Into the Dark: Thirteen

Co-authored by Ciarente and Silver Night


As the tunnel met the river, the competing currents swirled around the swimmers, forming a deadly maelstrom. Amieta had a glimpse of Sarakai fending herself and Camille off from the wall before the churning water separated them.

She twisted desperately to avoid a pylon, instead grating her back against the wall and striking her head a glancing blow. Stunned, she felt herself pulled down by the current.

A hand gripped her arm. Cia. Amieta grabbed for her, trying to find the surface. There was stone above her still, always stone, no air ... She gritted her teeth, the hand clasped around her wrist helping her keep focused, keep the panic down. Keep from going back. Cia pulled her down and forward, and then suddenly there was light above them.

Amieta kicked hard and her head broke into the air, under the open sky.

"Thank... Spirits... out... of there..." she gasped, looking up at the bright blue sky.

Cia nodded her agreement. The slap of a wave pushed her away from Amieta, and she kicked exhaustedly back towards her, clutching at Amieta's shoulder with her left hand, right arm hanging limp.

Further downstream Amieta could see Sarakai and Camille, Sarakai keeping Camille afloat. The little girl was doing her best to help, or at least not to hinder Sarakai, but Amieta could tell she was struggling. No-one I'd trust more to take care of her than Sara, she thought. Hold on, Camille. Not much longer, honey.

I hope.

No, not much longer. She could hear an engine. Looking up, she could see a small hovercraft swooping towards them. It headed for Camille and Sarakai, and a figure leaned from the open door. A harness attached to a cable splashed down in the water beside Sarakai and Camille. Sarakai hooked it towards her with an economical movement and fitted it to Camille.

The words from the woman leaning from the open door of the hovercraft were barely audible over the roar of the river. "Hurry! Fourth bridge!"

Sarakai pulled the harness tight, gave a thumbs up to the hovercraft and took a firm hold on the cable. As the cable tautened, Amieta initiated contact with the Utopian Pattern holding station above the planet. When the connection was completed, it was the pilot - her employer - Silver Night, whose voice she heard:

Ami, what's the situation down there? Shuttle is lifting off as we speak.

Could be better. They better come down prepped for a water rescue, just in case.

Copy, anything else? Silver sounded annoyingly calm

Hurry. Amieta cut coms, attention returning to her immediate surroundings.

She could hear Cia muttering "Come on, come on ..." and followed the other woman's gaze downstream, where another bridge, this one high and wide, was rapidly coming closer.

Sarakai and Camille were pulled from the water, the hovercraft holding steady. Amieta and Cia were swept beneath them as they were winched up to the hovercraft.

Seeing the bridge come closer, Amieta said, "I don't know if we're gonna make it Cia."

"The other side ..." A wave slapped Cia in the face and she coughed, went under the water and surfaced again. "The houses, they're too close. The river bends. They can't fly it. There were too many accidents, trying."

"We'll wait until the houses aren't so close, then," Amieta said. How far? Cia was clearly weakening. Can she stay afloat that far? Can I?

"They're close ... all the way to first bridge. And the weir."

The hovercraft dipped towards them, and then pulled up and circled away as the shadow of the bridge fell over them. Stone overhead again, briefly, and then they were out and Amieta could see what Cia had meant by 'too close'. The river narrowed to not much more than thirty feet wide, and on either side, blank walls rose twenty feet to a row of tall, narrow houses that turned the river into a canyon.

A sharp bend took them out of sight of fourth bridge.

"What's a weir?" Amieta asked.

"It's like.. "Cia went under again, and Amieta pulled her up. "It's like a dam. The water goes over the top. And a long way down."

"Oh," Amieta said.

An indicator flashed in the corner of her vision, an incoming communication, from Silver. She made the connection with a thought and his voice spoke in her head again:

I am on my way. Been a while, thought I would fly this myself. Sitrep?

Situation is you better hurry, old man. If you have me on locater, we're in a no-fly zone for the local hover jockeys. Structures on both sides, close. Then there is some sort of waterfall or something. I hope you aren't too rusty when you actually have to fly instead of lazing around in a goo-bath.

I prefer to think of myself as experienced. Silver's tone would have seemed perfectly serious to anyone who did not know him so well. I will be there as soon as I can, I just need to remember which of these is the throttle.

Ancestors help us. Amieta cut the connection after getting in the last, dry word, then spoke out loud to Cia,

"Silver is on his way."

"Silver?" Cia asked, looking confused.

"To pick us up."

The current was much faster with the narrowing of the channel. Another bridge flashed overhead, and Amieta and Cia were dragged rapidly around the sharp turns and bends of the winding river.

A muffled but still incredibly loud thump echoed overhead.

Cia slipped under the water again and surfaced more slowly than before, coughing. Amieta tugged her up, nearly going under herself, and looked skyward.

"Sounds like that's him," she said encouragingly to Cia. "Showing off, as usual."

"I hope ... he hurries ..." Cia said. "That's ... second up ahead ..."

A light assault shuttle shot towards them on afterburner, barely above the roofs of the city, a visible ripple in the air behind it, accompanied by a supersonic roar and the tinkle of thousands of breaking windows. As it approached the river, the nose lifted and the shuttle decelerated brutally, matching their speed as the river whipped them under the next bridge. It dropped down delicately between the houses as Amieta and Cia came out from under the bridge.

Cia went under again and Amieta lunged after her, pulling her head above the surface as the back hatch on the shuttle opened and a rope ladder tumbled down. The LAS veered, narrowly missing a line of buttresses.

Amieta got Cia in a lifeguard's hold and kicked for the ladder.

"Ami... "Cia gasped. "Can't .."

"Hold on, Cia. We're almost there."

The river twisted and turned sharply, the shuttle dipping and darting around the bends without slowing. It tilted, sliding sideways and just avoiding clipping a stone balcony. As Silver corrected with a wobble, one of the craft's stubby wings smashed through a bay window without slowing. There goes some poor bastard's breakfast nook. Amieta got her hand on the ladder and pulled Cia closer as the LAS steadied. Cia got a grip on the ladder with her left hand, her right arm still hanging limp. Amieta tightened her own hold on the ladder and Cia both.

Cia looked downstream. "Ami! The bridge!"

Amieta could see it, filling the space between the houses ahead of them. A broad low bridge that they seemed to be approaching impossibly fast. "Oh, shit!"

Cia looked up at the shuttle, then back at the bridge. "He can't ... it's too close ... we won't get clear ..."

Amieta could tell Cia was right. If the shuttle pulled up now to clear the bridge, the trailing ladder would strike the stone - as would the two women at the end of it.

Silver ... she said.

I know, he replied tersely. Under.

"Hold on," Amieta told Cia. "Silver's going under."

"It's too low!" Cia said. "He'll crash! Ami!"

"No he won't. He knows if he crashes I'll kick his ass."

The shuttle dipped forward and down, keeping a steady tension on the rope ladder to avoid snags, and hurtled under the bridge, the top of the craft barely clearing the underside of the bridge, wavelets from the churning river nearly brushing the bottom, vanishing from view in the shadows beneath the bridge.

Cia gave a yelp of fear, face white, eyes wide, as they followed the shuttle into the dark.

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