“Sir! You really aren’t allowed to just go in there,” Anna, the receptionist, called as she came through the main doors to the floor near the conference room Kyle and his coworkers had been using.
As with any disruption, people stood up to see what was happening. Magic Materials had switched the main floor of the building over to an open plan back when it had seemed progressive and vaguely Japanese. Workstations were surrounded by short cubical dividers, but you could easily lean on one and converse with the inhabitant. The idea was to facilitate communication by removing physical barriers. The unspoken threat was everyone could see when you were slacking off on the Internet. It made anything interesting that happened in the office into a public show. Even management didn’t get much privacy, they were relegated to glass fronted offices along the perimeter of the building.
Anna continued, “I can get whoever you guys need. But you’re not suppose to just go back into the office area.”
She was calling futilely after two men in black suits who paid no attention, striding into the main area of Magical Materials Incorporated as though they belonged. Looking at them, Kyle could tell why Anna hadn’t tried to stop them. They were tall, fit, and practically glossy with how polished they were; they looked like they belonged on a recruiting poster. They also looked dangerous.
Kyle couldn’t have said exactly what made him think that, but there were a number of details about the men that didn’t belong in the corporate world. For one thing, they were both alert. They were watching the room, but they weren’t paying any attention to Anna. It seemed they’d decided she wasn’t a threat, and then she’d just vanished from their perception. They also moved lightly. Kyle couldn’t see through the walls of the cubicles but their stride had a certain bob to it as though they were on the balls of their feet. Their backs were stiff, and they held the sort of rigid posture one expected out of the military. Kyle winced, they were IP Bounty Hunters.
They looked alike. Not like brothers, one had a fair complexion, the other dark, the bones in their faces were different, and the fair one had a heavier build than the dark, but it was as though the same thing had been done to both of them. They moved quickly in darting jerks. Anna had to hurry to keep up with them. Their muscles budged in the same place, and they moved as two halves of one pattern. The one on the left had stepped through the door and scanned his side of the room with three quick turns of his head and an oddly mechanical darting of his eyes. The one to the right did the same thing, except mirrored. Neither looked at the other’s half of the room.
An employee at the back of the room yelped as soon as he saw them alerting everyone that wasn’t already watching that something was going on. The men might, or might not, have known who they were looking for when they first entered, but when they heard the sound they reacted instantly and with that same uncanny precision. The fair one stopped and shouted, “Phil McCain, we have an IP warrant against you. Stop! We are authorized to use force.” Even while still talking he pulled back his arm twitching his fingers through the pattern of a spell.
At the same time, the second broke off and sprinted after Phil. He was amazingly fast; a pro full-back couldn’t have moved better.
The first one finished his spell and his hand filled with a ball of crackling blue energy. Kyle didn’t recognize the spell, but whatever it was the IP bounty hunter threw it at Phil. Phil had been standing in the door to his cube. He jumped out-of-the-way of the energy into the walkway, and it hit Phil’s spinning wheel which immediately started howling with several out-of-order alarms.
The second one had reached Phil by that point. He dropped his shoulder and landed a bone crunching hit into Phil’s chest. Phil’s years in magic desk jobs hadn’t left him a light man. He was in his mid 40’s, balding, and stocky with a large pot belly. He probably weighed 200 pounds or more, but the force of the hit was enough to lift him off his feet and send him flying in a short arch that ended against one of the cubicle walls. It tilted over behind him eliciting more cries as the occupants of those cubes scattered.
That looked like the end of the fight. Then Phil stood coming back into view past the lower cubes. He was shakily training a gun on the IP bounty hunter who had chased him. That guy sprang to the side, leaping up and over a cubicle wall with the same freakish power and agility he’d shown in everything else. The owner of the cubicle, a young woman, yelped and ducked out of sight below the wall.
Phil backed up slowly. Both the gun and his voice were shaking, “Everyone just stay put. I’m not going to hurt anyone, but I am going to leave.”
“You are, but only with us.” The IP bounty hunter replied from where he’d taken cover. His voice was low, threatening, and kind of oily.
Phil had apparently been wound too tight. That was enough to make him jump, and accidentally firing a round. The gun’s discharge was deafening in the enclosed space. Dozens of employees shouted simultaneous, and people started to run. Fortunately, the bullet didn’t do anything but rip a hole in the ceiling.
“Nice shot, chief.”
“Damn it, hold still I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
The bounty hunter who’d been standing by the door was casting again. While Phil was distracted he finished up. His hand filled with another crackling ball of energy which he threw, over the cubicle tops, at Phil. This time his throw hit Phil squarely in the chest.
The effect spread out enveloping Phil. He screamed. The sound suggested intense pain, but it only lasted for an instant. All his muscles went rigid, his back arched, then everything relaxed at once and he fell to the floor out of sight. A strange smell had filled the air; it was electrical but also somehow sweet.
Both the bounty hunters stood up as calm as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Perhaps, for them, nothing had. “Don’t worry,” the fair one spoke, “he’s just stunned. That’s why we used the spell. We’re going to take him over to the police now.”
The black-haired bounty hunter scooped him up. He used a fireman’s carry. It barely seemed to stress him at all. “We’ll let ourselves out,” he said.
They did that and everyone was left looking dumbly at one another. Management declared work closed for the day. Kyle and his new spell were forgotten.