Who can chart the vastness of Incarceron?
Its halls and viaducts, its chasms?
Only the man who has known freedom
Can define his prison.
Songs of Sapphique
Finn had been flung on his face and chained to the stone slabs of the transitway. His arms, spread wide, were weighted with links so heavy he could barely drag his wrists off the ground. He couldn’t raise his chest to get enough air. He lay exhausted, the stone icy against his cheek.
But the Civicry were coming at last.
He felt them before he heard them; vibrations in the ground, starting tiny and growing until they shivered in his teeth and nerves. Then noises in the darkness, the rumble of migration trucks, the slow hollow clang of wheelrims. Dragging his head round, he shook dirty hair out of his eyes and saw how the parallel grooves in the floor arrowed straight under his body. He was chained directly across the tracks.
Sweat slicked his forehead. Gripping the frosted links with one glove he hauled his chest up and gasped in a breath. The air was acrid and smelt of oil.
It was no use yelling yet. They were too far off and wouldn’t hear him over the clamour of the wheels until they were well into the vast hall. He would have to time it exactly. Too late, and the trucks couldn’t be stopped, and he would be crushed. Desperately, he tried to avoid the other thought. That they might see him and hear him and not even care.
Small, bobbing, handheld lights. Concentrating, he counted nine, eleven, twelve; then counted them again to have a number that was firm, that would stand against the nausea choking his throat.
Nuzzling his face against the torn sleeve for some comfort he thought of Keiro, his grin, the last mocking little slap as he’d checked the lock and stepped back into the dark. He whispered the name, a bitter whisper. “Keiro”.
Vast halls and invisible galleries swallowed it. Fog hung in the metallic air. The trucks clanged and groaned.
He could see people now, trudging. They emerged from the darkness so muffled against the cold it was hard to tell if they were children or old, bent women. Probably children – the aged, if they kept any, would ride on the trams, with the goods. A black and white ragged flag draped the leading truck; he could see its design, a heraldic bird with a silver bolt in its beak. “Stop!” he called. “Look! Down here!”
The grinding of machinery shuddered the floor. It whined in his bones and teeth. He clenched his hands as the sheer weight and impetus of the trucks came home to him, the smell of sweat from the massed ranks of men pushing them, the rattle and slither of piled goods. He waited, forcing his terror down, second by second testing his nerve against death, not breathing, not letting himself break, because he was Finn the Starseer, he could do this. Until from nowhere a sweating panic erupted and he heaved himself up and screamed “Did you hear me! Stop! Stop!”
They came on.
The noise was unbearable. Now he howled and kicked and struggled, because the terrrible momentum of the loaded trucks would slide relentlessly, loom over him, darken him, crush his bones and body in slow inevitable agony.
Until he remembered the torch.
It was tiny but he still had it. Keiro had made sure of that. Dragging the weight of the chain he rolled and wriggled his hand inside his coat, wrist muscles twisting in spasm. His fingers slid on the slim cold tube.
Vibrations shuddered through his body. He jerked the torch out and dropped it and it rolled, inched from his fingers. He cursed, squirmed, pressed it on with his chin.
He was gasping with relief but the trucks still came on. Surely the Civicry could see him. They must be able to see him! The torch was a star in the immense rumbling darkness of the hall, and in that moment, through all its stairs and galleries and thousands of labyrinthine chambers, he knew Incarceron had sensed his peril, and the crash of the trucks was its harsh amusement, that the Prison watched him and would not interfere.
“I know you can see me!” he screamed.
The wheels were man-high. They shrieked in the grooves; sparks fountained across the paving. A child called, a high shout, and Finn groaned and huddled tight, knowing none of it had worked, knowing it was finished, and then the wail of the brakes hit him, the shuddering screech in his bones and fingers.