One hand raised above his head, Dax wandered back and forth along the skyway, stood on tiptoe, then crossed from one side to the other. Finally he stood on the west side, lowered his hand and took a look at the cell phone.

It definitely wasn’t his imagination. The transmission bars had completely vanished. And that little message had popped up again: “Error! BRH resonance critically low!”

“What the hell is BRH resonance when it’s at home?” Dax demanded of the phone. “Come on, say something normal for once.”

He sighed, then crossed the skyway again, passing the junked vehicles, until he was standing on the eastern side. As abruptly as they had vanished, the transmission bars smugly reappeared and the error message was gone.

Dax inched back toward the centre of the skyway until he was standing in the middle of the road, where a white dividing line had once been painted before time, weather and neglect had worn it away. Standing here, the skyway ran up ahead of him in a straight line to the ruined skyscrapers ahead on the horizon. The shells of the buildings were a soft pewter-sandstone colour in the warm sunshine. Overhead, set against a stunningly beautiful blue sky, soft white clouds floated past on the breeze.

He tore his eyes off the view and addressed the cell phone again, placing his feet experimentally on either side of the dividing line. The transmission bars were halfway down. When he shifted his weight to the west they were suddenly gone. When he shifted it to the other side, the bars reappeared. Annoyed, he snapped the handset closed.

He was becoming painfully aware of how mysterious the cell phone was, for all its innocent appearance, and, if it went wrong, how little he could do about it. Apart from today the transmission bar status had never changed, the handset was somehow able to pick up calls deep underground, and the battery charge remained constant - which was lucky, because the paradigm squall that had dropped the phone to begin with hadn’t seen fit to drop a charger. Or, Dax reflected, grinning at his own stupidity, a power station and a convenient wall socket either…

And as for the messages he got on it, the phone seemed to oscillate between saving his life and telling him utter nonsense. ‘BRH resonance is critically low’? What was the point of telling him that?

As Dax made his way back along the skyway, he saw Athellus leaning out over the edge, gazing out at the view. His red jacket stood out against the blueness overhead. No sign of Kaire - she had gone to scout ahead and hadn’t returned yet. To his astonishment, Dax saw that Athellus’ head was surrounded by a haze of smoke. A cigarette was held in his left hand, half gone.

“I thought you stopped smoking.”

Athellus grinned. “I feel like I’ve earned one. Do me a favour, don’t tell Kaire.”

“Her senses are pretty sharp. Won’t she be able to smell it?”

“Fair point.” Athellus took a final, longing drag, then flicked the butt off the edge of the skyway. It trailed sparks briefly before the wind blew it away. “What were you up to over there?”

Dax shrugged, not wanting to bring the subject of the phone up again. “Nothing. Just looking around.”

“Ah huh,” said Athellus, with a faint smile. “Because there’s so much to look at around here, of course.”

“It’s just a relief to be able to stretch my legs without being shot at or savaged,” Dax said, trying to change the subject.

Athellus nodded. “And without getting up close and personal with the Evinthei, either. The guard post must have been pretty hair-raising for you.”

“It wasn’t that bad.” Aside from the part where it felt like my mind belonged to someone else. “I guess Captain Lessinger had it worse than me.”

Loose stones and an old paving slab shuffled down behind them: Kaire climbed up from behind a pile of rubble and dusted herself off. “Looks nice and clear up ahead. Any Earthborn have gone to ground.”

“Maybe word got around,” snickered Dax.

Kaire turned to her partner. “So what’s the plan?”

Athellus reached into his jacket and took out a folded piece of paper. “I borrowed this from the equipment room back at the barracks when we were stocking up,” he explained as he unfolded the page; it opened out to about A3 size. “One of the technicians probably printed it off. It’s a basic schematic of the Generator Well’s power systems.”

To Dax, the design on the paper looked a little like a spreading, inky snowflake, or - no, more like a map of the London Underground, with two major ‘lines’ on it that were marked in red and green. “The green one is the backup grid we just destroyed. The red one is the primary grid. Now, as you can see from this, the green one going down will already have caused a lot of damage, but the red one can manage without it. Problem is… turns out, if the Evinthei are on to us - and they will be by now because they’re not stupid - they can switch power over to here, which is a site down on Lyon’s Boulevard with about five thousand defenders in between it and us.”

“Sounds like good odds to me,” Kaire said, off-handedly.

“I take it you’ve got a saner idea,” Dax asked.

One finger traced the lines on the schematic, showing him. “See these? They connect the Generator Well’s conductive systems. Remember I told you that the Well was supposed to transmit Gating energy to sites on the outskirts of the city? Well, each of those sites has a pylon to receive that energy and earth it harmlessly. Now ordinarily those pylons are heavily shielded, but while the Generator is still on backup power, the whole system is vulnerable. If we can get to a pylon with enough connections feeding into it, we can rig it to overload and blow the whole system.”

Athellus indicated one of the points on the schematic. “This is likely to be our best bet. It’s got at least a dozen connections and it’s a long way from Lyon’s Boulevard, out on the western coast. Maybe… twenty miles. We can head there in safety, work on it and complete our mission.”

West…

It struck a chord with him, not because it was his surname but because of what had happened earlier. For no better reason than that, Dax peered at the schematic anew. “What about that one instead? It’s got loads more connections. Wouldn’t that be a better target?”

Athellus glanced at it and shook his head. “Nope. That one’s close but it’s right down by the river.”

“So?”

So,” said Athellus with exaggerated patience, “the river is the border of Evinthei territory and it’s well-defended.”

All he could think was, the further he had gone west, the more the cell phone had malfunctioned. Maybe the phone was giving him a message after all. BRH resonance was low. It was a bad idea to go there. “I still think we should try for that pylon. It’s stupid to go twenty miles away when it’s close by. We can cope with a few defences.”

“Dax, I know this city and I know my people and I’m telling you, going to the coast is the best idea.”

“I disagree.”

“Why?” Kaire asked.

“Because…”

The wind whistled along the skyway. Athellus was looking at him with open hostility now. “Because -?”

Dax couldn’t think of what to say.

“Come on, Dax, we’re waiting. That crystal ball of yours has piped up again, right? So tell us more. Tell us why it’s such a good idea to risk our lives because you say so. Come on. Let’s hear it.”

 

 

 

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