To Discover The Stars of The Universe

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"Non est ad astra mollis e terris via" ~Seneca

"There is no easy way from the earth to the stars"

~**~~**~

Jack had refused to let V.C. follow the two men down the path. Instead, he had set out in the opposite direction, setting a brisk pace which V.C. struggled to keep up with.

Even time she came reasonably close to him, he would speed up to leave her behind. Obviously, he was still touchy about the whole ' disobeying direct orders' thing. Either that or there was lingering embarrassment floating in the air between them.

V.C. tripped over a rock, stumbling slightly. In front of her, Jack slowed his pace but didn't look back. His shoulders were strung tightly together, so firmly tense that V.C. reckoned his trapezius' were just a tangle of stiff knots.

The worn path narrowed even further as the sewer system besides them widened drastically. The mammoth cylinder consumed the walkway, forcing V.C. to hover close to the rocky wall.

She hated closed spaces.

The further she walked, the steeper the incline of the path became. She felt her ears pop as the pressure increased.

Dirt and debris rained down on her, fluttering through her lashes and clinging to her skin in a sooty embrace. Everything felt gritty: her mouth, her nose, even the air she inhaled filtered into her lungs with overwhelming abrasion.

Stifling a cough (or was it a sneeze?), she finally caught up to Jack as the squeezing drag broke into a fork. Overhead, the security lights chose that moment to flicker, waning and waxing shadows covering the walls.

V.C. edged closer to Jack, peeking over his tense, broad shoulders at the two choices. A sensible, sane, balanced, both oars in the water type of girl would choose the well-lit path and be done with it.

She leveled a gaze at Jack who had pulled out a flashlight from his pocket."Is this the part where we split up and search for clues?"

Still fiddling with the instrument, Jack shook his head and whispered back, "Good law enforcers don't 'split up'."

"They do on TV. . ." She whispered before easing her way around Jack. She thought about stealing his flashlight, but in all honesty, Jack Rhodes was chivalrous enough to offer it to her but it would be a cold day in Hell before V.C. Coldwater admitted that she might need help from someone.

She had just reached the edge of the darkened tunnel before a swift tugging on her jacket pulled her back. She thudded into Jack, her heels scraping against the rocky ground.

"Not a chance, Nancy Drew!" He angled around her, the sharp aroma of his aftershave coiling up to her. The air was brisk in the tunnel but for that moment in time, she was very warm.

Maybe closed spaces weren't that bad after all. . .

Now ahead of her, Jack tapped the blunt end against the palm of his hand, the flashlight finally turned on, vanquishing the lingering shadows.

She edged closer to Jack, trying to peek around him at the lightened tunnel but his broad shoulders blocked her view. She matched his slow steps with quick ones, eager to see where the tunnel ended.

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