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A Small Problem

A Small Problem

This should have been a job for the police. What the hell was I doing rooting through garbage behind a restaurant in the middle of the night? I must have fallen to the bottom of list of losers to be sent out here for a job that not even the police would do. I didn't know whether this one was kicked out to me because it was sensitive, or because it involved wading through rotten fruit and smelling like stale beer. It made me nervous, the government guy that sent me here was not one of my usual contacts and he wouldn't give me his name. Serves me right I guess. Should have been an upstanding citizen; then I'd be Detective Krenshaw, sleeping in a nice warm bed and counting my days till retirement by now.

Somewhere in this mess there was supposed to be a address label from a package. It would be rolled into a cylinder, and be about twice my height in size. If I were regular size, I wouldn't be able to bring something like that back with me, but being small has its advantages. Like the insects we share our world with, we can carry many times our weight without difficultly. I just hoped that the thing wasn't too bulky so I wouldn't be a sitting duck as I lugged it back to the Colony.
Something that size shouldn't be too hard to find, unless it was deliberately hidden. I lifted one flap of a over-ripe banana peal with both hands and tossed it aside. This revealed nothing, but juice flowed down my gauntlet to inside my armor, coating my forearm with sticky goo. I sighed and eased off the glove to shake the stinking liquid off and wipe it on a nearby discarded napkin. It's no good to be smelling like food when you are outside by yourself. I may not be well liked, but I still know how to take care of myself outside the Colony. Must be why I got this job.

If I were hiding an address label, I'd put it somewhere it would be dry and safe – not under oozing fruit. I switched my search to some cardboard milk cartons leaning against the dumpster. A six inch jump looks like a lot at my size, but the same twisted laws of physics that allow me to carry heavy weights allow me to jump about ten times my height, so I just braced my legs and sprang up to the ledge of the carton. The plates of my armor clinked as I landed and braced myself on the edge, so I froze and scanned the area. No sign of movement.

From the carton I got a better look around at the other trash. It was mostly leftovers and cast-offs from the Pacific View restaurant – which was the main reason our foraging teams came here. From my perch on the milk carton, I spotted something unusual sticking out from under the head of carrot. It looked like a piece of gear from one of our armor sets. These sets were custom made from beetle chitin, so no-one would leave something like that behind. I hopped like a flea, using the milk carton as a trampoline and bounded to the carrot, using the leafy head as a cushion to land.

I was right, it was a piece of carved armor plating, probably an interlocking plate from below the chest piece. These did not fall off by accident, they were attached with the strongest thread we could make and protected the vulnerable stomach area. As I turned it over in my hands, I saw blood on the inside, the dark stain of human blood, not the greenish ichor of insects. Torn threads hung from the carefully drilled holes in the plating, evidence of it being ripped from its matching set with great force. This was not what I was sent out here to find, at least not what I had been directed to find. Was I being set up, or had I stumbled into something I was not supposed to see?

I kicked the carrot head aside and took a good look at the place. On closer inspection, one area nearby smelled of soap and there were swirled traces on the concrete. Someone had tried to clean the place up, though they hadn't done a very good job of it. I paced the border of the soap swirls. It was bigger than I expected. If something happened here that required that much cleanup, it must have involved more than just the owner of my blood stained plate. I paced the perimeter again, this time looking outwards instead of inwards.

The light from the street lamp penetrated this far, although weakly. In the shadow that it cast of a beer bottle, I saw the broken body of an ant wedged in the back. If this was part of the cleanup, the culprit was too lazy to move it very far. I threw a couple of pebbles at it to make sure it was dead, then cautiously went over. Up close, the reek was obvious. It oozed onto the side of the glass bottle, creating a spreading pattern that dripped into a pool on the ground. I kicked it in the head, spreading more of the juices. I hate ants.

Although we shared many characteristics with the ants, they are our worst enemies. In particular the species that we call Black Ants competes with us for food and space. We have tried every strategy to co-exist with them, but their only response is to try to eat us. They don't learn, and they don't think in any way we comprehend, but I think we attribute them too much intelligence. We have tried to train them, to trade with them, to negotiate with them, even to exterminate them, but in the end it always leads to death on both sides. There is a legend that a great raid entered their home and poisoned the queen before succumbing to overwhelming numbers. The Colony celebrated these heroes and relaxed their defenses, only to be almost overwhelmed themselves when another nearby ant colony moved into the vacant space. There is no way we can out breed them - we breed and grow at the same rate as regular people, so a wary standoff is all we can hope for.

I hate ants. This one was about a quarter of inch long, slightly smaller than me, but built thickly with an exoskeleton and weapon-like feet and jaws. Not very fair for us smooth skinned humans, thats why we wore armor. I kicked it again uselessly. This time, though, something fell from its serrated mouth parts. I knelt and picked up a shining foragers medal for bravery on a simple broken string. It was engraved with a name and a message, “Toby Gome, For bravery against Black Ants”. Toby Gome had been reported killed by ants a few days ago when a foraging party was caught by ants, but it was supposed to be far from here. Long ago, I had known him, and his wife. Back when I knew people in any way other than barmen and clients.

I slumped against the beer bottle with the medal in my hand, ignoring of the smell of the ant corpse nearby. I remembered Toby as a young forager. He was smart, strong and honest. We had actually been friends of a sort. He had never spoken to me again after my trial, like most of the smart ones. His wife had been a friend of my wife too. I even remembered her name, Hillary. She would be a widow now.

My backpack contained a ceramic bottle of booze. It was stolen from the restaurant, not made by us, so it was actually pretty good. I took a long swig. I don't know how it manages to effect us – with the size difference, but it does. I felt a warm sensation as the liquor ran down my throat and closed my eyes with my head tilted back. Toby had been my friend and now he was dead. I had one of his medals, and presumably a piece of his armor from a place where he was never supposed to be. I was looking for something very strange for a guy that wouldn't show me any real credentials. I had a bad feeling about this.

I was tempted to finish the bottle, but the smell of dead ant was starting to break through my disdain for my personal well being. I pocketed the medal, stood up and kept searching for the address label. There would be time for contemplation and drinking when I was in a safer location.

Eventually, I found the label stashed behind a wooden box of broken dishes. It was about the right size that it was supposed to be and laminated with plastic with a small rubber band holding it in a roll. I hauled it out and hooked an arm around it to see if I could balance and walk at the same time. As I took the first few steps, a light flicked on in the back room of the restaurant, shining on my through the frosted glass of the window. I grabbed the label awkwardly and dove for cover, dragging it behind me just as the door swung open. From inside, someone slung a huge black plastic garbage bag out the door. It crashed onto the pile of bags with a deafening noise, sending a brief blast wave of noxious air over me. I coughed and sputtered, and fanned the air to clear my eyes, then stopped suddenly. In the aftermath of the crash caused by the falling bag, there should be silence, but I heard soft clicking noises – the sound of many hard, insect feet on concrete. Probably coming to check out the spoils of the new bag.

Frozen in place, I turned my head to make a better estimation of the source of the sound. Luckily it seemed to be coming from the opposite direction from where I wanted to go. I picked up the label, and carrying it on my shoulder with one arm, headed home.

*

If the label had been smaller, I would have been tempted to stash it somewhere and try to find out what was going on. But, since I couldn't come in through the checkpoints with it under my coat, so to speak, I had to honor my promise to return to the guy from the government immediately. It was lucky I acted like a good citizen because as soon as I checked in, two very efficient looking young guards arrived and escorted me into a cramped office.

The nameplate on the door said Mr. Walters, but this Mr Walters was not the guy that had given me the case earlier in the evening. He was an immaculately groomed elderly gentleman sitting behind a large desk who just stared me down when I was hustled into the office by the two youngsters. The desk was neatly arranged except for an old, dirty looking book open to a page showing a crucifixion scene. Mr. Walkers noticed me glance at the book and discretely tucked it out of sight under the desk. This was unusual. We don't have many books, the technology of ink printing on paper doesn't well at our scale because the ink runs too much. The contents were also unusual, religion is not popular in the Colony.

I was about to open my mouth when my original client stepped in and closed the door. With the rolled up label taking up space, it was a bit cozy for my taste, especially since the new arrival was a big man. He didn't seem to mind the close confines, in fact he leaned even closer to me.

“So Krenshaw, that it?”, he said, inclining his head towards the label. I was tempted to throw a sarcastic retort in his face, but he didn't seem to have much humor in him.
“Yup”, I said, wisely keeping it short.
“Any trouble? Find anything else?”
“Ants showed up just as I was leaving. Didn't follow me though.” He regarded me silently for a few seconds, then sniffed theatrically.
“You smell. Smells like ants.”
“You know that smell?” I asked. He just nodded, stone-faced.
“Must be this armor. It's pretty old you know.” This time his regard was tainted with disgust. Keeping a clean kit was one of the first things you get taught about going outside. Scent works in favor of the creatures out there, not us. His opinion of me was getting even lower. Sometimes that can be useful.
“OK, get the hell out of here before you stink up the place.”He said. He stepped back and began to open the door. I cleared my throat.
“What about my commission?” I asked. I found that just having the balls to ask for your money is sometimes enough to make people pay up. He turned towards Mr Walters. They held eye contact for a moment then Mr Walters turned his gaze to me and nodded slowly.
“Alright. Remember, you never saw this thing”, he fished some notes from his pocket without looking and shoved them towards me. When I took them he opened the door all the way and practically pushed me out.
Blinking in the bright light of the hallway I counted the money. It was exactly the right amount. Very efficient indeed. I fingered the medal still inside my armor and walked away.

*

I hadn't had to make myself look presentable for quite a while. My usual clients expect a certain gruffness, so I affect a constant state of dishevelment that makes my appearance appropriate to my perceived role. At least, thats what I tell myself. I might just be a lazy slob.

The apartment of Hillary Gome was inside the south west tower, the one furtherest from the source of natural light. Not that it mattered much as there were no windows in the walls of the Colony towers. The towers themselves are the concrete supporting pillars that hold up a small office building. Fortunately, they are hollow and extend meters into the ground. We tunneled up from below and colonized the insides of the pillars all the way up through the parking garage and into the second floor. It is a prime location offering easy access to electricity, fresh water and even the occasional piece of stolen office equipment.

I took a train, and the elevator down the main shaft of her tower to the residential level where she lived. The wire cage elevator run down in the interior of the shaft like a shopping mall glass elevator. Pipes and cables ran parallel to the elevator's path on the opposite wall, and balconies extended from the walls as we passed each level. A metal chain run down the center of the shaft holding electrical bulbs – actually Christmas lights, at about every four levels. We stopped at the widow's level and I stepped out, along with about half a dozen other people. It wasn't a bad neighborhood; lots of cops lived there.

When Hillary answered her door and saw me, I just stood there for a moment, letting her get adjusted to the idea that I still existed and that I had the nerve to approach her. She held my stare for a few seconds before speaking.
“So. Mr Harry Krenshaw. You haven't been around here for a long time”, she said. She was right, it had been years. “What do you want?”
“Mrs Gome,” I began lamely, “I heard about your husband. I am sorry for your loss.”
“It may have been a long time, but I still know you. What do you want? Money? Something worse?”. Surprised at her own vehemence, she took a half step back. I backed up also and spread my hands in a conciliatory gesture.
“No, no, I'm not looking for anything from you. I just wanted to ask you about what happened. I mean, how it happened. I mean, to your husband... I mean to Toby.” I stopped talking. She looked my up and down, as if to determine if I was respectable enough to associate with, then opened the door.
“I'll give you two minutes.” I hurried through into the apartment.
I had already read the official story on the loss of the foraging party. Of course, it did not mention the packing label, but it had very little detail, including a lack of any information about where the event occurred.
“Did they tell you anything what happened?” I started with.
“They were attacked by insects while on a foraging mission. They fought, but were overwhelmed.” That was almost an exact quote from the official story.
“Anything more? Any more detail about where, or what attacked them?” I asked. She half-closed her eyes at me suspiciously.
“They might have said something about ants, I don't remember exactly.” That had not been in the report. She must have gotten more information from somewhere.
“What about where it happened?” I prompted.
“I don't know, just somewhere outside the Colony. Is that important? Why do you care?” I fished the medal out of my pocket and let her see it in my hand. She paled visibly.
“I found this out by the Pacific View restaurant. There was something strange about it.”
“Something strange?” she exploded and slapped the medal from my hand. “What are you doing, investigating? Pretending to be a big-shot cop?” She clenched her fists at her sides. “Toby is dead. Don't you dare drag his memory down in some attempt to pull yourself out of the gutter. You made you decisions long ago.” The color had raced back to her face and she was almost yelling now. I backed towards the door.
“I don't want to make trouble for you or Toby, I just wanted to...”
“Get out!” she snapped as she practically pushed me in the chest. I mumbled something about being sorry and escaped back into the street. Two blocks later, I remembered the medal lying on the floor of the apartment, my only piece of evidence in a case that had no client.

*

In theory, giving up was not something that I liked; but in reality I had plenty of practice at it. I tried to forget about it. I went about my business for the next couple of days, spending some of the money from the job, then something unexpected happened.

I was taking my usual route home from a regular bar when a voice spoke to me from the shadows. It said my name and something I couldn't make out. I had a buzz from the beer still running through my system, so I just turned and grunted a vague question at the source of the sound. Immediately, something hard, but not sharp swung into view and struck me square in the face. I collapsed to the ground and a big man practically sat on me, pinning my arms with his knees.

“Okay, shuddup and listen.” I barely managed to nod. The voice was unfamiliar. “You stay away from Mrs Gome, and you stay away from anything to do with Toby Gome.” I nodded again. Blood was seeping into my left eye, making me blink rapidly. “And just for good measure, you stay away from any jobs at all for while. Okay?” He punctuated the last word with vicious a slap of his gloved hand to my face. The back of my head banged against the ground. “You just take some time off and relax. Or you'll be getting more visitors.” He slapped me one more time, then sprung off me and disappeared into the shadows.

I sat up and wiped the blood from my eyes. It had happened so fast I was in shock. I took a few minutes to gather my senses and clean up. Someone didn't want me to pry into whatever that packing label was connected to. I simultaneously wished that I had opened it and looked inside, and that I had never heard of the thing. The smart move would be to forget it ever existed and lie low for a while, but I had a bad habit of not making smart moves.

*

The dumpster behind the Pacific View restaurant should have been deserted in the middle of the night. But as I moved towards it, I heard the unmistakable sounds of a woman swearing intermixed with rustling and crashing sounds. I crept carefully to behind some cover and poked my head around to see where the noise was coming from.
The movement must have alerted her, because immediately, her head snapped up and blue eyes locked onto mine from underneath a mass of dirty, dread-locked hair. A skinny young woman wearing unfamiliar and poorly kept clothing was kneeling awkwardly before a pile of trash with her hands sifting through it. Her skin was tanned – unheard of for a people who spend their lives hidden from sunlight, and she had an elaborate tattoo running down the side of her neck. She snatched up a club-like sliver of wood from the trash and brandished it at me.

“Lea' me alone!” she hissed. She had some kind of odd accent – again unheard of for people who all live in close confines with each other. “Git away fro'me!” She tossed the piece of wood at me, but it bounced harmlessly off my armor. I raised my hands, palms forward.
“Hold on, I'm not going to hurt you. Just calm down.” She stood and took a step back. I noticed that she was barefoot and the tattoo ran all the way down to her ankle. I assumed it was the same tattoo, I could picture the hidden portions of it inside my head.
“I not goin back”, she said, sounding a little less hysterical. “I aint livin in no cage.”
“Back where? Cage? I don't know what you're talking about.”
“Liar!” she screamed and tossed more garbage at me. The sound was so loud in the still evening air that I cringed. I shushed her while evading flying trash and scanned the area. She must have noticed the intensity of my worry, since she stopped screaming and looked around too. In the ensuing quiet, she slumped to the ground and began to sob into her cupped hands. Her exposed shoulders heaved with the effort, but she kept it mostly soundless.
“You can't be making noise like that out here. There are ants and other dangerous things about.”
“Like dat one?” She raised her head and pointed towards the remains of the poorly hidden ant corpse that I had found Toby's medal on a few days earlier. “I seen your ants. Dey not so bad.” she said between receding sobs.
“You did that?” I eyed her skeptically.
“Nah. I a runner, not a fighter. But I here. Dose men tink de fighters, but dey ant food. 'Cept Toby. He help me.”
“Toby? Toby Gome? You saw him here?”
“Toby help me. We run, but he hurt. I try get help for Toby, but bad men put me in cage. They not help Toby. Toby gone.” It was an impressively long speech considering her apparent mental state. “You look like Toby.” she finished. I wore the same type of armor as the foragers. The same type as Toby. She looked at me with those big blue eyes.
“I knew Toby.” I said. “He was my friend.”
“You not wit bad men who put me in cage?”
“No. Well, I'm pretty sure I know who you mean when you say the 'bad men', and no, I'm not with them.”
“De say I be killed. If people knows 'bout me I be killed. So dey hide me. Put me in cage. Say it for me own good.”
“Killed? Why would you be killed? Who are you anyway?” She paused.
“De say I be killed if people knows.”
“If people know who you are?”
“Nah, if people know who you are.”
“What? That doesn't make sense.”
“If you people find out who you are.”
“Who we are? I mean.. Well, who are we?”
“You not kill me?”
“What? No.. I wont hurt you, no matter what you say we are.”
“You same as me. You the Damned. You just forgotten, or you never knew.”

Our conversation and garbage tossing must have alerted every one of the critters nearby, because at that moment, we were interrupted by the gigantic pink nose of mouse sniffing towards us. The in-and-out rush of air from its nostrils almost blew the girl over, and she staggered towards me with a squeal.

“Run!” I yelled at her unnecessarily, and we bolted away from the scene. Fortunately, the mouse seemed to find the carrot heads and other restaurant cast-off sufficient, so we managed to leave it behind quickly.

Breathing heavily, we stopped to lean against a fence. There were not more signs of pursuit, just distant traffic on the freeway. The light from the street lamp was brighter here and I got a better look at her. The tattoo on her neck was extremely intricate, and in addition, the skin of her back showed a series of scars running down below her clothes. She noticed me looking and pulled the torn clothing closer around herself.
“Keep you pants on.” I averted my eyes, feeling embarrassed, but not very ashamed.
“De others didn know either.”
“What didn't they know? That we are damned?”
“We not damned, we The Damned.” I could hear the capitalization in the was she spoke the words. It was meant a kind of proper name. “Dats wot we called. It what we be too, but it wot we called.”
“So you, I mean we, are The Damned, and we are damned?”
“Dats it.” She said with finality now that I was starting to get it. I was not starting to get it.
“We should find somewhere safer to go,” I said. She nodded.
“Toby took me to place near here. Dat way.” She pointed a skinny arm, again exposing the tattoo. I tried not to look.
“There's a safe bunker that way, near the tunnel entrance.”
“Dats it. Dats where I left him.”
“You left him?”
“He bleeding bad. He send me into tunnels to get help. Bad men not help. Put me in cage.” As we set off towards the bunker at a jog, she stopped talking. I let the silence sit between us while I tried to digest what she'd said.

After the fight with the ants, the injured Toby had taken her to the bunker, but he couldn't make it all the way back to the Colony. He must have been desperate to send her into the Colony tunnels alone to get help. But why wouldn't they have send someone to rescue Toby when thy heard about it? I stopped jogging, we were nearing the bunker.

“Did you tell Toby about The Damned?” She nodded. Now I knew about the damned too, whatever it was. We reached the bunker, so I pushed the camouflaging cigarette butt away, unlatched the door and carefully opened it. It was pretty dark inside, but the faint smell of blood still wafted out of the opening. Reluctantly I led her inside.

*

The bunker had some basic supplies; food, clean water, and clothes. She made me turn away while she changed into a very unflattering workers suit. After some simple bread and cheese we both slumped against the walls in silence. I pulled out my flask and took a swig. As I lowered my hand I saw her eyes were wide in shock. I tentatively offered the flask in her direction, but she cowered back.
“It a sin!”
“What's a sin? Drinking alcohol?” I scoffed and took another mouthful. The first one was warming my insides.
“It a sin. We in sin here too. Man and woman alone in dark. I be punished.” I tilted my head and blinked at her.
“Who is going to punish you?”
“Da priests.” She pointlessly looked around the small chamber, as if expecting to spot a priest. “But no priest here. I have to punish meself when it confession time.”
“You mean that literally? You are going to physically punish yourself?” I couldn't make out hers scars in this light but I had visions in my head of her carving those scars into herself.
“You don't know. You don't know anything. You don't know who you are, where you from, why you here, what a sin. You know nothing.” I could just make out her limbs being pulled into a tighter sitting position.
“My name is Harry. What's your name?” I asked.
“Jane.”
“Me Harry, you Jane.” I'd made a joke. She didn't laugh. I tried something else.
“How did you get out of the jail? And why did you come back to the same place anyway?”
“De think me stupid. De not watch me or chain me up. I escape, come back here. Me book here, but me not find it. Bad men musta taken it. It hidden, but they musta found it.” This was the first I had heard of her having a book. I remembered seeing a book on the desk of Mr Walters back in his office.
“What kind of book did you have?”
“It a bible. Not old kind, da new one that write about The Damned.”
“Where did you get it from?” She looked at me like I as an idiot.
“Got it from church of course. Stole it. Before I leave.” There were no churches in the Colony. It must be the same book. My heart was starting to pound in my chest as I followed this line of reasoning. I forced myself to ask the question that had been banging at the inside of my head.
“Where are you from? You're not from here are you.” Again, the idiot stare.
“No, I not from here. I from Nawlins. I got stuck in box of cajun sauce and shipped here. No food, no water for days. Almost died.” The cajun reference made it click in my head and I repeated the location out loud.
“You mean New Orleans?” She rolled her eyes and mimicked my pronunciation with exaggerated mouth movements.
“Yes, New – Or – leans.”
I blinked in shock. The Colony was in San Francisco, and as far as I knew we were the only ones of our kind in existence. We had lived here about a hundred years, but before that, we had no records and no knowledge of our past. No knowledge of where we came from. She was impossible; or she was a miracle.
“You know where dat is?” she asked. I nodded.
“Yes. It is very far from here. No-one here has every traveled that far.”
“I have. Almost died, but I have.”
“How many of you are there in New Orleans?” She frowned in concentration.
“I dunno. Must be millions. We everywhere there. Not like here. I wander round for weeks here before found anyone. You no wander like that in Nawlins. Gangs or church guard pick you up straight away.”
“Millions?” My heart was pounded even harder. The entire Colony was less than ten thousand people, a drop compared to millions of us swarming the streets of New Orleans.
“It where we made. It where we cursed.” This was getting to be too much for me to take in. I stopped asking questions for a while.
“We should get some sleep. We can figure out what to do in the morning.” She was already snoring quietly.
*
I shook Jane's shoulders to wake her, but it took a moment for her to come out of deep exhausted sleep.
“Wake up. We've gotta get out of here,” I said. She wiped her eyes.
“Whats going on?”
“I went back to the Colony. They're setting up search parties to look for you. They made up some story about you being a killer and escaping from prison.” I stopped myself and looked at her eye to eye. “You didn't kill anyone when you escaped did you?”
“No! I no kill no-one. I a runner, not a killer.” She seemed sincere. I plunged forward.
“Okay, then we have to get you somewhere safe. They'll check all of these bunkers, it's too obvious a place to hide. I know some places. Lets move.” I started to head out the still open door, but she didn't stand.
“You left me here sleeping? Alone?” she asked. I cringed.
“It wasn't for long, I came back. I had to find out what to do, and I didn't think it was safe to take you in yet.” She stood slowly, apparently placated. “So can we go?”
“You no leave me again.”
“Jane, I might have to. I can't help you if I'm stuck hiding in a sewer somewhere.”
“You no leave me 'less you tell me first.”
“Okay, I can promise that.”
“How you find out they coming for me?”
“I talked to Wade, a guy I know that works for a news organization, like a newspaper. I started by asking some vague questions, and he was started babbling details about the search parties, big news apparently. He got wise though, once he figured out I wasn't in on it. Wanted to know what my angle was.”
“You tell him 'bout me?”
“No. Without any evidence, he wouldn't believe a word of it. Especially from me.”
“Why not from you?”
“Well, I guess I have a history of not being completely truthful.” She just grunted in response.
“Go then.” I climbed out of the bunker, and she took my hand to help herself up. She seemed to weigh almost nothing as I hauled her into the dim morning light. We took off down the alley at a urgent jogging pace.

*

With Jane safely holed up in one of my least used hiding places, I had arranged to
arrange to meet my news contact Wade at the bunker at noon the next day. He sounded skeptical but said he would be there. I'd fed him some hints that it was related to the escaped prisoner, but no details about curses or churches in New Orleans. I didn't want to sound like a complete lunatic. In theory, I'd have the book by then and Jane would meet us at the same time, and that would be enough evidence to convince him this was real. In theory.

I burned some bridges getting the book, but at least I hadn't had to hurt anyone. I'd faked an appointment with Mr Walters and had to sign-in at the building lobby. That would be a paper trail that I couldn't deny. I had waited until Mr Walters and his muscle went out before making my move. The guards had changed shift since Mr Walters left, so the guard hadn't know whether he was in or not. This guard was one I had seen before when I visited the building, and he recognized me. This was bad for deniability, but allowed to get in with a minimum of fuss.

The book was in an open drawer of the desk. I'd had to pick the lock to get into the office, which had sent my heart running and made my hands shake. Standing in front of the door, I knew that if someone saw me and figured out what I was doing, I'd be thrown in jail and probably stuck there a long time. Jane would be on her own, and Mr Walters could torment me at his leisure. The book was the key to showing people that we were not alone, not the only ones of our kind. I still got chills when I thought those words to myself. It was like discovering aliens, or dinosaurs.

Up close, the book itself was old and worn, but unlike anything I had ever seen. Each was some kind of tapestry of dyed threads, woven into pictures and words with exquisite care. The colors were faded now, but it was still spectacular. I didn't have time to do more than flick through a few pages before tucking it under my coat, but I glimpsed scenes of violence, cityscapes, religious events and pages of text in large fonts laid out with monkish eloquence. Not all of it was English.

I took a deep breath and fingered the book for the hundredth time; forcing myself to focus on the events of the present. Wade should be waiting for me at the bunker just around the corner. With the book, I should be able to just tell him the truth. No lies, no concealment, just the facts. I stepped out into view of the bunker. He was there, standing nervously with his back to the cigarette butt that concealed the entrance. He spotted me immediately.

“Krenshaw. I wasn't sure if you'd show up. You look like crap.”
“Whatever, I'm here. Lets get inside.” We climbed down into the bunker and closed the door. The light from the single window cast deep shadows, but was enough to see reasonably well. He wrinkled his nose as he sniffed the air inside.
“This place smells like crap too. You live here or something?”
“Cute small talk, but I'm not in the mood. I told you I had something. Look at this.” I pulled out the book and laid it in a shaft of sunlight on the small wooden table. A small cloud of gritty dust was blown into the air, further highlighting the sun beam. With my eyes adjusting to the bunker's interior light, the colors on the cover of the book seemed brighter than before. The text read “Bible of The Damned.” With his eyebrows furrowed, Wade started to reach for it, when the bunker door was noisily wrenched open. I had been so engrossed in the book that I hadn't heard anything approaching.

“Krenshaw, you goddamn moron. You should have stayed out of this.” It was Mr Walters' errand boy. I blinked as my eyes adjusted to the light, and I saw he held a loaded crossbow pointed at my chest. Crossbows were our most effective policing weapons. There were mostly useless against insects, but their bolts tore through human flesh, and even penetrated most man-made armor at this range. “Sit down and put your hands behind your head.” he said, taking a step closer, but not within grabbing reach.
“Do it Harry,” Wade said softly. He met my eyes with a hard expression. “It's for your own good.” I slumped down into my chair.
“You sold me out.”
“Harry, you don't understand. They knew already, they came to me.” He glanced at they crossbow, but gingerly picked up the book. “So, what is this? Who are the Damned?”
“Drop it! You should stay out of this too.” He waved the crossbow slightly in the news man's direction, but kept it mostly pointed at me. “If you open that, you're going to the same place as Krenshaw.”
“Hold on. I thought this was about an escaped prisoner?”
“It is. That's evidence. Classified evidence. Put it down.” He lowered it slowly towards the table, not making and sudden motions. At that point, I recovered the ability to speak.
“It's a book from another Colony! Not even a Colony, the home...” I stopped as a the crossbow was swung to point directly at my face.
“That was stupid Krenshaw. Now you've doomed your buddy as well.” His finger trembled on the trigger and Wade's eyes widened with shock.
Suddenly the crossbow tilted forwards and it's owner was thrown through the door face first towards the ground. The crossbow went off and the bolt embedded itself in the floor at my feet. The shooter barely avoided impaling himself on the rear of it as he thumped heavily to the ground. An instant after he hit, a female body landed on his back, pushing any remaining air from his lungs in a great wheezing gasp. Silhouetted by the sun beam in the cloud of dust thrown up from the body hitting the floor, Jane crouched with one knee on the prone figure's back. Her worker clothes were partially undone, and the tattoo practically shone in the sunlight. She smiled at me, and Wade almost fainted.

After restraining our assailant, we sat down and opened the book. Wade shook his head in disbelief as we leafed through the pages. Jane was quiet, watching the news man from beside me. He kept glancing up at her as if he expected her to disappear at any moment.
“This is the story of my career. No, this is the story of a lifetime. Krenshaw, you are going to be famous.”

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