Terms of Employment, part 2
- "Repulsion field power reserves adequate. Field activated."
- My breathing slowed to a slightly less manic rate. All right, so at least there was some vague cause for hope. But would it work?
- Fuck, why did I have to pick this over being a stadium attendant, again?
- As we all waited for our coming doom or salvation, the three foals began to inch closer to me. Soon my legs were clutched by three pairs of stubby hooves, all belonging to creatures who looked up at me as though I could actually do something to save them.
- A low rumble filled the air. The ground shook, and I went prone to avoid getting knocked over.
- The foals held me tighter, whimpering like puppies.
- I knew all too well how they felt. When I was a kid, I had been on vacation in Tokyo when an earthquake hit. It was minor by their standards, but I had reacted by huddling in a corner and bawling my eyes out. The only thing that had made me feel even slightly better was when my mom started holding me close.
- Who was I to question her wisdom? I scooped up the ex-humans and wrapped them in a close embrace, letting them bury their little muzzles in my chest. They showed no signs of resistance or anger over this, and I wasn't sure whether to feel relieved or disturbed.
- The rumble of the convulsing earth grew to near-deafening levels. We covered our ears, praying for it to finally end. Bits of plaster and stone rained down like hail, and Slayde's mouth opened up in an inaudible scream.
- XB9 nudged me and frantically pointed upward. Following his hoof, I noticed that the anchoring spike he had used to rappel from the ceiling was shaking loose. I had just a split-second to recognize it before it suddenly popped out and tumbled straight down at us.
- In slow motion I saw the spike's tip glittering in the Sphere's eldritch light. All sounds became muted and tinny, like they were being played on a half-broken radio from far away.
- As the spike came closer, I could have sworn I -felt- its heft and its sharpness. It was going to nail someone to the floor.
- I took the foals lying on top of me and clumsily threw them aside, ignoring their squeals of protest. Only once they were clear did I begin to roll out of the way.
- Something wickedly sharp sliced into my neck, and my breath halted in my throat.
- I couldn't breathe. Oh God, I couldn't breathe.
- I mean, how could I breathe when I'd just escaped death by a millimeter? The spike had punctured the collar of my body armor and given me a shallow cut right on the nape of my neck before it buried itself in the ground.
- Chicago cried out in a wordless shriek of horror--probably thinking the spike had impaled me.
- "No--it's okay!" I called, giving her a thumbs-up before I pulled the piton free.
- Meanwhile, something about the atmosphere had changed, and it soon dawned on me what it was: the rumbling had stopped. Seeing as how the temple was still standing, it appeared that the repulsion field was holding.
- Jesus...the Sphere had actually done something helpful. Holy mother of fuck.
- Seeing the spike in my hand, Chicago grinned and playfully whapped me on the shoulder with her hoof. I grinned back, knowing that at least some of the old Chicago was intact.
- Old Chicago. Yeah, laugh it up, you stupid schmuck.
- "Amazing," murmured Slayde, looking up at the cracked ceiling. "In the face of all this destruction...the city endures."
- Hearing those words spoken with a four-year-old's voice was somewhere in between comical and unsettling.
- "It won't stay that way for long," I grunted, getting on my feet and gathering my gear. "We need to get moving--if the Sphere was right, we only have six hours."
- "We're gonna go to Site Danicus first, right?" squeaked XB9, fear and hope warring for control in his catlike eyes. "I know I can't ask much from you, but...I kinda want to go back to normal."
- "We'll get there," I said flatly, picking up the map the Sphere had deposited on the ground. Sadly I still had no clue as to exactly how far away Site Danicus was, but from a rough estimate it looked manageable.
- There was only one more thing I needed to do before heading out. I jogged over to XB9's gear, quickly scavenging what I could.
- "Hey, that's mine!" XB9 whined as I examined his grappling hook.
- "Yeah. What's your point?" I said, glaring down at him.
- "...Nothing," he said, his head drooping. I felt sorry for the little guy, I gotta admit, but I didn't have time to cheer him up.