Brick shattered and metal squealed.
“Keep going,” Matt yelled back over his shoulder.
The stairs and the tunnel channeled the force of the explosion toward us. The power almost made me trip, like a too-strong tail-wind.
Heavy boots sounded on metal. The rhythm was steady, but the steep stairs slowed them. The steps vibrated with the force, noise bouncing back and forth between the walls.
“How many do you hear?” Matt asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. The echoes made it hard to distinguish between individual noises. “At least six.”
“At least,” Mouse agreed, “probably more.”
“Are you armed?” he asked as we continued down the straight tunnel.
This was going to get dangerous. Soon they’d be able to see us. That was all the men needed. They didn't have to catch to with us—they had guns. Why hadn’t we brought any? I mentally slapped myself.
We could leave him behind, I thought, but would we be able to find our way out of this place on our own?
“Only knives,” I said. “How long is this tunnel?”
“More than a mile.”
We weren’t that fast. We’d never outrun them when they could see so far ahead. I assessed our surroundings. We could hide behind the support beams lining the tunnel. We’d have to rely on the hope that they weren’t checking behind them. But then what? We couldn’t go back and surely they’d turn around eventually. We’d be stuck here.
“We’ll have to ambush them.” The ringing boot-steps descended. I kept my voice low to ensure we’d catch them by surprise. Sometimes the best defense was a good offense. “We’ll wait behind the beams and when they pass, we’ll take them out from behind, one by one.”
Matt and Mouse nodded in agreement and we each took a pillar. I folded myself into the corner between the wall and the support beam.
The tunnel faded to black as Matt switched off the flashlight. It wasn’t a moment too soon either, the first boot landed on the concrete a second later. I hoped they hadn’t seen the change in light.
Something slick grew down the wall and cold pressed into my back. I tried to ignore the slime against my skin, coating my arm and shoulder.
They carried no flashlights, but their steps never faltered. They stalked forward with confidence, as if they could see exactly where they were going.
The men neared. I made my breathing as shallow as possible; I didn’t want to get caught because of someone’s particularly sharp hearing. The first man passed and I held my breath completely.
A dull green glow emanated from their faces, creeping from behind what seemed to be a dark set of glasses. They wore night-vision goggles.
The faint light was enough for me to see by. Mouse, too. I worried momentarily about Matt; he wouldn’t be able to see anything. I pushed it aside. There was nothing I could do about him now. I could only hope he wouldn’t jump in blindly.
The men stalked forward in single file, making them easy to count; seven in total. They didn’t turn to observe their surroundings even once. Sloppy.
I waited, to ensure there weren’t more coming, then stepped out. Creeping swiftly behind them on the balls of my feet, I didn’t make a sound.
With soft movements I approached the man at the rear, springing at the very last minute. I covered his mouth with my hand and pinched his nose closed so he couldn’t make a noise. Pressing the palm of my hand into the side of his neck, I bounced it against his skin. The alternating pressure on the vagus nerve caused him to go limp. I caught him and laid his body gently on the ground.
Mouse relieved him of his goggles and presented them to Matt, I was glad to see he was still hiding in his corner. Her hand on his arm made him jump, but he readily accepted the device.
As Mouse helped him into them, I prowled after the next man. He went down just as easily. The third was slightly smaller, and I could reach around his neck from behind. I pressed my forearm against his windpipe, cutting off the blood to his brain at the same time.
Matt and Mouse passed. I let the man slide on the ground.
Matt used the same technique as I had, wrapping his arm around the man’s neck. Mouse kept going, attempting to target the nerve in the neck of the next target with the blade of her hand. She was tiny—there was no way she could reach around her target’s neck completely.
He shifted slightly as her blow landed, making her miss the crucial spot. He yelled and spun, weapon extended. Matt dropped the man he was choking and dived under the gun, tackling the other man to the ground.
Matt and his opponent fell to the ground. They exchanged blow after blow, fighting for the dominant position.
I tried to step over them, but a hand wrapped around my upper arm, pulling me around. The man Matt had discarded to rescue Mouse was back on his feet, recovering his breath quickly. He hadn’t been without air long enough to make him pass out.
I punched him in the liver and then in the spleen, pain shot up my arm but I tried to ignore it. He still stood, so I kneed him in the groin. The multiple impacts overloaded his brain, causing it to shut down and him to collapse.
As I turned back to the action, I froze.
Matt was back on his feet, his opponent unmoving on the cold concrete below. The last two men faced us, Mouse pinned between them. Both of their guns were trained on her torso.
No one moved. I waited for the men to do or say something. They seemed to be expecting the same. Nervousness radiated off them; everything from their expressions to the slight shaking of their weapons screamed discomfort.
Someone moaned behind us. We didn’t have much time, the men would start waking shortly—even if they wouldn’t be feeling too well, it would be easier to wrap this up sooner rather than later.
I cast my eyes around, searching for something I could use, hoping for some sort of inspiration to show me what I needed to do. I wasn’t expecting to find anything, so when I did I couldn’t prevent a small smile from curling my lips.
The flashlight Matt had been carrying laid next to the beaten man, not more than two feet in front of me.
I slid my foot forward beneath the device. They didn't notice; their eyes didn’t stray below our waists.
With a flick of my foot, I tossed the metal cylinder into the air. In a single movement I caught it and switched it on, directing the beam of bright light into their eyes. They flinched away, loosening their grip on Mouse.
She threw herself to the ground, dragging her arms out of their grip. They swung their guns blindly in our direction. I dropped the flashlight, drew the blades sitting at my thighs and sent them flying at both targets simultaneously.
The knives punctured their throats, embedding deep into their skin. A gun went off. I crouched, making myself as small as possible to avoid the bullets that ricocheted around the tunnel.
The men spluttered. The bullets stopped. One reached for the knife, ripping it free. The blood gushed forth from the wound. He pressed his hands to his neck, but redness seeped between his fingers.
The other man wrapped his hands around his neck, below the blade. He spun slightly before falling to the ground. Dark fluid pooled around him. He twitched.
Gurgling noises squeezed from them. I couldn’t tell if they originated from their wounds or mouths. The second man collapsed, blood bubbling from his lips.
I didn’t move until their bodies stopped jerking. I couldn’t drag my eyes away. It had seemed like the right thing to do at the time, I couldn’t think of anything else, but that didn’t make me feel any better.
“Come on,” Matt said grimly after a moment of silence. “We need to get out of here.”
With a backwards glance, I followed Matt away from the fallen men. As we reached an intersection, I could hear the sound of heavy boots on metal far behind us. My heart raced again. We were too far ahead, and they couldn’t catch us now. Could they?
“Where are you staying?” Matt asked quietly.
We told him. He said nothing more, just turned down one of the many passages. After several twists and turns, it became apparent he had more than a fleeting knowledge of these tunnels.
I could hear a strange clickity-clicking noise. It was faint but grew louder. Our path continued onward before us but a much larger tunnel intersected it.
Reaching the crossroads, the noise grew to a deafening rumble. A train raced across our path, the carriages lit within by bright white lights. The windows seemed to merge into one long pane of glass, such was its speed.
As the noise faded, Matt motioned for us to follow him. He jumped from our tunnel into the other before offering his hand to help us down.
“See the railing that runs alongside the tracks?” he said. “Whatever you do, don’t touch it. I doubt even you would survive a shock that strong.”
He took our silence as understanding and upped his pace. Another train approached and he pressed us into a small alcove in the concrete until it passed. I covered my ears with my hands, the roar vibrated around my head.
We kept moving until a dim light bloomed in the distance; the light at the end of the tunnel. It grew brighter until we reached the platform. There were few people milling around. Most of them were inebriated, under the influence of some chemical or other.
One man in a shabby old jacket stared at us while we climbed from the tracks. They couldn’t have posted lookouts this far away; surely there were too many tunnels for that. They did have explosives, though, so they knew it was a possibility.
I kept watching him out of the corner of my eye. He didn’t lower his gaze. Only when we got closer did I notice the smell, it made me vomit a little in my mouth. I looked back before I turned the corner to see him pull a bottle from his coat and take a swig.
I didn’t relax. I couldn't. We hurdled over the turnstiles and sprinted up the stairs. We surfaced a short distance from our hotel. Had Briana told them about where we’d left our equipment too? I could only hope she hadn’t woken up and given them all the details yet.
“Is there anything you need from the room?” Matt asked as we stood at the corner of the street.
“No.” I shook my head and peered around the edge of the building. We’d loaded the car earlier, in case we had to make a break for it. I tore open the handbag that had hung over Mouse’s shoulder the entire time, pulling the keys free.
“Can you see anything strange?” I asked Mouse, drawing back and letting her look.
She shook her head. “No.”
We ran again. I swiped a small blue coin in front of a sensor and the garage door rolled upward. Our car was parked in the closest space to the door. I climbed in the driver’s seat and Mouse slid in beside me.
“Take this.” Matt crouched beside my seat, a phone and a small rounded gadget with a cord on one end in his hand. “I need to be able to contact you later. Don’t lose it.”
“You’re not coming with us?” I didn’t really know what to think of this boy. I didn’t like him, but he wouldn’t be safe here anymore.
“I have things to do.” He sounded sure of himself. What sort of teen had the sort of knowledge he’d exhibited tonight? I mean, apart from us? He’d easily adapted to the night-vision goggles, like he’d used them before. And he knew how to fight and all about the sphinx project...