21 - The Seas of Chaos

After the surprise garden soiree, Eustace had taken refuge in her darkened office. For the first time since her foray into the high life, she didn’t have a plan. She couldn’t see any strings to pull, and not only because she didn’t bother to turn the lights on. As moonlight shone through the great dome on top of the M&G Cong. building, and her own office was filled with the gentle glow of the city, she sought to find a way through a new fog of uncertainty. When there’s fear in the air, there are opportunities she thought to herself. Mental motivation was not quite enough for this one; she poured herself some of the strong stuff she saved only for her prize confidants, and sat against the desk, looking out at the quiet, ancient streets, using her ostentatiously solid desk as a wall against any intruders from the door to the side.

She knew this; the arrangement with the Alovians had come to an abrupt halt. The freight elevator under her Conglomerate’s building had seen its last shipment. The Dean had seen the last bounty of her immaculate arrangement, and was in a precarious position. As the arbiter of success, but without any physical trappings of industry, or any more gifts to hand out, Eustace knew the Dean would be in danger of losing influence fast.

While Eustace understood the industrialists privately questioned the providence of the Dean’s yearly gift of the mark, none had wanted to upset the balance that had graciously gifted them this success, this access to the pinnacle of social and material standing. No-one was sure if they were the only ones to receive this leg-up to greatness, looking at their contemporaries with suspicion, not wanting to be the one to ask first. Here was the lever on which the Dean pushed for her unrivalled influence for so many years, and the same secretive shame that Eustace used to play the industrialists off one another.

While it had suited her to keep them in the dark, she now needed allies against any action by the spiralling dean.

Out of fear and desperation, she had shared a little of what she knew with a few key members of the class who she’d previously held under her thumb. She had known the Dean’s eyes were everywhere at the soiree, but action outweighed prudence at this evening hour.

She flicked through the profiles now, rotating Alden’s face in her vision. If the circumstances were different… Well they weren’t. But still, he made a good confidant. Alden just, got it. Perhaps it was his unapologetic ambition, she thought. Even if his claims to success had been dubious initially, he had proliferated his position remarkably well. And, she doubted he’d blab for pure social points. She could tell he was a connoisseur of information.

Perhaps she could be classified the same, but she thought of it as doing what needed to be done. At any rate, Eustace prided herself on also being one who generally got it, a mixture of world weariness and self awareness that she found necessary in a prospective equal.

Would he help her survive the dean’s death knell topple that she was sure would come? Could she trust Alden? And would the Dean move on her? How?

She was staring sadly at Alden’s face as she heard a bang much lower in the building. This crash, the first hint of an overturning social order, and a scrambling for flotation devices before the seas of chaos claimed them all. She heard running, saw lights flickering down below as she looked out the door of her office at the great atrium. It seemed a group was spreading out in the lower quarters of her building. They would be cutting off all escape.

There was only one way she could go. She slapped a button under her desk as a dark shape crashed through her door, sending globes everywhere. It grabbed at her, stumbled and crashed into the desk as she ducked.

The painting on the opposite wall split in two, leaving a large hole in the wall. She dove, hoping she timed it right.

The cargo elevator had just arrived. She slid on the platform, and managed to hug the edge.

She said the commands and ordered it to go down. As she pulled herself fully onto the platform, she saw more light below. Of course - the dean had blocked all avenues of escape, including the one known only to the two of them. Was she desperate enough to allow workers into the underground system?

The Elevator shot downward, carrying Eustace, a passage now to her fate. When she got close enough to the floor of the colossal cavern, she could see it was the Dean, alone. She had some sort of sporting rifle. What was that strange degenerate game that they played with guns over in Sodden? Whatever it was, at least the Dean had remained careful enough of her great secret to avoid sending any underling down here. Eustace felt renewed, she’d a chance.

The Dean followed the elevator down with her rifle sight.

There was no bit of information, no calculated introduction, no perfected masquerade that would save Eustace now. It was blind chance, and a bit of luck. Before the elevator platform got low enough, Eustace jumped straight down towards the Dean. In surprise, the Dean fired the while jerking her rifle upward. It missed completely, as Eustace crashed into the dean from height. They both rolled on the stone ground below the elevator platforms. The ancient temple buildings, those that inhabited the caverns where the C-rail network ran, looked upon their struggle in stony silence. The dean had kept a hold on her gun, for now a blunt weapon until she’d reloaded it.

As the Dean fumbled, Eustace ran towards the humming rail system. She looked back as she ran. Te dean looked like she’d suffered some sort of leg injury, but she still loosed a shot, and sent Eustace scrambling as she twisted around one of the C-Shaped propulsion machines that gave the levitating rail it’s distinctive shape and tried to avoid any of the archaic but deadly projectiles.

Running a zigging dash, Eustace made it to the tunnel, with the anguished screams and angry yells of the Dean heading to the background. She’d never travelled down here before, the enormity of the caverns was a shock she would process later - but the journey into the unknown was far better than what had been planned for her by the Dean.

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