It turned out that they were only about an hour’s flight from the forest bunker. Under Casper’s guidance they dropped lightly to the ground onto top of a hill with scenic views of the surrounding countryside.
Laurie found that she loved flying. It felt like being picked up by a winch and swung through the air. She loved having a ghost around as well. Casper had actually gotten better at controlling the cube as they had been flying. Laurie thought there was a very real chance that they might have broken the sound barrier in the final stage.
“That was the most fun I’ve had in years” she said, as she breathed the forest air. “We need to go flying more often, right Derek?”
Derek was standing slightly hunched and with both feet firmly on the ground. Laurie thought he looked a little ill.
Laurie was concerned. She reached out her hand and rubbed Derek’s back. “Are you all right?” she asked.
Derek gave her a slightly queasy look. He straightened his back and said, “I’m alive; that’s about the best I could hope for. Let’s get back home already; it’s cold out here” and he started striding down the hill with the yellow man over one shoulder.
Feeling baffled Laurie reached out and yelled, “You know, I could probably get Casper to warm you up.
Derek didn’t answer. He was rapidly becoming a dot in the distance.
Laurie didn’t want to be left behind, so she ran after him.
Derek was looking a little angry by the time that Laurie pulled alongside him. He was following the course of a river and didn’t seem to be in the mood to talk. So Laurie walked in silence.
The light was starting to burn around the outside of her glasses, and Laurie knew she would have to get better ones. The disguise she had gotten from the twins would protect her if she had to go back to her dorm to get her spares, but she had been thinking about what people might do if they recognized her, and she was wondering if there was some way she could get around going back in person.
Laurie was so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she didn’t notice how far they had walked until she came to a sealed road that cut across her path and stopped her cold. That’s when she asked, “You’re lost aren’t you?”
In hindsight it wasn’t really a question.
Derek stared across the road, as though daring the other side to blink. Eventually he replied, “No- Yes- I am- I’m lost” he hung his head. The he looked angry again “Is that Casper’s idea of a joke, dropping us so far from the bunker?”
Laurie was a little surprised, she started chuckling along with what she assumed was Derek’s joke, and when he looked at her and didn’t return it she said “I don’t think he was making a joke Derek. We must have been very obvious when we were flying in. Casper probably didn’t want to mark out where we were staying.”
There was a weird pulsing feeling in Laurie’s hand and Derek hung his head again. “Let’s just get back,” he said, “Lead the way”
Laurie acknowledged his strange request with a nod of her head and took the lead. She didn’t know the land any better than Derek did, but she knew the vague direction she should be going in down the road.
The road was uphill and the day was growing hot. The asphalt was starting to absorb the heat of the sun, and the air was starting to shimmer. Laurie and Derek breathed heavily as they walked and there was soon sweat running off them.
Laurie didn’t mind the heat as much as the light that was getting brighter around her glasses. She shielded her eyes with one hand and looked up the road.
The road turned to a steeper incline up ahead.
Laurie straightened up; starting to regret walking on the road but determined to push on through.
Laurie and Derek reached the top of the hill, only to find that the road lead to a steeper hill.
Laurie was glad. She grinned and put a little bit of a swagger into her walk. She had just recognized where they were.
Laurie heard the sounds of puffing and panting behind her, “Laurie,” said Derek, “This is insane, let’s just fly”
Laurie didn’t want to fly when they were so close. She looked over her shoulder and called out, “Hang in there, only two more roads left to go.”
She heard an exasperated wheeze and then Derek said, “Laurie, I’m carrying a guy here”
Laurie’s reply stopped somewhere short of her mouth. She looked up the hill, and then turned around to face Derek.
He really did look tired. His chest was heaving and there was sweat running down his face and into his eyes.
Laurie felt ashamed. She hung her head and held up her cube. “Sorry” she said, “I didn’t really think about how much he must weigh.”
Laurie wasn’t really happy with the idea of using the cube so close to the bunker; she didn’t know enough about how the cube worked to be sure that it couldn’t be tracked, but there had to be times when security came second, and she could see that her partner couldn’t keep walking.
“Take us up to the flat part” she said to the air that she assumed Casper was inhabiting. “Keep us low”
An orange glow surrounded them all and lifted them off the ground.
Laurie enjoyed the feeling of being lifted up the hill. She smiled as the road slipped past a couple inches from her toes. She kept one eye on the road though; she wasn’t sure how a bystander would interpret three being lifted by invisible hooks attached to the backs of their jeans. “Hide us in the bushes if anyone comes” she whispered to her hand.
They made it up the hill and walked to the entrance of the road that would take them to the bunker.
Laurie felt glad to see it. She wiped the sweat off her forehead and turned to Derek. “There”, she said, “we made it in one piece.”
There was an earth shaking noise, a flower of fire somewhere almost out of sight, and a gust of warm air.
Laurie spun around and put her hands up. “What was that?!” she exclaimed.
Derek was beside; her leaning forward with his eyes wide. “My daughter’s there!” he said.
Laurie felt it like a punch in the gut; Derek’s family and team three laying on the ground, burned all over, their eyes wide and glassy. “Hold on” she said, “I’ll fly us up”
Laurie turned, but Derek wasn’t there anymore.
He was sprinting up the road as fast as his legs would carry him.
Laurie saw the problem with that. She threw her hands up and cried, “We can’t leave this guy here!”
Derek didn’t care; he just kept running.
Laurie slapped her hands on her forehead. “Fly both of us up” she said to the cube.
There was a bright glow that surrounded both Laurie and the man and punted them down the road. They closed the distance quickly, but then Laurie jerked sharply to the left and found herself in a bush.
An armoured truck barrelled back the way they’d come and out of sight. There were men hanging off the sides. They were all armed.
Laurie felt a jolt of justified fear. She knocked branches out of the way and struggled back to the road.
Some way ahead of her Derek did the same. He had seen the guns too. For a split second all he did was stare in the direction the truck had gone. Then he yelled and whipped out his shrunken arm. There was a blast of light and Derek was thrown into the air.
‘Damn!’ thought Laurie, imagining Derek hitting the ground. “Follow him” she said.
She could see the bunker now; all the trees around it were on fire. There were two figures standing on top of it; one was very tall and the other was very short, but with the sun getting higher in the sky Laurie couldn’t make anything else out.
Something hit Derek and stopped him short. He hit the ground and rolled.
Laurie stared. Derek was holding a foam bullet, and she had never seen someone so happy to be shot in the head.