Chapter 36

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Babel's resident explosives expert is all-too-eager to carry out my request.

Tawny accepts her task without question, enlisting a handful of our former crew to follow her into the vault of gunpowder beneath the dome. In the meantime I call for an emergency evacuation, ordering Babel's residents outside it's walls unless they're willing to spend an eternity buried in it's rubble. I half-expect a revolt but either blind obedience or abject fear ensures the Babelonians do as I command, streaming through the gate and gathering in the dust between the relocated airships.

I pace nervously, grinding my teeth in an effort to distract myself from what I've put into motion. While passing herds of displaced livestock and groggy drunkards I deliberately skirt the area where the Technicians have gathered, too ashamed to show my face in front of Dr. Henley and the other newly-released prisoners. All the while the sky continues to darken, casting our world into shadows as the first raindrops begin to make their appearance.

"What's taking them so long?" I growl to no one.

At that moment my radio crackles. I hold it to my ear, the red ringing so loudly that I have to strain to hear Tawny.

"We're locked and loaded down here, el capitan." She reports wryly. "Just testing the detonator's range, now."

"Good." The heat of countless angry glares burn into me. "Your audience is getting restless."

"Ten-four. Unfortunately we have run into one small issue. A blip, really. In any case I was hoping we could get the Runner's assistance down here."

I steal a glance back at the Babelonians standing alongside their hastily-packed bags and trunks. A wall of hateful whispers and menacing stares hits me and I have all the encouragement I need to go back into the doomed city.

"I'm on my way."

Tawny gives me her location and I take off at a run, concentrating on the sensation of blood coursing through my veins and letting it drown the doubts threatening to slow me down. Tearing past the armed guards barring the gateway back into Babel and entering the farmlands, I close my ears to the sounds of near-extinction. The blare of an alarm accosts me while my own voice plays over the repaired speaker system.

....All citizens must evacuate Babel immediately. This is not a drill. All citizens must evacuate Babel immediately. This is not...

Emptied huts and flats streak by me, blurring in my peripherals as I follow cobbled streets toward the bridge where Tawny and the others are waiting.

"That was quick." The former rebel leader quips when I draw up. "Good to see that moping around the Tower hasn't corroded your talents."

Too on edge to conjure something clever, I speak in a low voice to disguise my breathlessness. "What's the problem?"

"This." She holds up a mess of wires and metal. "The detonator's frequency isn't strong enough to reach outside the walls."

Head still abuzz from the run, it takes me a moment to grasp her words. The plan was to evacuate Babel, then detonate the tomb of explosives from a safe distance.

I swallow, "How far will it go?"

"Right about here." Tawny hands the detonator over.

I stare dumbly at the unassuming piece of machinery as Tawny's conspirators pack up their gear and depart for the waiting horses.

"If I had more time I could have rigged up something with better range." Her explanation buzzes over the ringing in my ears. "Unfortunately, this is the best I could do under the circumstances." Flipping my hand over she indicates the trigger on the detonator's opposite side. "When you're ready, turn the dial, here and flip this switch."

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