The shuffling of our feet and respiration through our suits is the only sound as we make our way down the tunnel. America leads the way a couple of yards ahead of Star. Elias and I follow along a few paces behind her.
With the back of my glove, I wipe the blood that's smeared on the front my helmet, but it only smudges it more. The stained glass tints everything a soft hue of red. My stomach turns as I think about how it got there.
I grind my teeth against the sharp pain shooting up my ankle each time I put my weight on it. "Fuck," I hiss under my breath.
"You doing okay, Shawn?" Star glances over her shoulder. She slows her pace slightly to wait for me.
I nod. "Yeah, fine."
"Maybe we should take a break," Elias suggests. "Any idea how long we've been walking?"
America pauses up ahead, but he doesn't look back at us. "Fourteen minutes since we left Devin behind."
A chill rushes across my skin as he says Devin's name. Even though I met Devin when he was still . . . human . . . now, I can only picture him as the monster he became. A mass of muscle with empty eyes and a mouth sprouting teeth from bloody gums.
"There's a clock built into your suit, you know?" America continues. Without even looking back to us, he continues walking. The sound of his boots lightly clicking against the dirt rings through the tunnel. "It's been thirty-one since we were first attacked."
I bite down on my lower lip. A tenseness hangs between Star, Elias and me.
"If it's been fourteen minutes since we left Devin and thirty-one since the attack," I say lowly, "that means it took Devin seventeen minutes after being bitten to . . ." My voice trails off. I don't know how to describe what happened to Devin.
"He's been counting the minutes," Elias fills in the thought for us.
Now I understand why America's been distancing himself from the three of us. He was the only one who might have been exposed when Devin attacked. None of us were bitten, and he was the only one not wearing a helmet. He doesn't want anyone to be near him if he . . . changes.
I cross my arms in front of me, imagining the feeling of dozens of tiny worms crawling through my skin. The apprehension of hanging in limbo like that—not knowing if he's been infected or not—must be killing him.
"America, just wait up for a second," Elias finally says. "Shawn's hurt. Let's take a short break."
America stops again. "Sure." He nearly laughs, shaking his head as he leans back against the side of the cave. "Why not? It's not like we know where we are, anyway. Fuck, we don't even have a clue where we are trying to get to!"
We are all quiet.
"Well, obviously we have to get out of these tunnels," Star says. "Find a way back to our starship. And then from there—"
"We do what, exactly?" America asks. "Hide on our ship and wait for those monsters to finally break in and kill us? Or worse, have what happened to Devin happen to us. It's not like we have the fuel to just blast off and head home. We're trapped here."
"We have to take each challenge as it comes to us, America," Elias says. "One step at a time. Right now, we are stranded underground with no water or food. We need to find a way back to the surface first. We'll figure out the rest from there."
America leans his head on the dirt wall behind him, tapping the helmet against the stones with a soft, echoing clank. "It wasn't supposed to go this way." He crosses his arms over his chest, turning away from the rest of us as he lets his body sink to the ground.
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Down UnderScience Fiction
Shawn, a convicted criminal, never thought she'd see the sun again, let alone call another star system her home. When she's offered an out from her prison sentence, she embarks on a dangerous interstellar expedition along with 18 of Earth's most int...