Previously: “On the streets of Fortress City, after safely handing EON-5's head over to John Kirkham and his scientists, I found myself once more staring down the barrel of a gun.”
Part 18: Sanctuary
Something in the man's cold, emotionless eyes told me that he wasn't prone to hesitation. I did the only thing I could think of to get myself beyond the reach of his long-barrelled revolver, and threw myself backwards over the bridge railing. As I fell, I heard the plink of his bullet hitting the side of the bridge. And then I hit the water with a cold, slimy splash.
I emerged from whatever canal or river I had plunged into - more artificial than natural, it seemed - some distance downstream, soaking wet and thoroughly bedraggled. I disappeared into the nearest winding cobbled lane, sticking to the shadows and avoiding the occasional set of footsteps.
I navigated by my hazy recollection of the old city, from long before the world changed, and frequently found myself running into dead ends and broken, impassable streets. Eventually I stood before the cracked wooden door of a narrow, crooked house, part of a whole street of buildings that leaned to the left, like dominoes frozen in motion.
Answering my knock, a short, stout man with thinning grey hair looked me over with a wary eye. “Whatever you want,” he said politely, “I'm afraid we haven't got any. The soup kitchen opens at dawn, just down the road.”
I shook my head. “I'm looking for Sigrid Phenice. My name is Dr Peregrine Gleve.”
He opened the door far enough that I could see the shotgun he held close by his side. Some way behind him, down a narrow and unadorned hallway, Sigrid appeared, her sleeves rolled up and her hair down. “It's alright, Mack,” she said. “Let him in. Gods, doc, what happened to you?”
“Somebody tried to kill me,” I said, stepping past Mack as he set down the shotgun. “And then I went for a short swim.”
Sigrid grabbed my arm. “You're shivering. Come on, let's sit you by the fire.”
She led me further down the hallway, and then sharply left and into a cramped room with a tiny curtained window, lit only by the flickering light from a fireplace.
An old woman sat rocking in a chair, knitting a scarf that pooled into a ludicrous heap at her feet. She didn't look up as I entered.
Sigrid pulled a wooden stool and a blanket out from some secret cranny and set it close to the fire. “Come on doc, let's get you out of these wet things. Don't be shy.”
I sat down on the stool in my underclothes and wrapped the blanket around me tightly, only shivering more profoundly now that I was no longer walking through the streets. “Sigrid, there are plenty of people who want me dead, personally, but I can't help thinking that I'm part of a team now. I'm not sure if this was someone out to kill me in particular, or to kill all of us.”
She nodded. “Well, I don't think there's so much we can do about that at the moment. The others can handle themselves. They'll need to if someone wants us all dead, 'cause I don't see that that someone would want to leave much time between offing each of us.”
“I suppose that makes sense.”
“Dry off for a while, and we'll see about finding the Major. EON-4 should be pretty safe with Kirkham, and the Lady's in her little fort in Circhester.”
I tried to keep my eyes from the hypnotic motion of the old woman's knitting needles. “Do you know where Major Thurlow might be?”
Sigrid shrugged. “No. But I know where I am, so if someone wants us all dead, I expect they'll come knocking sooner or later. And would you tell me, doc, just who is that wants you dead 'in particular'?”
I tried to laugh her question off. “Just powerful people who don't trust me.”
“Nobody's powerful anymore. Nobody but John Kirkham and the Sky Spiders. Maybe the Iron Queen before you knocked her block off.”
“My enemies were powerful once. People respect that. And that makes them powerful still. Don't ever doubt the ability of the human species to get one over on itself, even in its twilight age.”
“Is this to do with that Select Committee you mentioned? What's that all about, anyway?”
I shook my head. “Nothing. It doesn't matter.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Sure, I believe you.”
We both started as a heavy knock sounded at the door.
“Mack,” Sigrid called out. “Don't answer it.”
From somewhere in the shadows, Sigrid retrieved her rifle with its telescopic sight. I looked at my revolver, dripping wet in its holster, and hoped it was still in good enough condition to fire.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Next week: Who has come calling at this late hour? Friend or foe? Check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!