Harold risked a glance back over his shoulder as he ran. It looked like Prada was trying to make use of Teatime’s distraction herself: she was struggling manfully (girlfully?) in the grip of two of the silver-suited guards. The other two were pounding along the road after him. Of Teatime, there was no visible sign. He hoped the little monkey was ok. With any luck, the humans in their usual arrogance would overlook him as just a dumb animal and he would make good his escape.
What about Agent Prada, though?
A razor-edged icicle of guilt stabbed into his mind and he almost turned back for her. A second thought, however, hot on the heels of the first pointed out, quite reasonably, that getting himself captured would be no help whatsoever to anybody, so he shifted up a gear to put some distance between himself and his pursuers. His earthly vessel was not super-strong, but it was very fast and it did not get tired or out of breath. His pursuers were soon falling behind.
Inside the Infinity Recycling building, Nugent cursed softly as the red dot on the c-detector winked out.
“Unit four, this is Sec-1, what’s your status?”
Unit four’s leader responded after a few moments. “Sec-1, we have captured one of the intruders, the other one ran off. Roe and Rehman are in pursuit.”
“Copy that, unit four ”
Nugent switched to a different channel. “Mobile team, immediate scramble. We have a contact heading south.”
“Mobile team, acknowledged,” came the crisp reply.
Mercury and Othello were caught as flat-footed as Prada and Harold had been – only they didn’t have a handy monkey-shaped distraction, so ended up being matched ignominiously into the Infinity Recycling building by the unsmiling guards of Unit three.
As soon as he saw that Harold had got clear, Teatime leapt away from the flailing arms of the stupid human guards and set off in the same general direction as the demon. He had no hope of catching him, of course, but one direction was as good as another under the circumstances. Unlike Harold, however, Teatime had no qualms whatsoever about leaving Prada to her fate. So far as he was concerned, she could take care of herself and the guards’ weapons were clearly meant to intimidate rather than injure or kill since they had not tried to use them. Besides which, any humans struggling with her were humans who were not chasing him.
Somewhere far behind him, Harold heard an engine cough into life. This was not good: he could not possibly outrun a motor vehicle, and what if it was equipped like the one at the safe house that had managed to freeze him? He had to get away from the road and hope the vehicle was not set up to travel over rough terrain – not that there was much of that in this over-landscaped and asphalt-covered place.
The sound of the engine was growing louder now. It was a hungry, angry sound to Harold’s ears.
He veered off the main road and headed for a gap between Eaton-Brewer Inc and Knight Securities, a narrow service road of some kind. He hoped that the Infinity Recycling vehicle would carry on along the main route and that his short-cut would get him clear of the business park. If he could get to some roadless ground…
The buildings were two lightless boxes looming up on either side as he ran between them, his footfalls echoing madly off the walls. Behind him, he heard the vehicle shift down and slow – it was turning too! Harold was sure that the driver could not have actually seen him; the road was curved and he would have been far enough around to be out of sight, he was sure. Either the driver had got very lucky in his guesses or he had some means of tracking him. Now that would be really bad news. It made sense though: he and Prada had been very careful to stay a good distance from the cameras and lighting at Infinity Recycling and yet they had still been discovered. So, unless Mercury or Othello had blundered – and he could not believe they would have – it must have been his own presence that had alerted the strange silver-suited guards. It would appear they had some sort of demon-detection technology.
Project Dynamo had been perfected after all.
The service road emerged onto another road, running parallel to the original one. Harold ran straight across it, looking left and right in desperation, hoping for any kind of narrow gap that would prevent the vehicle from following. Nothing obvious presented itself and he could feel panic rising as the sound of the vehicle changed: it was now between the buildings and would emerge at any moment.
He took another service road. This one curved around the back of a building into a loading yard of some sort.
A high fence surrounded the yard. Harold glanced around wildly. He could hear the vehicle’s wheels bump up over a drainage grating that had marked the entrance to the service road. He could not be caught here!
Then he spied it – a dumpster hunkered down in the corner of the yard. He sprinted over to it, leapt up onto it, his feet clanging noisily on the metal of its lid, and bounced-jumped for the top of the fence.
His hands closed around the topmost horizontal bar and he began to heave himself up, ready to swing over the top.
The world was suddenly filled with light as the vehicle roared into the yard and screeched to a stop. Immediately, a strange whining sound filled the air and Harold’s vision swam crazily.
The freezing machine!
More terrified than he had ever been in his long life, he hurled himself over the top of the fence, not bothering to engineer a clever landing – he was a demon after all, and it was not like he would break an ankle.
He hit the dirt on the other side of the fence hard, rolled and staggered to his feet. His limbs felt unaccountably sluggish and heavy. He felt – what was the words the humans used, tired! His head was full of cotton wool. He lurched forward a step or two, the world tilting and listing crazily, then he took another few. A few yards behind him and a million miles away, the engine of the vehicle was idling now and he could hear shouts. They sounded angry. That was a good thing. He stumbled forward a few more drunken steps and suddenly started to feel more normal. Maybe the machine wasn’t fully switched on yet, maybe it had to warm up or something.
A balloon of hope and excitement suddenly inflated inside him and he pushed himself onward into the darkness, feeling better with every step.