Kiri reset the viewscreen to the Futaba's interior, and after satisfying herself that no one was lurking in the truck she gingerly opened the door and we filed into the back. Our only equipment consisted of our sword belts and a small pocket torch apiece. In addition, Kiri carried a tiny laser cutter. Motioning for us to stay where we were, she looked around cautiously, then whispered "Futaba display: console." A moment later we had silently lifted off the bed of the railcar and gently set down on the adjacent street. Starting the engine (now much quieter than before, thanks to a bit of hurried reprogramming), we slowly drove through the nearly deserted streets. Apparently not a lot went on in this part of Tar Deshta after dark.
Before long we began to see other vehicles as we approached a busier sector of the town. No one seemed to be paying us much attention; apparently a truck with a lone driver was not unusual at this time of night. Soon we were crossing a main thoroughfare, and we all caught our breaths sharply as we peered cautiously through the side window of the truck.
The road we were crossing led up a steep incline and ended far above us in a brilliantly lit maze of buildings, towers, and piping, resembling nothing quite so much as an oil refinery at night. In the center a tall building rose even further skyward, topped off with a central cone-shaped tower projecting hundreds of feet into the air. A coruscating bluish glow surrounded the tower. I realized that I was looking at our target, the old SamariCorp plant, now the center of Brizal power.
In the fleeting glimpse we received as we crossed the road, I also saw a well-guarded checkpoint at the spot where the road began climbing. Kiri continued across and into some side streets, eventually parking in a darkened alleyway amid a maze of girders and industrial equipment.
A few minutes later we were silently creeping along the darkened back streets. Looking up, I saw the buildings of the main plant a good sixty feet above us. The main bridge was several city blocks away, but almost directly overhead I saw a narrow catwalk silhouetted against the sky, starting somewhere in an apparently abandoned framework of girders and pipes above and extending across the gap.
"How the hell are we supposed to get up there?" muttered Zyanita. Ignoring her, Kiri led us around the perimeter of the darkened installation and eventually found a gate in the chain-link fence, secured with a padlock and plastered with warning signs.
"Keep an eye out," she whispered, and a moment later we saw the brilliant red flickerings of a laser cutter as she burned through the latch. It took only a few moments before the gate swung open with a metallic groan.
"Now we look for a stairway," she whispered. "And be careful. Some of this stuff can be dangerous." For several minutes I found my torch revealing machinery and plumbing in various states of decay, and then Senaria gave a soft whistle and we found her standing before a metal stairwell, sealed off with steel grating welded to the support posts. It took Kiri a bit longer to burn through this time, and once we had to stop and freeze as we heard footsteps outside the compound and saw the flashing of a torch. Finally the guard left, apparently not noticing the broken lock, and wandered on down the street.
The cutting job done, Kiri and I carefully pulled away the grating and set it down as silently as possible, and then the four of us began the climb. I was relieved to find that in spite of the abandoned appearance of the installation the metal stairwell was still in good shape and not yet corroding away, especially after we had climbed a good sixty feet and headed for the catwalk which stretched out in front of us.
I looked down into the trench, half-expecting to see water and moat monsters below, but discovered instead that it was apparently being used as a dumping pit for unwanted equipment. A fall from here would be a very ugly experience, I thought to myself as we stepped out onto the catwalk, Kiri and Zyanita in the lead, with Senaria and myself bringing up the rear.
We had traversed perhaps a quarter of the length of the walkway, which was about three feet wide with a single metal rail on each side, when we heard an angry voice from below shout something and the glare of a brilliant torch hit us full on. "Run for it!" Kiri hissed, and we threw caution to the winds as a blinding green streak narrowly missed us and with a crackling hiss sent a cascade of sparks showering down from one of the tanks above.
"Damn! He's got a laser pistol," I heard Zyanita exclaim. A moment later we heard a second voice join the first.
There was another brilliant green flash, and Senaria screamed as the metal decking beneath her gave way, one of its supports vaporized. I barely managed to grab her hand as she fell, and was in turn smashed face down against the decking as her weight yanked me off balance. Just in time my other hand found a hold on one of the railing posts and an instant later I was staring down at her dangling form, as well as the jagged mass of discarded valves and piping a good hundred feet below, feeling as though I were going to be torn in half at any moment. "Hold still, Sen!" I shouted as her terrified writhing threatened to rip her hand out of my grasp.
An instant later I felt an incredibly strong grip on my legs. I glanced back and saw Kiri also lying flat on the deck, her arms wrapped around my legs and her legs in turn wrapped around a post.
"I've got you, Will," she said calmly. "Let go of the railing and take her with both hands." I did as she instructed, and a moment later had Senaria firmly in hand and began pulling her up as Kiri pulled me in turn back from the edge. In a few seconds Senaria was able to wrap her legs around a support and with my help dragged herself back onto the platform, shaking with fright. "Let's get out of here," said Kiri as several more green bolts hissed by harmlessly, and a moment later the four of us reached the doorway.
As luck would have it a lone guard, apparently alerted by the uproar, was just opening the door inward as we arrived. Lunging at it with all her strength, Kiri knocked the door open violently, hurling the unfortunate guard backwards, and a moment later we were inside and out of reach of our pursuers' weapons.
Not out of danger, though, as the guard, nursing a bloody nose with one hand, faced us with sword drawn in the other. I reached for mine, but before I could draw it Senaria emitted a blood-curdling noise, whirled around on one foot, and with the other landed a high kick directly on the unlucky fellow's jaw. He flew across the room and crashed into the far wall with a clatter and lay still, while Senaria, losing her balance, performed an ungraceful stunt fall directly onto her rear. Unlike the guard, she did not remain at all silent, instead emitting a string of epithets that impressed even Kiri as I helped her to her feet.
"This way," said Zyanita urgently, leading us into a hallway and down a stairway. Behind us we heard shouts and the clatter of boots on metal.
Fortunately there didn't seem to be anyone ahead of us, and stopping before a metal door Zyanita announced that this should be the room we were looking for. Opening the door yielded a typical custodian's storeroom, and as soon as we were inside she switched on her torch and closed the door behind us. The passageway proved to be just where the map said it should, located behind a metal cabinet that hadn't been moved in many years, judging from the rust stains it left on the floor as we slid it aside. An almost invisible panel opened easily with a push, revealing a dark void beyond.
We slid the shelving back into place as best we could from inside the passage and closed the panel, hoping that it would delay the searchers at least briefly. I knew that the rust-streaked scratches left behind would tip them off before long.
"Where the hell did you learn that little maneuver?" Kiri said admiringly to Senaria as we made our way along the passage. "I saw it in an Earth movie," she admitted, "and it looked pretty cool, so I practiced it until I got it right. I never thought I'd ever actually use it, though."
"Your follow-through needs work," I said helpfully, and received a vicious glare in return.
To our mounting dismay we soon discovered that the passageway was not a simple tunnel from point A to point B as the map had shown. We found ourselves passing numerous junctions from either side, and eventually reached a fork where either direction looked equally valid. I shook my head and looked at Kiri. She shrugged her shoulders helplessly. Choosing one of the openings at random, we continued on but soon encountered more forks. Apparently there was an entire network of these tunnels under the old plant. Finally I suggested we stop at a small alcove set into the passageway. I could tell Kiri was boiling with frustration.
I unsheathed my sword and dragged it over the floor, which seemed to have a kind of plastic covering similar to linoleum. I was pleased to see that the point left a distinct streak. "I have an idea," I said. "It's futile for all of us to go wandering around like this. I'll explore ahead and see if I can discover which route actually leads somewhere. I can use my sword point to mark my path so I don't get lost."
"That's a good idea," responded Zyanita thoughtfully, "but it would make more sense if Kiri and I went. We know how the map looked, and we might have a chance of recognizing the correct route from the pattern of turns. You stay here with Sen and cover our backs in case someone comes along unexpectedly." I looked at Kiri, and she nodded. I felt uneasy about the whole idea, but reluctantly agreed. A moment later their torches were disappearing down the passageway, trailed by the faint sound of Kiri's sword point scraping along the floor.
For what seemed an eternity Senaria and I waited restlessly in the alcove. I soon found myself pacing like a caged animal, as Senaria nervously chewed on a knuckle. This was accomplishing nothing, I finally concluded, and so I decided to start over and try think things through, out of habit shoving my hands into my jeans pockets. My left hand encountered something small and round, and I pulled it out and examined it absently. This time I recognized it: it was the back or retaining clip for a pierced earring. These must be the same jeans I wore when we first fled Earth, I thought.
Something again tugged uneasily at the back of my mind. I had never seen Kiri wear earrings, and I was positive that her ears weren't pierced (or any other part of her body, for that matter).
Zee, you'll have to take off those earrings. They're a dead giveaway.
Something else surfaced. What was it Kiri had said to her?
I think you're the only friend I have who's never taken a ride in the Futaba. It must be a bit unsettling for you.
They even knew where the Futaba was hidden. How?
Suddenly my blood was running cold in my veins.
"Come on," I exclaimed, grabbing an astonished Senaria by the wrist. I felt panic taking over. We dashed down the passageway, recklessly shining the torch full strength along our path to save time.
"I don't understand," protested Senaria between pants. "What's wrong?" We had gone maybe three hundred feet when a turn in the tunnel answered her question, as we entered a junction with several diverging openings, all of them pitch dark. My torch swung around wildly and came to rest on a still figure in the center of the chamber, lying face down in a ghastly lake of blood. Not even the garish light of the torch could disguise the familiar tank top and cutoffs, or the wild shock of sandy-colored hair.
MIKIRIA. Copyright © 1998, 2000 Lamont Downs. All rights
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