After the Archive’s destruction during Ormian Amtino’s time, the facility’s importance and interconnection with other systems had been all too apparent to Jayton Ember. He had ordered that the entire system be gutted and transferred to his headquarters in Lyon’s Boulevard. Now the Archive’s core was housed in a complex far beneath the Boulevard, a heavily shielded bunker that could survive a nuclear strike or an implosion bomb. Evinthei officers required special training to work there, and all of them went through a rigorous security clearance before they were allowed inside. The Archive was too important to be put at risk. That had been a lesson hard-learned.

Adree smiled at the guards on the secure elevator, handed over her sidearm, and exchanged her uniform’s top for a low-static overshirt with broad yellow stripes on the back and sleeves. One of the guards swiped a blank keycard, keying it to the day’s password, and handed it over. As the elevator doors opened, Adree caught a faint whiff of the familiar smell of the Archive: cold air, mingled with a sharper scent like eucalyptus that tickled her nose. There were no buttons in the elevator, just a keycard slot. Adree shoved hers in and leaned against the prop bar while the doors closed and the elevator began to descend. If the elevator was hotwired and sent down into the bunker without a card inserted, the security system would run a few thousand volts of electricity through the walls and floor.

The elevator descended in liquid silence, giving Adree time to think. She was glad Lessinger was all right: she had been furious when they had brought him in on a stretcher from the airfield. Furious at him - an anger born of fear and concern for her friend that would soon pass - and truly furious at the Central Forum for putting them in this position.

A small smile touched the corners of her mouth. If Adrigal Lawley had been alive, she would have strung the Central Forum up by their ears, and Adree would have cheered her on. Lucky for the Forum that they lived in very different times, then. So. Better to watch and wait, let them run in circles. First Lessinger needed to recover, and they would take care of things as they came. For now, it seemed like she had other business to take care of.

After several minutes the elevator came to a stop and Adree stepped out into the bunker. The guards on the checkpoint were chatting: they straightened up as she approached. This guard assignment wasn’t particularly popular, partly because the main security was handled on the surface, partly because visitors to the Archive aside from the daily support staff were few and far between, but mostly because the bunker was about ten degrees colder than the rest of the building and you almost froze sitting still.

“Hello, Commander Aeslin,” said one of the guards. “We were told to expect you. Archivist Tayner and Commander Harpeti are down in the gene labs.”

“Harpeti?” Adree asked, surprised. Luso Tayner she had expected, but aside from his presence at her Forum hearing, she rarely spoke to Nandie Harpeti. “Did they say what this was about?”

“No, commander. Sorry.”

“ -Thanks anyway.” She left the checkpoint and started walking through the bunker, pausing to let two people with boxes of disks pass her by.

The Archive bunker was dim, built from polished black granite with light strips in the corners of the floor. At regular intervals there were heavy tanks set into the walls, all radiating cold with warning signs pasted on them. The Archive had a sophisticated refrigeration system: those tanks were pumped full of liquid nitrogen and it wasn’t safe to touch them without gloves. Fans in the ceiling gave off a low whisper, not an unpleasant noise, something like standing near a beehive.

On impulse, Adree took a detour and followed the faint thrumming that ran through the walls and floor. It got louder as she passed through decontamination, and reached a doorway to a huge chamber beyond.

A set of stairs led down to the massive circular console in the centre of the room - she could see other entrances leading down too. Technicians were busy at their individual workstations, or changing one of the many cables that snaked across the floor. Their faces were lit by the violet light of the immense Archive core that ran floor to ceiling, almost twenty feet high. Adree thought, as she always did, how it looked like some huge crystalline puzzle half-completed: glassy sheets set at right angles to each other with lines and numbers flowing between them as if by magic. The power running through the core trembled in the air, a note eternally held but never growing too much to bear. She raised her head to it, feeling what no one else could feel. She had spent many hours working in this room, her mind sensitive to subtle currents, and more than once she had sensed that the data held in the Archive was resonating with more than a computer’s awareness. But then again it was an Ancestral piece of technology, not a normal computer.

Adree looked up at the walls of the core chamber. At first glance they were smooth black granite, but looking closer revealed that the wall was broken up into perfectly square sections. Touching one would cause the little drawer to slide back, revealing its carefully maintained contents. Because that was the grim truth behind the Archive: it was Ancestral, and it wouldn’t operate without donated living tissue. Among the Evinthei, organ donation was not used to keep an individual alive, but to keep entire systems up and running so everyone could survive. They had tried to grow replacement organs from cells and use those, but these were always rejected. Adree had heard theories that there was some sort of bioelectrical difference between lab organs and those taken from a sentient being, and it was this that the Ancestors had relied upon. She had no idea if it was true or not, but she didn’t have a great deal of interest in debating it. One worked and the other didn’t. When it came to something so important as keeping the Archive up and running, the gifts of the dying went to good use, and that was all that mattered.

She lingered on the steps a moment more, gazing thoughtfully at the wall. One of those discreet little containers housed her grandfather’s heart.

 

The gene labs were down a long corridor, punctuated by decon doors on either side. Adree peered through the doorways as she passed, curious: she rarely had cause to come down here. This was Harpeti’s territory, where the genetic security of the Evinthei was safeguarded. Not only did they handle standard analysis to ensure the families of the Entourage didn’t inbreed, they researched genetic diseases and catalogued samples held in cold storage, brought back by teams who had Gated out from Nones. These were few and far between, though: Gating from Nones was restricted these days. The Evinthei had enough problems at home without going looking for more.

Adree asked a passing biologist where Harpeti was, and got directions to the lab at the end. As she entered, she could tell at once that this was Harpeti’s main laboratory. A large console formed the centre of the room, while there were six or seven large, well-equipped workstations. It was a big room, built to cope with a large support staff, but it was empty at the moment aside from the two men by the console’s main computer.

Luso Tayner looked around as she came in. “Adree, hello. We heard about Arawn Lessinger -”

“I’ve just spoken to him, he’s okay.”

“But there are at least a dozen others who weren’t as lucky, I understand.” Nandie Harpeti was dressed in a lab coat, looking thoughtfully at the screen beside him. “It’s tragic.”

“Borden’s getting better,” said Tayner, sourly.

“Borden has a lot of ancestry behind him,” Harpeti replied. “Maybe he’s finally channelling a bit of his father. It wouldn’t hurt.”

Adree wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. “I tend to leave religion to my father, Commander Harpeti, his beliefs are more clearly defined than mine. You wanted to see me?”

Harpeti nodded. “It’s about that sample you brought back for us, from the Librais Tower. The blood you collected from that woman.”

“Really?” Adree perked up. “What did you find?”

Tayner exchanged a look with Harpeti. “Maybe you’d better close the door, Adree. And lock it.”

 

 

 

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