‘Pyro, don’t you dare!’ shouted Drake, as Pyro dropped back down onto the seat, his eyes blank, staring out into the unknown.
And then, right before their eyes, he disappeared with not even a speck of blood to show that he had even existed.
‘Drake, do you think?’ asked Willow, her voice trembling.
‘I don’t know,’ said Drake, shaking his head. Shit. This was not supposed to happen. Not this way. What if he was dead? He wasn’t supposed to die! What had he done?
‘Maybe he’s been summoned,’ said Willow.
‘Maybe,’ replied Drake, fixing his eyes on the small battalion of soldiers gathering at the foot of the Main Tower. ‘When we get back, you find out.’
‘I don’t know if I can, I-‘
‘We know his real name, right?’
‘Then we’ll do it. Somehow. We owe him that much.’
‘STOP THE CART AND PUT YOUR HANDS UP!’ The Overseer’s voice rang out from the speakers situated all around the compound.
‘What the hell do we do now?’ said Willow.
‘This!’ said Drake, ramming his foot down hard on the accelerator so that the cart shot forward, straight towards the soldiers preparing to fire in front of them.
‘Have you got a death wish or something?’
The cart crashed through the soldiers sending them scattering like dominoes.
‘GET UP!’ ordered the Overseer over the tannoy. ‘STUPID FOOLS, STOP THEM!’
The soldiers scrambled to their feet and followed the cart as it plunged over the bridge, straddling the fiery moat, and into the foyer of the Main Tower.
Drake immediately took his foot off the accelerator and slammed it on the break. The cart screeched in fury as it struggled to stop on the slippery floor. It finally came to rest just short of the main desk. The receptionist behind it was standing open-mouthed, clutching an empty cup that had held the coffee she was now wearing. Beside her stood the woman in the khaki uniform who had asked them to fill in the questionnaire.
Drake smiled at her and winked. ‘Sorry!’
Behind them the soldiers were fighting their way through the foyer, slipping and cursing as they chased after them. Drake turned on his heels and catapulted himself into the gaping mouth of the lift.
Willow jumped in behind him clutching The Emerald Key and breathing hard. She leaned over and slammed her hand on the “close doors” button. The doors began to slowly glide shut. ‘Come on, Come on!’ she said, pressing the button again and again.
‘Please refrain from pressing the button more than once,’ said the chirpy lift-voice. ‘Which floor do you require?’
Before Drake had a chance to answer, two strong arms, belonging to a man-mountain of a soldier with a hawkish face, began to push the metal doors back open.
‘What’s happening?’ asked the lift-voice.
‘Nothing that you need to worry about,’ said Drake, punching the soldier on his beak-like nose. The soldier stumbled backwards, momentarily losing his grip on the doors as he cradled his nose which was pouring with crimson blood. The doors slowly began to close, but the soldier launched himself at the doors, growling as he pushed them apart again, the muscles in his arms nearly popping with the effort.
Willow hit the soldier’s bloodied hands with the book as he tried to scramble into the lift, the other soldiers behind him now forcing him forward.
‘Exit please,’ said Drake. He rammed his boot into the soldier’s stomach sending him flying backwards and onto the soldiers behind him, his enormous bulk pinning them to the ground.
‘That was close,’ gasped Willow as the doors finally closed.
The lift quickly dropped to the basement. The doors opened and they pelted out, the shrill alarm still blaring around the compound.
They were now in a large rectangular hall with steel double doors in front of them. Two small flies buzzed around the flickering florescent strip light running along the centre of the dirty polystyrene-tiled ceiling, adding to the air of abandonment in this part of the tower.
They ran over and entered the room beyond the large double doors. The room looked to Drake like some sort of old control room, maybe a relic from the human era, as it reminded him of pictures he had seen, when he was a small boy, of the NASA control room in the 1950 s, with its large control panel on the side of one wall and its old-fashioned lights that flashed green and red. A large microphone covered in grey foam sat at its centre, in front of a blank green computer screen. To the right of the panel hovered a cylindrical glass pod, in front of a dark chute, its door hinged open at the top with small chrome fixings.
‘That’s got to be the way out!’ said Drake, pointing at the pod, ‘Now if we can just get it to-’ He doubled over, cradling his stomach in both of his trembling hands, as pain gripped him in her tight claws. He clenched his teeth and let the agonizing feeling pass.
‘Are you okay?’ asked Willow, her hand on his shoulder as she bent over to get a good look at him.
He nodded, unable to speak. But he knew something was horribly wrong. He just didn’t know what.
‘Okay,’ said Willow, but Drake could tell she didn’t believe him. But then again, he wasn’t really hiding the fact he was in trouble. ‘I’ll see if I can get the pod working,’ said Willow, stuffing the Emerald Key under her arm as she turned her attention to the control panel.
Once the pain had subsided, he managed to wedge the door shut with an old wooden chair. He didn’t know how long they’d got before the soldiers got here, but even if it didn’t hold the doors shut for long, it might just give them the valuable seconds they needed to get out of this place.
Willow was desperately pounding at the buttons on the control panel. She hit a green button and almost immediately there was a sound like an engine starting up and the pod began to shake violently, the computer screen now lit up with a picture of the pod’s sparkling interior.
Drake froze as more pain wracked his body, but this time it was like his flesh was being cut from his skin. He gritted his teeth as the pain took control. He stumbled, his eyes unable to focus, as his stomach tightened as nausea swept over him.
There was shouting outside the room and the double doors began to shake as the soldiers tried to ram their way in.
Drake was shaking and he could feel sweat, clammy and wet, under his tee-shirt and coat, where his Zephyr lay. Suddenly, it felt as if someone had grabbed his arm and had ripped it off backwards. He let out a muffled cry of pain and then gagged as bile rose up his windpipe. He closed his eyes, bit down on the pain and fought to keep control, to not let the pain take him.
Willow grabbed his arm. ‘Are you-‘
‘Yeah,’ he said, a little too harshly, ‘I’m fine.’ As the pain started to subside, Drake was now gripped by the crushing fingers of dread; Falkor was in deep trouble and Drake now knew that he was feeling the Reciprocal Damage.
Goddammit. He’d got to get back, to see if Falkor was okay. ‘QUICK!’ he shouted, running over to the pod. He turned and beckoned for Willow to hurry.
Willow looked at the hourglass still clasped in her hand; there was only a drop of silver, no more than the size of a tear, left in the top half of it. She threw it on the floor where it smashed into tiny pieces, the silver liquid oozing out over the floor like quicksilver.
Willow thrust the Emerald Key at Drake then threw herself into the pod.
Drake climbed in beside her, clutching the book to his chest. He could feel his Zephyr underneath him, its bridge jabbing into his back.
The pod snapped shut behind them.