Day 99. 109 pages, 46,557 words. God damn it why do I not have time to do fuck all.
She stepped quickly through into a chamber only slightly larger than the airlock-antechamber to the lower archives. The wall sealed silently behind her.
Predericon stared at Gyden, and Gyden stared at Predericon. Gyden was breathing hard, but calmed in a matter of seconds. She still looked pale and exhausted, her skin pouchy and worn, but she was clearly still in decent condition. Her clothing was relatively fresh – considering the fact that they’d been in the lower archives some weeks, and she had obviously been quite active down here in Segment Thirteen as well.
“What happened to you?” Predericon asked, just as Gyden’s nose pinched and she said, “What’s that smell?”
They both stopped then, and laughed briefly. For a moment Gyden looked like her old self, and her ears dimmed to their more accustomed soft glow. The room was still gloomy compared to the sourceless light in the upper Segments, but Predericon’s lamp illuminated it well enough to show there was no furniture, no equipment. Whether it was a transport chamber or just a random room, Predericon supposed it didn’t matter – presumably it was protecting them from whatever Gyden had been fleeing. It was a bolt-hole, perhaps, just like she’d once thought of the lower archives airlock.
“How long have you been down here?” Predericon asked. “We need to establish if there’s been some sort of time dilation or…”
“Days,” Gyden shrugged. “Weeks, maybe. You tell me.”
“Weeks sounds right,” Predericon said. “I was distracted by the archives,” Gyden smiled fleetingly at the memory, then grew sombre when Predericon went on, “Lelhmak?”
Gyden shook her head. “He … he’s dead,” she said. “Dead, gone.”
“What’s happened down here?” Predericon pleaded. “What were you running from? What is this place? How have you survived?”
“There’s a dispenser,” Gyden said vaguely, “it’s not exactly Molran-attuned, but it produces water and a sort of nutritious paste. Problem is, I can’t get to it very often. It’s … in hostile territory, you might say,” she tilted her head, her ears brightening slightly. “What about you? How did you manage to sit so long in the archives before coming down here? And is that smell coming from your pack?” she recoiled a little.
Frowning, Predericon unshouldered the pack and set it on the floor.
“The Bookwyrm figured out what makes us tick,” she said, unfastening the catches. “Unfortunately it was a bit too late to help either of you,” she held up one of the soft, round cakes that the Bookwyrm had produced for her.
Gyden recoiled still further. “God above, the smell,” she hissed. “What is that thing?” she peered, flinchingly, into the top of the bag and took a quick couple of steps backwards, almost hitting the wall. Her upper left hand went to her mouth as though to stifle nausea. “My God, Predericon, have you been eating those?”
“Of course,” Predericon said, blinking at the innocuous little golden-brown cake. “They’re extremely nutritious.”
“Are they alive?” Gyden asked in horrified fascination. “It’s still wriggling. Is that – are they chunks of the Bookwyrm’s flesh?”
“Adapted from it,” Predericon confirmed. She sniffed at the cake uncertainly. It smelled, mildly and pleasantly, of honey and spices. Gyden looked on in horror as Predericon bit into it and held it up. “It’s quite inert.”
“Oh my God,” Gyden whispered, her eyes fixed on the cake and flicking, occasionally, to the floor and the wall next to Predericon. She suddenly dodged sideways as though ducking some flying projectile. “God, Predericon, stop,” she lunged forward, knocked the half-cake out of her hand, and stamped on it feverishly.
Gyden made a sick little noise in her throat and stamped again, and again, then danced back as though the cake was doing anything but lying flattened on the floor in a little scatter of crumbs. Gyden snarled and stepped back in and stamped on it one more time, then straightened and glared at Predericon.
“So that’s what you’ve been living on?” she demanded. “Meat-maggots dug out of the Bookwyrm’s armpits?” she must have finally recognised Predericon’s confusion, because her haggard face softened a little. “You’re not seeing them,” she said, and rolled her eyes. “Of course you’re not, what am I thinking? You’ve been conditioned. You’re seeing and smelling and tasting something else altogether. I should have seen it in your reactions from the start. My critical faculties aren’t what they once were.”
Predericon, shaken to think she might be delusional – might have been delusional for some time – closed the pack and lifted it back onto her shoulders. “If I’ve been contaminated,” she tried to remain calm, “we should try not to let it spread to you.”
“That must be how it got through the Segment barrier,” Predericon mused. “The Bookwyrm might be using me as a vector to continue to spread through the platform.”
“Well I don’t think there’s too much danger,” Gyden said. “There isn’t anywhere it can spread to from here except back up into the archives. This is the end of the line as far as Segments go.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sure as I can be,” Gyden shrugged. “When the Destarion trapped the Bookwyrm, she might have dropped it in a hole with a nice library … but she dropped it in a hole. And we’re sitting in the bottom of it.”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while on the bus.