[Author’s Note: In keeping with recent popular practice, I have decided, rather late in the piece (though this lateness of decision, also, could be said to be in keeping with r.p.p.) to split this final part of the story into two instalments, the first of which I am releasing today, with the second instalment to be released six months from now.
No, just messing. What you see below is the end to it, for good or ill.
I will take this opportunity to thank Cassie Hart, Dan Rabarts, Darusha Wehm, Beaulah Pragg, and Debbie Howell for generously hosting the preceding five instalments of my hastily-typed offering.
For navigational purposes, here are parts one, two, three, four, five, and six. In case one of these links is incorrect, a ‘master list’ of links is kept here. And I should also point readers in the direction of SpecFicNZ’s ‘Blogging Week’ listing, which has links to much better writing than my own.]
For a few terrifying seconds, the basement was filled with darkness and the shrieking whirr of Haier’s surgical saw. Gordon’s medgurney jolted and tipped alarmingly at an angle. Then the chamber’s lights reasserted themselves, at first just tentatively, and then with more confidence.
He could still hear Haier—or rather, he could still hear the power-tool that had been in Haier’s glaived hand—but the armoured hit-man himself was not within Gordon’s field of view.
“Mr Mattock,” said Claudia, from the gurney to which she was secured, “what’s happening?”
We’re trying to survive a badly-overwritten climactic scene, thought Gordon, who, very much against his wishes, was thoroughly used to this kind of thing by now. “The belts are playing with the circuitry,” he explained, without even turning to face her. Need to keep an eye out for Haier … “It’s interfering with Haier’s—with the armoured guy’s wiring, with his movements. But it seems to be past a peak—he could be back on his feet any second now. Can you get free, at all?”
The sound of her struggle was drowned by the whirr of the power-saw, joined now by an animalistic howl, and then a grunt, from Haier. There was more jostling of Gordon’s gurney, and the staccato shriek of blade against metal. It sounded as though Haier was trying to saw through one of the medical trolley’s supporting legs. Gordon tried again, to no avail, to free himself.
“Just got this last one to go,” said Mrs Iyzowt.
“What?” asked Gordon, astonished. Abandoning his futile attempt to spy Haier, he turned his head and saw that the heiress, somehow liberated from all the straps but one, was now bent double while she worked on unbuckling the fastening around her ankles. “Um—how did you do that?”
“Before I met my Dennis, who introduced me to the wonders of waxworks,” she said, climbing off the trolley, “I was a contortionist. And an escapologist.”
That’s just the sort of coincidence that can totally spoil suspension-of-disbelief, Gordon thought. “Your Dennis?” he asked just as, with a metallic squeal and a thunk, his gurney lost half a leg and tipped further, bringing him almost face-to-face with Haier’s twitching, metallic feet.
“My late husband.” Standing to Gordon’s left by the gurney’s Haier-free side, she began unbuckling Gordon’s straps, while he tried not to notice, to his right, how close to his own feet and legs was the powersaw in Haier’s erratic grasp.
“Dennis? I thought your late husband’s name was Jeffrey.”
“Oh, Dennis is the one who’s dead. Jeffrey’s just not good with clocks. But you said, the belts were playing with the circuitry.”
“Yes. They do that, down here, when the activity’s a bit higher than normal. The basement’s not shielded like the main floors.”
“But if the belts were interfering, why did—who did you say that armoured man was?”
“Haier,” said Gordon. “Still is.” He yelped in shock as the surgical saw managed, in a disconcertingly clinical fashion, to slice through his ankle restraint without, it seemed, drawing blood. “Uh, I’ve no wish to sound ungrateful, Claudia, but can you undo those any quicker?”
“I’ll do my best. Why did Haier use the belts, if they interfered?”
“Huh?” asked Gordon. “No, I didn’t mean that kind of belt. You’ve heard of the Van Allen belts?”
“I don’t really keep up with fashion, Mr Memo,” she said.
“Mamon.” Gordon, now unconstrained, hastily climbed off the medgurney. Pointing towards the nearest exit, and with a last wistful glance to where his precious handheld lay, beside the flailing armour-suited killer on the floor, he said, “I’ll explain later. Let’s just get somewhere safer away from old Tinbrain. Oh, and for future reference, Mamon.”
They reached the doorway none too soon. Haier, who appeared finally to have regained some semblance of coarse-motor skills, had picked himself up and was lumbering in their direction, groaning incoherently.
“I’m sorry, Mr Marksman. I just can’t go any further.” Claudia was sitting stiff-legged on the corridor floor. “Unless we can find somewhere to recharge?”
“Recharge?” Gordon asked, surprised. He wasn’t sure what was the problem with Mrs Iyzowt’s legs—they’d got as far as the seventeenth floor with, so far as he was aware, nothing worse than the inevitable biochemical bickering between adrenaline and fatigue, and she’d suddenly announced herself unable to proceed. He’d coaxed her to at least stumble along the corridor towards the north escaladder, but he was painfully aware of their visibility, and from the sound of it—grunts, heavy breathing, and not a little clanking—Haier seemed to be only a couple of floors below, in relentless pursuit. It might take him another minute to reach this level, and then—“What do you mean, recharge?”
“My legs are flat,” she explained.
“No, they’re—I mean, you have electric legs?” Gordon asked, curiosity jostling with concern at their predicament. This, at least, explained her unexpectedly low centre-of-gravity, and the heaviness which had thwarted his efforts to help her move, just before. “Why do you have electric legs?”
“Let’s just say my last public attempt at escapology didn’t go to plan. I’m sorry, Mr Marram. Really, I thought this latest set of batteries would have lasted longer.”
“Mamon. The circuitry could’ve suffered damage from the belt’s magnetic field.”
“You might well be right. But you go on. There’s no reason both of us need perish.”
“I’m staying,” muttered Gordon. “Now we should hush.” Haier was only a floor below, now, if that.
Gordon waited with mounting fear while the armoured assassin drew ever closer. The first glance down this corridor would suffice to reveal them … and yet, astoundingly, when Haier appeared on their level, he lumbered past, continuing noisily up the rampway.
His sensors must be out, Gordon thought wonderingly. So he did take damage, down in the basement. He waited until Haier had advanced a floor or two further, and cautiously set out in what he hoped was a sufficiently quiet pursuit.
He could not see Haier ahead of him—although the hit-man had appeared to be operating in sightless mode, Gordon didn’t really want to chance it—but there was no problem with following Haier’s progress by the grunts and clanks.
There wasn’t much more above them. Just the obs—
There was a crash, and a shout; and a frantic, deafening rush of wind threatened to pull Gordon forwards up the rampway, towards the obs deck. Then steel shutters clanged resoundingly shut against the hull breach, and the wind was cut back almost completely to a thin kettle-shrill whine, then to silence. Gordon raced ahead to the shutters, planted his ear against them—the metal was ice-cold to his skin—and, hearing nothing, retraced his steps to find the nearest freight-tower security panel. Flicking through the securicam feeds, he found an external cam shot that did indeed show a large, metallic object falling away from the station in the dimming light of dusk, gesticulating helplessly as it fell.
Well, thought Gordon, remembering how he’d first encountered Haier. There’s poetic justice for you.
He’d be down to check on Mrs Iyzowt in a minute. But it was getting dark, outside. He’d better notify the police down on Skyward Island, about what was going to land in their lap, come nightfall.