Red is outside, tramping through the snow. He's taking care to step in his own footprints each circuit he makes, and it makes me smile to see it. There's something childlike about that -- not childish, he's somehow managed to grow up without losing touch with his inner child but without letting it take control either. I envy him a little for that. I watch him until he notices me, then he smiles and waves and I feel a little fillip of emotion that turns my stomach upside down and rightway up again. I have to turn away then; he's got Puppy and I'm an intruder in their private world.
Everything goes black.
My eyes adjust after long seconds to nuances of grey; the window behind me doesn't really illuminate anything, just adds texture to the darkness. Clearly the power has gone off, but the question is, why? Have we been discovered? Has some accountant somewhere noticed that the old aquarium seems to be using a lot of power for an abandoned building?
Have we been discovered?
I don't want to move, but I can't stay here, lost and alone in the darkness. I might not be found, and then eventually I'll have to find out what happened to the others because I didn't move. I couldn't live with myself if I did that.
I shuffle over to the left-hand wall and lay my hand on it. It's slightly rough, textured cement, and I know that there's a doorway before the stairs, and then a doorway and then the room that Q's in. I tell myself I'll go and check on him first, trying to ignore the little voice in my head that is hoping he'll have an answer to this.
The first doorway goes past, then the gap to the stairs, then the second doorway, and finally the doorway to Q's room. I push on it, and it doesn't open. I push harder, and I'm just raising my fist to hammer on it when I think to pull. The door opens quietly.
Inside there's a glow from Q's laptop, casting grey shadows across his slowly-healing face. He looks up, and he looks almost disappointed to see me. Who was he expecting? My chest tightens, has Q betrayed us? I make myself take a breath, reminding myself that he's got more reason to hate our enemies than even me.
"You fin-al-ly came to see me," intones the computer's speech software. "Weren't we fri-ends once?"
"Don't say you are sorry." The voice is echoey and tinny in the room. "I don't need to hear that."
"The power's gone off," I say, trying to change the subject, but I realise that Q has had these little speeches programmed in for a while.
"I can crack your disc, but I want a rea-son to do so. Tell me why you don't vis-it me, Mack."
"Q, I don't know why the power is off. Where's everyone else?"
"I knew you would-n't ans-wer me, Mack."
Is that sadness in that mechanical voice? I want to seize his laptop and use the light from its little screen to guide me through the corridors and find the others, but... but we were friends. We are still friends, if I weren't so afraid of what he must think of me. And I've never given him the chance to tell me. But now?
"Jim. I'm sorry, I should have come and talked to you sooner. And I don't really have time now either--" Jim's hand moves to the keyboard and I hold mine up to stop him. "But that matters less than this. I'm so sorry Jim, I didn't know what had happened to you and I didn't know how to find out. When I thought I did, it turned out I didn't then either. Oh drat, I'm not making any sense now. I got shot, I was going to ask Joel to find you, but then I got blown up and found you anyway. There's been a lot going on, and you were just invisible. I think I thought you were hiding. I wish I'd been hiding. I wish I was hiding now, come to think of it."
Jim's hands flicker over the keyboard: "You talk a lot but don't ev-er say ve-ry much."
"I know," I sigh. "And that's probably how I got everyone tangled up in this mess to begin with. The road to hell..."
"...is paved with good intentions," intones the computer voice. He's looking at me, but he's not smiling. "Behind you."
I turn and only just control my scream. Behind me Laika is standing with a happy grin on her face and a lit candle in each hand, like an arisen Messiah from some religious icon.
"Red's walked into a janitor's closet, so I've locked the door until we can get the lights back on," she says. "Dietrich will fix it all." She crosses her hands and uncrosses them again, moving the candle flames in a lemniscate, and I realise she's tilting the candles to spill wax as she does so.
"Did you have to pay for her?" intones the computer, and for the first time since we found him again, I hear something that sounds like the Q I remember.