NaNoWriMo 2011 Story 5 - Day 27

 


“Blame us! How can they blame us? You said it started way up in the north!” Archerd’s face was flushed with anger, his stomach a chilled lump.
“As far as anyone knows, of course. But the facts won’t matter if they can make it sound plausible. How many will question the wisdom of the Conclave if they’ve got what sound like solid answers and someone to blame?”
“Did they start it then somehow? Did they create the epidemic to throw the blame on us?”
“I am pretty certain they did not. I heard the first whispers of people getting sick several weeks ago. I was up north myself, and there was talk of a small village that had been struck with it. Unfortunately the illness spread along with word of it, and it was already well established in Rillforth, the city I was working in, the first time I started hearing talk of it from anyone in the Conclave. Then it was days after that before I caught wind of the suggestion of placing the blame on this place.”
Archerd was on his feet and pacing, a frown plastered over his features. “This makes no sense. I can not believe they think blaming us for an illness will get them anything.”
Altman turned troubled eyes to his son. “We’ve seen over and over the power that reputation can have. In these many years, it has worked largely in our favor. What happens if they’re able to convince the people that we’re a force to be scorned, or worse, an enemy to be destroyed? It will be far worse than simply an end to the benefits we’ve reaped up until now.”
“Then … What? What can we do about it?” The frustration over the injustice was plain in his voice.
“I’m afraid you haven’t heard the last of what I have to tell you.”
He stopped his pacing and turned to face her, expression hard. “I can’t wait to hear this.”
“In my last days in Rillforth, before I came here, one of my friends inside the Conclave contracted the illness. It is a terrible affliction, Arch. If you get it, your odds of dying are four in ten, and nobody knows any way to improve them, though there are plenty of ways to worsen them. I’ve never heard of a doctor able to treat it, let alone cure it. If it doesn’t kill you, it leaves you weak and sickly for weeks, even months afterward.
“Most of this I learned from that same friend, days after he came down with it. I saw him after he’d contracted it, and it was terrible. His skin was like ice, he was shivering and coughing, and weak, so weak. When I saw him again days later, it was as though he’d never been ill!”
“But I thought you said no doctor could treat nor cure it?”
“No doctor that I know, no, but I hardly know every doctor in the Conclave’s employ. They must have a treatment, or even a cure. There’s no other explanation! Not once did I ever hear of a Conclave member dying of it, though he was far from the only one to contract it.”
“That doesn’t prove that they have a cure …”
“I know, but is the only explanation that makes sense.”
“But if they have a treatment, or a cure, why aren’t they using it? Ahh, but I forget myself, it is of course the Conclave we speak of. It’s not in their nature to share their knowledge or the benefits of it with anyone outside themselves unless there’s a clear benefit to it.”
Altman nodded. “I have to agree there. But Ms. Witherow, that suggests a possible avenue of defense. If we could learn enough of this treatment or cure, even get a sample of the medications required, perhaps we can cut this Chancellor Sholl’s plan short preemptively. We do have a small window of opportunity before Sholl will be able to get the organization running at full efficiency.”
She pursed her lips in contemplation. “There is that possibility, but the question then becomes how we’re going to get the information we need? We can’t just go up and ask them.”
“Improving efficiency.” Archerd’s pacing had stopped once more, his eyes distant.
“Excuse me?” Sunniva sounded non-plussed rather than offended.
“Improving efficiency! That’s a process I’m more than a little familiar with in my own work. Generally it’s done by making something work smoother and better by using fewer parts. And what do you do with the parts that aren’t needed anymore? You cast them out of course. Discard them.”
“So you’re saying …”
He smiled. “I think it’s time we started recruiting.”

* * *

The remainder of the day was spent planning the trip. Holdswaine was selected as the destination of choice, both for its proximity and because as the largest city in the nation, it was the easiest to blend into. Archerd insisted he should be the one to go, but Sunniva wouldn’t hear of any plan that didn’t include her.
“How exactly do you plan to learn who to approach, Arch? You need me there, and there’s no way around it.” The fury in her eyes at the idea that she might be left behind flashed green sparks at him, and he physically backed away, hands raised. Altman couldn’t help but laugh.
“She’s got you there, son. I wouldn’t try to leave this one behind if I were you.” Archerd wasn’t sure if there was a double meaning in there or not, but he took he hint as gracefully as he could manage.
About midday they were joined by Dr. Maulden and by Inspector Hew within minutes of each other.
Maulden’s face darkened at hearing of the potential treatment the Conclave possessed. “I wish I could say I was shocked, but I’m not. I am frankly disgusted though. If it is true that they have a cure or even just a treatment, they are ethically required to make use of it. Archerd,” he continued, “I came with bad news I’m afraid, and it’s just as well you’re here, Chief Inspector. It saves me a trip to the police headquarters. I examined the ill workers Mr. Sias mentioned yesterday, and two of them are showing early stage symptoms similar to those Ms. Witherow describes. A third was much further along, and I regret to say he passed away over night. His body was discovered in his home this morning.”
Sunniva clapped her hand to her mouth, eyes wide; Archerd closed his, letting out a deep breath. “So it’s here then.”
“Do you have any recommendations, Doctor?” Hew’s voice was subdued but not surprised. “I came with similar news, actually. We’ve been questioning people at the docks and those who live near the border of town on the roads, as well as local inn-keeps. A traveler with a cough did pass through town about a week and a half ago, and the three workmen all started showing symptoms late last week around the same time.”
“That matches what each of them told me.” Maulden frowned. “Which means there’s no sure way to know how long—”
Altman coughed then, with a hoarseness he’d lacked yesterday. Maulden rushed to his side and began to check him over. “Inspector, I’d like a word about how we can deal with this. Archerd, I wish I could go with you, the sooner I can get my hands on the information needed for treating or curing this, the better, but I’m needed here much more. Go, and quickly, and get back here as fast as you can with whatever you learn.”
“We can do better than that, Doctor.” Hew held up a communicator, small enough to fit neatly in his palm. “Archerd invented this several years ago. We can stay in constant contact while they’re away. Archerd, do you have one we can give the Doctor?”
“Absolutely. I’ll get one for you right now.”
He left to run upstairs, but Maulden followed after and set a hand on his shoulder when they were out of earshot of the room.
“Do me a favor, Archerd. Keep your mother and my Ann away from your father as much as you can. They’ve shown no signs of having caught this yet, and I think we’re going to have to move your father and all others showing signs of the illness into an isolated place. It’s a technique I’ve had some success with before.”
“How will that help him get better?”
“It won’t. But it may keep others from getting ill.”
Archerd frowned, but nodded. “I understand.”

* * *

“You’re sure about this?” Sunniva looked at the steam-driven carriage doubtfully.
“It’s no Skyward Bound, I admit, but she’s still perfectly reliable, and you’re still exhausted from your trip here. Do you really want to go back on foot? Or even on horse?”
“Not especially, but won’t this attract an awful lot of attention?”
“We’re just travelers on the road. Steam-powered carriages aren’t so unusual that it will automatically mark us as being from Dolesham unless someone takes the time to examine the inner workings, and that would have to be a detailed examination by an expert, at that.”
She sighed. “Alright, fine. I may not agree, but my aching feet certainly do. Since I’m outnumbered three to one, I admit defeat.”
Archerd grinned. “Look on the bright side. At least this time we’re stuck together on transportation that works, and there’s nobody trying to kill us.”
“True. At least not yet.” But she smiled.
Kaylene and Annis had not been pleased at Dr. Maulden’s insistence on moving Altman, and Archerd winced at the thought of the dressing down the good doctor was likely to get from his dear sister in the near future, but in the end they had accepted it, albeit with poor grace.
Archerd had then spent an hour making sure everyone was acquainted with the operation of the communicators and that everyone knew how to contact anyone should the need arise. He had spent some time further refining the capabilities of the devices in the past year, adding a simple form of address one could use to determine who was to be contacted, eliminating the need for mechanical manipulation of the devices’ internals.
“When this is over, Archerd, I’m going to put you to work equipping my entire staff with these,” Chief Inspector Hew had threatened admiringly. Several of his senior men already had their own and it had transformed the performance of the entire team.
Finally the carriage had been packed with everything the two would need, from clothes to food and even weapons, just in case. Sunniva still carried a pistol, though the one she had now was larger than the tiny piece she’d used years before. Archerd had staff and spear, and of course his unarmed proficiency. He’d maintained his training over the last year and a half until Kaylene admitted her son was damned impressive and he beat her consistently in every contest. She still maintained that in her prime she could have wiped the floor with him though, and Archerd didn’t doubt it. “Of course mother, but then, in your prime I hadn’t been born!”
His head still smarted after that one, but it had been worth it.
They set off with the roof up and lights on, and the rain pelting the canvas above them made for an oddly soothing start to such a serious journey. Sunniva stretched out on the front bench and slept a while as Archerd drove them out of the town and onto the road. As they passed the second tower, Archerd’s communicator lit a small electric bulb. He keyed on the receiving switch. “Archerd?”
“Yes, Doctor. How’s my father doing?”
“So far he’s doing fine. He’s not very happy mind you, but he sees the logic in it. The Chief Inspector was kind enough to send a constable for some of your father’s books and I’m keeping an eye on his condition. It’s difficult to say without more patients to compare him to, but if it’s any consolation, he does seem to be progressing at a much slower rate than Mr. Sias’ workers.”
“I’ll take that news gladly then. And how are the workers?”
“One is unchanged, but the second seems to be improving. It’s slow, mind, but I think he’ll recover.” Archerd breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t know those men, but it was very easy to hear talk of this illness and forget that people did recover from it more often than not.
“I wanted to ask you a favor, Archerd. Keep an eye on anyone you pass. If you see anyone obviously sick and headed toward Dolesham, avoid them of course, but let myself and the Chief Inspector know about it. We’ll meet them before they get into town and make sure they’re cared for.”
“We certainly will, doctor.”
“One more favor; please, call me Tristram. It will give me some hope that your sister may speak to me again some day.”
Archerd chuckled. “Very well Tristram, but you’re on your own in dealing with her!”
Their progress was steady. The trip from Dolesham to Holdswaine was two days by horse at a typical pace on the road, and Archerd figured they’d probably make about the same time in the carriage. He could go faster, but Sunniva still needed rest and if they pushed it, they really would attract far more attention than he wanted to draw to them. Sunniva had been right in that the carriage did tend to draw eyes. Steam carriages were known on the roads, but still limited primarily to those wealthy enough to be able to afford them. That was the main reason they were bringing weapons; they weren’t expecting confrontations with the Conclave so much as the possibility of someone trying to make off with their carriage.
While Sunniva slept, Archerd did keep an eye on the road. There were relatively few travelers this time of year, and especially this year with the storms, but they did pass one small group of 4 on horseback when they were several hours out. They waved cordially as they passed; one of them was wrapped tightly in blankets and coughing. Archerd slowed the carriage down.
“Excuse me! Are you looking for medical attention in Dolesham?”
“That wasn’t the purpose of our trip, but our friend has taken ill along the way, yes. Is there a doctor there?”
“Yes, and he is working with those who have come down with the illness that’s taken Holdswaine. Keep on ahead, you’ll find help.”
“Thank you, sir. A good day to you!”
“Likewise!”
He clicked on the transmitter of the communicator. “Tristram, it’s Archerd. We just passed a group of four on horseback; they’ll be looking for you, one of their number has taken ill, and it does look and sound like it’s the same illness.”
“I’ll let Hew know and meet them on the road. Thanks, Archerd. You’re father’s still doing alright. There’s no sign that he’s getting any better, I’m afraid, but he also hasn’t gotten any worse.”
“I’d much rather hear that than that he’s getting worse, so my thanks to you as well.”
They didn’t encounter any other travelers on the road that day. After a few hours Sunniva awoke and Archerd taught her how to drive the carriage, a task that occupied them until the sun was low in the sky and they turned their attention to finding a place to set up camp for the night.
It was almost dark by the time a suitable clearing presented itself, and Sunniva pulled the carriage in with Archerd’s guidance. They were well stocked for camping, and quickly had a fire blazing in a pit left by previous travelers.
“We’ll likely arrive tomorrow around nightfall.” Archerd poked the fire with a branch while a pot of stew simmered.
“We’ll have to find an inn and likely stay for a few days. Will the carriage be a problem?”
“No, I know several that are accustomed to storing them, and I’ve got money to ensure there’ll be no problems. How do you plan to get in touch with the Conclave once we’re there?” She had been vague about that part of the plan back at Dolesham.
“I told you, I’ll get in touch with my contacts.”
“But who are these mysterious contacts?” He couldn’t help it; a touch of irritation hit his voice. She arched an eyebrow at him.
“Would you like a list of names, then? Maybe their home addresses?” She drew away a little, and the coolness in her voice had nothing to do with the rain.
“No, I …” He trailed off, unable to fully articulate it. In his mind, he was replaying the conversation they’d had in the parlor; he remembered vividly how she’d referred to you several times, as though she weren’t really a part of their group. As though she were still part of the Conclave. “Forget it, never mind. I’m being ridiculous.”
“You certainly are.” The coolness was diminished, but not gone. They ate in silence, and slept apart shortly afterward.
They spent the next day in strained conversation, taking turns driving the carriage; they passed nobody living on the road, though they did pass a couple of unfortunates who had left Holdswaine and not made it to their destinations. Archerd called these in to Dr. Maulden, more for an update on his father than because it would be helpful. “I’m glad you contacted me, Archerd. I’m afraid the news isn’t good. Altman is getting worse. It’s progressing very slowly, but the sooner you can get me information, the better.”
“Alright Tristram, Sunniva will be in touch with her contacts as soon as we can manage.” Something in his voice must have grated on her; she gave him an icy glower.
Just before nightfall they reached the city. Guards at the gate stopped them as they approached. They’d prepared for this possibility with false names. Archerd assumed a look of blank boredom, and Sunniva smiled an empty smile.
“Hold, travelers. This city’s fallen to a bad illness; surely you’ve heard the news by now?”
“The epidemic, of course. But cough or no cough, business does go on, doesn’t it?”
“You’re free to enter, but it’s on you, sir. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Off with you then.” He stood aside and the gates opened; they drove in and navigated the wide, empty streets to the inn Archerd had referred to.

* * *

Raedan Sholl wrote diligently, one crisp, well-formed letter after another. He had a mountain of paperwork in front of him that would have turned other men’s stomachs to ice, but he was methodical, precise and efficient, and less than an hour later only a fraction remained. A knock interrupted him as he was beginning the final paper; frowning in irritation, he promptly shouted, “Yes? What is it!”
A minor functionary poked a young head in the door, visibly pale. “Sir, a communication came in through the box and I’ve been asked to ask you to come with me to the control room.”
Sholl frowned. His frown carried the weight of 50 years, most of that with the Conclave, most of it with authority that brooked no wasting of time. “Very well, but this had better be important.”
“Yes sir!” the young man virtually squeaked.
“Chancellor, you asked to be alerted of suspicious activity? We just received word from Holdswaine of two new arrivals in town. They came from the south; nobody has arrived that way in days, and they were in a steam carriage.”
“That’s unusual perhaps, but suspicious?” The frown remained firmly in place, and the man, a senior Conclave mechanist of some years, paled just as the younger man had. It made his skin look almost white even up to the top of his balding head.
“We-e-ell, sir, the lack of traffic is the thing, Holdswaine has been hit hard by the epidemic, and the nearest community of any size is … is Dolesham, sir.”
The chancellor nodded. “Very well. Put out the word to report anything unusual to this office immediately.”
“We’re not to put the city on alert?”
“We won’t jump at every shadow, no. If anything unusual does come of this, then it will be worth reacting. But I won’t have an entire city getting jumpy because some rich brat with more money than sense took a joyride somewhere he should have avoided.”
“As you say sir.”
Sholl snarled as he returned to his desk. His schedule was now off by several minutes. He almost hoped something did come of the interruption, if only to make it worth it.

* * *

“Everyone must be trying to avoid getting sick.” Archerd found the sight of the empty city strangely unnerving. Sunniva made no comment.
They checked in, taking separate rooms. Archerd found it difficult to sleep with the cloud of tension between them; he wished he could just forget his misgivings, but his thoughts went round and round and round his head until he couldn’t even pretend to sleep anymore. Hours before dawn he found himself drinking in the inn’s common room.
As the sun began to rise, Sunniva appeared. She looked much improved today; clean clothes, lack of rain, and adequate food and sleep had done wonders. The only problem was the disgusted glare she threw his way. “Up early to enjoy the local night life, I see. Or morning life? I’ll be off then, you won’t be of any help in that state. I’ll contact you when I learn something, if your head is still working.”
He hadn’t been drinking so much that he was out of his mind, and was about to protest but she was gone. He cursed to himself. He was tempted to go back to his room and use the communicator to reach her, but that would draw attention to her, especially if she were around Conclave representatives. Of course I don’t really know she’s not telling them all about us anyway, he couldn’t help but think, and then hated himself for thinking it.

* * *

Sunniva stormed away from the inn, trying to quiet her thoughts. What had gotten into him? She’d spent weeks traveling through dangerous territory, avoiding the sick and dying to bring vital information to him and his family, only to be treated like she couldn’t be trusted?
She quivered with anger, and stamped down on those thoughts before they could get her in trouble. The weather was clearer today than it had been in a week; there was no rain, and even a hint of sun in the sky. There were more people out in the morning, if only a fraction of what you’d expect in a city this size.
She reached her destination, a large building of stone and brick not far from the Academy. She remembered the area well, and sighed internally at the knowledge she’d acquired in the years since, knowledge that now made her feel these people were an enemy she had to fight even while some of them were genuinely friendly.
The building housed the Academy’s primary research facility, housing labs for medics, physicists and many others. She had several friends who worked in the physics faculty there. One in particular had been sweet on her during their Academy days; she was hoping she could convince him to part with any rumors that might be floating around about the epidemic; exactly what illness was it? Why were Conclave people recovering so well while so many others died?
She pushed all that out of her mind and straighted herself out; she entered the front doors headed for the physics department.
There weren’t too many people around at this time, but she’d expected that, and knew that a lot of the researchers kept odd hours. They scheduled themselves to the pulse of their experiments rather than the rising and setting of the sun.
She found the lab she was looking for; last she’d heard, this was where Manton had been working. She hung her heavy overcoat on a coat rack outside the door and stepped into the room.
As she’d hoped, Manton was there, as were several other researchers. They looked up in surprise at the unexpected interruption.
“Sunniva?” Manton was tall and lanky, and apparently hadn’t outgrown his adolescent awkwardness yet. He was well dressed though; the Conclave was taking care of him well it seemed. Dark hair was bowl-cut around his head and he peered at her in astonishment. “What a surprise! And to see you here this early.”
“Yes, I just got in last night, I wanted to surprise you. It’s been AGES since we talked, Manton! I’ve been in touch with several of the others in our little group. Why have you never tried to get in touch with me?” She added just a touch of pout to this last, and it was genuine; he’d been part of a close-knit group of friends she did in fact miss dearly at times.
“Um … Well,” he started. She’d clearly caught him off-guard.
“I can guess. They do keep you busy don’t they? I know I hardly have time to sleep myself.” She smiled.
“Yeah, they do at that.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “And especially lately with the illness going around … There should be twice as many people here today, but everyone’s in medical.”
“It’s that bad here?” She grimaced. “I’d heard Holdswaine had it, but didn’t know it was THAT bad.”
“They say you’re fine as long as you don’t spend time around sick people. You can get it if they cough on you or if you touch their fluids. Disgusting, I know.”
She mentally nodded to herself. So Dr. Maulden’s idea of separating out the sick from the healthy would at least work to keep the healthy from getting sick. That was something, anyway. “Yes, they told us as much in Rillforth, too. Manton, if you’re free later, maybe we can catch up?”
“Yes, of course! I’d love that.”
“Great. While I’m here, I’d like to see Seaver as well. Is he still here?”
“Seaver? Yes … but he’s in medical. He started showing symptoms yesterday.”
“Oh, the poor dear … do you think they’d mind if I stopped in to check on him?”
“That’s usually not …”
“I won’t bother him long, I promise. I’ll see you later, Manton!” She closed her eyes after turning and leaving the room. She hated using a friend like that, but couldn’t think of a better way. She collected her coat, squared her shoulders and marched off toward the medical wing.

* * *

Manton stared after Sunniva in shock and wonder. “That … was weird.”
The senior researcher on duty narrowed his eyes at the younger man and nodded. “Yes, I should say it was indeed.”
He walked back into his office to the bulky communicator unit there. He pressed Transmit.

* * *

Raedan Sholl was in a particularly good mood; he’d finished a record amount of paperwork in a record amount of time, especially for the early hour, and no interruptions this time. Things were running smoothly. This pleased him immensely.
“Chancellor, sir! We’ve got the senior researcher at the Academy physics lab on the communicator. I think you should talk to him directly, sir.”
“The Academy? Holdswaine again?”
“Yes, Chancelor.”
His brow furrowed, he nodded. “Very well.”

* * *

It took Sunniva a few minutes to get to her destination; Physics and Medical were on opposite sides of the fairly large building, and on different floors to boot. When she arrived there, she asked the first medic she found about Seaver. The medic looked at her strangely a moment, but directed her to a room that wasn’t far away.
When she got there, another medic was setting a tray down on a table next to Seaver’s bed. He looked awful; his skin was bluish, and he couldn’t stop coughing. She gasped involuntarily; he reminded her vividly of the corpses she’d run into on the road to Dolesham days earlier.
The medic looked up in surprise at her gasp, but Seaver didn’t seem to have noticed. When the coughing subsided, his eyes remained closed, his breathing fast.
“Who are you?”
“I’m a friend of his. Is he … okay?” She walked in closer; the tray on the table held a small container of some yellowish liquid and a syringe. She kept her eyes on Seaver though. It wasn’t hard to do; she almost felt like she couldn’t take her eyes off him.
“He will be once we get some more of this into him.”
“What is it?”
“Penicillin. Something new they cooked up in medical research a few years ago. It works amazingly well on this bug.”
“Bug? I’m sorry, I wasn’t expecting him to look this bad …” She picked up the container of liquid and examined it with a look she tried to make as vacant as possible.
“Hey! I’m sory miss, you can’t—”
There was a commotion further down the hall; a distant sound of booted feet in a hurry. Without a second thought, Sunniva ran, fast, pocketing the container, ignoring the shouts from the medic behind her. She tried to draw on her experience of the last few years avoiding suspicion from the Conclave, but there wasn’t much chance of that right this moment; she was too out of place in the medical wing dressed as she was.
With sudden inspiration, she dove into an empty door away from the nearest exit, finding herself in another hallway. There was nobody running down it, so she rushed down a few doors and slipped into a room, and took stock.
The sound of booted feet passed by the hallway she was in, but she didn’t have long, maybe only seconds, before someone returned to check it out. Closing her eyes and hoping as hard as she could, she rushed the rest of the way down the hall. As she’d hoped, she spotted a plain door at the end marked Stairs. Throwing it open, she rushed in, then froze; she heard nothing. She closed the door as quietly as she could.
The stairs led in one direction only, down. She fought to calm herself and slow her breathing. Downstairs at this end of the building was … Was … I should know this, she thought in frustration. She reached the bottom of the stairs and heard booted feet, but it was distant, and rushed. They’re confused, she realized. They were alerted to my presence, but they don’t run into this kind of situation every day.
That could only help her, she knew. The one lesson about infiltration she’d had to learn and learn well was that blending in required you to look like you belonged, and if they were confused, maybe they didn’t know exactly what she looked like.
Materials. That’s where she was. The materials labs were much easier to blend into than medical. Materials researchers looked almost exactly like her own physics people. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door at the bottom of the stairs and stepped out.
So far so good. She was tempted to make for the main entrance and leave as she’d entered, but it was still early and there weren’t that many people in the building. She was a long way from there and there’d be time for word of her appearance to spread to security men who hadn’t seen her in Medical. Maybe not then. Better find some way out around here.
The ground floor was laid out very differently than the upstairs. She found herself in a hallway running perpendicular to the one she’d been in up there — and there was an exit marked at the far end. She took a quick look around, secured her coat over her arm, and started walking as normally as she could manage.
She’d gotten about halfway when the door to the stairwell behind her burst open and a loud “HEY!” reached her. One split second of panic undid her resolve to blend in, and she found herself racing for the door. The echoed pounding of feet told her someone was chasing, and she redoubled her efforts. She was a few steps away when suddenly the trailing footsteps stopped; she pushed open the door and a loud —CRACK— rent the air, her arm exploded in pain. Half stumbling, half running out the door, she kept running as fast as she could.
Cold started to overtake her as she raced down the street; she wasn’t sure if it was shock from her arm, which was a mass of hot pain, or if the morning had gotten a lot colder since she arrived. She started to pull her coat on and found it covered in blood; she’d been shot, and the bullet had passed through it to get to her arm.
She struggled into it anyway, knowing it was going to make her stand out like a sore thumb; it was a light color, and the blood showed clearly, making her look like a victim of some terrible accident. Not so far from the truth, she supposed. Except for the accident bit.
With the coat on, she did in fact feel warmer, which she thought was a good sign; with her good arm, she fumbled her communicator out of a pocket. It was already set to talk to Archerd. “Ar— Archerd …” She sounded drunker than he’d looked earlier, she remembered with a flash of anger.
“Sunniva? What’s wrong?”
At least he sounded okay now, and he was answering quick enough. “Shot … Academy labs building. They shot me, I’m a mess, get the carriage and get here now! I have the medication,” she added almost as an afterthought, and checking her pocket to make sure it was still true. The container was safe and secure, at least as long as she was.
Shot! The Academy labs building, on my way.”
She left the device on but slipped it into a pocket. There still weren’t many people around, but there were enough that that device would stand out almost as much as her coat did. She ducked into an alley and tried to look drunk. It wasn’t difficult. Her head was clearing a little, but her arm was throbbing and she knew she was still in shock.
She’d made it several blocks away from the building, and when the alarm bells sounded she heard them clearly. She forced herself to ignore them, as though they were the furthest thing from her mind. Hurry up, hurry… she thought. Then risked using the communicator again. “Hurry up Archerd, the alarm bells are ringing!” She thought she’d done pretty well to keep her voice to a whisper.
“Almost there,” she heard in reply.

* * *

“Almost there,” he replied. There. She was just inside an alleyway, stepping out to meet him. Archerd started a turn as he slowed, and she ran out and clumsily clambered up and in. “How bad is it?” His voice was tight with tension and worry; his doubts seemed even more petty and unreasonable in the face of this. “Are you okay?”
She shot him a look, but he couldn’t tell if she was angry or just in pain. “I’ll be fine. Let’s go!”
He finished the turn and took off back the way they’d come. “Sorry I was delayed. I grabbed as much of our stuff as I could out of our rooms, including your ID.”
Some of the tension left her then. He almost thought she smiled. “Thanks. I was afraid you’d have left those in your rush.”
“Not a chance. Now let’s leave this place behind, shall we?”
He concentrated on driving the rest of the way out of the city; he was going fast, faster than he’d ever gone in a carriage. Must be almost half again as fast as the fastest horse he’d ever seen, he thought, and immediately part of his brain started thinking about the best way to gauge the speed the carriage was moving. The gate out of the city came into view and he shut that part of his mind down; the gate was still guarded, and they weren’t slowing nor stopping.


Continue to NaNoWriMo 2011 Story 5 - Day 28