From four planets, this
band of disparate rebels
plot to free the man.
"There’s quite a riot going on out there," Solla said. "People are demanding your release, and our troops have had to quell the disturbance."
"I’m sure the High Companies are shaking in their boots."
"Well, there is some cause for concern. How did they find out where you are? Seems like your friends have tipped their hand. We can be on the lookout for them in the city now."
Progeny laughed. "Does this mean you’re ready to admit they’ve escaped from Cavallo’s ranch? I knew you were lying, you know. This tank, like every tool at your disposal, is a two-edged sword. Cut off from everything but your voice, I get to analyze your voice with no distractions. You’d be surprised how much you reveal to me."
"I’m not sure you could surprise me at all, anymore, Progeny." There was a moment of silence. "Oh, yes, and I have good news. Our doctors say you can live much longer than you think. These tanks are very much like the ones used to treat radiation sickness, and we can probably keep you alive long enough for me to complete my task."
"First you threaten me with luxury, then you threaten me with long life. Why don’t you get serious, Solla? Threaten me with freedom."
"Well, I’m afraid I can’t do that. But I can threaten you with immortality of a sort. Our propaganda apparatus is most impressive."
"Make my ass immortal, Solla, with a kiss."
If Solla was angry, he had learned to keep his irritation out of his voice. "You have no issue, Progeny. When Mohammed died without an heir, the schism began almost immediately. We can encourage this, create two opposing political philosophies, each claiming to reflect your true intentions. Sooner or later, your followers will be killing each other in your name."
"Solla, you are missing the point in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, as I keep telling you, I do not have followers. Second, it’s good that I have no children in the physical sense, not only like Mohammed, but like Jesus and Buddha, and Socrates, and everyone else who ever stumbled over a few eternal truths. Anyway, it’s your fault I’m sterile, isn’t it? Third, I have thousands of children in the most important sense; everyone on Mars is my child and considers himself or herself to be the heir to the only goods I possess--my thoughts, which I very carefully gave to everyone before I settled down to live in one particular commune."
"But shouldn’t you have disciples of some sort, if only to see to it that your ideas survive you? You said it, yourself: most revolutions don’t survive the death of their charismatic..."
Solla’s voice died, and then there was silence.
"Solla? Where are you?" Progeny was alone with his thoughts again.
Solla took the elevator to his office and switched on his computer with a touch of his thumbprint. He selected the batch of satellite photos that the Ensign had sent him.
The man should be promoted, or at least rewarded in some way for his thoroughness. Court records stated that Progeny's companions had been sent to a work-farm owned by a certain Cavallo, and the Ensign had promptly added that location to the list of monitored sites. There was the usual sort of activity--vehicles, farm-equipment, workers in the fields, and an unusual number of brush-fires. He skipped ahead. In the last photo, Cavallo’s house was a blazing inferno, the plume of smoke stretching for miles across the ranch, vehicles were heading off in all directions, and cruisers from Lynchburg were converging on the location. He checked the previous picture and found some interesting activity in the courtyard.
Solla studied the figures on the ground--the escaping horses and prisoners, the figures in the courtyard, loading a sand-rover into a free-trader ship. There were no distinguishing marks on the ship, of course; it could have been any one of thousands. Presumably, it was Atalanta, because a certain Free Trader named Shagrug had been tried along with Progeny, and his ship was known to be on Earth. He compared court-records and recognized Shagrug in the picture, and there was another, younger man, plus two unidentified women who moved with ninja efficiency and were probably mercenaries of some sort. The young man was helping Terry into the ship with concern and affection obvious from a hundred miles up. Solla enlarged the image until it was almost too grainy to see.
Terry would be the perfect disciple: beautiful, personable, highly sympathetic as the young widow who had the Master’s ear in his dotage--Solla was sure that, with a little luck and a lot of propaganda, he could create a full-fledged Madonna cult about her--but this young man--Ali Karil according to the court records--was also interesting.
He was good-looking too, and young, and a troublemaker, according to his juvenile arrest record. Besides, he was the illegitimate son of one of the High Company directors, and there is no believer like a convert. Saul of Tarsus, who later became Saint Paul, Solla remembered, had actually had more to do with the founding of Christianity than Jesus did. Terry would want to keep Progeny’s teachings as pure as possible, but this lad’s followers would be impatient, even reckless, in pursuit of their goals.
Solla downloaded everything he could find about the young man and pored over the details. He was a daredevil pilot, a brilliant but undisciplined student, a bit of a poet... It was getting better and better. He had been born posthumously, of the Sultan’s favourite concubine, killed in an accident and her body kept functioning by...
Solla called up the details of Progeny’s incarceration and zipped through them until he found what he thought he remembered, and then he laughed out loud. Progeny had been transported to Mars as a reward for saving Karil’s unborn life! This was a story almost as romantic as Terry’s; in fact, it could easily be considered miraculous. Solla berated himself for not seizing both of the youngsters along with Progeny. He had miscalculated badly, by trusting that Cavallo would soften them up, and he could go back and get them anytime he needed to. The fool had lost them, and probably got himself killed to boot.
But they were here, in the city somewhere--no one else could have known that Progeny was in the Citadel--and were stirring up the populace, raising their profile dangerously. They might even attempt to rescue him. Once Solla got his hands on the young lovers--Guinevere and Lancelot to Progeny’s Arthur, he realized with a chuckle-—he could use them to create a schism in Progeny’s teachings and would be well on his way to reversing his revolution and crushing his rebellion.
Jay climbed down the ladder into the darkness and switched on his torch. The others handed down the diving equipment and climbed down beside him. Their lights revealed a room lined with shelves of disks and tapes, covered with dust and spider-webs. Jay pushed open a door at the far end and they heard his steps on a metal stairway. In a moment they passed through another door and stepped out onto a station platform; the crumbling ceiling was supported by steel girders and the walls were covered with illegible writing, some printed in mosaic tile, other words spray-painted over them.
"This way." Jay shouldered his tank and climbed down a stairway into a dank tunnel, lighting their way with his torch. The others followed, air-tanks and other equipment on their shoulders, weapons on their hips--though what enemy they might encounter here, they could not say. Their footfalls echoed in the dark.
They came to a maze of tunnels crisscrossing at many levels, but Jay seemed to know where he was. He turned right, climbed a ramp, descended a ramp, turned right again, and they made their way down a tunnel that seemed to be endless. At one point they came upon an open space: a platform, a ruined kiosk, benches, all waiting for a train that would never arrive. The scene was dimly lit by a shaft of dust-filled light from a crack in the roof far above. They trudged on.
Later on, they found a skeleton. It was draped in the remnants of unrecognizable clothing and a few scraps of flesh; its skull had been beaten in and its shoes were noticeably absent. Brackish water began to appear and gradually rose about their ankles, their knees, their waists. They were wading through water up to their armpits when they rounded a turn into a station and saw the tunnel roof at the far end vanish into the water entirely.
"This is as far as I've explored, for obvious reasons," said Jay. They climbed up onto the platform and donned their diving gear, tested the equipment once more, then slipped one by one into the water and swam into the tunnel. In the light of their headlamps, it seemed even more eerie than before--the rusted railway below covered in grey dust like an ancient seafloor, the station numbers looming at them from steel pillars as they passed, and platforms waiting silently in darkness. They began to encounter fish, and shafts of light from gratings and cracks overhead, in which seaweed waved at them as they flippered past.
From time to time, Jay held up his hand to stop them, and the weird light of his map flickered into being before their faces. They looked comical, gathering about like so many curious fish, their eyes peering out from behind their masks in the flickering light. Then Jay would tuck away the map, wave them on, and swim down a tunnel. At one point they passed through a great station--level after level, above and below, crossing in all directions, lit by pencil-thin shafts of sunlight from many levels above. Far below was an inky blackness, like the entrance to Hell.
They followed Jay’s light into the depths and turned down a tunnel at the bottom. He hooted and pointed to a grating in the tunnel floor, which they managed to pry open. Then they followed him into a huge pipe, in which they had to swim single file. Suddenly it opened out into a larger room. Directly before them, a series of outlet pipes protruded from the walls, barred by steel mesh, but easily large enough for a diver to enter. Jay flicked on his map and pointed; it was the sewer outlet for the citadel. There was a chorus of hoots and thumbs up, and so many pounded Jay on the back that he nearly lost his mouthpiece.
They returned the way they came, came up out of the water, and removed their gear. Then they retraced their steps through the tunnels. At one point, their way was almost blocked by fallen debris, and they had to squeeze through a narrow opening, moving single file. The walls were dank and dripping, the fallen masonry covered with slippery moss and a fungus that glowed eerily in the dark.
Terry cried out as the floor gave way beneath her. Karil reached out to grab her and managed to clutch her hand, but her weight dragged him down behind her. They slid and tumbled down a long slope into knee-deep water, foul-smelling and black.
"Are you alright?" Karil asked.
"I think so. A bit scratched. My torch is broken, though."
Karil flashed his torch up the long slope into the darkness but was unable to see his friends' faces. He called out and listened, but there was no response that he could hear. He flashed his light in both directions and found a vast network of sewer tunnels. Karil thought he saw a glimmer of light in one direction.
"We can't get up this slope," he said. "It's too steep. But it looks like the roof is collapsed over there too, and maybe we can climb."
They waded into the darkness and found, several meters down the pipe, a landslide of concrete and steel, with what appeared to be an opening at the top. They began to climb, pausing to flash a beam of light up the slope now and then.
Karil thought he saw a pair of tiny red eyes. They were joined by another and another, and suddenly there was an awful chorus of screeches and a tide of furry bodies rushed toward them down the slope. They covered their heads and let the wave flow over them, trembling with fear and disgust.
Karil flashed his torch up the slope again, and for an instant he thought he saw a figure slink back out of the light. They continued to climb and finally Karil made his way to the top and reached out for Terry. His torch was snatched from his hand, leaving him in darkness, and he felt a blow on the back of his head. The last sound he heard before slipping into unconsciousness was Terry screaming his name.
He awoke to find her bending over him. There was only a faint trace of light through cracks in the wall, but he could see that they were lying on a filthy mattress in a dark room. Water dripped from the ceiling, and the smell was dank, musty, ancient.
"Are you okay?" Terry asked.
"I’ve got a hell of a headache. Did they harm you, whoever they are?"
"I think I harmed a few of them, once I got over my surprise, but there were dozens, in the dark, and I was overpowered. We’re deep beneath the city, Karil, where the old sewers and electrical cables used to run. The tunnels down here must stretch for miles, even under the water."
The door opened and a light was flashed in their faces. Karil tried to move and discovered that they were both chained to the wall. A figure that seemed human shuffled into the room--horribly bent and smelling of a dozen kinds of filth--and shut the door behind itself. It squatted at the door like a toad and, from what they could see of its face behind its matted hair, regarded them.
"Why are you trespassing?" it demanded.
"We didn’t mean to trespass," Karil said. "In fact, we didn’t know anyone lived down here."
"Yes, and we like to keep it that way. Give me one reason why we should not amuse ourselves with both of you, and then eat you when you’re dead."
"Well," Terry said, "aside from the fact that we would not enjoy any of that, there’s the fact that we are not your enemy and are hoping to trouble those who are."
"Why, by breaking into the Citadel and busting Progeny out of prison? We followed you all the way there and back, and we hear far more of what goes on in the streets than they do of what goes on down here. The High Companies are not our enemy; they are irrelevant. The blood-lords think they own this city, and the High Companies think they own the blood-lords, but we can come and go as we please, and they do not even know we exist. If you managed to affect this escape through our tunnels, they will be discovered, and we may have to move elsewhere."
He came closer, and his stench overwhelmed them. In the dim light, they saw that his face was ravaged with disease. He regarded them with an intense and penetrating glare, and Terry turned her face away in horror. "On the other hand," he went on, "it amuses me to think of the expression on their smug faces when their most prized prisoner is spirited away from under their noses, and if they do send soldiers to search our tunnels, we will have plenty more meat than you can provide."
He shuffled forward into the light to unlock their chains, and Karil drew back at the near sight and smell of him. "Though not so tasty, perhaps," the creature added with a terrifying grin. "Turn left, then right, then left again, push on a door, and you will find yourself in the old subway tunnel. Your friends are searching for you and will find you in a few minutes. You and your party will be allowed to complete your rescue without interference from us."
He paused at the door. "And incidentally, tell Professor Kelley that he’s not going to find the best books in the library. I took them long ago."
He vanished, and Karil and Terry scrambled to escape. The rest of the party did indeed find them a few minutes later, in the appointed place.
The assault team, as they were beginning to call themselves, met in the mess-tent once again.
"All right," said Professor Kelley, "we have access to the Citadel, a method of finding Progeny, and a plan for turning off the lights and alarms so we can make our escape. But the Citadel will have auxiliary power, which will come on very quickly; we have to be able to find it and shut it off, and we need a detailed plan of the interior so we can find our way around in the dark. Shag?"
"I know someone who knows the interior well, particularly the prison wing. He won't be very co-operative, however, because there's a certain history between us. In fact, he's more likely to shoot me on sight than co-operate. I have to do three things: one, get his attention; two, make him believe trying to kill me would be a very bad idea; and three, convince him that giving us the information we need would be good for his business. I'm working on a plan for all of this, but it involves every one of us playing a role, and it could be dangerous if it goes wrong."
"This whole scheme is dangerous," Kelley said. "But I think we agreed at the beginning that Progeny has to be gotten out of there, whatever the risk. Let's hear your plan."
"Okay. Professor, how tall are you?"
Kelley blinked. "About two meters. Why?"
"Do you think you can look formidable?"
"He's already formidable," said Terry. She spoke in a flirtatious tone, and the Professor smiled in thanks.
"No, I mean, can you look like a mean sonofabitch that nobody would want to tangle with?"
Kelley snorted. "Have you ever taught a freshman class?"
"Terry, can you use your famous barbering skills to give a menacing trim to his beard? And maybe a little pony-tail?"
"I think so."
"Good. That’s the last piece of my plan."
At the northern tip of Upper Manhattan Island lay the Tryon Cloister, once a revolutionary war fort and then a city park, now a fantasy-class enclave overlooking the Hudson River. In the largest building on the site--once a museum designed like an old-world fortified monastery--lived Aguilar, the boss of the biggest Nueva York blood-lord family.
Anais Nin dropped out of a cloudless blue sky and settled with the roar of her jets on the spacious lawn to the south of the building. Her forward hatch dropped to the earth and the sand-rover leaped out and sped off across the turf at high speed. Anais rose again and roared off to cover Atalanta, hanging in the air just above the speeding vehicle.
Guards on the walls of the Cloister saw them both coming and shouted a warning, then raised their weapons. Machine-guns whirred out into view along the sides of both the car and the ship and sprayed the wall with rapid fire, the bullets splattering into the concrete just below the parapet, where there was no danger of actually hitting the defenders. But the defenders did not know this, and they scrambled to safety.
At the same time, pinpoint laser-fire struck the hinges of the great wooden doors of the southern courtyard, and when the sand-rover crashed into it at high speed, they gave way easily in a shower of splintered wood. The rover screeched to a halt in the courtyard and the ship rose over the walls and hovered there. Lawn-chairs and umbrellas and sun-bathers alike scattered in the downdraft, plunging into the pool, clambering across the terrace to flatten themselves against the wall. Guards pulled their guns, but the walls above their heads erupted in ricochet and stone-chips, and they dropped their weapons.
The hatch at the rear of the sand-rover crashed down and two motorcycles roared down the ramp. They screeched to a halt and the riders stood astraddle the throbbing vehicles, weapons held at the ready. Karil was dressed in brief ragged leathers, his hair greased back, his face scarred and boasting a black eye-patch, and his crossbow ready, loaded with a formidable razor-tipped bolt. Baby Snakes would have loved him. Terry looked like a fascist wet dream, with a tight silk blouse and a slit leather skirt, her blonde mane done up in a formidable bun at the nape of her neck, and her lovely eyes hidden by black glasses. She held Shagrug's luger in both hands, her stiletto was clearly visible gleaming on her thigh, and her face looked hard as steel. The guards by the smashed courtyard door stood very still at the sight of both of them, and slowly raised their hands.
The front hatch irised open and Loris and Johanna swung out to crouch at either side of the lock. Johanna carried a laser-rifle and Loris a double-barrelled shotgun. Every muscle in their hard bodies was visible beneath their black ninja silks, and when they moved, swinging their weapons to cover the entire courtyard, they moved simultaneously, as if in some deadly ballet. There was a moment of stunned silence, broken only by the over-loud roar of the ship, the enhanced throb of the sand-rover's engines, the whirr of the machine-guns along its flank, and a subdued cacophony of sounds and voices within the vehicle, as if a large group inside was in radio contact with an even larger group outside the walls.
Shagrug stepped down out of the hatch. He was dressed in an expensive suit, his moustache and hair and nails were neatly trimmed, and he smoked a huge cigar. The Professor towered over him in black, his face hard and callous behind a pencil-thin beard and black glasses. His huge hand toyed with his lapel, as if he were about to reach inside for a weapon at any moment. Aguilar, stunned and motionless in his lawn-chair, with two topless girls cowering behind him, recognized Shagrug and his hand flew toward the table beside him, where a gun and holster lay next to his drink. From somewhere in the direction of Loris came a dagger that vibrated in the tabletop, inches from his fingers. Aguilar slowly drew his hand away. "Shagrug!" he said in a pleasant voice. "I haven't seen you in years. You're looking very...prosperous."
Shagrug came forward, the Professor dogging his heels, Loris and Johanna sidling sideways to keep Aguilar in view. "It’s a pleasure to see you again, Aguilar. I was worried about you, after I was forced to retire without picking you up that time, but you seem to have done all right for yourself, as I knew you would."
Aguilar spread his hands in a shrug. "Water under the bridge. I could never carry a grudge against you, Shag." His eyes darkened momentarily as he looked around the courtyard, where all his highly paid help stood motionless with their hands over their heads, and then he smiled warmly. "So, what brings you here?"
"A business deal of mutual benefit." Shagrug snapped his fingers and Jay emerged from the sand-rover, dressed in a lab-coat and carrying a briefcase. He walked briskly forward, cleared the table beside Aguilar by the process of sweeping its contents onto the ground with his forearm, popped open the case, and switched on the display. A maze of coloured lines and circles flickered in the air.
"As you can see," Shagrug said, "this is a map of the old subway system in lower Manhattan, indicating all the rail-lines, sewer-lines, and access-tunnels under the city. It extends under the water to the Citadel, and at this point"--a light flashed--"it enters the Citadel itself, giving access and escape to anyone wishing to use it. Of course, the information is incomplete, since we do not know the layout of the tunnels and corridors inside. You know what I mean: the prison cells, the ordnance rooms, the auxiliary generator, the vault." He particularly emphasized the last word. "Things like that. I figure, if we combine our information, its value will more than double for both of us." He snapped his fingers and the diagram, which Aguilar had been studying intently, vanished.
"These tunnels still exist?"
"We've been through them. Quite a number open into the sub-basements of various enclaves. Rockefeller Towers, for instance, where you come up right next to the storage lockers and the bank-vaults. And, of course, they're so complex and the information is so archaic that a group of men could disappear in a matter of minutes and come out kilometres away, and the authorities wouldn’t begin to know where to look for them. Unfortunately for me, this information is only useful if you hang around Nueva York for some time, and I have pressing business on other planets, but combined with your knowledge of the Citadel, it could serve me for one particular operation I have in mind, and which I’m reluctant to discuss for reasons I’m sure you understand. After that, I’m gone, and I’m sure you could put our combined information to good use for some time to come."
Aguilar broke out in a smile. "Shagrug, it’s a pleasure to be involved in business with you again. Perhaps your associates would care to relax and enjoy themselves."
"I doubt it. They don’t have any vices, and they don’t know how to relax. But I wouldn’t mind a drink while we conduct our business." He snapped his fingers and Jay brought him a chair.
The team was meeting for the final briefing before the assault.
"The microwave-beam," Karil said, "is focused by ferrite-core phase-shifters, oscillating in step. The diodes in the rectenna convert the microwaves to electricity, but some of the energy is reflected back into space as a pilot beam--a reference signal for the phase-shifters. This is a safety feature, because as soon as the beam begins to wander off the target, as it can do under certain conditions, the reference signal disappears and the microwaves lose their focus and are dispersed harmlessly in the atmosphere--not that they're very dangerous anyway, but in focus they can severely disrupt communications. This will trigger an alarm at the SPOT and another station can come online to supply power in short order.
"Second backup is a fusion generator located in the sub-basement, here"--he pointed to the map of the Citadel--"and powered by hydrogen produced by the rectenna itself. After all, it's located over open water and collects enough power to produce hydrogen cheaply, which is piped into the Citadel to fuel the ships and vehicles and generate power in emergencies. They've got enough in storage to run the generator for weeks, I'm sure.
"The one flaw in their system is that everything I've mentioned--the microwave beam, the reference signal, the alarms, and the emergency generator--communicate with each other through computer. One person in the GEO-4 comm centre and one person at the power ops terminal in the Citadel can, between them, convince the system it’s operating when it isn’t. They can turn out the lights, turn off the alarms, shut down the elevators, unlock all the doors, and disable the backup generator. Not only that, if the power beam is shifted slightly so that it strikes the Citadel instead of the rectenna, it can prevent any communication between the Citadel and the rest of the solar system. There won’t be much danger to us, or anyone else--even tightly focused, the microwave beam isn’t strong enough--but anything electronic in the place would be inoperable.
"Jay and I are used to working together over orbital distances, and I’ve already drilled him in his side of the operation. My guess is we can totally disable the Citadel in about ten minutes."
Karil lay on his cot, his knees drawn up before him, while he scribbled in a pad.
No, my words are not Hekate’s
to call down the moon from heaven,
and my love may be
an insufficient mass
for gravitational attraction.
Does the ocean raise the moon?
Are there tides
in Mare Tranquillitatus
when the Pacific swells beneath?
Terry rapped on the tent-pole and pulled aside the flap. Karil could see her silhouette in the moonlight, and her hair glowed. "May I come in, Karil?"
"Of course." Karil quickly tucked the pad out of sight, then shoved over, and she sat on the edge of his bunk.
"I know you're doing this for me, Karil. For Progeny too, but mostly for me."
"I'm not risking any more than anybody else."
"Yes, you are. You'll be the only one the Quasi can definitely link to the escape. You're literally putting your handprint on the operation."
"The only people after me will be High Company Security agents, on the payroll of Triple M. It's their satellite, I'm their employee, and it was they who were holding Proj in the first place. But when Triple M goes bankrupt, as it will eventually if the Martian Troubles continue, its assets will be chopped up and distributed to the other High Companies. None of them will be very interested in financing any further investigation. Certainly not Beltways, who will be the biggest beneficiary. If Shagrug can hide me in the Belt and the Galilean for a few years--and that's a lot of space--I'll be home free."
"You won't be able to come anywhere near Mars until that happens, though, will you? Not without risking your life."
"No, I guess not."
Terry shrugged off her robe and slipped naked into the bunk beside him. Her hair fell in a fragrant cascade across his body.
"Why are you doing this?" Karil asked. "If it's because..."
She stopped his mouth with a lingering kiss. "I'm doing this because I want to. I'm doing it now instead of later because one or both of us may be dead tomorrow."