Fillies first. B. C. lowers his head politely.
I step carefully over a dead guard and follow Skye through the doors. Below us, chaos has broken out; I can hear human voices and feet running, breaking glass. A loud voice rises above the others, but I can’t make out the words; pausing, I tip my ear in its direction.
Firn! Go! snorts B. C., giving me a prod with his nose. The alarms will go off any –
A siren screams. I never liked sirens, but with my equine hearing magnifying the sound to many times its usual volume, the loud wailing is sheer torture. Forward is Skye, backward is B. C., walls all round me – the only way left is up and I rear in terror as red lights flash all around me.
“The doors!” yells Skye. She ducks under my flailing forefeet, grabs me by the mane and yanks me down. “Run!” she yells, and B. C., Skye and I all leap forward at the same moment as the doors start to slide shut. I trip over my own feet trying to avoid trampling Skye, B. C. trips over me, and we end up in a heap on the floor with one very disgruntled squashed Shetland pony at the bottom.
That was close, snuffles B. C., trying to disentangle his endless legs from the heap.
“No kidding,” says Skye. She gracefully extricates herself from the untidy mess of legs and shines her spy watch torch on the doors. The thin crack where the double doors meet is marred ever so slightly by a clump of chestnut tail hairs.
B. C. and I get up and stare.
“No more last-minute stuff, okay?” says Skye, shooting us a venomous look. “Now listen when I talk to you.”
We shuffle our hooves. Yes, Skye.
“That’s better.” Skye smooths back a lock of blonde hair. “Now, B. C., how did you get here?”
I was kidnapped, says B. C., swishing his recently shortened tail uneasily. Just like hundreds of others. One moment I was in Heidelberg on my way to visit you guys, next minute I was a horse. A big horse, he adds smugly.
I flatten my ears at him.
“Okay, okay, cut it out!” says Skye. “And then what happened?”
Then some of those dudes in the stupid skin-tight suits appeared out of nowhere and shot me with a tranquilliser dart as if I was a buffalo, says B. C. indignantly.
Well, you’re about the right size, I say.
B. C. stares. Wow, Firn! You actually insulted me in a witty manner! For you, anyway.
“Guys!” yells Skye. “Seriously!”
And when I woke up I was in what they call the holding area and what I call the dungeon, says B. C., his ears flicking back. Down the passage, over there. I was with a whole group of other people-horses, and the horse-people were kept separately. But I gave the guards too much trouble, so when they were done studying us, I was the first to be chosen for use in an experiment. He shudders.
What experiment? I ask, going cold.
“Never mind that for now,” says Skye. “You know the way to the place where our family is kept?”
Yep, says B. C.
Are they okay? I ask.
Yep! They just need some rescuing, says B. C.
“Let’s do it!” Skye shoves past us and down the tunnel to where it forks, turning left.
B. C. neighs.
“What?” Skye says, turning around.
The dungeons are that way, says B. C., pointing his nose at the other tunnel.
“Oh,” says Skye. “Right.” She gives herself a little shake, then tosses her head, a gesture so familiar it makes me smile, and storms down the other tunnel. “Let’s do it!” she yells.
I love my horse, I say.
I can’t wait to meet Arwen, says B. C.
I droop my ears sideways, the horse version of rolling eyes. Come on, let’s follow her.
We trot after Skye, our hooves deafening, but the tunnel is much larger and wider here; a comfortable size for the two horses – well, horse and pony – to move side by side. Skye leads the way at a tireless jog, her light roving across the featureless walls and floor. The floor is concrete now, better on the hooves than tiles, but still hard enough to jar my legs.
Skye seems uneasy, though. I spot it in the set of her shoulders, the way she moves as clearly as if she was speaking, and marvel again at how easy it is for a horse to read a person.
“This isn’t right.” Skye stops.
Yes, it is, says B. C. Only about a hundred metres to go and we’ll be at the big gates to the dungeons.
“Exactly,” Skye points out. “Where are the guards? They should be onto us by now.”
They should? I take a deep breath, but the smell of technology, chemical and human permeates everything.
What are they gonna do, drop out of the sky? says B. C., drooping his ears sideways.
Skye looks up.
“Good guess,” she says, whips out her 9mm and fires a shot into the ceiling. The deafening bang makes me leap a mile into the air, and when I come down, I have a human on my back, its arms locked around my throat, heels digging into my sides. I squeal, rear and fall over backwards with a thud that rattles my teeth, but the grip around my neck loosens; I roll over and leap to my feet, jumping aside as the guard curls up with a groan, hugging his injured ribs.
Firn! Look up! B. C. squeals; I take one glance upwards and leap out of the way as a guard drops through the open trapdoor and raises his machine gun. Skye throws her arms around his neck and brings her knee up into his back with a sickening thud. He crumples, groaning.
“Come on!” yells Skye over the screaming of more sirens as we hear hurrying feet in the secret tunnel above us. “Run! B. C., show us the way!”
Follow me! B. C. arches his neck and plunges down the tunnel, hooves ringing. I gallop after him, pausing to let Skye swing onto my back, and amidst the craziness of red and white lights flashing everywhere, I break into my best gallop. This is not a very good one, but I keep B. C.’s flashing horseshoes in sight through the twists of the tunnel. I hear gunfire behind me; Skye, one hand clutching my mane, urges me on as my little legs fly along as fast as they can go.
Then ahead of us blue light flashes and B. C. skids to a halt, sparks raining from his hooves. We’ve come to a pair of huge doors, their round windows glowing with that creepy blue light, the centaur insignia stamped proudly in the centre.
This is it, he says.
Skye leaps off my back and runs to the door, fumbling with her spy watch for the recording of Luther Hansen’s voice. It’s barely audible above the shouts and gunshots behind us, and it doesn’t work. The door remains firmly closed.
“Why won’t it open?” Skye yells.
I don’t know, do I look like an evil scientist to you? says B. C. He spins around. Stand back, Skye!
Wisely, she jumps out of the way and B. C. squeals loudly and unleashes a mighty two-hoofed kick at the doors. His shoes ring on the steel, leaving a dent, but they remain closed. I rear up and batter at the doors with my forefeet, gouging scratches in the paintwork, as he gives another huge kick. Suddenly the guards’ voices sound a lot closer.
“Keep trying!” yells Skye as the door slides open just a crack. She reloads her 9mm and drops to one knee, a balanced shooting position. “I’ll hold them off!”
Then, from inside the dungeon, I hear ringing hoofbeats and a trumpeting neigh. I pause, dropping back to all fours, listening, and the voice is oddly familiar.
Chaaaaaaaaaaaarge! For Narniaaaaa!
B. C., stand back! I squeal, running into him and knocking both of us out of the way. Something hits the doors with a mighty clang and bursts straight through in an explosion of gold and white, carrying the doors on its neck. Skye dives out of the way just as the first guards come around the corner and the golden creature, doors and all, meets them head-on and ploughs them to the ground. It keeps going until the doors jam into a narrow part of the tunnel, where it grinds to a halt in a shower of sparks, groans, mangled metal and squashed guards.
The creature steps back, a movement as graceful as water flowing, and shakes its flowing blonde mane. Almost as tall as B. C., the filly’s coat is a rich shade of deep gold, her mane and tail slightly wavy and flaxen blonde. The palomino is made all the more striking by her four white stockings and perfect, diamond-shaped star.
Yet there’s something familiar about her, about the way she balances on her long slim legs as if she’s just about to leap into the air, weightless as a dream; something about the perfect air of sophistication tinged with a hint of mischief. She pauses, poses gracefully, and whinnies her victory to the world, in a voice as clear as a church bell, but the words don’t quite fit: Squid launcher! Oh yeah!
In the astonished silence, my little sister (for a given value of “little”) turns her tail towards the groaning heap of guards and swings her hips, singing. We like to move it move it! We like to move it move it! I sure moved you! Oh yeah!
Oh my word, says B. C., laughing. It’s Rain.