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The Cache – James Brogden

About the Author

An Extract from ‘Sepulturum’

A Black Library Imprint

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The Cache

by James Brogden

Lyse Urretzi was on the verge of opening up a cluster of unexplored chambers in the Spike’s mid-reaches – almost half a mile below the inhabited levels where her clan and their neighbours lived – when the crawlers attacked.

Obviously nowhere below the hab-halls was entirely safe, but even so, for crawlers to venture so far up from the lower reaches was unusual. Who knew what had drawn them? Hunger? Well, every living creature in the Spike was starving to some degree. Something bigger and fouler than themselves moving into their territory? Lyse didn’t like to think about that. All she knew was that one moment she was doing her job – squeezing her scrawny body down through the wreckage that blocked this particular shaft and bolting a vertical zip line to the wall as she went – and the next, a grille to her left was smashed open by something pale that chittered as its claws flailed and snatched.

If she had been wearing clothes she would surely have been snagged and dragged to her death. As it was, garments only hindered the work of a pit-rat like herself, who often had to squeeze through the most claustrophobic of spaces, and so apart from a utility harness, boots and gloves, her biolux tattoos and a generous amount of engine grease covering everything else, there was nothing for the crawler to snag. Even as she yelped, its grip slipped on her slickened flesh.

She fell, and the lightless gape of the shaft swallowed her instead.

A dozen deaths flashed through her mind. Brains splattered on riveted hull plating. Torso impaled on some jagged barb, guts unspooling. Garrotted by tangled wiring. Broken but alive, helpless at the mercy of the crawler’s kin. She dashed the images away and fumbled for the emergency glob-gun.

Then she hit something hard enough to knock the wind out of her. A sloping surface, so that even as she was groping for a handhold the protective grease betrayed her, and she fell and bounced off something else, her skull cracking against the metal hard enough to make bright spots flare. By then she’d got the glob-gun free and fired upward blindly, praying to Saint Geller for salvation. He must have been listening because in the darkness above, the glob hit something and stuck. The strand of goo that attached it to her harness stretched under her weight like jellied sinew. Her invisible anchor point shifted with a grinding squeal of metal, but held, and she bounced and spun like a crude toy, ricocheting from one wall of the shaft to the other. Eventually, her mad penduluming calmed to a slow spin. Her eyes clenched tight as she whispered, ‘Thank you, thank you, oh thank you.’

The blue biolux glow of her tattoos showed the walls of the shaft around her: riveted plating, pipes and conduits, torn wiring. Close by was the narrow oblong of a half-open doorway, and blackness beyond. She looked up. Blackness above, too. Calling for help – or even just to let her crew know that she was alive – was out of the question, since it would only draw more crawlers. As for climbing up without the zip line? Impossible. She looked at the doorway again. There could be anything in that chamber – a hundred ways to die. On the other hand, it could be exactly the kind of thing that she was down here to look for in the first place: fragments of tech from long ago, when the Spike had been something else entirely. Such things were ancient and unfathomable to her, but Brother Putorius could sacrifice them to keep the Geller generators alive for another day. Her clan’s ancient duty. Her duty, as the daughter of Sutomore Urretzi, clanfather. Also, her only chance of finding her way back to the hab-halls was to hope that there were stairs or another shaft, something that she could climb.

Lyse swung herself over to the doorway, caught the jamb and spun herself around to sit on the threshold with her legs dangling over the abyss as she detached the glob strand. Then she took a deep breath, offered up a prayer of thanks to Saint Geller and went inside.

There was a drop to the floor on the other side, of course, but it wasn’t as far as some. She landed, crouched and still, and listened. No echoes of crawlers, just a distant drip and trickle. She was in a cavernous space of huge, angular shadows, the darkness overhead criss-crossed by the dim columns of ducts fallen and jammed at all angles from one side to the other. It was cold, with condensation sheeting the walls. Any water was a precious commodity, and she tasted some of it from a fingertip. It was sulphurous but didn’t burn her tongue, so was probably no more toxic than anywhere else. She swept more from the wall with her palms and licked them.

In such vastness the meagre light emitted by her tattoos was useless for anything more than illuminating her immediate surroundings as she picked her way through a junkyard of wreckage, wincing at every scrape and clatter that she made. Occasionally she passed an opening to left or right, but nothing that smelled like it might lead upwards. And all the while her senses strained for any sign of tech – the fire-spark flicker or whispered hum of powercells doggedly clinging to life despite the utter dereliction of the devices that they had once served, dying alone in darkness and futility. It was a mercy, her work, salvaging these expiring gasps of the machine-spirit and putting them to one final use, to keep the clans safe. It was holy.

What she found deep in that chamber was the exact opposite.

Towards the far end, the wall was shrouded in tall drapes of heavy fabric, in

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