Episode 1


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"That'll be two Quadits, pup," a voice behind the stall rasped, its breath condensing in the cold air. The older man's face was heavily pockmarked and rough looking. He held two small packages just out of reach. Tal gave him the cash and slipped the Q-Hog meat simulation packets into his jacket pocket.

"Its cold out here," Tal said, grabbing his shoulders. The Man behind the stall laughed, then spat onto the filthy street. He lifted his arm and motioned with his thumb directly behind the stall, across The Platz, at the dirty run-down buildings of QSU 23 in the background.

"Climate control equipment keeps breakin' down, an' this time our Bigz ain't got the Quadits ta fix it. They'll get th' boot when Kronstadt wins th' 'lections, and then things'll get better."

"What makes you so sure of that?"

"Got th' promise right here . . ." The man pulled a small shiny vid cylinder out of his pocket and held it up. "It's a half hour of Kronstadt tellin' us all whats wrong an' how to fix it. He grew up around here somewhere, y'know, and he even wants to make it legal for Reconz like me to live on the Inner Boardz!"

"That's not what he's been saying on the Inner Boardz," Tal said.

"I thought you had the Inner Board look," the man said, looking at Tal suspiciously. "Anyway, all I know is that the lan'lord at my building's payin' a 25 Quadit rent reduction if I vote fer Mr. K and that's jus' what me an' my people are gonna do!"

Tal's screen crackled. "Excuse me," he said, backing away and holding up the inside of his left arm to check his screen. Suddenly, Old Dusty's face appeared. The professor looked shaken and was sweating.

"Tal. You can't answer this transmission, of course, or they'll track it, but know you are being followed and that those who follow you will stop at nothing to get it. They interrogated me for several hours and by the time I got back to my rooms I was so confused I didn't realize how to get in until I remembered that my keys were sown onto my robe. It seems I remember little these days, and I am fading even more. I fear the worst, but stay hopeful if you can. Goodbye for now."

He stared at the screen for a time, realizing that his life as a student at The Inztitut had abruptly ended. As he lowered his arm, Tal felt icy fear surge through his body and looked out anxiously over the Platz at the throng of poorly clad Reconz gathered around the steaming stalls. A Kronstadt Rallypak group entered one end of the square and its members started shouting "Question Laneer! Question Laneer!" Then, a competing group of Laneer sympathizers entered from the other end screaming "The System Works!"

For a moment he was struck by the utter absurdity of what was happening, then he thought he saw someone from the Inztitut that he had seen before, but the sharp featured face seemed to disappear into the crowd. Again, fear overtook him, and he shook his body and head to regain composure.

As the noise from the competing political rallies grew louder in the square, Tal pulled his jacket up around his shoulders and made off in the opposite direction toward a group of dingy buildings a few hundred meters away. Behind them he saw the ugly 20 story "Grey Giants" looming up out of the dirty swirling air at the edge of The Quadrant dome.

Hurrying to get to the cover of the buildings, he looked back at the square and saw a heavy set man pointing in his direction. The man raised his arm and barked something into his screen and several other men, two carrying brodstiks, emerged out of the crowd. They immediately started for Tal. Just behind them, another group of men followed.

Tal broke into a cold sweat and started running as fast as he could. When he reached the buildings, he darted up a side street and disappeared.

The heavy set man stopped his men for a moment, and looked up at an airskimmer circling above. He spoke rapidly into his screen. "Where is he?"

The screen crackled and a voice from the skimmer responded. "Approximately 300 meters north of your position, now heading west on the second street in." The man smiled, then gave his orders, gesturing with large hands.

"Half of you up this street a few hundred meters, then cut in. The rest of you, come with me."

Tal turned into an alleyway and stopped. He could hardly breathe and his heart was pounding. He squirmed into a gap between two buildings and squatted down. He was glad that he had stashed the Portal on Recon 3. No one could retrieve it but him, and he resolved that no matter what, he would not divulge its location. Suddenly, he heard footsteps and a rough, loud voice.

"Hey, pup. We know where you are. Just come outta there and no harm'll come to you!"

"Allright," Tal answered, getting up on wobbly legs. He emerged from between the buildings and confronted several tough looking men and the sharp featured young man he had seen earlier. He recognized the younger man as a student from the Inztitut. The leader grabbed the student, pulling him close to Tal.

"Is this the man?"

"Yes, yes, it's him," the younger man affirmed. The leader pushed the student away and bore down on Tal. He pulled off Tal's coat and quickly searched him, finding nothing.

"Where is it?"

"Where is what?" Tal answered.

The leader slapped the butt of a stingstik onto his open palm and looked at Tal menacingly. "We know you've got it, pup, so tell us where it is!"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

Without warning, horrible pain shot through his shoulder and Tal fell to the ground. The leader leaned over him raising the stingstik for another blow.

"Where is it!!!"

Suddenly, before he could answer, several other men entered the alleyway and a fight broke out. As Tal struggled to get free, the leader struck him again and then grabbed his screen in a powerful grip. "If we can't have it, no one will, you stupid little fool!"

The leader gripped harder, then yanked Tal's screen off and pulled the interface wires out of his flesh. As Tal sank into unconsciousness, the leader smashed his screen into the ground, rose up and bashed the nearest attacker with his stingstik, then yelled at his men.

"Undergrounders! Let's get outta here, it's over!"

As the leader and his men fled from their Underground attackers down the alleyway, a vigorous looking bald man held two of his men back and bent down over Tal. He picked up the bloody screen assembly, exhaled, and looked up at the others.

"We haven't got much time," he said.

Next Scene Main Story Page Krania Station