Ivy has just agreed to work for the Black Fist, and is in the process of settling into the evil base that will now have to be her home for the rest of her life.
After recovering from Clarisa’s spell, I was rushed through various signing-up procedures so that there would be somewhere for me to sleep that night. One of the guards had helped me find clothes in one of the storerooms, and then led me to the room I had apparently been assigned. I was given a card that opened and locked the door, and the cupboards under the bed, and apparently could do anything else I would need a card for here, from licenses to money.
One of those numerous purposes was to get a meal in the mess hall I was also shown to – an apple, and more of the same bland porridge, since I couldn’t afford anything else until they decided to pay me something. Plain as it was, I wasn’t the only person eating it. I worried that it wasn’t much of a complete meal, but the guard assured me it was formulated with “everything important”.
There was nothing I was supposed to be doing until to-morrow, so I went back to the now-organised room. I slept almost immediately; it was far easier to manage that now I knew I wasn’t going to die at some unspecified time in the future.
* * *
An alarm clock build into the head of the bed went off at 5:40 the next morning. Apparently, despite being nowhere near the surface, the smugglers still rose at dawn.
By the time I was up and dressed, someone was knocking at the door. When I answered it (it took a moment to work out which button was ‘unlock’) my first thought was that I was being visited by a coat-rack, or possibly a Christmas tree. The person in front of me was heavily draped in at least four layers of brightly-coloured wool blankets, mainly in shades of red and orange. It took me a moment to find the face of the visitor under two or three hoods, and another moment to realise why they were bundled up like this. That greyish-coloured, damp face belonged to a half-Isikyus, and everyone knew the cold-blooded Isikyus didn’t like to leave the water without some way to stay warm.
The face was smiling broadly, and a red-gloved hand was reached out for me to shake. “Good to meet you! I’m Hano’ils; you can call me Hannah.”
I gladly shook hands. Perhaps not everyone in this place was as stereotypically evil as I had thought. “Pleased to meet you, too. I’m Ivy. Do you know what I’m supposed to be doing here?”
“At least for the moment, yes. I’ve been sent to show you around. They said they wanted to give you a day or so to settle in before you start working.”
Just so long as I did get to start working eventually; organisations like this rarely had time for anyone who didn’t pull their weight, and I didn’t have the option of leaving. I was momentarily hit with the force of the prohibition I had undergone last night; an odd sort of certainty that I would not leave, that doing so was as impossible as making the sun set at noon.
“You all right?” Hannah asked.
“I’m fine. Just still getting used to this mental block they put on me.”
“I know what you mean. I’ve seen what the Committees do to criminals, and it’s similar. You get used to it, though.”
Of course; Isikyus were known for the power of telepathy. “I suppose so.”
“Breakfast will probably help.” Hano’ils led me away in the direction of the mess hall, and I followed. She pointed out most of the card readers and meals I had seen previously, and herself took something that seemed to be very similar to my porridge, only more
expansive. “It’s the Isikyus version,” she explained, when I asked about it. “We use a different balance of nutrients, so we have to have a different version of the porridge. I don’t think it tastes any better, though.”
Both of us ate quickly, then Hannah stood up. “Now I can actually start properly showing you around. You know where the bathrooms and everything are?”
“More or less.”
“In that case, I might take you through the building from the top down. That’s what I usually do.”
We disembarked from the lift on the topmost floor, which seemed to be filled with even more machinery. The doors opened stood in a small crossroads between rows of pipes, boilers, tanks, and wires. A ladder led up through the ceiling to what were apparently more machines above. “What does all this do?”
“Various things. I’m not really supposed to be telling you this sort of thing, but I’d say most of these are for water, air, and so on; stuff that has to be pumped down from above.”
“Think about it. This is basically a submarine, and they need to get air from somewhere. This way.” Hannah led me past a dangerous-looking flywheel and over to a large, glass tank. Wide pipes ran into it on one side, and fish were swimming around in the tank and through the pipes. Unlike all the other aquaria I’d seen throughout the base, this one had plants in it, reaching up towards the bright lights sitting above the water. A smaller tank nearby held a mysterious-looking green gunk, into which water and air bubbled. It then ran out into pipes paired with the ones connected to the fish.
Hano’ils had taken out a clipboard and was looking intently into the fish-tank, making notes in what looked like the circular Isikyus script.
I just looked on, puzzled. “What’s the point of all this?”
“It’s mainly for the Zighierian,” Hannah said, once she’d apparently finished watching the fish. “They need something else to drain life from, so we give them the fish. The fish get fed on algae —” she nodded to the green gunk “— and we feed the algae on whatever organic waste gets generated. It’s a good way to make use of all of that, and avoid putting out a plume of waste water A or someone might spot.”
“I see. So, your job is to look after all these fish?”
“Me and a few other people. I came here for the adventure, but I was unfortunate enough to be recognised as someone who knew something about fish. I get out when I can, but most of the time it’s my job to keep an eye on them and make sure we don’t run out.”
I nodded. It might be useful to know someone who wasn’t as happy with way this place was &mdash. My mind was suddenly overtaken by thoughts of the impossibility of escape.
“Hit the block again? Try finding something else to concentrate on; that usually helps. Next floor down now.”
I followed Hannah downstairs, to a level I hadn’t reached in my earlier explorations. The walls were lined with doors and fish tanks like those I had seen previously, but the corridors were empty and dusty. “Residential,” my guide explained. “They planned for expansion when they built this.” The next floor was similar.
Most of the rest of that sphere was offices, including Clarisa’s and those of the other four Leaders. Jim’s office window held a complicated enginerring diagram, and Bartholomew’s an old-fashioned iron helmet. Bethany’s had a mask, similar to the one I had seen her wearing. “Why does she wear that mask?” I asked.
“No-one knows. To create mystery, probably.” The half-Isikyus noticed a sickly-looking fish in the nearby tank, and made a note. “Some people say that she disguises herself to check up on the rest of us, and wears the mask so we don’t recognise her real face when we see her.”
On the last floor of the upper sphere Hannah pointed a door. “After lunch, you’re supposed to come back here and sort out office supplies and things.”
There wasn’t much to distinguish this particular office from anything else, except a small card in a slot by the door. I took note of the name on it, “Siersi Ngeniane Raralandra”.
That didn’t make much sense. “Raraland” meant something like “seduced by evil”, if I remembered correctly.
“It does mean that, more or less. She’s supposed to be some sort of evil priestess or something, apparently.” Hannah shrugged. “Most of the time she just works here, same as we all do.” I nodded, taking the information in. Then I realised I hadn’t mentioned my surprise at the name.
The half-Isikyus saw my expression. “Sorry. You thought that out fairly clearly; I can’t usually read thoughts directly.”
The rest of the base was just the levels I had seen earlier; rooms and mess halls that were used by the rest of the people who worked here, and by those who came in on the submarines. Hannah also showed me around some of the storage levels, pointing out the places I would have to go to get stationary, clothes, and other supplies once I had money or permission to get things.
When we got back to the lift on level 5, however, she stopped me when I went to follow her. “This is as far as I’m supposed to take you. They don’t want you seeing all the details of the base just yet. Good luck with Siersi, and see you at dinner!”
With that, she stepped into the lift and left me to climb the stairs back up.