He reached diagonally ahead and to the right and there it was. Just fifteen feet away. Steel frame and concrete. All he needed was to find a door . . .
:: Too bad you can't make a tunnel into the basement. ::
:: No one loves a smart ass. Especially when he's right! ::
He searched for people and found no one in that part of the basement. So a nice big oval slash and step back smartly . . . And pull . . . and brace oneself before doing that again . . . The oval sucked reluctantly away from the dirt behind and fell.
He danced (flailing to keep his balance) out of the splash zone, then stepped up to start pulling out cubes of dirt and compacting the sides and overhead. Water running everywhere as it squished out . . . it was a relief to get to the gravel around the concrete. That was at least usful to spread out over the muddy floor of his tunnel. Then blocks of concrete . . . to reveal the backs of plastic crates.
He pulled three out into the tunnel, and slithered through onto the shelf where they'd rested and thumped down onto the floor. No alarms, no glows of people. He reached further, felt the portalmaker and headed that direction.
Nine-thirty. Half an hour till break time, and then I hope to hell I can find my way back here.
In fact it shouldn't be difficult. The Stutties were very organized, with clearly labled hallways north-south by numbers and east-west by letters and closed and locked rooms with numbered doors . . . Concealment on the other hand was going to be difficult, what with his rather well slimed camos . . .
I probably smell like a swamp. And I'm leaving a trail of mud . . . He backtracked, scraping the floor, and once back in his starting room, scraped down his boots and wiped the camos a bit.
He was still a pretty grungy workman as he walked off.
He headed south until he found that wall, east until he found the doors blocking egress to the "Stem" of the T-shaped building and the portal maker.
Lots of people on the other side, ten feet away.
The locks opened easily enough, the alarm box was on his side and was easily disabled. He eased the door open a crack, ran his minicam probe through to scan . . . a hall, the opposite wall with glass windows from halfway up, people facing away from him, intent on their screens. One man walking down the hall . . . walking past without noticing the door was ajar . . . opening a door giving him a glimpse of something that might be a stairstep.
Axel closed his eyes . . . Portalmaker that way . . . right up those steps and maybe twenty feet further. A glance at his watch. Ten fifteen.
They should have closed the portal . . . looks like they're trying to get a few last vehicles through . . . He felt a slight change in the mental undercurrents, mostly from above and over a bit. There, now it's shutting down. The portalmaker just let go and they stopped the pain prods.
I'll give then ten minutes . . .
He started as the alarms blared.
He pulled power and walked out. Across the hall, evryone was heads down at their computer screens, so he ignored them and hit the stairs. Opened the door on the first floor carefully.
". . . don't see how that was possible! Portalmakers can't just disappear."
A second voice cutting over, loudly. "They say there was a hole in the floor, they got him out through the basement."
Much thumping of feet.
"There's no hole and the little creep is right where he belongs."
"So search the basement. First, then we'll search the rest of the building."
Oh Hell. Security guards will be all over the building . . . But a whole lot of them are right here . . .
He stepped through the door and threw a hard stun spell over a wide angle . . . two more narrow stuns across the room to hit two men who'd been out of range . . .
He stepped over limp bodies, jumped over the last into the control room. Everyone was down here, including the portalmaker in his open coffin.
A few seconds to cut wires and tubes and haul him out, a slimy, awkward, hundred and twenty pounds. Axel stripped a white lab coat off the nearest man the wrapped it around the portalmaker for a better grip, and got him over his shoulder . . . down the stairs.
Another hard stun down the hallway, then out the still-unlocked door and into the gray hallways. Fast march down one block, over one block, down one block . . .
Echoing voices behind him, and he tried to pick up the pace. Get all the way over, then turn for the back, and he set a light effect of foggy gray behind him as he panted down the last stretch. The sound of a shot. Yells to not shoot.
Yeah, don't kill your portalmaker!
He staggered up to the last door and half fell through. Locked it behind himself, and staggered to the gap in the shelves. Slid through and hauled his limp victim through after him.
Grabbed the plastic containers and replaced them.
Dragged the portalmaker through his tunnel to the stormdrain, then got him across his other shoulder and started down the slippery channel.
:: Anything I can do to help? :: Leon, trying to be quiet.
:: Do you see the button to pop the trunk. Pop it. ::
Was that only three manhole covers? Damn. Should have tried to park closer . . .
Heard echoing voices behind him and put up an illusion behind him of the empty pipe in front of him. Every time he passed under a manhole cover, he could hear the sirens. Various sorts and loudness, and as he came up on the right manhole, the deep throb of a diesel engine.
Please don't be parked on my manhole . . .
:: No, but I gigged them foreward a bit so you have cover. ::
He levitated the cover and gave it a push. The boy moaned a bit as he sent him after it and jumped to pull himself out. Boy into the car trunk, slide the manhole cover . . . stagger into the driver's seat and get the hell out!
He drove as fast as he dared, out of the parking lot onto the street and turn away from the portal facility and hit the gas.
For a block, then slow and get into the flow of the traffic and try to look invisible. He reached under the dash and turned on the second false ID, turned off the first. Glanced at Leon. Grinning. Bald head, four metal studs with dangling wires . . .
"You smell like a swamp."
Axel snorted. "I know. And you look a little too noticeable." He grabbed edge of his wig and peeled it off, cussing a little. "This was less painful before my hair started growing in. It's just sticky stuff so it doesn't slip, not actual glue."
A traffic light gave him the opportunity to get the wig over Leon's head.
Leon found the mirror and pressed down the sticky edges, sneaking looks toward Axel.
"You were chipped!"
"Yeah . . . eleven days ago? Or twelve. Anyway, as soon as we back to my safe house I'll dose you up with zivvy dissolver."
"Zivvy . . . dissolver?" His voice got a bit high. He swallowed. "I mean, I've just spent a couple hours spinning out scenarios about what happens next. I figured I'd be back in a coffin soon enough."
"Nah. We team up Portalmakers in quads with helmets. Eight hour shift then they walk off like any other employee."
"How many portalmakers do you have? And who are you and where are you from?"
"With quads we don't even need full portalmakers. I'm from Siberia Max, we're a sanctioned Research World. Pity the Empire's crashing. I'd love for this particular breakthrough to spread."
"Yeah . . . Hei . . . What are you looking at?"
"Aircar, coming up behind us." :: Different car, innocent, different car . . . ::
"So what did you study in school?"
The boy blinked. "What? The usual, well, I like the sciences, chemistry was fascinating . . ."
He broke off as the aircar swept overhead. "Oh, you were distracting me from . . . thoughts that might identify me, weren't you?"
"Yeah. You may get your car chase yet, but in this traffic it's going to be more cat-and-mouse."
"I thought Siberia Max didn't have any animals?" He sighed. "That was the one of the last things I remember before surgery."
Four months ago . . . were they after us even before we rescued their people? I suppose all the strongest worlds were hunting around for zivvy and we looked easy.
"No large animals. But no doubt the mice and rats came with the people, and cats and dogs as well." He watched the aircar out of sight and kept driving. following it until it lifted and turned right over the low buildings.
"Circling around?" Leon sounded worried.
"Or checking the next block. What I need, right now is a drive through vendo."
"There's one on the left, next block."
"Excellent. So this is your home town?"
"Yeah, umm, Igor?"
"I see them." He formed a restricted frequency energy shield and laid it over the car. Turned left into the vendo. The police cars drove past giving the car a glance without pausing.
Leon craned his neck. "How did you turn the car red?"
"An energy shield that absorbs visible light everywhere except in the red frequencies." Axel fished out a cash card and loaded up on drinks and sweet snacks. "You may need to relearn swallowing. Think hard about it and practice with nothing in your mouth for a bit."
"Nah, they give us this glop once a week to keep our guts in working order."
Axel turned right, took the next left . . . skipped a block and turned left again.
Grabbed a drink and sighed with relief at the flood of sugar . . .
Leon snorted. "And here I was thinking you were superhuman or something."
Axel grinned. "Even Igor runs out of energy. Although as a way to avoid the police, a vendo worked quite well . . . or perhaps not . . ." A police car screaming up behind them . . . and around them and onward. Then crossing lanes and blocking the cross street before the intersection . . . Axel drove across, showing an appropriate amount of hesitency crossing the interesction.
Leon looked back. "They're pulling two people out of a gray car . . . oh, a kid with a shaved head, and a man with brown hair . . ."
"They'll be back out looking for us soon enough. But every miles we go expands the area they have to search enormously. I'm surprised they haven't cordoned off this quarter of the city."
"You sound worried . . ."
"I hate killing honest cops, just doing their jobs. This Government, this culture isn't their fault. We're all trapped in it, like it or not. And yes, for me, that's a big fat not."
Leon glanced at Axel's head. A long stubble of red hair, the scar from the chip insertion still showing. "You aren't the Enemy, are you?"
"No, I really am from Siberia Max."
"And . . . we were talking about annexing you? Four months ago?"
"From our point of view, we rescued a couple of your important citizens from Tier Four Budapest Reborn, returned them to you, and asked if you were interested in a bit of mutually beneficial trade and defense. You guys talked all nicy, nicy until you had troops across, then it all went to hell. Just a few weeks ago."
"Oh . . ." Leon eyed Axel's stubble again.
"Yeah, they decided to start with that dangerous Imperial Agent. Stunned me in a grocery store, hauled me straight into surgery. If the 300 ever reform the Alliance, your government is going to have to answer some stiff questions about it. Not just the lack of a trial, but I'm under fifty in the Family sucession, so there ought to have been an Executioner brought in."
"But circling back to the start . . . I'm perfectly willing to utterly trash your government. But I don't want to have to kill a perfectly honest policeman. Or dozens." He slowed the car as the blockade ahead registered.