I needed Rudy. Or, more accurately, I needed Rudy’s Gizmo.
Remember, Life Support is a secure area. You have to work there to get in—the doors won’t open unless they recognize your Gizmo. But Rudy’s Gizmo opens any door in town. Secure areas, homes, bathrooms, doesn’t matter. There’s nowhere Rudy can’t go.
His office on Armstrong Up 4 was just a few minutes’ run from the ISRO lab. And holy shit was that a surreal trip. Bodies littered the halls and doorways. It was like a scene from the apocalypse.
They’re not dead. They’re not dead. They’re not dead….I repeated the mantra to keep from losing my shit.
I took the ramps to get from level to level. The elevators would probably have bodies blocking the doors.
Armstrong Up 4 has an open space just near the ramps called Boulder Park. Why is it called that? No clue. While passing through, I tripped over a guy lying on his side and face-planted onto a tourist holding her unconscious toddler. She’d curled her body around the boy—a mother’s last line of defense. I got back up and kept running.
I slid to a stop at Rudy’s office door and barged in. Rudy was slumped over his desk. Somehow he looked poised even while knocked out. I searched his pockets. The Gizmo had to be in there somewhere.
Something caught my eye and bothered my brain. I couldn’t figure out what. It’s one of those warnings you get that’s more a sense of “wrongness” than anything else. But hell, everything was “wrong” at the moment. I didn’t have time for subconscious bullshit. I had a city to save.
I found Rudy’s Gizmo and slipped it into my pocket. My inner Jazz made another appeal to me, this time with more urgency. Something’s wrong, goddammit! it screamed.
I spared a second to look around the room. Nothing awry. The small, Spartan office was just as it had always been. I knew the place well—I’d been in there dozens of times when I was an asshole teenager, and I have a very good memory. Nothing was out of place. Not a single thing.
But then, as I left the office, it struck me: a blunt object to the back of my head.
My scalp went numb and my vision blurred, but I stayed conscious. It had been a grazing blow. A few centimeters to the left and I would have been leaking brains. I stumbled forward and turned to face my attacker.
Alvarez held a long steel pipe in one hand and an oxygen tank in the other. A hose ran from the tank directly to his mouth.
“You fucking kidding me?!” I said. “One other person awake and it’s you?!”
He took another swing. I dodged away.
Of course it was Alvarez. That’s what my subconscious had tried to tell me. Rudy’s office was the same as I always remembered. But it was supposed to have Alvarez locked up in the air shelter.
The whole sequence of events played out in my mind: The shelter had protected Alvarez from the chloroform. Once Rudy conked out, the now-unsupervised murderer had wrenched a meter-long pipe loose and used it to force the hatch handle. The lock and chain on the other side stood no chance against that kind of torque.
Alvarez might not be a chemical engineer, but it wouldn’t have taken a genius to work out something was wrong with the air. Either that or he’d spent a second almost passing out before realizing. Either way, the shelter had air tanks and hoses. So he’d rigged up a life-support system.
And hey, as an added bonus, the pipe had a jagged, sharp end where he’d broken it off. Wonderful. He didn’t just have a club. He had a spear.
“There’s a gas leak,” I said. “Everyone in town will die if I don’t fix it.”
He lunged without hesitation. He was an assassin with a job. Got to admire his professionalism.
“Oh, fuck you!” I said.
He was bigger, stronger, a far superior fighter, and armed with a pointy metal stick.
I turned as if to run, then kicked backward. I figured it would throw off his attack and I was right. He ended up swinging the pipe around me instead of bashing my head in. Now I had his hand in front of me and my back to his chest. I’d never get a better shot at disarming him than this.
I grabbed his hand with both of mine and twisted it outward. Classic disarming move, and it should have fucking worked, but it didn’t. He just reached around me with his other hand and pulled the pipe up to my throat.
He was strong. Very strong. Even with the injury to his arm he easily overpowered me. I got both my hands between the pipe and my neck, but it still dug in. I couldn’t breathe. There’s a special kind of panic that overwhelms you when that happens. I flailed uselessly for a few seconds, then used every ounce of willpower I had to get myself under control.
He’d either break my neck or choke me out and then break my neck. The breather mask was useless—it couldn’t force air through a closed throat. But the air tank on my hip might help. Solid metal blunt object. Better than nothing. I reached down for it.
Taking my hand off the pipe was a terrible idea. It got rid of half my resistance. Alvarez dug it deeper into my throat. My legs gave out and I sank to my knees. He followed me down and kept the pipe perfectly in place.
Darkness closed in around me. If only I had another hand.
The thought echoed in my increasingly foggy mind.
Too many hands.
Alvarez had too many hands.