Previously: Stories From Stroud: Together At Last
Talia didn’t let the car drive them to their location. She roared out of Crescendo’s parking lot, forcefully merged with traffic and headed deeper into Stroud. John sat in the passenger seat thinking about the night, he knew that several people were after the information that the illietheril girl was carrying, what was her name?
John turned in the seat facing the backseat, he could see Eth sitting against the door and the illietheril girl was looking out the window her wide eyes even wider as the city passed by at top speed. He stuck his hand out, “I’m John.”
The illietheril girl turned from the window and looked at his hand like his hand could be a dangerous animal, “John,” she said like she was mulling over the quality of his name with what she saw in front of her, “my name is Una.”
“Where are you from?”
The change in the car was instantaneous. John let his hand drop. Eth sat a little farther back and Talia leaned forward. Everyone knew that people from the Q-zone were infected with Markov’s Syndrome. Catching Markov’s was a death sentence, even if the syndrome didn’t kill you after a long, drawn out illness, you were sentenced to live the rest of your life in the Q-zone.
“The Q-zone,” Talia asked quietly.
“I’m not infected,” Una said forcefully, “I was born there. My parents were infected, but I was never infected.”
“Oh,” said or muttered everyone in the car.
“I’m not infected,” Una said again, as if repeating the words would be proof enough, “There hasn’t been a case of the infection in the Q-zone in years.”
“That’s not what I hear,” Eth said from his corner of the car.
John shook his head in agreement and Talia kept her eyes on the road, but she was thinking.
The bright lights of City Center were long gone, the mass that was the Tumbledown sat in the distance, when Talia turned the car in an alley. The car shoved garbage aside. Talia drove the car about half-way down the alley, turned off the lights and shut the car down.
“This is it,” she said as she got out of the car.
“What is this place,” Eth and Una asked?
“This is the home of the best data-thief in the city and one of the best holo-vid theatres,” Talia said as she pushed open the door.
“Looks like every other abandoned building in the city,” Eth said looking around the alley.
They followed Talia inside the building, with John making sure that everyone got inside. The room they stepped into was small, undecorated, and every surface was painted black. A single light illuminated the center of the room. Talia was having a conversation with slot in a door on the opposite wall when John walked in.
“Just tell Trace, that Talia is here,” Talia said exasperated.
“What are we waiting for,” John asked?
“Trace is very security oriented,” Talia replied.
“John, can I talk to you when we get a moment,” Eth asked John?
“Sure,” John said without taking his eyes off the door slot.
Una was quiet.
“You’ve dealt with this guy before,” John asked?
“Plenty of times and its ways the same,” Talia replied, “He’s careful, which is why he hasn’t been caught or come to anyone’s attention.”
The door opened with a very loud squeal. Standing on the other side of the door were two herg, wearing all black outfits, carrying very large shotguns. The herg with the long tusks waved them into the corridor.
“Trace has some time,” he growled in a deep bass.
A short walk down a black hallway and the group arrived at another door, which opened silently. The room on the other side of the door was well lit. Computer equipment was piled everywhere. At first, the impression was a dumping ground for computers, parts and wires, but a closer look revealed a pattern to the mess. Merged into the middle of the room full of computers was a herg. Wires connected the herg to the computers from every possible place on his body. He looked like he was made out of the wires themselves. As they entered the room, he turned to look at them, both of his eyes glowing red.
“How are you Talia,” came a modulated voice from speakers in the walls, his lips never moved?
“Got a problem,” Talia said, “thought you could help me out.”
“Problem,” the modulated voice asked?
“Give him the stick,” Talia said to Una.
“We need to know what is on this stick,” Talia said to Trace.
Una walked past Talia towards Trace. She had never seen anything like this before, her steps were small. She pulled the stick out of her pocket, unsure where to put the stick, she held out her hand. A tendril of wires ending in a grasping claw slithered out of the mass of wires to gently grab the stick and retreat back into the mass. Una quickly walked back to the group.
Eth tapped John on the shoulder and gestured to the back off the room. When John joined him, “I need that data-stick.”
“After we find out what is on it,” John replied.
“I can have the stick after you find out what is on it,” Eth asked questioning tone obvious?
“Yes, why wouldn’t I give it to you,” John said, “Once we get the information you can take the stick and make good with your people. Understand.”
“Thanks John,” Eth said.
“I cannot break the coding at this moment. I have disabled the faulty tracking hardware,” Trace’s modulated voice informed them.
“Tracking hardware,” John and Una said at the same time.
“The data-stick had a tracking program, unfortunately the program was faulty sending out signals at random intervals,” Trace informed them.
“How long until you can break the code,” Talia asked?
“A day at most,” Trace replied quickly, “I must inform you that the data-stick was transmitting a tracking signal when you arrived. Most likely other interested parties are on their way here. Therefore I must ask you to leave.”
“What about the data-stick,” John, Talia and Eth asked at the same time. Talia looked at Eth and Eth shrugged his shoulders.
“I have transferred a copy of the data, you can have the stick back if you like.”
“Wait. I have an idea,” John said urgently, “Eth, you want to take the stick back to your people right?”
Eth looked around at everyone before responding, “Yes, it would make my life a lot easier. Plus you owe me.”
“If we give you the stick will you go the opposite way that we go? Go back to your people and keep quiet about us,” John asked, hand on gun?
“Sure, not a problem,” Eth responded.
“Trace, can you turn the tracking signal back on,” John asked?
“Do that and give the stick to Eth. Eth get the stick and leave,” John ordered.
Eth approached Trace and got the stick from a wire tendril. Eth left quickly without a word.
“Now they have the information,” Talia almost shouted at John.
“If Trace is the best and it will take them a day, how long do you think it will take them,” John asked?
“What if they have the key,” Talia asked incredulous?
“I…well let’s hope they don’t,” John replied looking rather embarrassed, “At least they won’t be after us for a little while.”
“I will contact you when I get the information,” Trace announced to the room, “Please exit the building.”
“Where will we hide,” Una asked.
“Tumbledown,” John and Talia replied as they headed out of the building.
Note from management: There may be one last Stroud story, then there will be a break until I get I see how much work this college semester is going to require.