Chapter Thirty Three
He slept well enough and in the morning his skin had recovered from the nerve scorch. A big breakfast and a fruitless mental search for the zivvy, or the cold storage.
It must be on the far side of the Citadel.
The Cyborg collected him and he spent four hours focused on microscopic structures that could be carefully flexed, combined, layered . . . he could manipulate the hell out of them . . . but he couldn't transform them into the pseudo-life that was the utility and horror of zivvy.
"Do you have any of the old 300 that I can talk to? Who can tell me what they were visualizing, how much energy they were putting where?"
Orkov growled. "No. We could not risk the Plague escaping to poison all the rest of us."
Axel swallowed. "You . . . really did weld the doors shut?"
"Yes. So you had better get back to work."
Axel nodded. "May I warm this precusor up, and see if it responds differently?"
The Grand Executioner shrugged. "Go ahead."
Axel fiddled with the controls. Then climbed to his feet. "I am going to get a drink and snack while it is warming up, and then start again."
Didn't do a bit of good.
Orlov snorted and walked away with his entourage.
No one in range but the Police Cyborg with the collar.
Axel stayed on the floor, rested for a long moment, gently and gradually building up power. And oozed just a little power into the precursor and imagined that slithery, silvery feeling he'd always gotten from zivvy . . . and felt the change, the glow of zivvy in the chest, spreading like a contageon.
Feelings triumphing over scientic experimentation. Figures.
He gathered more power and focused heat into the chest until the feeling went away. Completely. Then heated it more, just in case.
He hauled himself weakly to his feet.
The Cyborg snorted. "Thought you were just going to sit there until you fell over dead."
"I'm not dead sure, but you may be the first Cyborg I really want to just punch in the face."
He staggered back to a snackbar just down the hall for a sweet drink and salty chips, before he could even walk the rest of the way to his apartment prison to collapse before dinner.
Shit. I can make zivvy. I'd better get out of here tonight. Just in case Orlov's techs can diagnose degraded zivvy, rather than damaged precursors.
"Meadow? Why are you here? I mean, in this apartment, that has no clothes for you?" He drained the juice and decided he couldn't possibly eat another bite.
She squirmed. "They came to the kitchen to take a cook for the new man. That's what they always say."
"And . . . once the new man has flunked his ten tests, they send the cook back?"
Big-eyed terror. "They never come back."
Shit. What's wrong with these people?
"Where's this kitchen you came from?"
"In the Citadel. The Palace. The basements." She eyed him nervously. "We cooked for the 300. Servants would come and get food for their masters, who mostly ate in their apartments. There were restaurants, too. We cooked for them."
Axel digested that . . . along with the last bite of cake.
"Are you still cooking for people in the palace. Are any of the 300 alive?"
"Fifty-two of them. I don't think any of them have power any longer."
"I thought they welded the doors shut."
That got a shrug out of her. "The obvious ones."
Axel tromped hard on a desire to boggle . . .
"Do the people out here know that you are still feeding people in there?"
A wrinkled brow. "They call us to send food, we use the underground tunnels to deliver it to the restaurant in Office Tower Two. Maybe they don't realize the kitchen is under the Palace. Only a couple of Cyborgs ever actually come to the kitchen."
"Huh. They just think there must be a kitchen closer, or something." Axel thought that over. "And the frozen food and green houses? Do you use tunnels to get to them as well?"
"And are there tunnels to this building?" He pointed down.
"And . . . the fifty-two surviving . . . no-longer-mentalists? I think I would like to talk to them."
Her eyes widened. "But the plague!"
"Hmm, yes, there is that." He turned and eyed the windowless walls of the apartment. Outside hallways with windows, inside, whole apartments with no windows. Gee, how familiar! Great grandfather can't have been agoraphobic, else the hallways wouldn't have windows. Maybe he was just insane.
Axel closed his eyes and felt out toward the neighboring apartments. I don't feel anyone there.
"I'm going to take a nice long nap. After midnight . . . Let's go exploring."
At one in the morning he slashed a big hole in the back wall of the bedroom and stepped through into another abandoned apartment. Three apartments later he had better fitting clothes in dark colors. Left behind a Cyborg sleeping off the effects of a short term memory wipe.
Meadow looked more frightened than ever, but followed him through walls, and then led him to the stairs. It was about fifty feet down to the tunnel system, where the girl flitted off through a clearly labeled maze of well lit corridors branching off in all directions.
After an estimated half-mile walk, they came to a huge bank-vault style door. Set in a three foot wide jamb with a raised threshold . . .
"This is the wall of the palace, the real citadel, isn't it?
Meadow nodded uncertainly.
The smell of yeast and bread rising . . . and a few people peeking out of the door down the hall.
"So whoever ordered the doors welded didn't know about this one. And no one even closed it?"
Meadow eyed the door nervously. "They say that's because once locked only one of the 300 can open it again."
Axel eyed the square on the wall. Hand print reader. Great-grandfather entered me into the security system here . . .
He walked over and stretched his hand out on the plate. Of course, I was twelve. Grandfather won't have given me much--if any--authority. If the system will even recognize my adult handprint.
The screen lit, under his hand and he jerked back.
AXEL IVAN VINOGRADOV
(3)DOOR OPENABLE ONLY FROM INSIDE
(4)DOOR OPENABLE ONLY FROM OUTSIDE
Axel grinned and tapped the third option. Looked at the wide-eyed Meadow. "I think, if you need to close the door, you can open it again from inside, but no one can get in from outside."
"Might need to toss some oil on the hinges. It could well be centuries since the door was moved."
"N-no. They used to test it."
"Well . . ." He grabbed the door and heaved. Damn thing must weigh . . . a soft purr of motors and the door swung shut. A metallic scrape.
DOOR CLOSED AND LOCKED:
(2)UNLOCK AND OPEN DOOR
"Meadow? Tap the two."
She edged up nervously, the other servants staring out the doors.
She touched the two. A metallic scrape. The door swung ponderously open.
The screen blanked.
"Right. If you need to, close the door."
He walked past the door--doors--to the big kitchen that stretched along on side of the hall. On the other side, doors with temperatures displayed.
A few cold, most below freezing.
"So where would I find the last of the 300?"
"They live on the other side, they sealed the doors to the Council Chamber, so the Plague wouldn't get out. They told us to not open any of the doors to the stairways, except the furthest one . . . and only use that elevator. We mostly go the long way around, by the green houses."
"Sounds like a good idea. Lead on."
The green houses were huge. And underground, built like bunkers under thick transparent . . . probably not glass. All off a long corridor with one transparent wall. He squinted down the length the second green house to the far wall, large garage type doors. "Are those doors to the outside?"
"No Mast . . . Boss. They go to the next green house, there are four in every line. Then there are doors to the outside, but they don't open them anymore."
Two or three acres each, maybe? He counted as they walked along. Twelve lines of four? Over a hundred acres under intense cultivation. They couldn't feed a city, but they could certainly stretch out frozen or canned supplies a long time. And if there's any cultivation on the surface--didn't she say something about vinyards, not to mention the chickens and goats?
They're better prepared than Siberia Max, well, depending on how may people survived the massacre that followed the attack.
He admired the lush growth of the last greenhouse, the lights dimming as the sun peeked over the horizon to replace them.
But then Meadow turned away from the greenhouses and headed back into the steel tunnels. To an elevator.
"It only comes when we're bringing food . . . I don't know if . . ."
Axel put his hand to another plate. It flashed green and a button with an up arrow lit. He pushed it and motors hummed.
Meadow followed him in and pushed the 7 button.
Moments later the doors opened to a large open room. The elevator was roughly in the middle of the base of a horseshoe shaped room. A solid sweep of probably-not-glass around the whole of the arc, tables and chairs, couches, TVs . . .
Here on the flat side, serving counters for food, bathrooms, hallways back out of sight, and rapidly approaching footsteps, lots of them.
Men started emerging from both sides, some still pulling the purple robes of office into place, as they formed up into an arc in front of him. Three men stepping into place in front.
Gathering power, and glowing with Talent.
Axel bowed. "I see that rumors of the death of the 300's power are inaccurate."