Ephesus returned to the front of the Unity Peak building to find Nic engaged in an awkward looking conversation with someone. The stance of the other man betrayed that he was a man in authority. Nic usually didn't do well with those.
Ephesus strayed his path near to the two conversants. He didn't want to appear to be with Nic, since that would increase how noticeable the group was, but he was dying to hear what the two were saying. Just as he got within earshot he heard Nic say, "Well it was nice meeting you."
"My pleasure Doctor John Paul," the other man responded, shaking Nic's hand heartily, and walking away.
Ephesus waited for a few minutes before moving to the side of the street and saying, "I called a taxi. He should be here in a minute or two or three or four."
"Driving through traffic is hardly a science."
"What is it then, an art?"
"No. It's the way normal people live, something you wouldn't know anything, Paul."
"Nor would I want to, Benny. Normal people live under the yoke of oppression for while and then they die and go to an earthy prison."
"Oh, and what will you do different?"
"I will live free," said Nic, clipping his sentence off cleanly.
"And then proceed to the earthy prison?"
"If I land there knowing I died a free man, I think I'll be glad."
"No, you won't. You'll be dead."
"I thought you Unaccepted believed in a life after death."
"We do. You just won't be glad."
"Whatever you say, young theologian. If you don't mind I will be considering our escape plan some more."
"It's simple. The van comes, we get in it. They will take care of us."
"Yes, they will take care of you. But they won't want me for long."
"Our underground will assist Unaccepted and Outsiders alike."
"Yes, but I won't live with them for long. I don't like having every idle phrase of mine cross-examined."
"Better to examine now and repent than to be examined later," Ephesus was interrupted.
"And be cast into hell."
Awkward silence reigned until van pulled up in five minute parking parking lot.
Ephesus went to the window, which rolled down. He said inside, "Can you take us to A and 113?"
The door was powered open from the inside and all three scientists piled inside. The door shut and they all let out a collective sigh of relief.
Ephesus said quickly to the driver, "I'm the only on in the inside. These are just passengers."
Smyrna for the first time realized how fully his son had become independent of him. Ephesus was running everything now. That thought gave him a bit to chew on for the ride. Nic tried to ignore his powerlessness in the situation. He inhaled and exhaled little gusts threw his nose to twitch around his mustache, which was by now a fair bit longer than he had liked. They had not given him a razor for his time in service, and the barber had never got at his mustache while in prison.
Prison made him think of John and Dowe. Those two poor fools. Those were the kind of people Nic would never let himself become.
The van did not go at all in the direction of Alpha and 113. It merely returned on its route towards the pizza place. Meanwhile, Ephesus watched out the windows at parts of the city he had never seen. He looked up at all the skyscrapers and around at the small buildings that were only a few floors tall. Glass walls glistened huge mural reflections of the grayish smoggy sky. The sky either had no clouds or only one massive one. It was noon, and since reflections were minimized thereby the city seemed only uglier than it needed to to the Unaccepted eye.
They all tried to keep their faces away from the windows, but even for the older gentlemen the city was fascinating. A mixture of beauty and filth so intertwined that you could never get your fill of the one and could never escape the other.
The van turned into a street alley that led to the garages behind the commercial district. This was it.
The van calmly turned toward an ordinary garage. It was a plain brick building, fairly old. The rear side of the massive sign that faced the street spelled "Pizza" backwards, with birds nests in every rafter and support. The garage doors opened and the van parked inside, next to an old ice-cream truck that had become a pizza delivery vehicle.
Nic hopped out of the vehicle. "Step inside?" he asked.
The driver looked at him, then at Ephesus. Ephesus said, "You heard my code word. Treat us with appropriate clearance. We don't really have a choice but to trust the other two."
The driver nodded. He walked inside the store and slammed the door behind him in Nic's face. The locks clicked instantly. Nic looked around. "We are to hide in a garage?"
Ephesus rolled his eyes. For irony's sake, at that exact moment there was a short hiss, and a door opened on the left edge of the wall that had the door into the shop. It led to some stairs.
The threesome quickly slipped in and the door shut behind them. They walked down the wooden stairs trying to be quiet, but with little success. They arrived in a dimly lit basement. All three stood still until an old stereo next to them turned on by itself. The light of its LEDs just barely revealed a cassette sitting on one of the million boxes in the stuffed basement. Ephesus took the tape and stuffed it in the stereo.
Pressing the yellowed plastic button that nearly cracked off as he did so, they heard the barely discernible and heavily garbled voice of a what might have been a man or a woman say, "Find the box marked, 'More Recent Stuff.' Three boxes over at ground level. Read shipping tag. Now put tape back."
Ephesus took the tape and put it back where it was. Nic whispered, "How are we supposed to find this box in the dark?"
"Reading, Nic. It's a useful skill."
They crawled all over the network of boxes, just barely able to read anything written there. Smyrna found the box in question, then did the conversion and found a wooden crate with a shipping tag. He called the other two over.
On the tag was scrawled, among all the bar codes and postal abbreviations, "De Profundis."
Ephesus and Smyrna were confused. Smyrna ventured, "'De' sounds like a Latin for "god.'"
Nic whispered, "It's an old Latin phrase. It means 'From the depths, out of despair.'" A reference to one of the Psalms, I think. Must be a hatch to another basement.
Nic took the boxes off from on top of the box, and, sure enough there was lift-able door on top of the crate. Opening it Nic just discerned the glint of the top wrung of a ladder. He got in and started climbing down, Smyrna just above his head with Ephesus there to replace the door. The boxes were empty, so Ephesus could just put them on the door and then carefully lower it in place and there would be no sign of their arrival. As he placed the door down he saw the lights of the stereo go off. All was dark and they climbed down the ladder.