When Carthage and Siobhan emerged onto the street, the fight at the north gate was still raging. The gate was too far down Main Street for them to see clearly, but smoke was rising from one of the guard towers. About a hundred meters ahead, a squad of Perthian soldiers was sprinting toward the action.
“I think we’re running out of time,” began Carthage. “We should run for it, that squad up there should keep the Knights busy while we get to the hangar.”
Siobhan nodded, and they began to jog north. “I wonder why the Tucano doesn’t engage them.”
“They’re probably low on aircraft munitions, same as us. Keep an eye out for Tay Street to the west.”
With the exception of the combatants, Perth had become a ghost town. The road up to the north gate was a mix of residential and commercial buildings, with plenty of both trees and open space between lots. After several blocks, they arrived at a small bridge labeled Tay Brook. A shallow stream ran underneath, perpendicular to the road.
Lord Eoghain was not normally the type of leader to directly address a mere pilot, but he was compelled to think that the impact of his message would benefit from a personal visit. Aberdeen’s spaceport was at the mouth of the Don River, far outside of town, so Eoghain had asked for a car and driver to take him there. He was pensive about the orders he was about to give, allowing the whirring of the electric vehicle’s motor to sooth his mood. As usual, his driver didn’t attempt to engage him in conversation, though if Eoghain had initiated one, he was sure to do so. Though he preferred to keep to himself, he was not anti-social.
Eoghain had asked his secretary to call ahead to ensure that the pilot would still be there, as it was nearly the end of first shift at the port. The sun was low in the sky as they drove to the west, and most of the workers there would be headed home soon. Eoghain himself had called his wife to let her know he’d be late for dinner, though his missive wouldn’t delay him by much.
“Daddy’s got your medicine, baby.”
Inside the bay of the M302, Carthage, Siobhan, and Rebecca were dressed in CBRN suits, and were gathered around the access panel to the port engine. Carthage had just injected the reserve flow restrictor intake with a healthy dose of Neptunium; the suits had been donned as a prophylactic measure in case any of the radioactive material was accidentally released. Once he had resealed the cylinder taken from the cursus, he scanned the area with his PDA. Satisfied, he removed his gloves, hood, and respirator mask. The others did the same.
“That’s it,” he said, smiling. “Let’s see if it works.”
Though Siobhan’s dreams had always been vivid, those that were frightening or frustrating were mercifully rare. This time, she dreamed she was having a heated argument with someone in her shop about modifications she had done to his pistol. Slowly, she came to realize the raised voices were coming from the waking world, and she opened her eyes to see the commotion. Some of the Perthian soldiers were upset about something, and Corporal Vaus was dressing down two of his privates for their incompetence. She could see the pre-dawn light through the office suite’s dirty windows, and she noticed that all of the soldiers had already packed up their gear and vacated the area. She unzipped her sleeping bag and approached the men.
The Plaza of Robert the Bruce was the crown jewel of Aberdeen, centrally located and above the city on a plateau. Once the de facto cultural center of town, it was lined with cafes and small shops, though most of those had closed since the Wave. The shops, both those abandoned and those still clinging to life, were nestled underneath a rectangular formation of colonnades. At the center of the plaza was a fountain, and naturally, a statue of its namesake. Never meant to be a place for a governing body, it was nonetheless serving the role quite well for the Knights of Aberdeen, the former historical society building at the head of the plaza having been appropriated for their headquarters.
As such, it was common for Knight leadership and supernumeraries to take breakfast in the plaza. The man who emerged from HQ was trying to find his boss, not an easy task at this time of day. Knight senior staff typically wore civilian clothes for all but the most formal occasions, identified only by the golden badge on their chest which indicated their rank and station. The man’s boss was wearing khaki pants and a dark blue button-up shirt, making him indistinguishable at a distance from the other fifty or so people in the plaza. The man barely glanced at the gray skies overhead as he headed toward the fountain. As it turned out, he had guessed correctly.
Breakfast at the military barracks was a familiar affair to Carthage. He, Siobhan, and Joseph had been roused before dawn, and shuffled through the line at the nearby chow hall along with the rest of Perth’s rag-tag defensive force. There, they filled their trays with real, honest-to-goodness bacon and eggs, toast, and brackish coffee in plastic mugs, all served by surly soldiers who had woken a couple of hours earlier to prepare it. MacGregor and Rebecca were waiting by at the end of the line with the same fare, and led the team outside to a row of picnic tables in a sparse pine grove.
While they ate, Carthage laid it all out for their hosts. Halfway through his story, MacGregor pulled out a briar pipe and lit it, puffing vigorously while he and Rebecca listened with riveted fascination. As promised, the truth of Joseph’s origins remained obscured, but over the course of an hour, Carthage revealed everything about his mission and his adventures on Skye so far, including Holland’s mysterious last transmission. When he was done, MacGregor tapped the ash out of his pipe, and took a sip of his cold coffee.
Night had fallen over Perth, and Carthage and his team were holed up in a classic English-style pub with Mayor Blalock and Doctor Connor. Four members of the mayor’s security team sat watchfully at the next table over, and several locals feigned disinterest as they consumed their meals. The contingent at the bar was even less concerned, more interested in finding the bottom of their glasses than their unusual visitors.
Carthage and Siobhan had just finished giving MacGregor and Rebecca a redacted version of their story, between gulps of a much appreciated hot meal. Joseph demonstrated less of an appetite, but had relaxed considerably after a couple of glasses of ale. He seemed eager to share his knowledge of the Lagrange Project, adroitly contributing his expertise on it, and the cursus, as information gained from searching the cement plant rather than first-hand experience. His cover story, as suggested by Siobhan, was that he was a low-level technician at Romanby’s reactor, spurred to adventure by her and Carthage. So far, their hosts seemed to accept their version of events, though in the back of their minds they remained worried that a trained eye would find Carthage’s clothing and equipment a bit out of place.