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Sci-fi – Part three

2010
03.30

Entry by Eva Schultz (13 April 06)

It wouldn’t do at all, going back without even seeing the unit for myself. By the time we reached Mission, my leg would be healed, and even though the higher ups would believe what had happened, I knew there wouldn’t be an overflow of pity for the able-bodied engineer standing before them. It’s a lot easier to pity a bleeding man.

Sophie jammed the last of the recovery pack into the compact steel case and shoved it away. “Okay, let’s see about getting you to a more secured area, if we can.”

“What are you doing?” I said, indicating the pack. “We can’t leave any evidence that we were down here.”

She rolled her eyes at me as she stood. “You’re just like my dad. You old guys – you always think the game still works the way it did twenty-five years ago.” She noticed her bloody hands for the first time, brushed them together in a worthless effort to clean them, and finally settled for rubbing her palms against the backside of her canvas jumpsuit. “Come on. Give me your hand. The painkiller should be enough to let you manage a brief walk, if you lean pretty heavy on me.”

“Should be?” I echoed with a wry smile, and I was relieved when she mirrored my expression. If I could get her smiling, perhaps I could get her trusting me again. A kid like Sophie, especially trying this hard to prove herself, tended not to listen.

I seized her hand and couldn’t restrain a groan as I stood. Painkillers may be good, but they don’t dull the bizarre sensation of skin and tissue rubbing in directions they shouldn’t. “Okay,” I said. “I guess we can come back for the case later. Let’s head for the control room.”

Sophie started us down the hallway, allowing me to lean against her and hop on my good leg. “I told you, it’s surrounded. We’ve got to make for that backway escape that you talked about in the briefing.”

I stopped hopping, and my greater height and bulk forced her to stop. “That backway will take hours, if I can even find it again. Besides, the unit is the only thing we came for. I’m going to the control room.”

“Are you crazy?” she snapped. I could see that any goodwill I had been earning was now forfeit. “We will die here. Don’t you get that? If we can make it to the surface, we may be able to locate a signal beacon and modify it to call the Mission for rescue. If we go anywhere near the control room, they’ll just cut us down. What good will that do?”

I met her gaze. “Even a one-legged guy as old as your dad could get into that room before they processed what was happening and reacted,” I said, and I could see from the dawning look on her face that she knew it was true. And she knew what I meant.

“But you’ll have no way out,” she said in a small voice.

I tried to look like that didn’t bother me – maybe she was too young to read an old man’s poker face. “I’ll destroy the unit,” I said. “It isn’t as good as getting it back up and running, but it’s certainly better than letting it sit there defenseless for them to find and use against us. I’ll get in, but I won’t get out. But that’s what it’s going to take.” I let go of her shoulder and propped myself against the wall, holding my bad foot slightly off the ground. “I’m going. If you want to get back to the surface, I certainly understand that. Just don’t interfere with what I’m going to do.”

A strange look crossed her face, and I realized she wasn’t looking at me. “Sophie?”

Her eyes widened. “I don’t hear anything,” she said.

I tensed, listening. There wasn’t a sound from up the stairs. The thumping, the inevitable movement of death coming down to us – it had all stopped. We stared at each other, as silent as our pursuers.

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