4 min read
Tremble winced and lifted a dust-covered hand to catch the heavy drop of sweat clinging precariously to his right eyebrow. He held his fingers in front of his eyes for a moment, studying the gentle swirl of silver and cobalt before it evaporated. Every breath he inhaled threatened to burn a desert through his insides, and the gigantic metal generator at his back was no less arctic. He threw a furtive glance at Mouse, crouched behind the generator’s horse-sized intake valve. The Runner’s big purple tongue hung loosely from between his dark lips, and his long fingers toyed absently with the 15-inch gash that ran the length of his right sleeve.
“Two-eight-nine is just ahead,” he panted, nodding his chin to the south where the Groove began to grow dark. Tremble nodded in resignation, and their eyes locked with shared anxiety. Beneath them, the inter-woven fibers of the Groove’s floor began to vibrate, filling the corridor with a low hum.
“It’s comin’. We gotta go!”
Mouse exhaled with slow deliberation, and then tapped the pentacle in his forehead. His eyes lit up briefly before he reached out to grab Tremble’s arm, and the Groove became a solid tunnel of light.
Tremble launched himself to his feet, sure as hell that his legs simply couldn’t take him one more step. His feet hit the Groove hard and fast, the impact driving shards of hot white pain through the soles of his feet. Mouse was a blur ahead of him, leaping over rendering failures and dodging inceptors with the grace of a cat. It had never occurred to Tremble before now just how ironic it was that Mouse was called ‘Mouse’.
The tunnel ended abruptly then, swallowing the Runners in shadows thick with the scent of curry and rotting cabbage. Tremble’s toe caught the edge of a bicycle wheel lying broken in a puddle, and sent him flying forward. He reached into his pocket and closed his fist over the Gaelator, comforted by its uneven shape. It must have felt Tremble’s fear, amplified by the look on Mouse’s face as Tremble flew towards him. It gave his palm a sharp lick and flipped over, nestling securely against the underside of Tremble’s fingers, flexing its tiny scales.
Mouse planted his feet to prepare for the impact, but it wasn’t enough. “Two-eight-eight,” he gasped, and suddenly they were falling.
The slick white slope of 288 rushed up to meet Tremble’s face, and then was replaced with blank gray sky as they tumbled down, gaining speed and bits of ephemeris. Tremble’s vision became a spiral of blank nothingness intermingled with the glow of the Groove. His arm was trapped against Mouse, his hand still entrenched in his pocket. He closed his eyes to supress the nausea, grunting as the hood of his jacket slapped the back of his head in rhythm to his tumult. The hum had increased to a wicked cacophony, and behind them was the not-so-distant sound of noodle shops and bicycle wheels being smashed to oblivion.
The Groove disappeared beneath them, and Tremble was suddenly weightless. An explosion of grey matter flew out in every direction around him, sprinkling his arms and legs as they whirled in a slow-motion dog-paddle. The Gaelator squirmed in Tremble’s fist, its bright orange tail fin painting a searing swath of light across his vision. It pushed itself out from between his fingers and spread its tiny wings, darting towards Mouse with alarming agility. It planted a kiss on Mouse’s forehead with its tiny pink lips, and the space around them turned the bright turquoise of early morning. 100 yards ahead of them Tremble could see the tattered edge of the Swell hanging over the nothingness below, its shining cables swaying in an unfelt breeze like strands of summer hair.
Mouse landed first, hitting the tin roof of a barber shop at a roll and vaulting off the edge to land in the garden below. Tremble followed, reaching out his arms to break the fall and mis-judging the angle. He slid for 10 feet on his shoulder and came to rest with his neck sticking out over the alley below. An agitated Nurf appeared below, shouting curses and waving a device that looked rather like an egg beater. Tremble looked down to where Mouse lay, his heart pounding in his ears. He is dead. I’ve killed him, and the Gaelator got away.
FUCK. He thought, and just then Mouse sat up and coughed. He turned his face up towards Tremble and laughed.
“That was some wicked air!”
– 2008 –