Thatcher called a short war council. "We need to keep warm," he said. "We're going to take public transportation, so we need a cover. I suggest a Special Interest Group: Midwest Northern Hemisphere Winter Fauna? If anyone asks we're looking for owls."
"On public transportation?" Rover asked with a smile.
Thatcher took him seriously. "We're headed toward Springfield North Park. Owls will be in winter plumage. They will be hunting mice, so once again, the rodent comes to our rescue. Winter plumage means their feathers will be white. Don't answer questions unless you have real details. Smile. There's a transport dropoff twelve kilometers east. Put up hoods, and for Helix' sake make sure all personal monitors are off."
There was nervous laughter at this last. Then they moved out into the snow.
Many of them had never been topside in winter and had never personally seen snow, yet there was little horseplay.
"We'll be seeing a lot of this stuff, I guess," Shem said to Rover.
Rover grunted. "Not necessarily. A lot of Double-A is underground, like here. Unless you go up you don't see much, though in some places the ice is six to ten thousand feet thick."
"I'm not sure I'll like that."
There were no buildings, no lights, no voices. Only darkness and soft wind, gentle snow, the hush of woods and fields, the music of small creeks running under a thin layer of ice. Once a shape passed swiftly a few feet overhead. "What was that?" someone asked.
"An owl. That was an owl. Didn't you see, the white feathers?"
Their pace was slow. Larin's ankle had swollen and finally, around nine-thirty they had to stop.
Thatcher came over. "Let me look at that. We don't have much time before the last shuttle." He took her ankle in his hands, probing gently with his thumbs. "Here," he said, pressing against a tendon. "And here." He removed a small flat kit from one pocket. "Put your foot on this," he said. She did, and holding her ankle he pressed once more. A brief white glow came from the device, which he then replaced in his pocket. "OK," he said. "Five minutes and we can go."
"What is that?" Peter asked.
Thatcher shrugged. "Double-A can be a dangerous place. The glaciers have deep hidden crevasses. Ice breaks underfoot, whiteouts and sudden blizzards come up and make travel difficult. Injuries like this are common. We've developed techniques for dealing with them. It's a simple induction device. Combined with the right kind of tissue manipulation and energy the device can heal rapidly. She'll be all right now."
Soon they were moving again, and ninety minutes later the isolated oasis of light that indicated the transport dropoff, a cleared space in the wilderness with some local lighting in the reflected sunlight spectrum, appeared as a brightly moonlit oval, despite the overcast.
"Ten minutes to spare," Thatcher said. They huddled together, while Thatcher and Peter conferred. Thatcher did not seem to notice the cold, but Peter wrapped his arms around himself and shivered.
"The induction field here allows a small tap," Thatcher said, looking at his palm screen. "Interesting. They've sent out a routine repair request for Decatur. Looks like the rats did it. They've explained the intrusion alarm as rats too. So far so good. The next dangerous point is Lincoln, where we enter the Corridor."
"Everyone knows what we're doing," Peter said. "We're going owl watching."
The transport arrived with a low hum. It was a thirty-seat ground-effect vehicle from the small feeder line that covered this area. The dropoff served Niantic North, a small, partially underground community. There were others on the bus. Peter tapped in their destination and purpose, giving Decatur SIG for natural history as their point of origin. It was unlikely that Chicago Node would question Decatur for confirmation.
The bus lifted to fifteen feet and glided smoothly between the trees over its predetermined track. Twenty minutes later it set down at the Lincoln Dropoff and they trooped off into the darkness, talking about owls. The two strangers on the bus had ignored them.
Keywords: thatcher, peter, small, minutes, here, like, dropoff, their, winter, bus, decatur, device, ankle, owl, feet, ice, snow, transport, don, white, will, rover, owls, lincoln, point, rats, later, right, induction, dangerous, pocket, thirty, around, darkness, ten, some, much, see, go, underground, double, lot, never, last, sure, make, unless, feathers, again, plumage, north, took, smile, looking, transportation, public, going, need
All text © 1986 Rob Swiggart. "Portal : A Dataspace Retrieval" is available courtesy of the Author's Guild Backprint Programme. ISBN: 0595197841All programming and software © 2002 Salim Fadhley. Released under the GPL. Code available on request.
Updated: Sun Apr 14 2002
Privacy Note: This site uses Hitbox and Webtrends Live to track activity, this is so the author and myself know how many people are viewing the site. The ads below pay for the tracking service.
We collect 'aggregate' statistical information about the use of this site. We do not collect or store information about individual users and we do not sell the information we collect onto any other company or individual.
You can prevent tracking by switching off cookies, or by rejecting cookies from the tracking companies. All new web-browsers (IE6 or Mozilla) have options to do this.(Sal)