“You really want to send these two little guys in first?” asked Medium Dave.
“I’ve seen them both run, they’re fast.” Matilda stuck her head down after Ellison. “Both of you, head straight to the far exit. One of you stay there and close it off if you can. The other one can come back and tell us where it comes out so we can have a team search the area.” She leaned her head down further. “How tight it is down there?”
Shanwei held the light up and took a few steps down the corridor.
“It widens up,” Ellison yelled back up to Matilda. “You’ll all be able to fit. Bring lamps.”
As the first mercenary started climbing down, Ellison and Shanwei headed down the corridor, which sloped steadily down. Based on the direction they were heading, the docks would be somewhere up ahead. The warehouse was almost directly north of the city’s main commercial gate, and the corridor led south. There were regular side tunnels leading off to the east and west. Going straight seemed like sensible first thing to do, but any of the off-shoots could lead to other exits to the surface, or could wind around. It would take days to search it all, Ellison thought.
They were still in earshot of where they’d come in when they heard someone yell something up head. With the echoes from the stone walls it was hard to say exactly where the sound came from.
“There’s someone still here,” Ellison yelled back to the mercenaries behind him and he and Shanwei stepped up their pace.
One side corridor they passed had a lamp anchored to the corner wall and Shanwei stopped to light it. He pointed to a pile of sunflower seed shells. “They probably had a guard posted here,” he told Ellison. “Might be something down there.”
Ellison peered in the direction Shanhai was pointing. “I think I see a light down there. Wait here.” Grabbed Shanwei’s lamp and ran down the tunnel but the glint he thought he saw disappeared. Maybe it was just a trick of the light, or a reflection, he thought. Then the tunnel turned and he saw two men up ahead, carrying what looked like a body in a burlap sack.
“Hey,” he yelled. The two men stopped and turned. “I found them!” Ellison yelled back to Shanwei.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” one of the men said. Ellison stepped closer. He wanted to be able to look them up when he was back in the Crewe Investigations office — and to identify them if he met them again on Krim.
The men dropped the body to the ground and pulled out knives. The one holding the light put it down on the ground.
Ellison had seen enough. He backed away, then turned around and starting running. He was almost back to the point where the tunnel had curved when someone stepped out from a side passage and stabbed Ellison in the side.
The attacker pushed Ellison down, wiped her blade on Ellison’s cloak, and straightened up. “Are we done here?” she yelled back to her associates.
“Yeah, this is the last one,” one of them said.
Ellison watched her walk away, moaned softly, and waited to die.
When he didn’t, he grasped his side tight, staggered to his feet and made his way down to where Shanwei was waiting. A couple of Matilda’s mercenaries were already there, and he told them what happened, then sat down at the intersection while they chased after the kidnappers.
Shanwei continued on down the main corridor.
Matilda must have sent for more people, because the tunnel system was soon flooded with men and women holding oil lamps and searching all the passages.
Even the grid administration sent a man down to check things out.
“We really thought all these catacombs had long collapsed or been filled in,” said Weldon Layton. He knelt down next to Ellison. “How are you holding up?”
Ellison opened his eyes and looked up at the assistant grid administrator. Matilda was standing next to him, looking annoyed.
“Stabbed,” said Ellison. He tried to look inside his shirt but it was stuck to the wound. He grimaced. “I think they must have missed the vital parts.”
“Amateurs,” said Matilda. “Want me to put you out of your misery?”
“No, thanks. I’d rather just go back to the gate.”
“So what happened here?” Weldon asked.
“We found signs that a number of captives have been held here for a significant amount of time,” said Matilda. “There were unwashed food dishes, a pot of bean soup. A pile of bread. Some of it was covered with old. Old dried-up mold.” She wrinkled her nose. “And young mold, with arms and legs on it.” She wiped her nose.
“Any sign of who was kept there?” Weldon asked.
“You mean, like a conveniently-dropped monogrammed handkerchief from one of the victims?” asked Matilda.
“I guess that would be too much to ask for,” said Weldon.
“So, seriously, there was a conveniently-dropped handkerchief.” Matilda rummaged around in her pockets until she found it and opened it up. “It’s dirty, but you can see the initial right here.” She held it up to the lamp. “W. A.”
“I’m guessing,” said Matilda. “But who else is carrying embroidered handkerchiefs on Krim?”
“But you didn’t see where they went?”
“No,” said Matilda. “We found the exit they must have gone out through, down by the docks. Three ships had just set sail and we couldn’t get to any of them.”
“They’re supposed to file plans with the dockmaster,” said Weldon.
“None of them did,” said Matilda. “Apparently, most captains don’t bother. But one was a regular sightseeing trip to the edge of Krim and the other two were chartered cargo vessels.”
“So they probably took the captives on one of the cargo ships,” said Weldon.
“Or they paid the sightseeing ship to drop them off somewhere along the way,” said Matilda. “We won’t know until it comes back.”
“And then it will be too late to catch up to them,” said Weldon.
“Or they put them on a cargo wagon,” said Matilda. “And took them somewhere over land. The western city gate is close by.”
A loud set of footsteps came down the corridor and Ellison looked up to see Clinio Lind hurrying down.
“I heard you found something,” he said.
“They were held here,” said Matilda. She handed him the handkerchief. “But could be anywhere by now.”
Lind swore, then spotted Weldon.
“Can’t the grid do something about this? Our people were kidnapped against their will.”
“We don’t get involved,” said Weldon. “Being kidnapped is part of the Krim experience. It’s in the terms of service.”
“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” said Lind.
“Then you should have read them more closely,” said Weldon.
“I did,” said Lind. “I recommended against coming here.”
Shanwei appeared from around the corner.
“I got some news,” he said. “Someone at the docks saw some suspicious cargo being loaded on a ship.” He paused to catch his breath. “The ship is still there.”
“Come on, let’s go,” Matilda dragged Ellison to his feet.
He took a step, then stumbled and caught himself against the wall. Matilda and Lind hurried off without him.
Shanwei caught Ellison under the shoulder. “Come on, I’ll help you.” He helped Ellison straigtened up. “We’ll catch up!” he yelled after Matilda and Lind, but the two didn’t bother to stop and look back.