Jack said nothing. She knew he'd heard her, so she focused on beating back her own dismay until that changed.
Govinda sounded irritated, as if she were examining a broken fingernail, but she was breathing rapidly, one hand sitting unnoticed in the hollow of her throat. Lem looked at the programmer, then shifted her attention to the shaft. She searched the dark upper reaches, then turned back to her companions.
"If that lot's heading to the cafeteria, we'd better warn them."
Jack stirred, then hit his wrist comm. "Davitch."
"Jack? It hasn't been ten - "
"I know, Davitch. Listen, get Rog. Now."
"What? Is something...right." The younger man broke off, and Lynda could hear a brief and muffled conversation with someone at his end. He came back. "We're all on comm now, Jack. What's going on?"
"You have to barricade the cafeteria. Lock the place down. You're getting visitors, and you don't want them to come in. Rog?"
"Here." Rog's voice was a light tenor, his attitude no nonsense. "Are we talking about Anders and her crew?"
"Yes. Assume they're hostile."
?How much time do we have, sir??
Jack opened his mouth to answer, then hesitated. "You have - " He stopped again and shut his eyes. Was he hearing something from the voice, Lynda wondered, something she wasn't getting? "About 10 minutes at the absolute outside. Move everyone back into the kitchen area. They're probably going to object. You have my permission to go ballistic on their collective asses. Just get something between them and the doors. And when I say lock down, I mean completely. Throw anything movable up against the doors, block any opening larger than a bread box. Hold on 'til we get there. Are the lights still out?"
"Oh, yeah. The emergency lamps are still good, though. Any idea of how many are on their way?"
"Wish I knew. Figure on a minimum of too many to hold off. Then hold them off. We'll be there as soon as possible. Now go!"
Rog didn't answer, but Davitch did. "Jack? Are you sure?"
"Davitch, shut up and help Rog. Don't worry, she'll be safe as I can make her."
"Right." A tinny click.
"Ten minutes, Harkness?" Hsieh checked his utility belt as he spoke. Jack ran both hands through his hair. "It wasn't precise...no, strike that, it was. But she didn't say it. She just...I felt it," he said. He had been looking at the floor, but looked up now, at her. "And what I felt said 10 minutes. Am I right?"
"I didn't hear her that time," Lynda said. "But I imagine you did."
"Jesus, that's - not much time," Govinda amended whatever it was she had been going to say in mid-sentence.
"We can't waste time going back to the apartment," Lynda said. Her eyes burned, her heart pounded, yet she had to hold back a laugh. She suddenly had an image of all of them as stars and guest stars in some adventure serial, one of the shows her father had run, playing over and over on all the channels, into empty houses, empty rooms on the Earth below them. Nothing else on the schedule, and no one left to watch the tale they were spooling out.
"Head to the cache," Jack said.
"Agreed." Hsieh waved Lem over from her watch on the upper shaft. Govinda swore under her breath, and kicked off her shoes, bent over for them and in one smooth overhand pitch threw them into the abyss. "Takes care of that," she said.
"Good arm," Lem said approvingly.
Lynda let her laughter bubble up; better to laugh at that than...she shook her head to clear it, then turned and ran for the lift cab, one step behind Jack. She got in and moved to his side, giving Govinda and Hsieh room, then shifted closer as Lem squeezed in. Jack punched the lift controls. They all braced slightly as the cab jerked to life, then again as it began the upward journey.
"Hate to ask, but do either of you know whether this...shortcut involves more tunnel crawls?" Govinda inquired.
Lynda looked at Jack, who shrugged slightly.
She felt the answer as a feathery touch on the back of her eyes, not quite unpleasant. "The - she says no."
"Good." Govinda looked grateful.
"I wish we had some idea of what, or who, you're dealing with there in your head," Hsieh said. "I'm antsy around psi communication. We never got many PSIOps up here, and they were usually unpleasant when they did turn up."
"Let me guess; SecPol, about a gazillion security levels above you, if they talked to you they'd have to kill you?" Jack said.
"Right in one." Hsieh said with a grimace.
"Thought so. I've met the type. Trust me, we're not them," Jack said. His lips quirked in what might have been a smile. Hsieh didn't return it.
The cab rumbled on. Lynda watched the others as she had done on their trip up, but her mind wouldn't stay still.
Ten minutes? There was no possible way they could get back to the cafeteria in time to intercept whoever, or whatever, was coming from Floor 80. And they'd be armed, she had no doubt of that, not with what the Ground Force studio apparently had in stock. All those people. There were grannies and kids there; how could three or four weaponless station employees save them?
She waited for the panic to start, then realized with something short of pleasure that it wasn't going to. All she was interested in right now, all she could think of, was the next moment, the next step, the next job.
(We have to stay on task, her father had said, sitting at the breakfast table. She'd watched his hand grope for her mother's, and grip it with white-knuckled intensity. Her mother had not drawn away. We don't panic. We take it day by day. I have some credit built up. We can last until the adjudication. I have friends who'll help. His eyes were rheumy with lack of sleep, with terror, and they would not meet her mother's. She in turn had watched him as if he were the only object in her world. Neither of them had looked at Lynda. You don't stand a chance of getting the job back, not with me around she had told him ruthlessly, tenderly. Treasure The Present's too powerful a movement now, they're crawling through the corporation. My kind are scheduled for...she'd stumbled and recovered...I'm poison to you. I've filed for divorce. Once I'm not around, your chances at adjudication should rise. He had made a sound in his throat like some wounded animal. She'd gently removed her hand from his and had risen from the table, eyes dry, looking somewhere Lynda could not comprehend. As she walked out of the room, her father had found his voice. You leave and I can't protect you, he'd said, and Lynda had known he could not even protect himself. Her mother didn't answer. The front door had shut soundlessly behind her. Two days later she'd been arrested for sedition. Three days later she had been sentenced to 40 years on Luna. They'd succeeded in postponing her ship-out date for months, but that was all. She'd been in Holding in Little London when Lynda was taken by the transmat.)
She was grateful for Jack's intrusion. "What?"
"We need to get another look at that map - or whatever you want to call it - she beamed to us; I don't know about you, but it's a blur right now to me."
"I can remember it for both of us," she offered, but he shook his head.
"I need to know it, too. Besides, we should be able to contact her, not just the other way around. I've been trying to get her to show it to me again, and I haven't had any success raising her. You try - you seem to be tuned better to her."
She wasn't so sure the voice could be raised like some comm signal, but she obediently shut her eyes as she'd seen him do.
("Please? Can we see it again?")
Nothing. Her head held only her own thoughts now; no images, no feathery touches.
How could the voice not hear her request? Perhaps it was a matter of making herself more open? But how to do it? She considered the problem and circled back to the map stowed in her brain. When the voice spoke, part of the message came in pictures. Well then, she'd make pictures, too.
Lynda concentrated on a picture of a door opening in her head. She imagined herself at the door, holding it open for visitors, and waited for what seemed like ages. Nothing came through. She refocused the picture, made it wider, brighter, warmer. Still nothing.
She opened her eyes and shook her head. "I can't find her." Without knowing how she knew it, she understood that their communicant had no more mastered this business than she or Jack had.
"Alright," Jack said. "We'll play it by ear when we get up there." His frustration was palpable.
"Don't worry, Jack. We'll hear from her again, yeah?" she said, not sure if she was simply placating him, or was actually speaking the truth. "But for now, I guess you'll have to rely on my memory. It's all up here." She tapped her forehead, then grinned. "And welcome to it!" He smiled back. They didn't notice the looks the others gave them.
The cab shuddered to a halt.
The door slid open and Jack reached for her. She watched in wonder as he took her hand, then tugged slightly to draw her with him. (Come with me, he'd said.)
When they stepped out, the wind sang past them faster than it had on other levels. After a moment, it became clear it was drafting into the gateless opening beside the lift. Whatever was beyond its frame had to be much bigger than tunnels, Lynda guessed.
"Who takes point?" Hsieh started toward the darkness, but stopped when Lynda threw her arm across his chest as if she were some watchful mother and he a boy on the edge of a precipice.
"I do." Her voice sounded strange to her ears. She pushed past him, brushed by a watchful Lem, and by Govinda, who was peering around the security chief. Taking a very deep breath, she stepped past the open archway.
As she did, a mental jolt hit her; she thought all the bones in her head were vibrating. The map flashed out from the now familiar white of her waiting mind, then sank into a more instinctive knowledge. They were in a corridor. There should be lights, but she couldn't feel the right place to turn them on. She didn't really need them - she knew the corridor was 2.5 meters high and about three meters wide, comfortably open and walkable. She also knew the route curved inward, like a shell, before reaching its destination. But the others would need illumination.
"We'll need the torches," she said, looking back at her companions. Hsieh and Lem turned on their lights, looking at her expectantly. She started moving, and the others followed; first Jack, then Lem, then Govinda and finally Hsieh. As they crossed the threshold, their footsteps abruptly disappeared, muffled by the same pebbled metal that had absorbed so much sound in the tunnels.
Air in the corridor had the same acrid tang she had smelled in the tunnel, but it was bearable. She listened to the wind as it sighed past her, disappearing into the path ahead. It was being sucked out of the space behind them into...what? Somewhere else, somewhere with space enough to coax air away from the shaft.
Lynda tilted her head, listening for something to interrupt the silence inside her head, hoping for the voice. She drew in a short, shocked breath when she felt someone else.
("Can you hear me, Lynda?")
Lynda didn't look back at him. It was remarkable, she thought, that someone's mental voice could sound so much like their spoken voice, and yet be something completely different.
("Give me a look at the map as you remember it. Can you do that?")
She caught herself nodding. She understood, rather than heard or saw, Jack's unspoken mental nod back.
So it was Jack who now stepped through that door she'd opened. This was the second time he'd done so.
What that suggested to her about what she and he had become did not bear immediate inspection, but Lynda could not ignore the bright and fearsome question.
Before their painful epiphany and mutual collapse on the ledge they could not have done this. But now...things-as-they-were had fallen apart in their minds after that explosion, moved about inside them and taken up new positions. Those things were the building blocks of themselves, what made them. When the building blocks moved, she and Jack moved, too, away from what they had been. It didn't frighten her, not the way it might once have, but it did leave her curious; were they to undergo further transformation? Was the voice a herald of that?
(Sou a menina da tempestade.)
The voice was back again, then gone, leaving a jumbled and fragmented image of the Doctor amidst lightnings and terror. Lynda calmly viewed the unexpected intrusion. She longed to follow the voice wherever it went, because she sensed the essence of something young and worshipful flickering about the margins of that chaos.
("Lynda? Was that you?")
Jack needed her. She turned reluctantly from the voice. With an ease that bemused even as it satisfied, she felt about her mind for the information. Her search took less than a split second, but it seemed to her as if she was walking slowly down a dark and rocky path, her hands first out in front of her, then to each side. The boulders she touched flowed and changed under her hands. In the dark, she willed a light. It streamed out of her hands onto the path. The gold and blue glare almost blinded her inner sight before she damped it, but with the beam she found the directions, lying like a neatly folded blanket by the side of the path.
Then, like water flowing away from an overturned cup, she lost her grip. Her eyes flew open in chagrin. "Did you get that?"
Jack's face looked taut and alive in the torchlight. That was all she needed.
"Jack, don't stand there, not if you don't want me to step on your heels," Govinda complained, as she bumped into him.
They were barely 10 paces from the doorway; Lynda was astounded at how much information she had processed without anyone but Jack noticing.
"Ma'am?" Lem spoke from the rear, and her tone said hurry it up. Lynda obliged.
She started walking quickly, then broke into a run, confident of her way. Lights from Hsieh's and Lem's torches streamed from behind, rising and falling as they matched her speed. Once again, without looking back she knew Jack had put his arm around Govinda's waist to hurry her along. She knew that Hsieh had fallen back to run behind them, and Lem had matched his move so that she could watch first his back, then where they had been, running, executing a forward moving pirouette as if she could forestall something which might ambush them from the shadows without her vigilance. Lynda smiled, once again hit with a stab of affection for tough little Ruthie.
They all ran but Lynda outpaced them, sprinting in a way her weariness should not have allowed. The floor cushioned each footfall, and she sprang lightly into a rhythm that she forced away from dancing only with great difficulty. I can't dance when people could die, she thought before she forgot thought in the motion of her passage.
The spiral curved; she was always rounding a corner, always feeling the wind, always seeing something new in the tangle of torch lit shadows. No one spoke. For a moment, she thought again, and wondered how many minutes it had been.
The wind camouflaged sounds the others made, but as currents started to eddy in both directions, it brought new sounds to her. The constant station thrum grew deeper and louder, and developed a Greek chorus of intermittent and recurrent hisses and clanks, rotors whirring, clanging, echoes of bells and repeating clicks. Not human sounds; a mechanical song.
The air was still dry and faintly electrical, but as she rounded another corner of the spiral, she smelled something else. Oil and diesel, perhaps, and, more faintly, the pungence of chlorine and ammonia and other chemicals she couldn't name.
"We're not far," she called out gaily, breathing the ozone and the diesel in as if they were flowers. "We're almost th- "
Hsieh had been right. This shaft was bigger.
Lynda's breath caught in her throat as she ran from the corridor. She staggered and grabbed at the wall to stop herself, determined to keep some sort of balance in the face of the overwhelming.
The old shaft was a gutted chasm; this was not. Its size could be gauged not by space but by the vast metal forests of pipe and wiring that ran through it like tendons and muscles, like arteries and veins, feeding and anchoring some colossal body.
The ledge she and the others ran onto was simply the first segment of a broad span which shot out before them, and ran between columns of conduits - dozens of different systems, from fragile transparent tubing no thicker than a child's arm to metal behemoths easily 10 meters across. The pipes were red, and blue, and green and black, obviously color-coded to identify them as parts of this or that unexpendable system. Some of them were circled and draped with lianas of wiring. Above and below her she saw other ledges, all supporting their web of bridgework and sometimes a tracery of stairwells and ladders depending from one level to the next.
Everything was lit by countless harsh blue-white lights. Some were attached to the few sections of wall that she could actually see. Others were placed at regular intervals along all the bridges and welded to pipes, to piles of equipment that squatted along those lengths in periodic mountains of gauges, switches, levers and buttons. She could hear the whir of fans; some, she saw, were set into vent outlets near bridges. Most of the lights seemed to be emergency lamps like those in the cafeteria, but several sizes larger. Their illumination was so immediate that Lynda thought she could see the shadows of all the people who should have been walking the bridges, tending the machines, checking the gauges and shifting levers, keeping Game Station healthy.
"Mother of pearl," Jack said, and whistled.
"Oh my," Lem whispered. Govinda simply stared, her mouth slightly open. Only Hsieh looked unsurprised. He started to speak, but Lynda was already moving, compelled along their bridge even before she felt the next jolt of information. The bones in her head started to vibrate again - were they really doing that, or was it her imagination, she thought fleetingly. She closed her eyes and saw a path down the walk, right into the jungle of conduits, then a branching off -
(To the right and see the door in the purple tube)
"There's a lift," she said breathlessly, opening her eyes again. "I think. This way." When the others seemed stuck in place, she shouted. "Now! We've got maybe four minutes, five minutes - come on!"
Here in the main shaft, sound neither echoed as it had in the forgotten one, nor disappeared as it did in the tunnels and corridor. It bounced and collided with hundreds of different surfaces, adding to the existing cacophony. She paid no attention at all, and pounded across the bridge until a shift in her internal pressure told her to turn right. Yes, there it was, a narrow catwalk, lit by tiny silver lights that barely penetrated the shadows of the surrounding duct work.
"Are you sure you know where you're going?" Hsieh was the first to follow her this time. That surprised her, until she looked back and saw Jack standing with Govinda, who appeared to be bending over and peering at the bottom of one of her feet.
"You all right?" she shouted over Hsieh's shoulder. Govinda lifted her head.
"Yeah, just got a splinter or something...wait...Christ!" The programmer had been poking the sole of the foot and had apparently found the offending material. "Got it!"
Jack grabbed her hand. "Can you run?"
"No. But I will," Govinda said, then pelted after Hsieh and Lynda, cursing and yelping with pain as she did. Lem took one last look back down the corridor, turned off her torch and holstered it, and followed them.
"Here...turn here," Lynda said, then decided to lead by example.
The way forward was difficult; the catwalk was unexpectedly unsteady, and shook with each move she made. Ducts and pipe work towered over her, and all the bright light was eclipsed by their mass. She shivered under the shadow and the weight of her shrinking confines. Just look ahead, she told herself. Keep going, there's something at the end.
And there was. A huge purple tube, broad enough to have a metal-slab door set in it. She saw the controls and felt an onrushing jubilation that was only partly hers.
("We do") she agreed silently, then added, ("Can Jack hear you?")
"Yes," he said, from Govinda?s side.
"Does the voice say where this goes?" Hsieh, with more questions, and eyes that flicked from one side to the other, not meeting hers. She understood his fright. She'd seen his eyes in her father's face so many times.
"Up to the cache. That's all I know," she said firmly. It was a lift, yes, but she didn't think it was in common use, not with its sole approach effectively guarded by a potentially treacherous walkway.
She found one large button and pressed it. The door slid aside, and she waved the others in.
"How are you doing, sweetheart?" Jack caught her attention as he helped Govinda limp into the cab.
"I'm fine," she said, reaching out to touch his hand. "Really fine."
"I know," he said. "Be careful." His searching eyes didn't seem to find what they were looking for in her face, and she glimpsed a growing sorrow in them.
She didn't know how to react, so she remained silent until they were all in before hitting a second button.
The door shut and the cab lurched up, throwing them against the walls and each other before they discovered the handrail set half-way up the cab walls.
"Christ, Lynda, where'd you bring us, a launch tube?" Govinda gasped. Lynda wasn't certain what part of her snarled question was pain from her wounded foot and which was shock at the speed.
"Sorry," she replied, holding tight to the rail. "Didn't expect that."
"This is an express cab," Lem said. "We'll be there in - "
The lift braked as suddenly as it had started. There were a few more seconds of grabbing and balance-catching and then the door slid open on another narrow path. This one, however, ran almost immediately into a slate-grey wall, with a heavy door set deep into the metal.
"They're in here," Jack said aloud after thanking their guide. He eyed the door with something approaching both alarm and satisfaction. "I think we've hit the jackpot if I'm reading her right."
The voice had told him something she didn't catch. Lynda started to scowl, then caught herself. He was right; both of them - all three of them - needed to be in contact, and what possible reason did she have to be jealous that he could do what she could? Don't be stupid, she scolded herself.
"Let's see...this looks like a simple enough lock...ah..yes!" Lem made one more quick adjustment to the lock mechanism. She punched the air with delight when it retracted with a sullen rasp and the door swung open.
Lights came to life, humming quietly and showing a space that was much larger (on the inside) than it appeared from the outside; a trick of the dark, apparently, cast by the thicket of machinery outside.
Shelving lined both walls, utilitarian and unremarkable except for the mortar kits, the plastic boxes of ammunition for regulation issue rifles, the charge packs for stun and neuron guns, cartons of pre-set light and high-frequency sound bombs, the chemical explosives, the screamers, the net-shooters, the pacifiers and the sleepers. Some were 45 years out of date, some had been manufactured on factory worlds far from earth and imported at great cost, some were Game Station security arsenal skim-offs from six months ago, some were pieces of equipment jerry-rigged to be twice as lethal as they should have been, some were research projects that were high tech even for the Empire.
Protective personal shields, safety glasses, helmets, gauntlets and boots hung in open lockers at the far end of the room; vacuum suits and helmets hung there too, nearly all of them deceptively bulky battle-issue models. LOX and other breathing canisters lay in neatly piled pyramids nearby.
Two ranks of metal cabinetry marched down the middle of the room, two narrow aisles between them and the shelving. Lynda saw a second door in the far wall before she turned her attention to the cabinets.
Most of their drawers housed simple and primitively effective weapons; hunting knives, stilettos, switchblades, brass knuckles, blackjacks, the sort of thing that worked when ammo was exhausted, or impractical to use. Monofilament and more traditional garrotes, other run of the mill assassination tools, filled some neatly stored kits. Other drawers held maps; security reports that had never seen the light of day; some that had, and had been covered up with one or more murders. There were blueprints, and there were photos, the bureaucratic building blocks of violence and political evolution. One or two drawers held hypojets filled with mind-changers and mind-melters, bottles of pills and tubes of individual and mass poisons, some lethal for humans, others lethal for species that hadn't been seen in-system for decades.
Lynda knew them all, the names and models, the makes, their abilities, the exact destructive properties, the energy to accuracy ratios and average kill power of everything flashing in and out of her consciousness. Her throat grew tight, her legs almost buckled, her head pounded and her eyes burned. She didn't notice the tears streaming down her face.
("Stop, please. Please, no more")
(I shall tell the Captain. I'm sorry)
"What the fuck is this?" Hsieh sounded like a bewildered child. "What the fuck is this?"
The security chief didn't have the arsenal's records in his head, but his training and experience obviously left him familiar enough with what he saw to turn him pale and sick. "This isn't a cache, it's a goddamned murder factory."
"This...this is bad. This is station-killer stuff. Half of it's not even cleared to be used in space. Not even supposed to be here," Lem said, her eyes wide and fearful. Lynda felt something go adrift inside her when she saw the little woman?s phlegmatic demeanor start to crack. "This..."
"...is monstrous," Jack finished, grim and horrified. "And it's our only chance. Hsieh, snap out of it. Grab regulation stuff - here, pass me some of those ammo boxes. Give me a couple of the noise and light bombs..no, not there, next shelf up. Lem, those blue models next to you are neuron stunners. Those could come in handy. Pick up the net-shooters, Govinda. There on the bottom shelf."
He was sweating and Lynda saw that his hands were shaking. "Hsieh, knives in the cabinet at the end of your row; get three or four, not loose, make sure they're in sheaths."
"These?" Govinda held up something Lynda's hindbrain automatically catalogued as Hydrax Crowd Shroud, Model 20, Lot Z256-022L.
"Yeah." He looked long enough to see that the programmer had picked up the right thing, then returned to tightening the utility belt he'd snatched from behind the door they'd used to get in. The ammunition fit comfortably into pouches. He hefted two guns, pitched one back onto the shelf and loaded the other, smaller model into the shoulder holster that had been empty since Jack left his gun in the apartment. Then he grabbed another, larger one, and said, with the barest of glances, "Hsieh, that one's power pack is exhausted. Try the one next to it."
"Right." Hsieh was already loaded down with enough to make him look like a large version of Lem, but he picked up the piece Jack indicated.
"Captain?" Lem had jumped up on one of the shelves to get at something on the top level. She jumped down and strapped what she found to her belt. "Field medikit. Bio and nano-meds, looks like. Bandages, too."
"Good - are there any more?"
Lynda ducked under Jack's arm and went over to Lem. "Yes. Yes, there are three others. Help me up, Lem, I'll carry them."
"You'll need this, too," Hsieh said, apparently recovered enough to go back into security mode. He thrust a small but wicked-looking firearm toward her. "It's just a mag-shot, but it disarms someone else's pulse rifles. It's defense, and we'll need it."
"Right," she said, finding a utility belt of her own and stowing the kits as best she could before accepting the gun.
(No time left. Go through the other door.)
"Unghh.." Lynda's stomach lurched and Jack's head jerked with the force of that message. He recovered first.
"Out this end! Now!"
He ran to the second door and slapped the control.
Three things happened at that point:
The door opened on the largest lift Lynda had yet seen on the station.
The five of them stared at the lift's lone passenger - a dripping wet, stinking, and very angry Roderick Mayhew.
All three wrist comms crackled to life with Davitch's level and quite terrified voice.
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