The two of them sat at the security console as the sirens blared.
“Aw, man, what is this? Another drill? Didn’t we just have one yesterday?”
“Uh-uh, not this time. Tech Control’s going ballistic. Panel’s lighting up like a gang of teenagers behind the high school.”
“So what do we do?”
“Same thing we always do, sit here and watch the monitors.”
They watched the guards rushing around for a while.
“So, will you make the match this weekend, or has Debbie got you sorting her laundry for her?”
“Shut up. I’ll be there. Hey, who’s that?”
“That guy, there. The one with the gun who’s not in one of these stupid jumpsuits of ours.”
“Should he be there?”
“What do you think, you idiot?” He thumbed the comm switch. “Uh, Mr. Kilpatrick? This is Security Station Three; I think we might have just seen an intruder in the base.”
The crackling reply was acidic. “You don’t say? Look, we’re just a little fucking busy down here. Show some initiative and deal with it!” The line cut off.
They looked at one another.
“Send the bot?”
“Send the bot.”
* * *
Chavez gradually made his way deeper into the complex. A short way into the mine, the rough walls of the entrance passage had become something more like a modern military installation, with rooms with doors and side passages off of the main corridor. So far, he had been lucky; whatever crisis had put the base on alert, the people here weren’t trying to tread softly. He had heard the approaching footsteps and been able to duck out of the way before he was spotted.
He was currently holed up in what looked like a briefing room, planning his next move. Chavez had searched for a floor plan or a map, but had come up with nothing; the only information that he had about where he was relative to anything else had been a sign on the wall indicating that he had reached “Level 3.” His best thought was to keep moving downward, figuring that prisoners would be held in the most secure part of the base, which logically would be the deepest.
The concrete floor began to shake. Chavez heard a metallic rumble that grew steadily louder; it sounded like a tank was rolling down the corridor right outside the door. The lights suspended from the ceiling started swaying, and the rows of folding chairs in the room began to dance with the vibrations.
Then, it stopped. Chavez held his breath.
With a tremendous bang, the door, torn off its hinges, sailed inward. It swept within inches of Chavez’s head, scattering the array of chairs before embedding itself in the heavy metal desk at the front of the room.
In the doorway, an eight-foot-high robot on metal treads retracted the head of the pneumatic hammer mounted on its chest. It crashed slowly but inexorably through the door frame, the camera mounted on its head swiveling from side to side.
Overcoming an instant of incredulity, Chavez dodged. He dove behind the desk, the only point of cover in the room, as twin machine guns on the robot’s shoulders opened fire. Bullets ricocheted off the desk, around the room, and off the robot again.
The SIG 9mm in Chavez’s hand was starting to look awfully small. He risked a look over the top of the desk, and snapped off a shot at the camera on the thing’s head. His aim was accurate, but the bullet was stopped by some sort of plastic in front of the lens. Another blast swept across the top of the desk, and he ducked again.
* * *
I woke up suspended in Mina’s arms, hanging above a stone path which itself appeared to be hanging above nothing at all.
“Wait, I’m awake,” I said. They stopped; Mina put me down. My head ached from the clout I’d received back on the subway train; it was in the same place as the whack on the head I’d received way back when I first arrived in the dream world.
I looked around. It’s really amazing how you could become used to just about anything. The fact that we were apparently hiking across a cloud bank, by this point, fazed me not at all. Well, almost not at all. Still, it was better than most of the places I’d found myself lately.
“Where’s Forrest?” I asked Lily. She nodded ahead on the path, and I could see him in the distance ahead of us. “Not waiting around, is he?” Lily shook her head.
My heart clenched. “It’s happening again, isn’t it?” Lily grimaced and nodded.
“Well, we’d better get going then. I know he walks fast, but we can catch up with him.” I started off, but Mina caught my arm and held me back.
I turned around; Lily’s teeth were clenched and her eyes were shut. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
She grabbed my hand, and said. “Hurts...to...talk.”
“Don’t try. We can figure it out later.”
“Nyet.” Her grip was starting to become painful; I tried not to flinch. “Carrrrful of...trees, lots of trees...Forrest. He’s...nn...not...aquifer...damn it...nnot well. Idea...think...he’s...duck, duck, goose...no, gah, loon...ah...insane. He is asleep/notsleep dream/notdream... same...time... same bat channel...”
“You think he’s dangerous? Hallucinating?”
She nodded. “The only the lonely...only way...black magic...” She took a deep breath. “Black’s magic...can work...is if someone here...someone here is dreaming that...it does.”
“He doesn’t seem crazy. I know his story’s incredible, but have you looked around us? He’s the most normal person in this world.”
Lily sighed, flipped my hand over and started drawing letters. W...O...U...L...D...S...E...E...
“Would see?” She shook her head in exasperation.
“Would seem.” Nod. I stopped trying to jump ahead and let her finish.
...S...A...N...E...I...F...H...I... S...D...E...L...U...S...I...O...N...S... B...E...C... A...M...E... R... E...A...L.
She looked up at me.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 18.3]