Eels! Or eel-like things at least.. Also, some shooting and running around.
Persephone had timed her entrance to be slightly in advance of the night shift start time. That way she’d hoped to just look like a zealous employee. She’d known that she would probably have to dodge the actual cleaning staff, but hadn’t planned to be sitting on top of the elevator when they arrived. Stairs? Not practical, the top floor was probably card access, alarmed or both. She dropped down into the elevator, walked the stool out and came back. She jumped for the hole in the elevator roof, pulled herself up and cemented her improvised hatch back into place. She climbed the elevator cable to the 6th floor landing, reached into her janitor’s uniform and pulled a telescoping rod off her utility belt. She shook the rod out with one hand and used it to release the interlock on the hoistway doors. The doors were still closed of course, but now she could push them open. She used her feet to achieve that since her hands were busing holding onto the cable and telescoping rod. Her feet kept slipping on the doors, but she was finally able to move them. She adjusted her handholds to put her back to the now open doors and carefully extended her legs until her heels were on the landing. Then she shimmied up as high as she could go while still keeping her feet in place. She pushed off just in time. The elevator was descending leaving her teetering on the edge of a much bigger drop. She hadn’t been too worried about falling initially since the roof of the elevator would have caught her after only one story. Now, confronted with the dark shaft and moving cable she felt queasy. She edged back from the drop.
She was in a hallway with several doors, plastic of course, but with a faux wood grain. They had plaques on them, with enlightening labels like “Conference Room 1”. She tried the handle on the one labeled “Andromeda Spencer, CEO”. She scanned the hallway for cameras. Probably should have done that as soon as she forced her way out of the elevator shaft, but she’d been flustered. There was a camera that covered the entire length of the hallway. No reason to be subtle anymore. She deployed her emp device and the camera crackled, sparked and died. She used her cutter to open a circle in the door, reached through and twisted the handle
Inside there was a spacious office suite containing a glass topped desk and chair surrounded by a vast expanse of oatmeal colored carpeting. Persephone wondered how Ms. Spencer could stand the austerity; no computer, no filing cabinet, not even a pencil holder. The only touch of color came from some lithographs that depicted an H-craft race, an Old Sol rocket launch, and a sunset over a colony mud flat. That last artist had taken some liberties and displayed more oranges and reds then their wan little star usually produced. She reached under the middle drawer feeling for a latch and found a press button instead. That made the surface of the desk light up and request a password. One of her tech contacts had supplied her with a data crystal pass key that she could use to force most operating systems, but she couldn’t find an access port. She resisted the temptation to kick the desk and instead scanned the room again. Her eyes lingered on the racing poster. Was it too obvious to store product schematics behind a picture of said product? Apparently not. There was a safe back there. No time to try automated code cracking, she just packed in an explosive charge, blew the door off, and grabbed for the contents. There was paper and memory crystals. She stuffed them into her uniform, returned to the hallway and ran for the stairs. The elevator dinged behind her. Security had finally arrived in the form of a Jasperite rental cop.
He shouted “Stop!” of course. It was what they were trained to do. She plunged through the door setting off an unnecessary alarm. She took the stairs as quickly as she could while the cop fired at her from the sixth floor landing. Ceramic projectiles shattered on the walls sending sharp bits ricocheting around the stairwell. One of them scored a line on her cheek.
“I’m really slipping here,” she muttered.
“I’m coming in,” Arch said.
“Hell no! I’m coming out.” Persephone was on the third floor, the rental cop on the fourth. He was still showering the walls with composite so she paused just long enough to drop a smoke pellet. The stairway quickly filled with a dense brown fog. She was gratified to hear the guy coughing, but the idiot was still strafing the stairwell. She kept running. The goggles kept the smoke out of her eyes, but she still had to breathe the stuff. It had an acrid hydrocarbon tang and she was wheezing by the time she hit the first floor. She pushed open the door and stumbled into the lobby in a billow of self-generated smog. She dashed for the exit to the courtyard, passing within ten feet of a surprised looking janitor. Must be the guy that Arch had seen going in. He had enough time to say, “Umm. Hey.” Before she was out the door.
The courtyard was swimming in spot lights. Persephone winced and yanked off her goggles. “I’m gonna scale the wall and drop down to the east side. Get the car over there.” She didn’t want to risk going back out though the front security check point. That was the one flanked by the two guard towers. She’d taken three steps before her eyes had fully adapted to the glare. When they finally did, she shrieked. The fountain was full of writhing shapes, they were spilling over into the courtyard. There were so many of them it was hard to make out the individual forms. They were black, shiny, snake-like things that moved with a sidewinder motion.
“Are you getting this?” Persephone asked.
“Your camera’s pointing at the ground.” Arch replied.
She raised her goggles and headed for the eastern wall. The creatures were spreading fast. If she dawdled they’d fill the courtyard and she’d be cut off.
“Guard dogs?” Arch replied.
The swarm swept towards her. “Well. They are homing in on me. Don’t see any eyes though.” Now that they were closer she could make out individuals in the mass. They resembled tube fish, only bigger. Tube fish were native mud dwellers and consisted of a ring of muscle surrounding a channel full of sharp teeth. Different species had tentacles that extended either fore or aft that they used for locomotion and feeding. Anything they grabbed ended up stuffed into their oral channel and would be processed by the rotary motion of their teeth. Tube fish grew to about six inches long. The ones coming at her were ten feet and that didn’t include their terminal tentacles, one of which was groping at her foot.
She fired a grapnel and pulled herself up. The creatures on the near edge of the swarm reared up in concert and flung themselves against the wall. She could feel the tremor of their bodies thrashing down there. She was relieved to see that they couldn’t climb, but they could extend their feeding tendrils well up the wall. She pulled herself up quickly, but still had to saw a tentacle loose from her ankle before she could drop down the other side. The wall behind her looked like it was covered in glistening black vines.
She slipped into the car and Arch started driving. The treads tossed up water from the pavement behind them, but their progress seemed slow and dream-like. She was understandably tired. The elevator, the cop, the monsters. All the running and climbing.
“Note to self. Smoke pellets aren’t great in a stairwell.”
Arch cleared his throat. “Your face is bleeding.”
“Superficial.” She swiped it off with the back of her hand. At least the tread car was warm. Her uniform wasn’t clammy anymore. It had a moist clingy heat and smelled soapy and sweaty. Eau du Janitor, maybe?
“You’re falling asleep.”
Persephone jerked. “No I’m not.” The she shook her head. “We in low town?”
“Yeah. Plan was to drop you off at your apartment.”
Persephone kept two of those, one for an official address and one for emergencies: both cozy and quiet. She couldn’t wait to get out of this car and into a shower. Maybe a cup of something warm first?
She jerked again. “Why are you shouting?”
“Try to stay with me. We’re being followed.”
The tiny rear window was a dark square streaked with rain. There were nothing but central city building’s out there. She was about to say that it was clear, but then spotted a pair of lights on the road behind them. Above those lights there was a third, flashing orange. “Cops. Jasperite or New Regime?”
“I didn’t stop to ask.”
Everything had gone bad after the elevator. She needed a safe place. “Can you get me to the floats?” That was the most peripheral portion of shanty town. The building there didn’t have stilts. They tended to drift and in bad weather, sink. She had friends there.
“We’re driving to Albion. Doctor there can help you.”
“Seriously? You want them to track this back to your company?” She advertised discrete services and had never accidentally or consciously revealed the identity of the people that hired her. But then her clients usually had the good sense to leave her alone to do her job.
“You need medicine. You keep passing out.”
“No. I need sleep,” she said as patiently as she could manage. “You keep waking me up.” She popped the door and then recoiled from the moving pavement. She fumbled wildly for the door handle. Her hand connected and she dragged it closed.
“Don’t do that again.”
The cold and rain splatter had restored some of her wits. “Take me to the floats.”
“You expect me to drive there?” Canals served as streets for the shanty town.
“Just drop me at the docks.”
“You’re in no shape to pilot a boat. What’s the transponder address?” Since the locations in the floats move, each residence or business had a frequency. If you knew it, you could home in on it. Otherwise, it was just a confusing floating mess. She gave him the contact frequency and the next thing she remembered was being lifted out of a boat.
“Japeth?” She muttered. Her friend’s pale face and lank black hair shimmered like a mirage. Only the eyes were steady, worried. Arch and Japeth lowered her onto a pallet.
“The ground’s moving,” Persephone protested.
“Yeah, honey. It does that. Just go to sleep,” Japeth murmured.