Cassandra, as it turns out, was the name of Maxis’s mother, who inhabited the massive tree in the center of the city. I was curious as to whether or not we’d see the dryad mother, but found myself hoping she was indisposed; Casey and Arc were still arguing, and despite attempts to defuse the situation by Mick, Terry, and myself, the two seemed close to blows by the time we reached the first row of link stations.
The buildings themselves weren’t particularly notable, being little more than a brick and mortar box. If it weren’t for the link transmitter antennae on the roof, I’d have thought it merely some kind of storage building.
There were hundreds of the buildings. Fortunately, despite her continuing argument with Arc, Casey seemed to know where they were going. The link station to Iniagusville was larger than most. One of Cassandra’s roots hung over the top of the building, partially entwined around the transmitter. Given the size and age of the root, however, it seemed unlikely that it was the cause of the interference.
“Ah, so this is the link station for Iniagusville?” Mick asked, nearly shouting to be heard over Casey and Arc.
“What?” Casey’s attention focused on the building. “Oh, right. Yes, this is it. One moment; I’ll open the door.”
I sidled over to Arc as Casey approached the entrance.
“Is it really that important?” I asked him in a quiet voice.
“Of course! How could you be in love with someone, yet not be friends with them? That’s stupid!”
“Be that as it may, don’t forget that there might be a Glyche facility here, and we don’t know if it’s corrupted. We need to be on our guard, not arguing ideologies. All right?”
Arc let out an annoyed sigh. “Fine, whatever … but you know I’m right.”
Casey put her hand on the door scanner and said, “My name is Casey Anastasia Jones. I request access for maintenance purposes.”
A blue beam swept over Casey in a matter of seconds. “Identity confirmed. Have a nice day, Caretaker Jones.”
We were greeted by darkness as the door slid open. The lights inside the facility had apparently gone out, leaving the inside of the building completely dark aside from a few pinpricks of red and yellow here and there.
Casey peered through the door. “Ugh. No power. I bet it’s just another busted fuse.”
“This happens often?” Terry asked.
“Well, I wouldn’t say often, but with the expansion of the city, sometimes the power grid can be … unstable. Still, if that’s the case, we can probably just reset the power breaker; there are plenty of replacement fuses in the storage closed for just that purpose.”
“Where’s the breaker box?” Terry asked.
Casey pointed into the darkness.
“Yeah, that seems about right.” I tapped my PIM to use it as a flashlight, but it didn’t react. The internal battery was completely drained.
“No problem; I always carry a light.” Casey pulled a flashlight from her side-pouch and turned it on. “Look, if this is just a fuse job, I can handle it myself.”
“It’s no problem.” I assured her. “We said we’d help, after all.”
“All right. Follow me, gents.”
The interior of the building was surprisingly complex. What little light came through the open door was soon mostly obscured by a combination of consoles and walls. The consoles were mostly dark, but I spotted a few red standby indicators and the occasional yellow inactive light.
“It still seems to be receiving some power.” I said.
“Auxiliary backups.” replied Casey, “There’s a solar array on the roof that stores enough energy to keep the consoles partially powered up for a week. It’s not much, but it keeps any data from being outright lost.”
“Oh, yes.” Arc said, sarcasm thick in his voice, “Week-old news broadcasts are way more important than, say, emergency lighting.”
“There should be emergency lighting. I honestly don’t know why-”
She was interrupted by the sound of metal hitting metal.
“Hey! Watch it with the sword, Arc!” I heard Terry say.
Arc let out a startled shout a moment later. I spun around and stepped forward only to run straight into Mick. It was like running into a somewhat lumpy but still very solid wall.
He helped me steady myself. “Are you okay, Jimmy.”
“I’m fine.” I assured him. “Terry?”
There was a moment of silence before he said, “I’m fine.”
“Did you just try to nod?” I asked.
“Er, yes sir.”
“I thought so. Arc?”
“Yeah, I’m here. Terry just stepped on my foot!”
“Then maybe you should watch where you put your foot.”
“I can’t watch my foot if I can’t see it, Terry! I only stopped because you squawked at me!”
“I squawked at you because you whacked my leg with that ridiculous sword of yours!”
“Then stop walking so close to me!”
“Would you please knock it off?” Casey said, a note of nervousness in her voice. “Look, just stay close to the light, and everything should be okay.”
“Yeah, as long as the batteries hold out.” Arc said.
I winced. I may have spent the last thirteen years guarding a bridge, but even I know you don’t say things like that. You NEVER say things like that. As the light flickered and promptly died, I heard Terry say, “I blame Arc for this.”
“Me too.” I agreed.
“Ugh, stupid Galden piece of junk.” Casey muttered, the resulting smacking sounds probably her hitting the flashlight.
“Screw this.” Arc said, “Let’s just turn around and go back. There should be enough light for us to make our way back as long as the door doesn’t shut on us.”
The door behind us immediately slid closed, cutting off what little light was left in the building, save for blinking display indicators. I glared in the direction of Arc’s voice, even though there was no way he could see me.
Arc took a deep breath and let it out. “Okay, well, it could be …”
“No!” I swatted toward his voice, only to smack someone in the head.
“Ow!” Terry said, “What was that for?”
“Oh! Sorry, Terry. I thought you were Arc.”
Realizing my hand had touched hair, not metal, I ignored Arc’s protest to ask, “What happened to your helmet, Terry?”
“What? Oh, I took it off. It’s hard enough to see as it is.”
“Great.” Arc said. “The one opportunity we get to see Terry without his helmet and the lights are off. Hey, Mick! You remember where the exit is, right?”
Only silence answered me. “Mick?” I asked, “Where did he go off to?”
Two bright lights flared to life directly in my eyes.
“Ack!” I quickly shielded my eyes. “What in the name of the Creator?”
As my eyes adjusted, I realized the lights were coming from Mick, or more specifically, his eyes.
Looking straight at me, he said, “I’ve been analyzing this installation, and think I’ve found the problem.”
Trying my best to cover my eyes and still look at him, I said, “That’s great, but could you turn those things down a bit?”
“Of course.” The lights dimmed considerably.
I glanced around the room; I wasn’t able to see tremendously well, but it was better than complete darkness. I turned to face the others just in time to see Terry pull on his helmet over his short, slightly curly hair.
“I didn’t figure you for a blonde, Terry.” Arc said with a grin.
“Shut up, Arc.” Terry muttered as he adjusted his helmet.
“I have located the fuse box you mentioned, Casey.” Mick said, “And believe your earlier assessment is correct. It does seem to be blocking power from reaching the rest of the facility.”
“Well, that’s a relief.” She said, “The fuses are in the supply closet to the right of the breaker box. “It shouldn’t take long to fix then.”
“I believe I can take care of it. Perhaps the four of you should wait here, to avoid further accidents? I may be able to spot other matters of concern.”
I nodded, catching his meaning. “Good idea. We’ll stay here for the moment.”
“Understood. I’ll head back as soon as I’m done.”
As Mick walked away, I sat down cross-legged on the floor.
“Does anyone else smell something burning?” Arc asked. “That’s not just me, right?”
“You smell that too?” Terry said, “I thought it was just me. Yeah, I’ve smelled it since we came in here. There’s something else too; something I can’t quite place.”
I sniffed; they were right. There was the familiar acrid stench of something burnt in the air, accompanied by something sweet yet somehow unpleasant.
“It’ll probably clear up when ventilation comes back on.” Shaking my head, I said, “So, Casey, what is it you do in Wukice, anyway?”
“I told you.” She said, “I was appointed as a gardener.”
“Yes, and I was appointed to guard a little bridge in the middle of nowhere. I also like to draw and paint, especially landscapes.”
“Whoa!” Arc said, “You mean those paintings in the mansion are yours? I mean, yours yours?”
“Indeed they are.” I said. “Standing guard over the bridge is my job; painting is what I do.”
“I think I understand.” Casey said, “Well, when I’m not helping Maxis, I work as a gopher among some of the directors. It’s neat to see the films being made, and I …”
“What is it?” Terry asked curiously when she didn’t finish her sentence.
“Well, it’s … oh, you don’t want to hear it.” Despite her words, I could tell from her tone that she hoped we did.
“Come on,” Arc pressed, whatever he was sitting on creaking ominously, “We’re all friends here, right?”
After a long moment of silence, he amended. “Okay, we’re all at least casual acquaintances stuck in the same room together. That means something, right?”
This brought a chuckle from the rest of the group, including me.
“C’mon!” Arc said, his tone genuinely friendly, “You got me curious! I mean, hey; I program retro-style video games in my spare time. Terry?”
“What?” Terry said, sounding surprised to find himself suddenly on the spot, “Well, I, uh … I like embroidery and sewing. It’s very calming.”
I was worried Arc was about to laugh, and was surprised when he said, “Hey, more power to you. I tried a little knitting once; that stuff’s harder than it looks.”
“So how about it, Casey?” I said, “What do you do?”
“Well … I’m a writer.”
“As in movies?” I guessed aloud.
“Ah.” Terry said, “I’d imagine there’s a lot of competition for that around here.”
“Oh, yes.” Casey said, “I’m sure there are hundreds of would be writers in the city, maybe thousands. I know I’m just one in the flood, but … I just know my scripts are good. My stories could be as big as Deagon’s ‘Chronicles of the Calliban’ or Yunderland’s ‘Memorification Saga’.” She let out a dejected sigh. “If only someone would give me a chance.”
“No luck so far, huh?” Terry said.
“No, but I do have a few scripts I’m pushing at the moment. I’ve got a few friends in the industry, but finding a director can be tricky.”
Arc snickered. “Why don’t you ask Uwen Harris? He’s got some free time.”
“Very funny.” Casey said, making a face at Arc.
The lights activated, cutting off our conversation. In the renewed light, I saw that Terry was sitting on what turned out to be an overturned wastebasket and Arc was on a swivel chair that looked to be on its last legs. Casey, however, was sitting on the dead body of an overweight man.