Ferd told the other drone operators to return to base, but before he followed them in, Phoebe asked if they had time for a look around. He agreed, and turned the drone towards the interior of the complex. The cave roof, which was thirty feet high over the area where the VIPs played at being in a subterranean fantasyland, dropped to just over the vault-like structures along the rock ridge further in.
"According to the map they sent me," Ferd said, "that's where infrastructure ops, storage, and the staff's quarters are. There's another--." He stopped suddenly at the sound of a concussion. He spun the drone back around towards the debris pile just in time for Alphon and Phoebe to see a section of the roof ice begin to break free and dangle crazily from the sky. Ferd tried to back away before the ice fell, but the drone was suddenly upended as something struck it. The cockpit faced straight up for a moment as the ice tumbled towards the camera. Ferd grunted as he tried to right the thing. A second later, the main camera went black, and he gasped, "I've been hit!"
Phoebe turned to look at him, echoing, "I've?"
Alphon skidded around the corner and into Ferd's station, where he found the man gasping for breath. "What?" He tore off the headmount and tossed it aside, leaving Ferd staring blankly ahead.
Phoebe joined him a moment later, unsure of what to do. A faint voice called out for Ferd several times before she realized where it was coming from: the headmount. She picked it up and told whoever it was that he'd been hurt. The voice turned out to belong to another member of the hacker collective, who was facilitating the hookup. After a quick exchange, they got a rough idea of what had happened. The gaming system Ferd was using not only fed him stereo imagery and turned his brainwaves into the commands that drove the drone, it also supplied a modicum of pseudosensory input that the brain interpreted as an avatar's body sense. In other words, it made the player feel like they were really in the game's universe, and he just had a severe shock as a result. The gaming system had had legal problems because of that risk, and was withdrawn from the market, but it also had other, less dangerous uses, which was why Meg kept one around.
Meanwhile, Andreas had started asking for Alphon again. "Yeah," he said sharply, "what do you want now?"
"What happened to my drone?"
"It was probably hit by ice your fool crew dislodged from the roof. Look we've got a man down here, and--."
"And I've got a resort full of world leaders trapped down there. Did you want to start a pissing match?"
Phoebe cut in. "Look," she said angrily, "We could care less about what any of those people do. The only thing that's important right now is that they're in danger. Did you want to get them out of there, or what?"
Alphon gaped at the sight of Maira's fire looking out through her daughter's eyes.
"All right," Andreas said. "So we've got two drones left, and the other operators have abandoned us."
"I can't really blame them," Alphon muttered.
Phoebe reached for the headmount and shook her head slowly at Ferd. "I'll do it," she said. "I'll drive the thing. What do you need done?"
Alphon put his hand over hers. "Are you sure?"
She nodded. "It's what mom would have done. How do I use this thing?"