An excerpt from
Diary of the Clever
Date 72-3 of 7499 SC
It's a strange thing, sleeping in a foreign place. It's been my cleverness, and Oblique's outward thinking, that's got us through the night.
I had known Oblique was following us all the way down the corridor after the intelligence test, and it had taken all my self control to prevent myself looking over my shoulder. We all knew that when Oblique didn't want to be found he was, impossible, to find - it would be poor of me to turn around and compromise his position when he had come to help me.
Hierto led me to a room, with a small bed, a light source and another System Access Unit so I could continue to write my Diary. Why they weren't doing anything else to me that afternoon I had no idea. Hierto left and shut the door, and I distinctly heard a small click, which I assumed to be a lock.
I spent ages worrying about Oblique. Had he been caught? Had he found out something important? I tried to open the door many times, as quietly as I could, but it was stuck fast.
A few meals were slotted through a hatch in the wall that night. A tap with special water was mounted on the wall, and I was thirsty. Before long I became too tired to wait up for Oblique and crossed to my bed to sleep.
And then a few minutes later (or so it seemed) Oblique was waking me up.
"Oblique!" I said hoarsely, prising open my eyelids, which were gummed up with sleep.
"Clever, shut up!" said Oblique hastily. "Don't say anything more than a whisper!"
I swung my legs over the side of the bed and quickly got into some clothes. It was still dark.
"The only reason they don't know I'm here is because I've shorted the visual network," Oblique cursed, pressing a finger to his lips. "The sound detectors still work, so anything above a whisper is an alarm bell that's going to have us both killed."
"You ... you've lost your stutter," I yawned, keeping my voice to a bare minimum.
"Oh ... yeah."
"But how -"
Oblique crossed the room silently to my door, which was now ajar.
"They know the room's open," said Oblique, "we've got to be quick."
"How did you open the door?"
"There are panels - it's confusing."
We were in the underground catacombs of the Worship Hall. I had never realised that such a structure existed beneath the building. Pipes glistening with dew crawled across every surface, punctured here an there by shiny brass valve wheels. A faint mist hovered in the place, shrouding distant shapes in mystery and imbibing them with a strange threatening presence.
I half expected us to be accosted soon, and then I realised, as if instinctively, that Mother's eyes would not work here - the humidity would short them straight away.
And then we turned a corner.
And walked headlong into Hierto.
We fell backwards onto the floor and looked up, expecting Hierto's sickeningly preserved face to leer through the mist at us - but instead we heard a shocked gasp, and saw the person in front of us recoil.
"Who's that?" I said loudly, my voice strangely reflected off the slippery floor.
And a tall Child emerged from the shadows. She had blonde hair, a timid face and a slender figure. She looked exhausted.
"Oh, it's you!" she said, relieved. "Where have you been?"
"Who are you?" I said loudly. "And why are you here?"
"You ... probably don't know me. I live in the South Accommodation, my name is Ethe-"
"Look, we don't have time for this!" said Oblique angrily. "Introduce yourselves later, but now, we've got to move!"
Ethereal fell silent before Oblique's voice, which to my surprise had taken on a much more commanding air. Younger than both of us and yet in complete control of the situation. I was stunned.
Before long we had come to a large, open space, less humid and hot, and made of darker, riveted metal panels. And there were ten or so, waist-height metal boxes spaced at intervals around the room, each adorned with a simple, shiny plaque which seemed to have words etched on them.
"What is this?" I said inquisitively, crossing to a metal dais to examine the plaque.
"Come on, Clever, we have to find a way out of this place -"
"Seriously, wait - I think this is important."
I opened my eyes wide in the half darkness as I read the glistening plaque. It seemed to be covered in the same robust script as we wrote our Diaries in.
Axon P. Hierto
Died 6th October 2056
"There's more than one Hierto?" I said, astounded.
"What?" said Oblique sharply.
"On this box, look -"
"What's October?" said Oblique curiously.
"Seriously, Clever, let's go ..."
"But - what does "Deceased" mean? And doesn't '6th October 2056 sound like some sort of date to you?"
"Does it really matter? Let's go!"
And Oblique grabbed my arm and pulled me away from the dais, towards an opening on the other side of the hall. I didn't particularly mind - this whole place was starting to make me apprehensive.
Oblique led us down a few more corridors before anything interesting happened.
Ahead, just visible past the shimmering wall of fog, we could see Hierto backing out of a room, silhouetted in a hazy beam of light spilling from the doorjam. He was obviously deep in conversation and had not spotted us.
"In here!" hissed Oblique, pulling mine and Ethereal's shoulders sideways, and we slipped into an alcove across which ran a thick, greasy pipe. Hierto would not see us unless he stopped directly in front of us and looked straight in the gap. It was as near a perfect hiding place as we were going to get.
He passed our niche without incident, and Oblique led the way back into the corridor. Another Creator had emerged from the room - she looked feminine from this distance but it was hard to tell.
Oblique and I stole down the corridor as fast as we could, Ethereal panting as she endeavoured to follow in silence. We were gaining on the woman, but then she turned a corner, seemed to spot something and sped up.
Abandoning all pretence, Oblique and I sped up too, our feet echoing noisily on the waterlogged floor. The Creator in front seemed to be taking some sort of instrument from her pocket, she had reached a doorway -
- and then we heard a scream. Violent flashes ricocheted around the inside of the room ahead, the bloody light dripping into the corridor. Suddenly, a floating door came moving outwards as if unsupported - then I saw Tender's furious face poke around the corner. He wrested the taser from the Creator's hand and pinned her against the edge of the doorframe.
We could barely hear what was happening in the room as we approached. Tender looked up at us in surprise and he let go of the Creator, who snatched up her weapon where Tender had dropped it and began shooting again - Tender charged back into the room - he was abandoning us - but then there was more screaming and the Creator's bolts were bouncing off the walls -
Oblique charged forward, ducked her latest salvo and shoulder-barged her, hard, into the wall. I followed up behind, snatched the gun from her hand and went careering into the room after Tender, to see a horrible sight.
A wizened old Creator was sitting, on some sort of seat with wheels. His eyes were sparkling with indecision, but he was holding a pair of electrodes to Shy's neck.
Tender had been struck dumb. He stood watching Shy with tears in his eyes, not daring to move in case Kranne should turn on the electrodes - I saw the metal prongs attached to coiled wires, which twisted into the corner of the room and plugged into a bank of machines - electricity was the last thing we needed, especially with this much water -
"Let my colleague go ..." said Kranne, "... and I'll let the Child go ... a simple swap ... how about that?"
"If you shock her, we all die," I said. "There's water on the floor - and your chair is made from metal. Everyone on this floor will be electrocuted if you turn those things on."
I held up the gun to his head, just to make sure he got the message, but -
"Clever, no!" yelled Tender. He attempted to knock the gun out of my hand. "We don't have her, she left, I've just seen her off!"
"Don't lie to me," said Kranne, an insane smile twisting his face. "I know that you're not telling the truth ... even your little mate can tell that ..."
His emaciated hands tightened their grips on the electrodes ... the ends were actually pushing into the flesh on Shy's neck ...
And then Oblique came running in, breaking the stalemate.
"Where is the Cold God?" yelled Tender in desperation.
I saw the answer in Oblique's face before he could say it - I pointed the gun wildly at Kranne and fired - it hit the wheelchair and sent it tipping over backwards, emptying the ancient man unceremoniously onto the floor. He had been knocked out. The electrodes clattered harmlessly to the floor, and suddenly there was only the sound of Shy's frantic breathing and Tender's quiet curses.
"Where is the Cold God?" I said.
"Out th-there," said Oblique quietly, his stammer returning for an instant as he gestured to the corridor.
I slowly followed Oblique across the room. Ethereal was waiting in the corridor, bent over the Creator sprawled on the sodden floor.
"I knocked her out, I swear it, that's all I did," said Oblique.
"She's not dead," I said, feeling her wrist. "She still has a pulse." I straightened up. "What now?"
"We get out of here," said Oblique, his breathing slowing down.
Shy and Tender emerged from the room, wrapped in each other's arms.
"Now you've seen with your own eyes what these people are capable of," said Oblique, hhis voice rippling with anger. I stared at him - how could a teenage boy younger than myself possess such anger and conviction? - "There's three of them about at the moment. Two have disappeared. We have to get out of here and tell the rest of the Children what's been happening.
"Is everyone alright - Shy, Tender, Eth-?"
"Capricious," said Shy, with quiet pride, "I've had a name-change."
Oblique took this in without batting an eyelid. "Capricious then, everyone's good?"
"And what have you got in mind for escaping?" said Tender derisively. "There's no way out, we've already looked."
"Yeah, Oblique, how are we escaping?" I said demandingly.
"Ask nicely," said Mother.