Down in the basement, Hodges, Hills and the others cautiously emerged from the escape stair lobby, stepped over the still smoking, bent and battered steel door, and looked back into the crypt-like chamber where they had detonated their explosives. There were clouds of smoke and dust, gradually settling on the broken racks of equipment. The air smelt metallic and sulphurous. They looked with satisfaction at the distorted cabinets, the charred circuit boards and the shattered rows of test-tubes, their contents a useless grey puddle on the floor.
“Better get back to Maddie and Tom,” said McGill. “We need to get out of here before the Enforcers arrive.”
“OK,” agreed Hodges. “But, well done everybody! That’s one in the eye for The Founder. At least it might make him think!”
They turned and began to traipse back up the stairs. As they rounded the first landing they looked up and fell back in surprise. At the top of the stairs, silhouetted by light streaming in from behind, was a tall figure, slightly stooped, wearing a white suit and sporting long, white flowing locks down to his shoulders. He had a silver-grey beard and moustache, neatly trimmed, but impressive none-the-less.
They stared, slightly terrified. They knew that face; even they had seen the bill-boards and Phil was intimately accustomed to it from his illicit screens and all the adverts extolling the virtues of Oodles. It was The Founder!
“Peace, children!” the figure said in a soft, melodious voice, stretching out his arms and holding out his hands to them. “You know what you are doing is futile! There are many more Clouds in Britain, let alone the rest of the World. All the data is duplicated many times over.”
“We just want to give you a kick in the pants!” cried Hodges, bravely. “You have to stop this madness!”
“Oh no! I’m not mad. I think you will find that you are! There is no escape now. The Tower is surrounded by Enforcers. We knew of your arrival as soon as you attacked Jacqueline! We have been watching you and your group for months now, anyway. Did you think that drunken wreck, Mac, couldn’t transmit as well as receive information?”
“What are you going to do?” yelled Hillsy. “We’ll fight! We’ll kill you!”
“Oh, I think not. Besides, I have a proposition for you. Let us go upstairs and retrieve the others. I find them amusing.”
The Founder turned and slowly walked up the stairs, apparently unconcerned by the threats; he knew their psyches, and that their curiosity wouldn’t allow them to kill him.