An abducted cop and a gladiator prisoner must learn to
trust each other with their lives…and their hearts…to escape their alien
Last week's episode ended with Max divulging a big secret to Addy before they were dropped into a garbage truck. Will they finally get out of the truck? Here is the end of Chapter 19 to reset the stage.
“How you could be excited about an alien dump truck filled to
capacity is beyond me,” she said.
“Because ‘filled to capacity’ are the key words.”
“What do you mean?”
“Last time," he said. "I got pummeled twice more with trash. They must have changed their route since then. A full truck has only one stop to make.”
“Any chance it’s Earth?”
He shook his head no. “Waste incinerator plant.”
“No more surprises, Max. I need to know the plan.”
“Outside the plant, the truck will dump us into an open-top transport vessel. It’ll carry us into the building for incineration. Once inside, climb out and follow me to cover. Do not get dumped into the refuse bunker.”
“Won’t the Hyboreans see us?”
“It’s possible but unlikely. The plant is run robotically. They shouldn’t be down on the floor. There’s a greater risk of being seen outside by the drivers. Keep your head low in the trash.”
“How on earth did you learn we could escape this way?”
“You mean ‘How on Hyborea.’”
When she narrowed her eyes at him, he shrugged. “I had escaped with a gladiator named Kedric.”
“Yeah. Kedric saw some news story on HTV. His interpretation of the hologram was that a Hyborean kid found at the incinerator plant got there by falling into a garbage chute. I figured if the kid got from point A to point B without anyone knowing, so could we.”
“What if you were incinerated?”
“Then you wouldn’t be riding in garbage right now.”
“No offense, Max, but I’d rather not be in garbage right now. Thank you.”
“But it’s the perfect escape.”
“Perfect isn’t the word I’d use.”
“Think about it. Not only did we get out of HuBReC undetected, but we’re traveling south out of the city.”
“How far south?”
“About three weeks’ trek according to an old man I met.”
The corners of her mouth rose along with her hope. Focused on the surrounding rubbish and the best breathing method to alleviate the stench, she hadn’t realized each passing second brought them closer to freedom.
That is, as long as they didn’t get caught.
“Why do the Hyboreans need an incinerator plant, anyway? Why don’t they incinerate their garbage inside their buildings?”
“Incineration generates a massive amount of heat. Enough to melt the icy foundation of a building and collapse it. I’ve seen it happen. That’s why the plant is isolated in a remote location.”
They rode in silence for some time, clinched in an awkward lovers’ embrace. Quite honestly, she hadn’t minded. Max’s solid form, his body heat emanating through the thermal suit, and the strong steady rhythm of his heart proved she wasn’t alone on this freedom quest. It was a peculiar feeling, relying on someone, but not altogether terrible. She didn’t have to figure out what to do or where to go or make all the decisions about a strange world on her own. She had Max: a warrior with fifteen years worth of experience on this planet. A warrior who had escaped. A warrior who knew the way to the refuge.
He did know the way, didn’t he?
“How did you and Kedric make it out of the incinerator plant?”
“Great. Here I thought you had some master plan, but you’re telling me it was luck?”
“Not luck. Lucky. He’s the old man I met. He lives at the plant, kind of like the company’s mascot. He found Kedric and me and brought us to his place. We hid there until the workers left, and then Lucky helped us sneak out. For a price,” he mumbled.
“Then what happened? How far did you get before they found you? Did Kedric get caught, too? Tess wants me to give him something.”
The muscles in his arms tensed. He handed her the lightstick. “Put this in my backpack. We’re slowing down.”
She unzipped the pack, dangled the stick inside, then snapped it off. Instant darkness. She zipped the bag again before Max repositioned them.
“Get ready to unload,” he said. “Don’t let go until I say.”
The truck stopped. The roof sublimated, and blinding white light shone through the fog, causing a blinking frenzy. By the time the truck tilted on its side, her eyes adjusted enough to see half the garbage sliding from around their bodies. Garbage vessels hovered in a line beneath them as if on an invisible conveyer belt. She tightened her hold on Max.
“Drop,” he said.
She let go. With breath held, she tumbled out of the truck into the receptacle. She broke to the surface on her own this time, keeping her head above the heap. She squinted against the snow whipping at her goggles.
“Max?” she whispered, in case a Hyborean stood nearby on the ledge above.
Where was he?
Treading refuse, she moved a trash bag out of the way, searching for him. “Max?”
Her heart climbed into her throat. Had a heavy piece of garbage knocked him out? Had he not gotten dumped? Maybe he hadn’t landed in the receptacle. What if a Hyborean had seen him and pulled him out?
Feeling with her foot for something to stand on, she swam slowly through the trash until she stepped on something hard and solid. It moved. Her foot slipped off a melon. Or was that a head? Thick fingers gripped her calf.
Max emerged from the trash like a horror movie swamp monster. Chunky slime dripped off his head. She might’ve laughed if she weren’t likewise covered in all things disgusting. “Are you okay?”
“The strap to my backpack ripped. Almost lost the damn thing. Stay low.”
“Any lower and I could blow muck bubbles.”
The conveyer’s start rocked them in the vessel. Their dump truck hovered away, and a Hyborean with green neon lightsticks directed another truck into position.
A dark shadow crossed overhead as they entered into the dingy incinerator building.
The vessel jerked to a halt, as did Addy’s heart. “They know we’re here.”
Max grabbed the lip of the transporter vessel and pulled himself up to peek over the side. “No. It’s clear.”
“Why’d we stop?”
“Either to fill or dump.” He heaved the rest of his body to the top, threw a leg over the lip, and then extended his gloved hand. “Come on.”
She reached for him but slipped through his slimy fingers.
Unable to find anything to dry her hands on, she reached up again. He seized her wrist and pulled. Slowly, she emerged from the trash. As she balanced herself on the lip, Max jumped to the floor and called for her to follow.
The vessel jerked.
Burning pain ripped through her fingers as the weight of her body fell solely onto her hands. Chin and cheek slid down the slime-covered wall. Legs splashed back into the garbage.
Don’t let go. Don’t let go. You’ll never reach the top again. Oh God, did her life really rest on the strength of her aching fingers?
Her feet found the wall. She started running like a cartoon character, legs moving but not getting anywhere as each stride slipped down the greasy wall. Tears blurred her vision. Fingers throbbed. How much longer before they gave out?
Adrenaline pounded through her blood, and she pulled herself up. She hooked her armpits over the lip. The conveyor stopped. Her body wrenched.
Panting, she looked to her right.
The vessel in front dumped its contents into the refuse bunker sixty feet away.
Nothing. Not a twitch. Not even a blink.
The empty vehicle reset its position.
“Come on, woman,” Max called from below.
The conveyor belt moved forward again, but Addy could only watch as if seeing someone else being carried closer and closer to the incinerator’s holding tank.
“Jump!” Max held his arms outstretched.
Somehow her legs kicked over the lip. She dropped, knocking Max to the floor. He rolled her off. Their vessel spilled its contents into the refuse bunker. Max yanked her to her feet, nearly jerking her shoulder out of its socket, and pulled her into the shadows of a network of large conduits. Huddling with Max several feet from a steaming pipeline couldn’t warm her cold, numb flesh.
“Hell, woman, I thought you were a goner.”
“So did I.” Less than twelve hours into the escape and already she’d come close to death. What had she gotten herself into? She rubbed the cramps from her shaking hands. She couldn’t open her fingers. Was she really prepared for all the obstacles she would encounter?
Of course she was. She was a law enforcement officer, dammit. She’d been trained to handle life-and-death situations. She’d have to draw on that training during this escape.
Whew! That was close. I hope Addy and Max have a chance to rest and regroup (and take a shower) before the Hyboreans discover them. But wait...who is that in the shadows? Find out in next week's episode Chapter 21 or read the full
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