Chapter Seventeen

She pushes herself to her feet and winces as her lungs struggle to expand. Keone coughs and wipes blood from his nose, “What was that?” She scowls and grabs onto Keone’s arm, “Do you think I would be standing here if I knew?” Its eyes widen, “You’d chase it?”

She snorts and pulls Keone forward. It starts to say something and she quickly makes shushing noises, “Do you think we’re alone? We were just attacked, and attackers always wait for another chance.” Keone gulps in fear and she curses her position. She never should have pulled Keone into this, whatever it is. But she needs it as much as it is a thorn in her ribs.

The tunnel grows darker as they move forward and she tries not to gag at the acidic odor. The floor of the tunnel is slick and she pulls Keone faster as the rock turns into concrete. Keone sniffs and turns up its nose, “Something used to be here; and something that smells. What is this place?” She frowns, “How am I supposed to know maggot?”

Keone tries to yank its arm out of her grasp, “Hey! Don’t call me that! You can call me almost anything you want, but ‘maggot’ is going way too far.” She stops and turns to face it, “Really? Because I’m thinking that it fits you better than you want to admit.” She starts to lead them deeper into the tunnel again and Keone unsuccessfully digs its heels into the ground, “Just because you think it fits me doesn’t mean that it does! Being called a ‘maggot’ is about one of the worst insults you could use.”

She stops again and hisses through her teeth, “If you don’t shut your sniveling mouth, I am going to call you far worse things than ‘maggot’, maggot.” Keone shuts its mouth and glowers at her. She rolls her shoulders in the silence and gives Keone a warning look as it opens its mouth to comment. It reluctantly stays quiet, and she tries not to jump at each footfall as they move forward again.

A shadow streaks across the wall next to them and she yanks Keone to a halt, “Did you see that?” Keone rolls its eyes, “Did I see what? I’m practically blind right now! It’s too dark for anyone who is not insane to see where we’re going. No offense, but your Hirpoun ancestry does not mean that you’re automatically sane no matter what you decide to do.”

She turns toward Keone with a sneer, “No; it means that I can pull your arms off without feeling any remorse. Now, shut up and stop complaining.” Keone scowls at her, but her attention is quickly pulled back to the wall as another shadow streaks across it. She yanks Keone to the side as a fist heads toward her face; they smash into the wall and the air is punched out of her.

Keone gasps for breath, “What the striking meteors was that?” She scowls and yanks it forward, “Move; I have no idea, but I told you it would be back.” Keone wipes its nose with its sleeve, “So now you’re resorting to ‘I told you so’? That’s ridiculous, and not very well planned. You know that I could just leave you down here and return home.”

Her scowl deepens, “You’re almost blind in the dark, and you clearly can’t leave without me. You would have already left if you could have; and so would have I.” Keone frowns, “That’s mean. You’re not very nice whatever-your-name-is.” She yanks a finger to her lips, “Shhhh!”

Keone wisely shuts up and the narrow tunnel seems to grow wider. She stops as they reach a stone-rimmed doorway, “What is this place?” Keone looks up at her, “So now you’re finally asking the most important question of the day? Or did you ask that earlier and I forgot…” She yanks it through the doorway, “Shut your mouth.”

She stops as soon as they pass through the door’s arch; dark shapes reach into the room beyond them. A circular platform in the middle shimmers as she searches along the wall for a light switch. Keone yelps as she lets go of him, “Where are you going? I can’t see a doggone thing!” Her fingertips grasp a switch and she yanks it upwards, “Be quiet. There’s something here and I don’t like it.”

Keone starts to answer, but he stops as yellowed commercial lights start to flicker before buzzing to life. The room around them is covered in dust; layers cover the floor and sink into every crevice. A raised, circular, floor in the center of the room lights up as she yanks Keone toward it. The floor is speckled with silver and blue wires that crisscross in triangles.

The room seems oddly familiar, but she cannot be sure why. A shadow darts across the wall behind her and she spins around, “Who ar’ you?” The shadow jumps to a dusty file cabinet and she stalks toward it, “Show yourself!” Keone pulls on her arm, “It’s just a shadow; come on, help me figure out what the rotten comet is going on here.” She scowls at the shadow and yanks her arm out of Keone’s grasp, “You will show yourself shadow-person! Now! Obey me, and you will not have much more to fear than you think.” The shadow darts to the other side of the room and she jumps over a rotted wooden table to follow it.

Her hand slams into the shadow’s neck and it trembles underneath her. Keone hooks its arms around her waist, “Come on; let it go.” She shakes her head and narrows her eyes, “Who are you? Tell me now; and perhaps I will consider letting you live.” The shadow shakes violently, “I-I…”

The voice tinkles with tiny bells in a hallow room and she scowls, “You what? You attacked us twice, and now you refuse to tell me why? Who are you?” The shadow’s thin hands pull on her fingers, “L-let me go. I-I don’t… I-I didn’t want to hurt you. T-they told me to keep this place safe.”

She hand loosens slightly, “Who told you to keep this place safe? Where are we?” The shadow’s head tilts backwards, “L-look around. Y-you are standing in the future and the past.” She lets go of the shadow’s neck, “Great. We’re apparently standing underground on a forgotten planet with a shadow who seems to be immortal.”

The shadow presses itself into the wall and shakes a head, “N-not immortal. I-I am just here for as long as I need to be.” Meg turns on it, “I think that means your immortal; or, at least, close enough that you clearly intend to stick around.” Keone’s eyes narrow slightly, “What are you? I mean, I’ve heard of shadow people. But I thought that they were just myths.”

The shadow shakes its head, “I-I am not a myth. I-I exist, but it has been a long time since I talked to someone. Y-you are the first beings to come here in centuries.” Meg clenches her hands, “What are you? And why did you agree to protect this place?” The shadow shivers, “I-I am a Shade. I-I did not agree to protect this place; I was told to and so I have. A-and I will forever more. T-this is my home. I-I am a slave to what I am told to do; just like it has always been for my kind.”

Keone’s eyes narrow farther, “Wait; you’re a slave? If so, where are your masters?” The Shade hangs its head, “D-dead. I-I have not seen anyone for a long time. I-I do not think that anyone will ever come back for me. B-but I am never supposed to leave; I am supposed to protect this place for my entire life. P-perhaps I truly am immortal. A-and if I am, it is my masters’ doing and not mine.”

Meg scowls, “Fine; tell me what your masters were doing here. What are you supposed to protect?” The Shade’s head hangs farther down, “I-I do not know. I-I was never told what is here; I was only told to stay, and I always follow my master’s orders. I-I am always alone.” Keone sets a hand on the Shade’s shoulder, “You’re not alone anymore. We’re here; but you need to tell us how to leave and what was happening here.”

The Shade lets out a billowing sigh, “Y-you will not hurt me? Y-you’re friend is not very kind.” Keone smiles at the Shade, “No; we will not hurt you. And my friend- or companion as it is- might not be very kind, but she will help you get out of here. Where is your home?” Meg tries not to hiss and the Shade’s head sinks even lower, “I-I told you: I do not have a home besides this one. I-I was told to stay here and so I have. I-I can tell you what is here, but I do not know very much. A-and I would end up in trouble if my masters ever found out that I showed you the building; but I doubt that any of them will ever come home. T-they left in a hurry and told me to stay. I-I have never dared to disobey them and look outside; I know that there are wonderful things outside because they used to talk about them, but I am banned from exploring.”

Meg crosses her arms with a snort and Keone gives her a warning look, “Well; from now on you’re our guide. And you are not banned from going anywhere. Does that work for you?” The Shade rapidly nods, “Y-yes; I am happy to be your guide. B-but your friend must promise not to hurt me. I-I don’t like to be touched.”

Meg scowls and Keone gives her an expectant look, “Well, are you going to promise not to hurt our friend? Or are you going to be stubborn and make us stay down here forever without a guide?” Meg tightens her crossed arms, “You have my word. I won’t hurt you unless you attack either of us again. Understood? I hope that works for you, because that’s the best deal that you can hope for.” Her voice is gravelly and Keone grimaces.

The Shade nods in agreement and grabs Keone’s empty hand, “Y-yes; I accept. B-but I can’t promise to show you everything without getting lost. I-I was not allowed in any of the restricted areas before you showed up. I-I have always followed my orders until now. B-but I am not afraid anymore.” The Shade pulls on Keone’s hand, “C-come on; I will show you where the food and supplies are.”

Meg takes up the rear and scowls at the floor, “Finally; something that will be useful.” Keone gives her another warning look and she morns the current events. But she is glad to finally have a guide, even if she is clearly the least liked being in the group. At least she still has her head, and she most certainly intends to use it.

Keone practically has to run to keep up with the Shade as it excitedly talks about everything that they pass. Meg tries her best to pay attention, but she finds herself staring at the walls the majority of the time. The rooms that the Shade shows them are unremarkable; the supply closet is exactly what it sounds like: a cinderblock room with shelves of tasteless packaged food and squeezable bottles of water. The bunks are next; a long room with bunk beds lining the walls and pale army-style bedding. The rest of the rooms are either filled with rusted parts from one mechanism and another, or plain supplies with long-gone expiration dates.

At least she can be glad that none of them will be able to starve for at least a few decades. But she most certainly does not intend on staying on this sand filled planet for decades. She intends on leaving as soon as she can. She scowls at the Shade and Keone’s linked hands, perhaps she will leave Koene behind when it is time to return home. It certainly seems happy enough.

The Shade stops in front of a set of shinny double doors, “T-this is the exit to everything that is outside. I-I have never seen through it. B-but my masters used to talk about how amazing the world is. I-I can show you more of the restricted areas if you want to return home now, but I want to see this. A-and I think you should too.”

Meg’s scowl deepens, “Than get on with it and open the door.” Keone gives her an angry look, but she wins their silent battle as the Shade pulls open the door without complaint. Keone snatches the door from the Shade as soon as it can, “Here; let me take care of that.” The Shade nods as it pulls open the second door and brushes aside a curtain of cloth beyond the steel.

Meg can barely hold back a gasp as fresh air rushes into the hallway; and neither the Shade nor Keone try.

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