The men’s empty stares forced her to relent. “This way.” She did her best to ignore the harsh yellow light put off by the Wedge and focus on the dim blue glow of her pendant. With a final glance behind her she saw Serge helping his wounded younger brother up from the spot where Eve had left him crumpled and bleeding. His words echoed in her mind. I’m not leaving without my brother.
She threw her mask off and puked without slowing down. In an even darker moment of clarity, she realized she hadn’t planned on leaving at all. As she guided the injured miners deftly through the maze of debris that used to be her home, the memory of Eve’s desperate expression choked her more thoroughly than the toxic air. The same transformation had begun in her, and the process would run its course unless she could stop it.
Sensing the miners falling behind, she slowed her pace so they reached the gap leading to the exhaust shaft together. Helping the three staggering men crawl through the hole, she realized they were exhibiting the same symptoms as her: hair bristled, skin cool to the touch. Helpless desperation seized her. They were all worse than dead. If Adam and Eve were any indication, trapping them and herself in the mine would be a kindness.
But the will to live overrode the haunting thoughts. Maybe… Her self-absorption shattered as more rock crumbled and fell around her, a large piece striking her foot. “Serge!” She hopped on one leg, peering into the chasm.
“Go! Just go!”
Faintly she made him out, the two brothers limping awkwardly toward her, bumping into debris and scrambling over rock. “I can help—”
“Run the lift! Two at a time, go!” He grunted the words.
Arguing would kill them both. She felt the familiar press of the logbook against the small of her back as she reached up and took the hand of a miner who helped her through the gap. Even if she was doomed, the log must survive. Maybe her notes could save others.
Quickly they reached the vertical shaft, and to her surprise it echoed with the sounds of rescue, a search light dancing off the rough hewn walls.
“Hello!” a voice rang out from several yards above them.
The miners croaked with scratchy, exultant voices.
“Good God, we’re glad to see you. How many are there?”
Gayle took charge. “Six! But the—”
The lowering cage lurched suddenly to the side, grating against the rock wall as a tremor rippled through the ground. An explosion rumbled from somewhere behind them, deep within #4.
“After damp! Come on boys, climb aboard. All of you!” The cage had lowered enough for the miners to reach it and help shove each other inside.
“But there’s two more!” Gayle panicked.
“We can’t wait! Fire’s comin’!” Their rescuer knelt and held out his hand.
“Just go, you dense woman.” Serge’s voice echoed in the small tunnel leading from the lab. A plume of black smoke swirled from the opening, belching from the dragon’s mouth. If the fire inside awoke, it would consume them all.
“Do as he says.” The rescuer spoke.
Turning, she recognized his fright when he saw her yellow eyes. She closed them tight and took his hand. Crushed against the back of the cage, she kept her eyes closed, surrendering herself to a fate beyond her control. Already over limit, the cage groaned with the weight.
“Go. I’m on.”
“Serge?” She opened her eyes, searching the human crush for his face when a fresh wind rushed past them from above. Next came the fire. The cage bounced along the side of the shaft as they rose at full tilt, faster than any cage she’d been in before. If they hadn’t been packed like sardines the result would have been much worse.
At the top they collided with the arm of a crane. Swinging sideways and crashing to the ground, the cage finally came to rest in a slag heap. Gratefully, her side of the cage faced up. But the door faced down, so rescuers quickly rolled them over until the miners’ coal-encrusted clothing suffocated her.
Dazed and blinded by daylight, she accepted the hands pulling her out. Finally on her own two feet, she focused first on two sorrow-filled eyes belonging to a woman—voluptuous, Italian, tears streaking her face. The woman addressed thin air with a single-word question. “Serge?”
Gayle scanned the blackened faces around her, but he wasn’t there. She swallowed hard, her throat like sandpaper, her mind blank and listing on an ocean of doubt and fear. Suddenly she patted the space at the small of her back—her logbook gone as well.