OPTICA #17

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After several torturous minutes of descent… movement. Shuffling and clicking sounded from the next stairwell down. Tellies, quite a few of them. Jonquil waited as long as she dared but they made no signs of moving.

She had little choice but to go through the nearest door back to the rows of apartments. There was more activity here as little creatures that wouldn’t come to her waist chased each other through the halls. Telly juveniles, who had yet to shed their back legs. Their heads were bulbous and heavy on their tiny torsos as they played just like children- horrifying frog alien children.

Jonquil waited for their play to take them down a bend in the hall, then rushed down as quickly as she dared. This was taking too long. The sun would be down soon, and tellies grew more active at night. Not only that, but the tellies could see in the dark and Jonquil could not- she’d be at a major disadvantage.

She made her way to the other end of the building, found the second staircase, and moved down. This time the stairwell was empty, allowing her to access the ground floor. The smell was even worse down here. “Aliza,” she muttered. “I’m on the ground. Now what?”

“Oh, you’re still alive?” Aliza’s voice came in through the cochlear implant that interfaced with her watch. “I was wondering which of your stuff I could have.”

“You can have my boot lodged up your ass. C’mon, I don’t have any time to waste.”

“Yeah yeah. Okay… the apartment number is 122. Looks like this.” A trio of vertically-arranged geometric symbols appeared in a small hologram over her watch. “Find those.”

Numbers were the only bit of telly language that made sense to Jonquil, because they were universal. Two plus two was four on every planet, in every culture. Two of the symbols, silvery horseshoes, were identical. Jonquil deduced them to be twos.

She went on a hunt for rooms with the silver horseshoe as the middle number, all the while sticking to the shadows. There were a few armed tellies patrolling the floor, but lackadasically. They were prepared for an attack, not an infiltration.

Jonquil wasn’t the Mater Sicario or anything, she wouldn’t have stood a chance against professional anti-infiltration measures. But the Drowned Star were angry young men with big guns and no formal training.

After several minutes of searching, she discovered the 120’s in a curving hallway. It was infested with guards, several of them huddled outside 122, playing a gambling game with leaves. Jonquil gritted her teeth and ducked into a corridor. “I found the apartment but there’s no way in,” she hissed into her watch. “No less than ten guards out front. Our boy doesn’t take chances.”

“Shit.” Aliza was silent for several moments .”I… have an idea. How long can you hold your breath?”

“Aliza, I swear, there’s a time and a place-”

“Not for that. Telly apartments have disposal shafts for waste and trash. Those shafts are flooded and they connect the apartments to one another. You could swim through one of the neighboring water tunnels and up the bomb maker’s, get into his apartment like that.”

“Swim through a literal river of shit, eh?” Jonquil looked down. Her poor, poor outfit. This jacket would not only never be worn again, she’d probably have to burn it. “How am I going to see down there?”

“Well… good question. You have a neural implant, right?”

“Two. One to interface with tech and one to monitor vitals.” Jonquil instantly grew suspicious. “Why?”

“I can jailbreak that sensor and interface with it to see through your eyes… and then apply my own infrared vision to make your way through the tunnel. Um, you’d be blind while I was doing that, and possibly forever depending on how the jailbreak goes.” Aliza paused. “Wait, shit, you’re going to tell me to do it. Okay, I can’t actually, it was a joke, haha.”

“Aliza. Do it.” Jonquil rubbed her temples. “Just shut up and do it and don’t blind me if you can. How long will you need?”

“A few minutes. Get as close as possible to 122. You’ll still need to hold your breath and swim.”

With a nod, Jonquil peeked back at the hallway. She could probably make it to 128 without being detected, the only guard there had its back to her. Jonquil crept past, opened the door and slid inside with barely a peep.

The apartment was small: just a bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. The latter was her destination, and fortunately the room was empty save for some kind of slimy water snake that slid past her boot. Jonquil gazed down the brown-and-black pit in the floor, where viscous dark liquid sloshed around. The fishy stench was far worse than any of the other foul things she had sniffed today.

Sapiens, did she hate Porropelin.

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