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Rattlesnake
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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
((Nick Reid continued from The Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons))

What a day...

A duffel bag marked B055 made a soft thud on the rocky floor and its owner followed it, groping for stable ground to rest on. The rock ledge he found felt like a plush sofa after a day on his feet, trekking through miles of dirt, dust, grass, mud, and brush. Slowly he bent forward, resting his forehead in his hands, putting his elbows onto his knees, sighing deeply. For the moment, he could take it easy. Sit down, take a rest - but not relax. Relaxation meant lowering his guard, and that was the last thing he wanted to do. And, come to think of it, the last thing he would do. But now, past the point where the fading light of day touched the rusty tracks and crumbling stone, the only thing left was to listen. Anyone coming would create a racket compared to the quiet stillness of the cave; Nick strained his ears, and his own beating heart seemed throb its bass note into the air around him.

He took a deep breath.

Breathe.

Relax.

Think.


Think. Think about what? There were so many things in the world to think about, and so little time to cover them all. There were pandas and space shuttles and arrows and derivatives and tomatoes, for example, and that wasn't even scratching the surface.
Roller coasters and G-forces and redwoods...
He reached down, finding his pack with his hand (exactly where he thought it wouldn't be, of course), and taking out of it a bottle of water.
...polymers, photons, Cherenkov radiation, water molecules. Little Mickey Mouses...
There, that was something to think about. How many Mickey Mouses in a bottle of water? Two hydrogens and an oxygen, that made 18, so one mole would be 18 grams, and if the bottle was one liter...

He frowned. No, that wasn't what he needed to think about. He started to go over the day in his head. It wasn't pretty, but he couldn't just keep himself blissfully distracted. So. Three molotovs out of six gone, two people who wanted to kill him, and one giant mistake at the Gazebo. He tried to force some other image onto the intangible velvet screen encompassing him, something other than a smoking, smoldering corpse. No, he could be alive, he hadn't seen the end result -
Get real. He's dead.

...

...

Lucky punk.


One giant mistake. One kill to be attributed to him in the morning, if he knew anything about SotF at all. But he couldn't get distracted again. There was more. The wounds on his arm. The beating from Maxwell. He ran a hand down his face, feeling the smooth shiny swelling and rough, granular matrix of skin, blood, and scab. But that wasn't all. His entire body ached, a feeling not helped by the miles he had walked. He had no idea if Maxwell or Alex were on his tail, but he couldn't leave them out of his calculations. He needed that margin of error, so when his plans went pear-shaped he could keep his head up, brain thinking, heart beating.

Yes, Daniel was the lucky one. He had no more worries about the explosives on his neck and the players on the island. But Nick couldn't take the other way out, the weak man's way out. Taking up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them, or something. In other words, keep running away. Running away... putting on a fake smile, saying "No, I'm doing well", saving his problems for later. It was a disgusting thought, absolutely repugnant. No, if the Reaper wanted him, it better be prepared for a fight.

Nick Reid was through running.

He stumbled on something, which was doubly surprising in that he realized now that he was standing. Pacing, in fact, growing warm from the exertions of his mind and body. He had ears. He had a plan. And now he could have a good rest.

...which means a thousand grams, that's fifty plus a tenth, fifty-five moles of water, so just multiply that by Avagadro's number...

---

It was morning. Or at least he thought it was. Really, there was no way to tell, and it could well be that he had just imagined his sleep. Or maybe took a nap and dreamed he'd passed a fitful night. But there was a feeling in the air, the sort of dull anticipation when you wake up just before your alarm goes off. The speakers crackled to life, and he nearly jumped out of his skin.

He knew it was coming, but it hit like a freight train.

"Hold on just a second kiddies, I'm placing an order. Hello? Is that the Nick Reid take out? Yeah, I'd like to order a number 23. That's right, the extra crispy Daniel Vaughan in the molotov sauce. Alright, thanks a bunch. Now, where was I?

He had done it. Kill confirmed. Now what? Would any sort of human interaction be safe at all? Everyone heard how he was a killer, nobody knew the circumstances. Maybe people would keep away out of fear. But it was only one. Maybe, just maybe, he'd be safer, perish the thought, but if he racked up a higher kill count...

Another shock. He didn't know how much of that he could handle. He thought again of multiple kills. Surprise and disbelief. Not as strong this time. Not as invigorating. But at least it let him know he was alive. What a strange thought.

The announcements ended. There went his plan of writing down everyone in a death register. He hadn't even listened to the second half at all, except for the dangerzones. The tunnel was not one of them, so he could breathe easy. And now what? He was safe, he had his meager rations, and some water remaining. There was no need to move out just yet. He leaned back against the wall, staring bug-eyed into the impenetrable blackness. There was nothing for it. A thousand random ideas whizzed through his mind. He took one and hung on.

It was later. Maybe an hour, maybe ten minutes. Whatever the time, something pricked at the edge of his hearing, little taps he felt more than heard. Louder and louder it grew, rising into the tangible spectrum, edging out the blaring of his racing heart. And then, an almost imperceptible radiance, invisible to all but the most straining adapted eyes yet growing like the sound. Footsteps. Someone was coming.

He coughed quietly. In the quiet of the tunnel, it may as well have been a shout. And then, in a quiet voice that echoed off the walls, "Hello? Who is there? I'm Nick Reid, and I deserve an explanation."

Good thing you totally didn't just give yourself away to anyone who didn't listen either.
VeeFive


V4


NO. THERE IS NO MORE TIME, EVEN FOR CAKE. FOR YOU, THE CAKE IS OVER. YOU HAVE REACHED THE END OF CAKE.

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Spelunking · The Tunnels