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Thankfully, cloud cover obscured the moon. Nonetheless, Darcy peered anxiously through the windscreen at the northern light
rimming the fells behind the university. Leaving the car she slung a rucksack onto her shoulder and headed for the silhouettes
of stone buildings and the copper-domed chapel that huddled on top of the hill. Midnight campus had a surrealist air.
Empty walkways echoed with yesterday’s bustle. Black windows winked with dull gleam, and rows of lamps with orangey eye – here
and there a faulty bloodshot one – watched as she sped like a shadow beneath. She stopped, nerves tingling, as raised voices
and laughter were carried on the breeze. A nearby doorway offered cover. She emerged when the last of the revellers,
bottle in hand, had passed. Somewhere to the right a door banged shut and laughter was silenced. Not much further, thank God.
The approach of a slow-moving vehicle sent her darting into a second doorway. The security van prowled slowly past, yellow eyes
searching the shadows for intruders. Through the cab windows, she could see the dark-visaged guards with their ominous peaked caps.
She glanced at the luminous dial of her watch. If the info she had prised from Caro was correct, there was a gap of forty-five minutes
before the next patrol was due.
A brisk run brought her to the darkened Physics block. Precious minutes were wasted on the lock of the rear door which refused to give
to her pickings and probings. A ground floor window offered more hope. A sudden sound made her whip around. A can rolled on the
concrete, knocked from an uncovered bin by a marauding cat. The fellow conspirator fixed her with an unblinking stare, dropped to the
ground and slinked off. Returning to the lock, Darcy found her hand was shaking.
She crawled through the gap. Dropping to the floor she crouched low. No footsteps pounded, no door slammed and no light sliced the
gloom. She crept to the door.
Opening it, she stuck her head out and peered along the shadowed corridor. The sole source of illumination came from the orangey-red
lights in the square beyond the row of windows. One of the lamps had a faulty filament; it dipped and flickered, a strobe light playing
on an empty and ghostly disco. Keeping to the wall, she made her way to the stairs.
Jules Cain’s office. A sudden movement from below-stairs made her spin round. She stood for a moment, blood pounding in her ears.
The sound of gnawing and scratching came from behind the wall panels. An instant image of thick body, long tail and eyes gleaming
redly in the torchlight made her skin crawl. Every old building had its rats. Experimentally she turned the door handle. Locked.
She took a skeleton key from her pocket. Minutes later she was inside.
She switched off her torch. So where did Cain do his research? She moved to the work area at the rear of the study, finding her way
by the light of the lamps filtering in from the square. Nothing much here. Monitors, centrifuges, rows of test tubes and slides: a
system of basic laboratory equipment. A search of the shadowed area beyond revealed a door that fit flush to the wall so that at first
glance it appeared to be part of it. It was cold to the touch; metal not wood lay beneath the paint, she decided, and it was probably
reinforced. Most promising. Another glance at her watch made her curse under her breath. Time was running out and this bastard would be
hard to crack. Buzzing now with a heady mixture of fear and excitement, she opened her rucksack and set to work.
Six minutes later the lock gave. Mentally patting herself on the back, she pushed open the door and slipped through.
A first impression of soft bleeping sounds, and darkness relieved only by the winking of various red and greeen indicator lights.
The windows were presumably shuttered; no light from outside filtered through. She stood motionless, her senses testing the alien
environment. A feeling of space, of a large area inhabited by bulky shadows. The pungent smell of formaldehyde stung her nostrils.
Suddenly she was filled with foreboding. There was something not right here. Life pulsed in this place; as though unseen hearts beat
rhythmically in the dark. Not a human presence exactly. More the difference between a room that holds plants and animals, and one
that does not. The sort of distinction her family teased her about, because none of them could detect it. She fought down a mounting
desire to turn and run and turned her attention to a different warning of danger. Something physical and immediate this time.
Instinctively she looked up. A solitary red eye mounted on a bracket, and its opposite number across the way, caused her to freeze.
Slowly and with infinite care she eased back the zip on her bag and extracted a strip of shiny black polystyrene. Thank God, she
thought flattening herself against the wall so as not to cross the invisible beam, for Frank’s unofficial training programme.
Checking with her finger for the adhesive side of the plastic, she reached up and ‘blinded’ the sensor. That, she thought grimly,
had been a close run thing.
Whatever lurked in this room was secret enough to warrant an alarm. She moved forward, then stopped again to listen. In addition to
the monotonous bleep, bleep, bleep, of the monitors she became aware of another sound: the soft almost subliminal lub-a-dub-dub that
resembled the beating of several hearts. An icy finger touched the length of her spine. There was an odd reluctance to switch on her
torch, as though the beam may reveal things it would be better not to see.
The button clicked. The ray from the torch split the darkness and she out an involuntary cry. The beam careered madly round the room
as she almost dropped the torch……..