“Not that again,” protested Kaire as Dax pulled the phone out of his pocket. “Just throw it away. It’s more trouble than it’s worth.”

“What is?” Athellus asked.

Queeeep! Queeeep! 

“He found that gadget after a paradigm squall,” explained Kaire, folding her arms. “It keeps ringing for no reason.”

Frustrated, Dax peered at the phone. In the gloom of the tunnel, the display was glowing bright blue. “How can I be getting a signal? We’re underground! I think there’s something wrong with it...”

Queeeep! Queeeep!

“Yes, well,” said Athellus, still holding his gun at bay and looking over his shoulder, “if you’re going to answer it, I’d suggest you get a move on.”

“I’m not answering! Who knows what’s on the other end of the line?”

“I don’t know, but if that thing keeps ringing, it’s going to make every Earthborn within earshot very curious,” said Athellus. “And no offence, but I’m not anxious to meet whatever’s writing little essays on the walls with its bare claws.”

Unhappily, Dax opened the phone and, gingerly held it up to his ear. For a moment he was convinced it was going to give him a shock, but there was just a click as the call connected.

There was a soft hiss of static, a little like power lines sizzling on a bright day. Dax thought it might have something whispering in the background, but it was hard to make out. Then…

“Anything?” Kaire asked.

Dax closed his eyes, despite the darkness of the tunnel, to listen better. Deep in the static, barely audible, he could hear a voice, speaking clearly but very softly. It wasn’t male or female, and had a rasp to it, a not-unattractive sound. The part of his mind that was still a sound engineer was already thinking how he would bring out that edge to its full advantage. The rest of him was paying close attention.

One…two…three…five…eight…A…J. Go to the right. One…two…three…five…eight… A… J. Go to the right. One…two…

“Have either of you got anything to write on?” Dax asked, urgently. Kaire went into the pockets of the backpack Athellus was wearing and passed him a scrap of paper and a pencil. Hurriedly, Dax jotted down what he was hearing, then kept listening. The voice went on with its repetition, almost lost in the background noise but still obviously there.

Athellus took the paper. “Hmm.”

Dax barely heard him. It was a rude shock when, abruptly, there was a booop! and the call cut off. He snapped the phone shut with an odd sense of loss.


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