Iaim tapped Bridgid's goggles. "Can you hear okay?"
"My ears are just fine. We're alone."
Iaim looked along the pipe. Even with his own goggles dialed up to 120, it was still as black as if he had his eyes closed. He wished he had hearing as good as Bridgid's. He'd worked hard to get her some radargoggs, even if she didn't like them much, at least she could see sometimes. "Okay," he told her. "I'm going to put out an IR flare and we can get to the spigot. Let me know if you hear anything."
Iaim cocked the launcher, felt the dial and let it self-level. "We good?"
Iaim touched the trigger. The launcher spluttered and jerked. Invisible for a moment, the flare spun along the pipe, even Iaim could hear the whine. Then it ignited and his goggles automatically clipped back down to five, then three.
"I see the spigot," Iaim said. "Forty-five metres. You on the tether? I'm running now."
"Right with you."
Iaim splashed through the sluggish ankle-deep waste along the bottom of the pipe. Mostly it was offal and blood, slightly diluted from the residues of the purges. He had nose-clips and his suit was triple-rubbered, the boots hefty with celermet overshoes. They would still have to spend an hour in the shower when they got back.
"We've got alarms," Bridgid said as she splashed along behind. "I think three or four levels up."
"Just a double-check, but something's picked up the flare as an anomaly. They'll do a sweep, but they don't have an intruder warning yet."
"Good. Slowing down now." They were nearly at the spigot. Iaim pulled the bladder from his satchel as they pulled up. He tried to breathe shallow to let Bridgid hear.
"It's gone quiet," she said. "The alarms are shut down."
"They've just decided it was false, perhaps?"
"We hope. Are we there?"
In the guttering light from the flare Iaim read the patinaed legend on the plate above. Cerebral Drain. He lifted the opening on the bladder to the spigot. He turned the handle and the gloopy flow started flopping into the canvas container.
"Something else," Bridgid said.
The brain fluids slowly drained into the bladder. He could feel the weight increasing.
"Something's happening," Bridgid said. "I can hear movement above."
"I think this is a good load," Iaim said. "Franco will pay well for this." The more viscous hauls were always more concentrated and more valuable.
The container already felt about half-full to Iaim. If the spigot kept pouring at this rate, then they would have enough for Franco's neuron vats for weeks. Perhaps they could buy Bridgid the eye operation.
"Oh," Bridgid said.
But then Iaim could hear it too. Liquid in the main pipe.
"We don't have long," she said.
"Just let me-"
The roar was growing, increasing in intensity.
"Only moments," Bridgid said. "How much do we have."
Iaim shut the spigot off. "Come on, let's get to the hatch." The bladder lurched in his hand as he took a step back. The sound blasted down, as if there was a building collapsing above them.
"We've gotta go."
In the distance, right at the edge of the flare light, Iaim saw the flood of waste rolling at them.
"Where's the hatch?" Bridgid said.
"A hundred yards."
Bridgid slowed. "We won't make it." The tether went taut.
The air passed by like a gale now.
Iaim yanked the tether and hauled her along. She stumbled after. He reached the ladder and clipped the bucket to his belt. "Start climbing," he said, stuffing the rungs into her hand.
The first wave of liquid hit their legs, rushing across and dragging at them. Iaim pulled himself up, one rung, two. Bridgid followed. The viscous liquid tugged at their legs.
Then the main volume struck, immersing them. Iaim hung on, pulled up, pulled up again. The liquid kept tearing him away. He couldn't breathe.
It was probably a week's worth of funeral home vat purging. Stored just to flush neuron thieves like them. But they would make it.
He touched the hatch. The pipe was full, there wasn't even any air space above. Iaim twisted the handle. He pushed the hatch open.
The edge of the concrete was firm and dry. Iaim pulled himself up, sodden and dripping. He looked back at the hole and pulled at the tether. The end snapped up and slapped the rough concrete.
He stuck his arm into the subsiding flow.
"Bridgid!" he shouted, knowing it was too late. Bridgid was gone.
He leaned back, staring. The bladder wobbled, still clutched in his other hand. What a waste, he thought, crying, and he hurled it away. Striking a curb, the bladder split and the contents drained out and away through a grate.
"The Neuron Thieves"
Copyright: © 2010 Sean Monaghan
Copyright: © 2010 Sean Monaghan
Sean Monaghan found a spigot in his yard, and has dug and dug, but has yet to find an end to the pipe. Sean’s stories have appeared before in The New Flesh Magazine and also in MicroHorror, Static Movement and others. More information at his website www.venusvulture.com.