“Get in,” he commanded. “We don’t have time to argue.” After he pushed her into the passenger seat, he slammed the door closed. The whole car rattled. Once he took his place, the engine coughed to life, with the usual disgusting odor.
“Wh…where are we going?” Collie chewed on her lower lip.
“Where we first met.” Keleon winked at her. He backed the car onto the solid black pavement. When he shifted gears, the rattle and odor vanished. The hum of the powerful motor grew as they picked up speed. Scenery passed quickly. Colli barely noticed.
The voices she’d come to depend on were gone. Once she would have been glad. Under the wheels gravel crunched loudly as the car pulled off the road. They approached the convenience store that served as collecting and overseeing area for The Discipline.
“Colli?” Keleon’s voice overwhelmed Colli with more dread than he’d ever before expressed.
“What?” She sat up and turned to him. The look on his face did nothing to ease her panic.
“Look.” Horror stabbed from his voice. More than that, the burning acid that bubbled in his belly hit her with scalding heat. She knew he would never talk of it. That was against his planetary tradition. Titanians, just didn’t share things like that.
“Keleon?” Colli realized for the first time that she felt these emotions from him. How can I feel this and not hear the voices? The thought troubled her. Before either of them could respond to the other, the sign of the abandoned convenience store squeaked as it swung on rusty hinges. Colli looked up. There, instead of the faded store name, Last Chance, was a single word, HELP, in blazing red letters.
Not waiting for Keleon, Colli fought against the restraint. It released with a pop. She jumped out of the car. The once busy store now lay in ruins. This didn’t stop her. Somehow she knew Commander Sung, her mentor and guide, lay inside. Dying.
“Colli. Stop.” Keleon followed close behind her. “Whoever did this might be in there.”
She pulled her arm from his firm grip. “Maybe. But Sung’s in there too.”
“How? I thought you couldn’t feel anything.”
“Not now. We have to get to Sung.” Colli felt the sharp edge of a piece of glass cut through the sole of her right shoe. As if something or someone protected her, it merely scraped against her big toe. “Ouch.”
“Let me help you.” Keleon kicked the shard away. “Follow me. Be careful.” He made it look easy, winding his way through the debris. Even where large chunks of smoking embers blocked his way he stomped, leaving a path open for her.
At the back of what had been the store, smoke churned from a blackened hole.
“You can’t go down there.” Keleon turned to face her.
A need more desperate than any she’d felt before took control. She pushed past him. Once solid shiny steps, now blackened by heat, offered no grip for her feet. Slippery from exposure to external elements, they were difficult to negotiate without using the slimy wall for balance. Colli paid little attention. Sung’s demand grew more urgent.
Colli felt his wavering strength protecting her. How long will it last? She pressed against the wall for support, as she continued into the dark abyss. At one point the wall’s rotten surface gave way. Her hand and arm passed through to a putrid interior. Something wriggled and nipped at her. Without the voices, there was no way to tell if it intended harm. She pulled back, slapping at the wormy creature. It squished between her fingers.