“Think,” coo-yôn said. “Safety starts with you.” Huh? He pointed to an old workplace sign that I could barely make out.
“Ouais. Thanks for reading that for me.” Below the sign was a weapons cage. I squinted and made out a padlock. “Need inside that cage, me.”
He helped me head toward it, rounding some map tables. “Why ain’t there a soul . . . ?” I trailed off when something squelched under my bare feet.
Blood? It had congealed in the dirt.
I gazed past the tables. My vision couldn’t be right, ’cause I saw hacked-up and bullet-riddled bodies.
Glassy eyes. Jutting tongues. A nearly severed head. Spatter painted the walls.
Who’d done this bloodbath? “You . . . you gotta be working with Gabe? Joules?”
Though Matthew had never locked gazes with me before, he stared me down. In a spine-chilling tone, he said, “Hunts. And campaigns.”
“You did this?” He’d never once set out to hurt anyone before. Never even raised his voice, except with fear.
“They did it to themselves. Knives and guns.”
Two dead overseers had bloody machetes in hand. Others held rifles. I’d been so far down in the mine I hadn’t heard gunshots. “But you somehow made them do it.”
“I hunted and campaigned.”
Again, I felt like I was with a stranger.
A man’s voice sounded from the entrance: “Where the hell is everybody?”
“Putain!” I bit out under my breath. “The next shift must be here. A dozen more men’ll be between us and the exit. You got any bright ideas?”
In the space of a heartbeat, he was back to being a nonchalant seventeen-year-old. “Didn’t get farther than this. My power ran out.”
“Go snatch a gun off the dead!”
“All right, take me to a weapon.”
He guided me to a fallen overseer, then helped me dip to grab an automatic rifle. I straightened—
A bullet whizzed past my head.
“Go, go!” I fired blindly over my shoulder. A yell told me I’d hit somebody.
As Matthew started away, more bullets peppered the metal wall beside us.
He was all but carrying me as I hobbled along on one leg, slowing him down. Fucking hated being dead weight! I blindly fired again. Click. Click. Out of ammo!
The slavers stopped shooting their precious bullets, probably ’cause we were headed into the mine. We’d be trapped. The only other way out was the impossible exit: the vehicle bay.
Coo-yôn led me deeper into a maze of corridors. We turned right. Then left. Right again. Unless some allies were back here waiting for us, we were just running toward our doom.
The corridor opened up to a wider area. He dragged me along, then propped me up against something. A six-foot-tall truck wheel? He’d stopped at one of those monster-size haulers.
“Here, Hunter!” He waved toward something.
A set of blurry steps jogged in front of my eyes. Must be ten feet up to the hauler’s cab. “Leave me. I can’t make those—”
Matthew swooped me up in a fireman’s carry and bounded up the stairs. Just like I’d done with him in his flooded basement—the first time I’d saved his ass.
Coo-yôn was loading me? Up was down. He dumped me on the floor behind the pilot seat. The world spun. Stay conscious or die. “You doan know how to operate this thing!” I had only a general idea. Back when I’d plotted my escape, I’d studied the drivers and how they handled these loaders down on the slave level. “You’ve never even driven a car, non? I gotta get behind the wheel, me. Is it automatic?” No way I could use this leg for the clutch.
Damn it! “You got any idea how to drive a stick?”
If I could somehow talk him through this, we might—might—have a shot at breaking out through the vehicle bay. “Battery switches . . . outside in a box. Flip every one.” Please doan let the box be locked.
He set off. A minute later, lights in the cab blazed on.
More shouts, still in the distance. They didn’t know where we were. For now.
When Matthew climbed behind the wheel, I said, “I’m goan to help you drive this thing.” I tried to sit up. Bad move. Definitely about to black out. I collapsed back. But this meant I couldn’t see anything above the dash. “Look for an engine ignition.”
Coo-yôn started pushing every button and yanking every lever. The heavy-duty hauler bed groaned as it chugged higher and lower. Belts hummed. Blinking lights flashed.
“Damn it, you just let ’em know where we’re at. You didn’t see that coming?”
“Told you. Power. Empty.”
“Find the ignition, and lay off the buttons!”
Too late; bullets riddled the truck door. Men yelled for backup.
“Ignition?” Matthew asked. The engine rumbled to life.
My eyes went wide. “Hell yeah, now take off the brake!” Between gulps of air, I coached him how to work the pedals, how to work the gearshift to one.
Grinding. Metal on metal. Cogs sounded like they were about to buckle. Then . . .
We were moving!
We’d collided with a giant pillar. A support pillar. “Work the gearshift opposite of R!” I heard rock cracking. “Fast, fast!”
Grinding again. We were moving . . . forward. “That’s it, boy!” We had to be headed toward the vehicle bay! By now the slavers would be lining up trucks to block us in.
As we picked up speed, we bounced off the mine walls like a pinball, coo-yôn overadjusting the steering wheel.