Chapter 31

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For the fourth time in a row, Max came to a junction with all but one of the available directions sealed off by metallic shutters, presumably to direct the airflow a certain way.  He was actually quite glad to be relieved of the burden of having to choose a direction, particularly given that he seemed to be doing a rubbish job.

The others were doggedly crawling along in his wake and had lapsed into silence, apart from Pok, who was humming quietly, and Chek, who was muttering something about finding a dry-cleaner.

Several junctions later they entered a long straight stretch, which Max chose to take as a sign that they were hopefully heading towards somewhere important.  Or at least he did until they came to a junction with all the passages sealed off.

"Why have we stopped?" asked Cam.

"Dead-end," replied Max.

They all considered this.

"So we head back the way we came?" queried Flenson.

Max sighed.  "I guess so.  The only trouble is, it's about half an hour back to the last place we could take a different direction.  And I'm not sure we even have room to turn around in here."

Taking the break from crawling as an opportunity for some wardrobe maintenance, Chek had removed a clothes brush from somewhere on his person and was giving his jacket as good a brush as the cramped conditions would allow.  "So, you're saying we have to crawl backwards?"

"Basically, yeah."

"Um," said Cam, "we could just sort of, you know, smash our way out of here.  We are kind of super-strong, after all."

Max had been considering that very prospect and found it frankly pretty appealing, but for one issue.  "It's not very stealthy though, is it?  We're kind of giving the game away if we come tumbling out of a ventilation shaft and into some Rigellian bigwig's bathtub."

Chek stopped brushing.  "Hey, nobody said anything about bathtubs.  These boots are genuine xaphalod-hide.  They're not supposed to get wet."

"I say we take the risk," said Cam.  "Don't get me wrong, the ventilation shaft thing was totally a good idea and everything, it's just that I never want to see the inside of another one ever again, for as long as I live.  Plus, I've got a feeling that crawling backwards will make Pok's robe ride up, and that's another thing I definitely don't want to see."

"OK," replied Max.  "So our options consist of either crawling backwards through kilometres of dark, dusty ventilation shaft, or of bashing our way out of here, no doubt drawing every Rigellian for miles around, and winding up who knows where.  Or, I guess we could break through one of these shutters and keep going."

Yet more considering.

Pok's tremulous voice broke the thoughtful and slightly despondent silence.  "In times of need, the unknown path may be the wisest choice."

"The unknown path?" queried Cam.  "How do we choose a path that we don't even-"

He was interrupted by the floor of the shaft suddenly and completely unexpectedly swinging open.  Gasping in surprise, the five intrepid boarders plunged into the room below.

  Gasping in surprise, the five intrepid boarders plunged into the room below

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