Their train dove into a tunnel, amplifying the echoing roar throughout the cars. Ilya couldn’t bring herself to close her eyes, so she watched yellow bars of light zip by at regular intervals. It was only another few minutes before the train came to its first stop within the domed crater of the miners’ settlement. Cael gave Alberich and the bike a light kick as he gathered up the tiny woman.
The train lurched to a stop and Cael was already dragging Ilya up to the doors as they groaned open. Her feet barely touched the stone floor as he struggled to put some quick distance between them and the train. The station was little more than a wide hole carved into the crater wall with rotating, metal gates leading outside. It was washed out in orange lights hung from the low ceiling and from the walls between busted poster cases. Ilya could see that new posters had been hung in the broken cases, and though she couldn’t read what they said, it was obvious they were homemade.
“Alberich, let’s go, we- we…“ Cael spun them both back around toward the train and was caught short to see their former cab release somewhat disgruntled but still very alive men. “We… what?”
The men snuck angry glances sideways Alberich rattled the bike through the closing doors of the other car and made his way gingerly toward Cael and Ilya.
The large man straightened up when he saw Cael’s shocked expression, “What?”
Cael darted his eyes behind him to the men walking to the exit. “So, ah, what… exactly happened back there?”
The man’s heavy brows frowned, “As I told you.” He waved at the men who returned the gesture with a few of their own. “I let them know that their anger toward me was a waste of energy since I was not of the Manana establishment they hated so much.”
“I thought you…” Cael leaned in and whispered, “I thought you killed them.”
Alberich scoffed and stepped back. “What do take me for, some kind of savage?”
Cael squinted up at the man in the orange light of the station. “You’re still the other one, aren’t you?”
He sighed impatiently. “Don’t try to figure this out. It’s beyond your understanding, I assure you.”
“Can you tell me now what this is you’re experiencing?”
“You are,” he bent over and leaned on the bike, “extremely stupid aren’t you? I’ve no tolerance for your idiotic questions at this hour. Get us somewhere safe, where we can get some decent rest.”
Cael was about to argue but deflated. “Forget it. You’re right, I’m too goddamn exhausted to deal with this right now.” He rubbed his face with his free hand and looked up again. “You… you trust me. You’re not going to run away.”
Alberich sighed, “You agreed to help me, and I’m holding you to it. I have my reasons.”
“So you remember our conversation? You remember what happens to the other Alberich?”
The man shook his large head, and delicately placed a hand over the scabbing scratches that ran from this temple to the soft flesh of his jaw. “Please, please, please… PLEASE more questions.”
The train rumbled off to its next stop, sucking a gust of air through the gated exit into the now vacant station. The exit was floor to ceiling bars with two giant rotating doors to allow one person through at a time. Ilya watched passively as the men tried to figure out how to get the bike through. It took Alberich suggesting they leave it behind for her to think to speak up.
“It, um, folds you know.”
“What?” Cael looked over to her.
“Unhook that lock there by the peddles.” She pointed.
“Oh, yes… I can’t believe I forgot that. I’ve watched you do this every day.”
Alberich said nothing but gave her a withering glance. She pretended not so notice, but pulled the ugly, green fur coat tighter around her neck.
Once they were through, Cael was tapping at the laveli skin on his arm, turning this way and that to orient himself with the map he had displayed there. Ilya looked at the buildings that stretched up around them and found it difficult to focus. The repeated patterns of square windows and balconies alternating in endless columns made it difficult to tell where one building ended and another began. A dark vision of the planet Cinead loomed beyond the dome ceiling instead of stars.
“Where are we going?” Ilya asked as they set off again, Alberich quietly pushing himself along on the bike and Ilya snug under Cael’s other arm.
“There’s a housing office not too far from here. With the… um, purging of Manana Corporation that happened recently, we should be able find an empty space to rent for the night.