Not really sure whatís real here, and whatís the spawn of my fevered, fetid, infested imagination. I see Ling Shan, although Iíve never been. I see constellations in an alien junkyard, spinning slowly on the surface of an invisible globe. A voice threads through it all, a voice that talks as though weíre old friends although I canít quite make out the words. Iíve never heard it before.
SYSTEM START flickers at the corner of my eye.
CN COMBAT SOLUTIONS.
The boot crawl scrolls over my visions, eats them away like acid. By the time itís gone through its song and dance thereís nothing left to see but two words: PHAGE ISOLATED.
I can make out what the voice is saying, now. Itís telling me to wake up. It sounds worried.
It calls me son.
I open my eyes and look up at the dome of smoke covering Manhattan. Thereís something up there that doesnít belong somehow, bright threads of blue and yellow lacerating the overcast like veins of quartz. It takes me a moment to remember what it is.
Oh, right. Sunlight. Sky. It jerks for a moment, as if someone just fucked with the vertical hold in my eyes.
ďCome back, son. Focus.Ē
Tactical returns, slow and halting. Icons flicker on and off and on again, as if not quite sure theyíre in the right place. The sky jerks again, but this time I realize itís not just my eyesight: Somethingísótugging at me. I lift my head.
Those fucking ticks. Those bloodsuckers. One of them has its hooks into the N2. Itís pretty much all the wake-up call I need: I hate those things. I kick the little fucker and am back on my feet in a second, reaching for a gun that isnít there, looking up and down a street that seems to be hosting a goddamn tick parade. Some of them carry nothing but the swollen bladders on their own backs. One or two are actually dragging body parts, like ants taking crumbs to the nest.
My own personal chaperone is back, trying to take me down by the ankle. My gun lies a dozen meters away: Golem Boy donít need no goddamn carbine to stomp it like a big ugly zit. None of the others seem to notice. They donít seem interested in anything that moves under its own steam.
ďIím getting a limited feed from your suit, but for now itíll have to do.Ē A little window opens up in my visual field and there he is, standard old white dude, maybe midsixties, looks like he was cut-and-pasted out of some black-and-white video from a hundred years ago. ďI donít believe weíve been introduced. Jack Hargreave, at your service. Nathan Gould might have mentioned my name, although I donít imagine he had much good to say about me.Ē
Actually, old man, Nathan says you want me dead.
On the other hand, Tara Strickland says you want me alive. Itís Lockhart who wants me dead, and I know for a fact that Lockhart has an absolute fucking hate-on for Jack Hargreave.
ďI have to ask you to take Nathanís opinions with a grain of salt. Heís a fine man, I think the world of him personally, wouldnít have kept him on so long if I didnít. But heís also something of a fuckup, pardon my French. All those psychotropics he dropped out on the left coastótheyíve dulled his edge a bit. Not quite the clear thinker he onceówell, we could spend hours on the long and sordid relationship between Nathan Gould and Jack Hargreave, but right now there are far more pressing concerns.
ďYou are standing not far from the diseased bureaucratic heart of this city. And while youíd think that airlifting all the politicians out of the place should have had a cleansing effect, sadly, whatís replaced them isnít a lot better. Go on, see for yourself. Follow the parade.Ē
He does not pat me on the head or offer me a Milk-Bone. Probably only because the N2 doesnít come with those options.
ďBy the way,Ē Hargreave adds after a couple of seconds have passed and I still havenít saluted. ďIím given to understand someone may have told you youíre dead. I would urge you not to put too much faith in definitions designed primarily to allow the health insurance industry to cut benefits at the first appearance of a hangnail. Life and death are far more malleable than most people imagine, as you are finding out for yourself; and while, yes, you may technically fall into the latter category at the moment, I have access to certainóremediesódenied most policy-holders. Donít you worry, son. Iíll be right there with you, and if you do this for meófor the planetóweíll get you patched right up. After all, itís my technology thatís already made you such an active corpse.Ē
He has a point. This, this high-tech infestation wrapped around meóitís Hargreaveís property. He built the damn thing, or pirated it at least. He designed the people-friendly interface that papers over all those scary alien guts that I hope to Christ someone understands. And heíll be right here with me. Of course you will, Jack. You are my Lord and my Shepherd, and youíve probably been walking with me since the moment I died. A comm link without an off-switch is the least of your divine powers: I bet youíve built overrides and remotes into every fucking circuit in this thing.
Still, that whole not-being-dead thing. That would be really nice.
Hargreave wants me to follow the parade? I follow the parade.
Iím in a shallow depression of cracked asphalt, a street collapsed into some hollow space below, ankle-deep in wastewater from half a dozen broken mains. Hargreave leads me from the valley of the shadow. He leads me through half-assed barricades, past schools of dead yellow cabs and burning police cars. Something bleats from the rooftops; I look up in time to see a blur of pink flannel before the baby bursts like a grapefruit against the pavement. Its mother hits a second later without a sound.
ďStay the course, son,Ē Hargreave says sadly. ďThereís nothing you can do for them.Ē
A woman cries out from a shattered window twelve stories above Liberty Street; a man and his daughter call for help from a balcony over Fulton. Sometimes I see them before they see me; I cloak, and creep past without ever raising their hopes.
He tries to distract me with tales of our mutual acquaintance. ďDonít get me wrong about Nathan; his heart is definitely in the right place, heís the same humanitarian he ever was. Heís justólost that edge that once made him so brilliant. That ability to make intuitive leaps, counterintuitive leaps, that distinguish the great minds from the merely competent. Case in point: He finds the black box in that second skin of yours and he just assumes itís some kind of blueprint: the genspecs to fight the spore.Ē
Three storiesí worth of old iron fire escapes lie smashed on the sidewalk; someoneís hung a bedsheet from the railing of the fourth, painted a slapdash NEED FOOD & WATER for any Meals On Wheels truck that might be cruising past.
ďTen years ago Nathan would have seen the truth instantly. The suit doesnít contain the specs for a weapon. The suit is the weapon. It just needs to be activated.Ē
He takes me through an abandoned field hospital: Quonset huts lined up in an underground parkade, all cots empty, body bags stacked in neat virgin piles. Down in some subterranean food court I pass through an improvised checkpoint blocked out in chain link and razor wire: rows of tables, suitcases and backpacks with their contents turned out and spread under racks of purple UV. Ticks clatter past, draining the dead while Hargreave natters like a Discovery Channel voice-over: ďThink of the Argentine Cattle Crisis two years ago, or the British BSE outbreak in the last century. The issue was not slaughtering the animals, the problem was disposal. What do you do with millions of rotting corpses? Here you see the Cephís answer. They wipe us out, they break us down, they reduce the environmental impact almost to zero. Exemplary, really.Ē
The ticks have spilled onto Dutch Avenue. Iím starting to see that this isnít a parade after all. Itís a drainage basin, full of little tick streams that join up to form mighty tick rivers that converge onó
I turn the corner at Spruce.
I have no idea what happened here. I think this used to be City Hallóthree stories of arched windows, topped by a domed tower almost as high againóand I think the space in front of it used to be a park. But some giant has jammed a spade into the crust of the planet and just twisted. Thereís a rift in front of me, a canyon where the ground has opened up. The road runs off its edge and ends in tatters like a hacked-off limb. An eighteen-wheeler leans over the break, cab dangling in midair; it looks almost curious, craning its neck to see down into the pit. Broken sewer pipes jut from the cliff face. There used to be a subway line down there, too; itís been chopped in half like a worm by a shovel, the track line pulled into daylight and torn apart, subway cars scattered around the gap like cheap-ass Chinese toys. There are outfalls everywhere, and fires, and down through the mist and the smoke I see the vague shapes of uprooted trees and fractured asphalt.
Thereís something else down there, too, something deeper than the merely human wreckage. I can only catch glimpses through the pieces of rock and road blocking the way, but that segmented bony aesthetic is almost familiar by now. Way down deep, built into bedrock under one of the most densely populated cities in the world: an architecture that couldnít have been put together by anything weíd think of as hands.
Way off on the far side of City Hall I see a silhouette in the smoke; it looms maybe twice as high as the dome that foregrounds it. Another Ceph spire, and Iím praying to fucking Allah itís already shot its load.
This is Tick Mecca. This is the point of their pilgrimage, this is where they bring the liquefied dead of Manhattan: a clacking, clicking river flowing down into the center of the earth.
ďYou have to go down there, son,Ē Hargreave says solemnly
Iím not your fucking son, Jack.
But I go down anyway.
What happens if I just say no? Good question.
I was keeping an eye out, you know. Ever since the suit mutinied at Trinity. That was a kick in the throat, manókinda paled next to being dead, but it added insult to injury. Like Iíd been on a leash all that time and just hadnít known it, because SECONDíd never yanked me to heel before.
It never tried to pull that shit again. Of course, I never tried to cross it again. It fed me objectives and I pretty much went along with them. And most of the time, why wouldnít I? BUD points out the most likely local spots for cached ammo and Iím not going to weapon up? Hargreave offers my life back if I follow the parade and Iím going to go in the opposite direction? Why? Just to prove I can?
Still, what if I tried?
Of course, those were early days, before the N2 really got to know me. We have a much better relationship now. Now it would never lock me down against my will. It just makes sure Iím always willing.
You do know how this thing works, right? Theyíve told you that much, at least?
Weíre not talking about a meatport here, Iím not one of those new cybersoldiers with the spinal jacks. Weíre talking about carbon nanotubes and room-temp superconductors. Synthetic myelin. Tendrils finer than human hairs burrowing into me, sniffing their way up and down my backbone, twisting up through that hole where the spine enters the skull.
You donít wear the N2, you mate with it. You fuse. And it feels pretty good at first, let me tell you. It feels greatóand after a while you start wondering why it feels so great. A neuronís a neuron, right? When you get right down to it, whatís the difference between sending signals to my visual cortex and sending signals to any other part of my brain? BUD shows me unreal images; whoís to say SECOND doesnít give me unreal thoughts, unreal feelings? A bit of icy calm to help you figure the angles before a big dustup? A bit of extra hate to help you mow the motherfuckers down in the crunch?
Dude. Spare me your pitying looks. You think youíre any better off than me? Did you get any say in how your brain was wired up? You think all that sticky circuitry you call thought just makes itself? Every effect has a cause, man: You can believe in physics or you can believe in free will, but you canít have it both ways. The only difference between you and me is, Iím part of something bigger now. Weíve got a purpose, Roger, bigger than yours, bigger than your bossesí, so much bigger than you. So you might want to start asking yourself if the people behind those cameras are the sort of folks to whom you really want to pledge your allegiance.
Because there are other sides to be on, you know. And maybe itís not too late to get on the right one.
You have to go down there, son.
Turns out Iím not the first guy he told that to.
There were these tremors, apparently. A dozen seismographs grumbling about something under City Hall, even before the ground opened up. So just a couple of days ago, Jack Hargreave sent a squad down into the subway. Their signals garbled. Their signals stopped. They havenít come back.
Hargreave sends me down the same tunnel: a long dirty intestine lined with train tracks, torqued and twisted and torn open enough to let in occasional shafts of dirty gray light from overhead. I share the passageway with occasional ticks, but theyíre headed the other way and they donít bother me; their bladders are already filled to bursting. I imagine stomping on them and watching them go splat. Once or twice I indulge the fantasy.
Fifty meters in, the tunnel opens into a subway station. The walls are cracked and oozing, the overhead pipes burst. Puddles on the floor. Most of the lights have been smashed; a few hang from the wires at one end, sparking and flickering. Thereís graffiti all over the walls, FUCK YOU and EAT THE RICH and THANK YOU LORD. Trash bins kicked over. Shotgun blasts and little high-caliber divots scattered like terminal acne over every surface.
Actually, it probably doesnít look much different than it did before the invasion.
Thereís a blood trail smeared across the tiles, around the corner, into a crumbling backstage service area. I find three bodies at the end of it: CELL, but not the usual mall-cop colors. Better armor, for one thing. Different insignia. Moreóunderstated.
ďMy men,Ē Hargreave murmurs. ďIíd hoped†.†.†.Ē
He sounds almost choked up. Almost sincere.
I give him a moment, scavenge the remains: frag grenades, laser scope, ammo clips. A scarab with a cracked handguard. One of those nice big L-TAG smart grenade launchers that grunts like me never seem to get their hands on.
ďCasualties of war, I suppose. We all make sacrifices.Ē Hargreave has come to terms with his grief. I never knew the traditional minute of silence could be so therapeutic. ďI donít see Reeves here, though. Donít see the scanning gear, either. See if you can find it; it might give us a little advance warning on what weíre heading into.Ē
I find him through a rusted fire exit, halfway down another tunnel where the loading platform is high and dry and the tracks themselves are knee-deep in the water table. Derelict train cars, knocked off their rails, sit in the water like gondolas in the worldís most butt-ugly Tunnel of Love.
Mitchell Reeves lies dead on the loading platform with two of his homeys, twitching under the ministrations of a pair of ticks. I waste some ammo on a bit of cheap visceral satisfaction, pry Reevesís field laptop from his cold dead fingers. The techís proprietary from boards to buttons, but the I/Oís standard WiFi.
Hargreave delivers the eulogy as SECOND builds the connection. ďBest I had, aside from Tara Strickland. What a waste.Ē
Reeves stares through me while his machine shakes hands. At least he still has eyes.
At least the spore left him with that much.
Iím heading for something Hargreave calls ďthe Hive.Ē Doesnít that sound like fun. According to Reevesís laptop itís almost dead north. This subway tunnel curves northeast.
The tunnels arched and ancient and lined with patterned tiles that wouldnít look half bad if someone stripped off about a hundred years of grease and black mold. Some stretches have grimy skylights behind ornate iron grilles, and the dim dirty light that filters down might even be natural. Others are lit by yellow bulbs in cheap tin chandeliers. I slosh past cracks and cave-ins and zigzag chains of derailed cars as Hargreave checks out Reevesís data. I climb along tracks that used to be flat; now theyíve been wrenched into roller coasters. Sparking fluorescents and brain-dead signal lights flash at random, filling the passages with brightness and shadow and flickering bloody twilight.
I never walk alone. Hargreave whispers in my ear. Ceph infantry stalk along the tunnels and shoot on sight, hooting and chittering and clicking. I must be on the right track; their numbers climb the farther I go. Too many to take on at once; the suit isnít flooding me with bloodlust so I guess it agrees. We cloak in fits and starts, and try to pass unseen.
It works for a while.
Something crashes down into the tunnel just ahead: a steel fist, a battering ram, a subway car punching through from an overhead line like Thorís Hammer through a leaky condom. I donít know what sent it down here, I donít know if itís accident or assault, I donít know what set the fucking thing on fire. But there it is, forty meters dead ahead, a few hundred tons of torqued and screaming metal, belching flames and smoke. It spits pieces everywhere: shards of glass, ragged little shurikens of flaming metal, chunks of concrete ricocheting from the shattered wall. One of them must have hit me, because suddenly I can see my shadow dancing in the firelight like a big fucking arrowhead.
And all these armed and armored garden slugs see it, too.
Theyíre on me from angles I didnít even know they had: from behind, from around the corner of the burning train, but from above, too, from overhead service catwalks Iíve been too fucking stupid to even notice all this time. They fire through grilles and gratings way too narrow for a clean return shotóand man, even the grunts I can get a bead on are way tougher than they have any right to be. Iím pumping off shots that blow good-sized divots out of reinforced concrete, and these fuckers just take it. Four, five shots to bring them down sometimesóeven with all that unprotected meat showingóand I donít have nearly enough ammo to go around.
Thereís a service closet at my back, heavy door, double-locked, but a few wild shots from the Ceph take care of that before I even get there. I manage to duck back inside an instant before the armor setting bleeds out the cells. It gives me some cover, buys the suit a bit of recharge time. I fire around the corner often enough to keep the Squids from advancing too quickly, but theyíre out there and Iím in here and this is not what youíd call a sustainable situation.
I switch to StarlAmpólight flickers in through the doorway but the corners of this little cave are still deep in shadowóand I spare a moment to survey the digs. Thereís a pail in here, and a mop. A fuse box on the wall, jammed with breakers and switches and high-voltage cables. Thereís a bloated corpse squirming with spore, some poor bastard who found a dark place to die. I flash back to all the other poor bastards before him, the Rapture-heads, the suicidal mothers, the bodies twitching in the street like frogís legs jumping to an electric currentó
And suddenly I see something else in here, too. I see a way out.
I duck back around the corner and hand out way more ammo than I should. Ceph scatter before my suppressing fire; I catch at least two of them right in the dorsal tentacles, blow a couple of those waving wormy things right the fuck off, leave them flapping on the ground while their owners dive for cover. Doesnít even slow them down. Gotta hand it to the slugs; if someone blew off one of my limbs I donít think Iíd be quite so blas'e about it.
And then I think: PredatorĖprey. And then I think: Nature documentaries.
And suddenly, for just that one brief instant, Ceph battle armoróthe sheer idiocy of leaving all that meat exposed to enemy fireóalmost makes a kind of sense.
Maybe itís like those reef fish that have the big fake eyespots down near the tail, to trick predators into going for the wrong end. Maybe those big wavy tentacles are vulnerable by design, maybe theyíre not gills or penises but cannon fodder. Maybe the whole point is to look vulnerable, to draw enemy fire to something that can be dropped and discarded the way a lizard sheds its tail, leaves the predator chewing on some scaly scrap while the primary target skitters away unharmed.
Now Iím not saying that kind of Animal Planet shit would necessarily work when you graduate to dustups that use actual honest-to-God technology. Any enemy smart enough to lob a flashbang or build an SMG is gonna figure that trick out pretty quick. But so what? Why go out of your way to shield something that only exists to be blown off in the first place? You donít need it for anything, so you might as well allocate your resources to something that matters.
Apropos of nothing, of course. Just a friendly pointer in case you ever find yourself face-to-phallus with those slimy little fuckers in the near future.
But itís just a flash, really, a little chunk of insight crammed into the space of an eyeblink. The brain plays with the theory but the body keeps the plan in motion. My suppressing fire has got the Ceph to back off a bit, given me a few extra seconds to put the pieces into place. I rip open that switch box, I rip out those cables, I loop them up and tie them together. And when I cloak at last, fully charged, and sneak back out into the tunnel, the Ceph donít even noticeóbecause they still hear me, trapped in that little room. They can still see my shadow moving in there, framed by the flickering blue light of shorted circuits. And by the time they get their nerve back and rush my defensesóby the time they discover that corpse wired up like a marionette, live cables under its arms, dancing a fifty-thousand-volt jig against the wallóIím already behind enemy lines.
I bet Iím the only one in my whole fucking squad who wouldíve thought of that.
The ghost of Mitchell Reeves leads me on to an impassable cave-in where his living body planted canisters of C-4 before turning back to die a thousand meters farther upstream. I donít know why he never detonated them: But I do, and when the dust and the wreckage have settled I crawl from the tunnel we made into one we didnít: a place full of shadows and segmented machines and dim, sickly gray light.
I think itís a cave at first, carved from the bedrock beneath Manhattan and almost as large. Great curving spinal columns of dark gunmetal arc across the vast space, orange eyespots glimmering from each vertebra. Massive towers of wheels and gears and sawtooth machinery loom ahead. A cave, a subterranean city. But then something rises out of a fissure aheadóa floating cannon, a flying abortion put together from gun belts and engine blocks, all its viscera welded to the outside of its hull. The usual flickering red levitators push it into the sky, and as I watch it rise I see there is a sky up there, grim and gloomy, but that is not the roof of a cave and this is no hollow beneath Manhattan. This is an open pit, and up around its edges I can see the towers of New York.
Then Iím flat on my back, and a horse has just kicked me in the chest.
A horse, or a high-caliber armor-piercing round. Tactical vectors back and highlights a target halfway up a faraway cliff face, too hidden in the local cover for a make. Not human, though.
ďAh,Ē Hargreave murmurs. ďThatís interesting.Ē
No warnings on tactical.
ďStay absolutely still. If its dealings so far have been with ordinary soldiers, it thinks youíre dead. Act like it.Ē
I saccí suit diagnostics just to be sure. No redlights.
SECOND keeps a targeting triangle on the sniper as it emerges from cover. A single impossible bound and itís covered half the distance. Another jump; itís on the ledge with me, not ten steps away. It steps forward with that strange half-upright-half-panther gait. I swear itís cocking its headpiece at me.
It was mainly grunts in the subway. I wonder how this carbine works point-blank against stalkers.
It actually works pretty well. But Iím guessing this means they know Iím coming.
Jack Hargreave fills my helmet with waypoints and mission objectives. I descend into the pit and he talks about ecology, and insect societies. I look up at a murky yellow sky and he rhapsodizes about evolution and coral reefs. He warns me that I am in a hive, that the level of infestation is high, that I have to be careful.
But all I can see are the thousands of infected rotting on the streets behind me, and I donít want to be careful. I donít give a flying fuck about infestation. There canít ever be enough of these fuckers in my sights, not as long as Iíve got a weapon in my hands and ammo to feed it.
And oh, Roger, itís as though all of fucking Cephdom has gathered here to grant that very wish.
Iím not crazy enough to take them all on head-to-head; there are stalkers here that jump like fleas and shoot like snipers, Heavies that barely feel a direct hit with a fragmentation grenade. I cloak and cover, I hide, I fight on the run and never in a straight line. But there are times. Times a bogeyman falls injured in front of me and instead of finishing the job with a burst of firepower I lift the fucker over my head and smash it against one of its own machines. There are time when I find cracks in the armor, and pry them open, and rip out that translucent gray Spam by the fistful. There are times I shoot to kill, and times I flip that gun around and use it as a fucking club.
Theyíre all the same to me, every stalker like every other, each grunt as faceless as the last. I donít know if theyíre clones or assembly-line robots, I donít know if the suitís just filtering out their distinguishing traits to keep my conscience dead, and I donít care. But thereís one Heavy down here who doesnít line up with the others. It doesnít go down, it doesnít give up, it doesnít stop moving. It lumbers like a fucking cow but somehow it always manages to get out of the way of my grenades, somehow my armor-piercing rounds just never seem to get through.
And I swear, Roger, Ceiling Cat as my witness, this thing has as big a grudge as I do. It sees me airing out its buddies, sees the ranks thinning down, and it doesnít chitter or burble like the other Ceph: it roars. I can outrun it easily enoughóIím the hare to its tortoise, and yes I am painfully aware of who won that particular contest, thank you very muchóbut somehow it always manages to get ahead of me after I leave it behind, always manages to rise up between me and my waypoints. It comes after me like a runaway semi, like Iíd raped its mother, and itís smart enough to play to my weaknesses. I could stay ahead of the fucking thing if I didnít have to deal with some grunt or stalker on the side every time I turned around. But the Heavy keeps coming, runs me down, forces me to drain my suit. Then, once Iím bled down to moving at pathetic baseline human speedsóthen those cannon arms shoot out missiles from an endless ammo belt that must reach into another fucking dimension, the damn thing never runs dry. I try to keep to the high ground and some stalker sails higher, raining down plasma and lightning. I take cover behind rockfalls and overturned dumpsters and grunts swarm me like giant lethal gnats.
I donít know how it happens but it catches me in the open. A missile slams into the rock face just a few meters to my leftónot a direct hit but close enough, close enough. The blast kicks me into the air like a tumbleweed in a windstorm; half a dozen redlights bloom on BUD. The world spins and then stops with a jolt, way too soon, way too high. Iím back on the ground but not that ground. Iím higher up. Iím on a ledge, an uplifted chunk of asphalt. Thereís a car behind me. Yellow cab. More cabs than cockroaches in this burg.
From just out of sight, past the lip of the ledge, the sound of something pounding the ground.
Carbineís gone. The scarab wonít do shit against this thing. Iíve got grenades but the Heavy justó
The charge levelís barely grazing 50 percent but itíll have to do. I slap two stickies onto the front of the cab, set the timers so they donít blow up in my face. Whatever the suitís got to give, it gives now. Lord: Give me Strength.
I kick. The cab skids off the ledge and sails down in a beautiful arc that ends right on the head of that missile-spitting motherfucker. The sound of massive metal objects smashing together: just beautiful, Roger. Just fucking beautiful.
It doesnít die. But it goes down, pinned under two thousand kilograms of Chevroletís finest alloys. I can hear the roars of my vanquished enemy, I can see the car swaying and rocking as the thing underneath struggles to free itself before the timers run down.
Doesnít take much to set off a sticky. Even a footstep within a couple of meters is enough if you crank the sensitivity. And this bruiser, itís moving that cab around like a goddamn seesaw. Itís half a second, tops, between the timers zeroing out and the whole damn vehicle going up in a ball of fire, HE, and gasoline. Itís almost too long. The Heavyís actually tipping the cab up on its side by the time the stickies detonate, actually getting back to its feet when its feet get blown out from under it.
But you know what they say. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
After a while they stop coming for me. After a while they get harder to find. But Jacob Hargreave is still there, telling me what I have to do.
A riot of alien machinery sits in the center of the pit like some kind of nerve ganglion, radiating those massive spokes in all directions. The base of a Ceph spire rises from its center: the same spire I saw past City Hall. Most of the spokes look like the backbones of some colossal cyborg; three sprout a pair of leg-like spines from each segment. They look like the bodies of monstrous centipedes.
ďAh,Ē Hargreave says. ďYes. Well.Ē
I wait for something a bit more helpful. I wait for more Ceph to come pouring through the walls and tear me apart. All I see are spines, and pipes, and see-through panels here and thereóportholes, almostóbehind which clouds of spore swirl and seethe like coffee grounds. Theyíre not going anywhere, though. The flow is random, chaotic, like boiling water trapped in a pot: all wired up and no place to go.
ďFrom the look of this feed, the spore loopís running near dormant levels,Ē Hargreave says at last. ďWeíll need to fix that. There must be triggers around here, but what they look like is anyoneís guess†.†.†.Ē
Turns out those centipede spokes are key. So I follow one of them out of the spear, across the pit, back down to earth where it plunges into some terminal structure of plates and spines and glowing orange slots. I find the interfaces, I go through the motions. The plumbing trembles under my hand; the spore in the nearest porthole begins to surge back up the conduit, toward the machinery at center stage. One down, two toó
Uh, Hargreave mustíveóYeah, thatís right. Hargreave told me. I mean, how else would I know? Itís not like those controls looked like anything Iíd ever seen before.
Damn good question. You should ask him.