My one consolation was that the air vent was a good deal less slippery than the water pipes that Kris and I had used during our escape. However, that was where the list ended. The pipe was hot, claustrophobic, and treacherously slippery. I kept my eyes fixed on the ever-shrinking square of light over my head, where I could just make out the silhouettes of my companions peering down after me. I rubbed the wire for reassurance. There was no way they could cut through that before I hit the bottom . . . could they?
I shunted the thought out of my head - I could not afford to think like that now. Wayne, and who knew what else, was waiting for me at the bottom of this vent. I kept my mind focussed on that, trying to formulate a plan. I had no idea what sort of place I was heading for, who would be there, or where I would enter it. My only hope would be to stay hidden and keep surprise on my side until the last possible moment. My priority was not to find Wayne. My priority was Lucatz, and the File - Scilla and Murphy's support depended on me finding them. And as much as I mistrusted them, I needed all the help I could get.
Focus on that, I told myself. You have a plan, stick to it. Don't get distracted. Stay calm.
In fact, I focussed so well that my collision with the bottom of the vent set my knees jangling. I smothered a curse, and tugged the wire sharply three times to signal that I was down. I only just had time to unclip myself - fumbling in the near-impenetrable dark - before the wire shot back up the vent. I took a deep breath to steady myself, and leaned down to peer through the grill I had landed on. From my limited view, I saw a grubby corridor, the floor bleached white and smelling strongly of antiseptic. The reflection of a pulsing blue light was just visible away to my left, though it was hard to make out in the glare of the overhead strobe lights.
I pulled out my screwdriver and got to work loosening the vent. It wasn't long before Scilla joined me, pushing herself against the walls of the vent above my head like a reptilian spider. I supressed a shudder as I felt her breathing down my neck, and clicked the vent open, nearly dropping myself with it. I took a deep breath and braced myself for impact, rolling as I hit the floor. Scilla followed, landing with the silent precision of a cat.
"Murphy's on his way down," she said. "We'll move once he's with us."
I nodded, and scanned the coridoor for cameras. What a relief - evidently Wayne didn't feel the need for the extra security down here in his inner sanctum.
When Murphy joined us, I pressed my earbud. "Wex? Can you hear me?"
I was answered only by white noise. I cursed - evidently we'd gone too deep for even the Raven's technology to follow. We were on our own. I turned to Scilla and Murphy.
"We'll follow this passage until we hit something. If we find a door, try and get as subtle a look-in as you can. Try not to make too much noise. Only alert the rest of us if we encounter a threat, or find Lu- the File. Right?"
Scilla and Murphy nodded, and I took the lead as we padded off, like some comic pantomime trio, creeping against the acid-stained walls.
It wasn't long before we heard the screaming.