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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00022]Chapter 1

The Inhospitable Surface of Iyundo—1630 Galactic Mean Time (GMT)

“Where the hell did he go? I hit Riley point blank! It’s impossible for me to miss at that range!”

In a fit of peevishness, Wil threw his gun to the ground, kicking debris over it. Matilda moved to the control panel. Flames licked at it, consuming the ancient device.

“We won’t get this working again.” She kicked it hard, the tip of her steel toed boot bouncing off the console. Finding a port for her scanner, she downloaded information from the console.

“That’s a waste, baby.”

“You never know what we can find out. Even a fragment can help.”

Wil knew she was right, he just didn’t want to admit it. “We need to get out of here before that blows.”

“One more minute….” Matilda replied in a casual singsong.

Picking up his gun, Wil considered the flames. “The way that fire is going?”

“Put it out, then,” she snapped as she watched the status bar on her download.

“Yes, Ma’am.” He saluted flippantly, searching for something to extinguish the flames, but found nothing but unusable debris that would only succeed in feeding the fire.

“Speed it up, baby, I can’t put it out.”

“Almost done.”

Flames leaped higher. Wil watched with growing concern. Just as he was about to grab her and run, she uncoupled the scanner and set off at a sprint. Wil followed her, trying to shield her body if the console blew. They dove behind a pile of rubble, keeping their heads down.

A small, fuzzy creature burst into the room, gesticulating wildly. Eyes wide with panic, he chittered at them in a language their translators couldn’t decode. His face sported a slight snout, but there was intelligence in the bright, dark eyes. Dressed in a loin cloth, his body was covered with a soft layer of fur and was only marginally humanoid in configuration. He had a head, two arms and two legs, but there the resemblance to humans stopped.

Wil aimed his weapon at it, calm but wary. Matilda stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“Wait! He’s okay. Listen.” She tilted her head toward the creature.

“Listen to what? That’s gibberish.”

“He’s telepathic. Come on.” She followed the creature without question.

“Matilda! Wait!”

“Shut up and follow him. It’s not safe here.”

Wil went after her reluctantly, more to protect her than because he trusted the creature.

“Hurry! Felix says it’s about to blow.”

“Who’s Felix?”

“He is.”

“Who told you?”

She huffed sharply, exasperated. “He did.”

The control panel fire gained intensity. The area around it blazed. A low rumble reached them, the earth trembling below their feet, cracks forming in the walls and floor. They moved away from the fire and deeper into the building, opposite the way they had entered.

The way was often blocked by fallen walls and broken, decaying furniture. This had been a showplace once. The vestiges of its long forgotten beauty were still visible—here a green marble floor, there a magnificent chandelier made of jewels.

“Where is he taking us?” Wil demanded.

“He’s showing me a picture of a courtyard out this way.” She pointed to their right. “It’s safer than going back the way we came.”

Wil followed unwillingly, senses alert. His hackles rose, his nerves tingled. Matilda could sense tension and concern in Wil’s every move. The sense of urgency she got from Felix made her doubly uncomfortable.

The rumbling and rushing of air grew louder and closer. Risking a look behind them, Matilda saw the chamber they’d left seethed with flames. The front of the building, where they’d entered, fell into a flaming pit. Silver tinged fire burst suddenly from its depths.

“Hurry!” Wil yanked on her arm as he passed her.

The urging from Wil was unnecessary. Matilda tried to keep up, but his legs were considerably longer and he could cover more ground in a mile eating lope, hardly winding him. Panting, she trotted beside him. The hot, dry air burned the back of her throat. The fire raged to the rear, erupting anew. It raced closer, singeing their hair. Their lungs rasped with each breath.

Felix ducked behind a fallen set of doors, raced around a corner and led them to a courtyard, surrounded on three sides by the building they’d just exited. The fourth was gone, long ago fallen to rubble. The air behind them grew hotter. The walls bulged and vibrated violently.

“It’s going to blow, Wil!”

Matilda took off at a dead run, legs pumping as hard as they could, her lungs burning. Wil moved behind her, shortening his stride. He wanted to take the brunt of the shock wave and any shrapnel. Matilda stumbled, sliding sideways. He reached out to grab her, missing as her body tipped away from him. Her knee hit hard on a sharp rock protruding from the rubble. Standing with difficulty, she gritted her teeth, determined to continue.

Felix stopped. The sight of her blood worried him. His saucer shaped eyes held deep concern. He glanced behind them nervously, though he waited patiently for her to rise.

Matilda could barely put her weight on her leg. Shaking her head, she limped forward a few inches, nearly falling again.

Wil scooped her up in his arms, running faster than Matilda could have on her own. His long legged stride devoured the distance toward safety. They ran over the stark terrain, Wil’s legs rapidly eating up the miles. Felix chittered and gesticulated, pointing to a deep depression in the landscape. He ran toward it, not waiting for Wil, trusting him to follow.

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