Kaleem followed Ninety along the cold damp passages. The air smelt so funny it almost made him choke. He kept slipping on something slimy. Ninety, he noticed, didn’t slip once.
Now and then the peddler stopped and shone a thin beam of light down a side passage. He would mutter something to himself and then switch off the torch again. The darkness seemed even worse then, after the sudden bright light.
‘This one,’ said Ninety suddenly in a loud voice. He snapped the torch off suddenly. ‘Come on then.’
He set off quickly down the passage. Kaleem struggled to keep up. But only seconds later Ninety was pulling open a thick door which looked as if it was made out of rock. Light flooded in through the opening. The two of them stepped out. They were standing next to the main door to Kaleem’s cave home.
Ninety pushed the rock door back. You really couldn’t see that it was a door at all. Just exactly how much more of this network was still there?
‘This it, then?’ asked Ninety.
Kaleem nodded. He typed the code into the lock and let them into his apartment.
‘You get the book then,’ said Ninety.
‘I have,’ said Kaleem. ‘But I’m not going to give it to you yet.’
‘You’d better show it me, though,’ said Ninety,’ or there won’t be a trade.’
‘All right,’ said Kaleem. ‘I’ll go and get it. Do you want anything while you’re waiting? Cave water or something? I haven’t really got anything else. ‘
The peddler didn’t answer. He just scowled at Kaleem.
Kaleem went into Maria’s room. Dare he do this, really? He mustn’t lose the book. That would never do.
It was exactly where he had left it, still wrapped in the paper. He slid it out of its sleeve. It still amazed him. He touched the delicate silver and blue pictures. The paper was slightly raised in places.
‘Don’t be all day, man,’ shouted Ninety. ‘We haven’t got that much time.’
Kaleem went back into the sitting room. He showed the book to Ninety, taking care not to let it completely out of his hands.
The peddler’s eyes went rounder and Kaleem was sure he went slightly pale. He leafed through the book. His mouth seemed to drop open slightly.
‘This is the real thing,’ he muttered. ‘This is worth a fortune. No it isn’t. It’s priceless. You’d never be able to sell it. But it’ll buy you some power.’ He snapped the book shut. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘This is what we’re going to do. I get to carry the book. We go to the Info Web. But you go blindfold. I ain’t risking a Normal Zoner knowing where the Info Web is. And we use this to bargain with.’
No that wouldn’t do. He could not let go of the book until he was sure he was going to get something with it.
‘I won’t let you carry the book,’ said Kaleem. ‘The book doesn’t leave me until I’m absolutely sure you’re going to get me some information.’
‘Okay, you carry the book,’ said Ninety. ‘I don’t want to hold the damned thing. It’s spooky, that whole prophecy. But it gives you the power. And,’ he grabbed Kaleem’s’ tunic and pulled him towards himself so that their faces were almost touching. ‘And you promise me, that whenever I need to enforce some power, you’ll give me access to that book.’
‘Fine!’ said Kaleem. ‘Whatever!’ How did he think he was going to get away with that? Once Razjosh was back, this man would never have the chance to get close to him again. But at least for now, he could fool him into finding something out.
‘Right!’ said Ninety. ‘Stand up!’
Kaleem went and stood by the peddler who took a scarf out of the small backpack he was carrying. He bound the scarf around Kaleem’s eyes and then pushed him out of the cave apartment.
‘Make the door safe,’ he told Kaleem.
Kaleem was surprised that he did manage to set the lock without being able to see it. He must have been so used to where he put his fingers. He felt the rough ground beneath his feet again. He heard Ninety move the rock door, then whistle and seconds later there was a loud rumbling sound in the corridor.