15: The Gathering Place
“What about that bull at the back door?” she asked, referring to the third peacekeeper, in his heavy, horned armour.
Shuck shook his head. “I cannae tell ye, lass. He’s out of our range. Way he was behaving, though, I donnae think ye have tae worry about him. Not like these two imbeciles.”
A heavy thud shook Alonie’s makeshift barricade as the Sophist peacekeeper crashed into the door. Shelley peeked out of hiding to confirm it was still holding, them ducked back when she noticed Byron emerging from a nearby room. Emily was a step behind him. Alonie glared up at them.
“Thanks for the help,” she said.
“We’re heading for the roof,” said Byron, holding up that Freudian shaft of alchemium rope he liked to carry around with him. “We shall be rappelling down into the alleyway while our Sophist friends concern themselves with the door, if you would care to join?”
“Sounds exciting,” said Alonie. “But I think I’ll take my chances with Shaw and company down in the basement. At least Armstrong can put up a fight.”
Which was true, Shelley had to give her that, but the basement was the last place any of them needed to be. If they tried to escape…
Emily stomped past Shelley’s hiding place with a grumble of discontent and made for the second floor. After a moment’s hesitation, during which Alonie gave him her best one-eyed-death-dare, Byron followed.
“Idiots,” grumbled Alonie. “C’mon, Algar, let’s reunite you with your boyfriend.”
With a strength that belied her slim frame, Alonie hoisted the tall young man to his feet and started across the hallway towards the basement door at the back of the house.
Then something cracked, a violent, splintering cry that set Shelley’s hairs on end, and the front doors buckled under the peacekeeper’s might. With a guttural roar, he charged through Alonie’s barricade and into the hall, like some wild bull clad in metal. No doubts whose armour he was after.
Alonie stood there, frozen in place. “Hey,” she said. “That’s no way to impress a lady.”
“You are no lady,” sang the voice of the seer, gliding into the room as if she were a queen come to gloat over the spoils of war. “Mr Grantham, see to the ones cowering in the basement. I shall handle this little girl myself.”
“Give it up,” said Theseus Armstrong, a dim silhouette in the candlelit basement. “That thing’s deader than day-glo spandex.”
Chris grumbled under his breath. He didn’t like the idea of giving up. He’d told Theseus and his crew that he could get the generator up and running again. “But it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “These things are supposed to last at least a quarter-millennia, and this model can’t be more than fifty years old.”
“Well maybe they threw one hell of a party,” said Theseus. It was the sort of comment Chris expected from Lance, but at least Theseus said it with a knowing sense of humour.
John Smith, however, wasn’t one for jokes. “Unlikely,” he replied from the other side of the control console. “It’s more probable that somebody transferred the power elsewhere.”
Chris knelt down and searched for a panel at the base of the system. Uniform in design, these things were responsible for a building’s initial construction and, afterwards, its regulation. In many ways, they were much like the control centre he had visited earlier that day, although on a much smaller scale. It was archaic technology, but reliable. Chris found the panel he was looking for and removed it.
“I don’t think they drained the battery,” he said. “I think they stole it.”
John peered over his shoulder. “How unusual.”
“I was looking around a house just before that fog got us,” said Chris. “Same story there. Figured it might have been a one-off, but…”
Chris Shaw didn’t believe in coincidences.
Spandex went out of fashion about ten years ago. Again.