Terminal World

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds Read Free Book Online

Book: Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alastair Reynolds
medicine man and all that. Those ladylike hands of yours, I’m sure you won’t have too much trouble finding employment.’
    ‘I hope it’s not the same kind Malkin had in mind.’
    ‘He gets carried away with the torturing thing,’ Fray admitted. ‘But you’ve got to admire a man who enjoys his work.’
    ‘You said you cut things open,’ Meroka said. ‘How’s that going to help you if they’ve already got the pathologist’s job covered?’
    ‘I was trained as a doctor. I can diagnose ailments, prescribe drugs and perform simple surgical procedures.’
    ‘That’s good,’ Meroka said. ‘Plenty of diseases out there to treat, that’s for sure. Provided they don’t get you first.’
    ‘You’re a ray of sunshine. I can see the next three days are just going to fly by.’
    ‘Give her time,’ Fray said. ‘She’s an acquired taste. Besides, none of it’s personal with Meroka. She likes you really; she just doesn’t want to get too close to the commodity.’
    ‘Might have something to do with how few of them ever show up again,’ Meroka added.
    ‘Fray seems to think I’ll make it back. Don’t you, Fray?’
    ‘Absolutely,’ he called from the rear. ‘Not a doubt in my mind.’
    ‘Fray’s an optimist,’ Meroka said scathingly. ‘Always did tell him it was his biggest flaw.’ But there must have been some tiny flicker of curiosity in Meroka, some realisation that Quillon was not just another client, because a short while later she said, ‘So how’d you two hook up, anyway? Fray got you into one of his business insurance schemes?’
    ‘It isn’t a protection racket,’ Fray said. ‘I don’t do protection rackets.’
    ‘But you’re not above setting your enemies on fire,’ Meroka said.
    ‘That’s different.’
    Quillon stooped even more, having the impression that the tunnel was becoming tighter the further they went into it. ‘How far are we going?’
    ‘Far as we have to. Need to pick up the pace or we’ll miss the train. You all right back there, Fray?’
    ‘I’m fine.’
    But Fray was clearly beginning to flag. Quillon could hear it in his increasingly laboured breathing, the gradual weakening of his voice. The tunnel began to bend around to the left. Although neither Meroka nor Fray made any mention of it, Quillon was conscious of passing a separate shaft running off to the right. Warm, foetid air gusted out of the dark mouth. They were surely an awesome distance into the fabric of Spearpoint now: Quillon sensed the crushing press of all this ancient matter, resentful at the tunnels cut through it, nothing on its mind except the need to close them up for all eternity. For all the hazards that awaited him in the inhabited part of Neon Heights, he was very keen to leave this place.
    ‘I’d heard about these tunnels,’ he said, ‘but I didn’t know whether they were real or not. Part of me just assumed they were another urban myth, like the giant rats in the sewer drains.’
    ‘They’re real enough,’ Fray said.
    ‘Then is the rest of it real as well? The stories about the things inside them?’
    ‘Been using these tunnels for half my life,’ Meroka said. ‘Been deep, too. In all that time, I ain’t never seen anything I couldn’t explain. Been spooked a few times, but ...’ She paused, as if she had given away too much by admitting to having been frightened.
    ‘We’ve all been spooked,’ Fray said. ‘There’s no shame in it. Thing is, though, these tunnels aren’t any kind of secret. Cops know about them: I did, before I left the force. We’d use them to intimidate suspects. Threaten to leave them alone in here. Didn’t exactly go out of our way to spike the scare stories.’
    ‘Scare stories?’ Quillon said.
    ‘Bad shit happens down here,’ Meroka said. ‘Get lost down here quicker than you can blink. Or bump into people you don’t want to bump into - which would be me, on a bad day. But the rest of it? So much steaming horseshit, metaphorically

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