[Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Epilogue]
We were six clicks in, downtreading the mechosurf through Kylie's locker, and I had twenty-two minutes to live.
That's when I came across the girl.
Steve's infra swirled around our heads like a trance spotlight. I couldn't make out the plasma under my feet as we tracked a tangle of color-coated wires looking for any trace of an exit.
"They're coming! Jonny, they're coming!"
Steve's warnings were about as helpful as a handivac for a methane spill. The air erupted in sonic blasts while a rain of conducting coils showered down on us. I stumbled onto my knees.
Steve turned and crouched, letting loose a caterwaul of pump shots that set my teeth on edge. My hand grasped for the piece I dropped and came into contact with wet flesh. An arm.
"Jonny! Let's go!"
She was worse for wear and wearing nothing but a fresh welt on her right cheek. Her wi was dim but flickering. But she was still warm. I made a quick decision.
"Jon! What the hell are you doing? We gotta run!"
I grabbed her arm and threw it over my shoulder, pulling her to her feet. Aside from her face, a series of bruises ran down her torso and over her hip. The rest of her body showed no damage. None of it looked permanent.
She lurched and fell against me, opened her eyes. She screamed.
"Jonny! Twenty-one minutes!"
"Just hang on, Steve. I think this may be her. We have to take her with us." I held on to her while she struggled. "Hey! Stop struggling, I'm not going to hurt you!"
"We have to get you out of here!" I yelled. "Do you understand me?"
"Jonny! Let's go!" Steve began to move ahead.
"Do you understand?" She was looking around like a frightened rabbit; I caught her head and forced her to look at me. After a moment, she stopped struggling. Her face was etched with grief.
She struggled to speak. Finally she blurted out, "me-ander. Pictures from the past. 100 years of Forward Magazine." She stopped, looking horrified.
I moved her into a walk, following Steve, and she kept up. Bursts of gunfire echoed around the mechosurf and stainless steel ceiling plates.
She tried again. "Yid with Lid. MAY 1967 VS. May 2007. Has the Middle East changed at all?" She stopped, her hand to her mouth, eyes wild.
"What'd she say?" Steve yelled back at me, cautiously forging forward, laser sight poking around every corner. "Is it her?"
"I don't know," I answered, looking at my charge. "I think someone gave her a babble job." Her wi was beginning to strengthen, but it was still erratic.
Steve snorted. "Excellent," he yelled. "You know how to pick 'em, Jonny."
"Seraphic Secret," the girl said. "Karen Does Not Gamble. Predicting a vacuum cleaner." She tried to stop. I pulled her along.
"Let's go, miss," I grated. "Jonny doesn't gamble either. And I predict a host of Kylie mechs out to kick our collective asses."
She shook her head, long black curls matted with grime falling around her face. "Shiloh Musings. Guest Post by Yitzhak Heimowitz. Getting rid of Olmert and his government." She looked dejected. Her face fell.
Steve shouted something, and we dived onto the plasma. I put a hand over her head as the air above us turned crisp with orange radiation. Steve's pump clattered. Damn, that things was loud.
"Yid with Lid. Confessions of a Disengagement Fence-Sitter. Confusion."
"Damn right," I answered. "Hold still, and let me see if I can lube you." She backed away from me with a start, staring in fright.
"Lube you. Cleanse the babble job. You know? Fix you." She relaxed. "What the hell did you think I meant? Turn your head." I reached into my strap-on looking for my neural neutralizer.
She touched my hand. I looked at her. "What?"
She motioned with her hands over her shoulders. "Shiloh Musings?" she said hopefully. She motioned up and down her torso. "Pears and Apples? What type of politicians do we need?" she pleaded with her dark eyes.
"Huh? Oh. I got it. Hang on." I rummaged around in my strap and pulled out a body-wrap, tossing it to her. She gratefully pulled it on while I went back to looking for the neutralizer.
"Rabbi Without a Cause." she said, thankfully. "NORC study: Happy Rabbis! Rabbis are the happiest profession."
"You're welcome. Where is the d ... ah here we go. Hold still." I took the neutralizer, turned her head with only minor flinching on her part, and folded her left ear forward, exposing her wi circuit. The light from it was now strong and steady. A good sign.
Unfortunately, I couldn't see much, as Steve had the infra and was pointed it the other way. My only other source of illumination was the intermittent glow of laser fire bursts reflected from the ceiling.
"Jewish Blogmeister. The inside scoop on a restaurant. Le Marais: My Personal Visit...." her voice trailed off. She looked into the distance.
"Just hold steady," I told her. Sparks flew between the neutralizer and her wi. She jumped. "Hold steady," I repeated. I made some adjustments on her wi. "How's that?" The neutralizer sparked again.
"Enough!" she yelled.
"Ah," I said, self-satisfied. I did it. "No need to thank me."
"Orthomom," she added.
"Racist smearing of Orthodox Jews." She smiled weakly.
OK, I didn't do it.
I put the neutralizer away. Steve managed to clear out another click, so we stood up and began moving again. Instead of leaning on my shoulder, she took my hand.
"Sorry. Nothing I could do in that short a time. Those goons did a job on you, alright. There's something else there. It's blocking my fix. I have to bypass it before I can fix you."
"There are no feminists on a sinking ship. Neturei Karta at the Salute to Israel Parade...I spoke to one of them! But I didn't, really."
"Yeah, me too," I replied, with a quick grin. She smiled back at me for a brief moment, and then looked back at the floor. Huh, I thought. She's not bad looking under those bruises. What's the deal with her?
Just then Steve held up his hand, signaling us to stop.
"Shhh..." he whispered.
I heard only the usual echoes of recycled air passing through caves of steel, and distant sonic booms.
"Listen, I think I ..." was as far as he got when something dark and tentacled dropped from the ceiling onto his head. It was deadly looking, and it whipped a nasty looking stinger around which was striking again and again at Steve's kelvar.
I let go of the girl and jumped into the fray, dropping my piece and dragging out a six inch hardened deer-skinner. I knocked Steve off of his feet, and the three of us crashed to the floor.