| The Angel's Guardian
, Part II: An Angel Cycle
Story | Next
Once out of the station area into the slightly wider tunnel itself, Mtubi swung back out of the support tracks and began to run along the dimly lit concrete walk that sided them. The tunnel was too dim for him to make out anyone ahead, but he kept at it. After a few hundred meters there was an intersection, as another track passed above and at right angles to the one he was following.
He skidded to a halt, looking in all three directions, but couldn't see anything. He shouted in anger, then, and as if in answer there was a SSFAK and flash as a powergun bolt reached for him from down the rightward tunnel. Throwing himself flat against the wall he fired in turn, bullets whining down the tunnel towards an unseen target. In the silence that followed, he lifted his head and heard the sound of footsteps receding. Placing them at least a hundred meters ahead, he got to his feet, pulling his phone from his belt. The red call light indicating a local net was lit.
Punching the Active key, he headed off down the tunnel as the dispatch computer's ready chime came in reply. Lifting the phone, he punched the Active key twice and raised it to his lips as he ran, knowing the computer would patiently work through his panting stutter.
"This is Detective Mtubi. I'm...in the Transit system in pursuit of...mugging suspect; he's armed with a cosh and a powergun...at least. He's on the..." -Mtubi paused, getting his breath and his bearings- "...in the Green line tunnel headed for Green Commercial One, that's Golf Charlie One. Endit."
The computer responded in its usual calm female tones. "Detective Mtubi, assign callkey Tango Poppa One. Units in pursuit list Tango Poppa Two, Tango Poppa Three, Sierra Poppa One and Sierra Poppa Two. Sierra units are westbound on Vigo, Tango Poppa One is on platform at Red Plaza Eight, and Tango Poppa Two is on Transit capsule inbound to Green Commercial Two from Green Commercial One. Indicate action."
Mtubi swore, realizing that of the two men in the tunnel system nearby, one was on a train outbound from the station he was chasing towards and the other was just reaching the platform he had left. "Tango Poppa One, continuing in pursuit, get some units to Golf Charlie One now, endit." He clipped his phone with the ease of years of practice and ran on.
The lights of Green Commercial One were visible up ahead. His quarry was not, although footsteps were still audible, indicating that the other had not crossed into the station area. As he ran, wincing now at a cramp in his side, the tunnel glowed a dim red, warning lights coming on along the ceiling. His phone beeped twice, then:
"All units, a Transit lockdown is in effect on the Green line from Green Commercial Two to Green Riverside Nine. Repeat, a Transit lockdown..." Mtubi punched the silencer as he ran.
There was another blue flash from up ahead; hoping that the other was having as much trouble seeing as he was, Mtubi didn't dodge. The bolt didn't reach him, striking some unknown intervening surface. He could see the mugger, now, light from the station at Commercial One washing over him as he ran past the platform. Mtubi reached the near end of the platform as the other was halfway down; ignoring the surprised murmur from commuters waiting above, he pelted on. As he reached darkness again, there was a shout, and he cursed as two shots not aimed his way flickered out. Hoping whomever the other had run into had had the sense to duck, he came charging up to the scene to see his quarry holding the powergun on two people from a distance of perhaps two meters. They were standing quietly. Both wore leather jackets and blue jeans, dark, and as they turned to him he noticed that they both wore sunglasses. The memory almost took his senses again; he wavered, but did not fall. Both were wearing leather jackets and sunglasses... he brought his attention to the present with an effort, panting.
The mugger was swaying a bit too, he noticed as the other spoke.
"O...okay. Stop right there." Redundant, since Mtubi wasn't going anywhere. "Now throw me your gun." When the detective made no move to do so, the other's face darkened. "Stop fucking around! Throw me your goddamned gun or I fry this chick's face!"
One of the two hostages was female. Mtubi slowly extended the gun, butt first, watching the powergun. The other shook his head. "Drop it there, man. Okay. Now four steps back." Mtubi did so. The other shuffled forward and picked up the gun, keeping his eyes on Mtubi; stuffed it in a pocket. "Okay. Now, me and the girl are gonna take a little walk. You don't follow, she don't get hurt. I'll let her go in a station somewhere. First you open the trains so I can get out of here, and then I'll think about letting her go. I see one cop on the train, and that means one or more, and she's crispy." He moved towards the girl, turning his gaze from Mtubi to her.
It was difficult to see what happened next; in the dim light and reflections shining from the powergun and two sets of mirrored sunglasses, Mtubi just saw the male hostage raise his hand. There was a brief confused moment and a flash of silver, and the mugger was sprawled against the wall of the tunnel, and the male hostage was holding the powergun.
Mtubi lurched forward, and the boy (it was a boy, he noted, maybe seventeen but no older) turned to him. Mtubi's heart stuttered in fear of the powergun in the boy's hands, but it was held awkwardly; the other was not familiar with it. There was a silent moment, and then he extended it to Mtubi, butt first, as Mtubi had extended his. Mtubi took it gingerly, set the safety, and stuck it in a pocket of his jacket, still staring at the boy across from him. It was the same boy; the one he'd seen in the Transit station just prior to the bomb.
He'd seen this boy in midair; midflight down a Transit web before he'd vanished into a silver circle, and the bomb had erased Mtubi's consciousness.
The boy turned to the mugger, and they all looked, but he was out cold, apparently. Mtubi moved to him and checked for a pulse; there was one, and strong. Relieved, the detective stood, and turned to the other two with questions aching in his mind only to see the girl tugging at the boy's jacket. The boy nodded, turned to Mtubi, gave him a questioning look before waving at the Web.
Mtubi shook his head. "No, you can't go, the Web's out. Besides, I'm going to have to bring you back, so you can press charges..." he ran down as the other shook his head, waved at the web again. They stood for a moment, and then, without knowing quite why he did so, Mtubi brought his phone to his lips.
"Dispatch, this is Tango Poppa One. Reporting collar of suspect, endit."
"Tango Poppa One, acknowledged. Do you require support at this time, endit."
"Negative, Dispatch. Release local net, endit."
"Local net...released. All units released to normal stations. Awaiting instructions regarding Transit lockdown, endit."
Mtubi looked at the boy. The boy smiled and waved at the induction ring that stood stolidly near. Mtubi said to himself this is crazy. Aloud, he told his phone "Dispatch, Tango Poppa One, release Transit Lockdown, repeat release Transit Lockdown on Green line."
"Tango Poppa One, acknowledged. Releasing lockdown, endit."
Mtubi put his phone away as the red lights dimmed back to darkness. Down the tunnel past the Commercial One station, there was an almost immediate audible whine as a Transit capsule powered up to resume its aborted journey. The boy and girl smiled at him, then began to silently climb the induction ring. Mtubi stared after them, fascinated, as they reached the top some fix or six meters above him and crouched down, facing away from the oncoming Capsule. Mtubi heard it sigh to a halt in the station perhaps a hundred meters behind him, then the thrumming of the Web as it powered up again. The boy smiled at him, waving him back. Mtubi backed up until he was against the wall, at which point the boy's face split in a grin, and he waved before turning back to face his companion. The thrumming grew in pitch and volume until there was a SLAP of compressed wind and a flash of lights and Vectorfield as the capsule blasted past them.
Mtubi just barely caught the two figures dropping from the top of the ring to flare with colored light as they accelerated at what looked to be a crushing rate off down the web before the wind took him from his feet and he ended up against the wall himself, laughing and laughing as the worlds settled again.
He stood and dusted himself off.
The mugger still lay where he had fallen; Mtubi cuffed him, retrieving his own pistol before hoisting the body up in a fireman's carry to tote off down the tunnel towards the nearest station.
The Ride was long, and far, and in the middle he felt Marren wave gaily and Vector, her circle opening for her as she slipped from his grasp to the silver of Mag and repainted herself in another place. He turned his attention back to the web, to the silver/colored/tinted/bloody wash of sensation as the Angel began to slow, waiting to enter its lighted place. Shan called up the circle, and as he began to near the slowing, tiring Angel, flicked through it to come up in Red, purest red, watching the flickering of the Web as his residual energies woke it from its fitful slumber to grasp at his ankles and wrists and waist in a pseudopoding of electromagnetic love to bring him slowly to a halt, sinking to the floor of the Web and the grey Steel that waited there for his studded jacket to find and rasp against as it pushed him back into the speed of the world.
Shan stood and dusted himself off.
He stepped between two Rings of the Web and began to wander aimlessly down the tunnel, feeling the dreams course through him with the wailing cry of disturbed electrons; hearing the hotter dirge of dying photons as they spun from him to him within him to strike the world around him and return redoubled,bringing with them the other senses one can see in Dreams, tasting the flavor and knowing the strangeness and turning the spin of the quark that hit his mind's tongue.
The Planar had been familiar. Shan had touched him in the night, felt the purple dreams erupt from within him to paint Shan's (hand) with the thickness of mind, to almost yank Shan from the tight locked optimal open free craze of the ride. He had been willing, Shan realized, to place himself at risk of actual harm for him and Marren. Belatedly, Shan understood that the Planar had not been lit by Mag, and that he had no way of touching the Planar with the gun. Shan knew of guns. He didn't know why they were, but he knew how they were, and what they were, and what they did.
He kicked at a glittering piece of mica that crouched alone on the floor of the tunnel. The clearest thing he knew about the first Planar, the one who dreamed, was that he was Good, and that he dreamt but did not Dream, and that it was probably because he had no Circles to Dream with, although Shan was sure that the other now understood how the Dreams occurred. If this was the case, then Shan needed to point the way. Smiling, Shan moved off down the Web in search of iron.
He found enough over several klicks of Web, and settled down to watch for the Angel. When the song began in his head, almost achingly loud now because of the Dreams still there, Shan placed his iron on the Web in the correct fashion, and stood back with his arms outstretched as the Angel passed.
It Passed with a slap of noise and thunder and wind and light as it always did when one wasn't riding it but merely standing and experiencing/watching/living the Dreams from the side of the Web, thankful to the Angel for the Dreams it brought.
The last of the noise of the Angel subsided around a far-off corner with a sighing rush, leaving only the tinkle as the first Circle rolled gaily down the floor of the Web, laughing in silvery chimes of metal and math as it came to a stop.
Mtubi came back from Medtech with a salve on his face from the powergun burn, and a large glass of water for his adrenaline dehydration. He fell into his chair with a satisfied groan and punched up Booking on his desk.
Sipping the water, he scrolled through the reports, finally finding his collar under a John Doe listing- ah, he hadn't woken up yet. Medtech, according to the report line, was "unsure as to his condition." Mtubi snorted, and waved the Desk off. He reached for Velasco's replacement sandwich (which Velasco had had waiting for him as he reached the plaza) and froze as he did so. Carefully sitting up, he sifted aside the top layer of paperwork to expose the intruder on his desk.
Four thick circlets of shiny metal and a larger hoop, almost a wire, lay there winking.
Mtubi sat back. He wasn't sure it he was confused or afraid. Confused, for he hadn't put them there. Afraid, because he wasn't sure how whoever had had gotten into his office without leaving any trace in the desklog.
He picked up one of the thick ones tentatively. There was nothing abnormal about them, other than their sudden appearance in his office. They were extremely shiny; mirrors flawed only by their distortion from the flat.
Shrugging, he put them in his jacket pouch next to his badge, save for the hoop which he placed in a drawer, and continued on with his paperwork.
The Dead Tree Scrolls, as an early partner of his had been wont to call paper duty, took him right up until five. Mtubi rubbed his brow, surveyed his desk (only slightly shallower than the morning; who knew what the next day's bin would bring?) and threw a dart at a colorful promo poster on his wall he kept for that purpose. "ComLink Introduces the Paperless Office," it proclaimed, impaled, as he shrugged on his coat. Before leaving, he stopped, returned to the desk, and removed the large metal hoop, turning it over in his fingers as he left the room.
Once out in the dimming light of the Plaza, he turned to walk towards his home, before stopping to think for a moment and then determinedly tracing his steps for the Transit station at Blue Metro One.
Blue Metro One was crowded with commuters at five-twenty, all with that slightly weary look commuters wear as a shield from conversation or interaction of most any kind. Mtubi made his way to a vacant pillar side and parked his back.
The murmer of the transit system lulled him slightly, and he did not hear the Capsule approaching. It wasn't until it swept into the station and came to rest that he opened his eyes, yawned and entered. A lucky seat beckoned, and he sat, resting his head against the flat glasteel of the window. He felt the doors slide shut behind him, and the Capsule lifted itself slightly to resume its journey.
The anxiety was almost gone. He didn't see, this time, the tumbling disintegration of his Transit, but the quivery feeling in the back of his neck showed up right on schedule. Mtubi stared fixedly at the back of the head of the passenger in front of him and put the idea of 'bomb' as far from his mind as he was able without actually saying the word to himself. The Capsule hummed along, and ten minutes later the nunciate was intoning quietly 'Magenta Residential Four. Magenta Residential Four. Please watch your step exiting the Capsule. Thank you and have a nice day from Transit. Please watch your step--'
Mtubi stood, hurriedly, and slid out the doors as they slid shut. He turned from the platform, gripping his collar and preparing to shield his face from the departure of the Capsule.
Although he wasn't sure why he did so, he waited for the Capsule to leave the station. Obligingly, the machine raised itself and slid back into the underdark night. Mtubi, watching it go, was aware of the wind tugging at him slightly. He shifted his weight, but it failed to fade as it had so many thousands of times before, and he realized that it was specifically affecting his jacket.
Dropping his hands from his eyes, he searched hurriedly through his pockets, and was rewarded almost immediately with the four metal circlets he had found on his desk. Now, however, although still mirror-bright, they were radiating colors in a gentle glow which shifted as he moved them in his hands. They, in fact, were the source of the pull, and even as he held them he felt the tug fade away. Looking in the direction of the force, he found himself looking at the entrance to the tunnel which his Capsule had just entered. Looking down again he found that the circlets had faded to silvery bright once more.
There was an interminable moment of time, propitiously silent and still.
Mtubi moved to lean back against a support column, and experimentally slid one of the circlets onto his wrist.
It fit, not surprisingly (but, he discovered, terrifyingly) perfectly. The other slid over his other hand with little contortion; seemed, indeed, to meld itself to his wrist when touching skin. There was little to do, then, but step out of his shoes, ignoring the strange looks that those just reaching the platform were giving him, and place the remaining circlets over his ankles. Replacing his shoes, he fingered the large hoop, wondering only for a moment, before pulling it up over his legs to circle his waist. It fit beneath his shirt, warm against his skin.
Mtubi walked to the edge of the platform, standing on the carmine warning strip while ignoring its gently pulsing warning field in his feet, and looked down the tunnel into the Web. It was dark; an indik on the wall counted down the time until the next Capsule's arrival, four minutes and seven seconds.
The fear drove the laughter from him, out his throat and into the dark. Walking towards the downline end of the platform, his feet attempted to skip.
He disciplined them firmly, for half the distance, and finally ceded control to the impulse, dashing the remaining twenty meters or so to the small metal stairway with its red and white warnings that led down to the floor of the Web.
Among the gloomy silent metal of the Web was a feeling. Home it sang, hereherehereherehere. Mtubi stopped, his footsteps fading into muffled black, but the keening whisper faded quickly with them. He continued on, blindly, walking now, not sure at all of what he was about.
There was a brief thrumming behind him, a basso song, and dust settled gently into the air as the Capsule touched Earth at the platform.
The hurry hurry hurry was soundless, but none the less real for it. Mtubi turned to the nearest confinement Ring, and sought with his eyes for the access ladder on its side. His trenchcoat flapping about him, he clumsily ascended the Ring as he'd seen the two young people do that afternoon. The coat caught at a protrusion and he flung it off, quickly, only part of his mind despairing the two weeks' salary it had cost him as he crested the top. The song had begun again, behind him, and he waited at the top of the Ring in the growing dissonant color and wondered what in Heaven or Hell he was doing. Looking back, the Capsule's blunt grey nose was in view now, horizontal bars of reflected Vectorfield projectors' light washing across the darkened windshield. Mtubi waited, his toes curling slightly in readiness, and as the blur of power blazed by beneath him, he sobbed once and dove forward off the Ring into its wake.
The shock nearly dislocated both his shoulders; he had not thought to put his arms in front of him, and the circlets on his wrists yanked his arms out straight in a painful fraction of a second. He reflexively stiffened his knees against the push, and scarce had time to note that he hadn't hit the ground before he opened his eyes to see...to see...
The Dreams, the dreams that came and teased and taunted licking slow tendrils of immortality across your heels to dash you breathless through the realm of chromaticity and imagination, swirls of space and time, reality's very stuff, flung past in whorls of delight and laughter as the silver disk pulls you through the firmament. The Angel calls, it cries, and those who can hear the sound sing from the pull of it, from the passion and the power, and the Angel pulls them forward through the wasteland of the night with tender hands of steel and Mag, Vector gently clearing space for the rushing Ride of silver metal oilslick and the variable refractory illusion of the colors within that run across the surface of the Dreams in whole pure hues to mix and run and slowly leach to pastel reals and heres and nows and settle you gently, quickly, down to the floor of the world to feel the pain as his body caught the smooth tracked floor of the Web and his clean rushing slide became a hard and sudden roll which ended up with a sharp impact against a Ring side.
Mtubi lay there for a moment, surprised into stillness, the longing and agony of the ending of the Dreams wrenching him until he opened his eyes again in this the grey cold plane and saw that they had not left him, not really; colors danced about the edges of the things he saw, and he could see the power flowing within the walls, the floor, the Ring, all of it, in whirlpools of electronic harmony.
He sobbed again, for the second time.
He stood, and watched the colors run.
He made his way from the Web, and the last remaining practical element of his mind lamented the loss of his trenchcoat. Frustrated even in his elevation, he swung his arms disconsolately before him as he walked, aimlessly, down along the Web back towards his starting point, of whose location - he realized all at once - he had no idea.
His arms swung on, however, and the air behind them was rent with small and tiny whorls of reds and silver. The walls behind the whorls wobbled slightly, and Mtubi laughed metallic shiny charms of blue which danced beyond the Rings nearby in scintillating ballet. He swung his arms more carefully, in a circle, now, and watched the walls behind the circle become hazier still, then, for no reason he could imagine he though of his missing trenchcoat, tan and broken in , with endless ranks of secret pointless British pockets, loops and buckles, and the circle became Circular, allowing at last the walls behind to vanish into a greyish floor with a swirl of brown, at right angles to reality. Mtubi stopped his arms, but the Circle remained; reaching through, he retrieved the trenchcoat from its resting place, feeling gravity tug against his hand and the coat, and then the coat was through the Circle, which, its purpose done, evaporated into tricks of light and color then was gone.
Mtubi sat against the wall clutching the garment and sobbed until tears ran from him, then laughed instead, watching the colors run from his face and fingertips until the ground before him pooled in rainbow chaos.
He found himself sitting in his flat with the circlets arranged neatly on the table before him, the coat discarded on the floor of the hallway closet. Five circles of silvery impossibility; he shook his head and watched the colors swim slightly in response.
Everything had changed, by now. Colors he had never seen but tasted in a dream leapt out from walls and floor and furniture; colors of sun and desert sand, of sea and coral floor, of space and cold hard stars. Traces and filigree of power and radiation flecked the walls, betraying what lay behind. Mtubi let his gaze linger on the bright parabolic glare of an electric outlet before returning to the circlets. They hadn't moved, and in fact seemed now to be less colorful than the rest of the room, their power gone into him. Conduits only, they lay there quietly waiting for him.
Picking them up in order and in step, once twice thrice and fourth through fifth, he replaced them on his body. Warm grasp of friendly familiarity, they touched his skin and flowed quickly softly and invisibly to clasp it. He undressed and made ready for bed, smiles cresting his face.
Brushing his teeth, Mtubi watched silver drip from his mouth to follow coriolic patterns counterclockwise in the basin and plunge eagerly into the Downbelow. He smiled in return, and wished it well, drying his face upon a towel that had once been magenta but now flicked his retinae with glares of greenish jade. His bed welcomed him; laying back, he closed his eyes and waited for the Dreams to change to those of nighttime and of blackest late from those of day, to which he had become accustomed.
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