Nadalia picked up another box of candles before entering the caves. “We’ll need these, unless you want to poke around in the dark?” she called to Nazar, who had already started down the passage.
“Erm, yeah. Good thinking, Nads,” Nazar muttered embarrassedly. In his enthusiasm and haste, he hadn’t thought about the general lack of light in caves. “So, what do you think we might find down there?”
“No idea, but it should be interesting to find out,” Nadalia replied.
They went down a few different tunnels, reaching dead ends or looping back on themselves for the first few tries. One of the tunnels seemed to open out into a small cavern, with various odd-looking artefacts in it.
“Hey Naz, what do you make of this?” Nadalia held up a strange object. “It looks like a hairier version of you, but it’s all green and spotty!”
Nazar looked at the thing in bewilderment. “That is the second weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. The weirdest thing is this,” he said, holding up a shiny piece of paper, showing a picture of something large, furry and wet standing in a big white basin. “Now what do you suppose this might be?”
“I haven’t the faintest clue. Take it up with us, someone might know what it is,” she said.
Further into the cave they found what looked like models of hairless primates, and several strangely shaped pieces of metal and plastic. Neither of them had any idea what they were for, so they left them alone and continued exploring some of the other tunnels. Heading deeper, they found a massive cavern, bigger than the one where Levon had found the weapons. This one was full of shelves, boxes and piles of flexible rectangular objects.
“What the… what are all these things?” Nazar wondered aloud.
“I don’t know, but they’re full of what looks like ancient writing,” Nadalia replied, opening a couple of them. “You think the Disciples might be able to interpret some of it?”
“Probably. Grab some and we can take them back up when we go.”
Nadalia picked up a few of them and they proceeded to head deeper into the cave system. They hadn’t gone much further when they found another tunnel that led to a similar sized area, with similar shelves in it. These shelves were full of slightly thinner, firmer rectangles, that seemed to contain thin silver discs.
“They look like the storage discs we used to use before what’s-his-name invented recording cubes,” Nazar said when they found the discs. “Mostly used to store visual stuff, they fell out of use several decades back. There’s probably something in here that can access them, we can come back and look properly sometime.”
“Okay. Any idea how late it is?” Nadalia asked.
“Not sure. Probably about time for the Rowsers party by now though. You want to head back up?”
“Not just yet, I think we’ve got time to check out one more passage before people miss us,” Nadalia said.
They headed out of the disc cave and found another tunnel that seemed to lead steeply downwards. Nazar lit an extra candle and led the way down the slope. As the tunnel seemed to level out, they found their way blocked by a large rock, which had clearly been put there deliberately, and the gaps around the edges had been sealed with some sort of gummy substance.
Nazar glanced sideways at Nadalia. “Should we open it? Someone obviously wanted it closed well.”
“I think it’s been sealed for a long time,” Nadalia replied. “Judging by the rest of the stuff we’ve found, whoever hid it all down here is probably long gone by now. I don’t think opening it will do any harm,” she said as she looked around for a way to break the seal.
Nazar joined her search. “What about this thing? It looks a bit like a handle,” he said after a few minutes. “You reckon it’ll move the rock out the way?”
Nadalia shrugged. “Might do. Let’s try it,” she said. They turned the handle and heard clicking and whirring coming from something in the walls of the passage.
Stale, fetid air hit them as the seal broke, and for a moment they could hardly breathe. Once they regained their senses, they could see that the rock had rolled aside into a hidden recess. The cave had been artificially fashioned, and furnished in antiquated styles. They could see openings into other ‘rooms’, and were heading towards one when something caught Nadalia’s eye.
“Nazar, I don’t think we should be in here.” She pointed to one of the chairs. There were bones on it, arranged as though the person they had belonged to had been sitting there when they died. “There are probably others in the rest of the rooms, I don’t think we should disturb them,” she whispered, not quite knowing why.
Nazar nodded. “You’re right. Let’s go back upstairs,” he whispered back.
They left the cave and rolled the boulder into place. “Who do you think they were?” Nadalia asked once they were back in the basement of the house.
“Well, I’m no expert on ancient history, but I think we might have found the remnants of the last few hemsepans. I guess some of them tried to hide underground before the end, and took some relics with them.”
“You two took your time,” Levon said when they came out of the basement. “The party’s started without you. What’s up?”
Nadalia and Nazar looked at each other. “You explain,” Nadalia said. “I’ll get on the air and see what the Disciples think of those flexible things we found.”
While Nazar told Levon about all the stuff they had found in the caves, Nadalia switched on her transmitter and sent through greetings on her usual frequency. “It’s a bit weird hearing myself echo back on your frequency guys, great sounding party though! Disciples, got a quick question for you. We’ve been exploring some more of the caves, and found some flexible rectangular objects, that are full of ancient writing, we think. Could you take a look at them sometime?”
The Disciples responded fairly quickly. “Hello Thirteen. Those ’flexible rectangular things’are called books, they’re what the ancient fools used to store information and opinions. I think we could have a look at some, if you bring them along to the meeting tomorrow. Maybe we could teach you guys to read a little of it too, then you wouldn’t need to pester us for translations,” their broadcaster said jokingly.
“Sounds like a plan,” Nadalia replied. “We found some other stuff too, we’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.”
They spent the next few hours enjoying the radio party. Nazar found some drinks and started doing silly dances in the middle of the room. Levon had almost finished making the personal communicators, and once five of them were done he asked Nadalia:
“So have you decided whether to meet your friend? It’s only two hours to midnight.”
“I’m going. I can find myself a transport somewhere, quick getaway if anything goes wrong.”
Levon nodded. “Give me half an hour, I’m coming with you. I’ll go get a couple of those weapons though, just in case.” He stood up and headed down to the basement.
“Where’s he off to?” Nazar asked.
“There’s something I need to go sort out, Levon’s decided to come with me,” Nadalia said. “Would you be okay to stay here, look after the place?”
“Sure. Don’t be gone too long though.”
Levon was back quickly, and the two of them set off. Nadalia found an unlocked transport just round the corner, and got it started with minimal effort. “How did you do that?” Levon asked her as they moved off.
“It’s not the first time I’ve done this. Though it’ll be the first time I’ve returned one,” she said.
They pulled up by the river with a few minutes to spare. Levon showed Nadalia how to operate the pistol he’d given her, and went to hide in the bushes by the riverside to watch. Nadalia waited by the water, and Mari turned up at exactly midnight.
“Nadalia… Nads? What’s going… what are you doing here?” Mari seemed rather confused, but pleased to see her friend. She’d been thinking about the things Tsoline had told her, and was beginning to remember some of it more clearly.
“I’m here to meet you, you left a note by my door,” Nadalia thought something odd was going on, but didn’t want to press the situation.
Mari looked even more confused. “I don’t remember leaving you a note. I’m not saying I didn’t, but I don’t remember it. Nads, they’ve been messing with my head. I couldn’t remember who you were last week, never mind leaving you notes asking to meet up.”
Screw it, I’m pressing the situation, Nadalia thought. “Mari, what’s been going on? The note said you’d been hiding, but now you’re saying they’ve been doing things to you. Have you been held captive?” she asked.
Mari looked uncomfortable. “No, not held captive. Nads, I’ve been…”
Before Mari could finish her sentence, the bushes rustled and an enforcer stepped out, holding Levon, who looked semi-conscious. Mari seemed to recognise him, she hissed something at him and disappeared into the trees. Nadalia raised her pistol and pointed it at the enforcer.
“Let him go,” she said, attempting to sound forceful instead of scared.
The enforcer sneered at her. “You don’t know how to use that thing, girly. Why don’t you put it down and come quietly, I might be nice to you on the way to the cells,” he taunted.
Nadalia aimed just above his head and pulled the trigger. “One more time, let my friend go!” she shouted above the ringing noise in her ears.
The enforcer jumped and dropped Levon, who staggered and fell. Nadalia helped him up, keeping an eye on the enforcer. He recovered from the shock of being shot at surprisingly quickly, and pulled out a shocker. Nadalia aimed just to the right, intending to miss again, but she hadn’t quite got the hang of aiming properly yet.
The enforcer dropped his shocker pistol and yelled in pain. Nadalia didn’t hang around to hear him cursing and swearing vengeance though, as she had turned and run back to the stolen transport, dragging Levon with her.
“What do you mean, she shot you?”
“I mean she shot me! Look!” Valamir held out his roughly bandaged arm. “I don’t know what she used, but it wasn’t a normal shocker pistol.”
“Let me see the wound,” Saphrax strode across the room to take a closer look at his enforcer’s arm. Valamir pulled back the bandage and exposed the bleeding hole.
“You’re sure it was Nadalia?”
“Mari’s friend? Korian’s partner?” Saphrax enquired, still staring at the wound.
Valamir sighed. “Yes, definitely. Mari recognised her. By the way, did you want me to get her back on the visual trials? The effects seem to be lifting,” he asked.
Ignoring Valamir’s question about Mari, Saphrax called Nyneve into the office. “Nyneve, would you say this is similar to the wounds on the enforcers that were killed in Region Two a few days ago?” he asked her. Nyneve was the one in charge of the investigation into that case.
“Superficially, yes, although I’d say this was caused by a larger weapon,” she said. “Do you think it was the same person?”
“I don’t know, but if it was then we know exactly who is responsible,” Saphrax said. “Who is the main suspect for the murders?”
Nyneve considered. “We don’t actually have a suspect at the moment, but I believe you’ve said in the official broadcasts that it was the Thirteenth Kat.”
“And that was just a ploy to try and get someone to turn her in,” Valamir added. “Melicia’s been following her transmissions for months, we know she wouldn’t be stupid enough to do something like that.”
“Alright, alright!” Saphrax was getting frustrated. His investigations were going nowhere, and one of his best enforcers had just screwed up in a big way. “Thank you Nyneve, you can go. You, however, can stay for a bit,” he said to Valamir as Nyneve left.
Oh crap, Valamir thought as the door closed. I’m in for it now. Not only did I fail to catch Nadalia, but I got myself injured and lost a shocker pistol.
“The next time I ask you to capture someone, I want you to do it. Don’t talk to them, don’t try and persuade them to come along quietly, just stun them and drag them in, got it? Mind you, you couldn’t even do that properly. You said you had one of them drugged and you let him go? What were you thinking? No, don’t answer, that was rhetorical. And you’re to break off your relationship with Mari, you’ve done your job there. Now, go home and take some time off, let that arm heal.”
“Sir, what about Mari? Like I said, the effects of the visual trials seem to be wearing off. She won’t keep working for us once she gets her mind back.”
“I will deal with that. Now go.”
Apparently dismissed, Valamir stalked out of the office and went home grumbling to himself. Won’t even let me put my recruit back on the visual trials, he thought. A little voice seemed to remind him that it was Elvira who first mentioned Mari to the boss, but he ignored it. I was the one who got her involved, he thought, that makes her my recruit. Well, I’ll show him. I’ll show all of them, I can do things properly. First, I’m going to get that Nadalia bitch back, then I’m going to find out who the Thirteenth Kat is and catch her.
By the time Nadalia had taken the long route and got the transport back to where she had found it, Levon had recovered from most of the effects of whatever the enforcer had drugged him with. They walked the short distance back to the house together.
“There you are, I was getting… Why are you both covered in dirt?” Nazar asked when they got in.
Nadalia and Levon explained what had happened and where they’d been for most of the night. “We weren’t going to be that long, but I thought I should go round the houses a bit to lose anyone that might have been following us.”
Nazar shook his head. “You know what? I think you’re both idiots; that was such an obvious trap! At least you both got out alive though.”
The radio party was winding down at this point, most people seemed to have disappeared from the airwaves. Levon decided to try and finish the last communicator before he went to sleep, so Nadalia and Nazar shared out the remaining drink and sat talking about the stuff in the caves.
“So what do you think we should do with it all? Once Saphrax is dealt with, I mean,” pondered Nazar.
Nadalia thought for a moment. “I don’t know. I don’t think the weapons would be much use after all this is over, but maybe there’s some useful information in the books and discs. You think we could learn anything from the ancients?”
“There’s plenty we could learn from them,” Nazar answered. “We could learn how to kill each other more efficiently, for starters. The question is, do we want to learn anything from the ancients?”
“They can’t all have been murderous nutcases,” Nadalia said. “Maybe there’s some useful stuff in there as well, it’s just a case of finding it.”
“Nads, even if they did know anything useful or important, look what they ended up doing to the planet, and themselves,” Nazar replied. “If we use any of their ideas, who’s to say we won’t end up following them into oblivion?”