It was midnight before they packed it and left. Vlad lingered until the servants all reported that the Stutts were all gone.
He drove home through a late heavy snow, to a quiet house.
His head hurt, and he had a vague memory of pulling up shields as that guy who'd followed him into the store pulled power, a glimpse of another as he turned . . .
Yeah, that feels like at least two stun spell. I'm surprised they didn't manage to turn my brain to mush . . .
Very slight movements confirmed that both hands were strapped down to this bed he was on. A stab of pain as he lowered shields . . . people to either side, feeling fuzzy. Nothing like an alert guard, but then they'd probably be shielded.
A general all-over flexing of muscles.
Not injured, feet not very restrained, if at all.
My head is cold.
No . . . if they'd already chipped me, I wouldn't be able to feel the other people.
And old lecture surfaced. "For the first twenty-four hours the zivvy wires grow randomly through the subdrual cavity. The chip continually analyzes where the wires are and prioritizes zivvy to the most desireable directions. The second day is when the wires turn and penetrate the brain, again prioritizing the important areas . . ."
If I've been chipped, I have less than twenty-four hours to get to one of the places I have stashed to zivvy disolver. After that, my mentalist abilities will be blocked, and I'll be wide-open to interrogation.
An impression of strong minds approaching.
He shielded as hard as he could. Laid limp.
A loud thump of doors.
". . . Fucking illegal chipping! No One. NO. ONE. HAS. THAT. AUTHORITY!"
The Boss to the rescue, in time or not?
"Oh, damn." Right next to him.
Too late. Damn.
"I am going to . . ."
Axel parted his lips and spoke as quietly as possible. "Shut up or you'll wind up in the bed next to me. Got a knife?"
The briefest of pauses. ". . . speak to those worthless ingrates." A sense of shifting movement. "So, Doctor Petukhov. Did you at least have the decency to install a wife chip? No? Of course not. So the Emergency Committee will have all our secrets."
A snort. "From a Layabout Traitor?"
"You have no idea what you've done. And never will."
A bit of metal slipped into his hand, warm, as if from a pocket.
And more quietly, "Damn, Axel. I always knew you lived dangerously, but this isn't the end I expected, old friend. I'll think of you every morning." And barely asperated, "Independent actions authorized. No limits."
I hope I can live up to your expectations, Boss.
Footsteps retreated. He softened his shields carefully. No alert people around.
The metal in his hand was a pocket knife. Open. He bent his wrist and sliced through the restraint. Reached across his bare chest slowly, stayed under the thin blanket so as to not set off the motion detectors hospitals used to alert them to patients waking . . . Freed his other hand.
Switched the knife to the other hand, loosened tape and pulled the IV. Stuck it in the mattress, wadded the sheet and applied pressure. And waited for a victim.
And his headache was not itchy pain from zivvy wires growing.
How long since the surgery? What time is it?
The thud flap of the door to his left. Heavy footsteps the stopped beside him. "Stupid little traitor! They ought to have just killed you, instead of wasting zivvy on halfbred Livestock."
Axel opened his eyes a slit. Heavily built man. White shirt and red tie, white lab coat, with a name tag. Chief Surgeon Lord Ivan Petukhov.
The man turned away, and Axel shifted his feet, limbs stiff and heavy, but fast enough to get him up as the doctor started to turn.
One arm around his neck, haul him back to a convenient spot beside the bed. Other arm around, a hard twist and jerk.
The sudden limp weight staggered him, but he leaned him in against the bed, and held him while he stripped off the coat, the tie, unbuttoned the shirt and got it off. Unbuckle the belt, drop the trousers. Let the torso fall back on the bed and still had trouble getting rest of him up there.
God only knows how much of how many drugs I'm full of.
He pulled the blanket up and over the doctor's head, and got dressed. Hunted and found the pocket knife. "Hope you don't mind me putting a hole in your belt, Fatso. And I really wish you had bigger feet."
He looked around. A row of beds up each side of the long room. Only five others occupied. Three betwween him and the big double doors at the end of the room, two on the other side of his bed. He fumbled his way through tying the tie, struggled into the coat.
Fine muscle control seems to be getting worse.
He staggered down to the double doors and pulled one open and crack. No one in sight. He looked the other way. Women in blue uniforms, a big laundry cart, the handles of mops and brooms sticking up. He opened the door and walked away from the women as steadily as he could manage.
Lots of closed doors. All numbered, some with names. Single doors a dozen feet apart on his left. Double doors with wide spacing on his right.
Ahead the hallway made a right turn, and dead ahead, an open door.
So, Dr. Petukhov, did you rank a corner window?
According to the name plate, yes. Axel walked confidently across to it, a glance down the hall was a security guard. Ordinary type Cyborg.
Axel ignored him and closed the office door behind himself. Surveyed the room. Big desk. Two windows, black night, snow blowing past, briefly showing in the light from the windows.
Big desk, credenza, book shelves, visitor's chairs. Coat rack with a heavy coat and furry cap with ear flaps. I'm almost sorry I killed you . . . well, no, I'm not. Never mind.
He circled the desk. A quick search turned up a wallet. ID, transit pass, and cash cards. The phone on the desk flashed the time when he touched it.
Twenty-one twenty. Not too late.
The door opened, and the Cyborg guard looked in.
:: The doctor's assistant, tidying up. ::
The guard nodded and withdrew.
Axel slung the heavy coat over one arm and put the furry cap on his head. Headed down the direction the guard had come from and attempted to stride out confidently. Or at least keep to a straight line.
The corridor to the left had a few open doors, movement well down it. More lights at what looked like an intersection.
This'll be the hard part.
He walked down the hall, the intersection to the left had large glass doors to the outside. A few late workers leaving. Guards nodding politely, bored.
Axel slung on the coat as he neared, Let a bit of the ID tag show as he pulled the earflaps down and walked out the door into the snow.
Or maybe that was the easy part. Now I need to figure out where I am and what bus I need to take.