I was undecided, for a time, whether Rose was really headed for the old department store and the Prism, or if the cellar thing had been the only way back out of olden times and so she’d only coincidentally been heading that way. Maybe, now she was back out in more or less contemporary times, she’d doubled back and headed for Collins square.
I had to say, looking around, that if this was something she’d chosen to do simply in order to protect her shoes from the sludge, then coming to this Christmas-sometime-in-the-near-future was not the best decision she could have made. It had seemed sensible when she had escaped the L&E tower unscathed, but not even the evidently-desperate measures the city planners had gone to seemed to be doing the job here and now. If Rose was still trying to get to Collins square without getting messy, she was not going to manage it.
On the other hand, I saw, the sealed walkway angled upwards and the sludginess seemed to lessen if you went in the other direction. So if she was headed for the department store, she might just manage it without getting messed up. Moreover, doing so might take her to a new time-fold where she could continue her roundabout route to the antique dealer with the stolen X-ray specs.
Cutting her off at the pass, or indeed past, was no longer on the table since we were now either several months after her getaway from the L&E tower lost and found, or a year and several months. Even if I braved the tubes to get to Collins square and laid in wait at the antique dealer’s, if Rose had gone back again she would beat me there by a considerable margin.
I shook my head, turned and began to trudge up the grimy orange plastic tunnel, the little aluminium-carbon-whatever case under my arm. It wasn’t as hot here as it had been back in the olden days, but it was hideously muggy in the sealed walkway, and the reek was not fading into the background like bad smells usually do after you’ve been immersed in them for a couple of minutes. I passed another Christmas-bedecked shop, and then another, this one an electronics store.
I lurched to a halt, backtracked – causing a couple of other people to veer around me in the enclosed tunnel – and stared at the window display.
Like most electronics stores, this one had some television and computer screens set up, at least one of which was connected to a camera so that people could see themselves walking past, and perhaps marvel at what modern science could do, and go in to buy one of the fabulous contraptions. Another of the screens was showing some sort of 24-hour news channel.
On it, as I had suspected, I saw a helicopter-view of the central business district, which was now a straight-edged-jigsaw-puzzle-piece quagmire covering several blocks – including the one on which the L&E tower had once stood, along with a couple of neighbouring buildings along Prince Philip Street. They’d collapsed into sink-holes – or stink-holes as I’d dubbed them – which had then in turn filled up with more rising sludge. Lake Philip, or the cursed swamp equivalent, had spread to swallow a huge swath of the city. Quite literally. Bright orange sealed walkways, smeared with ooze, wound through the mire.
But it wasn’t the ruined city that had caught my attention. It had been an accompanying news clip, which cycled around again while I watched.
WANTED FOR QUESTIONING
the crawl read.
ARMED AND DANGEROUS – CONNECTIONS TO ORGANISED CRIME – SUSPECT IN SABOTAGE OF CITY SEWER SYSTEM.
The blurry figure on the screen, captured running from one unidentifiable building to another and skidding in the rising sludge – clearly this footage had been shot some time ago, when the streets were still more or less clear – was Creepy.