Chapter 22

Locke’s eyes were adjusted to the light.

It was about all they were adjusted to.

They sure as hell weren’t adjusted to all the things he was seeing. Whatever the place was, whoever had built it, it was big. Big and bright were the only adjectives Locke could think of to give it. It was too far outside his - what would Edgar’s fancy books call it? - frame of reference, maybe.

No, one other thing about it.

Once you got past the flashing lights, the snakey, ropey tubes, the big flat walls that showed moving pictures, it was boring.

There wasn’t a single damn thing Locke knew how to use, or even try to use. The doors opened on their own. The light was the same everywhere. As near as he could tell, the rooms and hallways were all of a uniform size. And there wasn’t anything moving.

For that last bit, at least, Locke was glad.

Of course, if there’d been someone moving, he could have maybe gotten some kind of idea what he was doing.

Ghaleon had said the place would probably be weird. He hadn’t said it would be like this.

Locke fought back the bad taste in his mouth that seemed to show up whenever he thought about Ghaleon. Especially Ghaleon and -

Uh-uh. No way. He wasn’t going to think about it.

Ghaleon had also given Locke a description of what he was looking for. The arrogant jerk had drawn a picture, too, which Locke had stuffed in his pocket with a mumbled thanks. Like he couldn’t understand what Ghaleon was saying.

Locke’s thoughts were interrupted by something that, in a small way, broke the monotony of the sparse metal walls. It was a metal statue, about a foot below Locke’s height, plump and not very detailed. He wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a person in armour or something else, but at least it was different.

It was the fourth he’d seen.

Which meant, since he couldn’t see anything to do with them, either, they were getting boring, too.

“What I could use is a damn manual,” Locke said, glaring at the statue as he said it. Figaroan digging modules were a lot less complicated than this place, and they came with manuals.

The statue made a noise.

Locke jumped. “Wha-”

It must have just been his imagination.

And then it happened again.

Locke gulped. At least it was something new. Cold comfort, that. “Um, a manual,” he said again, testing the waters. “It’s a book. Tells you how to work things.”

Locke felt stupid. That statue wasn’t going to give him a manual. It’s ‘mouth’ - the grill that covered its face where a mouth and chin would be, anyway - hadn’t moved. It probably hadn’t even spoken.

“Descendant linguistic verification process complete,” said the statue.

Locke opened his mouth to say something, then shut it again. What was he supposed to say to it? “Um...” he managed.

“Unknown request. Please try again.” The statue’s tinny metallic voice sounded a little ticked off.

“Sorry. I was, er, wondering if I could get a manual for this place?”

The statue leaned forward, which gave Locke another start - the thing could move?! - and then said, “Please state your security clearance level and provide documentation to support the statement.”

Locke didn’t say anything for a moment. He didn’t think he could bluff the statue - or whatever it was - into giving him a manual. He also didn’t really think he could beat the thing in a fight, although maybe if he had to he could, since it was on the smallish side.

“I left ‘em in my other vest,” Locke said. He backed off a step. “I’ll just go get that now.”

Before he could run, the statue’s bulky arm was raised and pointed... down another hallway. “Residential quarters are in this direction. Have a nice day.”

Locke nodded slowly, pretty sure from the statue’s tone that what it really wanted to say was, ‘residential quarters are in this direction, you moron.’ Too damn bad for it.

And, in the end, it had told him something he didn’t know. If there were residential quarters... Locke didn’t know what that meant, or if it even meant anything, but he figured it couldn’t hurt to check it out.

He hadn’t gotten two hallways down when he heard the pounding.

Instinct told him to hide and see whatever it was before it saw him. Locke was a man who lived by instinct whenever possible, so he ducked into one of the recessed doorways.

That pounding noise was getting louder, too. He’d been right to wait and watch. Nothing really heavy and dangerous could fit through the hallways, though - they weren’t much more than man-sized.

How heavy would a walking metal statue be?

Locke gulped. Maybe he hadn’t bluffed so well, after all.

“I hope you rust, you dirty little snitch,” he muttered, wishing nothing but ill for the statue that had ratted him out to the authorities. Whatever those were.

He got a glimpse a moment later.

It was a metal statue, all right, and, in a certain light, it kind of looked like the one he’d chatted up before. Except that this one brushed against the ceiling of the eight-foot-high hallway, was built like a strongman, and was wide enough to nearly fill the eight feet from wall to wall.

Locke knew he wasn’t going to beat this one, even if he might have taken out the little cousin.

And it knew where he was.

Locke threw himself into the doorway - no way it could pursue him through that - and ducked to the side. Who knew what that thing could do to him?

He found out a moment later when it followed.

“Can’t a guy get a break?!” Locke yelled, figuring that he couldn’t possibly be in worse trouble than he already was. His pursuer could get through doorways by rolling into a ball about six feet across. Probably designed that way just for this reason.

Not very fair, Locke thought.

He thought it as he ran, clearing the metal statue with a leap and hitting the hard, equally metal floor in just as much of a ball. He got up quicker, though, taking the hallway in the direction away from which he’d come.

And the metal statue pursued.

Locke soon discovered another reason why it could roll into a ball - it moved a lot faster that way in the long, straight halls.

And then, the rumbling sound of its movement stopped. Locke skidded to a halt and looked over his shoulder. It seemed to be just standing there, for all the world like exactly what he’d thought its smaller kin were - statues.

And then Locke noticed the small red dot on his chest.

“Oh, hell,” he said, throwing himself flat on his back just in time to avoid a blast of something, what he couldn’t tell, which flew over his head and hit the far wall.

Locke felt a wave of heat. The wall exploded.

Locke’s heart skipped a beat. If the wall was gone, he could just get out -

Except that if the wall was gone, there would be nothing outside except solid stone.

So instead, Locke ran around the next corner he could find. How long could the metal statue keep up with him? Probably forever, which was a lot more than Locke could say. He wasn’t in bad shape, not really, but his breath was coming in short gasps. He had to rest-

A hulking metal figure rounded the corner behind him and lined up for another shot.

His breath restored, as if by a miracle, Locke took the first door he could see.

“Security system malfunction, please send maintenance,” the monotonous female voice that had been making occasional pleas for maintenance since he’d first showed up said.

But the door opened.

There was no other way out of the room.

Locke thought about trying a different door, but he didn’t have time.

What he did have was exactly the thing Ghaleon had told him to find.

“Well I’ll be,” Locke said, picking up the artifact. It was as crisply metallic as the walls, the innumerable weird boxes - and the metal statues.

It was also lighter weight than Locke would have thought. He spun it around and pointed it at the door. Whatever the thing was, it looked a lot like a magitech cannon. Maybe he could bluff the pursuing metal statue, even if he didn’t know how to use the thing.

Speak of the devil, Locke thought as his pursuer lined up in the doorway.

“Back off, or I’ll shoot!” Locke said, raising the artifact menacingly.

“Unknown device,” the pursuit statue said, its voice deeper than, but otherwise identical to, that of the first one Locke had spoken to. “Danger unconfirmed.”

It took a step forward.

“Confirm this,” Locke said, pressing every button he could get his hands to without dropping the artifact.

One of them worked.

A beam of light shot from the artifact’s front - not where Locke would have thought, which made him damn glad that he’d had it pointed in the right direction - and hit the metal statue.

It didn’t seem to do anything.

And then, the statue disappeared, taking a good part of the floor and walls and ceiling with it.

Locke looked down at the artifact.

“Um...” he said.