The shaft was deep, with smooth perpendicular walls studded with rings of downward reaching spikes sizzling with hardly restrained voltage. It was, however, not broad enough to not be crossed in one leap by the monster. Passing from wall to wall whenever such a barrier tried to obstruct the way, the creature glided up the well, according to its very own deal with the force of gravity. 'R', not included in the covenant, relied on being wedged between the strong, stiff shoulder spikes.
A dreary hangar, lighting coming up automatically as something moved inside, stood on the ground atop the yawning shaft. Cold, cleared-out emptiness, a good-sized transport could find shelter here but in its place stood – space. Not discouraged 'R' scanned the wide interior, settling at last at the left wall, before a plate of steel not different from the rest – at least to unaccustomed eyes. A bit of skill and the point of his knife removed it, to disclose a terminal. Repeating the long train of codes Nevins had used to summon the elevator, 'R' finally was deigned worthy of a reaction.
"Emergency code alpha, chief of security, acknowledged. Require second authorization."
The late doctor Verndyke seemed to be authority enough. His code and keycard caused a portion of the floor to retreat, a slow but powerful elevator purring deep beneath. A squat, angular form rose from its hidden resting place, a five-man glider. More of a lifeboat than a full-grown spaceship, but fully functional. A lifeboat though, that could not have contained the whole crew of the facility, had they filled all the space within the hull completely. Someone had allowed for heavy casualties when planning this ship as a last resort. And had been proven right. The same plan had foreseen an urgency to leave. As soon as the glider stood on even ground, it sprang to life. The landing ramp opened with a soft hiss, inside lights blossomed one by one as automatic check-ups run through their routines.
'R' gave the ship's controls a quick once-over, then busied himself with the terminal again.
The hangar gates opened.
Outside was bleakness, scarcely lighted. Heavy clouds shrouded the sky, barren rocks and greyish dust, blown by a whipping wind dominated the scenery. The air was dry and thin and bitingly cold. Limbo without lost souls for company.
"Where do you want to go?"
HERE – THERE IS LIFE, I FEEL IT: NO HUMANS – GOOD HUNT
'R' nodded, understandingly. He held out his hand, ebon hide slowly shedding but still visible. A claw in true black armour reached out carefully. They met in greeting, parted – then the huge beast turned and bounded off, in wide, fluid pounces, into the wilderness beyond the gates.
As the small glider left the hangar, its fiery tail illuminated the gloomy landscape for miles. Rolling hills and jagged cliffs were thrown into stark relief. One silhouette seemed particularly bizarre. Perched on an outcrop of sable basalt, a giant form reared suddenly, bathed in the flickering flames. Obsidian blazed red and white-hot by reflection. The ship ascended steeply, towards the beckoning stars, and grey clouds swallowed it. And with the light extinguished, blackness was gone, as well.
Many thanks to all faithful readers and reviewers. Hope you enjoyed the ride.
For those who might enjoy rereading the story with the benefit of hindsight, there is only one man in the whole story using the words 'beauty' and 'beautiful'. Furthermore, in chapters 20 and 21, the male lead (tall, dark, dangerous…) is identified as 'soldier' and 'armoured man', respectively. If you see a pair of active combatants without one of them being a dead body at the end of the scene, you've already met them in chapter one.
For anyone interested in 'B's background, check out 'Rearrangement'.