Life Thief

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Chapter 15

They’d been tapping the system for two days now. Folen couldn’t figure out why the pressure kept building. He mopped his brow with a small towel. The boiler room was hot. Nobody spent a lot of time in there—they got in to load the fireboxes with mined coal, and got back out. With the high-pressure steam engines, their churning pistons, and the decided lack of ventilation in the underground caverns, it was difficult to remain long enough to do repairs without shutting the whole system down. Every two years or so this became necessary, but Folen hoped it wasn’t the case this time.

The promised solution? The drillers were opening up new caverns, most of which would be devoted to power like this, so that power rooms could be shut down for repairs without crippling the city. There was one electrical generator—just one, in the deepest cavern they had dug—it was also powered by the steam engine. Deep wells carried water from the Selway’s underground channels to the boiler room. Many of the drills and larger vehicles had their own boilers, while they had been experimenting for years with crude diesel engines on the smaller vehicles.

Folen couldn’t see anything from where he was. The steam and smoke choked the air. A team of miners, covered in soot and sweat, pushed a coal cart through on its track, and, grabbing shovels, hurriedly transferred their load to the fireboxes. When they pushed their cart back out, Folen followed.

He took a deep breath of the comparatively fresh air outside the boiler room. The insulated pipes from the steam room, running along the walls and ceiling of the entrance cavern, fed into the city and its many buildings, business establishments, and homes. There was always soot in the air, but people were used to it. The only channels more numerous than the steam pipes and water wells were the ventilation chimneys. They ran in a criss-cross network that separated and dissipated smoke emissions all the way up the surface. The citizens of Undermine were used to gas lamps and stoves, and used them liberally in response to the sometimes intermittent steam power, most of which was channeled to the manufacturing and mining operations anyway.

Folen frowned at the cluster of pipes as he walked along the underground road towards the Undermine proper. Tiny hisses of steam spurted here and there from the joints. There was nothing wrong with the joints; he had checked them days ago. Steam was escaping because the pressure was too high. They had been having to de-pressurize the pipes, tapping the release valves until the pressure went back down.

Maybe it was just inevitable. Folen sighed as he adjusted his hat and pulled his watch out of his pocket. It ticked merrily, and its face beamed at him that it was time for lunch.

Well, he was heading through the city anyway. He might as well go home for lunch. Adjusting his course on the carefully cobbled roads, his shadow jumped in several different directions from the gas street lamps lining the blocks. His own little house appeared down the street, two lamps burning in the window. Folen smiled and pushed open the front door.

Lamps burned on every available surface, and the soft whirring of the sewing machine could be heard from the other room. “Ernestine?” Folen called. But she had already quickly finished the seam she was on, and was hurrying out to meet him with a smile.

“How are things today?” she asked, giving him a hug and a kiss. “There hasn’t been any news from the Authority, has there?”

“No,” he said, “the team’s still out. They always take longer than they think they will, Ernestine, you know that. It’s not a real emergency—yet. I’m more worried about the boilers, honestly.”

“The boilers?” Ernestine looked back towards the room she had just come from. “You mean, the generator for the electricity?”

“There’s nothing wrong with the generator,” Folen said. “It’s the system that powers it, and everything else. Pressure’s building in the boilers, and I’m not sure why. Maybe some force of pressure shifted in the cavern. We do have half a mountain on top of us.”

“Let’s not talk about that,” Ernestine said. “That’s unpleasant. Have you had lunch yet, dear?”

“No, thought I’d stop by here for that,” Folen said. He smiled. “What have you got?”

Ernestine beamed, fluttering her hands. “There’s casserole from last night in the icebox, and I can make flatbread, do you know, I had gotten some of those lovely lambei steaks someone brought to the market after—“

“No, no, none of that dinosaur stuff,” Folen said. “I haven’t got the stomach for that. Casserole’s fine, love. If you don’t mind.”

Ernestine hurried off, and Folen sat down at the table, taking off his hat. He ran a hand through his thinning hair. Half a mountain. He had a comparatively easy job, because he had skills. So did his wife. Sixty percent of the population of the Bitterroot Undermine were miners, farmers, or worked for the Containment Authority. Of all of those, miners had the safest job. And that was saying something. Dinosaurs. Folen didn’t want to see them. Or eat them. He didn’t want anything to do with them. He was old enough to remember the Exodus very well. They called it the Flight, in some places. But they called it the Exodus around here. So many people had died—and yet many had lived. And they were still living, in a dirty, smoky, hole in the ground. At least as long as the hole didn’t collapse on them.

Folen picked up his hat again, grinding his teeth as he turned it over in his hands. He was on edge about it. Ernestine preferred not to think about these things. But Folen thought about them. It was his job to think about them, to make sure the system stayed stable. It had been stable enough, for many years, and they were always improving it. He shook his head. He would give it one more try, he would tap it one more time, and if it kept going up he was going to ask them to shut it down so that they could try and repair it.

Shutting down the steam power was always tense. It powered the pumps on the wells, on the irrigation for the farms. The factories. The cold storage. Yes, there were wells with hand pumps. Nobody would die of thirst during a brief shutdown. The crops would be fine. It rained enough aboveground.

Ernestine bustled back in with the casserole, smiling, and struck a match to light the oven to warm it.

“I’ll eat it cold,” Folen said. “That’s fine. I don’t have a lot of time.”

“Are you sure?” Ernestine seemed disappointed. “It’s so much better for you warm.”

“It’ll keep me going,” Folen said. “If I had the leisure I wouldn’t mind. But save the gas. You might need it later.”

Ernestine sighed as she shook out the match, and began to spoon up the cold casserole into a bowl for him. “You don’t have to shut the boiler down again, do you? You just shut it down six months ago…”

“I know,” Folen said, grimly. He took the bowl and nodded his thanks as he began to eat. “We used to have to do maintenance every year or so, but it’s been acting up a lot more. There’s some sort of blockage. Nothing too serious, but we had to shut it down last time to find out the source. Some kind of gas coming in through one of the wells. We buried the well, but the problem is back.”

“Another well, maybe?”

“Maybe,” Folen busily spooned the cold casserole into his mouth. “None of the ones I’ve looked at so far seem to be having any problem.” He paused a moment, thoughtully. “Where’d you get lambei steaks, anyway?”

“Oh,” Ernestine said, waving a hand nonchalantly as she leaned across the table, “I was out for a moment to buy some thread. There was a steady stream at the market. One young man was selling the steaks. And whole haunches! Of course, I couldn’t carry that…”

Folen paused, chewing thoughtfully. The market. Lit all around with gas lamps, it had once occupied the center of the Undermine, but had since been removed to its own freshly dug cavern to make throughway space for the drills. While most of the permanent sellers there had a license by trade from the city, people could wander in and, for at least a couple of hours, sell whatever they wanted. He could imagine the scene—the colorless eyes, the pale smiles, the busy chatter of friendly conversation about small nothings; market prices, how their children were doing in school. Troglodytes pretending they didn’t remember what the sun was like.

Ernestine sighed. Folen often thought she could see his gloomy thoughts when they began to parade through his head—and likely enough across his face. She didn’t see it like he did. She saw a refuge. He was constantly seeing a trap. Yes, dinosaurs were a reality, and that’s why they were down here. The necessity of the arrangement made it no less a trap.

Folen spooned the last bite of casserole into his mouth, and quietly pushed the bowl across the table towards his wife. “Thank you,” he said. “That was good.”

She took the bowl, silent, her eyes luminous and concerned.

“Don’t worry about Oscar,” Folen said. “Don’t worry about him… he knows how to take care of himself up there. He’s got a job to do. So do I.” Pushing his chair back, he put his hat on his head, nodded to his wife with a smile, and left.

Steam pipes and brass release valves loomed back into his mind the moment he stepped out the door. One more try. The glow of the lamps along the cobbled street, coupled with his relatively relaxing lunch, would almost have been peaceful, had not the warning hiss of escaping steam taunted him from every juncture.

The first release valve in its little corner cabinet along the pipelines was set to the normal position. Gripping the wheel, Folen twisted it several times. The needle bounced on the little pressure gauge, and dropped a few numbers down. Not enough, though. Folen pulled a marker from his pocket and drew a line on the valve where he’d left it, then walked off towards the next one. He gave it the same treatment, and the next. Still, the gauge needles were not showing what he wanted.

The main release valve wasn’t inside a metal cabinet, since it was on the main export pipes from the engine room. Throwing a glance upward to check the ventilation shaft, Folen turned the squeaky, protesting valve wheel to full open, then crouched down to squint at the gauge.

The needle bobbed. Still not enough. With a sigh Folen pushed himself to his feet. A trio of miners, dripping with sooty sweat as they came out of the engine room, stomped by. He nodded to them.

“Something wrong?” one of them asked, pausing to look at Folen.

“The pressure in the whole system is too high,” Folen said. “I suspect there’s a blockage somewhere, at some crucial juncture, because opening the release valves is not having a significant effect on the pressure.”

The miner’s face fell. “We gonna have to shut it down?”

“I’m afraid so,” Folen said.

“So, no more loads, then? I can tell the boys to take a break?”

“Not just yet,” Folen said. “I have to check the security perimeters before I can recommend the shutdown. The far extension of the steam power is the groundlocks. Authority policy.”

“Is it dangerous?” the miner asked. “Is there time for that?”

“Yes, there’s time,” Folen said. “That’s why I check the system every day, so I can catch problems early. Time for early signs, and time to follow security protocols. We’ve got a lot of hazards to worry about, aboveground as well as underground…”

“Yeah, yeah, okay,” the miner said, and shook his head. “I’m assuming someone will let us know if they order a shutdown. Thanks for your hard work.” Tipping his helmet to Folen, the miner scurried off after his colleagues.

Folen sighed. He couldn’t blame the man. The weight of the city’s problems weighed oppressively enough in the miles of rock above their heads. With that in mind, it was time to check the groundlocks.

Much of it could be done, actually, through the Authority. If no one liked the Authority much or felt they could relate to them, at least they were thorough, and efficiently everywhere. Folen headed for the western groundlock, which was the smallest and the closest to the boiler room. The Authority check-in guard had a luxurious office, a desk and file with copious and meticulous records of exit and entrance, and his own coffee maker. No security problems, and everyone who had gone out this entrance had reported back in, except for one man, a day or two ago. The guard assured him that the Authority had handled that and had a squad out. The north lock would be fine for a power shutdown, although the guard sighed as he said so, as if such an event was a personal injury.

“Do you have recent reports from the other groundlocks?” Folen asked. “I’m going to recommend a shutdown, but I need to check the security first, as that will affect the pressurized locks.”

“You’re not Authority, so you can’t visit the north lock,” the guard said. “But I’ve had no reports. The southwest lock is still closed because of the cave-in. Nothing’s getting through that way. The east lock, I got a notice about it, I think there was a problem—“ Shuffling through his papers, the man slid on a pair of spectacles. “Oh. No, no. It’s classified. You might have to walk there and ask them about that one. Highly variable, you know. I wouldn’t know enough, on this end of the city.”

“I’ll do that,” Folen said. “Thank you, sir.” The guard nodded and waved him out with a smile, one hand already again on his coffee mug.

Folen hurried out, taking the cheerily lit steps that flanked the main tunnel. It wasn’t exactly a short walk to the other end of the city, and Folen found himself glancing worriedly at every pipeline—there were many—that he passed or found himself following. He had told the truth the miner—the protocol left sufficient time to catch early problems. But that was no excuse to dawdle. Perhaps he shouldn’t have gone home for lunch.

As the afternoon wore on—a wound-up clock tower in the underground city square obstinately insisted on the hour, though no one could check it by the sun—more people emerged, relaxing after a day’s work, donning hats and scarves, jackets and parasols that no one actually needed. It was just that people needed to need such things. Folen quickened his pace, leaving the subdued bustle of the city behind him. He enjoyed the city scene when he wasn’t working, but the concerns of his duty took precedence. Especially now.

The tunnel leading to the east lock was deserted, as it usually was at this hour. Late in the evening, when the farm work was done, there would be a steady file of tired workers moving down the road back towards the city, usually with some Authority accompaniment. It wasn’t a short jaunt; some workers, who had them, rode bicycles. But most walked—the way was steep, and not that well lit. Climbing the road now, Folen felt himself breaking a sweat, despite the chilly breeze coming from that east lock.

The gas lamps faithfully lit the way up to the inner lock. As Folen crested a rise, straightening and pulling a small towel from his belt to wipe his brow, he saw an unexpected sight.

A whole watch stood a short distance from the lock, armed to the teeth, in full Authority gear. Folen counted three, four, five men. One of them was already coming towards him.

“What’s your business?” the man asked. The lamp light glinted off of the metal plating on his helmet.

“Maintenance,” Folen said. “There’s a problem with the pressure in the boiler system, and I need to recommend a shutdown to fix it. I’m checking security perimeters before I recommend the order.”

The man nodded. “The east lock currently has a classified security issue. I’m not sure we can recommend a shutdown, as the doors are large, and the pressure locks are needed.”

Folen frowned. That didn’t sound like a cave-in. “I don’t want to leave this problem unfixed too long,” he said. “How much time will you need to return security?”

“We don’t know,” the man said. “But the Authority is working on the issue, and we’re making sure no one approaches the lock. It’s a safety matter.”

“I see,” Folen said. His gaze drifted over the man’s shoulder, towards the big eastern doors of the lock. They were bolted fast, the warmth from the steam pipes mixing with an uncharacteristic cold aura. So much for early warning signs. “I’d really like a timeframe. The issues with the boiler are also a safety matter. Is this door not secure enough without the pressure locks?”

“Go back to the city,” the man said. “We’ll inform maintenance immediately once it’s safe.”

A low, hollow screech suddenly reverberated up through the doors, starting tremulously at ground level and rising quickly until it seemed to explode into a concussive force, the hollow boom of a destabilizing impact shaking the doors of the lock. The sound of metal twisting groaned under the quake, and the steam pipes hissed in protest, little jets of steam leaking around the rivets and joints.

The Authority men shouted, spinning to face the door and moving backwards several feet. The man who had approached Folen gripped his arm hard, pushing him back before the retreating line of men.

Folen felt the blood draining from his face. “What was that?”

“That,” the man said, “is why we can’t turn off the pressure locks.”

“But what is it?” Folen’s voice pitched higher, in alarm. “Are we under attack?”

“That's classified information,” the man said. He released Folen’s arm violently. “Now get out of here, if you value your life.”


Another flare soared up, lighting the night. “There it is,” Clifton said. He nodded his head along the road ahead of them, his hands gripped tightly on the steering wheel. Ahead of them, at the end of the road, the huge vehicle groundlock, steel doors bolted into the surrounding rock, lay hung partially open ahead of them.

“Something’s wrong,” Fr. Antonie said, squinting in the smoky green light of the flare. “That door is never left open.” As the flare spiraled down over the hill, they could see several figures running from the open door, waving them down. Fr. Antonie loaded another flare, but two of the figures lit torches, coming towards them.

Clifton braked the car to a halt and threw open his door. Two men, dressed in Authority uniform, labored up the slope towards them. “What’s your clearance?” one of them shouted.

Oscar slid his hand warily past the bulk of the netted raptor, getting hold of the handle of the side hatch.

Clifton and Fr. Antonie scrambled out of the car, the priest setting down the flare gun and taking his rifle with him. “What’s going on?” Clifton said.

“What’s your clearance?” the man repeated, as the two of them made it up the slope to the car. The man who had spoken held a high-powered rifle in his hands, while the man behind him carried the torches.

Wordlessly, Clifton dug into his coat pocket, removed a card, and held it out.

The man who had spoken took it, holding it up to read in the torchlight. He nodded, handing it back. “All right, Mr. Shepard. Your clearance is fine, but you can’t go in. We’ve got a security issue.”

Oscar rapped on the barred window. Fr. Antonie walked around to open the side hatch, and gave him a hand out.

The two Authority men, seeing Oscar, straightened in attention. “Report,” the man with the rifle said.

“Oscar Garrasco,” Oscar said. “Reporting as one of two surviving members of the arrest squad.” He paused. “Glenn?”

“Yes,” Glenn said. “Only two. And your arrest?”

“Successful,” Oscar said.

“The other men on the squad?”

“They’re all dead, Glenn,” Oscar said, flatly, “except for Edward. Most of them are beyond our reach, except for Frederic. The monks took custody of his body.”

Glenn swore. “All right. I’ll get you logged in when I can. Mr. Shepard,” Glenn nodded to Clifton, “thank you for assisting Oscar with your transportation.” He turned his gaze to Fr. Antonie, his voice when he spoke again dry with recognition. “And de Vries. Welcome. You’ll have to let me know what happened out there, Oscar. When we have time.”

“I will,” Oscar said. “But I’ve got our man, as dearly as it cost us.”

“You’ll have to hold him until we can resolve this issue.”

Oscar glanced back at the partly open door of the lock. “What happened?”

“A Cryolophosaurus gelovitalia breached the outer groundlock. Some idiot moving farm equipment left the door open. The city itself is, currently, still secure. No breach has been made by the animal on the inner lock, and we have a watch on the city side.”

Oscar’s hand twitched on his gun. “Besides someone leaving a door open, how—why— would it go in there?”

“We suspect it’s attracted by the large accumulation of body heat in the city,” Glenn said.

“Of course it is,” Oscar said, flatly. “Of course…”

“No success at removing it?” Clifton asked.

“We’ve been trying to lure it out, so far without success,” Glenn said. “I don’t want to send men in after it. We don’t see these dinosaurs up here very often. If you’ve ever seen what they’re capable of doing—“

“I’ve seen,” Oscar said.

“Well, then you know my dilemma. I don’t think it can get through the inner groundlock, but it’s interested, and it’s trying.”

“You’ve evacuated the area around the inner lock, haven’t you?” Fr. Antonie said.

“There’s a watch there,” Glenn said. “At this time of day there’s no one there anyway, and the watch will keep it that way should anyone approach.”

“And using major explosives to kill it is out, I suppose,” Oscar said.

Clifton shook his head. “Anything other than a very controlled explosion this close to the city would be way too risky.”

Glenn nodded. “We’d have to evacuate the city before we did something like that, because of the risk of a cave-in. Maintenance is already asking to shut the power off to do repairs. If the whole underground infrastructure collapses, where would everyone go, then? They wouldn’t just have a cryolophosaur to worry about.”

“What’s your plan?” Oscar said. “Those things don’t go down with a little birdshot.”

“We’re trying to lure it out,” Glenn repeated. “We’ve got larger projectiles we can use once its out of the tunnels.”

“But it’s not working.”

“Not yet, no.”

Back in the car, Quincy shifted painfully. His leg was cramping, the heavy weight of the sprawled raptor giving him no room to stretch out. What small space Oscar had been taking up before he got out of the car was gone now. The raptor was still—he saw her breathing, the deep chest rising and falling. The flash and flicker of the torches, moving around the car, cast scant orange light through the barred windows and the open hatch.

“What about an electrical pulse?” Clifton was saying, outside. “Something small, that could be sent off from inside the groundlock here. Attract a kentrosaur or two. They hate carnivores.”

“We don’t want kentrosaurs in the groundlock,” Glenn said. “From there, they could short out all the buried generators.”

Quincy moved a hand across the net covering the raptor’s face. The metal knots of the net were nothing he himself could break, but she could probably tear them apart in a minute or two of strenuous effort. He moved his hand again, looking at the long-snouted face. Her eye was open. It blinked, and then moved—tracking his hand. She was waking up.

“Okay,” Quincy whispered. “It’s okay, Nova.” He stroked down the feathers on her head. Could she move yet? He wasn’t sure. She might not try until she got a read on the situation and formed a plan in her calculating little brain. He would have to form a quicker plan. “De Vries,” Quincy called.

“Yes?” Fr. Antonie stepped back over to the hatch, looking in.

“Have they got any chains out there?” he asked. “Strong ones, with clips—at least thirty pounds per hundred feet? And some bolt cutters?”

“They’ve got a whole arsenal out here,” Fr. Antonie said. “What do you need it for?”

“I’ve got an idea.”

“And what’s this idea?”

“I’ll put it simply for you. They’ve got a dangerous dinosaur loose underground. I’ve got a dinosaur trained to deal with things like that.”

Fr. Antonie’s gaze traveled over the still raptor, and then he looked back at Quincy, meeting his gaze. Quincy raised his eyebrows. The priest nodded and turned away back to the torches.

The raptor’s eye moved again, focusing on Quincy. “Shh,” Quincy said, stroking its head. “I’m gonna need you to do something for me,” he said. “I don’t know how awake you are. All I know is this stuff wears off a lot quicker in you animals.” He glanced back at the hatch.

“Lures like that aren’t going to work,” Oscar was saying. “They’re lured by body heat. That’s it. Lambei steaks are cold. Flares are cold. Flags are cold. The thing’s instincts tell it to hunt heat. That’s all.”

“I’m well aware, Oscar,” Glenn said, gently. “I can only imagine what you’ve been through out there, but I’d rather take time with less-likely solutions than unnecessarily endanger anyone’s life. What do you need, de Vries?”

“What’s he want?” Oscar said.

“Chains and clips,” Fr. Antonie said. “Thirty pounds. And bolt cutters.”

Glenn looked at Oscar questioningly.

“It’s for the animal,” Oscar said.

“Animal?” Glenn tightened his grip on his rifle.

“You could call it a double arrest,” Oscar said. “I took our man, and also took one of his… trained raptors.”

“Wasn’t it in your directive to kill the animals?” Glenn said.

“I was able to do some research,” Oscar said, “that I think overrode that directive, about what’s been done to these animals. I think you’ll be curious to see it.”

“I’m not opposed,” Glenn said, “but safety is my first concern right now. You know harboring live dinosaurs is against protocol and illegal. They are killed, not contained. However,” he held up a hand as Oscar opened his mouth to speak, “I will hear you out about this. As long as you are quite sure that the animal is sedated and restrained—“

“Quincy mentioned to me,” Fr. Antonie said, “that the animal is trained to deal with contingencies like this situation with the cryolophosaur. So, he wants chains.”

“Trained, is it now?” Glenn laughed. “I’ve heard more than I need to of how he trained his raptors to kill. So he wants to kill a marauding dinosaur now. Did you have this in mind, Oscar?”

“Well,” Oscar said, “I didn’t know there would be a cryolophosaur in the groundlock, but it’s a worthwhile exercise. The trained raptor might be able to kill it, or it might be killed, itself. Either way we’ve eliminated a problem. The security is already compromised and the tunnel locked down, am I right? We might as well.”

“Why not?” Glenn nodded at his torch-bearing companion. “Get those chains.”

The man nodded, offering one of the torches to Clifton, who took it. He ran back to the stockpile that the other men were setting up outside the groundlock.

“So, your man—Quincy, was it? I expect he has working protocols to control his animal. Can he be trusted to use them in our interests and not as he did with the first squad we sent to visit him?” Glenn peered at the open side hatch of the car, and seemed almost to draw back when he caught sight of the large, shadowy shape of the dinosaur.

“Quincy,” Fr. Antonie said, “these men are willing to go with your plan. Can you give them some assurance that you won’t be killing anyone with your animal?”

“I can assure them that I won’t be killing anyone,” Quincy said, “and if I get what I need there’s a very good chance I can control her sufficiently to make sure that she doesn’t kill anyone, either.”

“He’s vague, isn’t he?” Glenn said. “We’ll just have to keep him and the animal covered, just in case, then, won’t we?”

“No question about that,” Oscar said, darkly.

The torch-bearer returned to the car with several lengths of chain, as well as the bolt cutters. Oscar took them from him, and brought them over to the car to hand to Quincy.

“Thanks,” Quincy said, as he went to work. The raptor’s eye followed him. One of its forearms twitched weakly. “Just a minute,” he muttered, feeling sweat begin to bead across his brow. “Just hold on…” He nearly dropped the bolt cutters before he managed to lock them on the links of the net. Opening enough space to get his arms through, he dragged the chains across the raptor’s body and began to clip them to its harness. He found one short length of chain that had wire twisted around the links, and he held it up, slipping a clip on to one end of it. Would this work? Quincy sure hoped so.

“Upsy-daisy,” he said, and tugged on the harness to lift the raptor’s head. Nova lifted her head, poking up through the holes he had cut in the net. Quincy froze. But the raptor only watched him, the alert, calculating eyes moving between him and the men moving around with torches outside the car. Quincy took a deep breath. “Open up,” he said, and pushed a gloved hand between her jaws, clipping the length of chain to one side of the harness on her head, strapping it in like a bit. “Good,” he murmured. “Good. Y’know I’m on your side here. I’ll get you out of this alive if I can. We’ve got a job to do. It’ll help.”

The chains fell heavily as the dinosaur shifted, clanking against the floor of the car. Oscar, Glenn, and the third man quickly moved closer to the car at the sound. Oscar led the way, gripping his gun in tense hands, narrowing his eyes behind the face-plated helmet. “What are you doing in there?” he called.

Fr. Antonie was by the car. “It looks to me like the animal is chained,” he said.

“Is it awake?” Oscar asked, not taking his eyes from the car.

“Quincy?” Fr. Antonie narrowed his eyes into the darkness of the vehicle’s interior.

Nova blinked, her teeth sawing on the chain ‘bit’, and dropped her head down, the ruffled feathers smoothing and flattening.

“Is that thing awake?” Oscar repeated, more loudly.

“Yes, she’s getting there,” Quincy said. “This is as well-behaved as I’ve ever seen her, actually.”

“Probably still half drugged,” Oscar said, and edged closer to the car, rifle in hand. “Where’s that tranq gun?”

“It’s okay,” Quincy said. “Open the back, would you?”

“You’d better inform me of your procedure first,” Oscar said, his voice rising.

“I’m doing what I’ve been training these animals to do from the beginning,” Quincy said. “And I’m taking extra precautions, since I’m in something of a compromised situation.”

“Damn right you are,” Oscar said. “Why don’t you tell us, real clearly, what your plan of action is, and when we should be prepared to shoot… so that we don’t shoot too soon and ruin your job.”

“The raptor is wearing a harness,” Quincy said, “to which I have attached these chains in a way that accesses weak points. I’ll hold onto the chains, and I’ll lead her out of the car. Then I will walk to that groundlock with her. You can have your weapons ready. She might fight or make a fuss, but unless she actually breaks loose, don’t worry about it. When I get to the lock, and go inside with her, you shut the door behind me and lock it. I’ll unchain her and we’ll follow my program for killing that dinosaur.”

“What program is that?”

“The program I have with my raptors,” Quincy said, “of how they follow orders and do what I want them to.”

“You told us before that they don’t do what you want them to,” Oscar said.

“They don’t, always,” Quincy said. “But I still have a program, and I’ll use it in there, because that’s all I have to use. It’ll work. I’ve seen her in action plenty of times. She’s very responsive. She’ll be motivated enough to kill it, don’t worry. I’m the only one who has to worry.”

“What about? If one lone raptor can win a fight against a cryolophosaur?” Oscar said.

“Oh, there’s a chance she’ll lose the fight,” Quincy said. “But that’s a chance I’m willing to take. Reverse cryogenesis is far less deadly to non-human, non-mammalian targets.”

“What are you trying to prove?” Oscar said.

“Nothing,” Quincy snapped. “I’m trying to lend a hand, here.”

Glenn shook his head. “That’s enough, Oscar,” he said. “We’ll try his program. Quincy. Are you able to release the raptor to do that without remaining in there, yourself?”

“I can secure her again,” Quincy said. “That’s not a problem.”

Glenn frowned. “That’s not what I’m worried about,” he said. “If she’s slow to engage, or unable to keep the cryolophosaur away from you, or if it surprises you, the chance is very high that you will die.”

“To tell you the truth,” Oscar said, “If it comes to a loose dinosaur, I’d rather deal with a raptor than a cryolophosaur. At least that’s a fighting chance. You can’t fight a thing that sucks your existence out of you with a look. Let him stay outside and send the raptor in.”

“I’m concerned, myself,” Clifton said. “These huge animals are strong. If it’s trying to get into the city, who knows that, given enough time, it might not succeed?”

“I’ve got to go in there,” Quincy said, “to direct her. At the very least, to unchain her. I don’t want her loose out here. I don’t trust her.”

“You don't trust your own animal?” Glenn asked.

“No,” Quincy said, bluntly, “I don’t. I know exactly how far I can trust her and with what, and leaving her a free agent around other human beings is not on that list.”

“Set her loose in there and come back out,” Oscar said.

“It’s not a good idea,” Quincy said. “An open door, no matter how short the amount of time it’s open, can be taken advantage of.”

“Do you have a death wish?” Oscar said.

“No," Quincy said. “I don’t live life on the edge to die. I do it to make things better.”

“Better for who?” Oscar challenged.

“That’s enough,” Glenn said. “You may proceed, Quincy. We’ll stand guard until you’re in there with your animal.” He shook his head. “You’re risking your life.”

“I’m used to that,” Quincy said. “Don’t worry about me.”

“Let’s get this done, then,” Clifton said. He pulled the tranq gun out of the front seat and nodded at Oscar as he closed the side hatch and front door.

Glenn turned and shouted to the other men. “Stand down,” he said. “We’re releasing an animal into the groundlock. This is NOT protocol, repeat, NOT protocol, this is an exercise. Stand your ground and be ready to fire, ONLY on command.” The men saluted their readiness from their position outside the lock, and some of them moved into the line that Glenn indicated for them, at the edge of a broad pathway from the car to the entrance of the groundlock.

Oscar shook his head and walked around the car, throwing open the back hatch. Stepping back, he watched warily, his gun ready in his hands.

Quincy climbed out, feet first, two lengths of chain gripped in his gloved hands. He slid off of the rear hatch, his boots hitting the ground with a thump. The sound of the chains dragging and crashing against each other followed him, and, silent as a shadow otherwise, with a strange, slow and jerky movement, the thousand pound raptor crept out the back hatch after him, its silhouette oddly dark in the torchlight. The fetid smell of rotting meat swarmed out with it.

Its head lifted, the crest of feathers on its head raising, like a bird, as if in alarm. Its eyes fixed on the men who stood watching it. It lifted one foot and took a step, slowly. Oscar’s gaze dropped down to the fifteen-inch sickle claw on the foot, then back up to Quincy. “It’s being awfully… quiet,” he said. “Are you sure it’s awake?”

“Yes, she’s almost entirely awake,” Quincy said, his voice low. He held the chains that strung back and forth between various links on the animal’s harness. Oscar had never seen a live raptor that wasn’t moving at blinding speed trying to disembowel him. He found his gaze riveted on the creature’s face. It looked back at him; the fierce, yellowish eyes locked on his. Oscar suppressed a shudder. Salvador was right. These things wanted to kill.

“Jesus,” one of the men muttered. His voice was quaking. The raptor shifted its gaze from Oscar to the man that had spoken, and snarled.

“Knock it off, Nova,” Quincy said, tightening his grip on the chains. The animal jerked its head forward against the restraint, but then pulled back suddenly, as if in alarm, as the chain bit dragged at its mouth. Quincy looked at Glenn. “Let me through to that groundlock,” he said.

Glenn nodded and gestured, and the men who were not already there drew back along the roadway. Every eye and every rifle was trained on the raptor.

Quincy took a deep breath. “Come on, Nova,” he said.

Man and dinosaur paced one another, slowly and cautiously, past the wary regiment, across the sparse tufts of grass that were all that had managed to survive the coming and going of vehicles over the years along this road. Twenty more paces. Quincy counted. Nova was still at his side, her long, buoyant strides pausing at each step to let the chains catch up. Her eyes were not on the men now—instead she was sniffing the air, her nose pointed at the groundlock, hissing and grumbling to herself.

Thank God for that, Quincy thought. Anything could happen, between here and the door. Darkness loomed close on every side, broken only by the flickering torches. There could be other animals in that darkness, waiting for a chance to pounce. Sparky could be out there, waiting for an opportunity. Quincy had watched the wariness of his raptors grow around humans and their weapons—they had stalked him unseen and unheard, until their vigil in the monastery garden, and Sparky had been very quick to leave the scene. Even now, he felt Nova’s steel-hard muscles straining against the chains, as if checking their strength. He knew she wasn’t using her full power. He knew that the thousand pound animal could snap loose from him in an instant, and tear off most of the chains just as quickly. Having just come off of the etrophine, and likely being conscious of the weapons that were pointed at her, she was keeping a low profile. For now.

Ten more paces. The heavy steel doors loomed up above them, one swung partially open on huge greased hinges. Nova cocked her head, making an odd quirking sound in her throat.

“Come on,” Quincy said. His throat felt dry. Nova went ahead of him, her stiff tail and taut legs rigid with attention. She disappeared into the darkness. Quincy threw a glance over his shoulder and gestured. “Close the door,” he said, and he stepped in after her.

The men rushed to push the heavy door closed. One of them pushed a torch through the opening into Quincy’s hand, his eyes beneath the Authority mask meeting Quincy’s just for a moment before the huge door clanged shut, plunging them into darkness but for the wisp of the torch that fluttered in Quincy’s hand.

His hands were shaking again. Quincy bent down and thrust the torch into the sand at his feet, then quickly began unclipping the chains from Nova’s harness. Two more. Then one more. She stood still, quivering as she sniffed the air. He reached up and pressed the points on her face through the little feathers at the joint of her jaw. “Open up,” he said. The long jaws gaped, the hot, wet stench of death rolling out over the animal’s tongue. Quincy unclipped the makeshift bit and dropped it to the ground. Slowly he picked up the torch again. It sputtered, dropping sparks on the hard-packed dirt roadway.

Nova swung her head around, crouching low as she eyed him, a quirk in her throat bubbling into a snarl.

“Quiet,” Quincy said. “We’ve got a job to do. We’ve got to find this thing, and we’ve got to kill it—before it kills us.” Her yellow eyes regarded him. Quincy jerked his head towards the blackness ahead of them, and, trying to hold his hands steady on the torch, started walking. The raptor followed him, cautiously at first, and then she slunk in front of him, pacing lightly on her toes. She turned her head this way and that, sniffing.

Quincy stretched out his hand, holding the torch up, squinting into the darkness. To his right, lockers and hangars lined the stony cavern walls, steam drills, armored cars, and a few other vehicles sitting silent and motionless, looming with strange shadows in the torchlight.

A mournful, clicking groan, like an alien snarl, wafted from somewhere ahead of them, echoing off the rocks. Nova froze. Quincy whistled—low. That was the kill command. In the past few months with them he’d hardly had to use it. Merely looking at—thinking about—a target would have them leaping to engage. Raptors loved to kill things.

Nova snarled under her breath, and slipped like a snake into the shadows, disappearing from his sight. Quincy stood riveted in his tiny island of light. The wind moaned through the cavern—or was it the cryolophosaur? The air felt suddenly very cold. Quincy took a step back. Getting close to a cryolophosaur meant death for any human being. For other dinosaurs—it was not as dangerous. Its strange heat-draining powers were designed to strike at the root of mammalian physiology, making it strongly prefer human prey. Nova would have a fighting chance; perhaps more than a fighting chance, if she were fast. And raptors were built to be fast.

Pockets of warm and cold air moved over Quincy in the strange breeze, alternately causing him to sweat and to shiver. But no matter what the temperature of the air was, it smelled like death. As if he wasn’t used to that. Quincy took a deep breath, and walked forward again, holding the torch out. He did not hear anything now—not from Nova nor from the cryolophosaur. If not for the heavy stench in the air, he might have thought there were no dinosaurs in the cavern at all.

A steam drill loomed ahead of him. The screw waves wound around its titanium tip, the huge iron cylinder housing still throwing off tangible warmth from the internal fireboxes and steam pistons. Someone must have left it here in a hurry. Had there been workers in here when the animal got in?

Quincy adjusted his grip on the torch, and moved towards the wall to sidestep the drill. A blast of icy air swept past him, and he stopped. The dark, mottled iron and steel of the vehicle seemed to have an odd shape to one end of it, as if—

Grey crystallizations flashed on the scaly skin of a saurian shape as it rose from its crouch against the drill, and, the crests on the back of its head flushing orange, teeth bared, the cryolophosaur lunged straight at him.

Quincy had been treading in dangerous places, around dangerous animals, for a long time now. He knew the value of staying calm and controlled, even when it seemed like you were about to die. Any sound at all only enticed a predatory dinosaur—often in ways that didn’t help you survive. But he couldn’t move fast enough to get out of its way. Not with that bum ankle. So he shouted—as loud as he could—threw the torch at the jaws that hurtled towards him, and flung himself down, as much out of the charging dinosaur’s way as he could. Even as he fell, the icy breeze wafting over him, he knew it would not be enough.

A furious shriek split the air, and, like a lightning bolt hurled from the top of the steam drill, Nova hit the cryolophosaur with her full weight, throwing the animal to the side. It screamed in response, staggering to keep its feet as the raptor tore into its side with her claws, biting and slashing. The torch that Quincy had thrown bounced free and skittered off onto the road, where it burned feebly. Quincy dragged himself under the steam drill, worming his way between the piston wheels.

It was hot underneath the drill—scaldingly hot. Sweat poured into Quincy’s eyes. The shrieks and snarls of the fighting animals echoed in the cavern, like fiends in the bowels of the earth. Panting, Quincy jerked at the collar of his vest. It was too hot. He saw the leaping shadows of the dinosaurs, thrown by the sputtering torch—monstrous, distorted.

It seemed like hours before the screaming stopped. He heard enough to know who had won. Dragging himself from under the steam drill, he tried to stand, but swaying with dizziness from heat and dehydration, fell back onto his seat. The torch still sputtered on the ground, and across the hard-packed road, splattered with darkening blood, a huge, chill carcass lay sprawled on the ground. Nova was on top of it, growling, all four sets of her claws fastened in its hide. Her harness was shredded in a few places, and Quincy could see blood in several places on her feathers, but he wasn’t sure if it was hers or the other dinosaur’s—or both.

Quincy shut his eyes, and opened them again. He whistled at the raptor, and her head went up, the crest of feathers erect. She leapt to her feet, her stiff tail whipping through the air as she turned towards him, and then she tumbled, sprawling to the ground.

Was it the cold? Injuries? She was breathing, but not moving. Quincy dragged himself to his feet, holding onto the wheels of the drill for support. He peered at the raptor, but it was impossible to tell what was wrong from a distance. He didn’t have time to check her—not now. Limping to the torch, he picked it up, and started on his way back towards the groundlock.

It was a long walk, or at least, it felt like it. It seemed an eternity before the steel bolted doors of the groundlock loomed up in front of him, reflecting the flickering light of his dying torch. Lifting a hand, he rapped on the metal.

“Open the door!” he shouted. “It’s dead! It’s safe!”

A long moment passed. He couldn’t hear anything from the other side, but then he heard the bolts sliding back, and two masked Authority men were shoving the door open. A third pushed past them and reached out, gripping Quincy’s shoulders as he peered hard into his eyes behind his mask.

“You’re alive. What happened? Are the dinosaurs dead?” It was Oscar’s voice.

“The cryolophosaur is dead. The raptor is injured and not walking. Should be safe to secure the hangar—“

But Oscar had already dropped him, and the three men rushed past him into the cavern. Quincy swayed on his feet.

Another set of gloved hands caught him. Quincy saw black robes under a padded coat, and looked up into the hooded face of Fr. Antonie. “Are you all right?” the priest asked.

“Just gimme a drink of water and I’ll be fine,” Quincy said.

Then Clifton was there, too, with a canteen of water. Quincy took it and guzzled it down. “Thanks,” he gasped.

“You're flushed," Clifton said. “How did you overheat? I thought Cryolophosaurus drained heat.”

“I was hiding,” Quincy said, “underneath a steam drill. Its fireboxes weren’t quite out.”

“Deo gratias!” Fr. Antonie said. “They told us that Cryolophosaurus hardly has to touch a person to kill him with extreme cold—but you stayed warm.”

“Yeah, I did, but it didn’t touch me. And I had an advocate,” Quincy said. He shrugged. “I knew she could kill it.”

Clifton handed him another canteen, and he drank all of that one too.

“Let's go,” Quincy said. “Let’s see what they’re doing.”

“You can hardly walk,” Clifton said.

“I’ve been managing,” Quincy said.

“We ought to wait until they secure the area. They’ll light it up for us and give us clearance to take the car in.”

Quincy sighed. “All right.”

“I’ll get it ready,” Clifton said, and walked back to the vehicle. He climbed into the back hatch, securing the guns and other items that had been sitting around loose.

Fr. Antonie followed, watching. “It might be a good idea,” he said, “to keep some weapons on us. There’s still a live dinosaur in there, injured or no.”

“You’re right, of course. Would you do the honors?” Clifton leaned out of the back, handing him the dart gun. Fr. Antonie took it.

Quincy stayed by the groundlock, one hand gripping the bolts as he leaned against the door for support. The yawning blackness alternated hot and cold swirling breezes, all of them carrying the stench of death. He heard the Authority men shouting; he didn’t hear anything else.

Then, the whole cavern suddenly bloomed with light, the hiss of a burning flare springing out of the darkness. It was quickly followed by another, and another. Quincy shielded his eyes from the sudden brightness, and then squinted, trying to see.

The cavern was lit up as bright as day. The high stone ceiling curved up nearly out of sight, cradling several hangars and marked off parking spaces. The sparse shadows of his and Nova’s footprints marked the tire-treaded sand that covered the floor, but the tunnel of the cavern curved away, out of his sight, before it reached the abandoned steam drill or the dinosaurs.

“That’s the all clear,” Clifton called. “We’re ready.”

Four more Authority men, who had been standing guard by the weapons and other equipment, walked over to open the huge door the rest of the way. It was weighted to swing easily enough on its hinges, but it was still heavy and awkward, and best managed by multiple people. Quincy stepped back out of the way as the men pushed it open, and he and Fr. Antonie got into the car. Clifton gunned the engine, and the vehicle rocked up the slope, into the tunnel. Its tires crunched over the chains that Quincy had left on the ground when he unchained the raptor.

“We’re through,” Clifton said, opening his door to call back to the men, “you can shut it.”

“We’ll secure it,” one of the Authority men replied. “We need to start transferring our equipment back inside.”

“Are you safe to do that?” Fr. Antonie asked. “Other dinosaurs might be in the area.”

“We’ll be keeping the same watch we have been,” the man said. “We’ll be fine. Nothing else is getting in here.”

“All right,” Clifton said. He shut the car door, and, leaving the groundlock quickly behind, drove along the sandy underground road.

They had barely turned the corner when they saw another flare go up. Around the corner, the steam drill still sat in the middle of the road. Two of the Authority men were loading the drill’s fireboxes and pumping air on the hot coals. Oscar stood over the unmoving raptor, keeping his distance, his gun pointed at it.

Clifton drove towards the drill, and then stopped the car. “Looks like they’re going to move that drill,” he said. “I’d better—“

“You’re going to have to move that car,” one of the men shouted from the steam drill. “This thing has a wide turn radius.”

“No problem,” Clifton said. He put the car into reverse, backing it up close to the tunnel wall. Then men paid them no further attention, shouting at each other as they tested the rising steam pressure on the drill.

Quincy was peering out the window of the car, his face close to the bars. “She hasn’t moved,” he said. “Is she still alive, I wonder.”

“If she were dead,” Fr. Antonie said, “I don’t think he would be standing there covering her with his gun.”

“I’m going to check,” Quincy said. He fumbled the side hatch with one gloved hand, and climbed out of the car. Fr. Antonie glanced at Clifton, and followed, taking the dart gun with him. Quincy was already halfway across the road towards the raptor.

“Don’t get too close,” Oscar called.

“I’ve got to check her injuries,” Quincy said.

“I said,” Oscar repeated, “don’t get too close.”

Quincy ignored him and walked up to the raptor. The feathers on her head and along her neck lifted slightly as he did so, and her one visible eye followed him. So she was alive. He breathed a sigh of relief—or was it resignation? The blood on her feathers was dry—so if it was hers, at least that meant she wasn’t bleeding anymore. He crouched down next to her, reaching out to touch the feathers.

“Glenn,” Oscar shouted, his gun still pointed at the raptor. “Tim. Restrain this man.”

The steam drill was blazing hot now, its engine chuffing plumes of the hot steam that powered it. Glenn and Tim, however, left it where it sat as they picked up their guns and walked over to Quincy.

“Wait,” Quincy said, holding up a hand to stop them. Nova’s eyes tracked his hand. Could she move? She wasn’t moving, but that didn’t mean anything.

The men didn’t wait. Glenn gripped Quincy’s outstretched arm, pulling him to his feet and away from the raptor. The animal’s eyes followed him, but she still didn’t move.

“Just because your dinosaur killed the cryolophosaur,” Oscar said, “doesn’t mean you aren’t still under arrest.”

Quincy shrugged.

“But thank you,” Oscar said. “You’ve mitigated some possible loss of life. That doesn’t make up for what you’ve done, but I’m not forgetting the usefulness you’ve claimed that your animals have. We’ll secure your animal. If it’s not dead.”

“She isn’t dead,” Quincy said. “Yet.”

Glenn, his grip tight on Quincy’s arm, glanced back down the tunnel. “Our men outside are transferring the equipment back inside. We’ll let them clean up here and secure the area. Let’s go.” Nodding at the other man, and at Oscar, he gave a tug to Quincy’s arm and started down the tunnel.

Quincy followed silently. The long tunnel felt desolate and abandoned, the darkened industrial vehicles in their hangars the only sign that human life ever attended the area. Of course, who would want to spend time in a dark hole in the ground? No one did. The Undermine didn’t look like this. The Undermine was lit up like a Christmas tree.

The second groundlock came into sight at the end of the tunnel, its brass and steel plates flashing in the torchlight. Dents and gouges in the softer portions of the door reflected the eager ministrations of the Cryolophosaurus. Hisses of steam spurted out here and there from the locks.

“Looks like it put some stress on the pressure locks,” Quincy said, eyeing the door. “You should isolate that from the rest of the system. It didn’t come in from the farm side, did it?”

Glenn nodded. “It did. There’s not much traffic outside the hangars.”

Tim walked up to the door. “Authority at attention,” he shouted. “The coast is clear.”

A muffled voice shouted back. “The attacks stopped a few minutes ago. Is it dead?”

“Yes,” Tim shouted, “it’s dead. Open the lock—we’re bringing a prisoner through, and the rest of the squad will follow.”

The hiss of escaping steam filled the air, and the bolts of the big door slackened as the pipelines to the steam pressure were shut off. Three men on the other side threw back the doors, and a rush of warm, stale air flowed out into the tunnel. A line of Authority men stood facing them, in full protective gear, guns held at the ready. Glenn pushed Quincy through the door, and Tim helped the men pull the doors shut and bolt them.

“Leave the pressure off,” Glenn said. “But keep the watch until everyone is safely through the hangar, and all outer groundlocks are secure.”

The men nodded. One or two of them didn’t quite manage to restrain curious glances at Quincy, but for the most part, the men stood stoically, undistracted.

“Maintenance was here,” one of them said, “they want to shut the power off to do repairs.”

“Not yet,” Glenn said. “Hopefully by tomorrow, when this situation is cleared up and the threats secured.”

The man nodded. He didn’t ask about the threats.

Glenn led the way through the guard line, Quincy behind him, and Tim following with his gun. The road wound downward steeply.

“It’s late,” Glenn said, as they walked. “I’m afraid we’ll have to hold you overnight, and we can arrange a trial in the morning, when I’ve debriefed Oscar and we have all the relevant parties’ information.” Quincy didn’t answer.

The edges of the cavern began to drop away, the metal struts and support framework still reaching high above them into the darkness. For a sense of space and open air, the Undermine cavern had been dug deep and and its ceiling cut high. A man holding a long match on a stick appeared out of the gloom before them, the soft trickle of light his match cast reflected behind him in a still pirouette of flickering gas lamps, hung high on the walls.

The march was a long one. Glenn kept them to the outskirts of town, trailing the north perimeter. The bustle and commotion of the city was dying down, by now, the gas lamps roaring cheerily in the residential areas and in late-night establishments like the Circuit Board. Quincy had been around the edges of the city, but he had never before seen the north tunnel that Glenn led him into, nor been past the heavily fortified groundlock that sectioned it off. But stepping into that north tunnel, Quincy felt like he’d stepped back in time. There was no pretension of cozy community, spacious social life, or the satisfaction of production. If it could have looked more like a Revonet nexus without any electronics or precision equipment, it would have. The tunnel opened up into a cavern spiked through with the harsh, enclosing lines of support struts, the natural curves of the rock barely visible past the orderly arrangement of sharp cornered bunkers. The warm glow of gas lamps reflected sharply off the metal walls.

“Who designed this place?” Quincy asked.

“Some brave men who are, unfortunately, deceased now,” Glenn said. He nodded towards one of the bunkers, which was heavily fortified. It didn’t look like it had windows. "That one’s yours for now.”

Quincy gritted his teeth. He’d never liked being underground in the first place. His mind idly traveled over his various options for avoiding the unpleasant trial of being locked in a metal box, but he rejected them all. He’d come this far in his resignation to arrest by the Authority; it was impossible to back out now whether he wanted to or not.

Glenn pulled a ring of keys from his belt, sifting through them with his free hand before he found the one he wanted. Sliding it into the heavy lock on the bunker’s door, he twisted it for a moment before it clicked. He threw the bolts back and opened the door. “In you go,” he said.

Quincy felt his gaze darken. His feet felt like lead, his stomach like something even heavier. The door in front of him yawned like a gaping maw, hot and sour, the teeth of the thrown bolts and heavy locks grinning at him like a hungry ignirugiens, the mouth of a towering terror, only this time it was deep underground where he could never come out.

He didn’t mean, exactly, to try and fight his way free. He didn’t mean to knock Glenn flying and run. Of course, he didn’t get very far. He felt the burning knife of a bullet in the back of his knee, and he toppled into the support struts by the door, his leg giving out from under him. The metal struts hit him in the jaw and the shoulder, and with another solid blow from Tim’s gun to his head, he saw no more.

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