Then they climbed back into the bus and took the corridor back to the Cactus hub.
Kit turned toward the third corridor. "For completeness." But there was no gate.
"That's almost a relief." Ian grinned. "But you have to wonder what was there, that they closed the gate, when they left the dinosaur one open."
"Indeed." Kit eyed the lack of gate warily. "Well, I'm ready to go home for a nice dinner and a movie. How about you guys?"
Of course they had to tell everyone all about it, the twins, wide-eyed and horrified, the mataharis a bit skeptical.
Kit looked at his hands. Not even red, from holding that . . . fireball.
"Maybe we should go to Sunshine tomorrow, I could use some nice relaxing beach time."
By the cheer, it was unanimous.
May 8 3528ce
By the time they'd circumnavigated the lake, they'd all pretty much resigned themselves to checking through "Skunk."
They'd gone back through the desert world to CK Copper 15, fueled up, had dinner, and found a hotel. So they didn't have to go through security again, just pop out of Hub One drive to Hub Four . . . to find Gate Six inside a building.
"Oh . . . how bad is the atmosphere over there?" Gaines swung out and stalked up to the sign on the door.
Martin joined him, with the younger men trailing along.
It is a class four misdemeanor to fail to seal all doors
after you have passed through!
The atmosphere is technically breathable.
You'd just rather not.
So make sure your A22-rated mask is handy
And your vehicle is recirculating air--not that that will save you
And you'll get over your curiosity quickly.
"A sense of humor and no lock on the door?"
"Nope, in case someone gets left behind." Gaines shrugged. "Once you've made it through security, you can pretty well go anywhere. Not that I won't be getting some pointed questions, about this." He looked over the door. "So I'll open and close the doors on both sides . . . No?"
John Yuan was shaking his head. "That's a job for enlisted personnel."
"Oh, sorry. I've been a HQ junior officer too long. I'd almost forgotten that lieutenants were the lowest of the low."
"Right then, Let's do it." Martin climbed back behind the wheel and flipped the AC to recirculate.
Yuan unsealed and slid the door.
Martin drove through and the door slid shut behind them. The red lights on it turned green as it resealed. Yuan jumped through the gate and husteled to the far door. popped the seal and slid it, one hand going to his face. Martin drove through the gate and out of the building on the far side. Watched in th mirror and Yuan slid the gate punched the button and ran for the truck.
He cast a quick look behind to check for the green light, then he cracked the door the smallest amount he needed to slip through and closed the door, as a nauseating miasma invaded the truck.
Fu choked out. "The gate to Algae World is describes a halfway down the hill, hard right."
Martin hit the gas, then eased up. Crashing would be very unfortunate, here. And how far is halfway?
He almost missed it, catching the disturbed ground in the corner of his eye as he passed it. He put it in reverse and glanced in the rearview mirror. Spotted caught movement. Gyps in desert camo.
"Damn! I think you Colonel has found us."
He cranked the wheel over and hit the gas. spun out and as he straightened the wheel, drove through the gate.
Out onto bare ground. it looked like a flat rock slab, irregularities catching sand he drove away from the gate, turned left at Gaines's pointing finger.
A speck of blue, four or five kilometers away.
Have I actually found them?
Have I just led Colonel Jiang to them?
He floored it, keeping his eyes on the ground, but the irregularities were small enough that . . .
Gaines cursed. "Colonel Jiang is though the gate. Two gyps."
"And the bus is moving." Oh shit, Kit, I need to find out what the hell is going on, but I think I may have to save your life first and all my weaponry is locked in the box in the bed of the truck!
They all stared out the windows in disbelief as a wind driven wave blasted through the gate.
Kit scratched his hair. "Well, the Smugglers did say something about hurricanes, didn't they?"
"Yeah. Tanya looked glumly backwards, "I guess we might as well go back home . . . Kit? There's a black thing coming toward us. Car?"
Kit moved out and tried to see the vehicle two kilometers back . . . "Right, we'll just pop through the new gate and lose them somewhere in the Maze."
"What about the one with all the curves? They couldn't see us once we were around one curve, could they?"
"No, but we don't actually know where that one goes . . . How about Comet Fall?"
"No! It would be bad enough if we went there peacefully." Tanya sank down suddenly pale. "It's the Project, isn't it? They've found up and they'll kill the younger kids and you, and if they don't kill us mataharis . . ."
"We'll be sex slaves. Again." A sob from Ophelia.
"Right. Cactus is all dead ends, and we don't want to endanger the Trading Post, so I guess we'll go hide around some hairpin turns." kit swung wide and took the turn into the Smuggler's gate faster than usual, and floored it to the corridor to Hairpins.
Shimmied to turn for that gate, then a hard turn onto the paved road. A quick glance, then he turned downhill. The nearest corner. A hard brake to get around the first curve, a quick glance back toward the gate . . . nothing. Yet.
He slowed to take the next curve at a more sane speed, sped up, and braked again. How much noise am I making? I should coast . . .
He took his foot off the gas and pulled his window open. The deep chug of exhaust from uphill. Damn!
He kept it as quiet as possible . . . the other vehicle was getting closer . . . he accelerated downhill, slowed for the corner, accelerated around it . . .
Martin hissed under his breath as he realized he'd gone the wrong direction and was catching up to the bus. Dammit! I should have gone up hill, because Jiang is barely one turn back and gaining on me.
"I hope this nephew of yours has a plan for when he reaches the bottom of the hill!"
"In theory he's had over a month to explore, so, yeah I really hope so!" He slowed around another curve, sped up to try to keep his distance from Jiang. But his truck wasn't designed for turns at high speed. Not that the Gyps were, either, but they had a lower center of mass, and they were catching up.
It's a narrow road, they won't dare pass, right?
Another turn and there they were, in his rear view mirror. And a thinning of the trees allowed him a brief flash of blue two turns down.
Another turn and the gyps were catching up fast. Turn and they were a few car-lengths behind.
He caught a glimpse of a man leaning out of the lead gyp. A gun! A flash, and the truck dipped and veered toward the drop.
Kit heard the shots and looked uphill, hit the brakes, hoping the truck careening down the near cliff, would miss them. A black truck like Uncle Martin's . . . Kit threww himself out the doors, everything going in slow motion as the truck bounced, took aim straight at him . . .
And he was grabbing the bubble off his arm and ripping the opening wide, wider. Throwing it around the airborn truck. It snapped hut and he stared at the little thing in his hands. He reached back and stuck it on the inside of the bus. Closed his eyes and grabbed another bubble. A big one. Opened a big hole and swooped it over the bus.
Held the hole open over the bus doors and trotted well away from the path of the truck, jumped uphill, and ducked around a tree. Stuck the bubble on the tree, stepped through the hole into the bus and let the hole close.
Colonel Jiang laughed as the truck left the road, somehow missing the larger trees, smashing through smaller trees and brush, pancaking almost off the road below. Momentum and suspension throwing it airborn off the next near cliff . . . Around another turn . . . no sign of the truck. Two turns and a gate.
That took them out onto the rim of a pit mine. A long road followed the curve of the pit down into the depths. Around them, rocks, angular shattered boulders, steep rock cliffs.
The bus was nowhere to be seen, and there was nowhere it could have gotten out of sight.
"Damn. They dodged us somewhere up the road. Another dammed gate or corridor."
They searched for three days, dodging the occasional heavy ore hauler climb up the hill, or returning empty.
And then returned empty handed, to report to a very unhappy general.
Kit sagged down on the bus step. "Holy Toledo." And the slow motion kids suddenly snapped into real time and stared at him.
"Kit . . ." Tansy licked her lips. "What just happened?"
"I . . . went into super speed? And bubbled that truck, and bubbled us. And hid the bubble. I hope."
Henry grinned. "And now we're in time dilation! We can stay here for . . . is an hour inside a week outside?"
"I don't actually know. I figured it was something like a month. So . . . let's just relax for a few more minutes, then we'll take a very careful look outside." Kit squinted over at Tansy. "Did we pack any drinks? I think I need some sugar."
He also smelled exhaust fumes. He pulled himself up on his on his feet and turned off the engine.
Took the cold drink Quirk handed him. The first swallow eased the incipient head ache. "Whew!" I don't believe I did that!"
"You went so fast I almost couldn't see you." Tansy looked at the bronzy thing engulfing the bus. "You can get us out of here, right?"
"And teach me how to go fast." Quirk grinned. Everyone nodded.
Ian looked around. "Is there another bubble that the truck is in?"
"Yep. Now, you guys who can see it? Don't. Touch. If it pops, it'll dump a big, fast moving truck right here. Inside the bus." Kit took another gulp. "And I don't know if the people in there are injured or not. Or if they're friendly or not. Or . . . if that really is my Uncle Martin's truck, because it was a whole lot like it."
He shivered. "So I think I'll at least talk to the Smugglers about it, before I open it." He set the can down and stepped to the door and carefully opened a hole in the bubble.
The tweeting of birds, dusty scent of a hot day, the green of the pines.
"Well, it's time to head home." He climbed out, hauled the bus down to the road, thought about it and turned it around. Then peeled off the bubble and let it go.
It was a long chug up the hill, then easy going from there.
Algae was hot and humid. A glance through Sunshine, and the kids assured him the beach was there, with no storm in sight. The air was hot and dry on Volcano.
And with a little bit of work to get over the wall, they were home.
Then he had to recheck, Oner dates versus Earth's. Because according to the fab, they'd been gone three months.
"I might have underestimated the time dilation."