Part XX

The man raised an eyebrow at Tam, carefully checking her over. "What makes you think this is a dream?"

Tammy's mind went into overload as the words dropped in. Security cameras unable to see them, sensors unable to detect them, people unable to hear them, objects moving at her will, locked doors opening for her, gel rounds exploding a hole just before impact, the pathway through a minefield of sensors and traps coming to her like the beating of her heart. Rainbow-colored scales fell through the rain, piling high enough to cushion her fall to the hot sand beneath.

Painter lay her carefully on the ground and checked her breathing. Tiny kept a calloused and itchy trigger-finger towards Jessie and the strange man. Jessie considered this a bad time to make sudden movements. The man was fairly certain something strange was going on. Whitehot was annoyed that Harold got to build the sandcastle.

"Ha'z sh' doin'?"

"Looks fine for the moment. She needs to be checked out, though."

Whitehot looked at his deck anxiously. "Merlin's taking hits. He won't last more than three."

"How long 'til reserved arrive?"

Whitehot concentrated for a moment. "System drills have been within 8 min."

Tiny glared at Jessie with shark teeth. "If ya wanna git outa her' grab her."

Jessie considered her options for a moment and decided that, while They would go to elaborate schemes, even They wouldn't be trailing entrails. Grabbing an arm and hefting, "Better than getting captured by Them and loosing my proof."

Painter started towards the door, "Come on Hippity-Hop, let's check that elevator."

"WhiteHot WhiteHot WhiteHot! how many times to I have to tell you!"

The man looked from one to the other to the other. "I've been rescued by the Stooges."

"The elevator doesn't even have a brain, much less hooked to anything else. No idea what's waiting."

The elevator was tight. Painter and Tiny and Tiny's LMG took up most of the space, leaving a pigeon hole for Whitehot, Jessie, Tammy and the man. The man spoke quietly, but in a manner that everyone heard him, "There will be no one waiting."

"This guy is freaking Harold out. Who invited him along?"

"The hawk sees more when he knows the use of his wings."

Painter didn't move his focus from the door. "There are questions he may be able to answer. He better not breathe wrong, though."

"You'z wanna door o' shoul' I?"

Painter positioned himself at the crack between the doors. "Crack it. I'll look." Tiny cracked the elevator doors Painter did a quick look around the corner and back. "Bodies from our last pass. Watch for fakers."

Whitehot sent through the radio link, "Merlin's gone. I'd need to jack in to get more info. We better move."

Tiny went into silent conversation as well. "Da trapz de-act-e-vated?"

"Yea, took care of those right after the golem crumbled."

"Wiz. Maria will be waiting."


"Yea, I hear them. Time to frag."

It was raw edge that kept Tiny and Painter moving. Slap-patch augmented adrenaline highs fought off the fatigue, allowing them to keep moving along the bullets strewn hallways despite the...  hours?  Days?  Each felt it their arms in their legs in their wounds in the third or fourth finger they'd used to pull that fragging trigger since this began oh so long ago.  Jessie lumbered behind them with Tam's limp body weighing her down as she tried not to step in the slick puddles of their wake. Whitehot was upset Herold was talking to the man.

What was weird was the man was talking back.

Jessie was weary, but made a mental note to have a serious scan of Whitehot to figure out if it was aliens or those two were just bleedin' whacked. Then again it might be They had erased his memory (step, two three four) and just done a piss poor job of it. Yet, (hoist step, two three) what a great way to make sure anything this whiffle said was ignored.

Painter took position by a mangled panel. "Last elevator before moonlight. Go ahead and check it out, Whiteheat."

"Whitehot," he grumbled.

Whitehot could see everyone, including himself, from his perch up in the corner. He backed up into the wire and checked the chicken pecking at the snake trying to get from the camera past the furious fowl. The shift was instantaneous, which still gave him vertigo but no longer made him that nauseous. He checked out their path from his mid-air viewpoints and checked on two more chickens, a weasel, and a meat grinder. Each one diligently saluted at their station, indicating all was well. He pulled out a glass scorpion and held it close to whisper grid access coordinates before it hopped down and quickly crawled out of viewability.

Whitehot's eyes focused onto the here. "We're good to the top." With an experienced tug he snapped the cables free from the patch. The elevator started it's assent.

Moving on adrenaline and stim patches, the bunch staggered a little with the stop of the elevator. Maria was there, doors opening as they approached. Everyone slumped in while Painter leaded back into a world of traction and trajectories. After a couple of miles, Tiny pulled out a pen-like object, twisted it until the two marks lined up, then clicked the top. A faint rumbling roused a few from their rest. Tiny rolled over to Whitehot's mumbling of "You and your damn explosives."

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