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, then 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 phallic 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 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, time to find 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 about 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.”
“I guess they threw one hell of a party,” said Theseus Armstrong, a dim silhouette in the candlelit basement. It was the sort of comment Chris expected from Lance, but 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 device. “It’s more probable that somebody transferred the power elsewhere.”
Literally, if Chris’s assumptions were correct. He ran his fingers along the edge of the mainframe, searching for the physical release mechanism. With a design that dated back to the First Arcologian Exodus over a hundred and fifty years previous, these two-metre monoliths, which oversaw a building’s construction and regulation, were reliably predictable. Finding the panel he was looking for, he prised it free.
“Just as I thought,” he said. “They didn’t drain the battery: they stole it.”
John peered over his shoulder. “How unusual.”
“I was looking around a house just before that fog got us,” said Chris, peering into the dark void where the battery should have been. “Same story there. Figured it might have been a one-off, but…”
Chris didn’t believe in coincidences.
Spandex went out of fashion about ten years ago. Again. Also, this footnote makes no sense since I edited out the line in question. And no, I’m not explaining it.