The exit to the surface was cut into the native stone in a steep spiralling tube like an oversized worm tunnel. After eight hundred years of increasingly rare use, the notched steps were worn and unrepaired. Philey hadn't checked them since the earthquake, but Ice Cap South hadn't had the kind of damage the natural caverns of the north were experiencing.
Philey turned its back on the steps and held its hand light up to the rough stone wall on the left. It took a moment's scrutiny, but it spotted the two indentations to push, the rough spot to pry at, and the door popped loose.
"Warm!" Wef's eyes were bright and happy. "I can't believe you never showed us your secret passages."
Ylany glared at him, "It couldn't tell while Ambassador L'azlod was around!"
"Yeah." Del echoed, wiggling ahead to look through the door.
Philey ushered them through and closed the door behind them. From this side the latches were obvious. The "modern" metal staircase led a hundred strides down to the warehouse district that was just to the east of the Cut, and some ancestor of its had bored a hole down for a private connection, probably for the same purposes its father had used them for. At the bottom of the stair shaft, a long tunnel slanted down to the east. It ended in a door, concealed on the other side, in Metini L'aslod's office.
"Now, be absolutely silent." It breathed a warning to its friends. "See the light coming through the pinholes? That means some one is probably there. A criminal, probably a bad one. We can hear him, and he can hear us."
Philey doused her light and crept up to the door. There were peep holes. It could hear Blozolli C'dasl talking through the thin spots that let sound pass easily. Ugg. Father's right claw in 'the business', and as slimy a worm as it had ever even read about. It had to stand on its toes to see through the holes. The other claimed holes of their own. Their breathing sounded loud to Philey, but the lizards in the room didn't seem to hear them.
Blozolli was talking to a couple of tough looking pseudofems it vaguely remembered. " . . . so, they've stewed for four days. I don't know why Metini thought we should wait for him to get back. I think it's time to contact them. From another city. Cimmi Cliffs, I think."
"Maybe West Plateau would be better," the brassy colored fem suggested. "You don't want them thinking internationally, do you?"
"West Plateau is large enough to get lost in." The faintly tan and gold striped fem spoke up. "And since they've probably started looking in Ice Fire and are working outward from there, the West Plateau cops may not have even been alerted."
Blozolli nodded his agreement. "Good thinking Eio. So, you and Zabo will be in charge here while I'm off negotiating. Keep a lid on Aularde, and don't let Bere or that old nuisance that follows him around off the premises. I don't know why Metini keeps those idiots around."
"No problem. We're loaded up with food, beer and vids. They all think they're wet and warm. Naghe and Llandho are trustworthy enough to run errands, and if the Imps decide they need proof, one of us will bring you a finger or two, personally."
Philey jerked back at that. "Finger or two?" it mouthed silently. Its friends were wide eyed as well, but excited rather than truly scared. They didn't understand the reality of the situation.
Blozolli laughed, from the other side of the door. "It won't come to that, and make sure the guards don't drink too much. They need to be alert. Now, do you have any more questions? No? Then I'm going to pack. See you in two days, most likely."
Philey waited until the lights were switched off and the office door closed before it popped the latch and let them into the office. It quietly locked the door before turning on the lights. Blozolli hadn't made any changes to L'azlod's office, including, it quickly found out, not changing any of its father's computer security codes. Checking for recent activity, she found that Blozolli had been researching Icefire Met's transit system. Not surprising if they'd kidnapped someone there. "Finger or two. Yech!"
The wide-eyed trio had been watching silently, and now took that for permission to speak.
"Who are they talking about? What are they doing?" Wef demanded.
"Whose fingers, is what I want to know." Put in Ylany.
"Yeah," said Del.
"Wow." Wef sounded awed. "Should we help them? Eh, not with the fingers."
Philey scowled, then reluctantly shook its head. It knew its father's helpers too well. "You don't understand how bad they are. I may even have to talk to the police. Twenty generations of L'azlods will spin in their graves."
"Philey!" Wef was aghast, "He's your father."
It snorted cynically, "I don't know him very well, but I know him too well to think he's a good lizard." It hissed tiredly. "I know how ugly this could get. You guys better stay away for awhile."
"No Sandy Way!" Ylany yelped, then shot an alarmed look at the door.
It closed down the comp, unlocked the door and turned out the light. "I need to think before I do anything. C'mon." The climb back up the stairs would take enough time to get a good start on that thinking. It closed the hidden door carefully behind them and started up the ramp.
By the third day, Trev was ready to scream with boredom. The total lack of privacy would have been bad—if they'd ever bothered to give him more than an occasional cursory glance.
He had a big plastic jug of water, a plastic bag in a bucket for the unavoidable, a blanket and a pad on the floor. Three meals a day, mostly finger food passed through the bars in a napkin, generally with a beer. That had surprised him, somehow. But it seemed to be all these guys drank, so maybe it was all they had on hand. He tucked half the beer bottles under the blanket. And no one seemed to want to examine the plastic bag he tied and handed out twice a day, even to count the beer bottles.
The eight guards split up into three shifts, Zabo and the other competent pseudo fem each took one of the day shifts, Zabo partnered with a pseudomale she called Naghe, which was enough to identify them as two of the three B'thon siblings. The missing one was the most dangerous, and the only one Trev had actually met . . . in a different time line.
He kept to his Union accent, but none of them showed the slightest doubt. Sand it.
The huge powerful speckled male was here then as well, but the siblings pretty much kept him busy elsewhere. The other pseudo, called Eio, presumably the Eio L'heid that graced lists of L'azlod's criminal associates, had two partners, a pseudomale she called Rosne or S'feld, and a pseudomale every one called Highland. The last two nights, he'd been guarded by the short one and his ancient sidekick. Nobody had used their names in his hearing, but then he'd been laying down pretending to sleep. He was well acquainted with the REM end of L'azlo's organization—give or take the changes due to a time paradox— but the criminal organization Trev knew only from reports. The vater powder that Metini had grown and manufactured in Sun Town had been concealed from the REM types there. 'Traveler' had known of the vater but not had a part in its distribution, in either time line.
This morning he pretended to restlessness. Wandering back and forth, pulling out a beer, then putting it down.
Naghe kept a sharper eye on the beer than on him. Their supply must have run out.
"Are you going to drink that or not?"
"Hey," he snapped. "You want it, come and get it."
Naghe got up and grabbed the key from the peg.
"No, no, no!" the pseudofem grabbed it from him and tucked the ribbon in her pocket, the key dangling tantalizingly. "Don't take the key near him!"
The guard gaped in astonishment for a millisplit, then collapsed laughing. "You think that I can't handle a spoiled city boy? Ha!" He reached the cage and held out a hand. "Gimme that beer."
Trev plunked it into his hand and snaked his other arm between the bars and grabbed the pseudo's cheek flair, claws crooked and digging in. He jerked him forward trying to slam his face into the bars, with fair success. The pseudo yelled in pain, reaching through the bars for him, giving Trev the opportunity to slam his fist into his ribs. The fem ran up and grabbed his hand, trying to loosen his grip on her brother. Without looking, Trev's free hand slipped out and grabbed the key, pulled gently . . .
The pseudomale jerked back with a snarl, careless of the blood and scales he left behind on Trev's claws. Trev retreated to the far side of the cage as two more of the guards pounded up the stairs.
The pseudomale turned on them, "Go away, there's no problem here." He stalked to the head of the stairs to glare, and no doubt awe them with his indifference to the blood dripping down his neck and chest.
Trev wasted no time, there was no way the fem was not going to notice . . .
He made it to the cross corridor before he heard the bellow behind him.
"He got the key!"
He ran, looking for a way up. Or down. Or sideways. As he passed a pile of empty boxes he tossed the key in. Unlikely they wouldn't have another, but any inconvenience . . . because he had a nasty feeling he wasn't going to get away.
The nasty feeling solidified as he rounded a corner and bounced off Huge Speckles. Trev reversed, tried for a kick to the ribs, but had lost his forward momentum. Then he heard a faint buzz from behind him.
He awoke with a splitting stunner headache. In the cage.