“Not them again!” Kato groaned.
The robo-guards continued to fire on them, continued to tell them how futile resistance was.
“I’m getting really tired of hearing that!” Justin muttered, firing away with the only power clip he had left. “Are you sure this is the right way?”
“Yeah!” Kato glanced at the map again, then added her own return fire. It had become harder to navigate than ever since they ran into the guard patrol a couple minutes ago. She wouldn’t have been so sure of her directions in the long run if they didn’t have such a short way left to go. “Come on! We’re almost there!”
“I hope so!” Justin had no idea how much— rather, how little— ammo he had left, and he feared that another patrol— or worse, the Enforcer itself— would show up.
They ducked around another corner, hugging the wall in an attempt to stay out of the line of fire.
“Halt, Intruders! Do not enter!” the remaining guard declared, “That is a restricted ar—” before Justin nailed it, right in the faceplate.
“We made it!” Kato recognized the door from when she came in. “This is the place!”
“About fuckin’ time!”
Before more guards or anything could show up, they bolted through the narrow room, past the metal poles, through the warpgate, and well into the Centralict Library before they stopped.
Kato was breathing hard, leaning against a bookshelf, dropping the map on the floor.
Justin, though tired, benefited from Max’s survival training, and would later wonder if he would have had any chance of escape without it. For now, though, he wasn’t entirely convinced they were out of this yet. Kato might feel relieved, but he stood for a long moment, power pistol trained on the last section they passed through; that door was still wide open, and he was seriously thinking about going back and doing something about it, but after a moment decided that revealing himself to be near the entrance might be more dangerous than just moving on. After all, those guards might be able to reopen the door anyway, so it was better if they didn’t know for sure where he went. He thought about destroying the controls once and for all, but there was still the possibility that Max might still be trapped in that hi-tech hell, and that was a risk he couldn’t take.
After a minute or so, and no sign of pursuit, be began to relax and look around.
“This place… it’s so big…” was all he could come up with to say now that he actually started to notice his surroundings. Much like with Max when he passed through, he found it hard to believe there could be this many books in all the world, let alone in one building. He had seen a few bookshelves when he was younger, but those paled in comparison to what this place had to offer. “There must be thousands of them…”
“More like millions,” Kato told him. “What you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. There are entire levels of this. Why do you think I came here? I figured if anyplace would have what I was looking for, this would be it.”
“Actually, we have over five hundred million books and other documents stored here,” a voice informed them from behind.
So focused were they on where they had come from, they were paying no attention to the way before them. They both jumped at the short, rabbity, balding man who now stood behind them. Kato immediately relaxed, recognizing him as a librarian. Justin, on the other hand, wheeled around, pointing his double-barrel pistol squarely at his head, and the man’s metal-rimmed spectacles slid halfway off his nose in shock.
“Who the hell are you?” Justin demanded, seeing the man throw his hands up reflexively at the mere sight of his weapon. After being hunted for so long by the relentless, tireless machines of Tranz-D, he had no intention of falling here, just when he had regained his freedom.
“Relax,” Kato snapped. “He works here.”
Justin tried to, putting away his weapon, saying, “Sorry. I’ve been having a shitty week.”
“Okay…” The librarian hesitated a moment before introducing himself. “My name is Conan Swanson, Branch Manager. Weapons are prohibited in the Centralict Library, so I would appreciate it if you put that thing away and didn’t use it here again. Why are so many people bringing guns here lately anyway?…”
“You in charge of that weird door back there?” Kato started in. Now that she wasn’t running for her life, she was righteously pissed, and wanted some answers. “You should really just close the damn thing! I almost got killed in there! Why the hell is it even open? That place is dangerous!”
“If you are referring to the warpgate to Tranz-D, I don’t know how to close it. There is a warning over the door…” Then the librarian trailed off, realizing the implications of what they had just told him. Recently, he had been coming up to the thirteenth floor more often in spite of himself, drawn by a growing curiosity to see if anything had happened with the warpgate. “Wait a minute. Are you saying you just came from Tranz-D?”
“Miles and miles of hallways, killer robots, and other fun shit?”
“So I’ve been told,” he confirmed.
“I got lost in there,” Kato added. “That place is a goddam maze!”
“I was trapped in there for days!”
“Really? How did you…” The librarian stopped, noticing just how much this young man matched Max’s description of his missing friend. “You’re Justin, aren’t you?”
At that name, Justin’s eyes narrowed in customary suspicion. “And if I am?”
“How do you know that name?”
“A couple weeks ago, a guy named Max came through here and—”
“Max!” Justin cut him off. “Max was here?”
“Yes,” the librarian told him. “So you are Justin Black… Anyway, he came through many days ago, saying he was looking for you.”
“Tell me,” Kato broke in, now that they had confirmed this Max guy was still alive, “have any of those robots ever come into the library?”
“No, not a trace,” the librarian assured them. “I’m beginning to think that this world is outside of their jurisdiction or something, given how long it’s been open. Of course, it’s been sealed for ten-thousand years, until Max opened it. I must admit, I’ve always been curious about that door. There’s a whole new world beyond it…”
“A very dangerous world,” Kato countered.
“We can talk about the door later,” Justin cut in. “I want to know what happened to Max. Where did he go? Please tell me he didn’t go back in there.”
“I’m afraid I don’t really know,” the librarian told them. “I talked with him for a while, told him what I knew, and he said he was going to look up some information and go back in to find you. He was quite determined, and I have to admire his courage.”
Kato slapped her forehead.
“He came back up here and I haven’t seen him since. Of course, there’s also the matter of—”
“Aw shit!” Justin muttered. “You mean we gotta go back in there!?”
“Great…” Kato said dryly, shaking her head in disgust, “just what I need—”
“INTRUDERS ON VISUAL!”
That voice was burned into Justin’s memory, and he instinctively shoved his two companions around the corner just before the fireworks started. The Enforcer still looked a little beat up from Justin’s ambush, but otherwise functional. Though Justin noticed that its voice now sounded a little warped.
Apparently, unlike the other machines, NK-525’s jurisdiction didn’t end at the warpgate.
“Not that fucker again!” Justin cried, feeling the nightmare return anew.
Though NK had refrained from using its super-laser in its opening barrage, its shots still lit off half a shelf of books.
“Hey!” the librarian shouted at the Enforcer, for a moment having forgotten himself in his outrage at the destruction of part of the collection, “No discharging of firearms on library property!”
“SILENCE, BIO-CREATURE!” the Enforcer thundered. “6-D WARPGATE HAS BEEN COMPROMISED!... SURRENDER THE PASSCARD NOW, INTRUDERS!”
None of them stuck around to find out what the murderous machine was talking about.
And NK-525 followed. New place. New Intruders. Same old hunt.