The Third Sdhlain: Sdhlai 1

The ashes carried around me by the wind were all that remained of the factory that had until last week been the pride and the prison of the city. Ensuring once more that I was not being observed, I pocketed the device that I had recovered from the site.

It began to tick softly, even now trying to find another resonant frequency to lock onto, another structure to destroy with its monotone mindlessness and efficiency. Reaching into my pocket, I squeezed it in the right place to turn it off.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Damn. The problem with one of these is that there is no safe vessel to carry one. If you put it in a box and carry the box, it will slowly but inexorably find the resonant frequency for box-plus-person and proceed to liquefy your insides. No fancy ways of walking, breathing, or carrying it managed to change the body's frequency enough to keep the device from carrying out its singleminded purpose.

It was our last one, though, and we couldn't afford to lose it. I had to take it to one of our mechanics, and quick.

Tossing it high in the air, I called up a street map. The roads hadn't changed much since the last time it was made, and I found a fairly short route to one of our safehouses. Catching the ticking machine and tossing it in the air again, I started to pick my way down the street carefully. The map dissolved into thin air, the hologram lines that fed it probably covered with debris.

As I walked, throwing the nondescript black shell into the air and catching it in an attempt to at least prolong the time before it destroyed me, I wondered why it had gone off. I hadn't squeezed it on; they're designed to keep that from happening accidentally, for fairly obvious reasons. And, short of thermonuclear devices, they never malfunctioned.

This brought me to a halt. Did someone in the resistance want me . . . dead? Surely not. I've ruffled a few feathers on my climb to the top, to be sure, but there are too few of us to expend on petty things like infighting. The Machine Shop was our first big success, our first highly-visible stab against the oppressive government which tried to keep us from doing anything other than our proscribed jobs. Never mind that the city crumbled around us.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

I rounded the corner and stopped short. A searcher hovered in the air in front of the safehouse. Its battered surface, more than anything else, gave its ownership away. The Grand Democracy (cursed be its lies) may not spend much money on city maintenance, but it liked the machines to be nice and shiny.

I ducked back behind the wall of the corner building. Double damn. The probability that the searcher didn't sense me stood at near-zero, and it would be coming to investigate soon. My mind raced.

Looking up, I saw a window in the facade, just low enough to grab the sill and pull myself up.


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Last Updated: 2002.10.12.1023