Chavez crouched low in the brush. The dirt road he had been following had ended at a wide overgrown area around the iron mine’s entrance; the entrance to the mine itself was a shadowed hole cut into the base of a rocky hill. At a casual glance, the mine appeared to be abandoned. However, stumps here and there indicated that someone was keeping the grassy zone free of trees and bushes, and the wheel tracks from the road cut a path of crushed vegetation toward the mine and then off to one side.
Dusk was falling; there didn’t appear to be any lights to illuminate the area after dark. Chavez had been observing the entrance for about half an hour. Although they were discreet, Chavez had been counted four armed men just inside the entrance, and four more moving around the wooded slope above.
Very faintly, he heard an alarm or siren from the direction of the mine. Moments later, the guards inside the entrance had disappeared, and the ones on the slope above had come down out of the trees – five, not four; he had missed one in his count. Three of those ran inside, while the remaining two took up positions in the open in front of the entrance. They put on pairs of dark goggles; night vision, Chavez thought.
This was as good as it was going to get. Not knowing how long the alert would last, Chavez made his way around the clearing to the hillside, sacrificing stealth for speed. Despite the noise he made, he remained undetected; Chavez figured the guards were probably concentrating more on whatever was happening inside the mine than outside. He climbed up the broken rock, moving more carefully as he approached the guards, who were now below him.
Soon, he was directly over the entrance. The guards stood about thirty feet out from the opening, enough to give them a field of view unobstructed by the irregular face of the hill. From here, Chavez could see the details of the guards’ uniforms; they were bizarre, almost futuristic, he thought, if you were looking at the future from the 1970’s.
The opening was at least fifteen feet high, and there was no way to climb to the ground. He was going to have to let himself drop and hope for the best.
He began lowering himself over the lip of the entrance. His height proved to be an advantage; with his arms extended, his fall would be less than the length of his own body.
Too late to turn back, he thought, holding on by his fingertips. He let go, bending his knees at the moment of impact to cushion his fall and reduce the noise when he landed on the dirt. The guards didn’t turn around. Chavez drew his pistol and swiftly moved into the mine.
* * *
Lily’s transition back to her body was instantaneous. Without warning, she found herself sitting on the couch that she had seen from above. Stiffly, she stood up. Mina and Captain Forrest were doing the same. Lily felt her consciousness start to fade into the dream state almost immediately; fiercely, she pushed it to the back of her mind.
Matt was sprawled in his chair, his eyes closed; he was snoring gently. Where the guards and the door had been was now just an ugly rip in space; beyond was nothing but clouds and blue sky, above and below.
Forrest walked over to the rip; Lily watched him warily. Something about what Professor Harte said, about the impossibility of this person Black’s technology, was troubling her. She had seen so much that was impossible since Matt had entered aleph-two...
“It’s a way out,” Forrest called back to them. “Come on.” He jumped through the hole, and she expected to see him plummet out of sight. Instead, he stood on a cloud.
She looked through the rip, and saw that the puffy white mass was imbedded with a path of wide flagstones, ten or fifteen feet square, which extended into the distance. Next there’d be a castle and a goose laying golden eggs, no doubt.
“You don’t want to stay here, do you?” Forrest said, and set off.
She didn’t want to let Forrest out of sight, but she needed to get Matt. Mina was standing next to him; the other woman looked distraught.
“What’s wrong?” Lily asked. She felt the words twist into something else in her mouth. Here we go again, she thought.
“I don’t belong here,” Mina said. “I should never have left the hospital. I’m not ready.”
“I need your help,” Lily said. “I can’t carry Matt, and I don’t want to wake him up if he’s keeping that hole open. And I think Captain Forrest may be dangerous.” Mina did not move. “Please. We can’t escape without you.”
Mina looked at her, nodded, and gently cradled Matt in her arms. They stepped through the rip.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 18.2]