Ch. XI, p.6

He continued through winding, unfamiliar alleyways; once overgrown with lush vines and hanging plants, they now were choked with refuse, their walls discolored by grime and soot. A visual overlay guided him along the shortest known path, a fluorescent blue line upon the earth detailing the route.

Emerging onto a larger walkway and passing a stately, arched doorway, he heard someone shouting. He turned to greet a familiar face.

“Berin?” he said. “What’s going on?”

The burly redhead looked worried as he approached. “God I’ve been looking all over for you. I’m glad I got to you in time.”

“What happened?”

“All I know is you stirred up some shit with the wrong people. And you gotta’ come with me. Now.”

Dread sank down his spine. “What about Sherrad, is he okay?”

“I don’t know about your friend. But if you have any idea where he is, you better get to him fast or forget about him.”

Dominic jammed a heel into the ground and broke into a dash.

“Dominic!” he heard from behind, “Meet me at our old rendezvous in thirty minutes! If you aren’t there there’ll be nothing I can do for you!”

“I’ll be there!” he shouted back over his shoulder.

There’ll be nothing he can do for me…? Jesus, what the hell could have happened?

His heart palpitated nervously, taut, black strands urging his feet onward at a superhuman rate. People who saw him coming ducked out of the way, or stared nervously, afraid of what he might do. But his awareness extended no further than the need to label each of them “possible threat/not a threat”.

Rounding a dismal corner he halted, immediately dropping into a crouch. In the distance, he saw a green, covered truck, parked sideways in the middle of a wide, cobblestone walkway.

‘Scan,’ he thought. Infrared sensors indicated that the vehicle had been running recently, residual heat still radiating from its engine. As well, bullet holes patterned its wood siding and army green cab, mirror hanging askance from having smashed into something.

He needed to go in for a closer look. Staying low, he checked his equipment to make sure that he was hidden from any olfactory or audio sensors that might be lying around, and a visual distortion field activated around him. He would be using power like crazy, but considering the dire state of things, it might save his life.

I should go in around back, he thought. He wanted to enter the doctor’s building as close to the operation room as possible.

Ducking down another alleyway, he noticed a surge of activity in the street behind him. Skittering, animal-like robots were emerging from an underground tunnel system that had been completely out of use in recent years.

Animi… He had only seen these metallic critters one time after the shift, since transformed from helpful refuse gatherers into ‘cleaners,’ adept at removing sensitive evidence from the scene of an incident. And usually, the incidents that preceded them were of the foulest nature.

He hurried onward—past a series of windows, under a crumbling, brick archway, and down an elaborate set of stairs; laid out in a wide semicircle, the stairs had once ferried a trickling fall of water in the most elegant fashion, their beauty now dried up.

He hurried down until he reached a pair of thick, transparent doors. Or what had once been—somebody had forced an entrance since he was last here, shards of glass now scattered wildly upon the grimy floor.

He passed through the entrance and into a cramped space; and though it was darkened by a persistent energy-shutdown field originating, curiously, beneath the ground, he was easily able to find his way, his aura coaxing a sepia glow out of his surroundings.

Emerging from the storage area, he quietly made his way to the operations chamber. A mostly disintegrated portal had opened within the white door, no longer able to obstruct entrance to the room, and he stepped through, grimly viewing what was left of Doctor Edwards’ equipment.

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