Kyle loped down the passages, twisting at opportune corners, jumping across crumbling segments of walkway, catlike in his prescience and agility. Jason was quickly losing ground, huffing and puffing through scoured lungs but too proud to beg Kyle to stop for even a few seconds—not that he wanted a respite, even if their pursuer ended up benign and would only subject them to the terrible tortures of licked faces and pet slobber. No way. I can rest after we get outta here. Eventually his body would force the issue, but Jason found it frighteningly easy to ignore his head injury and screaming muscles after watching smoke erase a chunk of stone like a bad drawing.
For his part, Kyle was actually running slowly, even tempering his strides occasionally so Jason wouldn't fall dangerously behind. His walking and exploring put him in good shape, and he'd relocated to enough new schools to realize friends uninterested in sports didn't stand a chance in outpacing him. Jason won his fame through unparalleled tenacity in audacious insults, so he felt running or baseball were for the geeks with too much time. Kyle was glad to have too much time if it meant outrunning certain death. He'd help Jason only so far, and then he'd keep running.
They passed alcove after alcove, more heavily armored doors like the one they opened earlier—not once did they reduce their pace to even a slow jog to examine even the few left ajar—it was a ladder Kyle sought. Maybe not an expert in city-planning, he knew nothing so essential as a ladder would be surreptitiously sealed behind practically immobile iron gateways. There would be a ladder, and a manhole cover standing guard; hopefully his adrenaline would hold out until after moving the notoriously heavy spare tank wheels as Frank once dubbed them.
Still, they'd already run or jogged for a solid twenty minutes or more, and even Kyle admitted he needed a break. Whatever they left behind, hopefully locked away leagues beyond catching them, seemed slow; a few minutes couldn't hurt. Abruptly he cut his momentum to a fast walk and finally stopped and eased himself onto the ground, adopting a crosslegged position and leaning against the wall for support. A minute later, Jason staggered up, panting and streaming sweat, to survey Kyle's relaxed posture. He nodded and silently mirrored Kyle's countenance, too tired to argue. He slid down the wall and let his limbs lie akimbo, each throbbing with heat and overuse—somewhere his mind worried about ever moving again, like a seized engine; luckily the boy was also too exhausted to fully explore such consequences.
"Well, what now?" Jason finally asked, once his lungs permitted such use between furious gulps of air.
Kyle had his eyes closed, as if meditating. "Don't know," he answered, "but we need to stop for a sec." He blew out a long gust of air, mulling over the real answer. What now? Who the hell knows? I should have passed a dozen ladders before stopping here. "I don't think we're in a sewer, though. Looks like one, but they got ladders, lots of 'em, every block or so. We ran at least a mile, easy. See any ladders? Even broken ones?"
Jason hung his head, defeated. No. None. Not even half. A remnant hanging by a rusty support, or any other similar signs? fuggedaboutit. "Shit, kid. Why you gotta tell me that!" he complained.
He shrugged. "Seemed important. Any ideas?" he offered. Jason always claimed to be the brains between them. Maybe it was time he earned the title.
"Yeah. We go back and ask ol' blob-thing not to eat us. Then maybe slime-away the ceiling so we can get outta here."
Kyle laughed. "Good plan. You first, and I get to keep yer flashlight after it refuses to negotiate."
"Be my guest, kid. Just means I get to quit runnin' first. You're a damn slavedriver." No arguing that, Kyle did set the pace. He tilted his head to the right, the way they'd come. "Think he's back there now, groaning about having to catch us? He's probably cursin' ya too." After all, nobody likes having to stalk dinner.
Kyle forced himself to his feet and stretched noisily, contorting and yawning as if recently woken from a long nap. "Good point. We probably better go."
"Hey! That ain't what I meant!" Jason retorted. "C'mon, yer killin' me, here!"
"Ok, no more runnin'. We got our lead anyway." he conceded. No need to be leisurely, but conserving energy sounded like a good idea; maybe they'd have to run later. "C'mon, I'll help ya up."
Jason's body fought valiantly, but in vain. Sore and beaten, Jason knew they had to continue, though he conceded future weeks of soreness when they finally escaped. "I don't care what you say, man. This is a sewer. Nothin' looks like this that ain't. Maybe we're just under a building that can't have manholes everywhere... but we'll get out. Someone had to build all this, right?"
True enough. Where there were builders...
Together they walked, a fast but not punishing pace, to a four-way junction, and Jason cursed under his breath. Kyle waltzed directly forward without blinking, crossing the broken bridge over the water to the opposite ledge. Mentally he'd been tracking their left and right turns, unwilling to accidentally circle back on previously covered ground. It was time to go straight.