Day 104. 116 pages, 49,808 words. God damn flu stopped me from doing anything this weekend and now I’m overworked and can’t seem to hack out even half an hour of free time for myself. Vittu.
“How did you learn all this?” Predericon asked once they’d been walking for another twenty minutes or so, and it didn’t seem as though anything else was going to lurch out of the darkness at them. “The food dispenser. The rooms. I haven’t managed to get anything to open for me, but the elevator room at least just opened when you jumped at the wall.”
Gyden shrugged. “It’s not that big a mystery,” she said. “When I first used the gastroclave, it created a passenger profile for me that grants me access to certain rooms. I get the feeling there should be more, but a lot of the functionality down here is broken or already in … what did she call it? In stowage-standby?”
“I suppose we can thank ourselves for that,” Predericon remarked. “Getting rid of Odium for her.”
“True – but I think Segment Thirteen was already pretty close to full shutdown,” Gyden said. “It doesn’t get any more or less shut-down than this, because doing so would risk…”
“…the menagerie escaping,” Predericon concluded.
“But you got this profile when you accessed the gastroclave,” Predericon persisted. “How did you even do that the first time?”
“Ah,” Gyden said with an audible smile. “Well, that was rather more un-academic running and getting lost and panicking and accidentally stumbling onto things than I care to admit right now.”
Predericon still wasn’t convinced, but she let it pass.
They continued downwards for a while, and then Gyden turned and led Predericon through a doorway into a chamber that felt expansive. At the same time, adding to the feeling, Gyden dimmed her ears still further and practically subvocalised to Predericon that she needed to move quietly.
Predericon followed the pale triangles of Gyden’s ears across the smooth floor, turning at right-angles at one point for apparently no reason and continuing. Predericon heard something, something enormous, shift and rustle somewhere up in the invisible vault of the ceiling. If a bird could have feathers made of lead, Predericon thought, it might sound something like that. Except it was either a row of birds, or a single feathered thing in serpentine form, because the soft, heavy sound rolled across the ceiling far above them in a motion she could almost triangulate.
She set her eyes back on Gyden’s ears and followed as silently as she could.
They finally reached the edge of the chamber and Gyden led Predericon into a new corridor, presumably somewhere in the interior of Segment Thirteen and some distance from the promenade. Her ears brightened again to reveal a similar passageway to the large downward helix, although this one seemed horizontal.
“Not far now,” she said.
They crossed another small room, another corridor, and then stopped in a third room where Gyden let her ears rise to full bioluminescence. They didn’t reveal much – the chamber was another rounded-off square with melted-wax buttresses and grooves in its ancient enamel, and a lumpy block in the centre that could have been a console or furniture. Predericon examined it, and was a little alarmed to see that its surface was scored with claw-marks similar to the gouges Odium had left on the walls of its prison cell.
“It was like that when I got here,” Gyden said when Predericon glanced at her questioningly. “Now, the next room is the gastroclave room, but it’s … usually occupied. We won’t know until we go in there. The good news is, I think the two of us have a pretty good chance of clearing the way. You’re going to have to trust me, though.”
“You’re going to make me be bait,” Predericon guessed.
“No, there’d be no point,” Gyden shook her head. “You don’t know your way around so you’d get caught or lost or worse. I’ll be the bait. You just need to go in while I’m distracting the misprints, make yourself a profile and reset the gastroclave so it doesn’t make any more. Then you can familiarise yourself with your access permissions, and when I come back we’ll eat.”
“I was hoping to breeze swiftly past that.”
“Your hope was misplaced.”
“Like I said, the gastroclave can make nutrient-paste and water,” Gyden explained. “Anything more creative, and it gets … weird. Really weird, really fast. Resetting the machine works for a while, but then it starts churning out things on its own.”
“You haven’t considered staying here and just resetting the machine every so often?”
“I’ve thought about it,” Gyden said, “and it might be another thing we can do now there’s two of us. But like the elevator, the gastroclave room isn’t long-term stable or safe either. It’s best to stock up and then go. Besides,” her teeth gleamed, “if I’d stayed down here, you definitely would have been carried off by Stankley’s big brother in your first hour down here.”
“Alright,” Predericon allowed. “Just let me know what you want me to do.”
“The user interface is pretty intuitive,” Gyden said, and crossed to one of the walls. “Just stay back against the wall here,” she pointed to the side, “and wait for me to lead the misprints away, then duck in and reset the machine.”
“And you’ll be alright?”
This seemed to be the best Gyden could offer, so Predericon nodded, and turned to set her back against the wall next to the doorway Gyden was preparing to open.
“Ready,” she said.
“Okay,” Gyden nodded. “Don’t worry, the misprints aren’t usually big, but they’re … difficult to quantify. And as far as I can tell they’re impossible to-”
There was a sound from above, and Predericon looked up in time to see a doorway irising open in the ceiling. Gyden’s ear-light was unable to illuminate whatever was up there, and a split-second later her light winked out in any case.
Something dropped from the ceiling. An amalgamation of scaly arm, gaping serpent, and twisting vine. It struck Gyden, wrapped around her in an instant, and tightened with a wet explosion of bone and hot blood.
Predericon was plunged into utter blackness.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while picking up Wump from school.