The tablet was an old friend. They'd stolen it from the very first convoy they'd robbed. Mara had used it to copy Ermon's essays to blank sticks for distribution in Lucky Strike, to keep track of their supplies, to store their carefully-assembled maps of the ruins. They'd changed the memory sticks when she'd left the camp – no one was quite sure just how good Elysium IntSec's computer forensics were, and no one wanted to find out – but the rest was still the same. She could remember where every dent and scratch had come from.
Mara opened a text editor and began to write.
From: Station 7
Subject: Elysium Operations Report
Body: Arrived w/o incident. Contacted student movements per instructions. First wave of propaganda has been distributed via underground networks.
Contacted labor organizations per instructions. Although main target proved unreceptive, was contacted by subordinate, and asked for meeting.
- - - - - - - -
“It's just a little further,” Lir said. They were in the shallows of the Bowels, a few levels below the industrial zones, but still high enough that the air wasn't too bad. This area had once been made up of apartment blocks hanging from the sides of thick macrocarbon columns that stretched the length of the Hive, but at some point a fire had gutted them, and they had never been repaired. Instead, squatters and dolers had built their own replacements, jury-rigging skyscrapers out of stacked freight containers lashed to the meter-thick axes that held up the towers of the lighter worlds above. Rickety bridges of steel wire and plastic panels criss-crossed the area, linking the unbearably dense concentration of reeking humanity; if Mara looked down she could see a drop all the way to the lower bowels.
She tried not to look down.
They walked one by one; there was no room to walk abreast. As it was they had to squeeze to the side every time they passed someone going the other way. Mara kept to the back, periodically checking for people following them. She felt itchy; she wasn't sure why, but she was spooked, and she knew to listen to that feeling. It was all she could do not to handle the knife concealed under her jacket, check to make sure it was still there – she'd wanted a gun but they couldn't figure out how to bring one through customs, but the knife was better then nothing.
They passed a slop-boy, hauling a wagon full of improperly-sealed, reeking buckets of piss and shit to the recycling station, and then turned a corner and were right in front of a complex of six freight containers welded together, hanging by cables from something high above. Lir knocked a quick pattern on the door, rat-tat-tat, and it opened and they went into the darkness inside.
They were in a small antechamber made out of half of one of the containers split by a plastic partition, and lit by bare led's hanging from the ceiling. The walls were covered with some kind of stained gray fabric that Mara didn't recognize. Two people wearing slum-dwellers' rags were sitting on the floor, a man and a woman, both too thin to be factory workers. “This is Tam and Irn,” Lir said as they stood. “Friends of mine.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Dee said automatically. Tam and Irn smiled but did not reply.
“Let me introduce you to everyone else,” Lir said. He moved briskly towards a door in the plastic partition, Dee and Mara following, Lir's two silent friends following behind her. On the other side of the door was a sizable chamber made from cutting the walls out of several of the containers, perhaps ten meters by five, with more of the gray fabric covering the walls – and the floor, too, Mara realized. A dozen men and women were sitting on plastic chairs in front of a podium. Most of them were thin and wasted-looking.
Mara's skin crawled. Something wasn't right here, but she wasn't entirely sure what yet. Dee walked over to the crowd to introduce herself. Mara stayed where she was, back to the wall. Tam and Irn stayed by her, watching her.
Tam spoke suddenly. “You're a Leeite, aren't you? You've seen Earth, through the telescope?”
“No,” Mara said flatly, her tone not inviting conversation. Besides the door to the antechamber, there were several other doors from the room.
“Did you see Him?” Tam asked, and from her town there could be no doubting which Him she meant.
“No,” Mara said again. Something was definitely wrong. She wanted to head for the exit, but Tam and Irn were standing between her and it. Instead she began to move along the wall towards one of the other doors. To her surprise they didn't follow, just remained by the exit from the room.
The door was unlocked. On the other side was a small stone statue, rough, crude, carved by someone more used to making girders then art, but still recognizable. Mara looked up, and she could see Tam was smiling.
Time seemed to slow.
Mara walked towards Lir and Dee. She tapped Dee on the shoulder.
“We need to leave, now,” she said.
“Oh, I don't think that's a good idea,” Lir said, his face beatific under the pool of light from the led above him.
Mara looked over his shoulder, and saw the gun in Tam's hands.
“You've seen Him,” Lir said. “You must have. Tell us. Tell us about His Glory.”
And Mara kicked him in the crotch.