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.“Now, Wednesday child, if you’d be so good as to hand me the cartridge—”The lights flickered.Hoechst froze.“Mathilde,” she said thoughtfully, “it occurs to me that we haven’t heard from Joanna, or Stepan and Roman for that matter.I want you to take every available body—not you, Franz, you’re staying here—and deal with that missing Third Lieutenant.Then find out what happened to Joanna and her boys.Nothing good, I expect.”“Yes, boss.” Mathilde headed for the door immediately, looking annoyed.She tagged Gun-boy on the way through.“C’mon, hunting time.”The lights flickered again.“What do you suppose she’s doing?” asked Frank.steffi whistled as she walked, hastily, toward the docking tunnel.A head-up clock counted down in front of her left eye: eighty-two, eighty-one, eighty.She broke into a trot as the count headed for the final minute.Big passenger-carrying spaceships were not designed to undock from big, high-population space stations by accident, or indeed anything short of a carefully choreographed and scheduled departure, overseen by the port authorities and the ship’s bridge crew.Fail-safe clamps pressurized by the atmosphere aboard both craft held the Romanov’s docking level against the hull of Old Newfie’s lifesystem, thousands of tons of force that could only be released by a controlled depressurization of the clamp rings.But Old Newfie had been reconfigured for undocking without port command authority before the final evacuation, and Steffi had usurped control over the Romanov’s life circuit as final officer on board.She’d given the bridge system a program to execute it, and she didn’t want to be around when the watchdog timer counted down to zero and set it off.The main boarding ramp was in sight, a tunnel rising up to the loading deck of the station, huge station pressure doors visible to either side as looming shadows.Steffi ducked into a side door and trotted up the maintenance path alongside the main ramp, gray walls closing in bare centimeters to either side of her shoulders.Forty-seven, forty-six.And she was facing the emergency airlock, a domed door set in a solid bulkhead beside the main tunnel.She spun the manual override wheel and stepped into the rotating chamber, cranked it round—basic hand cranks were provided in case of a power failure—and tumbled out into the shadows alongside the big station doors.Too close, she thought, pulling her night-vision goggles down.The twilit dock was a maze of shadows and eerily glowing heat patches.A huge slug trail of luminosity led away from the tunnel, toward a door leading to the main customs post—waste heat from the passengers whom the ReMastered had taken aboard the station, probably.But there was nobody in sight.Careless, Steffi thought, and she darted away from the airlock toward the towering wall of one of the station spokes, determined and ready to execute the second stage of her plan.Something thumped her left arm exactly like a blow from a careless passerby, just as her threat indicator lit up and her eye patch outlined a door that had just opened.Steffi reacted instinctively, her little machine pistol chattering to itself.The bullet paths curved weirdly in the Coriolis force, spiraling toward the target as the rounds overcorrected for the changing centrifugal effect: another bullet whispered through the air where her head had been a fraction of a second earlier, then her attacker collapsed.Steffi ran as fast as she could for the tower, but something was wrong.She felt as if she weighed too much, and when she tried to reach for a reload her left arm flopped around, not working properly.“Shit.” She crouched in the doorway, heart pounding, panting for breath in the freezing air.Now the pain started, coming in waves that almost made her faint.Her left hand felt sticky.She put down her gun and fumbled, one-handed, for one of the gel trauma packs she’d had the cornucopia spit out for her.“It’s only a flesh wound,” she told herself through chattering teeth.“It’s only—”The gel pack went in and for a moment everything was gray and grainy.Then the pain didn’t so much subside as begin to regularize, not driving her to the brink of unconsciousness, becoming possible to manage.Steffi leaned back against the wall and panted, then picked up her gun.If I stay here, they’ll see my heat trace, she realized.And besides.Two, one, zero: the countdown stopped.A noise like a million steam kettles boiling as one came from the vicinity of the docking doors.Steffi winced as her eardrums pulsed once, twice—then with a huge crashing boom the doors slammed down into the space the Romanov’s tunnel had just pulled away from.Got you, you bastards! she thought, although exhaustion and pain sapped the realization of all pleasure.Now let’s see how accurate that floor plan is.hoechst looked uncertain for a moment, as a faint vibration traveled through the deck.“The passengers are all in the customs hall,” she said, glancing at Franz.“Why don’t you go—”Frank, distracted, glanced sideways at Wednesday.He sat up.“What are you—”Wednesday pulled a plastic cylinder out of her pocket and held it toward Hoechst.“Share and enjoy.” There was a note of anger in her voice, and something else, something like triumph that made Frank dive for the floor, covering his eyes as she tossed the cylinder at the desk—There was a brilliant flash of blue and a loud bang.Wednesday was already halfway to the door as a hot, damp wave pummeled across the top of Frank’s head.It solidified almost instantly, aerogel foam congealing in a hazy fine mesh of fog with glass-sharp knife edges.Someone inside the fogbank was coughing and gargling.The remaining guard dived into it, desperately trying to batter and scoop his way through to Hoechst, choking in the misty sponge created by the riot bomb.Frank rolled over on his back, taking in a confused kaleidoscope of impressions.Someone zipped past his face in a blur of motion.A buzzing rattle set his teeth on edge.Vague shadows at the limits of vision turned and fell.There was a scream, sharply cut off, a gurgling sound from the fogbank, a painfully loud bang from a riot gun discharging through a doorway, and more blue foam drifting into the room, blocking the door, congealing in sticky, spiky lumps.He finished rolling, gasping for breath.I’m still alive? he wondered, dully [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]