Wally nodded to the guards as he entered the research center. “Stan not in today?” he asked as he presented his access card for inspection.
“Nah, he’s out sick,” said one of the guards, a woman unfamiliar to Wally.
“Something must be going around,” said the other guard, known to Wally as Yon, though he didn’t know if that was a nickname. “Place is quiet today.”
“Huh,” said Wally. “Well, good morning, anyway.”
Yon nodded. “Mornin’.”
Wally took the elevator down to the third floor. Most buildings on Ur had only one or two floors above ground, and the rest extending down. Building space was at a premium, and the early colonists had taken pains not to disrupt Ur’s complex and unique aerial ecology. The great floating gardens and sailfloats were now mostly restricted to the outlying islands, but the tradition remained.
He emerged into a quiet hallway, lined with thick carpet, faux-wood paneling, and holopaintings by both staff and famous Ur artists. Wally had grown up on Fifth Jerusalem, with its noise and bustle and crowds, its brushed steel and reinforced concrete, right angles and primary colors, order and propriety. Life on Ur was a matter of curves and quiet, warm lighting, browns and greens. It had taken some getting used to, but he found he rather liked it.
The main cybernetics lab was a different matter. No matter where you went in the universe, it seemed, all labs were pretty much the same: wires dangling from the ceiling, piles of equipment, nearly all of it jury-rigged or modified, blackboards covered in arcane scrawls, cartoons and joke printouts and toys marking each researcher’s personal territory.
“Morning, Wally,” said Ritzi, waving. “Have a good weekend?” She was another Federation researcher, an expert in sensor design and implementation, a couple of years younger than Wally’s thirty-four, though she refused to reveal her precise age.
“Morning. Not bad, you?” Wally returned Ritzi’s enigmatic smile, her usual response to inquiries about her life outside work. He rather liked Ritzi, in a relaxed, uninvolved sort of way. The two of them dated for a week or two every couple of years, whenever they both found themselves single and bored. They had fun, but knew nothing deeper could come of it. Such behavior would of course have been utterly scandalous on Fifth Jerusalem, but didn’t raise an eyebrow on Ur. “Jansen in?”
Ritzi pointed at a computer in the corner. A pair of legs in neatly pressed trousers were visible under the table.
“Ah,” said Wally and walked over to his supervisor. “Hello, sir. Had a chance to look at my proposal?”
“Eh?” asked Jansen. He pushed his glasses — something else one never saw in the Federation, but then biotech was still Ur’s weakest science — up on his nose and blinked at Wally. “Ah, Petrovich. No, I’m afraid not. I’ve run into rather a bit of bureaucratic nonsense with my own project; it seems our superiors have decided our work on the Original requires excessive resources that could be better spent elsewhere. They denied my request for access last week to run an activation attempt.”
“That’s too bad,” said Wally.
“I am not normally one for politics, but I’m afraid this new government seems somewhat unfriendly to our work here.”
Wally chuckled. Jansen started at least thirty sentences a day with “I’m not normally one for politics, but…” He was known throughout the office for bending the ear of anyone he could find with his complaints about the government in that very fake Scientian accent of his, and the volume and frequency of complaints had only increased since the Fleetists took over. “I’ve gotten that impression, yeah,” he said. “Well, I’m sure you guys will swing back the other way after a couple of years.”
“Indeed, one must hope such,” Jansen answered.
“Well, I guess I’ll get to work,” said Wally. He sat at his own computer and checked his mail.
Ritzi leaned over conspiratorially. “Everybody’s out today,” she said. “You notice? All the Ur people, none of the Federation or Scientia researchers.”
“What about Dr. Jensen? Or the security guards?”
“Okay, a couple of Ur people, but I think everybody from the Federation is here today. I stopped by Keely’s office — you know her, in Requisitions? — on the way in to ask if my neutrino detector’s come in, and she still had that awful cold. Said they told her she had to come in anyway for a meeting, then cancelled the meeting.”
“Huh,” said Wally. “Hang on, let me check something.” He opened his calendar and began setting up a meeting to last the entire day. In the attendees field, he entered “All”, then sorted by division.
“Weird,” said Ritzi. “Looks like practically all of security is here, but almost no one in admin or support. A lot of the researchers are out, too — here, let me try that. Remember when they sent out that mail about absentee ballots for the Federation elections? I think there’s a group address for that.”
On her own computer, she set up a similar meeting, with “All Federation Citizens” and “All Scientia Citizens” as attendees. “Yep,” she said, “and it looks like they’ve got one for Scientia, too.”
“Will you look at that?” said Wally. “Almost everybody from the Federation and Scientia is in today. The only ones who aren’t are marked as off-planet — everybody in town came in to work.”
“Wow, how often do you think that happens?” asked Ritzi.
“It’s pretty strange,” Wally agreed, but before he could say more, the room was plunged into darkness and the ever-present hum of computer fans and air vents ceased. Ritzi let out a long and extremely colorful series of curses regarding her computer’s parentage and the likelihood that its autosave had worked as advertised.
“A power outage?” Wally could barely make Jensen out in the darkness, but the puzzlement in his voice was evident. “That’s odd. The backup generators should preclude the possibility.”
A light gleamed, revealing Ritzi’s round face and curly hair. “I’ve got a light on my phone,” she said.
Wally drew his phone and flicked it to active. Its produced a surprisingly bright light in the dark, allowing him to see around fairly well. “I think there’s an emergency kit in the supply closet. There might be flashlights in there.”
“Good,” said Jensen. “See what you can find.”
Wally played the light from his phone over the floor, carefully picking his way across the room to the closet. “Big day for unlikely things to happen, isn’t it,” he heard Ritzi say behind him. He didn’t listen as she explained her meaning to Jensen. The back of his neck was prickling. This was all very wrong, much too much of a coincidence. Something was happening, and he hated not knowing what.
Jensen and Ritzi fell quiet. There was no sound beyond that of three people breathing and Wally’s scrabbles in the closet. He let his hands fall to his sides and listened. There was a sound in the distance, something he couldn’t quite place. A deep vibration as much felt as heard, and something else, higher-pitched.
“Gunfire?” asked Ritzi, alarmed. “Is somebody shooting?”
All three jumped as the door slid slightly in its frame. Pink-painted nails appeared around the edges, and then pulled the door open wide enough to admit the security guard Wally had seen at the entrance. An assault rifle was slung over her back and a flashlight clipped to her jacket.
“Come on,” she said. “We’re moving everybody to the ground floor cafeteria.”
“What’s going on?” demanded Jansen.
The guard licked her lips uneasily. “Power outage. We don’t know what caused it or why the backup generators aren’t running.”
“Power outages don’t involve guns,” said Wally.
“Yeah,” she said. “Listen, uh, you’re not really supposed to know about this, but–“
“The Divs!” Ritzi and Jensen jumped as Wally shouted in surprised realization. The fear came a moment behind. “Without power, there’s nothing holding the Divs in, is there?”
“Divs?” asked Ritzi, an edge of panic coming into her voice. “There are Divs here?”
“You’re not supposed to know about that,” said the guard. “Only security and the people working directly with them are supposed to know.”
“I was working late the night they brought them in,” said Wally. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Divs,” said Jensen, stunned. “We’ve been working a few floors from Divs–for how long?”
“Look, it doesn’t matter,” said the guard. “We need to move. We can’t protect you if you’re spread all over the facility. We’re trying to reach Norken’s Island now, but until troops from there arrive, we’re stuck here.”
“Stuck? What do you mean, stuck?” Ritzi was beginning to breathe fast and shallow. Wally walked up next to her and tried putting an arm around her, but she threw him off.
“Looks like a lockdown triggered just before the outage, ma’am. We don’t know what set it off, but all the security doors are closed. We can’t open them without power.”
“Let’s go,” said Jensen. Wally hardly recognized his voice; the Scientian accent was gone, and a rural Ur accent in its place. “We have to get out of here, now!”
“Please, try to stay calm,” the security guard said. “We–” There was a sound of metal tearing, shouts and gunfire, and then a rapidly approaching series of deep thuds. “Okay!” she said. “Change of plans. Everybody get in the room and under cover. Move it!” She pulled the door shut, then tipped over a table covered in prototyping equipment and shoved it against the door. Throwing over another table, she crouched behind it, her rifle trained on the door.