Exploits of a Midnight Traveler (Part 24)

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I wondered if I could do what I was going to try, but willed myself to attempt it despite my reservations. Arms erupted from what used to be my hips and stabilized me against the tight vertical passageway.

“Moment of truth,” I whispered with a voice that was mine, but not mine.

I could turn the hatch-wheel quickly, roughly, if I wanted to, but with the extra possibility came a need for more thoughtfulness. I couldn’t see the hatch perfectly. If I was rough with it, and if the hatch was at all creaky or rusted, the noise it would make would alert my pursuers to my exact position.

No.

Breathing evenly and doing my best to stay as calm as I could, I felt the arms I was holding the hatch with tense, and I turned the wheel with a half-anxious caution.

As soon as I opened the hatch, a dim light streamed in, and I climbed through it, reconsolidating myself back into an acceptable form. I slammed my entryway shut below me and looked ahead to see a barely-lit stairwell. There were no other places to go. I moved in the only direction I could, sprinting up flight after flight of stairs. Secret passageways and staircases were never unwelcome so long as they were getting me away from the people behind me.

I heard stomping, staccato steps below me, and kept up my speed, purpose in my mind. I was jumping two stair-steps with each movement now. Three. This was a good pace, but I could feel myself tiring. Not good. Not-quite-Lila, LI57, Julie, whatever, because of her I had an awareness that, however impressive my control over my own being, the physical limits of a body were still enough to slow me down.

To slow us down.

The longer this chase lasted, the worse off we’d be. Then again, those behind me were only human as well. The problem with that line of thought was that they held guns, and with my mounting exhaustion I wondered if I would still have the ability to effectively resist being shredded with gunfire.

I saw a red door in view now, and with a clenched fist, I slammed through it with the back of my arm, breathing harder, faster.

I’d emerged into a long white hallway with branching side paths. I was glad for the lack of light — it’d have hurt my head like hell. At the end of it was a glass window, and what looked like the outdoors beyond it. I took a pathetic breath and kept moving, slower now. Nanites could do wondrous things, but they couldn’t just give me energy I didn’t already have. For a moment, my entire being worried. Even Julie. And then it was overridden by simple awareness, expressed as one chaotic unit within my consciousness.

We can’t outrun bullets. There is a gun cabinet in the neighboring hallway. We can bring down furniture to create cover. Will we live? There is a chance. A chance? A chance is better than none at all. I’m a better shot than you. Allow me more control. How? I don’t know, ideally we relax into the shift, this is still strange for me too. We have knowledge, they don’t.

PART 25

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