Gordon paused in his climbing, listened, willed his heart to quiet its thudding: the unaccustomed combination of exercise and adrenaline was taking its toll. And clinging to the rungs of the relentlessly-ascending escaladder, above a dozen or more storeys of clear drop to a plasticrete floor, wasn’t helping his mental state, either.
No sound of pursuit. And Haier (Gordon couldn’t persuade himself to think of his old adversary in terms of the other’s new sobriquet of Sir Tin Death) was not equipped to move silently, what with the fifteen kilograms or so of metal cladding he now sported. So, presumably, Gordon had thrown the hit-man off his trail, for now.
He was powerfully conflicted. He should be doing everything within his power to find, and to rescue, Claudia Iyzowt, whom Haier had abducted. But Gordon wouldn’t be any use to Claudia dead, and it was hard to see how he could match it against Gunther Haier. The hit-man had had years—decades, probably—of practice in the arts of brutality; the nearest Gordon had ever come to any kind of combat training was when, as a child, he’d signed up for lessons in what he’d believed to be karate. (He’d given it up after four classes, wondering when they were going to quit with all that singing and move on to the good stuff.) No, if he was going to beat Old Ironsides, he’d have to outwit him.
Yet Haier was shrewd, as Gordon knew to his cost. A man who could make a bloodless getaway look like a murder was someone whose cunning was not to be underestimated.
The only advantage Gordon held was that of home territory. He knew the layout of this type of freight module in considerable detail, enough to know that there were plenty of hiding-spots throughout the twenty storeys of the elevator-car’s frame. He presumably just needed to survive the next seventy-two hours of the elevator-car’s ascent, and to hope that Skytop’s cops could find a criminal who’d managed to elude them on at least one previous occasion.
Against this, Haier held the predator’s advantage: he could fail, on repeated occasions, to catch Gordon, but he only needed to succeed once. And seventy-two hours was a long time in a confined environment.
Think! How to survive? How to rescue Claudia?
For all that it was reassuring to think of this as a battle of wits, Gordon couldn’t deny some weaponry would assist his peace of mind. If I just had something to help me make it through the night. Like a servo-boosted jousting lance, or something.
Weaponry? Maybe, through his fear, he was thinking too literally. Maybe there was a way of using the freight-tower, itself, as his weapon. He was a Skywards employee, after all—he’d have access to all of the elevator car’s systems, in principle, through his handheld and his ident codes. He could monitor—
A shout from four storeys below him interrupted his chain of thought. Gordon glanced down. Fifteen metres below, his armour-plated foe had just chanced to look up the escaladder.
Time to switch tracks. Gordon stepped off the escaladder at the next floor, toggling the ladder from ‘ascent’ to ‘descent’ in an effort to buy himself a few more precious seconds.
The floorplan in this section of the tower was centred on the cylindrical column of the freight tower’s plastimarble cladding, which ensconsed the thick filament of the space elevator shaft itself; around the column, two moving rampways (one up, one down) spiralled concentrically; then there was an inner circular corridor ringed by storerooms and by four short passageways that radiated north, south, east and west; then an outer circle of corridor which provided, north and south, escaladder access to the floors above and below, and east and west staircases. It was a floorplan which provided plenty of blind spots, useful for evading pursuit: but it also left opportunities galore for an ambush predator like Haier.
Still, he knew where Haier had been, just seconds ago. If he snuck along the corridor here, then took the passageway here into the central section, he’d come to the rampway before Haier could heave into sight. He hoped. From which point, the logical thing to do would be to put more distance between himself and his pursuer, which meant going up.
Or did it mean going down? Quite aside from anything else, ‘lower’ sounder distinctly better than ‘higher’ in this particular situation.
Gordon didn’t like having to make decisions on the fly; but it far surpassed getting cornered. He took the rampway down, moving as quickly as he dared.
When he’d descended eight floors, he opened a storage-room door at random and let himself in, pulling the door quietly closed behind him.
Time to get out his handheld, and see what he could achieve.
He’d messaged Security, of course, groundside and Skytop, to inform them of Haier’s presence and Claudia Iyzowt’s apparent abduction. Or at least he’d tried to: the messages had failed to send. A comms blackout was worrying, but he had more pressing concerns.
He didn’t want to dwell too deeply on the significance of the handheld’s assistance that there were only two lifesigns detectable within the freight module, one in this storage room and one in the basement. If Haier had disposed of Claudia Iyzowt, while Gordon had been running scared … it was clearly conduct unbecoming. But what could he have done, unarmed against his armoured opponent?
Conduct unbecoming … armoured …
A thought occurred to Gordon. Hastily, he instructed the handheld to find the location of the freight-module’s main electrical controls. And learned, to his chagrin, that they were distributed in three places: in a cabinet on the obs deck, for the internal power supply within the top third of the tower; on floor eleven, for the freight-car’s central chunk; and for the module’s lower reaches, including the basement, the controls were … in the basement. Which was also the current location of the other detectable life-signal, presumably Haier himself. Damn.
Still, the basement was a fairly broad area, and according to his handheld the control panel was on the opposite side of the chamber to the Haier telltale. For his plan to work, he’d need to get his hands on the wiring behind the control panel, but he could dial the illumination down from here, and hope that the resultant gloom bought him enough time to put his scheme into effect. If I dim the lights on these floors now, and wait until I’m almost at the basement before I cut the illumination there, my eyes will be better dark-adapted than Haier’s. I hope.
It was now or never. And, really, ‘never’ wasn’t an option, which only left ‘now’. For all that his pounding heart insisted that ‘later’ shouldn’t be ruled out of contention entirely …
He stood up, opened the storeroom door, peeked outside. Coast clear. And Haier was still showing in the same position, in the basement, several floors down. Gordon crept to the rampway.
And walked straight into Haier, half a flight down. Before the reluctant detective could react, the armoured assassin grabbed hold of Gordon’s arms in a superhuman grip.
“Ha!” said Haier, in triumph, as Gordon flinched. “But why so spooked, Matron?”
“Mamon,” replied Gordon.
“Relax, detective. I need you alive. For the next couple of hours, at least.”
This was an assurance that Gordon did not find particularly soothing. Another thing was troubling him, too.
On his handheld, the second lifesignal had been showing in the basement all this time. What did it mean that Haier was not displaying as a lifesignal?
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