Opening her eyes, she found herself walking along a dark tunnel. How did she get here, she wondered. The last thing she remembered was going to sleep. Great, just great, it was going to be another of those existential experiences that had been dogging her lately.
With a sigh, she stopped her walking. She ran a hand along the rock, the black material running across her palm. As was usual, she felt nothing. So, they weren’t going to allow her to have sensations this time, she told herself.
She turned on her heel and looked back the way she came. The dark cave like tunnel stretched off as far as she could see. Switching into night vision mode, she zoomed eye vision in, and still couldn’t see the end of the tunnel. Wherever they had her this time, she reflected, God only knew where it was.
She brought a gloved hand to her forehead. Rubbing it in thought, she contemplated what the do. It was obvious there was something for her to learn here, or else she wouldn’t be there. The question was going to be: what did they want her to learn and how did it fit into what was happening?
If they (whoever they were, she wondered) wanted her to learn something, then she needed to get on the move. Obviously, there would be someone, or something, waiting for her when she arrived. However, with no clue where that was, she would have to find it.
She turned back and started to walk the way she was heading before. The rock floor crunched under her boots, giving off a sound like frying bacon. Seeing no one else was around but her, Kate allowed her mind to relax.
While none of this made any sense, she told herself, it had to be true though. Even with all the pain she had been through, she had lived a charmed life. How many times on Necko had she come close to being killed, only to have Jennifer save her? Or how many times had it been that something fluke happened that allowed her to save herself?
More times then I really want to count, she told herself.
Their escape was one example, she told herself. The five of them should never have accomplished what they did. Just to make it through all the security had been fluke enough. However, when you threw in the traps that were placed just to stop an escape, it was even more amazing.
She frowned as she remembered Johnny, her section chief from the games. A gentle soul, finding himself on Necko, he had nearly killed himself. However, with her prodding, he had kept going in the hope of reaching his twenty-first birthday. Once he reached that, he knew, he would be free from having to kill and the rest of his days would be spent in more mundane fashion.
A single tear wound its way down her cheek as she remembered his death. They had reached a point where retreating was impossible, and advancing was blocked by a trap. The tunnel before them lead to the spaceport, but it was blocked by a electrical charge. It had been arranged in such a way that the first person who stepped into the tunnel would be electrocuted.
As the Master Champion, and team leader, she was prepared to set it up. Steeling herself for a painful death, she was stepping forwards to trip it when Johnny slugged her. Landing on her side, she was helpless to stop him as he stepped forwards.
The flash of the electricity made her wince even in memories. His body became a torch, flames rising up, his screams echoing in the empty corridors. As the trap finished discharging, his lifeless form fell to the ground. The smell of burnt flesh filled her nose, as it did today in her memories.
She stopped walking and set her head on the rock. Her body was wracked with sobs as she released the pain she hadn’t been able to that day. He had known he would die, she told herself, but he considered her life more important then hers. The one man she had ever loved had given his life so she could live, and it was a guilt she had never admitted until this moment.
Wiping her face with the back of a glove, she started moving again. Patricia was the next to enter her memories. A defender, she had been on their team as long as Jennifer and Kate had. Aggressive to a fault, she was also intelligent enough to make herself highly dangerous. She had decided to escape with them for the same reason Kate had: the killings, plus rapes from Ferini, had become more then she could stand.
Patricia had died in a booby trap no one saw coming, Kate chided. Stepping on a hidden control, the walls had shot out multiple darts. Tipped with poison, they had killed her friend in a long, protracted manner. Refusing to leave her behind, they had taken Patricia with them, only to have her die in sight of the spaceport.
The pain she went through, Kate thought, had been unbearable. Kate stared at her boots, as she knew she should have been the one on point at the time. It should have been her who had taken the darts, and not Patricia. Her refusal to lead the group after Johnny’s death directly lead to Patricia’s death.
All because I was too cowardly to lead, she chided.
She kept moving the entire time, feeling lonelier then she ever had. There were so many deaths on her conscience, which sometimes it made her wonder why she kept going. What was the point of continuing to live when everyone around her died? When their deaths were because of her actions, her decisions?
The sound of her footfalls started to echo back in longer intervals. Perking up her ears, she listened as she walked. If the echoes were taking long to reach her, then there had to be some sort of open space ahead. She picked up the pace, knowing that whatever waited her it was probably in the space ahead.
As she hurried, the tunnel ended and became an open room. Craning her head back, she couldn’t see the ceiling. Looking off to both sides, the walls were invisible in the darkness too. She licked her lips as she contemplated the size of the room before her.
The dark room lit up suddenly, temporarily blinding her. Placing a glove to her eyes, she found that it really wasn’t lit well. A murky, dim light reached her, allowing her to see the gigantic rock formations that were before her. A trail wound its way before her out of sight into the formations.
She placed her hands on her hips and contemplated things. Who knew just how far she had come down the tunnel, nor how far she had to go still. While she doubted there were any predators or animals of any sort here, it still worried her to move through the rocks.
Reaching down to her hip, she wasn’t surprised when she found no weapon there. That would be too easy, she told herself, licking her lips. There was no way whoever was meeting her was going to give her a weapon.
Well, she thought, I guess it won’t hurt to move on. Whoever is behind all of this doesn’t want me dead anyway.
She stepped forward, winding her way past the first rock formation. This was going to one arduous journey, she mused, that would take forever. Yet, the funny thing about it all was that she would wake up and not feel exhausted in the least.
It would be really nice if they told me why I was here, she mused, stopping for a moment.
Lost in her thoughts, she had been moving for what felt like hours. Faintly, she could smell smoke from a fire ahead of her. Someone had to be here, she told herself, moving warily towards the scent.
She wound her way around a last formation and entered a large, open area. Before her a fire burned, and a single person sat by it. An old man, even by the standards of the twenty-fourth century, she was amazed to see him before her. His hair was snow-white having lost whatever color it had long before. While his face was gentle in appearance, it was wrinkled and lined more then anyone she had ever seen. He looked up at her, his deep blue eyes more penetrating then anything she had ever seen.
“Who are you?”
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