SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS — snippet 50

 

SLOW TRAIN FROM ARCTURUS – snippet 50:

 

 

            "We're not going to find him, if the Force can't," said Lani, dispirited, when they paused in a quiet corridor. "I think we need to split up. At least that way we can cover more ground, and if I'm caught, you won't be implicated."

            "That might be true," admitted Dr.. Geriant. "But I was planning on using you, and your ability to look and act the part to get Kretz and me to the airlock."

            "It won't work," said Lani. "They've stationed officers at my home, and at the airlock he came in. They're expecting him to head there."

            "That wasn't the airlock I had in mind," explained Amber. "There is the forward one. You could take us to that."

            "I'm sorry," Lani said with genuine guilt. This woman had helped her, after all. "I've got to find Howard first. I'd gladly help you if I could. I'd even gladly go with you, but it wouldn't work. There are alarms on the airlocks. It's part of the original system."

            The Chief Microbiologist slapped her own cheek. "Of course! I didn't think of that. Don't worry about the alarm. I have the system codes… but, aha! We can ask the system if this Howard of yours been detected by any of the machines in the system."

            Lani blinked. "You can do that?"

            "Oh, yes," the scientist said casually. "It's quite possible. All I need is an approximate weight—you say that he's very large?" she said, opening up a portable computer and linking with the web.

            Lani gaped at her. "Do you know how easy that would make police work, Dr.. Geriant?"

            The woman scientist raised her eyebrows and smiled wryly. "Call me Amber. Yes. That's why I never pointed the idea out to anyone. Now, how much would guess he weighs? Approximately?"

            "About… I don't know, two hundred and fifty pounds?" said Lani.

            "We'll try that. There are a few women in that bracket, but it does make the search narrower." She looked at the screen. "Ah. Two hundred and eighty-three pounds, moving here, at a speed of fifteen miles per hour. Let's get some more detail…. Good grief. There are four of them, on a pipe-maintenance machine, heading inward to the core, toward sector Zed Alpha 32. That's one of the damaged sections."

            "Four? He's been captured?"

            She looked at the screen and tapped something in. "The other three weigh less than one hundred pounds each. Males, at a guess. No, I would say that he's with some of the runaways."

            "We need to rescue him!" said Lani, starting the scoot. "They're dangerous!"

            Amber looked at her, very squarely. "To us, yes. To him, no. He's quite safe, except from being caught by one of the patrols that the force periodically sweep those areas with. We aren't."

            Lani shook her head. "We don't know that he's safe. Look, there are only three. I can deal with three easily enough."

            "And then?" asked Amber.

            "And then I'll help you get to the airlock, and out of here. I think… we might have to go too," said Lani, quietly. "It doesn't sound too bad, back where he came from. Let's go."

****

            Amber had to smile at the child. She was pretty, but really not her type. Too large and Juno-esque by half. Lani had absolutely no idea what anything outside her own environment was like, but she was plainly so cockstruck that she was ready to leave Diana. Well, it suited the rest of them. Amber wasn't going to point out, just yet, that “back” to her Howard's habitat was not going to be possible.

            Instead she engaged the transmission of her car, and they went up, corewards, heading into lower G and areas that showed definite signs of breakdown. The lighting had gone in a number of places, and so too had the irrigation network and with it the plant life.

            It made sense to concentrate the system's resources on the working areas, she supposed, but this was alarming. In downtown Diana one forgot that there was a problem. This was not an area that anyone lived in these days, but it had been very popular up to a hundred years back as a retirement haven for the elderly. Less strain on the heart, and on old joints. Now it was the sort of environment where only the brave or the foolhardy went without a police escort. And not just one policeman, either. Preferably about twenty.

            Well, she had a few surprises for any troublemakers, if the worst came to the worst. They possibly wouldn't be enough to help. Unlike that young woman, she was not a fighter.

            She continued to track the pipe-maintenance engine, until it stopped. A door to the arterial opened… and Amber that realized she should have watched the surrounding area more carefully before coming to a stop.

            There were a good number of people in the shadows. People and the gleam of steel.

            It was amazing how much less attractive a life of adventure suddenly seemed.

****

            Howard had found the ride on the back of the pipe-checking machine an education, not only in how the work might be done mechanically but also in how men—runaways—had adapted their lives around the system. They used what the women running Diana ignored. It appeared that they'd learned the schedules of these machines, and used them rather like Lani used the trolley-bus system out in the open. The runaways also plainly had more contact with the kept males than the women rulers realized. They knew who he was, and that he'd escaped—and that he was being searched for.

            "We get traitors and spies, sometimes," said the leader of the three men, a swarthy-skinned fellow with a gap between his teeth. It was hard to see more in the dim light that shone from the instrument panel. "But you're probably all right. How did you know about the hidden ways?

            It took Howard a while to figure this one out. The doors to arterials weren't obvious—unless you know what you were looking for. "Among the brethren they are not a secret," he explained.

            Apparently his explanation was less than clear. "Who are the 'brethren'? Have they told any women?" asked the scar-faced one, worriedly.

            "You are quite safe," reassured Howard. "The brethren are the people of New Eden. My habitat." He was proud of that word. "I am the first man to come from there to here. Women do not rule there. God does."

            "Is he a man?"

            Howard was spared having to answer this one by the pipe-checker slowing down. "Time for us to get off," said the gap-toothed leader. 

            They jumped, and, with a small flashlight, gap-tooth led them to the door. "Welcome to the kingdom of men," he said sardonically, opening it.

About Eric Flint

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