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all, no recording snoops, but "
The man paced angrily. "Well, you just be damn sure all the ways out are
covered. Those gardens are all connected. "
Another pause. "Got the sniffers on? Cameras? Good. You guys mess this up,
I'll... " He let his voice trail off into a growl.
He gave the room one last look and unlocked the magnetics. A man with a
blood-soaked sleeve stood outside, just within view.
"You're drippin', stupid, " the knife-carrier said, "Hold that arm up high and
get away from here. Send a cleanup crew, too. "
The other man said, "Where'd he "
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"Knew I shouldn't have you on this one. Goddamn amateur. " The knife man left
at a run.
All this had seemed to take forever. Seconds ticked by as Hari held onto a
ceiling tile with all his strength.
In darkness he was lying across support struts directly over a soothing booth.
He could see down through a narrow slit. From below, he hoped, the slit was
the only sign that the ceiling had been pushed up, a square dislocated. He
could see the scuff marks on the top of the booth, where he had climbed up and
knocked the ceiling tile out of its clamps.
Now he had to hold the thing in place. His hands were starting to ache from
gripping it.
Below he saw a leg and foot enter the refresher, turn, walk out of view.
Someone else, a backup team?
If the tile slipped away from him, anyone below would notice the noise, see
the dark slit widen. Maybe it would get away from him completely and fall.
He closed his eyes and concentrated on his fingers, willing them to grasp.
They were numb now. Getting worse. Starting to tremble.
The tile was heavy, triple-layered for acoustic privacy. It was getting away
from him, he could feel it.
Slipping. It was going to
The feet below walked out and then came the swish of the door closing. Its
lock clicked.
He did not will it, but his fingers let the tile slip. It smacked the floor
loudly. Hari froze, listening.
No click of the door lock reopening. Just the soft slur of the air
circulators.
So he was safe for a while. Safe in a trap.
Nobody knew he was here. Only a thorough search would bring any trustworthy
Imperials this far from the Lyceum area.
And why should they? Nobody would notice that he was missing right away. Even
then, they would probably think he had simply gotten fed up with the Council
and gone home. He had said as much to the
Minister for Sector Correlation.
Which meant the assassins could quietly search for hours. The knife carrier
had sounded systematic, determined. He would inevitably think of checking back
here, starting over on the trail. There were probably scent-snoops they could
muster. And by now the array of cameras throughout the palace would be looking
for him.
Luckily there were none in the refresher. He climbed down, nearly slipping on
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the curved top of the soothing booth. Getting the heavy ceiling tile back up
into place took agility and strength. He was puffing by the time he replaced
it above the refresher. He lay along the struts and got the tile secured
again.
He lay in the darkness and thought. Dors' palace map popped up in his eye on
command, its colors and details more vivid in the gloom. Of course it showed
nothing as utilitarian as this crawl space. He could see he was deeply
embedded in the Lyceum's fringe areas. Perhaps his best bet would be to walk
boldly
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out of this refresher. If he could reach a crowd...
If. He did not like leaving his fate to chance. That included the strategy of
lying here, hoping they did not come back with snoopers that could sense him
up here.
Anyway, he knew that he could not simply do nothing. That was not in his
nature. When patience was needed, fine but waiting did not necessarily improve
his odds.
He looked off into the murky space. Gloom stretched away. He could move around
up here. But which way?
Dors' map told him that the Gardens of Respite formed an artful tangle around
the refresher area. No doubt the competent assassins would have ushered away
any potential witnesses outside the window of this refresher room.
If he could somehow get far enough into the gardens...
Hari realized he was thinking in two dimensions. He could reach more public
areas by moving up through a few layers of the palace. Outside this refresher
room, down the hallway, Dors' map showed a lift shaft.
He got his bearings and peered in that direction. He had no idea how an e-lift
fit into a building. The map simply showed a rectangular enclosure with a lift
symbol. But a burning fear made his muscles clench and fret.
He started crawling that way, not because he knew what to do, but because he
didn't. Upright cerami-form studs provided support and he had to be careful to
not knock ceiling tiles out of their mounts. He slipped and jammed a knee into
one and it gave threateningly, then popped back up. Dim threads of phosphor
glow seeped between the tiles. Dust tickled his nostrils and coated his lips.
He was getting dirty with the grime of millennia.
Up ahead a blue gleam came from roughly where the lift should be. As he drew
closer the going got harder because ducts, pipes, optical conduits, and
cross-joints thickened, converging on the hallway.
Long minutes passed while he threaded his way among them. He touched a pipe
that scorched his arm, a searing jolt so surprising he almost cried out. He
smelled burnt flesh.
The blue radiance leaked around the edges of a panel. Suddenly it flared, then
died again as he edged closer. A sharp crackling told him that an e-cell had
just passed in the lift. He could not tell whether it was going up or down.
The panel was ceramo-steel, about a meter on a side, with electrical ribbons
attached at all four sides.
He did not know in detail how an e-lift worked, only that it charged the
carrier compartment and then handed the weight off among a steady wave of
elec-trodynamic fields.
He got his feet around and kicked at the panel. It held but dented. He kicked
again and it loosened. He grunted with the effort of a third, a fourth the
panel popped out and fell away.
Hari brushed aside the thick electrical ribbons and poked his head into the
shaft. It was dark, lit only by a dull radiance along a thin vertical phosphor
which tapered away into obscurity, both above and below.
The palace was more than a kilometer thick in this ancient section. Mechanical
elevators using cables
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