Read Chapters 1 - 8 at: Deep Sky Stories
Chapter 9 (Part 1) - Down The Glass Tunnel
"Ow", Alex grunted thickly and for good reason, his hands felt like they had touched a hot stove. He could only remember the bright flash of sparks and something like a large fist punching him backwards. He knew though that he had killed an evil thing and had saved Rainah. That more than made the pain worth it.
"Alex...can you move", she whispered desperately. "We must get out of here, it has been too long and I hear them all around us." "Please, you must get up!"
Alex tried sitting up but the ground swam before his eyes and a horrible nausea overcame him. He fell back against Rainah, weak and limp and only wishing to sleep again. His hands throbbed with sharp stabs of agony now as he became fully aware of the burns the electric shock had given him.
"S-sleep...just want to sleep", he mumbled, exhausted. But Rainah was having nothing of it.
"You get up on your feet", she snapped in Alex's ear, and she pinched his earlobe hard to get his undivided attention.
"Do you wish to die, Alex", she continued mercilessly, "because that is what will happen to you and me if you stay in your little cocoon of wishes and pity! That pretty place you saw in our dream was once there - yes, but it is no more because the Others destroyed it! And do you know why, because we did as you are now doing - we gave up - we looked away and hoped the evil would go away too.
“Do you wish to live or to die", she finished, and without waiting for a reply, Rainah pinched hard again and began pulling and shoving Alex to his knees. Finally, his feet were under him and despite the pain, he began walking, half-leaning against Rainah who held his arm over her shoulder to steady him.
Rainah seemed to know where she was going and was wasting no more time as she pulled Alex towards their destination as fast as possible. Alex tried to be as silent as she but he kept stumbling and scuffing his feet noisily against rocks and cans and any other refuse that lay in their path.
Faint sounds now came to his ears from the near distance behind them. Rattling and scuttling sounds of pursuit were heard, coming closer with each passing second. Fear now became an ally to Alex and drove him to keep moving his weak legs.
"Do you wish to live or die?" Rainah's words kept repeating in his head.
"I want to live", Alex answered with every step. Something small and bright flashed by up in the dark sky, followed by another, then a swarm of shooting stars descended as one, but rather than burning up in the atmosphere and vanishing, they then performed strange zigzags and spirals. They came lower and lower still, and an awful hissing sound of black wings cutting through the air could soon be clearly heard.
A shadowy figure suddenly loomed out of the darkness of a large scrap-pile, blocking their way. Thin slits of neon light glared up at them then scuttled around behind them. Alex tried to look over his shoulder but was pushed from behind by something heavy like a club.
"Rainah -", Alex began, trying to warn her.
"It is okay", she interrupted, "it is my Guardian. We will be safe soon, but come - hurry, hurry!" A jagged opening was before them now which was strangely familiar. Alex squeezed inside, following Rainah who could only hold his hand now because of the narrowness of the dark tunnel. The shadowy figure continued pushing them onward from behind and soon the stars disappeared from view as a dark ceiling closed over them. It was the tunnel that Dart had led him through the night before, Alex was certain now.
He tried to look back again to see who Rainah's, “Guardian”, was but the darkness and the confined space made that impossible for the time being. The dark figure was still behind them though, protecting them from any pursuers. More minutes went by as they felt their way along a familiar zigzag path between the walls of welded scrap-iron. Finally though they came to the end of the tunnel and Rainah put her hand quietly against Alex's chest, signaling him to stop. The ceiling was so low by then that Alex was forced to stoop down to avoid bumping his head against it. At a silent signal, two familiar, softly glowing eyes suddenly appeared on the threshold of the open garbage bin which lay blocking the tunnel.
"Dart!", Alex called softly. The eyes changed in color to a soft, friendly pink and Alex's favorite alien friend emerged from the low doorway to the as yet unknown tunnel with a quiet, welcoming, “chirrup.”
"You must have met this one before", said Rainah in a manner that sounded none too surprised.
"Yes, I found Dart near my backyard two nights ago. He was just wandering around and I kind of startled him when I fell out of my apple tree. I had to spend the rest of that night fixing him up too; he was a real mess after he flew into the tree." Rainah made a little, "Uh-huh", sound while looking at Dart with mild disapproval. If a robot could look sheepish, Dart did so rather well as he looked down and away from Rainah's gaze like a pet who knew he'd been caught doing something wrong.
"That explains much", she mused, "this one that you have named has been most unreliable these last few days, leaving his patrol zone without approval and straying to the farther corners of the scrapyard. That must have been you that he was protecting last night when my Guardian and I found him battling the Flies so far from here. “He has been again damaged as a result of that", she said with a resigned shake of her head. Alex was shocked.
"Dart was hurt", he gasped and tried to push forward to examine the insect-bot. There was something now that Alex noticed in the way Dart moved and the way his eyes jiggled in the darkness as he walked. He could see that there was an unsteady, limping motion. "Oh, Dart", Alex said with heart-felt pity in his voice. He felt awful now at how much Dart must have been injured in that unmatched battle against so many dark enemies. Then another thought occurred to him, "you and your Guardian were fighting the Flies too?"
"Yes", Rainah replied evenly, "I received urgent trace thoughts from the Gardener, she seemed very alarmed about something which I didn't discover till I arrived with Jade", she said, gesturing back down the tunnel toward the other being that Alex still couldn't see clearly. "It was an excellent battle though, it gave these two back the fighting edge that they've been missing for so long." "I as well", Rainah finished, with a faraway tone in her voice.
"Come now", she said with renewed urgency, "we must not while away our time, there is still much that needs doing before...", but she left her thoughts unfinished as she turned toward the iron door leading to who knew where.
Dart had already disappeared back into that dark hole and Alex again felt the persistent nudging from Rainah's unseen Guardian. As she was about to follow Dart, Rainah said over her shoulder, "my friend, the Gardener-Who-Waits, has wanted to see you, Alex." "Now you will see our home", and with that she grabbed the upper edge of the trash bin, swung her legs inside and disappeared completely down the hole with a faint shushing sound. Alex was so stunned by that remark that he had no time to muster a reply. He was also feeling the nudges from behind becoming more impatient and forceful.
"Okay-okay", he growled back at his tormentor, "give me a sec, will you!" Alex inched cautiously toward the threshold and took hold of the lip of the doorway with his injured hands the way Rainah had, but before he could decide whether he still wanted to go through with it, the decision was made for him.
Alex almost had the wind knocked out of him as that same heavy, club-like object gave him a solid whump on the back, sending him sailing down the hole.
"Oh, cra-a-ap", he cried out, even as he felt a steep, slippery slide underneath him. Alex felt like he was in a very dark water-slide tube, but without the water.
"Whoa-Jeez", he yelled as the slide swooped round a bend but then leveled out slightly so that the ride wasn't quite so frightening. The tube continued downward though, in a more constant curve that wasn't as jolting as the beginning of it was. Alex heard Dart and Rainah sliding through the darkness ahead of him while the unknown and rather rude Guardian brought up the rear.
A few more minutes passed in that fashion until the boy felt an odd change occur in the environment of the tunnel. Alex sensed that, as the surrounding darkness deepened, the tunnel walls widened – expanded away from him. Paradoxical though the feeling was – he could physically feel smooth curvature at his side – still, there was an unsettling expansiveness that continued, as though windows to somewhere else were slowly opening all around him.
Faint, faraway sounds – hints of voices – approached then fled away as Alex slid deeper. Puzzled, he cocked an ear, straining to distinguish the distant murmurs from the louder sliding sounds that he and his companions made. The disjointed ghostly murmurs faded away into normalcy though and Alex sensed the tunnel pressing in solidly once more. What an odd place he was in; it must have just been the darkness itself, Alex mused.
Pondering the unending blackness though provided Alex with a solution to it: “My flashlight”, he exclaimed and reaching in a deep coverall pocket, Alex brought out his old, reliable torch and flicked it on.
"Beautiful", he breathed in wonder as the light flared around him and revealed that he was gliding down a smooth, perfectly round tunnel made out of glass. The glass was clear yet also had a green tint which glowed softly wherever the flashlight’s beam shone through it. Still, at other moments, the light was reflected off the glass whereupon it glanced and winked in thousands of tiny rainbows from one curved wall to another.
Alex felt like he was sliding within hundreds of flashing, dizzying halos as he progressed onward. Not too far behind him came the sound of Rainah's mysterious Guardian, sliding as he, she or it followed him down.
The size of the crystalline tube was such that an adult would have to hunker down slightly to walk through it. Since he was down on his back though, Alex decided to turn the beam of his light straight up to see what was outside the transparent ceiling above him. Although he could not stop sliding onward, it was a constant and comfortable experience. The curved bottom of the tube seemed to cradle him and usher him along and his little flashlight revealed the dark, quietness of the underground world to Alex as he glided slowly along. Down the boy slid, into a silent, beautiful, hidden realm and this is what he saw…
Next: Chapter 9 (Part 2) - The Other Boy
As of 2017-04-03, Chapter 9 (Part 2) may be read at: Deepskystories.com