Rick pulled his awareness back to the scored and pitted circular chamber with its floor of faded rugs. He could hear no whispers this time. The dry musty air was tinged with the acrid bite of weapons fire. Jamie gave a small gasp beside him, her eyes blinking as if shaking off a dream.
Curled against the chair beside him, Andrea Gibbs looked up with reddened eyes. "Thought those bastards were going to shoot us. You...done?" she half-croaked.
Alarmed, Rick got off the chair and squatted beside her. "What's wrong...you sick?"
"Just don't look behind the seat where I lost breakfast," she said with a weak smile. "Did you stop it?"
"Put it in a holding cell for the moment," he answered, feeling the clammy wetness of her forehead. Rick looked over at Jamie who stood there with an uncertain look. Her face reflected the same thought that chilled his heart. The Waiting Weapon. By almost raising it had she inadvertently exposed Andrea? "Come on," Rick said, helping the woman to her feet. "There’s a bomb in that pack and I didn’t study disarming such things in archeology. We’ve another way out."
"Heating duct," Andrea said as they felt the warm air coming from the panel near Meora's withered corpse. "I...can stand. You guys try and pull it off." She pointed a trembling finger. "There's recessed latches."
Rick and Jamie's long fingers pulled at the tabs, the panel sliding down with a metallic snick. Rick helped Andrea into the exposed shaft, sending Jamie after her down the lateral crawl way. Glancing back at the explosives, Rick jumped in behind them. "Move, you two."
"We're moving..." Jamie muttered, her voice echoing. Her scrambling figure became silhouetted against a pale white light. "Andrea just found some light poles," she explained. "They're portable. Must have activated when we got near. Watch out for the overhead fan."
"Grab a couple and keep going," Rick encouraged, thinking that he should have shut the panel behind them. As if that would keep them from mimicking cannon balls when that bomb went off.
They crawled through a witch-world of shadows cast by the women's lights. Rick stopped trying to count the minutes, stopped trying to think of the awful blast that would be consuming this shaft at any moment. He suddenly collided with Jamie's shoes. "What are you doing?"
"Getting out," her voice muffled back. "This thing feeds into a real big tunnel." There was the sandy scrape of a moving grate. Jamie's legs quickly disappeared.
Rick lost no time in following her through a hole that opened out into a large tunnel. The air was cold and dry against his lips. He took one of the light poles Jamie offered and bent over Andrea as she sagged against a blue-veined wall. "We can't stop."
She nodded. "I know that." Swallowing, Andrea got to her feet. "We'd better start running. You heard what the man said about evacuating the resort, didn't you?"
Jamie shook her head. "We'll never run far enou...look!"
"See it," Rick said, stumbling over a twin set of rails. "Pray that it still works."
It looked like a cross between a roofless gray bus and a sled. Thin vanes fore and aft folded around rails that ran off into the darkness. Rick jumped into the front seat behind a curved wind screen.
Jamie helped Andrea into the back seat and slid in beside him. "Feel it in your head?"
Rick nodded. There was that sensation of pressure, much like the whispers that had instructed him how to unlock doors. Grasping arm rests, he found himself interfacing with yet another Me'Aukin machine. A simpler one, fortunately. A panel in front of him displayed an obvious looking graph. He mentally pushed the graph's red bar forward and felt movement.
"Our people make good batteries," Jamie said, fastening belts around them both as Rick nudged the sled into motion. "Come on, Rick. Step on it."
Rick tried. They both cried out as the sled shot forward in a silent whoosh of acceleration. A weak bar of light came to life at the curved prow, barely revealing the track ahead as they swept over it. The passing wind became a roar of speed.
Suddenly they had all the harsh illumination they needed.
"Rick! Go!" Andrea screamed from the back seat.
They shot forward. The shock wave came faster. "Hang on!" he shouted as a shattering blast broke over their heads. Rick mentally dove into the sled's controls. He found Jamie in there with him, helping to extend balancing arms of energy from the sled as it rode the violent wave. A searing gust of debris smashed the control vanes, slamming the sled against the floor like a fist. Rick flailed out with waning energies to keep them from the walls as the sled scraped to a stop with a horrific screech.
"Out!" Rick rasped.
Andrea lurched away from the useless vehicle, waving her light pole in the powdery fog. "Can't see a thing. You ok?" Her voice went up an octave. "Rick? Jamie?"
"Fine...", Jamie said, her voice shaken, "just rattled."
Rick joined them. "I think I know where this tunnel's headed. Remember those ruins near the resort?"