When we were ready to leave Abe said that he would check to see if the swarm was still in the tunnel.
‘Take care,’ said Ellis with real concern in her voice. Abe put his arm on hers.
‘I always do,’ he said without a hint of boasting. ‘Our dad told us both that if it ever came down to it that we should take care of ourselves and each other.’ Abe looked at Amber.
‘He could never have predicted a time like this,’ she said, ‘but we owe it to him and each other to heed his advice.’ Abe looked back at Ellis.
‘I’ll be back before you know it.’
Abe came back ten minutes later. He looked very relaxed.
‘The main swarm seemed to have passed by a while ago. I waited to see if there were any stragglers and apart from a lame-looking viro with a broken leg crawling after everyone else, there was no sign of any movement.’
‘Right,’ said Amber. ‘Let’s get going. It will be easier to go back the way we all came and then head through the Ornamental Gardens.’ She looked at Ellis. ‘There will probably be some viros on the way but the paths are all concrete and we can move faster than them so we should be ok.’
I marveled at how calm and collected Amber and Abe were. It was as if they had been doing this type of thing for ages now. I hoped that I didn’t let anyone down.
It was a simple thing to carefully pass the wheelbarrow back down the shaft and place it quietly in the tunnel. Ellis was still in a lot of pain but was determined not to slow anyone down. She climbed gingerly into the wheelbarrow, loaded her catapult and nodded.
“Let’s get going,’ she said. I picked up the handles of the barrow and waited until I could get the weight balanced. It was heavy but I thought I would be alright. Amber went in front, holding the mop in front of her like a warrior. Abe followed behind, spray can at the ready. As I pushed the barrow it began to bump against the railway sleepers and each jolt was very painful for Ellis. She looked up at me as if to say don’t worry and so I started to pick up speed.
We passed the viro that Abe had spotted earlier. It was not much older than us and looked like any number of the older teenagers who always used to stand around in large groups in the town centre. Its leg was very badly broken and the bone was sticking out of its shin. It could barely move but some instinct or impulse was forcing it to keep going. Even though I knew that it would not hesitate to rip me apart if it got the chance I still felt sorry for it. As I past I thought I saw a glimpse of pain and confusion in its bloody, broken face. What must it feel like, I wondered, to suddenly wake up like this? We kept on moving.
As we approached the tunnel’s entrance I thought I saw a shadow detach itself from the wall but before I could warn the others I saw Amber knocked to the ground by a giant viro. She struggled and struggled but was pinned hard. The viro was big and tall and was trying to bite Amber’s face. Ellis fired her catapult but the stone only hit the back of the viro and nothing happened. Amber was fighting with all her might. I dropped the barrow and raced for Amber’s mop. I grabbed it and with a running charge I rammed the mop into the side of the viro’s head. The viro reared its head and Ellis fired again. This time the stone hit the viro on the temple and it roared with pain or anger or annoyance. Distracted, the giant viro turned towards us. Amber saw her chance and scrambled free.
The viro was trying to stand up when I hit it again with the mop. Luckily, I hit it hard enough for the viro to fall onto its back. Quick as a flash Abe stepped forward and sprayed it full in the face with the spray can. Enraged and now blinded, the flailing viro lay on its back and railed like an angry turtle. Amber pulled me and Abe away.
‘We’ve got to keep going,’ she said breathlessly. ‘We don’t stand a real chance if we try and fight them. We are faster than them but they are much heavier.’