Mix N’Max’s truth serum involves a lot of variables. Turns out, this one wasn’t a painful version. It made him laugh nonstop. Wasn’t even that funny. After five minutes, Max and I took a look around the bar at another angry crowd and decided we didn’t want to make a public nuisance. Not after beating the crap out of a soccer team. We moved him up into the Flyer, where he proceeded to turn red and laugh until he passed out, making him temporarily useless to us.
“I think you overdid it,” I told Max.
“Wait for it,” he said, walking over to one of the chairs and grabbing one of the books I keep stocked for easy reading. He flipped through a few pages of Kolyma Tales, then checked the on top of the books We and And Quiet Flows the Don. “I’m surprised you kept paper copies of all this Soviet stuff.”
I shrugged. “I was really preparing for a world without my digital abilities. It was scary. Did you know books are dangerous? Those things can cut people.” I walked over and grabbed a hardcopy of one of the non-Soviet books in my library, War and Peace. “These things could hurt someone.” I walked oer and smacked our contact and prisoner across the face.
He awoke, holding his face. I pointed and let out a “Ha!”
He rubbed at his jaw, then started chuckling.
“This again…” I turned to Max. He approached, holding up a hand, then flicked a finger toward the man.
I looked to see him staring up at me with wide, pleasing eyes. I grabbed his face to look more closely. Oh yeah, this guy was not happy. I turned to Max, “This is vicious stuff here.”
Max stepped forward and produced a perfume spritzer. He sprayed it into the guy’s open mouth. The man gasped and stopped laughing. “Let him go.”
He dropped onto all fours and breathed deep. After a few seconds, he looked up at us. “What was that you crazy American pig-fuckers?!”
“Rhetorical, believed true, and clear hyperbole,” Max noted. Then he leaned down toward our prisoner. “Where is this Eighth City and how do we get in safely?”
“Up your mother’s flapping asshole. I would die before I tell youhahahahahaha!” Just like that, he was back to laughing. Max let him go a couple of minutes, letting us see the man’s face go all red again. When he had enough, Max spritzed him again.
“My creation has imbued you with an altered sense of humor. Lies are the funniest thing in the world to you now and I am the only person on the planet who can pause or fix your new condition. That makes me your god, doesn’t it?”
Our victim didn’t bother trying to answer that one and Max’s concoction didn’t punish him for it. Max clapped his hands, then patted the man on the cheek. “Come on, the sooner you tell us, the sooner we’ll stop asking questions and you can return to your easy life watching game shows. That was more important to you, right?”
The man probably would have stayed quiet but a smile tugged at his lips. Max brought the spritzer in close, but pulled it away without using it. “Sorry, it sounds like you wanted to tell me something.”
He talked, his sore chest reminding him why he shouldn’t lie. But he didn’t show us to the Eighth City. We left him tied up with some robo-cable: a mechanical tendril run by a computer so simple, it can’t be convinced to let him go early.
Max and I ended up in the tunnels beneath Quito, traveling a precise route through man-made tunnel and cave passages. It you didn’t know where you were going, there was a good chance you’d get lost. A turn this way, a turn that way, a turn this other way. Then we came to a large door of thick timber, skulls carved into it. A skeletal arm stuck out from the wall, a power cable running through the bones to plug into the lantern it held.
“This is it, the door to the Eighth City and the Crypto Crypt within,” Max looked so proud.
I eased the door open and stepped into it. I heard the wind-up of a minigun and hopped back before a trio of guns in the wall started firing and didn’t stop until it had shot a bunch of holes in the opposite wall.
I turned to Max. “Did he say anything about traps?”
“No,” Max growled through gritted, smiling teeth. He pulled out a stick of incense, lit it, and tossed it close to the side with the guns. I stepped out again. They were quicker to fire this time, and did so harmlessly into a cloud of smoke that stopped them until they finally ran out.
“I could have just helped you past them. Now hold up, I want to see how this was triggered.” I checked out the floor, noting that it had a stone floor where some of the stones were carved lower than the rest. I wasn’t standing on those. Experimentally, I tried dancing my way along those and further down the hall, at the end of which I pointed up at a grate on the ceiling. “There’s even a boulder up here. Big one, too.”
Max was creeping up along the safe tiles, looking around. “There better not be much more to this or we’ll have to kill this guy.”
There was a tiny bit more to it in the form of a small gondola lift across a chasm full of sawblades and grinding gears and an irritable ostrich pacing around. I sent Max along it while I jumped the gap to make sure I didn’t break the thing with my weight. I’m pleasantly-sized, folks. Real women have power armor.
“Are we even under the city anymore?” Max asked.
I checked my mapmaking program that was running. “We’re actually underneath one of the turns we took to get here. There’s a slight slope. Probably would have messed up that boulder trap.”
“I have oft preached patience, but even mine has limits,” Max shouted at me as the lift took a full ten minutes to cross the gap I jumped.
“It’s insidious,” I laughed in spite of myself. “It’s another obstacle and security measure. Plus, maybe they whoever set this up doesn’t want visits unless they’re absolutely necessary. Best way to do that is to make it a pain in the ass.”
Max had his arms crossed by now. “I know! I wish I didn’t take a pill to slow my perceptions once I saw we were dealing with traps.”
“If we do find it,” I mused, “What do we think will be there? Armed guards? Robots? Or maybe, in this environment, cave monsters?”
“I like zombies,” was Max’s response. “But they’re overused. Werewolves would be nice. Or a new type of vampire. Can you look up if there is a history of mummies in South America?”
It was tough to pull that up, so I had to hop into another proxy body real quick to pull that up for him. “Yeah, actually, but I think we’re in the wrong part of the continent for those. The oldest mummies, actually. Fuck you, Egypt. Everything you can do, South Americans can do better!”
“You want to put some money on it? $100 for me if it’s zombies, mummies, or vampires. $100 for you if it’s human guards, cave monsters, or robots. Anything else, nobody wins.”
“Deal.” I held out my hand as his lift got close enough, letting him slide the door open and get out to shake on it.
As we shook hands, he added, “If this leads to another clue instead of the Crypt, we’re done. That’s it.”
We rounded a corner and found an open, dark space that had rows of lights running through it. They weren’t enough to illuminate anything. I switched on the night vision and saw servers. It had to be over a hundred of them. “Max, I think you just found what you were looking for.”
Then the voices started. It didn’t shock us; we expected something, after all. Was a neat effect, though. Hundreds of digitized voices spoke as one. “You are the hunters who have been seeking me.”
“We seek the Crypto Crypt of myth!” Max called out.
“The Crypto Crypt: an urban legend of secret, massed servers accruing an enormous amount of value in cryptocurrency. It is not unlike the quest for the Seven Cities of Gold sought by Spanish explorers. This is the Eighth City and the Crypto Crypt. I am Hidden Prime.”
“Cool. Can we have some money?” Max asked.
I didn’t bother asking. I had activated night vision and was checking out the area in front of us. There were shelves full of computers with water-cooling systems running throughout and a walkway’s worth of space between. Aside from that, there were padded walls attached to the cave walls and ceiling. The speakers we heard from seemed to be scattered around in spare spaces, like mounted on walls or sitting on top of server towers.
“The Eighth City is not a prize for those who attack the interests of Hidden Prime.”
I heard a grinding sound from behind and turned. The boulder from the grate trap had been released and, thanks to the slope of the tunnel, was coming for us. Behind it, parts of the tunnel we took fell in on itself. We were cut off from escape that way. I took a stance, charging up my armor’s right-hand gauntlet. “I’m not going to let it crush the servers.”
Which didn’t matter any-fucking-way because my 360 display showed the water cooling system light up red and the servers start to spark and explode.
Max pulled clear plastic bottle, popped the top, and dropped a pill into it. It glowed a soft, Cherenkov radiation blue for a moment. He pulled out a spray bottle, saw the boulder’s distance, and instead poured the whole thing over my ready fist. The energy swirls encompassing it grew brighter and my suit gave me a radiation warning that I had to ignore as the boulder bore down. I punched.
My suit recorded a burst of radiation from the fist, along with a small electromagnetic pulse. I didn’t see that at the time because I watched as my first connected with the boulder and blew it to dust with a small mushroom cloud shooting out of my first in that direction before drifting upward.
Max was popping some pills and drinking something brown from a different bottle, then looked to me. “You might want to take this.”
I nearly pulled off my helmet for Max’s anti-radiation medicine when I got an alert. I projected it for him to see as well: “Aerial Sarin detected.”
Max pulled out a marble and downed it instantly.
“You good?” I asked him.
He nodded. “’I’ve been working on my bezoar pills.”
I looked around and approached the nearest rack of servers. “Looks like these are all fried right now. The tunnel’s collapsed, the voices have stopped, we have no food or water, and the air’s poisoned.”
“Oh relax, that’s one of your extra bodies,” Max said. He pointed to his chest with his thumb. “I’m the one who’s going to die! Take care of Holly and Sam for me?”
“Sure, but I think they can handle themselves,” I said. I checked around, then pointed up at an angle “Unless they collapsed a sewer as well, that’s our best angle.”
“Are you sure?” Max asked. He joined me and pushed all the servers out of the way so he can start setting down bottles and pills.
“Shortest distance as the giant sandworm flies. Good news, bud, we’ve got ourselves quite the adventures. I hope you brought acid.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is no time for hallucinogens,” Max said.
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