“Addy approached him, pale. She stared at him in shocked silence, then down the tunnel. Addy and Kemi had never been close friends. Addy was crude, rude, tall and blond like a viking, a girl who loved fistfights and beer. Kemi was studious, ambitious, and introverted, the sweet granddaughter of Nigerian immigrants who loved good grades, classical rock from two centuries ago, and her boyfriend. But the two had grown up in the same city, same school, had spent many days together. Addy was now trembling.
"We’ll find her," she said, voice shaky. "I promise you, Marco. We’ll find her. And I’ll kill whoever took her."
The soldiers split into two search parties. One group traveled back along the tracks toward the shaft, driving the train in reverse. The other group, Marco among them, traveled on foot deeper into the mine. Marco didn’t have to walk far. Only a couple hundred meters down the tunnel, he froze.
A lump lay on the tracks.
His heart froze.
"Kemi," he whispered.
He ran along the tracks and knelt by the lump. He hated the relief that flooded over him, that shaky breath of joy.
It wasn’t Kemi. It was the STC corporal, holes gaping in his chest, eyes staring lifelessly.
Marco rose from the body. "Kemi!" he cried.
In the distance—clattering. Moaning wind. The echoes of laughter.
"Maybe we should keep quiet," Lailani said. She knelt by the corpse, examining it. "Scum made these wounds. Scum claws."
Marco stared at the slain corporal. "Or the claws of those humanoid creatures, like the one in the gray robe." He turned to look at the other soldiers who stood behind him. "A creature must have grabbed them in the night. It might still have Kemi. She might still be alive."
He walked deeper into the tunnel, and his flashlight reflected on something small and metallic. Marco knelt.
It was Kemi’s pistol. Sticky goo covered it.
"Scum drool," Marco said. "The scum have her."
There was no corpse. No blood. They had taken her alive, discarding her weapon.
Marco tapped his communicator and hailed Lieutenant Ben-Ari, who was leading the second search party. He waited in the darkness until the train came trundling back toward them. Ben-Ari and the others leaped off the carts, and Marco showed her Kemi’s pistol.
"They took her alive," Marco said. "The bastards took her alive."
Ben-Ari nodded, face pale, eyes determined. "We’ll get her back. Into the train. We follow."
They all boarded the train—fourteen soldiers, the last of their company. They traveled down the tunnel, staring ahead, the headlights cutting a path through the darkness. Marco kept dreading another lump ahead on the tracks, but the rails stretched onward, unencumbered. Marco kept one hand on Sergeant Stumpy’s back; the Boston Terrier rode beside him, a comforting presence. They passed a kilometer. Another kilometer. And still the tunnel stretched onward, sloping deeper underground.
Where are you, Kemi? Marco thought. Tendrils of panic wreathed around him. He couldn’t slow his heartbeat. His head kept spinning. Kemi was trapped somewhere here in the darkness, dragged into the shadows, hurt, maybe dead. Scared. She would be so scared. Marco’s breath trembled, and images of their youth together kept rising in the darkness. Kemi helping him with his math homework. Kissing Kemi for the first time, sixteen years old, lying together on a grassy hill in the night. Kemi and him cooking in her family’s kitchen, laughing, lying on the couch, reading together, comforted by each other’s presence.
That’s what I miss from home, Marco thought. God, Kemi. Hang in there. I’m coming for you. I’m going to find you.
The tunnel sloped downward, so steep Marco kept pressing the brakes to slow the train, and he felt like on a roller coaster, plunging down, his belly churning. The tunnel narrowed, soon so narrow the rough walls scraped the train’s sides and the ceiling brushed the soldiers’ helmets. They had traveled five kilometers when they reached a fork.
Marco stopped the train.”