Tunnels 02 deeper, p.49
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       Tunnels 02 - Deeper, p.49
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           Roderick Gordon

  On occasion he collided with Elliott, Chester, and even Cal's limp corpse, the ropes twisting around their limbs and torsos in random arrangements to bind them together, and then untwisting as they floated apart, as if they were dancers in some macabre aerial ballet. Every so often Will's trajectory took him to the side of the seemingly endless Pore, where he either crashed against the unforgiving rock or, curiously, hit softer matter — which, had he been conscious, would have caused him a great deal of surprise.

  But in his insensible state, he was unaware of any of this; in a place beyond caring.

  If his mind hadn't been disconnected, he would have noticed that although he continued to fall through the black vacuum, his rate of descent was slowing.

  Imperceptibly at first, but definitely slowing... slowing... slowing...

  53

  Once they were in sight of the Styx floodlights, Drake hadn't risked remaining on his feet for the final distance. Instead he had dragged Sarah with him to a vantage point midway between where the Limiters were concentrated and, at the bottom of the slope, where Elliott and the boys had apparently been run to ground.

  As Drake crouched behind a menhir, Sarah just lay there. She was too shattered to do anything but listen. With her head propped on a boulder, and her clothes soaked through and stuck to her with her own blood, she caught some of the shouted exchange between Will and the twins. The fact that there were two Rebeccas didn't come as any great revelation. There'd long been rumors in the Colony that the Styx dabbled in eugenics — genetic manipulation for the advancement of their race — and that twins, triplets, and even quadruplets had become the norm as they multiplied their numbers. Yet another myth that had been borne out to her. She should have twigged that there were two Rebeccas when the one on the train claimed to have been at the Topsoil hospital that same morning — the Styx child had been telling the truth.

  Sarah heard the twins taunting Will, then their threat to kill Topsoilers using Dominion.

  "Did you get that?" Drake whispered over to her.

  "Yes," she said, nodding grimly in the darkness.

  The shouted exchanges came to her as if she was at the bottom of a well, echoing and swirling and often too indistinct to grasp in their entirety. But despite her deteriorating condition, some part of her brain retained enough functionality to process the snippets.

  She heard her name mentioned and what the twins said about Tam's and Grandma Macaulay's deaths. Sarah's body locked up with fury. The Styx were wiping out all the members of her family, one by one. Then she heard the threats to kill Will and Cal and everyone with them.

  "You've got to help them!" she said to Drake.

  He looked helplessly at her. "What can I do? I'm hopelessly outnumbered and I've only got stove guns. There's a whole Styx army over there."

  "But you have to do something!" she exhorted him.

  "What do you suggest? I chuck rocks at them?" he said, his voice uneven with anguish.

  But Sarah had to at least try to go to her sons' aid. Unnoticed by Drake as he continued to watch events from behind the menhir, she began to haul herself over the ground. She was determined to get to where Will and Cal were, even if she had to stop often to rest.

  She heard the Rebecca twins counting, and the shouts of desperation down at the end of the slope.

  Squinting through the glare, she glimpsed a small figure as it stepped into the light. She knew with a mother's intuition that it was Cal. Her heart pounded feebly as she extended a hand to where he stood, so far away. She watched him frantically waving his arms and heard his hopeless cries.

  Then the shots came.

  She saw his death. She dropped her hand to the ground.

  There were terrible screams, then a cacophony of sound, and the air was filled with what appeared, to her jumbled head, to be flaming comets. The ground shook as she'd never felt it shake before, as if the whole cavern was collapsing around her. Then the noise and light were gone, and in their place an awful quietness.

  She was too late, too late for all of them. She'd wanted to call out to Cal, but hadn't.

  She wept dusty tears.

  She realized what a fool she had been. She should never have doubted Will! The Styx had tried to trick her into making the biggest mistake of her worthless, sorry excuse of a life. They'd even convinced Grandma Macaulay that Will was to blame. The poor, deluded old lady had believed their lies.

  It was so obvious to Sarah now that the Styx were purging their domain. Once she had served her purpose, she'd have been next in line for the chopping block.

  Why hadn't she trusted her instincts? She should have taken her life in the excavation back in Highfield. It had felt so wrong when she'd lowered the blade from her throat and allowed that little snake to persuade her to work with the Styx. From that moment of weakness onward, Sarah had unwittingly committed to a misguided manhunt for her own sons. A dumb cog in the Styx's grand plan. For that she could never forgive herself — or them.

  She closed her eyes, felling her fluttering heartbeat, as if there were a hummingbird trapped in her rib cage.

  Maybe it was better this way, to let it end at last, right here and now.

  She flicked her dull eyes open.

  No!

  She couldn't allow herself the luxury of death, not quite yet. Not while there was the faintest chance she could put some of this unholy mess right again.

  She retained a sliver of hope that Will was still alive. She might be able to get to him. These thoughts pierced her brain like skewers, causing her as much pain as her injuries, and spurring her on.

  Using her arms, she dragged herself toward the place where Will had been trapped, but every action became more and more labored, as if she was clawing her way through molasses. She didn't let up. She'd covered a significant distance when she blacked out again.

  She came to, not knowing how long she'd been unconscious. There was no sign of Drake, but she heard voices nearby. She lifted her head and caught a glimpse of the Rebecca twins. They were issuing orders to a squad of Limiters at the very edge of the Pore.

  She knew then that she was too late to save Will. But could she exact revenge for Tam, for her mother, for her sons?

  Dominion!

  Yes, there was something she could do. She was willing to bet that one or both of the Rebeccas still had the Dominion phials on them. And she'd seen how vitally important the virus was to their plan.

  Yes!

  If she could at least stymie the Styx's schemes, and maybe save some Topsoiler lives in the bargain, it would go a little way toward absolving her. She had doubted her own son. She had done so much wrong. It was time to get something right.

  Using the side of a shattered menhir, she managed to get to her feet. Her irregular pulse thumped through her head, as loud as a kettledrum. The landscape swayed and pitched as she stood hunched over in the hard shadows, a different form of darkness amassing and beginning to engulf her; a darkness that light would not affect.

  Pointing and looking down, the Styx girls stood at the rim of the Pore.

  With a Herculean effort, Sarah dredged every remaining drop of vitality from her wrecked frame. Her arms outstretched, she flew at the twins, covering the remaining distance as fast as her broken body would propel her.

  She saw the identical looks of surprise on their faces as they turned, and heard their identical screams as she swept both of them over the brink with her. It hadn't taken much to dislodge them, but it had taken all Sarah had left.

  In her last moments of life, Sarah was smiling.

  Epilogue

  In Humphrey House, Mrs. Burrows sat alone in the dayroom. It was well past midnight and, now that her eyes were rid of the mystery virus, she had no problem watching television again. But she wasn't engrossed in one of her many soaps; there was a grainy black-and-white picture on the screen in front of her. As she'd done many times before, she stopped the tape, rewound it, then played it back again.

  The video recording s
howed the door to the reception area bursting open and a figure rushing through it. But before the figure went out of view, a face was visible; it looked up and then hastily down, as if it was aware that it was being caught on the security camera.

  Mrs. Burrows froze the tape with a decisive press of the remote and moved closer to the television, leaning in to see the face with its flustered eyes and flurried hair. She touched the screen, tracing around the woman's features, which, flipping between two frames on the tape, were smeared and blurry, as if a ghost had unwittingly been captured on film.

  "For your delight and delectation, the one and only Kate O'Leary, Woman of Intrigue," Mrs. Burrows mumbled as she made slits of her eyes and clicked her tongue against her teeth, still scrutinizing Sarah's face. "Well, Mrs. Kate whoever-you-are, there's nowhere on this earth you can hide that I won't find you." She fell into thought as she whistled in an atonal and random way, a habit of Dr. Burrows's — curiously, one she had often upbraided him for. "And I'm going to get my family back from you if it's the last thing I do."

  An owl hooted and Mrs. Burrows turned to the windows, glancing at the darkness of the gardens outside.

  As she did so, a man in a large overcoat stepped neatly back from the window so she wouldn't see him. It was highly unlikely that the Topsoiler woman, with her crude night vision, would be able to make him out in the gloom, but he wasn't about to take the chance.

  The owl took to the wing and glided between the trees, while the heavyset individual waited patiently before resuming his vigil at the window.

  As he waited, another man on a small hill a short distance away focused in on him, his light-gathering scope mounted on a tripod.

  "I see you," Drake said, pulling his jacket collar around his neck as a wind rose up. Making another small adjustment to a furled ring on the scope, so that he had a pin-sharp image of the man in the shadows, he muttered under his breath, "Who will watch the watchers?"

  From a nearby road, the undipped beam of a car's headlights briefly fell across the rear of Humphrey House. At that distance, it amounted to nothing more than a glimmer, but, processed by the light-intensifying electronics of the scope, it was bright enough to make Drake blink. Taken by surprise at the unexpected interruption of his surveillance, he drew in a sudden breath. The flash triggered memories of the blinding arcs when Elliott and the boys had been shelled by the Limiters, those last moments at the Pore when all he'd been able to do was watch as the ghastly events unfolded.

  Drake stood up from the scope. Stretching his back to ease the stiffness in it, he stared into the depths of the night sky above.

  No, he hadn't been able to save Elliott or the boys, but he was going to do everything in his power to stop the Styx. If they thought they could still resurrect their plan to use Dominion, they were in for a rude awakening. He took a cell phone from his pocket and dialed a number, strolling back toward the parked Range Rover as he waited. Waited for the answer to the call...

  NOTE TO ENTOMOLOGISTS:

  To avoid any confusion: Dr. Burrows dust mite is an arachnid (hence, related to spiders) and not an insect. But it is evident that evolutionary pressures down in the Deeps have been responsible for a number of specific adaptations: The so-called cave cows possess three pairs of legs (not that uncommon with mites), while the fourth pair of legs may have evolved into what Dr. Burrows perceives to be its "antennae" and "mandibles." The authors will be attempting to capture a specimen for further study, and their findings will be posted on WWW.TUNNELSTHE BOOK.COM in due course. Thank you.

 


 

  Roderick Gordon, Tunnels 02 - Deeper

 


 

 
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