A Teaspoon And An Open Mind: A Doctor Who Fan Fiction Archive
Ninth Doctor
Walk Out With Me to the Unknown Region by rutsky [Reviews - 61] Printer Chapter or Story
Author's Notes:
It seems that in fiction, as in life, things become more difficult to complete just as the finish line is in sight. Forgive the gap between chapters. After their own lengthy wait, Lynda and the rest of the Captain's men may finally meet the Voice. As always, I own nothing of the Whoniverse and take no pay for what I write out of love.


"She’s a mum, right? She needs extra grub. You bastards have any idea — no, wait, I’m gonna finish — you got any idea what it takes to feed a newborn? You want it on the tit, right, and that means she’s gotta get extra, 'cos she’s feedin’ two! You get it? She gets seconds!”

Roderick Mayhew punctuated his tight-necked rant with repeated pokes at the sternum of the steam table attendant who had somehow incurred his wrath. He didn’t look like himself today, in borrowed uniform trousers and a tee-shirt, but he sounded as aggrieved as ever.

The unfortunate caf worker, some junior member of Hsieh’s team, was red-faced and obviously longed to relocate Roderick's finger. He held his silence, though, disciplined even if it killed him.

“What, you got nothing more to say?” Roderick crossed his arms and waited, chin thrust out, for some response.

“Come on, give the man what he wants,” someone in line behind Roderick called out. “We’re waiting, here! And he’s right.”

That sparked a round of affirmatives from everyone watching. The caf attendant, shooting one more venomous look at his adversary, silently gave in, grabbing a bowl from Roderick"s tray and ladling thick stew into it. “That enough?” he said with exaggerated calm.

“Yeah. Thanks,” Roderick said, without a trace of his usual bad grace. And then, to Lynda’s amazement, he quietly walked off, snapped up three containers of milk from a dairy case, and headed across the cafeteria to where an embarrassed but noticeably grateful Maisie waited with her baby.

“I don’t believe it,” Lynda whispered to Ruthie.

The little guard shrugged. “Neither do I, but he did it. Good on him. Let’s get something and scarper.”

Neither woman wanted Mayhew to spot them; they’d also promised Jack that they would take no more than five minutes to make a canteen run. The Voice might not have corporeal needs, but they had no intention of having to live with their own grumbling stomachs and incipient hunger headaches.

“Here.” Ruthie handed her several nested plastic containers. “Load up on meat. I’ll get dessert.”

Lynda nodded. Proteins and sugars sounded just right to her. Five minutes later, they’d completed the mission with the kind of ruthless aplomb commando teams might envy.

“Lem!”

They turned at the hall door, to see Rog hurrying toward them. “Is the Commander going to come down here?” Lynda hid a smile. Whatever title Hsieh had once held, Jack’s substitution had evidently been a hit with the former Game Station security force.

“Don’t know,” Ruthie replied. “Why not call?”

Rog grimaced. “Suppose I could. I just figured I should check with you first, since you’re his second. Look, I wanted to ask...you and the Commander....” he stopped, irresolute, and his eyes shifted to Lynda.

“Whatever you have to say to me, you can say to her,” Ruthie said.

“Huh.” Roger didn’t sound convinced. “It’s just that...I know Harkness is taking the lead — “
Ruthie broke in. “Don’t worry, Rog. He’s the one for the job, and the Commander knows it. Nobody’s toes are being stepped on.”

“Right.” He stood there for a moment. Ruthie remained calm and silent. “Right, then. I’ll get back to work.”

“I’ll let the Commander know to expect a call from you?”

“Nah. No reason now. Thanks.”

He retreated, and Lynda was surprised to hear Ruthie’s soft laugh. “Rog always was a bit too impressed with chain of command. Now that Jack’s in charge, he’s a little nervous.”

They got to the lift and Lynda balanced her containers on one arm in order to punch the cab call. When the doors hissed open, she inclined her head. “After you.”

Ruthie looked so thoughtful on the ride up to Floor 500 that Lynda had to ask. “What’s on your mind?”

“Just wondering what will happen, is all. I mean, I think we’re all going to get off the station,” Ruthie replied. “But the next step...I don’t know. I’ve never been out-system before. And that’s where I’m going to have to go.” Her expression turned gently rueful. “We never trained for the end of the world.”

Lynda started to demur (not the end, don’t say that, we can — ) when the lift doors opened.

The control room was dim, shadows unbanished by the blue cast of recessed lighting. She shivered. This was the third time she’d entered this place and she hadn’t shaken the uneasiness it generated in her. It demanded that she remember too much; the terror before her death, the confusion and fear of her reawakening. She wondered what the others —

(Home)

Lynda jerked. (“What?”)

(The Archives. This is the entry way to what is important)

(“What did you say? What home?”)

(Hush)

Lynda felt her bones vibrate and she thought she almost knew why.

“Wow. You two didn’t take long. Wasn’t there anything to eat?” Jack turned from his conversation with Davitch.

“Not after we got through,” Ruthie said, proffering three bulging containers. “Here. Custard, something with chocolate, and bread pudding. All very sweet, and the chocolate’s covered with whipped cream. She’s got stew and...anything else, Lynda?”

“Pot pie and slabs of pepper steak.”

“Put them over on the console, will you? We were waiting for you, since our hostess doesn’t seem inclined to speak to me alone today.” Jack frowned as he said it. “We apparently need to get some code from her even to get into Archive Six. It was open when I went in and discovered the TARDIS, but now the door’s been programmed shut. Neither ‘Vinda nor Davitch have a clue how to open it.”

Lynda knew immediately why, almost before the Voice spoke again.

(Os Maus)

“She had to hide it from the Daleks,” she told Jack as she approached him.

“Well there aren’t any Daleks around now,” he said, clearly exasperated at not hearing what Lynda did.

(I am sorry, Captain) There was a moment’s silence, then (I can give you the code now)

Jack nodded, satisfied. “Davitch, you guys ready?”

The programmer nodded. Govinda, seated in front of him at a console, had her hands poised over its keyboard.

Lynda closed her eyes, and her inner sight flashed into the familiar white before a string of words seemed to flow past her face into darkness.

(Sou a menina da tempestade)

She had heard the Voice speak the phrase before, on their journey between shafts, but she had absolutely no idea what they meant.

(I am the handmaid of the storm)

The Doctor stared at her in the halls of her head, then disappeared. For a moment, she felt like a child whose friend had abandoned her, and she felt an echo of that, tamped down hard, from Jack.

“Try ‘I am the handmaid of the storm’,” she said, looking beyond him to the others.

Govinda tapped, waited a moment, then shook her head. “Nothing.”

“Then try this. I hope I’m not butchering it,” Lynda said before slowly and carefully sounding out the foreign phrase.

Jack said, "If I didn’t know better, I’d say that was some bastard form of Spanish — no, Portuguese.”

The burst of surprised approval that the Voice shot to both of them washed through Lynda like a wave. (Yes)

"Do you know how to spell that?" Davitch asked. Lynda shook her head. Three false starts later, they puzzled out the correct answer.

“Yes! That did it!” Govinda crowed. Behind her a small door clicked open.

“Well, there you go,” Davitch said, looking behind him at the door and the faint white light from beyond it. “Are there any other codes we need to input here?”

(No, not until we are in the Archive)

“No, nothing we can do out here,” Jack said. “So let’s move." He had an odd look on his face as his gaze followed Davitch’s. “Funny. The last time I was in there —" He didn’t finish the sentence. “Right. In.”

The little room’s walls had no right angles, no appreciable shadows because of the omnidirectional lighting.

“There’s nothing here,” Davitch said. “How can there be nothing here?”

“What do you mean?” Lynda asked.

Govinda had stopped in the door, looking with disbelief at the walls. “Where are the consoles? What happened to the screens?”

“There were no consoles when I came in earlier,” Jack said.

(They are hidden behind the walls)

Jack and Lynda looked at each other.

(I removed them there. To bring the TARDIS, to store it without impediment. To keep Os Maus and their children from finding it.)

“When did you do that?” Lynda said aloud. Silently, she pressed: (“Were you with the station? Were you an administrator?”)

The subsequent silence would have frustrated her, had she not felt the Voice’s discomfort. Their unseen companion was close to admitting who she was.

“Jack? Lynda?” Davitch broke in on her thoughts. “Did something happen to the grid system here?”

Lynda shook her head. “The Voice pulled it back into the walls when the Daleks invaded, I guess. She didn’t want them to find out...sorry, what?”

(Go to the third panel to the right of the door. Walk across from that panel to the opposite point in the room. Push on the panel immediately to the left of the first one you reach)

“There’s a place on the wall,” Lynda said. “Here, let me...third panel, then — excuse me, ‘Vinda — alright, I’m across the room. What do I do, again?"

“Push the panel to your left,” Jack said.

It didn’t move.

“Need a hand?” Davitch moved to her side and turned his shoulder to the wall. “Sometimes it just needs...ungh...there — that’s got it.”

The panel pushed in slightly then slid to the left into a previously hidden slot. The tiny rush of air that hit their faces was hot and dusty. Lights faded on behind the walls of a very narrow hall. It receded only a short distance, and Lynda could see what looked like a larger space at the end.

“In there?” she asked the air, before answering herself. “In there.”

“After you,” Davitch said. He looked dubious about the opening, which wasn’t surprising, since it was obvious he’d have to duck to get through the passageway. Lynda moved past him, saw Jack do the same from the corner of her eye. The tiny hall was short, which gave her claustrophobia no chance to arise. The ceiling of the room she entered was slightly higher than the hallway, for which she was grateful. Unlike the outer room, this rather narrow space had corners at each end of its four-meter length.

(This is the real Archive Six. Station personnel knew only about the outer foyer. From here you will be able to access the codes you need to communicate with Hidden, to understand who you must not contact, and to revive some of Station’s dormant or injured systems)

(“Why was this section hidden?”) Jack’s mental tone was crisp.

(I needed this place for...myself, to escape notice. This is where I planned for the Doctor)

Both Lynda and Jack twitched as the Voice threw them another image of the man who was gone (Time Lord whispered a chorus inside Lynda’s head; Daleks — she’d forgotten they called him that — Jack and the Voice— )

“Time Lord?”

(Yes)

“Yes,” from Jack, tersely, his eyes hooded and distant. “He was the last of them.”

Their combined affirmatives sent a wave of sadness through her, washed through their separate griefs. She shut her eyes, surprised that the Voice could share such an emotion. It seemed to her that she saw a field of stars. It was beautiful, but something was missing from the shine and the velvet, something precious and frightening, and absolutely necessary.

“Oh,” she breathed, trying not to think of the Doctor, or the emptiness and homesickness her mind saw pouring from him and spilling into the space between suns. “You brought him here?”

(I arranged for it. I am handmaid and herald)

The Doctor and the wounded star field faded from Lynda’s sight — and from Jack’s, judging by his almost imperceptible whisper of protest.

Lynda’s eyes ached with unshed tears. He’s not here to help us, Lynda thought privately, and with a quickly suppressed rush of anger. Time enough later for mysteries (that hurt so badly) that don’t help us get off the station.

The Voice spoke again.

(Now I must guide you through the files; you will break the protections and connect Station to the outer world again)

(“Jack should do it, or Davitch”) she protested, after realizing their guide expected her to do the job.

Jack shook his head. (“Not me. I’m mediocre with that sort of thing. Davitch or ‘Vinda are the experts in the room.”)

(No. You must do it, Lynda. You are the historian)

“Lynda? Jack? Could you, uhm...shift a little?”

Davitch waited uncomfortably behind them, hunched over in the entryway.

“Oh. Sorry.” They made room for him, Lynda admonishing herself to remember the outer world even when she spoke to the Voice. Poor Davitch must feel like a vid story extra, she thought guiltily, relegated to waiting for the big names to finish their lines so that he can do his walk-on.
Govinda followed Davitch into the room. When Hsieh and Ruthie arrived, the six of them had just enough room to move about in the space.

“So what do we do now?” Govinda asked. “This looks as bare as the main archive.”

As if it were responding to her question, the wall across from the entrance hummed, and a grid console, very small but lit and active, slid out and into view.

“There we go,” Davitch said, gesturing grandly to usher Govinda over to the console’s tiny bench.

(“So the powers that be didn’t know this place existed? They didn’t discover you?”) Jack was clearly intrigued by the Voice’s story, but he appeared unconvinced that she had been able to create a secret archive on a closed station without it being noted somewhere. (“Even the old shaft left a footprint in Security files.”)

(The shaft was not important) The tone was dismissive. (This was. So I altered plans for a retrofit of the archive system by adding work orders, arranging for the room and the grid system installation. Then I destroyed those forms and arranged for the disappearance of the work crew)

In her head, Lynda could once again see stars, superimposed like drifts of brilliant flowers over something that felt like a tracking screen on a grid. She seemed to see a green-gold dot on the grid screen wink out, a tiny point of light engulfed in a fireball that blossomed in the star field, then died in the vacuum.

She flinched momentarily from contact, then controlled herself. (“You did that? Why would you kill them?”)

(Only Facilitators worked on Station at the time. They would have reported their work and the report would eventually have reached Os Maus. I arranged for their shuttle to malfunction before they sent in the final information) The Voice sounded no more than faintly regretful. (I also arranged for their survivors to get larger than regulation pensions. Should I not have done that?)

(“I...I think you were right to give the families extra.”) Lynda answered, not masking her ambivalence about the murders, but emphasizing her approval of the follow-up.

(So this will not interfere with us? You’ll continue to work with me?)

(“Yes. Yes, of course I will.”)

Lynda shivered unexpectedly. She abruptly understood of herself that she would always want to work with the Voice, no matter who or what their unseen guide turned out to be,

(I will have to come into your mind more fully than I can do now. Are you still willing?)

(“Yes. I trust you.”)

Lynda felt a rusty sort of happiness from the Voice.

Jack spoke silently. (“Wait. What does ‘more fully’ mean? Is this going to be dangerous for her?”)

Lynda looked at him and shook her head. (“It’s my decision, Jack, and we need the information.”)

(“I don’t want you injured.”)

(“I don’t want me injured, either. This shouldn’t be dangerous. Right?”)

(I will keep you as safe as I can)

“Well then,” Jack said, after a moment. He wasn’t happy, Lynda knew.

When they turned their attention to the others, they saw that Ruthie still stood by the door and Hsieh was leaning against one section of wall, trying to stay clear of Davitch and Govinda’s grid console investigation.

“This is pass-protected so many ways that I wouldn’t know where to begin gaining access,” Govinda complained.

“She’s going to guide me,” Lynda said, not exactly answering, because she didn’t know herself what she was going to find. “Do you mind if I sit down?”

“Be my guest,” Govinda said as she scooted off the seat. “D’you have any idea of what you’re doing?”

“Uhm, not in the least, I’m afraid.”

(Make certain that you are sitting comfortably. I will have to put you to sleep)

“What?” Lynda was confused and spoke aloud.

(I will...shut down your control over your higher functions, and take them over, in order to unlock the information. I’m sorry, but I need your hands and your eyes, and if you do not fight me, this will be easier)

“No!”

Inside her head, the wall slammed down, and she hadn’t even planned the recoil. This was more than surface information, the part of her which had summoned the wall screamed. This wasn’t just a visitor in the parlor, this was an intruder, an attacker, this was —

— not dangerous, she told herself fiercely, methodically silencing her other self’s protestations. She silently bade the wall disappear. (“Sorry.”)

(You cannot fight this, or it will not work)

(“I know. I said I was sorry. I’ll do my best.”)

(I will be very careful. I promise)

She almost jumped from the chair when Jack put his hands on her shoulders from behind.

“What’s she asking you to do?”

Ruthie slid out from between Davitch and Hsieh, and moved to Jack’s side. She was serious, her features sharp beneath cat's eyes. “Has she threatened you, Lynda? Do we need to do something, do you want to do something else?"

Lynda abruptly thought of how wonderful she had felt waking up.

“Only if I can go back to bed,” she said wryly. There really was nothing for it, then. “Ruthie, thanks, but I’m going to be just fine. But I, uh, I think I’m going to need some privacy.

“Well, really, I'd much rather have all of you here,” she continued, her voice rising slightly. She took a deep breath, swallowed, and continued. “Absolutely, no joke, I really want all of you here, no one I’d rather be with, frankly. But she...she’s got a way to do this, apparently, and she says she really has to — “

”Has to what?” Jack’s face had that closed look Lynda now associated with his internal risk assessment processes.

“She’s going to put my mind to sleep and take over control of my body —"

That unleashed a maelstrom.

"Now hold on, that’s just not — "

“Look, if something’s dangerous for Lynda — "

"Lynda? Do you need — "

Govinda, Davitch and Hsieh talked over each other until Ruthie silenced them. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do, is there, Captain? Lynda?”

The others subsided, looking at the security woman, then at Jack and her.

(No)

“No.”

“Not if the ladies involved don’t want us involved.” Jack said, sounding uneasy, but resigned.

“Well then, why’d we all traipse in here?” Govinda asked. “Waste of time.”

“Shhh,” Davitch patted her arm.

“Alright, alright, I’m fine. I’ll nip out and have some of that breakfast,” she subsided, but not before whispering mutinously to herself. Lynda only caught one phrase: “... thing’s a complete wanker.”

(We must start)

What followed threw Lynda completely off-balance, then righted her again.

Govinda shouldered by Jack to hug her and whisper, “You are completely crazy. Don’t let that mental cow hurt you.”

Before she could respond, the dark-eyed programmer let go, smoothed her hands over the front of her borrowed trousers, and retreated. Within seconds, Davitch took her place. Looming over her, he put one hand onto her shoulder and smiled worriedly into her upturned face. “You poor kid. You have to do the heavy lifting while we eat breakfast.”

Lynda could feel the flush. “No. Really, no! It’s nothing like that. You had to wrangle all those people, after all. And waiting’s the toughest job.” She smiled up at him, feeling a pang of sympathy as she realized the truth of that. “I mean, you had no idea where we were while we were larking about in the tunnels.”

He snorted. “Larking about...well, then, I suppose it’s what ‘Vinda said. Be careful.”

“I will, she said brightly. “And Davitch? I’m really not a kid.”

It was his turn to colour.

“Thanks for doing this,” came from a gruff, but direct, Hsieh. She nodded back at him, unable to think of anything to say to him — or to Ruthie, when she completed the impromptu receiving line by dropping a quick, firm kiss on the top of Lynda’s head. “You come back to us” was all the little woman said..

(You are loved)

Even as she heard the Voice’s wistful pronouncement, Lynda felt the world shift about her with a sharp immediacy that caught at her heart.

“I — ”

(In the shell-strewn lobby, Jack held her while she sobbed in shock and terror. He kept her warm, provided her with comfort and something solid to cling to in her rebirth.)

"I — "

(“You’re all right, Ma’am, you’re all right,” Ruthie whispered gently as she untangled Lynda from the safety harness. Her voice was calm, and warm. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” Moments later, Govinda knelt by her, ready to protect her from anything a shocked Jack might say: “I’ll be right over there.” )

“I didn’t think — .”

(She and Davitch tried to keep their faces straight, and couldn’t. They collapsed in companionable laughter together, and a smiling Govinda looked on in bemused enjoyment.)

Her head felt feathery — she thought light must be shining from her like happiness — and she looked up and around at her friends. Of course. She had known she would die for them. Why would they not —

“Yes. I am.”

“Yes, you’re what?” Davitch asked.

She smiled. “Nothing. I’ll see you outside after we’ve unlocked the codes.”

He smiled back. “Right. See you then.”

People edged and shuffled out of the room. Jack looked at her, once, and left with the others. When she couldn’t see them anymore, she ran her hands lightly over the grid console, touching the keyboard experimentally before she blew out a breath. “I guess it’s time.”

(Close your eyes and breathe regularly)

She did as she was asked.

Something tickled the inside of her head. She felt a curious pressure, something that wasn’t really painful, but very, very direct. There, at the base of her neck...and there, at her temples, something prickling and tickling and insisting on entry. It started to hurt, and then she found it impossible to think, and then the world flashed to white and took her away.


**************

Here she is/I am, coursing through her blood, here she is/I am, firing her/my muscles, here is the pull of my/her left arm, right arm, gravity pressing down across the forearms, pleasant and frightening after all, here are the fingers, communicating from the knuckles above them, here are the pads of the fingers, caressing the keys. Here are her/my eyes and here is the light I do not —

I don’t know where I am, I’m on a station, a ship, a ship going out into the dark and — oh god, they’re killing them, the children, where are they taking the chil...where am I? I can’t feel my legs, I can’t feel my back, where am...they changed them — who — and turn away from that, and the dancers, and the movement of earth and sky, and these were the emperors from David to Sharon begat Beatrice, begat Anwar begat Tupua’a, begat An-Fang and that was the first...and the second with the Great Committee, which begat the Tribunals and the Commonwealth begat the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom begat war, begat...what? Turn away from the turn of the earth and the stories they told in the dark and the lessons learned and the books of knowledge and oh, they’re burning them, the books and the worlds...where can we find the libraries, the archives...where?

I/she feels the history in my/her circuits and I must keep her/us safe from too much too fast a gift of the information or she/we will sink and we/she can’t do that...I/she feels the base of her spine and the backs of her haunches shift about on the seat and here she is/I am moving her head about on her neck and here she is/I am breathing, in and out like the push and pull of AC current and binary code, shut down the memory for a little bit, shutter it just a little, calm her/my breathing, and here — under this packet, and that packet too — and here, here — behind this protocol — and now she/I will push our hands in the way they must go and watch the screen, the terminal hums in a different way, feel the click inside my/her head — pain? No...but the click, it signals the opening, the door opening and she/we reach for the information and —

Oh. Oh. There are so many worlds! Where is...what is the name...this one — oh, oh no. Burned and gone, another one, is it safe...no, this one is ruined, this one full of — the children, who...who...what children. Where am I? Followers, noise, I can’t get away from the noise, or the followers...another world, a prison camp — do we do that now? Where am I?

Here, now, I still run through her/our blood, and now we/I have unbaffled the snares I set, and — we/I feel dull pain here, in our/her neck and here, in our/her shoulders, I/she had forgotten, and we/I get up, here is the feeling of gravity again, a pull like love — we/I feel our feet. I wiggle my/her toes, feel the tiny effort of little bones...beautiful because we/I know it will work — now we/she go back to the screen and the terminal, we have more codes to unravel and time is so short....

Where am I? Where — no, wrong question...who am I? I...I am — remember, remember...you can do this...remember — find out who’s hiding it from me...handmaid, it’s a handmaid...I remember...history — what? I see...but she fell! She...who...yes, I’m...my mother was, and my father was...but she fell! Oh...oh. Oh, I remember. I am...I’m —

We are coming apart and I have to give her — here, here listen to us/me, one more...here, this is ... remember this, remember —

You?

Me.

But...and her?

Yes. Wake up.



***********
Lynda coughed, choking on phlegm that had gathered, unnoticed by the Voice, in the back of her throat. She swallowed and sucked in a breath, whooping painfully, coughed again, and shivered as her lungs and muscles became her own again.

“Oh, god.”

She ran her hands over her arms until she was certain they were hers. Her back ached horribly, and her legs; she realized the Voice must have seated her body in a position that was completely unsuitable for comfort.

She got up slowly and grabbed at the console for support, until her own muscle memory supplanted the last trace of someone else's imperfect balance.

Oh, that’s right, she thought, memory. I have...I think I have memories.

But she couldn’t recall a thing, not consciously. It was like trying to glimpse pictures in the dark, or in the glare of the sun, like faded and tattered ribbons blowing away from her on a wind she couldn’t fight. They were going somewhere, flying to some place in her mind; they’d rest there, she thought, until something happened to summon them back. But not now, not yet.

She felt about in her head, but the Voice wasn’t there. She cast about further, but got no answer. Suddenly worried, she wondered if they’d waited too long.

(“Jack?)

She called again, fighting panic. (“Jack!”)

(“I’m here, sweetheart — hold on, I’m coming.”)

Lynda gasped, relief tangling with the panic, and squeezing out of her lungs in something might have been a sob or laughter. (“You’re still here!”)

“I’m here,” he said, suddenly warm beside her. “Why wouldn’t I be? What happened?”

“She’s gone. ” Lynda said, grabbing at his hands.“She said we had to rescue her, you heard her. What if we didn’t do it in time? What if she’s dead?”

Jack grimaced. “Did she give you any clue about where she is?”

“I'm not sure. I remember words, strings of numbers, but they’re here and gone before I can get a handle on them. I think it’s there, though.”

“Jack?” she wavered a moment. “I thought...thought maybe I couldn’t, you know, couldn’t hear you, either.”

“But you did. And I heard you,” Jack replied, tapping his forehead with a finger. “I can still feel you up here. Relax, sweetheart. Even money says she’s still here, and we can find her.”

“Suppose so,” Lynda said with a watery smile. “But we need to do it soon.”

“What’s going on?” Hsieh entered and stood next to Jack. Govinda was close on his heels.

“Did she give you what we need?” Govinda asked. “And are you alright?”

Lynda blinked. “Oh. Oh, yeah, absolutely.”

She waved vaguely back at the grid screen, “The codes should be there,” she said, “She had me retrieve them from, uhm...from somewhere. There’s strings of them. I think she had me input a bunch of them, too, to get things started.”

“Here, let me take a look,” Govinda said. “What’ve we got, then...oh my god. This stuff is way beyond me. No. No, wait....”

Hsieh’s communicator chirped as Govinda studied the screen.

“What’s up? Uh-huh...uh-huh...are they signalling us specifically, or just broadcasting a distress signal? Who’s on comm? OK. Let me talk to him.”

Everyone looked at him.

“It’s Alex, in Security Two — hold on. Orrin? What are we getting, again? Uh-huh. Right, then, monitor it for now. We’ll be down directly, with more information. Good work. No, I don’t need to talk to him again. I’m out.”

He turned to the others, a light in his eyes. “I put Alex, Orrin and Cherrie into SecTwo last night, to monitor the floors. Apparently Orrin started picking up a signal out of the south coast of Eastamrika.”

“People? Down there?” Jack was instantly The Captain. “What are they broadcasting?”

“Not much. Orrin said they noticed the signal not more than 15 minutes ago — which may coincide with what you were doing, Lynda — and it’s along the lines of ‘Is there anyone out there? Help us.’ I don't think they know we’re here.”

Govinda looked thoughtful. “But we’re hearing them. And we couldn’t find anyone yesterday. I think that whatever was blocking station-out grid communications, it’s been sorted. And I think that means I can use at least two of the codes I see here to reestablish contact with Sol-out, probably with the node at Luna. If I can have Orrin up here to help with some of the tricky strings, I think we can start sending to Hidden.”

“Bingo!” Jack laughed in delight, and hugged Lynda.

She felt elated, but reminded them, “Use the rest of the codes to access information, before you start sending. We have to contact only Hidden, no place else, and we need to know how to avoid alerting Facilitator-controlled worlds.”

“Right,” Govinda said. “Let me transfer these out to my regular grid console...there...that’s it. Orrin and I can work out there.”

The back of Lynda’s mind buzzed, and Lynda could have shouted her relief. “Jack, it’s her! I feel her!”

Another schematic slid into her head, and she nodded. “I know where we have to go. But we have to hurry. She’s getting weak.”

“Did she tell you that?” Jack looked worried. “Where?”

“We have to go back to the old shaft, go down,” she said. “Down to where the light was.”

“You are kidding me,” Hsieh said, looking disturbed. “How do we get there?”

“I’ll get us there. Can we please go, now?” she pleaded.

Hsieh looked at Jack, and Jack nodded. “Hsieh, get Orrin up here. And Alex. ‘Vinda, I’ll leave the codes and the access tasks to you, Orrin and Davitch. Hsieh, Ruthie, Lynda and I will go get our soon-to-be-visible friend."

**************
It was a lot easier getting to the old shaft than it had been the first time, Lynda thought, as they entered the bullet lift from Cache 300. Going up there had been the easiest way to find their way back down to the connecting tunnel.

She and Ruthie maintained their balance when the lift dropped precipitously, but Hsieh and Jack both grabbed for the walls.

“Hate that,” Hsieh said, as they lurched to a stop. He looked a little green.

“Here we go,” she said, stepping gingerly onto the catwalk, and moving quickly to the space between the pipes. “We just have to get to the old shaft’s lift, and I can get us down to where she is.”

“Lead on,” Jack said. The other two said nothing, but followed.

The diesel and alcohol smell of the main shaft gave way to the dusty electrical tang of the tunnel. In the dark, Lynda wondered what they might find at their destination. (Nothing I’ve ever seen before, nothing we’ve ever seen before, nothing we can expect) beat in her head before skittering away. She licked her lips. The map hung before her eyes, unseen by anyone else.

The wind picked up as they moved around the spiral, and the sound and smells from the main shaft faded. Lynda felt the station thrum against her feet, noticing it for the first time since she’d awakened.

Dim cathedral light greeted them on the old shaft ledge. Lynda turned immediately to the lift cab door. She stopped, rechecked her memory and the schematic in her head, then punched the call button.

“Ruthie, do you have a screwdriver in your kit?” she asked. The other woman nodded.

“Thanks. Come on, everyone get in,” Lynda said. She turned and took the proffered tool and looked to the left of the door. There it was, a break in the metal sheen, resolving into a faint line. She looked closely, and determined where to push the screwdriver blade in and twist. “Aha!”

A square panel popped free of the surrounding wall, and clattered at her feet. Underneath were two previously hidden buttons. “This one,” she said, looking at Jack. “It takes us down to where she is.”

“How far down? If we go down too far, we’re risking hitting blast damage and vacuum," Hsieh said.

“It should be alright,” Lynda said, “She wouldn’t have given me the map if she didn’t think we could survive. Anyhow, I think the blast damage is closer to the new shaft levels than here.” She kept her own doubts to herself.

The cab rumbled to life and started down. It seemed to take forever, and Hsieh looked increasingly nervous as the floor indicator ticked down closer and closer to Floor Zero. When that light flickered on, then off, without the cab stopping, he grunted in surprise. “Wha — ?”

Jack looked at Lynda. She shook her head, nonplussed. He sighed. “The fun never stops around here. I swear I never want another adventure in my life.”

Just then, the lift shuddered and stopped. When the door opened, Lynda thought at first that the dark outside its frame was impenetrable. Once her eyes adjusted, though, she realized she was looking into a small circular room.

Someone stood in the darkness, perhaps two meters from her.

“Who’s there?” Lynda called, her voice barely above a whisper.

The figure moved toward her. “You found me,”

Behind her, Jack gasped, and Ruthie stifled a cry.

Meg walked into the light.


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