“The snakes started sniffing around, and we felt it best to make ourselves scarce,” Dee was explaining, again. They were sitting in a rough circle of folding chairs in a back room at the Blue Marble, with a dozen other Zealot “leaders.” Mara was not particularly impressed – with one exception, they all seemed to be students, soft children of nobles and guildsmen with full bellies and full wallets. They probably meant well, but fighting might get their fancy clothes dirty. And the exception was not an improvement – he'd been introduced as Lar, no last name. Mara felt he bore a remarkable resemblance to a rodent.
Some of the Zealots questioned Dee about their “escape”. Others wandered over to corners, talking to each other. From what she overheard, the conversations seemed to mostly be about personal gossip and their various study groups. She sipped simcaf and watched faces and listened.
Lar broke away from his group and walked over to her, sitting in a chair next to her. “You look bored,” he observed.
“I'm having a rollicking time,” she replied blandly.
Lar chuckled. “You hide it well. Anyway, just thought I'd introduce myself. Always good to meet new people.” He leaned towards her until she could smell his foul breath, and and whispered in her ear. “You look like someone who might be planning something. Now, I'm not saying anything about anything, but if you need help with supplies, look me up. Sticks, electronics, drugs. Guns. I know people.”
“I'll keep that in mind,” she replied, telling the truth this time. Then her attention shifted as she realized Dee's conversation had taken a very interesting turn.
“MuniPrin Lee's still in the Tower, I hear,” one of the Zealots was saying. “Has been since they arrested him. That's what they say, anyway. I guess the Autarch likes him too much to kill him, but not enough to let him go.” The fat little student shook her head. “I can't imagine what he must think of his 'followers'”, the last word in air quotes. “Running around, killing and stealing in his name. Must tear him up inside.”
Mara's face was a blank mask. But inside, she was trembling. Not in anger – she didn't care what these soft fools think about her and Dee and the others. But she did care very much about where the MuniPrin was being held.
I promise you, MuniPrin, we'll get you out.
- - - - - - - -
Nowhere in Elysium was truly deserted, but level 78 came close. This level had once been home to residences and factories and stores, but at some point the air pumps and filters started to break down, and fewer and fewer were repaired, and those who could moved upward to more hospitable levels. The air felt like warm soup this deep, and any physical exertion made Mara start sweating and panting. But it was still populated; squatters and vagrants made their homes in the ruins, the dregs of the dregs who, for whatever reason, were unable or unwilling to live higher up.
It was here that Mara and Dee met Lir. He was the only one in the lift when it clanked to a stop on level 78, looking nervous and determined as he stepped out. “So, uh, what now?” he asked.
“Just follow us,” Dee said. She led the way to the meeting site they'd scouted out, Mara following two steps behind Lir, keeping an eye to their rear.
The place was built into the Hive wall. It had been a tavern once, decades, centuries ago. The windows were covered with metal shutters and the floor littered with trash, but some of the furniture was still there, rugged plastics still holding up after however many years. From the bottles and cans scattered about the place, this was not the first covert meeting the ruin had seen, nor would it likely be the last.
Dee lit a battery-powered lamp and sat opposite Lir, Mara next to him. “Alright, lay it on me,” she said. “What's the story?”
“I represent a small group of workers,” Lir said. “Not just as block warden, I mean. This is something else. Like I said, we don't all agree with Han. We'd like to hear what you have to say. Just a small group, maybe twenty or thirty.”
“You aren't worried about Han finding out?”
“Yes, of course we are. But it's a risk we're willing to take.” He paused, hesitated, went on. “You're Leeites, aren't you?”
Mara tensed. Her eyes flashed a question to Dee, ready to act. Dee frowned. “No, we aren't. We really are from Ferrograd. But what makes you think that?”
“There were pictures,” he said. “After MuniPrin Lee was arrested, there were pictures of the escapees, circulated among the snakes. A friend of a friend has a brother in IntSec, and he showed them to us.”
“What a remarkable coincidence,” Dee replied, almost managing to sound sincere. “Does this friend with a brother in IntSec know about us?”
“I'd be very interested in meeting a Leeite,” Lir said. “If you happen to know any. Someone who saw Earth, through that big telescope...”
“You can see Earth with your own eyes, if you go topside.”
“Not the same. Not nearly the same. Anyway. If you want an audience, I can get you one.”