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Chapter 7

A light flares.

He smiles. Logan's Gun has been fired..

He notes the coordinates. They pinpoint a

spot beneath the dead area of Cathedral.

He goes there.

He examines the bodies on the platform.

He picks up a used Muscle pad, flings it

away.

He examines the callbox, probes at the

terminals.

Logan has taken a mazecar.

He frowns darkly.

He hears a faint child's voice singing,

"Sandman, Sandman, leave my door"'The voice fades.

He follows the sound down the tunnel

NIGHT…


At the end of the Twentieth Century, before the Little War, when men spawned like microbes on a culture dish, the great problem was food. The fourth horseman rode the land and his name was Famine.


Man reached for the planets and found them puddled gas and frozen stone. He reached for the stars and was driven back by E=mc2—and he abandoned space.


There was the sea. Six-sevenths of the world. A wave rises in a ripple and marches in growing kinetic motion for thousands of wet miles to smash on continental shores. That is the surface of the sea. Beneath the surface: the Depths. Light filters slowly down into murky dimness for the first hundred feet. Lower still, and light is dead. Only darkness remains. Pressures and swift currents and yeasty life mix in savage broth. And far below, where reinforced steel acts like balsa, and nightmare creatures carry their own light, is Molly, once queen city of the teeming sea. She took an age to build. She covered a hundred undersea miles. She provided living quarters and work space for twenty thousand technicians and their families—and she gave sustenance to a quarter of the world. She was a vast food-processing center sunk under a plasteel dome, and through her locks came subs and tenders, skimmers and harvesters. Protein is protein whether it is obtained from a steer or a squid. With the proper mixture of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, the protein molecule can be made into any foodstuff, and the protein molecule lives in a million forms in the sea. Molly showed the way. After her they built the Zuther-Notion, the Proteus and Manta City. But Molly was the queen. Until 6:03 P.M. Common Standard Time, March 6, 2033. At that moment intolerable pressures in the Challenger Deep, acting through uncounted centuries, caused a tenth of an inch slippage along two, fault planes crossing the Marianas Trench—and a hairline crack appeared in Molly's plasteel dome.

A solid bar of water knife-sliced through seven levels, destroying a hundred compartments in one insane instant. Molly screamed. Steel tore like paper. Fourteen thousand men, women and children mixed their atoms with the sea in the first chaotic shock. Molly absorbed the blow. Pressures equalized; bulkheads strained, tore, accepted the load, howled as the ocean tide—tons bent them inward. Automatic valves closed; hatches slammed. In twelve seconds she was a jumbled conglomerate of corpses, of flooded compartments and corridors, of machinery, jackstraw-heaped. But she held. Some of her compartments retained air—and against these watertight chambers the sea gnawed with a patient gnawing that would never stop until Molly was completely dead. She had begun her long war with the sea.

The mazecar slotted into Molly. The seats unlocked.

"Exit, please."

Jessica didn't resist as Loganguided her through the hatch.

The platform, buried in greenback fathoms, creaked and shifted, shifted and creaked beneath them. The great surging skin of the Pacific pressured in against the bubbleglass. The air held an odor of iron and age, a smell of medicated wounds. A dull booming, far off. Echoes. Silence. Why here, under the sea? wondered Logan. Who was the next contact? The girl looked vacant, dead. Hatred burned in Jessica, deeply, but the will to resist had left her.

"All right," said Logan. "So I've got a DS Gun. And, back in my unit, I've got a black tunic to match it. But now I'm a runner. Just as you are."

"Sandmen don't run," she said flatly.

"And Sandmen don't eat. And Sandmen don't breathe. And Sandmen don't get tired. Well, I'm tired. I'm tired and I'm hungry and I'm sick of being jumped and kicked at and hated."

She looked at him coldly. "You're a monster.

You've chased and killed people like my brother, whose only sin was wanting to live another day."

"I didn't kill your brother."

"Maybe not, but you would have. You'd have put a homer in him and been proud of yourself for doing it."

He had no answer.

Jess drew in a ragged breath. "Damn you!" she flared. "You DS live by pain, by hurting and wounding and killing. You destroy in the name of mass survival and you never think about the sick wrongness of it, the horror of it…You enjoy using the Gun and you burn with it and you terrorize with it! Damn your kind and damn your system! You're a foul, rotten—"

Loganslapped her hard across the cheek to stop the words which cut him like stones. She put up a shaking hand to the drop of blood at the corner of her mouth. Her flower was charcoal.

"It's changed," said Logan. "You're on black."

His hand automatically drifted toward the warm pearl handle of the Gun.

The girl looked at him in horror. Loganhesitated.

He had taken on the shape and coloration and mental attitudes of a runner, and it was impossible for him to know where the dividing line really was. In that suspended moment, Jessica wheeled off down the long platform,.

"Jess!"

The girl ran. She ran as a deer in panic runs, heedlessly, blindly, driven forward by the desire to put distance between herself and the hunter. A spiral of metal steps carried her upward; her feet rattled against metal cleats, leaving an echo path for Loganto follow. She pounded along a narrow culture corridor lined with flashing sea life. Squid and porpoise and eel, shark and barracuda and the trunkback turtle marked her passage. Ahead of her the corridor deadended at a tall durasteel door controlled by a bar of chilled iron.

Jess threw herself at the bar, tugging, dragging her body's weight against it. The bar moved slightly. A dry-grass hiss, a rush of heat and, just one inch from Jessica's head, an armored steg harpoon buried itself in the steel door.

"Wait up there, girl! Open that hatch, and the sea will take us both."

Standing wide-legged, holding a primed steglauncher in two bloated hands, was an incredible figure. Hormones had gone wild in him; a rampaging thyroid had built a giant. His bristled head brushed the corridor ceiling. An oiled slicker the color of midnightdraped his swollen frame. His face was a moon. His name was Whale.

"Look out!" Jess pointed down the corridor at Logan.

Whale billowed about. Seeing the Gun in Logan's belt, his eyes vanished in moonflesh. The steglauncher fixed its metal eye on Logan's stomach. "What's this? Told to wait for two runners, and what do I get? Runner don't chase a runner."

"He's with DS," snapped Jess.

Whale considered this placidly. A sudden thudding in the depths of the bubble city; another collapsing bulkhead. Whale flinched, his great mass rippling.

"I'm a runner," said Logan. "I tried to tell her, but she wouldn't believe me."

"So why should I?" asked Whale quietly. He held up a thick hand, opened sausage fingers.

A charcoal flower was lost in folded flesh. The steglauncher did not waver. Anger and frustration clouded Logan's mind. Anything he said could kill him.

"Just you ease out that Gun and put it on the deck, my lad," rumbled Whale.

With the deliberate control of a glassdancer, Logan placed the Gun on the floor, eyes never leaving the cold bore of the steglauncher which moved to cover him.

He straightened.

"Now," said Whale, "let's us all take a little march through Molly."

He herded them back down the corridor.

"You drylanders don't know about Molly.

She's a real fighter, she is. She's like me. She don't die easy."

Up the slanting wall of a slimed compartment, along a twisting catwalk suspended over blackness, through a beamed jungle of ripped and bent conveyors acrid with the smell of spilled oil and brine. Crab creatures scuttled at their approach; phosphor fish darted in shallow bilgewater as the three figures corkscrewed down through the dying bubble city.

The water climbed their legs until it took them at thigh level. Whale undogged a final beaded bulkhatch and pushed Logan through ahead of him. Wet tonnages drummed the chamber. In this small coffin space the ocean was a living presence; the sledging boom of iced undersea tides quaked the walls, and dust powdered down in damp brown showers. Without the Gun, and under the implacable eye of the weapon in Whale's hand, Loganfelt powerless.

"She's sick down here." said Whale. "Fightin' hard, she is." Shifting the launcher, he placed a gentle hand against the pitted metal of the wall. "Hold on, Molly girl," he crooned. "Ya showed 'em what ya got. I know you're hurt.

You've taken all the sea can give. Hold! I've brought ya help."

He fixed Loganwith his eyes. "If you wanta live, mate, you'll help Molly fight her battle. Just put your weight to that wall."

The mountain of man squeezed back, out of the chamber.

"When the bulkhead goes, you go with it."

"Wait," cried Jess. She blocked the hatch.

"You're not leaving him here?"

Whale rumbled. "Where else? Molly needs him."

"But then you're no better than he is. A killer."

"A man kills to save himself." He brushed her aside, slammed the hatch and dogged it.

Outside, he handed her a key. "Use this at ten fortyfor the neat car. And you'd better step. You know where the landing is."

Jess looked at him, white-faced. A dull reverberation trembled the floorplates.

"Molly's callin' and I got work to do. Tell Ballard we're still holdin."

And, with amazing agility, he weaved through a thicket of spars and stanchions to disappear into Molly's vitals. In the sweating dark, Loganfelt despair. His last hope was gone. He was dead and he knew it. Now he felt as a runner feels, feared as a runner fears.

He traced the sweep of flexing coffin with searching fingers. No openings. Nothing to use on the hatch. Why hadn't he taken his chances against the harpoon? It ripped your gut out, but at least it was quick. Not like this. A place like this could break a man's courage, stretch his nerve, unman him. Well, I'm getting what I asked for, he thought. And maybe I deserve it for what I've done. God, maybe I do. So let the damn sea have me. Loganfought a sudden urge to smash at the walls. The Pacific leaned its weight against the chamber; water dripped continually, increasing in volume.

Loganwas chest deep in the cold tide. It rose toward his chin; he clamped his mouth shut. The chamber groaned under immense pressures.

Then abruptly the hatch opened. The water receded. Jess was there.

"Quick," she said. "There's not much time."In subsector 8, section T, level zero, now completely submerged, a tiny crustacean burrowed a hundredth of an inch further into a conduit, since it was the creature's nature to burrow. The tiny crawler blazed into blue-white heat. In callbox 192978-E a micro terminal rose seven and a half degrees, shorting out a relay. A wire-cluster fused, and a new circuit was born.

"Sanctuary," they had said to the mazecar. But it did not take them to Sanctuary.

Instead, it took them to Hell.

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