“Mass hysteria’s always a good start… what are you doing for an encore?” Lilliana asked Dick as she supported a still rather dazed Leo. “And do we have to pick Handy back up on the way?”
“If it all goes according to plan, she’ll be dropping in on us on the way out,” Dick said. “If not, there may be another rescue mission coming.”
“Not likely,” Cicada said. “If we manage to not botch this one, it’ll be a bleeding miracle.”
“Don’t you have another weapon with more ammo?” Lilliana asked her.
“I’ve a dozen,” Cicada said.
“Do you have any with you?”
“I do,” Cicada said. “But I don’t usually have to pop them out… Gossamer’s a ‘fire-and-forget-it’ kind of a gun. Before this new little to-do, the undead boarding party was the most ammo I’ve ever used in one go.”
“Don’t you think you should at least have a backup out?” Lilliana asked. “So it’s ready?”
“You’re worried over nothing,” Cicada said. “A cyborg’s never unarmed.”
All aboard the Finger, confusion and chaos grew. The fact that two of the main attractions really were already shut down didn’t help anything. The reports that came from those who had been present at the sight of Regan’s drinksplosion in The Meadows and from those who’d made it out of the waterpark before the quarantine also didn’t help.
Panic was quickest to take hold in the mall, where individual shops were owned and operated by tenants who weren’t employees of the casinos. Real estate within the mall was a prized commodity, and had to be paid for with steady profits… for any store to shut down for more than a fifteen minute cleaning and restocking cycle was unusual. The sight of multiple stores shuttering themselves unannounced… or simply being abandoned as staff hurried to get out… sparked interest that was quick to grow into concern, especially as those departing were not in a mood to wait around to explain themselves. Store managers who had not heard the rumors or who had heard and dismissed them as not being substantial enough to risk losing profits only spread the panic further and faster, by dint of prompting loud arguments with employees who wanted out but didn’t want to risk their jobs if they could avoid it.
The fire was a little slower to spread in the Royal Casino of Mount Charles of the Single Occupancy, where all employee-customer contact was monitored and controlled by a single source and all inquiries about overheard rumors and witnessed hasty departures could be met with bland dismissals.
But each such inquiry was itself capable of being overheard, and as the casino management recognized the trend and set out alerts to try to catch any similar rumors that might be germinating elsewhere, the panic started to spread throughout the rest of the complex as employees of each separate institution spread their own nervous rumors.
Within ten minutes of the Nicks’ initial bomb-dropping, things were already primed for when Handy, positioned at an abandoned switchboard and guided by Galatea, started randomly activating security bulkheads and locking entryways.
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