Jan watched the shadows lengthen as the sun started to dip behind the Dome. It would move quickly now. Pallin needed to hurry.
“You see him yet?” asked Smarrow, reaching across. They only had one scope between the two of them, had done since Jan’s smashed last week during the Barren Run. They both knew the collision had been deliberate, Smarrow determined to crack fifteen minutes, but neither mentioned this. Still, Jan silently guilted Smarrow into sharing his scope.
Jan adjusted the focus, scanning the desolation in front of the tunnel. He’d always thought it strange, the way they called it a tunnel even though it ran above ground for as far as they could see. Apparently, there was a point to the north where the huge concrete tube did go beneath the surface, but Jan had never seen it, and he never wanted to go that far. To the south it disappeared into the glass of the Dome. Jan had been there, once, but it was an alien place, and he preferred to stick to places he knew, where he could be with friends.
He brought the scope round and saw the figure of Pallin walking calmly across the dusty soil, occasionally kicking at a stone, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. The best way to approach the tunnel without arousing suspicion.
“Should be there in five. You any idea what he’s got planned?”
“He said something about clothes.”
Of course Pallin had told nobody his game-plan. Talk was bad luck. You planned in secret, and then the Eyes could not be forewarned.
Jan swung the scope up the grey concrete, reaching the mark he’d left a few weeks ago, the design he’d practised in secret until he could duplicate it one-handed with his eyes shut. It was a worthy marker of his highest point. He’d beaten Smarrow by a hand.
And then, as he’d finished, the turret had twisted, and the blast of energy had slammed into his chest, and he’d been falling. He could still feel that sickening jarring as he smacked into the dust. The padding he wore lessened the impact, but it still hurt like hell.
There were stories of those who had kept their grip when the first blast hit, and even for the second. But the third had sent a bullet through their head, and they were dead before they hit the ground.
Jan passed the scope across to Smarrow. “Have a look,” he said, knowing there was little to see. Pallin, in some kind of full body suit, was only fixing spikes to his shoes.
Jan didn’t have the overall record, not by a full body length. That belonged to Leesha, and nobody knew how she’d managed to scale the wall so quickly, or how she’d fixed the mirror to the concrete. It was there still, shining when the sun was just right; a reminder of her skill. Or, as Smarrow would have it, her luck.
Pallin had told them he was going to smash the mirror on the way up. He said it would bring bad luck on the Dome.
“He’s going slowly,” Smarrow said. “Think he’ll get far?”
“Slow scared or slow careful?”
Smarrow passed the scope back. “No idea.”
Pallin looked confident. He was climbing steadily, yet he had a smooth rhythm. It was deceptive, and he was moving faster than Smarrow made out. Already he was closing on Jan’s mark. Then he passed it.
Jan passed the scope across. Smarrow laughed. “Looks like you’ll need to work harder next time.”
“He’s going to beat Leesha. Yep, he’s reached the mirror.”
Jan looked across to the concrete, where he could make out the small figure on the surface. There was a glint, or a flash of something, and he heard Smarrow laugh.
“She’s not going to be happy with that,” he said, handing the scope back.
Only the blank board of the mirror remained. Pallin climbed a little higher then stopped, reaching into a pocket. He brought out a small, round object, and Jan shuddered. Jan had seen such an object before, but only on screens.
“He’s got an explosive,” he said quietly, not quite believing his own eyes.
“What? They’ll never let him get away with that!”
And they didn’t. Through the scope Jan saw part of the concrete slide back and a tube extend, aimed at Pallin. There was a flash, and Pallin twitched.
But he didn’t fall. He continued playing with the explosive.
There was another flash. Pallin twitched again, and Jan saw his clothing shimmer.
“Where’d he get a reflector suit from?”
Smarrow held his hand out for the scope, but Jan couldn’t stop watching.
Two flashes so far.
The third came, as he knew it must.
Pallin jerked this time, a fine pink mist erupting from his head. He hung motionless for a moment, then he dropped out of the scope’s image.
“He fell?” Smarrow whispered.
“They shot him. The shocks did nothing, so they shot him.”
“Dead before he hit the ground.”
Jan couldn’t find any words, so he nodded.
They both stared at the concrete. No sign of the weapon any more. Pallin was a twisted bundle in the shadows of the concrete.
Then Smarrow went to stand up. “Still, you know what this means, don’t you?”
“He never made it back, so it doesn’t count.” Smarrow smiled. “And he can’t beat us now, can he?”
Jan shrugged. “Suppose,” he said, rubbing the feeling back into his legs. “We off home?”
“Might as well.”
“Your turn next week, then.”
Smarrow walked off, and Jan followed. Smarrow didn’t like losing. Next week should be interesting.
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The Greatest Fraud