Vlad was lost in three turns. And there'd been more than three turns.
He suspected the girl was lost too. It wasn't really dusty, just a faint hint of "unused" about the plain pale gray walls, void of pictures, regularly spaced doors, about half locked. The ones they checked were either empty or full of stacked furniture.
Nastasya looked around, frowning. "We must be in the inner core by now, unless I've gotten turned around. We're going south aren't we?"
"I thought west. Let's just go straight until we find an outer wall." Vlad opened a door . . . "Well, this is a bit different. Looks like a throne room."
He walked in. "That looks like the big chair the movies always show the Founder sitting in."
"Wow!" Nastasya walked in. "I wonder if that's the original one?"
Vlad looked around the room. Here there were pictures on the walls, thick rugs on the floor . . . except the direction the Throne faced. No artwork and the last six feet of the floor was bare apart from something laying on the bare concrete.
A bar of glassy material, two and half feet long, six inches wide and half that deep . . .
Nastasya walked up beside him. "That looks like . . . it can't be a dimensional beacon."
A long pause while they looked at it.
"It's probably just a movie prop that got left behind . . . sometime."
Vlad nodded. "Yeah. But . . . lets find a way out, and then get an expert in to be sure."
She looked around. "And hope we can find it again?"
"Oh." He pulled out his phone. "No reception. That's odd." He stepped out the door. Still nothing. He smoothed down the hairs on the back of his neck.
Nastasya gulped, and half closed her eyes. "Axel, Axel, Axel! You have to be close enough . . . It's important. I think . . . We're on the second floor West wing. It a real maze up here and we found . . . Vlad. I mean, the Senior Detective . . ." She opened her eyes. "Axel's coming. I telepathed him . . . Oh . . . Did I say it all out loud? Oh man! He keeps telling me to practice just thinking the words, but . . ."
"And you're eighteen? I'm impressed. And . . . come with me . . . so if you stood right there at that intersection, the throne room's just down there and around the corner. Right?"
"And I'll go two more corners, and maybe we can flag down your boss."
"He's not actually my boss. Legally, I'm the property of Lord Vladimir's Trust." her voice went a little wobbly on that note.
Vlad winced. Of course. I knew that, I knew she wasn't some other Lord's daughter that I could woo, and marry . . . and see her get a wife chip and stop glowing . . .
She's got an executive chip. So that will never happen. But she's got to be grateful to Axel for somehow . . .
Focus, you idiot!
"So stand right here and I'll go down to where I can flag him down. I hope." And stop being jealous about a girl I met . . . Good grief. This morning?
I hope to hell Dear Uncle doesn't have a collection of dead bodies up here.
Axel looked all four directions at featureless, identical, corridors . . . "A maze, huh? Dimitri? Go get one of those big thick black pens Mr. Solovsky keeps to send me nasty messages."
He grinned and galloped off.
Axel shucked his coat and dropped it in the middle of the intersection and started with the right corridor. At the first cross corridor, he whistled . . . nothing. He walked straight ahead to the next corridor. Whistled.
A faint whistle . . . probably from that way . . . He pulled off a shoe and left it in the intersection. Stumped on. Caught another distant whistle and walked to the nearest intersection to listen. A whistle from the left. He left the other shoe and walked down the left corridor.
He was starting to unbutton his shirt when Dimitri--trailed by the other boys--caught up to him. Barf stopped to mark the wall, and Pauli offered him his coat and shoes. Looking innocent.
"I d-didn't r-realize this was h-how a s-st-strip search worked."
"Pauli . . . Never mind. Let's find our lost cop and see what he and Nastasya found."
Three more corners, and they found the senior detective.
"I swear I should be outside the house by now, and I'm not circling . . ."
Gargarin nodded. "I was afraid to get too far from this thing, for fear we'd never find it again."
"What did you find?"
"I . . . won't give you expectations." He headed down the hallway and around a corner to yet another intersection, with Nastasya standing down a short corridor, then around another corner where they stopped and pointed at an open door.
Axel looked in. A nice little throne room set up using what looked like the orginial . . . he glanced at the end of the room and froze. Skirted the wall and approached it from the side.
A dimensional beacon. A flat rectangular cross-section, unlike the triangular version they manufactured here. A simple on/off switch, no sign of a timer . . .
He backed away and got out his phone . . . no signal.
That's not good!
He switched to video mode and recorded a quick sweep of the room and then a slow scan of the beacon. Clicked off and headed for the door.
"Everyone out of here, right now, follow the arrows out. If anyone asks you, you got lost and we had to search for you. YOU DID NOT FIND ANYTHING INTERESTING! It was just musty old corridors."
"Lord Axel . . ."
"No. I will report this to the right people as soon as we're out of the suppression field. You. Did. Not. See. Anything. Until the right people ask you. You will know who they are." Axel grabbed Pauli and gave him a shove. "Move, all of you. Quickly."
They finally caught on that there might be something serious going on, and hustled. They were well out before he got a signal, and tapped in the emergency number.
"Reporting a possible scout. Igor 55823. Transmitting video." He pushed the right buttons. A long pause.
"Location?" His boss's voice.
"Vinogradov House. West wing, second floor. Entering from the front, take the stairs up to the right."
"Right. Secure the site and witnesses."
"So, how much did you three see?"
Dimitri frowned. "There was a big chair . . . what was down at the other end?"
Pauli and Barf shook their heads. "Everyone else was in the way."
"Excellent. You two disappear. If anyone asks you, just grin and say Nastasya got the head cop all mixed up and lost. Gee, could she possibly have the hots for him?"
They grinned. "Go. Right now. Disappear. Dimitri? You stand right here and point the people who are about to arrive, the right direction, and tell them to follow the arrows. Stay here, there may be several waves of arrivals. Nastasya, and Senior Detective Gargarin, come with me."
He trotted back through the maze, and took a quick look through the door. Nothing happening.
Nastasya gulped. "That, that really is a dimensional beacon? I mean, a working one?"
"Looks like it. Now you two stand up against the wall and look sweet and harmless while I stand out here and hopefully get recognized. By these fellows." Cyborgs in body armor and toting heavy rifles. Running almost silently. He raised his voice. "No action, the civilians are friendlies."
He pushed away from the wall and pointed. "In there." He glared at the girl and the cop. "Stay. Right. There."
He stepped to the door and watched the soldiers check out the room Three with weapons at ready, eyeing the air above the beacon. One running instruments over the beacon, and the last searching the room. A cape over the back of the chair was examined . . . "Spatter cloth lined."
Axel winced. Spatter cloth, woven of thread encompassing millions of short sections of wire was the best way to shield the nervous system from the effects of dimensional portal transit.
He's been Across. And a throne? Dear Uncle is lucky to already be dead.
More movement out in the hall.
Inquisitor Gorbachev, with his boss and more armored guards.
Axel stepped back and let them get a good look at the set up.
His boss eyed him.
"At first guess, Lord Vladimir had developed . . . a desire to supersede the Governor and those unappreciative Councilmen who would never even nominate him, let alone elect him. Hopefully hiring Mercenaries, not speaking to another Alliance World's government."
"Do you have any indication of which?"
"There's somewhere in the vicinity of a million and a half rubles taken from the Historic Trust that is . . . poorly documented as to it's legality. Or final destination."
The Inquisitor looked around. "Mercenaries then. Stupid fool. Like as not they've already sold him to one World or another. We need to find that out. We'll move this entire set up to a secure location and triggered the beacon, see what happens. Witnesses?"
"Senior Detective Gargarin and Miss Nastasya found it and informed me immediately. The boy I set to point you through the maze glanced in the room and spotted the throne, but not the beacon. Two other boys were along, but didn't see anything. Neither 'portal' nor 'beacon' were mentioned in the hearing of the three."
The boss looked back down the hall. "The movers are not going to like this."
Axel shook his head. "The room is clean, and the hallway is dust free the other direction. I suspect a shorter route is available to move . . ."
A faint shimmer above the beacon.
"Clear the room! I'll try to tease some information out of them!"