Clearing out the building of screamers was easier than expected, once I decided the first floor (with its wide open picture windows that were already shattered) was a loss. I just had to barricade the staircase off, and start shooting everyone who was left.
Dinner was some cold chicken from the fifth-floor barbecue place. The power was out in this building, so I couldn’t use the oven or even the microwave. MC said there were only a couple buildings out, and that somebody had probably just blown a fuse box or downed a power line. The point is, I knew better than to go searching for something to heat my food. I’d live with it.
Once I finished eating, I double checked all my security precautions, set an alarm with MC, and got to sleep.
Sleeping was hard, though. Not just finding somewhere I could expect to remain undisturbed for the night. That was difficult, but one of the shops sold a bunch of containers and plastic crates and that sort of thing, so I just found a big one and hid inside, hoping that no one would find me. And if they did, hopefully they’d wake me up in the process, and I could shoot them with the Sault Crisis in my hand.
Mostly, I just couldn’t sleep because of the crisis going on outside.
Domina City had a population of approximately four hundred million people—though I couldn’t remember whether or not that counted the Dagonites.
Four hundred million people, caught in the Composer’s song.
Four hundred million people, screaming for my blood.
I… had no idea how to respond to that. No idea how to even think about that. This was a fight with odds that no one in their right mind would bet on. The odds had probably never been this bad in the entirety of human history.
My chances were literally four hundred million to one—and that was rounding down. That was rounding way down. If one of the screamers so much as spit on me, or bled on me before they were dead…
Then there would be four hundred million and one screamers.
And I had no idea how to go around fixing that.
I mean, I had a plan. Go to my dorm, get my guns. But then what? One St. George wasn’t going to do much against an entire city. What was I going to do, go through the city block by block, killing zombies by the truckload until they brought me down with sheer weight of numbers?
That’s the cheery though that sent me off to sleep, and my nightmares followed that theme.
I woke up in the morning, surprised to find myself still alive and sane, with the eyepiece buzzing on my chest incessantly. My back ached from the weird angles the stupid box had forced me to sleep in, but it could have been a lot worse.
Yawning, I put the eyepiece on and noted that the alarm I had set earlier had gone off. “Hey, MC. Anything interesting happen while I was out?”
“No,” she texted quickly. “Although I still can’t get a hold of Derek. I was hoping the satellites would get fixed, but I suppose that was just wishful thinking. You all right over there? No one got into your hideout?”
I glanced around the store, and found my barricades still solid and unmolested. Even the food I had left on a nearby table was untouched. “No problems here. What about you? I never did ask you about your security set up.”
“Please. I’m in a steel bunker under NHQ, with enough guns that I could probably literally take on the entire city if I had to.” There was a pause. “Well, not counting powers. I’m not quite as confident any more. But anyway, I haven’t had more than a few stragglers getting into range of my turrets. I’m fine, I promise.”
“Good.” Wouldn’t that be the cherry on top of all this, to lose MC. I did some stretches, then went over to eat breakfast—more cold barbecued chicken, this time preserved in a lunchbox packed with ice. Hey, at least it was edible. “Anything else I should know?”
“Well, there is a bit of good news. Your dorms are mostly empty. The screamers seem to be spreading out a little, thought I don’t think they’re looking for you, just scrounging for food and so on.”
“That is good news,” I admitted through a mouthful of chicken. More weirdness: I knew it had to be muffled by the food, but I couldn’t hear it. I had been getting used to talking and not hearing myself speak, but somehow that was just even stranger.
If MC had trouble understanding me, she didn’t show it. “The bad news is that, even mostly empty, you’ve still got hundreds of screamers in your building.”
I thought for a moment as I washed down the food with some soda. Heh, my mom would kill me if she saw me drinking soda this early. “Where are they in relation to the stairs?” I shook my head and rephrased the question. “I mean, are the stairs mostly unguarded?”
“Not really. Why?”
I frowned. “I’ll need to use the stairs, that’s why. There’s no way I can use the elevator—they’ll hear it and come running.”
“You could just stay where you are and wait for Derek.”
Ten minutes later, after finishing my meal and using the bathroom, I was ready to make the trek to the AU dorms. Fortunately, it wasn’t too far, and the rooftops carried me the block or two without any major incidents.
Unfortunately, the building was too tall for any roof hopping tricks, so I’d have to descend to street level and get through the front entrance.
Really unfortunately, that’s where all the screamers were.
“MC,” I muttered, scanning the intersection from my perch on the roof to give her the best possible view. “Please tell me there’s an easy way through that door.”
“I can think of a couple, but they mostly involve ramming trucks through the lobby.”
I considered it. “…no. It would attract too much attention. Maybe if I had a tank I could do that safely, but otherwise—”
“There are tanks in Dis.”
“What? I was just joking! That’s great—wait. Isn’t Dis in West Inner? Without the light rail, it would take forever to get over there.”
“Hey, I was just mentioning it.”
“Okay, okay… ” I bit my lip. “The front door is out. Maybe I can get some sort of… grapple… thing? To jump straight to my floor?”
“Doubtful. There are no balconies, and the windows only have a lip of an inch, according to the blueprints. Even if you could find the equipment to clamber around safely, it would be loud, and most of the kemo screamers would still be better climbers than you. You’d be a sitting duck.”
I stepped away from the edge, rubbing my forehead. “Right, I knew that was a stupid idea the moment I said it.” I thought about it some more. “Actually, if I could get some sort of powered grapple, that could take me straight to the roof… ”
“Hm… ” MC texted slowly, letter by letter. “Maybe. Let me check something.” There was a brief pause before more text appeared. “You’d need about two hundred feet of line to do it, which is far from impossible, but it’s a bit unlikely. And the closest rock climbing store is on the other side of AU.”
“Of course it is.” I didn’t even both mentioning a helicopter. We had discussed that earlier—there were a couple remote piloted choppers she could send to me, but they’d be so loud, they’d attract every screamer in the city. And more than a few of them could fly. “Can you blow a gas main or something a couple blocks away, draw their attention?”
“Not without your help. I could point you to some demo charges.”
That might actually work. “They wouldn’t have a timer though, right? You’d just be able to activate them remotely.”
“Sure. But I want you to think long and hard about doing permanent infrastructure damage like that. I wouldn’t be able to shut off the gas, so it would be burning for however long it took you to personally fix it—and you might have to run around the sewers and shut off a dozen gas valves across the district.”
I blinked. “Wait. The sewers.”
“Yeah, I—ooh. Yeah, that might work. I just need to find the blueprints.”
The sewers were one of the few constants of Domina City. Unlike most cities and towns on the mainland, it hadn’t sprung up naturally, it had been very carefully conceived, using modern technology and techniques, from the ground up. That meant that it had an extremely extensive sewer system.
We had found Elizabeth in an old pumping station, and apparently the fey played down there too, but the important part was that a big residential building like the AU dorms would need equally large sewers.
The only question was, what was down there?
“Just find me an unguarded entrance,” I said decisively. Yes, there were probably monsters down there, but Laura and Clarke had determined that animals couldn’t become screamers. It would be marginally safer.
Well, unless I ran into a gargant. My guns could handle the basic stuff well enough, but nothing with armor plating. Or swarms, like those jumpers. Or I got ambushed by something, like those little hairless cats.
Okay, maybe this wasn’t the best of ideas.
“Found one!” MC replied, the text sparkling on the screen. “A couple buildings back, the big gray one. That’s a water testing facility. It will have an entrance. And, there were only three people there when the attack hit.”
“How many now?”
“Not sure. None, but that’s assuming they still have their phones. There’s nothing in there a screamer would really want, so it should be fine.”
I knew how well ‘it should be fine’ usually went.
But it wasn’t like I had a whole lot of other options, so I backtracked a bit and found the building she was talking about, a squat concrete edifice that made no efforts to be visually appealing.
To my surprise, it was fine. There were no screamers in the main area or the hall, and I was able to get the sewer open pretty easily, although turning the giant wheel would have been easier with two people. MC told me it was loud, so I dropped down into the exposed pipe and closed the hatch behind me before any screamers could come to investigate.
This wasn’t the sewer proper, just a large water pipe, about five feet tall and wide, for something or other to do with clean water. It was mostly empty, but there was still enough water to wet my feet through my shoes, and the pipe was small enough that I had to stoop. Apparently the only reason it was this big in the first place was to make maintenance easier. Go figure.
Well, thankfully, there wasn’t a single screamer in the pipe, but when I reached the exit hatch after about a hundred yards, I discovered another problem.
“MC, there’s no way to open it from the inside.”
“One second,” she texted quickly, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that I was able to get a signal in a metal pipe underground. I had seen a couple small devices sprouting from the ceiling; were those cell repeaters, or just some sensors she had re-purposed to communicate?
“Right,” the hacker responded. “Good news and bad news time. Good news—see that switch under the handlebars? That’ll open the hatch.”
I found the small, recessed switch quickly, hiding under the short and simple ladder to help me get out of the pipe. I reached forward to flip it.
“DON’T TOUCH IT!” she texted instantly, the text flashing incessantly to make sure I got the message. “It will set off an alarm that every screamer in the sewer will hear!”
I snapped my hand back quickly. “What’s the reason for that?”
“To catch people trying to sneak in through the pipes, obviously.”
I kneaded my forehead. “There has to be a way around it. Some override.”
“Yeah, but I think they’re all on the outside of the pipe. So that hostages and stuff can help their friends sneak in. But let me see what I can do.”
Waiting for her in that cramped pipe was not a pleasant experience. The smell actually wasn’t too bad; mostly clean water went through this pipe. Once again, it was the lack of sound that really got to me. The longer I waited, the more I became aware of the fact that I should be able to hear anyone coming, hear dripping water echoing down the pipe, footsteps splashing in the water…
But I couldn’t hear a damn thing.
If I spent too long deaf, I was going to go insane.
“Adam? Still there?”
“Of course,” I grunted, closing my eyes. “Where else would I be?”
I sighed and opened my eyes again after a moment to see her reply. “Good, because I got the alarm turned off. Probably.”
“Really? How’d you manage that?”
“Cleaning robot. But I can’t actually see through the stupid thing, so I just had to ram it into the switch a couple dozen times until it broke.”
“The robot broke, or the switch broke?”
I waited a few more minutes in an attempt to allow any screamers who had been drawn by her display time to disperse, then flipped the switch under the handles.
As promised, the hatch above my head cracked open with a smooth pneumatic motion, letting in a blinding amount of light. I had to shield my face with my hands and avert my eyes.
When I opened them again, the tone of MC’s text was urgent. “Hurry. The alarm didn’t go off, but it’s still loud. Go!”
I jumped out of the pipe, shook my feet to get some of the water off them, and ambled down into the sewer itself.
Domina’s sewers have a strangely old-fashioned style for such a modern city. They’re mostly built with what looked like brick, like an ancient Roman aqueduct or something, with twin paths to either side of the river of sewage.
I guess it was possible that it was just a thin layer of bricks and whatnot on top of more advanced steel pipes and so on, but that seemed like a really odd aesthetic choice. Who would even care about looks down here? The fey and their monsters?
Actually, now that I thought of it, it would make sense if the fey were the ones making the effort to make the sewers look all properly ancient. It was something they’d do, not to mention they had the manpower for it—for a certain definition of the word, anyway.
Five minutes later, I stumbled into an ekolid nest.
That’s what MC called it, anyway. They were some kind of bug demon, led by the warlord Obox-ob. There were so many subcultures, I could never keep track of half of them, but apparently these guys spent more time in the sewers than even the fey. There were rumors that the Composer killed their boss and took his domain, but that was mostly just because no one had seen him in a few months.
The… nest, if that was what it was called, was deeply disturbing. On the surface, it wasn’t really anything to write home about—there were a few bridges, made of rope and cheap metal planks, suspended over the river of sewage, and a few grime-encrusted lock boxes scattered around. It didn’t even look like a home, really, just like someone randomly decided to put bridges in this spot for some reason.
Then I looked up.
Suspended from the ceiling were dozens of hooks, most of which had a rotting corpse hanging from them. Hammocks hung too close to the corpses for comfort, with bags of food nearby—food that twitched and writhed in captivity.
But what really got me was when I took a closer look at the corpses.
None of them were just dead. They were all covered in pustules and boils, with flies and other winged insects crawling out of their orifices and wounds. With a nauseating churn of my stomach, I realized that they were hives for the insects, colonized and feeding the next generation. I could only hope they were dead when the process started.
Thankfully, other than the insects and the moss, there wasn’t anything living that I could find. I quickly hurried out of the nest, muttering old Catholic catechisms that I hadn’t even realized I still remembered.
Thankfully, I came out of the tunnels and into the basement of the dorm building after only half an hour or so. Not to mention I didn’t have to deal with a pipe again; the door from the sewers led straight into the building’s boiler room.
“Not that I’m complaining, but why does the dorm have a direct door to the sewers?”
“Didn’t I mention it earlier?” MC responded quickly. “Big residential building has a pretty big effect on the sewers. When it was first built, they thought it would be useful to be able to run directly into the sewers if something went wrong.”
“Has it helped?”
“Well, a little. The only time anything major happened was when a knot of alley crawlers got into the pipes down here, and yeah, having the door right there helped make clean up go faster. But I’m not sure it was worth the expense.”
“I think it was worth it.”
I could practically see her rolling her eyes. “You shush. You are hardly an unbiased source.”
I peered around a corner, then dodged back and squashed my smile. “I’ve spotted a screamer. A student, I think. He’s my age, anyway. You know his power?”
“Uh… no. I don’t know who that is. He doesn’t have his phone on him.”
I cursed under his breath. “Then I’m just gonna have to shoot him before he has a chance to do anything.” I checked the magazine on my St. Jude, slammed it back into place, and prepared to strike.
“WAIT” my distant ally texted urgently. “Just hold on.”
“MC, I do not have the luxury of mercy here,” I hissed. “I don’t know what this guy can do, and you know what happens if I get any of his blood or spit or anything on me.”
“You never did find a silencer! You’ll attract every screamer in the building!”
I paused. Okay, that was actually a really good point. “What do you suggest?”
“Go around him.”
I ground my teeth. “How? He’s standing in the only hallway out!”
“You’re… you’re right. Okay, before you start shooting, just give me five minutes to find another way out. Just five minutes, all right? That’s all I ask.”
I sighed and stepped back from the corner, putting my back to some of the machinery of the boiler room, and keeping my eyes on the only other exit. “Five minutes. I can give you five minutes.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 224)
I’ve been having a lot of trouble with these concurrent Adam scenes, but I think they’re flowing as well as they can.