<- Chapter Ø9
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‘TALK! START TALKING now!’
‘Sit down or I will be forced to—’
‘Shut up! You won’t shoot, you need me! What do you two know?’
Djalo had woken up, in considerable discomfort, hearing them talking. He stood as he felt, uncertain but angry. Both the D-polic and Garner sat on the floor, the torch pointing upwards at the ceiling.
‘There’s nothing to know.’
‘You! Why aren’t you a proper D-polic? And you, the Five — what do you know about the Five?’
‘The Five is just a myth!’ This voice fell, suddenly anxious, stressed. ‘Stupid, ignorant rumours—’
‘You think I don’t know? You think I haven’t got access to the bloody names of the colony personnel list?’
‘14 months ago, one planet orbital before now. The systems were all ready to change — and they did, successful battery changeover. But five people went missing. Five, including specific Democracy personnel.’
‘That’s not true! No-one, no-one ever...’
‘No-one ever talked because no-one ever knew! The Democracy was far too embarrassed to accept it! Five people go missing without its knowledge? Five people just disappear from the colony, from the surface of the planet? People would think the world was caving in.’
‘Ha! What do you think’s happening now?’
‘Leave him,’ grunted the D-polic, sighing. ‘He doesn’t know anything.’
‘And you, how did you get that polic’s suit?’
‘I am a D-polic.’
‘Yeah yeah, and the rest. It’s no wonder you killed the man on the way in. Damnit, just, what the hell is going on?! What do you two know, or want to know? What do you want — to — know...’
His voice trailed off into silence. He could hear fast footsteps, further down the corridor, coming closer. Fast, heavy steps. No-one spoke. Djalo simply turned to look back down the passage, in the cast-off light of the torch. Garner muttered something, and he and the D-polic scrambled to their feet and began edging further down the corridor.
‘And who the hell is that?’ he whispered.
Djalo found the light disappear, and turned to see them both hurrying on towards a lift. The D-polic pushed the pad next to the doors, and pushed again; somewhere beneath that black armour was anxiety. The footsteps came closer.
‘“Company”? Haha, and you’re a real polic? Why are they following us if you’re a real D-polic, “Traiser”?’ A pause, and a drop in tone. ‘And why can’t you get that bloody lift open?’
‘Traiser? You have access?’
More panicked stabbing on the hard surface, with this dead lift that refused to light up. The black plasteel gauntlet reached down and withdrew the bolt-pistol, raising it to point somewhere towards Djalo, who backed out of its way.
‘I don’t... I don’t understand...’
The footsteps slowed and stopped. From around the last corner stamped an official voice. ‘Stay still. Do not fire. Do not struggle. There is nowhere to go.’
They waited, breathless.
‘Sergeant Traiser, lower your weapon.’
Djalo let out a fraction of a gasp; the polic flashed the torch back down the corridor, and found no-one there, no-one who could see. The polic raised its head to the ceiling. Cameras? thought Djalo. Everything is dead, but they have cameras online.
A gun came round the corner, followed by a D-polic, followed by three more. One was holding a silver case hung round its neck, open and glowing. The lead D-polic led them slowly towards Djalo, who was vaguely relieved to see Garner looked just as frightened as he was.
‘You will give us information about the Crimson Republic.’
A short, stunned silence. Then Djalo burst out laughing, a hollow, fearful laugh.
‘I’m not part of the Crimson Republic! I don’t even know what the Crimson Republic is! Bloody hell, are you that hopeless? Are we done for? Are we all doomed because you haven’t got any idea?’
‘No Mister Stefans,’ spoke “Traiser” beside him, suddenly clear and calm. ‘You will remain still and co-operate willingly with our enquiries. You both have important, uh, serious evidence that points towards the, the Crash...’
‘Sadly Sergeant Traiser you have been decommissioned. You will also remain still and co-operate. This way please — you first, Mister Traiser.’
Djalo looked from one outstretched weapon to the other. The polic known as Traiser twitched, which stiffened the pistol aimed at him mere metres away. It lowered the gun, and crouched to put it on the floor. It turned and handed the torch to Garner, who took it, and stepped forwards towards the patrol. Two of them began to turn, and Garner flashed the torch further behind them, but the captain remained still with the outstretched gun, and turned his head to Djalo.
From the gun on the floor to the captain and back again, Djalo’s glances were frantic. Then he caught something down the corridor Garner’s torch beam had crossed over. He was looking at it now, a little girl with scraggy hair squinting in the light. The polics were looking at her as well, except the captain, who shot Traiser through the arm without looking. The shot brought an ugly grunt from Traiser who fell to the floor, as pieces of flesh and black armour exploded and the clang of the bolt rang off the walls. Djalo let out a yell.
The girl opened her mouth, and roared.
Djalo cried. He cried and cried, and thumped Garner with a tear-stained fist, who also cried. He felt his mind, just like his stomach, dissolving without anything normal to process. Or sane. This wasn’t happening, this wasn’t happening...
‘We h-have to run,’ Garner tried to say, the sounds staggered and gurgled through his sobs. Djalo merely turned to him, as both of them gasped for air pathetically on the floor, crying, and just shook him. ‘Why? Why? What do you know you bastard? What do you know?’
‘We have to go...’
‘What do you know?!’
‘We have to go!’ Garner’s brow was creased like Djalo’s, a horrible mess of lines and sweat and eyes that couldn’t cry the horror out. ‘Please... please...’
They made some struggles against the unhelpful wall, gasping in the heavy, cold air. Once on their feet though they could only stagger so far, Garner’s torch flashing madly and the silver case banging about in Djalo’s vice-like fist. At yet another lift, dead like the last one, they crashed into the frame, Djalo hitting his head on a shameless and unseen bolt in the floor. It was even more primeval down here, with darker, dirtier metal; Djalo suspected they’d passed the small manufacturing sector a long way up. This was getting down into the very base, the black steel guts of the colony. There was no way out, nowhere to go in this maze of cold darkness, dead doors flashing past randomly as they’d hurtled on downwards, downwards, away from, away from...
‘Well?!’ Garner almost screamed, blinking and staring as Djalo retched under the torchlight. ‘Open it! Open it!’
Djalo merely clutched his head painfully, ejecting the case from his hands onto Garner’s knees. Garner’s face fell again, invisible in the dark, so breathing heavily he clawed the case open and spasmodically inserted the cable into the door, anxiety tearing his concentration to pieces. The tears dropped from his rough cheeks onto the green display, as he pressed pads and floundered with codes he couldn’t work. His fumbling became more and more frantic, as the seconds ticked away like hours... he kept turning, flashing the torch back to the lift far down the corridor to see the unthinkable nightmare that was chasing them. He started muttering with his heavy breathing, repeating numbers and codes to himself and to this door that owed him entry. The muttering became gibbering, and almost convulsing in angst he threw the case down on Djalo’s ankles, making the man cry out. Sobbing to himself, he slid down against the door, cradling the heavy torch in his belly; the thick beam of light heaved up and down along the corridor. Djalo turned, clawing himself up from the floor, and wiped the slowing tears from his face.
‘Explain,’ he spat, ‘explain things... the Five...’
‘Get the door open!’
‘Tell me first!’
‘Okay!’ Garner had settled to a steady shivering now, only partly due to the cool air down here. His face looked grim and grief-stricken as he tried to pull his mind together. ‘The Five was a, a, an accident...’ His eyes were scary. ‘The plan was all set out, all ready to go... it was all ready to go...’
‘What was ready to go?’
‘The program! The program!’ Garner looked hard into his eyes, in the cast-off light from the solid beam. For a second he seemed calm, tragic — but then exploded into a panicked, gesturing rant. ‘I was like you once. I held the Democracy up as the pinnacle of everything! It’s great, this great new world! I believed the messages and the, the lies — the propaganda!... I believed it, believed in the “unity” and the “one people” trash.’ He paused to get some breath back, and sniffed. ‘There... there was a program sent through the System. From people who’d had it sent to them, and before them from others, and before them blah-blah-blah, right back to before they even colonised Angkhor Delta. There were videos, transcripts, holograms...’
‘Of what you idiot?!’ Djalo’s hiss was low and angry, while Garner’s was loud and chaotic.
‘Of a different way of life! Of a different way of living. Have you never thought?’ An alien light seemed to flash in his eyes. ‘Have you never thought about how we got here, how we got to where we are? Have you ever thought about where all of this stuff is made? There used to be different planets, different peoples, different nations. Have you heard of a nation? People spoke different languages!’
Djalo couldn’t see Garner any more, not the dark man who’d threatened him in the street. This was a different man emerging. ‘Sounds like a nightmare of conflict and chaos. Division leads to ignorance, and decay—’
‘Oh come on! Think about it, a civilisation of, of variety, of people free to be themselves, free from the constant glare in the back of their heads...’
Djalo paused, and let out a laugh. ‘This is ridiculous. This is just someone’s daydream, some mixed-up rubbish from one of those ancient paganisms. No chip inside people’s heads...? You think the Governor would let you have seen this, this, this trash if it posed any real threat?’
‘This is the point! There was encryption. There was a seal.’ Garner’s eyes were glinting intently. ‘It just sounds like something trivial to you, doesn’t it? This came from on high. It was, it was centuries old, but the authors could see where everything was heading, and it was too late by then, so they hid it, they hid it with an evolutionary encoding system—’
Djalo laughed harder at the words. Garner spoke louder.
‘— so the Democracy couldn’t see it, no matter what they developed they couldn’t trace it. There were no recognition codes. It was all invisible, right to the end.’
‘But the videos? The transcripts? How were you taken in by all that? If this is centuries old, it’d be warped beyond recognition... I mean, who the hell do you think keeps records?’
‘I know what I’ve seen.’
‘You know what you were shown.’
‘It must have been fabricated.’
Garner scrambled, wide-eyed. ‘So? So what if it was? Even if they weren’t real, they were ideas that could be true!’
‘They could never be true you idiot! This is who we are, the same people, the same race. The Democracy controls every — controls everything...’ The sentence disappeared into the self-explanatory darkness. They both looked at each other sharply.
‘Now open that door.’
‘I’m not opening that door until—’
‘I’m not telling you any more until—’
The sharp thud somewhere above them, echoing through the crude steel, halted everything. There were crystal particles of dread in Garner’s eyes, and Djalo’s breathing sped up as he glanced back and forth from the enticing case to the ominous lift down the corridor behind them. The distant whirr of the lift moving brought them back to life.
‘Open the door for hell’s sake!’ Garner shook him. Djalo looked through fearful eyes of his own, and found it hard to tell if anger or terror was tearing the man’s face apart and clenching his fists so tightly. He opened his mouth, just to find nothing was there, all resolve having fled with his last spoken words. The whirring continued as he grabbed the case and typed, panicked and confused and staring at the alien characters of the Democracy, as fast as he could...
The individual ticks of the lift’s machinery were audible, and it slowed down.
‘Please... just open it...’
Djalo didn’t know what to expect in that tiny moment he dared to look round. It was sheer coincidence he’d looked when Garner’s torch had flashed over the lift doors, and that they’d been open. Maybe he’d expected his doom, in the sight of that shapeless demon; as it was, the flash of heaped bodies and harsh shadows was quite enough. Garner collapsed whining into the corner. Djalo was almost frozen, all sane parts of him iced over — only a tiny functioning core that knew danger wasn’t imminent kept him pressing pads, slowly, one by one. His programming skills were considerable, and without them he’d certainly be lost. He knew where they were, and it was only this Democracy case, stolen from that firefight (It didn’t die! It wouldn’t die!) that allowed any kind of access to a place of such high security. The minutes passed by, serene in the new silence laden with horror. He tried not to think about them. About it. But right in front of him the bodies lay watching, out of the corners of their staring eyes, and through their black helmets. He glanced at Garner, who was motionless — in the second-hand light from the lopsided torch, he looked as dead as the rest of them.
Miraculously, after hundreds of mistakes, the door hadn’t shut down in response but stayed online. Perhaps it missed the Electric. Djalo did. He was getting closer, and the possibilities narrowed; as his cold, logical core grew, he thought about “Sergeant” Traiser’s bolt-pistol. He’d feel much safer with a weapon in his hand — even with the monster surviving five blasting simultaneously at it. And his most pressing fear was never escaping from this dank labyrinth. The thing could still be around, waiting beyond these very doors maybe. Somehow, he managed to doubt it. It wouldn’t play such games... well, probably not.
The programming was complete; the flashing display awaited the “send” command. He looked again at Garner’s body, still motionless save for slight breathing. Without worry he lifted the torch out of his loose hands, and stood up, turning to face the waiting, gaping lift at the end of the corridor. He stepped slowly, keeping the beam trained on the random black limbs and lumps; yes, he considered, they were just lumps, meat in hard packaging. But they stayed there unmoving, waiting for his posthumous theft. Some scattered part of Djalo thought they were expecting him. Like they wanted it. Without the lights on, the lift was now a sudden tomb, taken by surprise — and thankfully no demons or terrors jumped out at him standing there, with his shallow, shivering breathing. Without focusing too hard, he looked amongst the shapes of their body suits for the outline of a gun. He found one, and knelt down to prise it from the dead polic’s hand, when he heard a loud “Hah!” from behind.
Of course, craning his neck and turning the torch, he was just in time to see a madly triumphant Garner standing with the case in the open doorway.
He ripped the pistol from the dead gauntlet, and held it firm as he strode back down the corridor towards the living glowing door. Naturally Garner would try and escape (ridiculously the only way he could, further downwards, with an Electric case he couldn’t use), so he’d left a wedge in the door’s programming to prevent it from offlining. He knew the man would be struggling to shut the doors and prevent Djalo following him. Although, having said that, as he raised the torch he found Garner standing still with his back turned. Looking at something. The footsteps only registered when it was too late, and Garner turned in time for the downward sweep of the gun to catch his face. There was a yelp, and he crumpled to the floor whining. But Djalo suddenly had his attention caught by what lay behind. A gantry, a glass lift to one side; and lit up by the faraway light of the torch, the huge batteries of Fortium Rhegardé.