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datatime: 2022-10-06 13:17:56 Author:cxjLBpAM

"I'm Finlay Campbell, or I was. Not really entitled to the name anymore, I suppose. Are you part of the underground, too?"

"I am an outlaw now," said Finlay. "That means they have to take me, doesn't it?"

Evangeline looked at him. "Another implant?"

They stood comfortably, companionably together as the elevator sank into the depths. The doors finally opened out onto the subcellar, a dark and dank empty concrete box littered with junk. Evangeline led Finlay to another hidden door, and they made their way through narrow tunnels into the undercity, the interconnecting subsystems where the underground had dominion. Evangeline usually felt a surge of freedom and pleasure on the downward journey, as she left her Family self and obligations behind her, but it was muted this time. For all her brave words, she knew she'd have to return to Tower Shreck at least once more, to keep her promise to her father. If she didn't, if she just hid herself away in the subsystems forever, as she wanted, he'd take an awful revenge on Adrienne and Robert and all the lesser Campbells he could reach. She'd seen his rages before. No one ever crossed the Shreck and got away with it. And it wasn't such a hard price to pay. She'd paid it often enough before. The first time, she'd thought she'd kill herself, but she didn't. She wasn't that strong. Finlay must never know. For his own good.

"How angry is he likely to be?" said Finlay.

"Shut up, Finlay," Evangeline said quietly, forcefully. "You're here under sufferance. The underground has no use for the Families. They've seen too many good men and women killed by the powers that be for daring to struggle to be free. The only reason you weren't shot on sight was because you were with me. And they're not always that happy about me. Now be quiet, and let me try and put in a good word for both of us."

"The dressing table will move itself back into position. There'll be no trace to show where we've gone. Daddy will be surprised when he finds I'm not waiting for him, but by then your cousin should have gotten to Adrienne."

"Interesting friends you have, Evie," he said brightly. "Usually to see something like this I'd have to ask Valentine for something from his private stash."

"I don't know if I am going back. You're going to need me in your new life with the underground. And dear Daddy can go to hell. I would have disappeared into the subsystems long ago, if it hadn't been for you. And if I hadn't been such a useful contact for the underground. I think that part of my life is over now. Whatever happens from now on, we'll be together. And that's all that really matters."

And perhaps someday she'd be able to make a fresh start with him in the underground, safe from her father's reach. She smiled tightly. She had so much to live for now. Finlay, the underground, and perhaps someday a chance for revenge-

Evangeline looked at him. "Another implant?"

Finlay didn't blame them. A waterfall splashed down from high above, gurgling and splashing. An abstract pattern folded in upon itself endlessly. A giant hog with bloodstained tusks glared at him with tiny crimson eyes. And a ten-foot woman wrapped in shimmering light looked down on him with cold disinterest. Evangeline had warned him that the leaders hid their true identities behind illusions for security reasons, but he hadn't expected them to seem so... real. He swallowed hard, and held his head high.

Finlay looked around the meeting place with interest. An abandoned workstation by the look of it, bristling with half-repaired, obsolete equipment. Dangling cables hung from the high ceiling, and battered viewscreens lined the walls, hissing with static. Evangeline had said he'd be meeting the esper leaders here, so that they could check him out, but as yet there was no sign of them. There was no sign of anyone, and Finlay didn't blame them in the least. The place was a dump, and filthy beyond belief. He had a strong suspicion he was in danger of catching something unpleasant just by being there. If this was typical of the subsystems, he'd have to think twice about staying. There were limits, after all.

Finlay looked around the meeting place with interest. An abandoned workstation by the look of it, bristling with half-repaired, obsolete equipment. Dangling cables hung from the high ceiling, and battered viewscreens lined the walls, hissing with static. Evangeline had said he'd be meeting the esper leaders here, so that they could check him out, but as yet there was no sign of them. There was no sign of anyone, and Finlay didn't blame them in the least. The place was a dump, and filthy beyond belief. He had a strong suspicion he was in danger of catching something unpleasant just by being there. If this was typical of the subsystems, he'd have to think twice about staying. There were limits, after all.

"My name is Hood," said the tall man with no face. "I advise."

"I don't know if I am going back. You're going to need me in your new life with the underground. And dear Daddy can go to hell. I would have disappeared into the subsystems long ago, if it hadn't been for you. And if I hadn't been such a useful contact for the underground. I think that part of my life is over now. Whatever happens from now on, we'll be together. And that's all that really matters."

"My name is Hood," said the tall man with no face. "I advise."

And then the esper leaders appeared suddenly in the chamber before him, and for a moment his poise vanished as he stared with open eyes and mouth. He realized he was gaping, and pulled himself together. He had a strong feeling a good first impression was going to be important. Remember the code of the aristocracy: dignity at all times. He hoped no one had noticed his lapse.

"What about your honor and your Family? We could have just left and let Robert and his people fight their way into the tower, but you couldn't allow that. You'd rather make a deal with the father you detest than let armed men from another Clan run loose in your Family home. It would have been wrong, and you knew that. Please, love, don't let's argue anymore. Let's just go. There's nothing keeping us here now."

"Very. Can your cousin handle a little pressure?"

"Oh, yes. Robert's a lot tougher than he used to be, poor fellow. What will your father say when you do finally go back?"

"I am an outlaw now," said Finlay. "That means they have to take me, doesn't it?"

"How angry is he likely to be?" said Finlay.

"Very. Can your cousin handle a little pressure?"

She still didn't look round, but her hand was in just the right place to receive his when he reached out to her.

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