The faint sounds of conversation and movement faded into silence. Trapped for the second time that day in blindness and solitude, Lisa made no effort to stop the tears rolling freely down her cheeks. Omega's promises hadn't fooled her; she'd already had a sample of his version of truth. This time, she felt certain, she was going to die.
"Lisa?" Tirrell's voice, though muffled by the bag, was nevertheless understandable. "I think they're gone. Are you okay?"
"What difference does it make?" she moaned, her silent sobs doubling in intensity.
"Lisa, pull yourself together!" the detective snapped. "We may still have a chance."
He was only trying to console her, she knew, but nevertheless she sniffed hard and managed to bring herself under some kind of control. "I'm okay now, she told him.
"Good girl. The first thing to do is get you out of whatever they've got over your head. Describe it to me and tell me how it's fastened."
She did the best she could. "I can't see anything at all through it," she finished.
"All right. Now, it's tight around your neck, so you should be able to use teekay on it there. Try teeking it outward in all directions and see if you can break the rope."
She tried; but there was just enough give in the rope to move it off her skin before breaking, and the instant that happened she lost the ability to teek it. "I can't do it," she admitted after several frustrating tries. "It keeps moving away."
"All right, don't get excited. Try this: throw your head back suddenly so that the bag is resting against your face. Use the contacts with your forehead and chin—or stick out your tongue—and teek the material at those points in opposite directions. If you can open up even a small tear, it'll be right in front of your eyes and the rest should be easy.
Taking a deep breath, she tried it. It took two tries to get the bag touching forehead and chin solidly enough, and several seconds of careful teeking before the first tiny tear appeared like a lighted jewel just past her nose. But with the edges of the tear visible... the sound of the bag shredding was perhaps the most satisfying sound she'd ever heard. "I did it!" she called, blinking in the sudden light.
"Great! Now, look carefully under you and see how that booby-trap line is attached to the floor. Don't move the chair in the process."
She didn't need the reminder. Leaning gingerly over as far as the restraining ropes would permit, she looked beneath the chair. "The rope goes through a hole cut in the rug," she said. "Should I tear the rug more and see where it goes?"
"Better not," Tirrell said quickly. "You might nudge the rope, or he might even have set things to go off if the tension decreases."
Lisa swallowed. She'd almost torn the rug without bothering to ask about it.... "Now what do we do?"
"Take a good look around the room. See if there's anything at all sharp enough to slice your ropes. There's a picture on the wall, isn't there?" he asked suddenly.
"Y-yes," Lisa said, frowning at the question. "It's a picture of the ocean."
"Teek it over to you and search it for a hidden knife or sharp edges. Hurry—I don't know how much time we've got."
"But why should there be anything like that on a picture?" Lisa asked, teeking the painting off its nail and bringing it to her.
"Remember Jarvis's last words to you? It seemed to me he went out of his way to use the word 'picture'—'picture me in the role of a parent,' or something like that. I think he might have been trying to tell us something."
"But there's nothing here," she told him, turning the picture over for the fifth time. "Just a normal picture in a wood frame. There's some writing on the back, but it doesn't say anything that'll help."
"Damn." There was a long pause. "All right, then there's just one thing left to try. Remember—just before Martel's gang broke in—Jarvis said that Colin wasn't drugged but only in a hypnotic sleep? We're going to have to try and bring him out of it. He's not tied up or anything, is he?"
"No... but if he's slept through all the noise that everyone's been making in here, how are we going to wake him?"
"Ideally, you'd use the key phrase that he's been told to respond to. In this case... the only other way I know of is to make the subject so uncomfortable that he wakes up on his own. You're going to have to hurt him a little, I'm afraid."
Lisa's stomach knotted up. "I can't do that. He's just a little kid!"
"If you don't, he's going to die with the rest of us," Tirrell snapped. "Just use teekay to squeeze his arms or chest a little—see if that'll do it."
Timidly, Lisa tried it. "It's not working," she said a moment later.
"Lisa, you're going to have to grit your teeth and bear down. Martel isn't going to just leave us here—we know too much about both him and Jarvis's work. If he's not coming back to kill us personally, he'll have set something up to do it automatically, probably with more of his dynamite."
"Isn't there some other way?" Lisa pleaded. "Douse him with water or something?"
"If you can get to any supply of water go ahead and try it. Otherwise—" Tirrell broke off suddenly. "Damn! What am I using for brains? Lisa—you said there was writing on the back of that picture? Read it out loud."
Lisa teeked the painting back up. " 'To my darling Matt,' " she read laboriously, fighting her way through the flowing handwriting. " 'From Miribel. Christmas, three-oh-one.' That's all there is."
"Any response from Colin?"
Lisa peered over the picture at the boy's face, looking in vain for some indication of life. "I don't see any," she said, feeling panic rising up her throat. "He's still just lying there."
"Hold on; let me think." For a moment there was silence from the other room. Lisa looked desperately around the room again, searching for anything she could use to cut her ropes. The windows, their glass knocked outside and out of reach by the other preteens, seemed to mock her with their useless offer of escape; the trees beyond seemed almost part of another world. Turning back to Colin, she clenched her jaw, fear making her decision for her. If hurting an innocent boy was what was necessary to survive, then that was what she would do.
"Ha!" Tirrell said suddenly. " 'The role of a loving parent'—of course! Miribel Oriana!"
And on the couch Colin stirred and opened his eyes.
"Colin!" Lisa all but shrieked in her relief. "Come here—quickly."
The boy jerked at her voice, and as he focused on her his eyes went wide and he scrambled up into a sitting position. "Who are you?" he asked fearfully.
Lisa swallowed her panic-fueled impatience and resisted the urge to teek him directly over to her. Instead, she forced a reassuring smile onto her face. "My name's Lisa," she said, using the soothing tone that had calmed so many nervous Fives back at the hive. "Don't be afraid—I won't hurt you. But I need your help. Would you go to the kitchen and get me a sharp knife, please? And hurry."
Colin's eyes were still troubled, but he nevertheless nodded and slid off the couch. Just outside the doorway he paused, looking into the study. "Matthew?" he asked, taking a step in that direction.
"No, Colin," Tirrell's voice came. "My name's Stanford. Matthew's been taken away by some bad men—please hurry and get that knife for Lisa so we can go after them."
Colin turned and ran, and a second later there was the clatter of a drawer's being wrenched open. He had barely reappeared in the doorway when Lisa, her patience finally breaking, teeked away the butcher knife he was carrying and brought it flashing across the room to her.
"Don't bother with your hands—just get free of the chair and get us all out of here," Tirrell called, a note of urgency creeping into his voice.
Lisa nodded, too absorbed in her control of the knife to remember he couldn't see the gesture. A few seconds later she was floating gingerly free of the chair, taking care that her tied hands didn't catch anywhere. Turning, she shot toward the doorway where Colin was still standing, an astonished look on his face. "Wow!" he breathed—and yelped as Lisa teeked him into the air in front of her. Barely pausing at the doorway, she snatched Tirrell, chair and all, and made for the cabin door. A second later they were out in the bright midday sunshine, whipping between the trees as Lisa ignored Colin's yelps of alarm and excitement in an attempt to get distance as quickly as possible. Finally, about a kilometer away, Tirrell pronounced them safe and Lisa brought them down with a deep sigh of relief.
She had the detective's ropes untied, and he was working on hers, when the cabin blew up with a roar behind them.
There was very little left when they returned cautiously to the small clearing. Obeying Tirrell's instructions, Lisa waited with Colin among the trees as the detective walked around the blackened rubble, stamping out small fires and stopping every so often to examine something on the ground.
"Nothing worth salvaging," he said when he returned. He seemed about to say something else but glanced at Colin and apparently changed his mind. "Lisa," he said instead, "go up to the top of this tree and see if you can spot anyone."
She was up and down in less than a minute. "No one," she told Tirrell. "I don't see Tonio and the police you said he was bringing, either."
"I wonder..." Putting a finger in his mouth, the detective gave a piercing whistle. "Tonio might have gone to ground instead of heading for help right away. If he did, that should bring him." Dropping down on one knee, he smiled at Colin. "Didn't get a chance to ask you before, Colin, but how are you doing?"
"Fine," the boy said with the grave politeness Lisa had often seen kids adopt in the presence of a hive authority.
"Have you been all right out here these past couple of months?"
"Uh-huh," the boy nodded enthusiastically. "It's the best vacation I ever took. Why did the bad men take Matthew away?"
"Well..." Tirrell scooped the boy up and got to his feet. "I'm sure we'll get him back real soon. Until then, how would you like to visit a real police station? Hm?"
"Okay, I guess," Colin shrugged. "I like the woods better."
"You'll be able to come back to the woods again sometime," the detective promised. "But for now we have to go."
"We going to take him back to Barona?" Lisa asked.
"No choice," Tirrell told her grimly. "We've got to raise the alarm and get on Martel's trail immediately, before he buries himself and Jarvis in some deep hole on the far side of the Tessellates."
"But won't a lot of righthands in the sky alert him?"
"Maybe, if he sees them. But we have to risk it. All we know for sure is that they left here traveling southeast, and that direction could have changed drastically after he rejoined the main group."
The voice drifting down from the treetops made Lisa jump; but before she could locate its source Tirrell had whistled again, and with a crackle of conetree branches Tonio landed beside them.
"Boy, am I glad to see you," he exclaimed, giving the detective an unashamed hug. "I heard the explosion and was trying to sneak back to see what happened. I thought maybe you'd been blown to bits."
"Almost, but thanks to Lisa and Colin we got out before the timer ran down," Tirrell told him. "We can now add an attempted murder charge to Martel's list when we nail him. You didn't happen to check out the direction his gang was headed, did you?"
" 'Fraid not—I was afraid to poke my head more than half a meter off the ground." Tonio frowned as he glanced around. "Say, where's Jarvis? Didn't he get out with you?"
"No. The shoe, as they say, is on the other foot." Tirrell waved southeast. "He's now been kidnapped by Martel."
Tonio snorted. "Serves him right," he said; but to Lisa his voice lacked real conviction. "I suppose we've got to get him out, though."
"Yeah—and we're going to have to call in some help to find them."
"Maybe they just went back to the temple site," Lisa suggested.
Tirrell shook his head. "No. It's clear that most of his kids aren't in on this with him, and that makes the temple site too public a place to keep Jarvis. Besides, he left under the impression that Tonio was already on his way with reinforcements, so he wouldn't go anywhere that Tonio knew about. However—" He paused, a thoughtful frown beginning to crease his Face. "He doesn't know we're on to what the temple site really is—and he'll need to have a refinery somewhere where he can separate out his gold."
"You think he might go there?" Tonio asked.
"It's worth checking on. Lisa, we're going to need more of your help, I'm afraid. We're going to fly over to Plat City and drop Colin off at the police station there. Then we'll get some detailed maps of the region and I'll want you to show us exactly where the dump site is. With luck, Tonio and I may be able to find Martel's refinery on our own and determine whether or not he's there."
"What if he is?" Lisa objected. "He'll probably have kids on guard, and if he catches you, you'll be in the same situation we just got out of."
Strangely enough, Tirrell smiled. "Not really," he said. "I think I know how to even the odds a little. Let's get going—we can talk more on the way."