Continued from Chapter Seven: Part One
A burst of flame and force from one of the sparking balls of the Scarpy rocked him back. The sudden force woke him, a steadying vibration. He pushed himself to his feet with the pickaxe. With it he knocked the grate on the duct off. Hooking its head in the duct he climbed up to the opening. After only four inches of flat, the two foot by four foot duct went straight down, ending only at the basement. Twig dove in head first. The last he saw, the Scarpy he’d shanked had the knife out of his arm. Kneeling, he hid it away in his coat. The Scarpy on the second floor climbed through the hole. He and the third with the pickaxe saw Twig dive into the duct. They would not follow him. It was not their way. They were relentless hunters. But when they would predict and counteract more than pursue. Twig knew that from boot camp.
It gave Twig a second to rest. He fell through the dusty duct. His eyes closed, and it seemed like an eternity. He concentrated on nothing. It felt to him as if the walls of the duct disappeared. He knew neither up or down. For a moment, he felt alone in an empty universe. His body still ached and froze, seeming-stiff as in dying. But his mind cleared. He found his center
Then he had fallen long enough. Opening his eyes he looked into the duct extending into the ceiling of the second story. He grabbed the edge of it. His body swung down past him. With his toes he stopped his descent silently. The sound came through the wall of the Scarpy yammering among themselves. They moved toward the stairs near the far end of the room. They would stand guard at the top of the stairs up from the cellar, Twig deemed. In the meantime, Twig reached into the duct before him. About three feet down it, there was a cutting in its top. Twig had picked the right duct. Inside the cutting Twig grasped a handle. If he had not known just where to reach he would have had trouble finding the handle. It took some strength to pull it, so that rats wouldn’t pull it on accident. He pulled it, straining back against the side of the duct.
It slide with a momentous clunk. The clunk triggered creaks and screeches, then mechanical clicks and whirs fading into the quiet of distance. He only hoped this would work. This lever should have been thrown at the same time as one of the others. They had never discussed the possibility of only one soldier triggering the whole self-destruct himself. Twig wasn’t sure if something strange would go wrong.
The distant, mechanical chain of sounds continued. Twig let go of the lever and the side of the duct. He dropped into the dark, down two floors into the basement. He landed on a bend of duct following the cellar ceiling. The joint in the duct collapsed under the weight of his body. Dust fell with him out of the gap he made. His body crunched onto a pile of coal. For a moment he lay there, listening to the Scarpy chattering between themselves and stomping in the room above, and to the now faint grinding and clicking that the lever in the duct triggered. The mechanism to trigger the cave-in made the noise. It surprised him how far the mechanism reached. Even as he lay there in the coal he heard the mechanism give a final clunk—a sound with satisfyingly ultimate solidness. He knew not what would happen next. Getting to his feet, he stood in the dark cellar, the pensive silence. The Scarpy had fallen silent, awaiting him. Perhaps they had also heard the clunk.
It seemed that nothing would happen. Aside from the dust settling around Twig nothing moved. One trigger perhaps did nothing alone. He still must release the other two catches. The Scarpy guarding the way up still must be fought. Twig took a step toward the rickety stairs out of the cellar. A sliver of light shined through the closed door at the top. A shadow moved across it. Twig reached over his shoulder for the bow.
A fizzling sound came from behind him. At first he thought it sounded like sand running through an hourglass. Expecting to see a red spark, Twig wheeled, looking for the source of the noise. He saw nothing but the dirty stone walls of the cellar. The sound grew louder so that Twig could pinpoint its source. Near the base of the wall, but not from inside the room—not sand, either. Gravel ran away, outside the cellar, lower than the level of the ground. The sound grew suddenly very loud. The stones of the cellar began to sink and slide away from the foundations. The wood and metal structure above began to groan. Cracks laced the floor from the wall toward Twig. Rafters over his head bowed. They would not hold the weight of the breaking building for long.
Twig raised his eyebrows, anticipating the tons of infrastructure disintegrating onto his head. Whoever had designed this autodestruct mechanism either had great faith in a Zombie’s powers to escape a tight spot, or they cared very little for their foot soldiers.
Progress suspended for a bit as I have posted almost to the end of what I have written.