Once upon a time there was a guy who was way behind on his writing quota, and his name was me. Blech. I've got a lot of outline, and not much actual text. Also, what text there is is scattered throughout the story, so that'll be confusing or inconvenient or both. This week's installment is pretty short. Sorry. NaNoWriMo is more exhausting than I realized.
Ellie flattened herself in a doorway as Detective Royal left the apartment. She followed him discreetly to the elevators and as soon as he had begun his trip down, she summoned another lift. She glanced back and forth nervously and tapped her feet, waiting for the elevator. She adjusted her hat, pulling it forward in a vain attempt to cover more of her face. After what seemed like hours of waiting, another lift arrived and Ellie pressed the Lobby button. Her destination was Underhab sub-12, but Uphab elevators didn't go down to the subterranean levels. The doors slid shut, gentle music began to play, and the elevator glided down the thirty floors to ground level.
She knew she couldn't return to her house. The police were already there, combing through every fiber and brick. No doubt they would put out a bulletin to search for her, if they hadn't done so already. She cursed herself, not for the first time, for coming home early. And, absurd as it seemed to her, she began feeling guilty because her work on the HRS Magellan was not finished. She considered sending instructions to her project heads , but dismissed the idea. Survival first. Unfinished business later.
When the doors opened, Ellie ducked through the lobby as quickly as she could, desperately trying not to attract any notice. The large marble pillars in the lobby provided ample cover for her to stay concealed without looking like she was skulking. She walked through the halls of the ground floor until she reached the rear entrance and the service elevators. The woman fished through her purse and found what she was looking for - a hab keycard Dom used to visit his office in the sublevels of hab block D. She scanned the keycard and the elevator doors opened immediately. When she pressed the button to go to the 12th floor, the doors slammed shut. There was no music; just the hissing sound of the elevator sliding down the rails. Instead of a gentle glide, the elevator zoomed down the twelve floors in just under eight seconds. When it stopped, Ellie lurched and was almost sick.The doors thunked open and Ellie stumbled out into the underhab.
What she saw was nothing like the spacious corridors and warmth of uphab. In fact, the whole thing reminded her more of a starship than a housing block. The hallway into which she emerged was cramped, barely big enough for two to walk abreast. The low ceiling was studded with naked chemical bulbs that cast circles of sick green light onto the floor. The hab doors were spaced evenly every twenty feet and after every fourth door was a hallway. The pattern continued as far as Ellie could see in front of her, and on either side. Her life in Uphab had not prepared her for the immensity of the underground housing complex.
From her coat, Ellie pulled a PIP - a Personal Information Pad. She tapped the screen to activate it, and several more times to bring up the desired program. There was a buzz from the PIP as the network tried to connect, and then a green light winked on in the top left corner. A woman's voice drifted from the speakers. "PIP Directory. Select planet, city, and complex please."
"Hyperion, Hyperion City, Hab Complex D."
"Please hold while I connect you to the Hyperion navigational mainframe. This call will cost you one payroll credit. Will you accept the charge?"
"I will accept. Charge to Rhodes D-30-A12 please."
"Connecting..." The PIP emitted a series of clicks as it trawled the longwave networks for an available connection. The PIP chimed and said, "Navigational mainframe connection online. Please enter your destination." Ellie tapped the screen a few more times, typing in her desired address, and then she was off into the underhab.
Detective Royal stepped out of the elevator into the lobby of Hab Block D and approached the service counter. It was a classy room, decorated with marble pillars and native greenery. At the desk stood two pretty young blonde women in navy blue skirt suits. The younger of the two of them was speaking on the phone; the older looked up and smiled at him. "Will you be going back underhab, Detective?" Royal nodded. "Let me unlock the access stairway for you."
Royal held up a hand. "Actually, Ingrid, I wanted to ask a favor." She raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "I want you to keep an ear to the ground for gossip regarding the Rhodes family. Anybody who overheard them talking, places they might have gone, visitors to the house. Don't snoop around, because that's my job, but if you hear anything..."
"You can count on me, Mack." She scribbled something onto a piece of hotel stationary. "What are you doing this weekend? We can talk about it over dinner." Her eyes glinted and she slid the paper toward the detective. He picked up the paper and glanced at it. She had written a telephone number. Below it she had scribbled call me any time, sugar. Royal grinned and pocketed the note.
"Thanks, Ingrid. You're a doll. I'm headed back down to my office now. Can you buzz me down?"
"Sure thing, Mack. You'll be in stairwell four." Ingrid pressed a button and the door on one of the lobby's six stairwells clicked and swung open. Royal winked at Ingrid, then began the long climb down into the underhab.