertly tucked and rolled once upon landing, coming up in a standing position with his rapier out. Nobody was rushing to intercept him, nobody had a weapon trained on him, hell, nobody was there at all. He had been silent.

So far, so good, said Azure grimly to himself.

But even if it wasn't... what choice did he have?