Friday, February 20, 2015

CH2: Homecoming, Part 12

It seemed to take forever. Dee spelled her, then she took over again, then they traded places one more time. The wider the hole got, the harder the task became, as the edge of the knife wore down. It must have been an hour before they'd finally sawed a flap of metal just wide enough to fit through.

Outside, the noise had died down to the occasional shuffle. Mara figured they were probably waiting to starve them out – why risk a frontal assault? She took a moment to gather her breath, stuffed the ruined knife back in its sheath, and pressed the flap in and down. She cut her finger on the barbed edge, drawing a bead of red-black blood, but through the hole she could see the murky depths of the Hives outside, could smell the stench rising fresh from below.

“We can't leave him alive, can we?” Dee whispered, nudging Lir with her boot. He lay on the floor in a pool of dried blood, unresponsive – she wasn't sure if he was unconscious, or asleep, or already dead. Mara nodded, and took the knife out again.

“Wait,” Dee said. “I'll do it.” She was sweating as she said it, but Mara took her at her word, and gave her the blade. Dee set it against Lir's throat, swallowed, started to push, stopped. She looked down at Lir's face, as though considering, thoughts warring inside her. Then, just as Mara was about to take the weapon from her again, she did it. She wiped the blade on Lir's tunic, gave it back to Mara, her face expressionless and empty.

“Alright,” Mara said. “Let's do this.”

- - - - - - - -

It was a short climb to the top of the conglomeration of shipping containers that formed the cultist's temple. They hung in the center of a small open space in the sprawling network of slums, suspended on cables hung from a branch between two five-meter-wide macrocarbon support pillars. Mara knelt next to one of the cable attachments and waited for Dee to join her.

They'd have to try to climb the cables. That was the only way. The catwalk from the entrance was obviously out. The closest containers on either side were too far to jump. If they had a rope, they could have climbed down to the Bowels below, but they didn't. That left up. About ten meters up the cable passed by a cluster of containers lashed to the side of the pillar; they ought to be able to clamber on to their roofs, then make their way to a catwalk and out.

Dee appeared beside her. Mara pointed up, and Dee nodded her understanding. Mara grabbed hold of the cable, and began to work her way up.

She'd traded what little fat she'd ever had for muscle out in the northern wastes, but the heat and the lack of oxygen down here was so bad that she was already sweating from the climb to the top of the temple. By the time she'd made it halfway up the cable she was breathing heavily. Then she heard a shout from below, followed by the crack of a shot, the bullet passing so close to her that she could feel the wind of its passage, and she scrambled up the cable at almost a running pace, the bark of the pistol urging her on.

The containers were stacked on top of each other here, the edge of one sticking out below the one above it, forming a ledge about half a meter wide and sixty centimeters from the cable. She wrapped her arms around the cable, let go with her feet and swung her legs toward the ledge in one lunge, just making it.

She helped Dee up. She caught sight of Tam below, running down the catwalk from the temple, reloading her pistol, followed by a dozen other cultists. Mara began to make her way along the ledge as fast as she dared, Dee straggling along behind her.

They had to get to the upper levels. Tam wouldn't dare keep chasing them once they were out of this level, once they were somewhere where there was IntSec and block wardens.

They made it to the catwalk. The crowds had vanished at the sound of the shots, not wanting to be caught in the middle of whatever was going on. She had no idea of the layout of this section, so she decided to head up, and began to run, burning the last of her reserves, Dee following along behind.

She could hear shouts somewhere below, the hunting call of the cultists following them.

Dee gasped and fell. Mara turned, and saw the blood dripping from her fur, the red trail stretching behind them.

“Leave me,” Dee hissed.

“No.” Mara leaned down and picked Dee up, slinging her over her shoulder, the seeping blood warm on her back.

She staggered onward, the catwalk spiraling up around the support pillar. She heard a shout from below as the cultists found the trail.

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