As an aside before we continue… This is a post for 23 in 2013, a project detailed here. It’s my NaNoWriMo project from 2012, a year I failed to complete the 50,000 words. It’s also the first draft – there will be typos, inconsistencies, mis-named characters and all of the other things that plague a first draft. The comments are there both for you lovely readers to post words of encouragement, point out “but he said… in the last chapter, that contradicts…” and keep me straight, and for me to bash ideas around. File this one under Urban Fantasy | Edinburgh | Parallel Worlds, as they might one day say on Angry Robot.
If you missed anything earlier, they’re here – come back when you’ve read it…
Towards the end of the meal, Sarah’s not-quite-vertigo returned, blossoming into a full-blown headache. It was worse when she tried to focus on things her brain was telling her were clearly wrong. The roomful of delegates to her right didn’t seem to fit with what she could make out of the building from the outside and she couldn’t focus on any of the people seated at the table for more than a second or so without pain stabbing behind her eyes. Try as she might to ignore it, she found herself drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
Once or twice she almost went into the side room, getting up with the intention of finding out just who was at that table. The first time, Nigel caught her arm and took her to the bar upstairs (is there a bar upstairs at Atrium? There is now), presenting her with a couple of paracetamol and a glass of water – “Noticed that headache still hasn’t gone, try these?” The second time she found herself in the ladies’ toilet without realising she’d even crossed the room. Before she could try again, staff were hoping they’d had a good meal and wishing them a pleasant evening.
As they were filing out of the restaurant, congregating in front of the Usher Hall, one of the gophers coughed and raised his hands.
“Ladies and gentlemen! If I could have your attention!” They turned, most of them paying attention in the same way people do to the safety demonstration on a aeroplane. Sarah leant half an ear, trying to spot either Nigel or the man in gray in the crowd as it formed. “Some of you, those who have had a chance to fully explore your rooms and welcome packs will have a ticket for Pepper and Ghost’s Walking Tour of the Old City tonight. That tour is due to start in half an hour. If there’s anything you want returning to the hotel, please leave it with one of us gold-badges and it will be waiting in your room should you be lucky enough to return!” A few people, probably wearing gold badges, laughed dutifully.
“Well, that went as well as could be expected.” Milo sat in a swivel chair in Atrium’s bar, swinging slowly from side to side. “Dinner was well above your man’s standard, he really did us proud there.”
“Should hope so, the amount that’s cost us.” Jeckyl, blonde, over-thin, sharp-featured, dressed in skin-hugging pale blue denim and with a voice like a buzz-saw. “Still, upping the ante for next year’s conference!” She laughed. At least Ash assumed it was a laugh, frankly it sounded painful.
“What news from the Suthana team?” Ash turned to Gabrielle and Milo who exchanged looks, their eyes flickering, text scrolling across them.
“Right,” Gabrielle steepled her hands. “Stephen has got everything we need loading in now. The amount of data we’re looking at we’ll be ready to run the first walk-through of the Open Moon incident by ten tomorrow morning.”
“Ten? Sheesh! Can’t it be loaded any faster?” Ash sipped at his water, staff around them placing chairs on tables and preparing what they could for the next day.
“First time, no. We couldn’t bring a pre-loaded data core from Locutia, not during the Festival, we’ve had to build the core from scratch here in Prime. Second and subsequent runs will only take a few hours to prepare?” Milo nodded.
“About that, yeah. We’re starting off loading everything, covering all the bases. Once we’ve done a full run-through we’ll be able to narrow our field of search down, find out who took her and where they Gated her to.”
Ash rolled his glass in his hands, staring into it’s depths.
“Why haven’t we been able to do this before?” He looked up, staring first at Milo then at Gabrielle. Jeckyl slunk out of the room, heels clicking on the tiled floor.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to get everything together in one place, Ash.” Milo stopped swivelling his chair. “Stephen’s been working on this Suthana rig of his since the Open Moon incident, he’s made some real breakthroughs in the past few months but, man, we’ve all been waiting to see this.”
Gabrielle set her glass down on the bar, leaned forward and put a hand on Ash’s shoulder.
“We all lost friends that day, in a way you were both the luckiest and unluckiest. Daedalus was killed in front of me, trying to open a Gate out for us. We couldn’t tell you whether Sarah had been killed or not for months, not until we managed to get our hands on the sensor data. Then not knowing how they took her, where or why? Nightmare. I know what it’s done to you – you had black hair when this started!”
This, finally, brought a smile to Ash’s face. He nodded.
“Okay. I can wait a few more hours.” He looked at his watch, stood and pulled his greatcoat from the back of the chair. “Well, I have things to do tonight. Things that involved Jeckyl. Where did she go?”
“Ducked out a few minutes ago,” Milo drained his whisky, stood to leave. “Not sure where to. Actually not sure where she goes at all, not since the Closed Gate raid.”
“Well, I’ll see if I can catch up with her. You two need to get back to Prof Hyde, make sure we’re up to speed for the morning,” he turned at the door, running a hand up the frame, leaving a shimmering red trail as he did so. “Anything happens earlier than you expected, you get in touch, right?”
“Right.” Gabrielle turned to the barman, raised her glass. “One for the road?”
Ash continued to run his hand across the top of the frame, down the other side, then he stepped through the shimmering red arch and vanished.