Lisa had always enjoyed evening flights over Barona; but tonight the twinkling city lights had none of their usual cheerfulness. Instead, they seemed more like a sea of unwinking eyes staring accusingly up at her. "I can't do this," she said aloud to the preteen flying beside her.
"Will you relax?" Weylin Ellery snapped impatiently. "The Prophet Omega told us to do this, right? And he wouldn't tell us to do something we'd get in trouble for, right? So just take it easy."
The arguments didn't help much. Prophet or no, Lisa couldn't shake the fear that the Prophet Omega might have forgotten something—surely he couldn't know the inner workings of Barona's police department, for example. And she and Weylin were taking all the risks here. "Why do we have to do this?" she said, more to herself than to Weylin.
"Because some kid named Colin Brimmer was kidnapped last June from Ridge Harbor," the other answered anyway. "Tirrell—he's a detective from there—thinks a scientist has him hidden out in the woods somewhere and is maybe doing some kind of experiment with him. The Prophet needs to know where his hiding place might be so we can go and rescue Colin."
Lisa flew for several minutes in silence, letting Weylin's words bounce around her brain. The Prophet Omega had mentioned Colin's kidnapping, but he hadn't said anything about any experiment. What sort of thing could this scientist be doing? It brought to mind the hundred most gruesome monster movies she'd had to sit through when she was younger. "But if the police are already trying to find him, why don't we just let them alone?"
"Because the Prophet wants to find him first."
"I don't know," Weylin said with complete unconcern. "Maybe we can do more to help Colin recover from whatever Jarvis is doing to him. What difference does it make why?—the Prophet told us to do it."
And that, Lisa realized at last, was all the explanation Weylin would ever need for anything the Prophet Omega said. It must be nice to have that kind of faith, she thought, almost wistfully. Even with Gavra she'd never had anything like absolute trust—she'd always been too aware of her own shortcomings to expect perfection from anyone else. Maybe someday that would change; but for tonight, at least, Weylin's faith was going to have to do for both of them.
The windows of the city building were mostly dark and empty as the two preteens slanted out of the sky to land across the street. The main entrance, itself well lit, showed bright lights through its inset windows, but aside from that there were no more than a half-dozen lights visible anywhere.
"Nine o'clock," Weylin said, looking at his watch. "Good. The seven-to-eight shift overlap could have given us trouble."
Startled, Lisa checked her own wrist. With her mind on so many other things, she'd completely lost track of the time... and for the first time ever she'd now missed hive lights-out. Just one more gracking thing gone wrong, she thought morosely.
"All right, now just stay calm and remember the story the Prophet told us to use," Weylin said, taking her arm. "And let me do the talking."
The room beyond the front door seemed larger than it had on Lisa's visit two days earlier, and the main reception desk looked somehow taller and more massive. Glancing to both sides as they headed toward the desk, she saw four officers hunched over desks in the duty lounge and—talking quietly together in a far corner—an equal number of preteen righthands. The sight of them made her stomach tighten; if there was any trouble, she and Weylin would be nailed like dragonmites in tar before they got three meters.
"You're out awfully late, Weylin," the desk man commented as they approached. "What's up?"
Weylin gestured to Lisa. "Ran across something that couldn't wait till morning. My friend here is an ex-member of that burglary ring Hob and I were working on before Tirrell tied us up with his kidnapping case."
The officer's eyebrows went up. "I didn't realize there were kids involved with that one. Shee-double-it." He looked at Lisa. "Tell me, was there an adult in charge of this group, uh—?"
"Kathi," Lisa supplied through dry lips. "Yes, there's a man telling everyone what to do."
"Damn fagins," the other growled bitterly. His gaze hardened and shifted, giving Lisa the eerie sensation of something hateful standing directly behind her. "Do you know this man's name, Kathi?"
Before Lisa could answer, Weylin cut in. "It isn't one that sounded familiar. I'm taking her upstairs to look through the suspects' album Hob and I worked up—it'll be faster than going through the complete roguery down here."
Okay." The officer's eyes flicked to the duty lounge. "Palmer?"
"I'd rather do this alone, if that's okay," Weylin said quickly. Lowering his voice, he added, "Uniformed officers make Kathi a little nervous, if you understand."
The other hesitated, then shrugged. "Well... all right." Reaching under the desktop, he pulled out a key and handed it over. "Make it fast, though—you're not really supposed to be alone upstairs when you're off shift."
"I know. We won't be long." Taking Lisa's arm again, Weylin led her behind the desk and toward a door flanked on both sides by pieces of paper with people's faces on them. As they got closer, she saw that beneath each photo were several lines of words. "What are those?" she whispered, pointing.
"Pictures of people we're supposed to be watching out for," he whispered back. "We go through here." He teeked open the door and stepped through.
Lisa started to follow... and abruptly stopped. "Wait a second," she said, frowning at the photo that had caught her eye.
"Come on," Weylin hissed, looking back at her.
Ignoring him, she stepped closer to the picture. Yes... yes, she decided; it was him. Lowering her eyes to the words below, she read with a growing sense of excitement.
Weylin was beside her again, pulling her arm with a grip that looked gentle but had teekay strength behind it. "Come on," he growled in her ear. "You trying to get us caught?"
"This is Dr. Jarvis—that scientist!" she told him, standing firm and nodding toward the picture.
"Not so loud! You're not supposed to have anything to do with him, remember?"
"But I saw him, Weylin, driving toward Rand back in June," she whispered. "He said he was taking his nephew home—" She inhaled sharply as it suddenly hit her who the sleeping child must have been. "I saw Colin too!"
"Later!" he hissed, pulling harder. "Let's get upstairs before someone wonders what we're doing here."
Reluctantly, she let him draw her along, eyes flicking across the other pictures as they again walked toward the doorway. One other face seemed vaguely familiar, but before she had a chance to read more than the man's name, they were through the opening and Weylin had teeked the door firmly shut.
"Okay," he said, taking a deep breath as he glanced around the deserted corridor. "The office is on the third floor; stairway's over there. Come on."
Abandoning the floor, he flew to the stairway and threaded his way up the open space in the middle. Lisa followed, and a moment later they were standing outside a door marked with the name "Stanford Tirrell—Detective First." She teeked the knob experimentally, discovered it was locked. "Now what? she whispered.
Weylin had produced something that looked like a meter-long strand of limp spaghetti with a combination penlight and eyepiece at one end. "Watch for company," he said tightly and dropped onto his back by the door. Putting the eyepiece to one eye, he teeked the strand's free end under the door.
Or, rather, tried to. "Grack," he muttered as the line refused to go. Wriggling a finger under the door, he felt around for a moment, and Lisa heard the muffled sound of heavy fabric tearing. "Rug was in the way," he grunted. He tried the strand again, and this time it slithered through the gap with ease. He sent perhaps half a meter under and then leaned his head back against the jamb, a look of intense concentration on his face.
"What is that thing?" Lisa asked, afraid of disturbing him but fascinated by what he was doing.
"A spy-scope," he said distractedly. "Sends light along the glass filaments to what I'm looking at and then back to me."
"What are you—?" She broke off, startled, at the click that came from the doorknob.
"Opening the lock, of course," Weylin said with an air of nervous satisfaction as he scrambled to his feet, yanking the spy-scope out from under the door. Sending quick glances both ways down the hall, he teeked the door open and all but pushed Lisa through into the darkened office. A second later he crowded in beside her, teeking the door shut and the lights on.
"Don't touch anything with your fingers," he warned her as she blinked in the sudden brightness. "That stuff they do with fingerprints in detective movies really works."
Her eyes adapted, Lisa looked around the office. Two chairs, a cluttered desk, a combination bookcase/file cabinet, and a large piece of paper she finally identified as a map taped to one wall were all the room contained. "What am I supposed to do?" she whispered.
"Whatever the Prophet told you to," he said. "I was just supposed to get you in."
Swallowing, Lisa moved to the desk and began studying the papers lying there. Everything that talks about Matthew Jarvis's cabin, the Prophet had said; but everything on the desk seemed to be about that. She'd be here all night if she tried to read all of it. Gritting her teeth, she read a few lines from each of the papers, hoping to find the most useful information quickly. One pile seemed to be from companies that had sold things to Jarvis several years ago; another sheet was covered with some kind of writing she couldn't read. Near the center of the desk was a large booklike folder with the words Soil Types of the Barona-Banat Region written on the cover. Teeking quickly through the pages, she found a section that consisted of short entries, each with several words and phrases followed by letters and numbers. Some of the entries were circled in red, and she stared at one for a long minute, sounding out the unfamiliar words and trying to figure out the letters and numbers that followed them. "Do you know what these mean?" she asked Weylin hopefully, teeking the folder up for him to see.
His ear pressed to the door, the righthand shook his head impatiently. "What're you asking me for?" he snapped. "You're supposed to be the one who knows what to do. And you'd better hurry—someone's bound to check on us eventually."
Lisa's heart was pounding. Calm down, she told herself. Don't panic. The numbers have to mean something. Her eyes swept the room again... and fell on the wall map. The words at the top—Barona University Geological Survey Map Number One—were largely meaningless to her; but as she looked closer she saw for the first time that a series of faint lines in both directions divided the whole map into small boxes. A string of numbers ran down the left side, a row of letters and double letters across the top, both in the same light brown as the lines. Lisa stared at them for several seconds, feeling she was on the edge of understanding something... and suddenly it clicked. Glancing back to the desk, she teeked the folder over to her and turned to one of the circled entries. The word location was near the top, followed by four letter-number combinations. With growing excitement, she found the points on the map where the lettered and numbered lines of each set met, and discovered they formed a sort of squashed square just a little ways from a blob labeled BANAT. Oh, of course—Banat, she realized as she sounded out the word. The second entry had five letter-number sets, which formed a shape near the first.
"Shh!" she cut Weylin off.
BARONA was easy to find: a good-sized blot in the lower center of the map. He was on the road to Rand that night, she remembered, her eyes searching the paper and sounding out the words there. Rand... Rand... there it was, finally, way off to the left. If the circled folder entries were indeed the places the police thought Jarvis might be, then all she needed to do now was find all those with—she glanced at the top and side—letters A through N and numbers thirty to fifty. Turning her attention back to the folder, she began to flip through the pages. There was one, and another—
And without warning Weylin flew back from the door. "Someone coming!" he hissed, darting to the ceiling and teeking off the light. Lisa had just enough time to make a grab for the folder in the sudden darkness before the door swung open and a silhouetted figure stepped into the room. He was reaching for the light switch when his head was slammed violently against the door jamb.
Lisa gasped in sympathetic pain as the figure collapsed to the floor. "Weylin! You—?"
"Shut up!" the other snapped. The limp figure of the policeman floated into the room and the door again swung shut; and as the last bit of hallway light was cut off the room's lights came back on.
"Is he dead?" Lisa whispered in horror, her eyes glued to the crumpled body. Her stomach wanted badly to be sick.
"I don't think so," Weylin answered tightly, making no move to find out. "We've got to get out of here—if no one heard that thump, they'll still come looking for him soon. Hurry and finish up, will you?"
Lisa ignored him. Gingerly, she knelt by the policeman, wondering what to do. In the movies someone always felt the person's neck, but she had no idea what that was supposed to prove. The side of his head where he'd been hit was becoming matted with oozing blood; she wondered if she should try and stop the bleeding.
"Forget him, Lisa," Weylin growled. "He's all right. Can't you see he's breathing?"
He was right; she'd been so rattled she hadn't even noticed. "Thank heaven," she breathed.
"Never mind that—we're still in trouble. You'd better get out of here right now."
"But I haven't finished yet—"
"I can't help that. Get out of here and go tell the Prophet what happened." He looked over at the window and frowned in concentration.
"What about you?"
"I'll stay and cover for you. Don't worry; the Prophet told me how to handle something like this." There was a loud click and the window slid halfway open. "Go. And don't get caught."
Swallowing, Lisa nodded and slid out through the narrow gap. The night air was a quiet splash of reality, like the feel of her pillow when she woke up after a bad dream. But this nightmare wasn't going to go away. Dropping to just above streetlight level, she flew swiftly toward the building across the street, heading for its protective shadows. As she rounded the corner a sudden impulse made her glance behind her—
Just in time to see three righthands lift from the city building entrance and head in her direction.