MAJINI (45.3)

50th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E, Midnight

Tambwe Dominance, City of Rangda — Ocean Police Station

8th Division Escapes Encirclement!, read the headline of the latest edition of the Ocean Bulletin. Logia Minardo turned the first few pages — she had become largely unaware of the situation at the front of late, so ostracized was the 1st Regiment from the rest of Tambwe’s operations. Reading, she found that Nocht had apparently overcome the Argu barrier, a range of forest just beyond the Ghede that separated Tambwe and Adjar, and in so doing managed to encircle several divisions of Battlegroup Ram guarding the area.

One division, however, had managed to plow its way out of the trap, and that was the 8th Ram Rifle Division of Rangda. It was reported that much of its troops and equipment had survived and would be returning to Rangda shortly. Much praise was lavished on its commanding officers, who had pulled such a miraculous victory from the jaws of defeat, and could now continue to fight for Rangda’s safety. Troops would come in by train starting on the 51st, and the first of the heavy equipment would be delivered on the 53rd.

For the average person there was much to be thankful for, but Minardo could not help but become uneasy at this improbably triumphant story. How had they escaped so quickly, when this battle was only begun days ago? And why was the 8th Division being pulled off the line? Surely that would only invite Nocht to pursue them through the gap. Furthermore, why were they being relocated to Rangda, and not a defensive line? Knowing that this theater was all under the control of Tambwe’s Council in Rangda, Minardo could only read the unorthodox relocation of this unit from the front as an antagonistic move by Mansa and his ilk.

Sighing, she closed the newspaper. Things would soon get rough.

Whatever training Madiha wanted to get done would have to get done rather quick.

Minardo set down the newspaper on one of the chairs in the interrogator’s room and laid back. Beyond the glass, Bercik Scheldt seemed to have nodded off. Behind it, the nurse and the presiding officer both fell asleep over the desk. All of the lights had been slightly dimmed for the night. Every hall in the station’s underground cells was silent. Minardo was in the mood to raise her feet up on the desk and balance on the chair, as she once frequently did while listening to briefs from the aviation commander in the old Rangda airport.

But it would have been an uncomfortable position to take in her present state.

She laid a hand over her own belly, rubbing it through the fabric of her uniform. Often she seemed to others like she had forgotten the little life that was being nurtured in there — but for a mother, there was ever a keen awareness of a second presence. It faded into the background of daily life after a while. She was no longer nauseous and enfeebled, so it was relatively easy to live with now. But it was there, and it needed special care.

Since realizing her pregnancy, Minardo had changed many of her old habits. She had stopped drinking. She had not gone out on a date in over a hundred days. She was still rather popular, and still quite fond of friendly sex; but she turned down every proposition. It was easy to turn down the men, in her condition; it was harder to turn down the women, especially owing to her own predilections. Still, she committed to this deprivation. For the duration of the pregnancy, she wanted to be a little conservative. Particularly owing to the circumstances of her pregnancy, which still strongly stung. She had thought she found again the love and trust she once relished and reciprocated — but no such luck.

She didn’t want to think of what she was doing as “living with the consequences” of anything; pregnancy was not her fault, and it was nobody’s fault. All of the fault, and the conflict, was that the coward who had led her to commit was unwilling to commit himself.

Minardo sighed deeply. She would carry the pregnancy to term. After that, though–

Down the hall echoed a long, low sound like a bucket dropping.

There should be no one in those halls at this hour, she thought.

Drawn out of her bleak reverie, Minardo stood carefully from her chair and crept toward the door, cracking it open. She looked down the hall and saw nothing outside. She blinked. It was quite late at night, and she was still awake; perhaps she had imagined it? But the noise had felt so palpable and distinct. It had startled her. She took a step out.

Behind her and in the hall the lights began to dim and then to blink.

On and off, dim and bright, flashing in a cycle that was hurting her eyes.

Minardo drew her revolver from its holster and quickly checked the cylinder.

Five rounds.

Though she could have woken the nurse and the officer for aid, her anxious reflex was always to do something herself. She could not trust that they wouldn’t get in her way.

Both of them were unarmed and inexperienced anyway.

“Logia Minardo, getting into another mess all by her lonesome.” She whispered.

She crept forward down the hall as the lights continued to blink around her.

As she neared the corner, she saw something flit at the edge of her vision.

She turned her head.

One last blink and the lights went completely dark.

They did not appear keen to come alive again.

Pitch darkness swallowed her sight.

She dared not take another step into the indistinct void before her.

Tripping on something no longer affected only her.

Holding her gun in one hand, she reached into her coat with the other.

She withdrew an electric torch, and held it up to the side of her revolver.

With a flick of a switch she cast a beam of light down the hallway.

Something flashed in the light of the torch.

For a frightening instant she saw an abominable shadow on the door ahead.

It turned a mouth full of teeth and an ivory face on her and it shrieked and–

She blinked and it was gone; she suddenly found it hard to retain memory of it.

It was a masked bundle of tattered cloth with several arms, hanging like a bug on a wall.

Minardo shrank back, but the vision had left her so immediately that she felt foolish for having feared at all. Though she felt a chill, there was nothing corporeal anywhere nearby. She sighed, turning her beam and gun on every surface and finding nothing in the dark corridors. She walked forward step by measured step and examined the door to the interrogation room, near where she thought she had seen something. She found no evidence of tampering with the door. She turned the knob with her torch hand.

Inside the interrogation room, Bercik Scheldt remained seated behind the table.

Crossing his arms, he looked at the door and said, “Was ist los?”

Minardo understood more or less that he was asking what was happening.

Nichts.” She replied.

Bercik stared at her quizzically as if awaiting further explanation.

Smiling, she shut the door, and continued down the hallway, keeping her guard up.

A little ways from Bercik’s door she opened the second interrogation room, where she found Kirsten Susalla, a slight, boyish-faced young man, sleeping soundly at his table, oblivious to the events. She shut the door carefully so as not to wake him, and proceeded out to the lobby, having secured all of the high-value people in the area.

Out in the front lobby and the security station, she heard someone banging their fists.

Shining her light on the bulletproof glass, she found the door guard trapped in his booth.

He opened a sliding slit on the door to his station so that they could communicate.

“Staff Sergeant, the power’s been acting up and now I’m stuck in here. I can’t open the heavy doors without electricity. All of them have special emergency locks.” He said.

“Calm down.” Minardo replied. “We can use the land-line or the radios to call for help.”

“Yes ma’am. Sorry ma’am.” He said. She could feel the desperation in his voice.

“You won’t be trapped there much longer, I promise.” She said.

No sooner had she raised her voice again that she felt a chill breeze blow behind her back.

Reflexively she turned around and pointed her flashlight up and around her.

“Did you feel something?” She asked.

“No, nothing.” Replied the guard, his voice trembling.

She waved her torch across the lobby, and toward the entrance to the secured area.

Beneath the sealed metal door she thought she saw inky tendrils vanishing.

But that could not have been anything; just a trick of the light on her gloom-addled eyes.

“Can the front door be opened without power?” She asked.

“Well, you would have to blow it off with compound explosives.” replied the guard.

Minardo turned to look at him sternly. “So no.”

“No. But nothing has come in or out. I’ve been watching, ma’am.”

“Even when the power started going? You were perfectly attentive?”

Inside the booth the guard sighed deeply. “I may have panicked for a while, I admit.”

“But nevertheless, we can logically agree that the door was not compromised.”

Behind the bulletproof glass the guard helplessly nodded his head in agreement.

Minardo tapped her feet impatiently. Her boots sounded across the underground.

“And you say the door won’t open when the power’s out?”

“Yes. It’s a safety mechanism so that prisoners can’t easily escape or attack the guard.”

“So then, whoever cut the power wants you and us to remain stuck in here for a while.”

“Cut the power? It could just be a brownout or something.”

Minardo had thought so too at first.

However, her mind could not square one fact in this whole situation.

“Then what about the backup generators?” She asked. “There should be backup generators not only at the grid level but also in secure facilities like this, in any major city.”

She shone the light briefly on the guard and found his jaw hanging with realization.

“Spirits defend.” He said. It was an apt reaction that confirmed everything she thought.

Whoever cut the power to this station did it right and cut all of its available power.

Even the diesel-powered generators that should have triggered to keep them running.

That is what distinguished this situation from any other outage.

Minardo turned around and bolted down the hallways back into the interrogator’s quarters behind Bercik’s room. Her stomping and slamming the door woke the nurse and the officer. She dashed past them, ignoring their startled responses, and she seized the radio, switching it to battery power. Thank everything that it was not reliant on the station generators or the grid; she tuned the radio to the Headquarters frequency and called out in desperation.

“Colonel, the station has been sabotaged! Raise the alert level immediately!”

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