Part six in the Brangxi serial. A table of contents for the series.
Terrance ran down back alleys filled with the effluvium of discarded trash rotting in the too-humid summer air. Footsteps, metal-tipped tacks with a too-long length between strides to be human, chased him and he glanced over his shoulder -- he couldn't help himself -- but saw no one. It wasn't a figment of his imagination. He reassured himself that he wasn't going mad. He'd seen the Brangxi throw the human punters off their ships to explode as they landed in the Graklii city and he'd heard the elders tell of the ongoing war between them and the Brangxi. He escaped. He glanced again over his shoulder just before he sprinted down another alley. At least he'd escaped so far.
He began to recognize the buildings as he neared the Manchester Observer's offices. A last burst of speed and he pushed into the back door hearing it squeak on its rusty hinges. He couldn't stop and let his beating heart slow. He must climb the stairs to the newsroom. Sweat stained his armpits and the weeks he'd spent in the Brangxi's cells left an odor on him.
Behind him, the door squeaked. He fled up the stairwell into the hallway and into the Observer's newsroom. Familiar faces turned away, their noses crinkling. He hurried through the floor, but C.P. Scott's office was empty. He needed the editor to hold the presses, eliminate the possibility of someone obstructing his story.
Terrance stopped at Jimmy's desk. "Where's CP?"
Jimmy's eyes widened. "Where you been? You stink."
A man Terrance had never seen in the newsroom approached. He wore an immaculate waistcoat with a gold-rimmed monocle hanging from a chain to one of the pockets. "CP's gone, I'm editor now. Who are you?"
Terrance doubted this editor was any good if he'd never heard of Terrance "Lightning" Whiteley. Terrance took a deep breath to stand up straight a finger taller than this new editor.
"Never mind that," said the editor. "You got a story?"
"I've got a big one. You've got to stop the presses. The Brangxi are killing the tourists who board their airships. Their promises of a month-long cruise and vacation are lies."
The editor's eyes bored into Terrance. "Do you have proof of what you claim?"
"And? The libel laws, I need more."
Terrance's word would have been sufficient for CP. He dug a palm-sized gadget out of his trousers. "Graklii, the Brangxi nemesis, technology."
The editor plucked the gadget out of Terrance's hand. "Nice. An exposé should plump our numbers. Get writing."
Terrance slid behind his desk. Something rattled in the hallway and Terrance's heart skipped a beat. The editor shrugged and walked out into the hallway. Rough guttural sounds echoed along the hallway.
All of the reporters faces turned to look at the editor when he returned to the room.
"What are you looking at? Get to work."
Terrance slumped over his desk, his head propped on the edge of the typewriter. One of the newsboys tossed a paper on to Terrance's desk and Terrance blinked the sleep from his eyes. He opened the paper looking for his story. It should've had a forty-eight point font announcing his story, but all he found was stories about a missing body over in Whitehall and political trash. Paging through the paper he couldn't find his story anywhere.
His chair squeaked as he pushed away from the desk. The newsroom was almost empty, all the reporters gone for the day. A few newsboys ran their errands. The editor, in CP's old office, had drawn the shades closed over the window. Terrance stopped at the door raised his hand to knock but a rustling sound like papers being rubbed together stopped him and he peered in through a crack in the blinds.
There wasn't a man on the other side. Instead, the editor stood there with a green face and two slits where his nose should be. A skin-toned mask raised over its head fluttered in a fan blowing air from the window. Terrance stepped away from the door and bumped into a desk knocking over a vase with a red carnation.
"Who's out there?" It was the editor's voice, a soft gurgling caught the edge of his words.
Terrance ran for the newsroom's door as the editor's door opened. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the editor's mask had fallen back into place, yet the eyes glowed red as Terrance pulled open the door.
Stay tuned for the finale, part seven, Going Underground.