There was no time for thought, no time for Lisa to consider the possibly lethal consequences of her actions. The guilty fear exploding inside her mind drowned out everything else... and a second later she was shooting down the alleyway between buildings at top speed, the nearest wall barely thirty centimeters from her shoulder. Emerging, she flashed over the next street and dodged between two more buildings. A flicker of teekay brushed at her legs as she disappeared into the relative darkness, and with a surge of panic she pushed her speed even higher.
She very nearly piled herself into a streetlight two blocks later, and the shock of that finally jolted her conscious mind into realizing the incredible danger she was in. Gasping for breath, her eyes swimming with tears from the eighty-kilometer-per-hour wind in her face, she was avoiding obstacles by sheer luck. Blinking furiously, she managed to locate the darker shades of another alley ahead and to her right; ducking into it, she came to a stop, pressing herself against the darker of the two buildings. The air felt almost hot in her throat as she gulped it in. Rubbing her aching eyes with the heels of her hands, she looked back the way she had come, wondering if she had lost the righthands.
High overhead, three slowly moving figures caught her eye.
Pressing herself tighter against the wall, Lisa watched the drifting righthands with a crushing sense of defeat. Of course they hadn't been crazy enough to try and match her terrified flight; at three-to-one odds all they needed to do was get someplace where they could see her and then just teek her in. If she hadn't stopped to catch her breath they'd probably have picked up her movement and nailed her by now.
Strangely enough, the panic of a few minutes earlier was gone, leaving Lisa more clearheaded than she'd been since entering the city building. It's just like hide-and-search, she told herself, and you know how to play that game. Keeping the rest of her body motionless, she looked carefully around her. With streetlights blazing all over the city, there were no shadows really dark enough to hide in for long. All three righthands were still visible in front of her; if she could get to the building at the other side of her alleyway, she would be completely hidden from them, at least for the moment. But the movement might attract their attention... and hiding wasn't a real solution, anyway. For all she knew the rest of Barona's righthands might be flying in at any time to do a complete search of the area. No, her only chance was to get out of the city as fast as possible.
Or to get back to the hive.
She frowned suddenly. With Weylin's command echoing through her mind, the thought of going home hadn't occurred to her before. But Dayspring was a lot closer than the temple site and certainly easier to find in the middle of the night. If Sheelah was there to open a window for her—and if she hadn't reported her absence to Gavra—
Without warning, Lisa was yanked away from the wall and pulled upward.
She acted instinctively, not fighting the motion directly but teeking herself sideways to it. The pull wavered a bit as the darkness and her unexpected action apparently interfered with the righthands' view of her. Wavered just enough—and as she all but slammed into the building across the alley their teekay grip was abruptly cut off. An instant later Lisa had dropped nearly to the pavement and was skimming the wall as she shot back in the direction she'd come from.
One of the righthands managed to get overhead before she reached the corner, but it was instantly clear that he'd expected her to continue moving away from the city building and was thus in the wrong place, far to her rear. His tentative grip on her was again cut off as she swung around the edge of her building. Counting two seconds, she came to a sudden stop and reversed direction, flying alongside the building and ducking once more into the alley. The righthand, racing over the rooftops to intercept her, was again taken by surprise, and got even less of a hold on her this time before she was out of his sight. She reached the end of the alley without difficulty and shot across the next street at full speed. A cross street led off a few meters ahead and to her left; shifting direction, she headed down it, again hugging the buildings along one side. Several recessed doorways whipped by, and on sudden impulse she stopped short and ducked into one of them. Pressing back into the shadows, blinking away the latest flood of tears, she breathed deeply and wondered if her move had been seen.
If it had, the fact was not immediately apparent. Faintly, she could hear voices calling to one another overhead, and though she couldn't make out the words the tone sounded more frustrated than triumphant. They'd seen her head down the street, she guessed, but had then lost her. If they now split up, leaving one to search the block while the other two went on—
The conversation ended. Heart pounding, Lisa eased forward and risked a look upward. One of the tiny figures was disappearing over the rooftops in the direction she'd been going; the other two were dropping rapidly toward the ground, apparently heading for opposite ends of the block where she was hiding.
Head pressed against the cold stone of the doorway, Lisa froze, afraid to move the short distance back into the deeper shadows and knowing such an effort would be wasted anyway. A careful search would find her instantly... and while she might have been able to out-teek a single righthand, there was no way she'd be able to handle two at once. Her eyes shifted back and forth, searching the brightly lit street for inspiration. But there was nothing there; no weapons, nothing to distract them with, nothing that would give her cover for an escape. One of the righthands was drifting along at street level a block away now, and she could see his head turning back and forth as he moved slowly away from her down the street. So they weren't sure which of the two blocks she might have vanished into... but that was little comfort. The second righthand had disappeared off to her left and was presumably working his way down the block toward her hiding place. She had maybe half a minute before he hauled her out into the light and together the two of them teeked her like a wounded catling back to the city building—
And with the inspiration of having nothing at all to lose, she closed one eye and reached out to one of the streetlights halfway down the next block, teeking the bulb forward as hard as she could.
The faint tinkle of broken glass reached her a half second after the light went dark. Blinking at the purple blob that temporarily blinded her, she switched eyes and shattered the next light in line. With both eyes blocked by purple her third attempt was unsuccessful, but an instant later it proved to be unnecessary, anyway. With a swish of wind the righthand who'd been searching her block shot past, his full attention on the patch of darkness from which their quarry was presumably trying to escape. An instant after that Lisa was heading the other way, keeping close to the wall and hoping desperately she could make it around the corner before they realized they'd been tricked.
No shouts or teekay grips reached her before she made her turn. Ten blocks and two direction changes later, she paused to cautiously poke her head over the edge of a roof. Off in the distance she could pick out two faint figures circling over the area she'd just left; a third was tracing what seemed to be an ever-expanding spiral around the same place. Slipping back to streetlight level, Lisa continued on, hugging the buildings and flying as swiftly as she dared. A few more blocks, she told herself over and over. Just a few more blocks and you'll be safe. Safe... but for how long?
She didn't let herself think about that.
The twin towers of Dayspring were even darker than the city building had been, without a single light showing anywhere. Under other circumstances Lisa might have found the view a little creepy, but at the moment she had far too many other things on her mind to even notice. Keeping to all the shadows she could, with half her attention on the sky and buildings behind her, she flew up to her window, hoping fervently she'd be able to get in.
But that problem, at least, had already been solved. For the first time since they'd become roommates, Sheelah had gone to bed with the curtains wide open... and looking closer, Lisa realized the window was open a crack, its lock unfastened. Without hesitation she teeked it open the rest of the way and slipped inside, closing it quietly behind her.
"Lisa?" The soft voice coming from Sheelah's bed was alert, without a trace of sleepiness in it.
"Yes," Lisa whispered. She teeked the curtains closed, pulling them the last couple of centimeters by hand as they cut off most of the light from the street. "It's okay; go to sleep."
Her answer was a creak of springs as Sheelah flew out of bed. "Watch your eyes," her voice warned from near the door, and the room suddenly blazed with light.
Lisa squinted momentarily against the glare; and as her eyes adjusted she saw with some surprise that Sheelah was fully clothed. "Why aren't you ready for bed?"
"I thought I might have to go out looking for you," Sheelah told her. "What happened to you, anyway? Are you all right?"
"Oh, terrific." Lisa walked to her bed and sat down heavily. "Did you report me?"
"Well... not really." Sheelah's mouth puckered into a grimace. "But I went to Gavra half an hour before lights-out and told her you'd been gone all day. I was worried about you."
"What did she say?"
"That you were off doing something private that I gather I'm not supposed to ask questions about. She said you'd be okay."
Lisa nodded and closed her eyes. If Gavra told the police she'd been out late... but at the moment she was too drained emotionally to even care. "Thanks for waiting up," she told Sheelah. "You'd better get to bed."
The other hesitated for a second, then stepped over and sat down beside Lisa. "You're in some kind of trouble, aren't you?" she asked gently. "How about letting me in on it?"
Lisa shook her head as fresh tears blurred her vision. "I've gotten enough people in trouble already," she mumbled through a tight throat.
"So what's one more?" Sheelah countered, the lightness of the words in sharp contrast to the solemnity in her face. "Come on, Lisa—telling each other our troubles is what best friends are for."
And suddenly all the tension, fear, frustration, and anger turned to water and came pouring out; and leaning into the warmth of Sheelah's shoulder, she began to cry, sobbing with an intensity of anguish and loneliness she hadn't felt since the day after her fifth birthday, the day her parents had brought her to the hive and left her....
And later, after all that remained of the tears were damp shirts and aching eyes, Lisa told her all about it.
"Palmer was just barely conscious when the ambulance took him away, but he was able to tell us what happened," Officer Carylson said tightly as he and Tirrell walked down the hall toward the detective's office. "He was headed for Hob Paxton's office to see if Weylin was having any trouble with his informant when he noticed light coming from under your office door and went over to investigate. By the time he opened the door the room was dark, and the next thing he knew he was waking up with two parameds kneeling over him."
"No idea what hit him, huh?" Tirrell asked, just to get the question out of the way.
"He didn't, no, but we know it had to be the kid Weylin brought in. You can see a dent in the doorjamb where she must have teeked his head into it."
Tirrell nodded. They'd reached the office now and the detective paused for a moment outside, taking it all in. "Anything been touched?"
"Nothing but the door—and Palmer, of course. We wanted to let you look things over before we sent in a shakedown squad."
"Thanks. Shakedown'll probably be useless anyway—if she was smart she wouldn't have touched anything."
"True. Nothing to lose by trying, though."
Tirrell nodded again. His eyes lingered on the torn-up section of rug by the door, on the open window, and on the soil-types listing on the floor by the survey map. Stepping carefully into the room, he did a quick mental inventory of his desktop papers. Nothing seemed to be missing, at least nothing of any importance. "How did she get by Weylin?" he asked over his shoulder.
"He said he let her into Paxton's office and she immediately clobbered him with something. We found an ashtray off in the corner with a trace of blood on it."
"Was he unconscious when you found him?"
"Just coming to," Carylson said. "Mad as hell, too—wanted to go right out with the others and look for her, headache and all. I had to order him into the ambulance."
Squatting down, Tirrell lifted one end of the soil-types folder with a pen and peered at the edge where the pages met the binding. If any of them had been torn out, it had been done one at a time and far between; he could see no obvious gaps. "How long did it take you to get someone up here after the open-window alarm went off?"
"Half a minute, tops. And we were onto the kid outside sooner than that."
"So there wasn't any time to bring a camera in through the open window," Tirrell concluded, more to himself than to the other.
Letting the folder back down, Tirrell stood up. "This was a very slick job, Carylson. The torn-up rug means a spy-scope or some kind of fancy mirror setup was used to get the lock open; the fact the righthands lost her implies a preplanned escape route—and all this after knowing enough about one of Paxton's cases to sucker Weylin into getting her inside. Slick operators usually get what they go after. But if she didn't physically take anything out of here and didn't use a camera, then what did she get?"
"Maybe she broke into your office by mistake, thinking it was someone else's," Carylson suggested.
Tirrell shook his head. "According to your numbers, if she clobbered Weylin right away, she had nearly twenty minutes alone up here. Even if it took her five to open the door, figuring out she was in the wrong place shouldn't have taken the other fifteen." He looked around the office again. "I guess you might as well wake up the shakedown squad," he said, moving toward the door. "Maybe they can read things differently than I—"
He froze right at the doorway, his mind spinning furiously as he tried to track down the thought that had suddenly brushed him on the shoulder. Carylson, who had already taken three steps down the hall, hurried back. "What is it?" he asked.
Stepping back to his desk, Tirrell opened the bottom drawer and pulled out a thick stack of paper. All the interdepartmental memos, notices, and low-priority info sheets—the sort of paper that was usually skimmed once and then relegated to wastebaskets or taken home as fireplace kindling. Setting the pile on his desk, Tirrell leafed quickly through it. "Would you describe the girl again?" he asked Carylson, pulling out the sheet he wanted.
"About a meter sixty, slender build—probably somewhere short of forty-five kilograms—dark off-shoulder-length hair, dark eyes, maybe thirteen years old," the other said, frowning at the paper in Tirrell's hand. "You have something?"
"Take a look," Tirrell said, handing the sheet over. "The picture at bottom right."
Carylson glared at the paper as if it had just insulted his mother. "I'll be damned," he growled. "That's her, all right." His eyes shifted to the top of the sheet. "And I read this damn thing when it came out, too."
"Uh-huh." Tirrell took the sheet back, feeling cold inside. Lisa Duncan, 14, of Dayspring Hive, he read silently. Has learned to read and write, proficiency unknown. Level 10. So that was why she hadn't bothered to take anything from the office—for her the soil-types listing would have been just a dangerous nuisance to carry. How very convenient for someone to have had her available... and there was just one person who might be interested in his progress who also had the chutzpah and the skill to set something like this up.
"I think we can safely bump her up a few levels now, don't you?" Carylson cut into his thoughts. "Say, to level one?"
Tirrell tuned back in. "Put an all-points pickup out on her? Don't be silly—we can't afford to let anyone know we're on to her." He thought a moment. "All right. Seal my office until the shakedown squad can go through it—you might as well leave that till morning; there's no hurry now. Let me come down to the desk with you and use your phone for a couple of calls." Without waiting for a reply he headed off down the hall.
Carylson hurried to catch up. "Shouldn't we at least move her up to level eight? If someone spots her they should at least call it in."
"Can't risk it—we don't know what sort of surveillance system we're up against." But if Jarvis thought his preteen spy had gotten away with her little escapade, he and Tonio might just be able to pick her up quietly. Then, if he could establish a link between them, he might be able to use the threat of an accessory to kidnapping charge to force cooperation from her. And then—
Tirrell blanked the chain of thought from his mind. First things first, he reminded himself sternly. A call to the Skylight Hive to get Tonio awake and over here, another call to Cam Mbar to find out if Lisa Duncan had ever worked as a test subject on one of Jarvis's experiments, and then a quiet midnight visit to Dayspring.
It was likely to be a busy night.
"I still think you should go to Gavra right now with all of this," Sheelah said, looking unnaturally stiff as she sat crosslegged on Lisa's bed. "She might be able to help you."
Sitting next to her roommate, hunched over the pad of drawing paper on her lap, Lisa carefully finished the word she was on before laying down her colored pencil and straightening up. "I wish I could," she said, rubbing the fingers of her writing hand. "But I don't think she could do anything for me without getting into trouble herself. And if she calls the police, I don't know what'll happen to Daryl. My only chance is to hope the Prophet Omega can tell me where he is before anyone knows I was the one who was with Weylin tonight."
"Suppose Weylin tells the police himself?" Sheelah countered. "I don't trust him, Lisa—him or this Prophet Omega. If he really cared about you he should've helped you without making you do him a favor first. And what makes you think he can find Daryl, anyway?"
Lisa shrugged helplessly. "Everybody else out there seems to think he can do whatever he says he can. Besides, no one else had been willing to help me. What have I got to lose by letting him try?"
"That's a pretty dumb question from someone who's in as big a downdraft as you are," Sheelah said sourly. She paused, and in a more understanding tone said, "You kind of like Daryl, don't you?"
"Not the way you mean," Lisa told her, shaking her head. "I mean, he's a nice enough guy, but not for—you know. But I've got to find him. It's my fault he's in whatever trouble he's in; don't you see? If they've got him in jail or something..." She left the sentence unfinished.
"And if they have, then what? Break him out like they're always doing in the movies? You'll really get in trouble for something crazy like that."
Lisa's laugh was more like a painful cough. "More trouble than I'm already in?"
Sheelah grimaced and fell silent. Picking up her pencil again, Lisa returned her attention to the paper. Writing was much harder work for her than reading had ever been. Somehow, the letters never seemed to come out looking quite like those in the books, and many of the words wound up looking wrong, even though she usually couldn't tell why. She wished now she had spent more time on the writing lessons in Daryl's books instead of hurrying to get on to more reading. But it was too late to make up for her laziness now. Doggedly, she kept at it, trying to ignore the vision hovering before her eyes of fifty police righthands hurtling toward Dayspring.
But no one had burst into the room by the time she finally finished. "All right," she said, laying down the pencil with relief and folding the paper twice before handing it to Sheelah. "Give this to Gavra in the morning—not before, understand? If she asks you about it, you don't know anything. You've got to promise me that—I don't want you to lose all your points, too."
Sheelah took the paper gingerly, a dubious look on her face. "I still don't see what good a note will do."
"It'll tell her I'm all right but won't give her a chance to stop me," Lisa said. Teeking off the room lights, she went to the window and opened the curtains enough to peek out. "If I talked to her in person or used the phone, she'd have to call the police or get in trouble herself for not calling them."
"She won't have a chance to give you any advice, either," Sheelah pointed out. She signed loudly. "All right, I'll give her the note. Any righthands out there?"
"I don't see any." Opening the curtains wider, Lisa slid the window up and glanced back into the darkened room. "Don't forget, you don't know anything. Okay?"
"Yeah." The shadow that was Sheelah stepped forward and touched Lisa's arm. "Watch yourself, Lisa, and be careful."
"I will." Taking a deep breath, Lisa slipped out the window and dropped quickly toward the ground. Keeping low, with an eye out for searching righthands, she headed south.