Predericon in Darkness, Part 12

Day 100. 110 pages, 47,042 words.


 

Unwillingly, but on Gyden’s insistence, Predericon deactivated her lamp.

“It’s the safest way to get around down here,” Gyden explained, as Predericon’s eyes adjusted to the faint aquatic glow from her friend’s ear implants. “They don’t like phosphorescents, but they hate glowbulbs of, say, thirty pips or higher. And it’s not the sort of hate that makes them run away, either.”

“Alright,” Predericon looked around the room. The low, blue-green light somehow accentuated the melted-wax look of the walls with their smooth curves and runnels. “So who is they?”

Gyden shrugged. “Things in the darkness,” she said. “Rogue components. Exotic engine waste. Crew or passengers or brig-prisoners that have been left down here to rot,” she puffed a nearly-silent laugh. “Instantly I regret my choice of words.”

“You’ve seen them?”

“Some of them,” Gyden said. “The swarm that skeletonised Lelhmak in thirty seconds, and ate his bones and filters in another thirty. A big hairy animal that I think is a Voidsnake, but bigger than any I’ve ever heard of. A couple of humanoids of various sizes, ranging from knee-high to…” the shadow of her arm rose and waved a hand somewhere above her own head. “Something that looks like a Flesh-Eater, like Stankley, except bigger. So big, it has to pull itself along horizontally through the promenade. Not a face you want to see coming out of the dark at you. That was what was behind us just now, by the way.”

“The Promenade,” Predericon said. “That’s the curved passage that leads off the lower archives room?”

Gyden nodded. “There’s two,” she said, “running in a double helix down into the deeps,” she lowered herself into a crouch against the opposite wall, still looking at Predericon and her pack. Her worn-down face was illuminated by her ears but it left her eyes in shadow; nevertheless Predericon recognised the wariness in her posture. Recognised it and sympathised. “There are chambers and passages leading off this one, at least. I haven’t explored many of them. That’s where I found the food dispenser – the ‘gastroclave’.”

Predericon nodded. “And the second door in the archives room,” she said, “that leads to the second promenade?”

Gyden nodded. “But it’s worse,” she said. “That’s why I put the mark on this passage, just in case you or anyone else came through. When I first started exploring this place…” she stopped, and hesitated for a long time before continuing. “I went down into the other promenade. But there’s … I don’t know if it’s a thing, or just the nature of the darkness in that passage. Perhaps some rogue telepathic or supernatural element. I know it sounds stupid, but-”

“No,” Predericon said, “it doesn’t. Go on.”

“I heard something crying,” Gyden said, “and begging in a language I didn’t understand. It seemed weak – starving, maybe. I went further and … the darkness deepened very suddenly, very intensely, and…” she shuddered and shook her head. “Something dramatically psychologically unpleasant happened,” she said in an attempt at lightness. She gestured to her face. “It’s not just a couple of weeks of near-constant anxiety that’s done this,” she laughed shortly. “Or decomposing implants or biolume in my skin, like Lelhmak was always muttering about.”

“But you got out?”

“Barely,” Gyden said. “I wrote a warning above that door, but … it seems like any interference with that entrance, it doesn’t like. I … I blacked out, and when I woke up I was-” she stopped again, and stifled a sob.

“You don’t have to tell me,” Predericon said. “We’ll stay away from that door.”

“No,” Gyden said, “you don’t understand, I have to tell you. It’s important. I came back to my senses and I was – was suspended in the doorway to the other promenade, my torso in the archive room and my legs in the tunnel. I was floating, jerking up and down, back and forth, and it was like – like something was chewing on my feet, my legs. It couldn’t pull me deeper for some reason, but it was trying.”

“What did you do?”

Gyden laughed bitterly. “I panicked,” she said. “Soiled myself. Screamed and cried. Then I grabbed the edge of the doorway the next time I was close enough to it. I saw the warning I’d made, and – well, I don’t know if it was an instinct or an implanted suggestion, or just because there wasn’t anything else I could do … I couldn’t pull myself out, so I wiped off the warning instead. And as soon as I’d wiped the wall clean, it let go. I fell to the floor, and crawled into the archive room.”

“And your legs…?”

“Unharmed,” Gyden replied. “Just painful. Entirely psychological. The whole thing. But that’s what I’m worried about.”

“What do you mean?”

“The darkness in the other promenade can reach me here,” Gyden said in a near-whisper. “When I marked the door, then came back down here, it reached out and took hold of my mind, and took me back up there. And it might do the same again now, just because I’ve told you. I don’t know what sets it off.”

“I’ll be able to keep an eye on you,” Predericon promised. “If it looks like you’re blacking out, or acting strange, I’ll dunk your face in my food pack,” Gyden grimaced, but then smiled. “I’m joking,” Predericon assured her. “A ringing two-handed slap it is.”

Gyden looked relieved. “Thanks.”

“What about – how deep does the helix go?”

“Deeper than I’ve gone,” Gyden replied. “The curve tightens, and the slope steepens, and I imagine it continues doing so all the way to the tip of the fang. Maybe it connects with the other promenade down there. I haven’t found anything that resembles a schematic. But even in this promenade … well, for a start, there are the physical threats. But the darkness deepens as you descend, it’s something like water pressure. Whether the lower reaches of this promenade are occupied by the same force that the other one has all the way to the top … I don’t know. I haven’t taken the risk.”

“Seems sensible.”

“But the deeper you go, the more dangerous it is,” Gyden went on. “And the more mistakes I found myself making. And the risk of just, just losing your footing and sliding…” she shivered. “And the creatures are … some of them seem pretty juiced up on the stuff, like it’s their natural environment. I’ve been working on some theories about that, but at the moment it just seems like up to a certain level – or down to it, rather – the darkness is something they thrive on. But after that, it becomes dangerous for them too, which is why I didn’t see anything in the other promenade. I’ve been conceptualising it something like the Pall in The Centre. Toxic on the edges, worse in the middle.”

Predericon nodded. “And this chamber?”

“It’s meant to be an elevator,” Gyden said, and laughed. “An elevator within the Elevator. But it doesn’t move. Or if it does, it’s subtle enough about it that I’ve never noticed. And it only ever opens on that one segment of the promenade,” she tilted her head. “You’re wondering how I know all this.”

“It had occurred to me,” Predericon admitted. “Since you did just say you hadn’t found a schematic.”

“We’ll wait a while for Stankley’s big brother to give up,” Gyden said, “and then go down to the gastroclave room. Two of us might have better luck getting in and out. Then I can show you.”

“How long does Stankley’s big brother usually take to give up?”

“It’s not the giving up that takes so long,” Gyden grinned. “It’s dragging itself into a chamber where it can turn itself around and go back to wherever it lives down there. An hour or two usually does it,” she folded her upper arms around her knees, and her lower arms around her shins. “In the meantime,” she said, “why don’t you tell me about your last couple of weeks?”

 


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

This entry was posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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