“Sorry, what was your name?” Gayle released his hand and bent over to rummage in an opened locker.
“Uh, Serge.” He bumped into her slender backside. “What was that thing?”
The contact irritated her, but not as she would have expected. Oddly it activated a yearning in her. She checked to ensure that the logbook was still secure and tucked into her waistband at the small of her back.
“He,” she sucked a gritty breath through her teeth, the air growing increasingly spongy, “supposedly used to be a miner, just like you.”
“Well, not like you.” Flustered, she felt faint and fumbled for the locker door to keep from tipping over. Lightning quick yet gentle, Serge’s arm scooped her up before she collapsed to the floor.
“Are you alright?” He caught her up like cotton in a spring breeze, held her close.
Through his torn shirt, the heat from his chest soaked into the cool skin of her bare shoulder, intoxicating her.
“We should get you out of here. There’s a lift—”
“I mean, I’m okay. These masks will help. Something’s in the air.” She huffed a labored breath and handed a long-snorkeled mask to Serge, showing him how to put it on before securing her own.
“You mean that pulpy taste?” He braced her with his massive hands around her waist, his fingers nearly touching.
Her chest brushed against his as she secured the strap to the back of his head, standing on tiptoes to do so. Both their shirts had completely soaked through. “Yes. It’s dangerous. A neurotoxin I think.”
“And the monster?”
She spun herself in his grip, facing away from him, but still secured by his warm hands. “Exactly.”
“Can you help me with this?” She guided his rough hands from her waist up to the mask’s strap on the back of her head. He held it in place as she snugged the seals around her mouth and nose. As she finished he ran his fingers through her hair and down her arms.
He spun her to face him. “Anyone who breathes it?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“I don’t think it works that quickly. You haven’t breathed enough.”
“But my brother.”
“We have to get them out.”
“Just point me in the right direction. You’ve been down here too long.”
“No.” She removed his hands and held them away from her. “You need my help. You can’t see without me.” Moving his lips, he swore silently, a frustration and hunger on his face that she couldn’t interpret. Of course he’d forgotten she could see him clearly, if tinged in blue light.
Suddenly he stopped, looking embarrassed. “What do you propose, oh guiding light?”
“No reason to be snippy.” She smirked, “I got just the thing.” As she turned to lead the way, placing his hands back around her waist, a shuffling sound echoed from nearby. Before she could focus on it, the locker tipped and then burst from the wall. Clipping them both, it sundered their grip on each other and spun them to the ground.
Quickly Serge’s groping hand found her. “Caro Dio. And that was?”
“Impossible. A fracture in the rock,” she shook her head remembering the similar incident from the day before, “I don’t know.”
He pulled her to her feet. “You said there are two of them?”
“You’ve met Adam. It’s Eve I’m worried about.”
She glanced back to see him crossing himself. The gesture reminded her of Christopher, a staunch Catholic. “I suppose it was a bit crass,” her voice muffled by her mask. Focusing again on the path in front of her, she doubled their pace. “Come on. I’ve got something to show you.”
Moments later, after weaving toward a chamber leading off the middle of the lab, they arrived at the dead projects room.
“Where are we? I can’t see anything.”
“I’ve worked down here for five years with three different partners.”
“Five years, but how old—”
“During that time we’ve shelved lots of projects. But some of them worked.” She removed his hand from her waist, slid her fingers through his. “Listen for the subjects.”
She bit her lip. “Adam and Eve. Hopefully the machine we need still works.” Brushing past years of forgotten labors with her keen sight, she located it quickly. The Wedge. “Found it, but I’m going to need your help to get it out.”
“What is it?”
She pulled him down a narrow path until they reached the machine. “A rotary-impact sled. Pull this chord,” she placed his hand on a pull cord, “and this baby will cut a path through anything.”
“Then why was it shelved?”
“Well, uh. The paths don’t tend to be all that stable.”