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   Chapter 5 No.5

High Steaks By Christina Engela Characters: 6086

Updated: 2018-06-30 12:02

"Quickly! Move!" It took a barked order from Mei, standing at the rear, to snap them out of their momentary state of confusion and awe. Even Peg's mouth hung open – right up to the moment she reached the circle, which as she got closer to it, became clear enough to see that it wasn't just a black circle on the wall – it was a hole of some kind that went right through it! Only, the wall still seemed to be there at the same time! Peg looked over at Mei.

"Go on!" She said, encouragingly.

"Is this thing safe?" Peg quavered. "I can see the bricks vibrating!"

"Time's a-wasting!" Mei said tunefully, raising her eyebrows and tilting her head towards the opening. Peg shrugged, and took the plunge, vanishing like Gary had. After the last person went through, Mei went in herself. It was really just a hole in a wall from a practical perspective, except that the hole was just temporary. The tool Gary had used simply altered the chrono-spacial characteristics of the matter in the wall – and the solid bedrock behind it – to make it allow solid matter pass through it 'sort of like how glass is transparent and allows light pass through it', she remembered Scrooby's explanation. Scrooby had called it a 'portal'.

The hole – er, portal, went through the wall and downwards into the dark Deannan bedrock that lay beneath Atro City. Because it was artificial, the sides were fairly smooth and regular along a tunnel about only fifty meters or so long. At the other end of the portal, she emerged into a dark space that seemed to be lit – somewhat erratically – by the rest of the group, who were holding flashlights. Their eyes were still quite vacant and their faces numb. Gary was there waiting for her, and planted a kiss on her forehead as she came through.

"That's it." Mei said. "I'm the last one – you can close it!"

Gary pointed the device at the portal and pressed something on it. Silently, the portal vanished, leaving nothing but virgin bedrock – as it was before!

"Makes you feel kinda sorry for anyone who might've been trying to follow us, doesn't it?" He winked.

"No." Mei sighed. "Not at all."

The light being cast erratically around the dark space in the rock by moving flashlights, and her own, allowed Peg to see some detail. They were in some kind of tunnel – a natural space in the bedrock under the city, with either end of it obscured by darkness. The surface under her feet was hard rock There were patches of grit here and there, and what looked like potholes filled with fine gravel. Everything was bone dry. She spotted Mei, who seemed to be passing out bottles of water and small food parcels to their charges.

Nice touch, Scrooby! Mei thought.

"Where the hell are we?" Mayor McCracken grumped, pointing his light at the tunnel roof and staring at it. "Where is this?"

"It's part of an underground river." Mei explained. "Running under Atro City. It passes right under Lupini Square!"

"A river? Where's the water?" Landry observed. "I don't see any water!"

"What if it flood

s?" A staffer asked, verging on hysteria.

"We're fucked!" Came McCracken's voice in the darkness. "Ohh yes…"

"Actually, we're safe!" Gary added. "This part of the river was cut off a long time ago, when they built the fountain in the Square. It's been dry ever since."

The group began to chatter among themselves – a jumbled chaos about what had transpired that morning, their unusual escape – and the unusual means of their escape! Some were starting to crack under the pressure – and for those who hated closed, tight and dark spaces and who had vivid imaginations focusing on being trapped in an underground passage choosing exactly the wrong moment to flood, their emotional states seemed suddenly all too fragile.

"Now look!" Said Gary Beck, nibbling on an energy bar. He softened the tone of his voice in the new silence to compensate for the amplification of the rock walls. "We're perfectly safe down here for the moment. Take a few minutes, rest-up, eat something, have some water, and then we'll head that way toward the end of the river."

This gave them all a few minutes to rest, eat something and re-organize themselves. Then it was time to go. Feeling a little like tour guides, Mei and Gary herded the group through the darkness, down the channel the river had cut through the bedrock. What no-one in the group had asked, was how far they had to walk.

* * *

Meanwhile, in what had just been the Palace of the Planetary Governor, Sergeant-major Luciferus Krant of the Deannan Republican Army, was eyeballing a very nervous corporal who was standing rigidly to attention in front of him. Krant bobbed slightly with annoyance, so that the soles of his polished black boots squeaked faintly on the polished marble tiles in the lobby.

The large white doors of the main entrance, now a little marked and scuffed and not quite so white anymore, had been unlocked and stood wide open behind him.

From that hallowed doorway, half a century of just, peaceful, dignified, noble – and perhaps even honest government – had looked down upon Lupini Square and the city around it. Now it was witness to a scene of horror – a spectacle of depravity and tragedy which should bring tears to the eyes of any long-time resident of Deanna.

Over the previous few hours, Lupini Square had begun to resemble a prison camp more than the lively bustling hub of Deannan society. A few shops which operated from former shipping containers now stood dark and quiet amid clusters of empty tables and chairs that dotted the Square, like rocks in a small sea. At the center, water in the desecrated fountain splashed in the growing silence. Strangely, even the pigeons had deserted Lupini Square. The vast crowd that had been caught up in the D.R.A.'s cordon that morning had dwindled in size during the course of the day, and now scarcely a thousand people remained to still pass through the gate at the other end of the funnel. Trucks had begun to remove the undesirables that had been filtered out, moving busily to and fro.

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