A minute later, I had descended the stairs and was hurrying through the labyrinthine tunnels that snaked through the cell block. Judging by the dark forms of sleeping bodies huddled in the corners of their cells, it was likely nighttime. The corridors were very dark, but I knew the way without looking, as I had often made the same trip in similar conditions.
I was running on pure adrenaline, but I wondered how long it would last. While the Energin had given me a surge of much-needed energy, I wondered dully whether it was killing me. My heart rate had spiked, meaning that I was likely to be bleeding a lot faster. I hoped that I would make it as far as Kris's cell, though. If I died then, at least she might still make it out alive.
I turned the corner and saw her cell ahead of me. Kris was sitting cross-legged and awake on the floor in front of the cell door, waiting. She stood up when she caught sight of me.
"You made it," she whispered, peering concernedly at me through the bars.
"Yeah, I did," I said through gritted teeth as I fumbled through my pockets for the keys I had stolen. They jangled noisily as I drew them out. I winced and glanced warily over my shoulder, then attempted, through trial and error, to find a match to the lock on Kris's door. After six tries, I had it open and Kris slipped out swiftly, coiling a long length of rope around her shoulder.
"I saw the fight," Kris breathed. "He was so vicious — I've never seen Vengeance like that. I thought for sure he'd killed you. . . ."
"I'm still not quite sure he hasn't," I said, grimacing. "Damn thing won't stop bleeding."
Kris winced with sympathy and lifted up the hem of my blood-soaked shirt to view the wound. For all the bandages I had covered it with, I knew that I hadn't really stopped the bleeding. The real damage was on the inside.
The clang of a door opening echoed down to us from some distant corridor, bringing us both to our senses.
"We'd better get going," I said. I eased Kris's cell door shut, then sneaked off down the passage with Kris right behind me. It was very dark, the only light coming from the occasional, guttering argon bulb, all of which were dimmed to auxiliary power. I welcomed the shadows, however, as their concealment was the only form of protection we had.
I had never been to the basement before, which was located even beneath the cell area, so I was relying on Kris to guide me. I kept one hand trailing along the craggy, metal wall on the right; the other hand I kept clasped firmly around Kris's so as not to lose her. Every step I took heralded a new spasm of pain in my side, as though Vengeance was ruthlessly stabbing me again and again. Rather than slackening, the pain only seemed to have intensified. I wondered if the adrenaline was wearing off. I wondered if I was dying. I wondered if I viewed that as a bad thing anymore.
That five minute walk to the basement was an excruciatingly torturous experience. I may not have made it had it not been for Kris quietly urging me on.
"Just a little farther — we're almost there. We're going to make it."
Every time I let out an involuntary gasp as a fresh wave of agony seared through my ribs, she would squeeze my hand reassuringly, willing me to keep walking, silently conveying her strength to me.
Finally, we were going down stairs once more into black, impenetrable darkness. I clung to the handrail on my right and probed each step carefully with my foot, quite conscious of how devastating a fall could be for me in my weakened state.
We reached the bottom of the stairs and I sagged against a wall. I felt sick and dizzy and I could barely stand. There was a small click, and I figured Kris must have flipped a light switch, because a moment later an argon bulb hummed to life, bathing the room in a flickering, purplish glow.
We were in a gloomy, low-ceilinged room. The walls were a jumble of naked pipes and electrical cables and the floor was damp from the constant dripping of the ceiling. Kris had already hurried over to the back of the room to work on the archaic water system and was wrestling with an ancient, rusty wheel that controlled the water shutoff. I staggered over to help, but she waved me away.
"Save your strength," she said. "You're going to need every ounce of it for what's next."
I didn't need telling twice as already I felt on the verge of collapse. I leaned against an old water boiler while Kris won her battle with the water shutoff and grated the wheel around three times. Dimly, I noticed the trickling sound in the pipes behind me peter out. Kris was now rummaging around through a cluttered heap of tool boxes that was lumped in the corner. She emerged a moment later with a cutting torch.
"Close your eyes," she warned.
I did so, and seconds later I heard a fierce crackling as the torch ignited. There was the sound of searing plasma, then a sharp hissing as though Kris had just poked the cutting torch into a snake pit. Then there was silence. I opened my eyes. Kris was standing by a large pipe that ran along the opposite wall, which, I now noticed, had a gaping hole cut into its side.
"Can you do this?" asked Kris, eyes searching my face. I realized that I must have looked terrible. I couldn't have looked as bad as I felt, though.
"I have to," I said, setting my teeth. Then I crawled into the pipe.