In which an escape attempt is stymied and Kosi is able to tell everybody where they might be going ...
Make that, we just about fell into the arms of our EMBers. Probably the breathing-in trick wouldn’t work again.
“Hey,” Jack said. “Well met. Almost like we came home to the only people we know.”
Hey kids,” the one called Bene said. “Stick with us.” Her hair was curly and dark, and she had warm eyes with her eye-pupils showing in the brown. Her partner, Lydia, obviously had augmentations. Probably had them done before she joined, EMBers being snooty about anything not natural. Her eyes were tea-brown with no pupils to mar her mystery, ha-ha, and white hair in a soldier-cut.
“Stick with us for what?” the golden-haired one said. Her hair-do hung askew and she had no room to lift her arms to fix it. The crowds crowded close. I was standing right under Bene’s arm, smelling her sweat, with Jack between me and Lydia.
“Pallas, please,” said the man. He was squeezed between Lydia and the Emergency Exit. “They’re here due to us. Our responsibility I would say.”
That didn’t sound as though we were meant to be here with them on this jaunt. Eyes peeled, Kosi Lionhair. Despite being crowded on all sides, the EMBers seemed to lounge. They didn’t look worried.
Why not? The previous Life Lottery Sweep I knew anything about was a few years ago. Hen stopped me researching it. She said … I tried to remember her exact words … “A Sweep’s intake, its people, are never heard of again. By family or friends. It’s one of the great mysteries of our times. But I know,” Hen said with a dark frown, “That both Procyon Products and the government are involved in this disappearance. I don’t want you to come to their attention and maybe disappear too. Which is what will happen if you keep accessing their websites, Tween Child.”
She only ever called me that when it was life-threateningly serious. I remember that I shuddered. We’d had a couple of life-threatening events by then.
I wondered now why the Earth Maintenance and Base-line Engineers, so-called EMBers, hadn’t tried harder to avoid being captured? I could only suspect that since they were government troops too, they were in cahoots with the green-clads?
“We might all be in this transport together, but I have no intention of being data-waved to the Procyon System,” Pallas said.
Putting my suspicioning on hold.
“What?” A hubbub broke out among the lottery winners.
“Now see what you started,” Lydia said. “They’ll all be wanting to be saved. Like me. I want to be saved.” She stared at Pallas, and Pallas blushed.
“I knew it!” Lydia said. “You have a plan to save just yourself, and maybe—don’t bother denying it—dearest Owen! I always thought you two were a pair of uppity classers. Who, for crying out loud, goes soldiering with a temple-style hairdo?”
Temple-style hairdo? I chortled. “Goes with the name? Pallas?” I said into various amazed faces. “Greek goddess? Maybe our Pallas is trying to live up to her name? See my hairdo? When I know things aren’t going to be easy, I fluff up my lion hair.” I growled.
Long silence. Pallas blushed a fiery red.
Bene smiled so kindly at me that she made me want to sick up. But she wasn’t Hen and so I didn’t know her limits or her sense of humour. The situation wasn’t good.
“Procyon is a Greek name too,” I said instead. “Procyon A and Procyon B are companion stars. They have a planet each. Procyon A is a yellow star like our sun and its planet is Lotor. Procyon B is an old red star. Its planet is called Moera. All of them to do with Greek proto-dogs.”
I lifted my voice a bit to reach everybody listening. They had the right to know.
“A long time ago, Procyon Products … You’ll remember them from your history lessons as the only commercial outfit to get a licence to use the data generated by the Moogerah Monster? They call themselves PP now.”
A couple of people of the Sweep Intake nodded, remembering.
I took their nods as encouragement. “Yes. Them. You might recall too that they sent a ship-full of people to Lotor. What’s not so much in the news is that they’ve been trying ever since to discover if that ship arrived. And that PP’s latest invention is data-waving. My carer thinks they stole the process from the Procyon alien and his support system who fell to Earth um … a hundred fifty years ago? Plus or minus?”
“The EMBers made it illegal to use anything from that shuttle,” Pallas said, obviously trying to crush me. “Besides, what would a little girl know?”
I wanted to be rude, but again, the situation. “I’m easily bored, so Hen set me to study Ancient Greek and astronomy. She says that the EMBers and Procyon Products have been in in one another’s pockets since the beginning.”
Jack squeezed my hand.
I think to tell me to shut up. I took his advice and zipped my lips. Which was a good thing, because we had arrived or whatever you might call it. Landed. The doors slid open and the green-clads in with us started pushing people out by walking at them and inexorably pushing them toward the open doorways. The intake from our compartment tensely buzzed their discoveries toward the rest of the crowd.
A column was formed up on a pavement, rows of six. I was starting to recognise a few people. Man with beard and wild blue eyes. Woman snivelling into a hanky. People were tetchy from sleeplessness, my news and nerves in general and who could blame them I was feeling quite nasty myself. We, and all who went before us would be and had ‘disappeared’ into space? “Why are we letting ourselves be pushed around? There’s a thousand of them-and-us, and about ten guards?” I made ready.
“What I’m just saying,” Jack mumbled in my ear. “Do the green-clads look wide awake? I think not. We could rush them.”
I looked around faster than fast. “Plenty of hiding places among all this mess of buildings.” I indicated the structures surrounding the pavement with only a nod of my head.
“You want to go before your time?” the man next to Jack said. “The green-clads have Port Security helping out.”
He was right of course. At least a hundred more uniformed personnel, tasers at the ready, surrounded the ranks. Why hadn’t I seen them?
“Would it be worse to be put onto the climber tasered, or stone-cold sober and awake?” Lydia said.
“You’re asking because you’d rather go tasered?” Owen said.
She indicated Jack and me with a twirl of her finger. “You told me this was a bounty job? We were meant to grab the kids, deliver them to their nearest and dearests with our hands out for the credits, and off we go. Which was how you talked me into it. Isn’t that what they said?” she demanded of Bene.
Lydia continued. “Halfway to Urb Seven, Pallas, you were messaged. You talked with Owen as a result. But never with Bene or me. I suspected right then we’d been assigned the junior partner slot where the collaterally damaged hang out. So yeah, I’m going to give it a shot. Travel up the space elevator under the influence of a tasering.”
She stepped out from amongst us.
Neither Pallas nor Owen moved. In fact, they held Bene back from running after her partner. Jack and I didn’t move. Additional collateral damage, we were of one mind.
Everyone watched Lydia getting tasered and be carried into a small doorway at the foot of a large cylinder. As an experiment, it had a pretty unexciting outcome.
“That is quite an unusual looking climber,” Jack said. “If that’s what it is meant to be.”
Owen looked up sharply. He studied the cylinder.
It was big but I was more interested in the column of huge letters and numerals lying on their sides.
S I L O 2 3.