The Road Of Danger – Snippet 48


CHAPTER 13: Ashetown on Madison


          Adele held the pistol out at her side. Though she had only fired twice, the electromagnetic flux that propelled the pellets had heated the little weapon’s barrel shroud hot enough to blister her thigh through the cloth if she dropped it back into the trouser pocket.


          Besides, she was likely to use the pistol again very soon.


          Facing the outside door was the guardroom where the pair now sprawled in the doorway had waited until the van arrived. Adele hadn’t been able to view the interior of the building while she planned the operation, but the files of a Madison architect had provided as-built drawings of its original warehouse configuration.


          A corridor now ran across the front of the building. Tovera turned right, toward what had been the warehouse office and was probably now the administrative control room: the security cameras and intercoms were run from a console there.


          Adele went the other way.


          There was a steel door to the right at the end of the corridor. Over it was a security camera on a different circuit from the external system; it would have gone blank also when Adele ordered the control console to shut down for a system check. There was no keypad on this side of the door, and the intercom would be dead also.


          She rang the knuckles of her right hand on the center of the door panel. If she had had something hard she might have used that instead, but the sharp cling-cling-cling on the steel was adequate.


          She wouldn’t use her pistol as a mallet, of course. It was a specialized tool whose mechanisms were more delicate than many people seemed to realize.


          Someone shouted from the other side of the door. Adele smiled slightly and knocked again. She didn’t bother trying to make out the words.


          Bolts withdrew from wall sockets at both top and bottom of the door. It had been designed much like a spaceship’s hatch. The panel opened toward her, slowly because of its weight.


          “What happened to the camera and–” the guard inside began. There was no concern in his voice, merely the irritation of a dull man when his routine is interrupted.


          He didn’t notice Adele’s pistol before she shot him twice through the right eye. His body spasmed backward, kicking the doorpanel hard enough to open it wider. Because he was wearing soft-soled boots, the sound was only a muffled thump.


          The guard had been in an anteroom with a door on the other end as well. Its only furnishings were a low stool and a holograph projector loaded with–


          Adele touched the unit to check. She loved information, no matter how valueless, the way an alcoholic craves the bottle.


          –pornography involving women, more women, and animals. At least she assumed it was pornography. She had never pretended to understand the allure of sex, but it puzzled her than anyone could find these images titillating.


          She looked down at the dead man, wondering what had happened to the pair of soldiers who had killed her sister Agatha. No doubt they would have explained that they were just doing their jobs, but logic as well as Adele’s anger argued that men who cut off the head of a little girl were not likely to die in bed themselves.


          The inner door wasn’t locked. Adele pushed it open.


          The space beyond was a single room thirty feet deep and twenty wide. On the right-hand wall was an electronics suite that would have done credit to the bridge of a battleship.


          The floor to the left was a stainless steel tray with upturned edges. On it was a floodlit operating theatre. A child, probably an undernourished ten-year-old rather than someone younger and healthier, was strapped to the table.


          The man who had been bending over the child was in his sixties and fat, with lifeless hair. He was nude except for splotches and splatters of blood; he seemed to have dipped his thumbs in the blood to paint designs on his chest.


          He held a scalpel. It and his hand were dripping.


          Light reflecting from the door’s inner face must have drawn him from his leering concentration. He rose and stared at Adele in surprise and anger. “Who the hell are you?” he said. “Get out!”


          “Put down the knife,” Adele said. She kept her eyes on the fat man as she walked toward to three linked consoles against the wall.


          Her personal data unit was out in her right hand. It didn’t have to be in contact with a console, but it was probably safer sitting on one than it would be anywhere else in the room for the next short time.


          “I told you to get out, you stupid bitch!” the man said, raising the scalpel as he started around the table. There were drains in the floor.


          Adele shot him through the wrist. He didn’t drop the scalpel until three spaced rounds had puckered the skin, smashing the cartilage and delicate bones into grit and gelatine. She set the little data unit on the console’s fascia.


          “What did you do?” the man shouted in disbelief. “What did you do?


          He lunged toward Adele. She shot him twice through the right knee, then twice more through the other. He finally twisted to the left and fell, still shouting.


          Sheer mechanical damage had brought him down; he didn’t seem affected by pain. Either he was heavily drugged, or the endorphins which his brain released from delight at torturing children protected him from what should have been agony.


          Adele walked to the boy, keeping the table between her and where the naked man had fallen. Blood had stopped leaking from the network of shallow cuts, but she touched the victim’s throat with the tips of her right index and middle fingers.


          There was no carotid pulse. She suppose that was just as well. As well as carving out the boy’s eyes, the man had cut his vocal cords.


          “Are you police?” the man said as Adele walked back around the table. “You’ve made a mistake, a terrible mistake! I’m Charlie Platt. Talk to your watch commander. You’re not supposed to be here!”


          He wheezed suddenly; perhaps the pain was getting through after all. “Oh, what have you done? You bitch, you stupid bitch!”


          “I’m not the police,” Adele said. She checked her little unit as it mined the consoles and transferred their data to her base system on the Princess Cecile. Though it purred along happily, it hadn’t completed its tasks yet. There must be an amazing amount of information in Platt’s system.


          The man on the floor had fallen half on, half off, the tray under the operating theater. He must have begun noticing discomfort from the raised steel gutter, because he tried to squirm off it. That flexed his right knee; he screamed and his whole body quivered.


          “I thought I might need access codes from you,” Adele said. “Apparently not, since my unit is mirroring yours without difficulty. Your external security was very good, though.”