“You know,” says Solomon as he wipes the blood from his chin, “there are better places to try and body check a guy. Ones that aren’t right next to a thousand foot drop. For instance.”
The man hanging from the ledge by his fingertips hisses and then mutters something into the rock. Solomon leans a little closer, “Sorry, did you say something?”
The eyes that rise awkwardly to meet his are bright, but not with anger or fear. Amusement and irritation spark before compromising on exasperation. “I said, you may be right,” the man huffs.
Despite himself, Solomon grins. He isn’t used to a sense of humor from Dorna agents. He crouches on one knee and then reaches out. The man’s eyes widen and then narrow warily, but Solomon holds his hand steady. “If I wanted you to fall, I’d kick you,” he points out. “Or I could just wait.”
“If I take your hand, I could pull you down with me,” the man replies, like he’s testing the water.
Solomon nods and manages not to roll his eyes. Somehow. “You planning to?”
“No.” The man’s lips twitch with something that looks like a smile and Solomon wonders exactly who’s mocking who here.
He decides, given the circumstances, the answer can probably wait. He stretches as close as he can to the man’s fingers without losing the tenuous grip his other hand has on the wall. ”Then come on already.”
With desperate speed, the man transfers his hold from the rock to Solomon’s wrist and tries to fool gravity for just long enough.
Solomon braces back against the wrench of the weight and tries to pull, but quickly settles for holding his ground. Muscles tense and a sharp ache begins to build as the man climbs inch by inch until, with a final effort that has them both yelling, he hauls himself up onto the shelf.
Panting hard, Solomon drops back against the rock and tries to massage some life back into his shoulder.
The man rolls onto his back and raises his head just enough to look at the brand new pile of rocks beyond Solomon. “The tunnel?”
Solomon glances back to what was once the way out – the only way out – and then drops his hand enough to wave it vaguely. “Now doing a really good impersonation of a wall. Little constructive criticism? When retrieving delicate artifacts from mines thousands of years old? Leave the idiot with C-4 at home. Honestly, I expected a little more from a secret organization that wants to rule the world.”
The man snorts, but he doesn’t look like he disagrees. “You have the tablet?”
“Yeah, about that.” Solomon nods towards the shaft. “It went over the edge when you slammed me. Good job, there.”
The man stares at him evenly and Solomon’s ten again, standing in front of Father O’Dell and lying through his teeth about the hole in the stained glass window. He flinched then and he flinches now, and then curses himself in the privacy of his own head.
With a perfunctory smile the man says, ”The tablet is inside your jacket. Give it to me, please.”
Solomon crosses his arms carefully over the tablet and shakes his head with disbelief. “And then what?” he demands. “We take turns stealing it off each other until we starve to death?”
The man sits smoothly, but doesn’t move closer. He shrugs. “We’ll succumb to dehydration long before that.”
“Was that … a joke?” Solomon looks at him carefully. When an eyebrow raises, he laughs. “Solomon Zond.”
The man nods. “I know who you are, Professor.”
Of course he does. For the last few years, it’s seemed like the world is full of bad guys who know Solomon’s name. “Good for you.”
Solomon dabs tentatively at his lip with the cuff of his shirt and nods. “Pleased to meet you, Vincent.”
“I doubt it.”
“Well, you did try to kill me.” Solomon pauses in his dabbing and levels a flat look at the other man.
“No, I didn’t. I assure you.” Another smile appears and disappears almost before Solomon can catch it.
Solomon grimaces and wishes he thought Vincent was lying. “Thanks. I think.”
They sit there in silence for what has to be twenty minutes. While Vincent looks like he could turn to stone and stay there forever, Solomon is beginning to feel just a little hemmed in. He knows there’s air, he knows his team is trying to get to him, but it’s not making the ceiling any higher or the darkness less deep.
He glances at the flickering emergency light and just for something to say he asks, “Why’s the tablet so important to Dorna?”
“I wasn’t informed.” Vincent still doesn’t move, but his pause is long enough to give a hint of some mental discomfort. “Doubtless your people will try to retrieve you, and I have some confidence I will also be searched for – Dorna will hope to recover the tablet. I have a proposition: whichever arrives first will also take the tablet.”
It’s not like Solomon can disagree: whichever group arrives first will have the strength of numbers to do whatever the hell they want. He’s a little surprised Vincent mentioned it at all – honor is something else he’s never associated with Dorna. However, he feels he really has to mention, “You’re saying that knowing your people had explosives.”
“Which – clearly – they have no idea how to use properly,” Vincent answers acerbically. “We can only hope they’ve removed them from the idiot who trapped us in here.”
For a few seconds, Solomon considers it like it actually matters, then catches himself and shrugs. “I’ll think about it.”
Vincent nods and then pulls a canteen from a side pocket. He uncaps it and takes a measured mouthful of water. Solomon looks away; the guy’s not flaunting it, but he doesn’t want to be reminded of what he doesn’t have.
Man, he can hear it.
Solomon looks back to see the canteen being held towards him.
He reaches for it tentatively and Vincent holds his hand as steadily as Solomon had held his own earlier. The irony isn’t lost on him; he takes the canteen. “Thanks.”
No more than a couple of sips and then he hands it back, along with an energy bar. Vincent nods his own thanks in return.
Time passes and Solomon isn’t sure how long, but he sleeps without meaning to and jerks awake as a rock falls from the pile blocking the tunnel. He turns towards it and then starts when he feels a hand on his shoulder.
Vincent pulls away quickly. “My apologies.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
They sit in uncomfortable silence as more and more rocks fall to the undercurrent of voices, still too muffled to make out clearly. Too muffled, and too many voices, Solomon thinks. Not one of them sounds like a woman. If it were his people, he knows Maggie would be there – she’d be calling for him. Maggie’s always made damn sure he heard her.
As if reading his mind – and Solomon wouldn’t discount it at this point – Vincent says, “Do we have a deal, Professor Zond?”
Solomon turns and shakes his head. “I’m sorry.”
Vincent nods like he hadn’t expected anything less. “You know they’ll take it by force, you probably won’t survive.”
“Neither will the tablet.” Solomon edges towards the shaft only a few feet away, Vincent watches and does nothing to stop him.
“What a waste.”
Solomon’s not sure if the man’s talking about him or the tablet and, honestly, he’s not going to ask. He tries, “Dorna are the bad guys, you have to know that. I mean, maybe not in the beginning - I know they have a hell of a sales pitch. It’s been two hours and I can tell you’re better than that. Just … after this, take a closer look, okay? Look hard.”
Vincent’s smile is tight, almost pained. “Perhaps instead of begging for my life, you should be begging for your own?”
The largest boulder moves and the sounds in the tunnel clarify suddenly, men calling instructions and the sound of machinery behind them. When the flashlights shine through he winces away and shale slips under his foot. Despite his intentions he tries to throw himself forward, away from the drop, and in a confused moment finds himself caught fast in a chokehold. The arm across his throat constricts his breath, but doesn’t stop it. He’s almost certain Vincent knows better than that.
“Does he have the tablet?” a voice Solomon doesn’t know asks in an almost bored tone.
“No,” Vincent replies shortly. “He threw it down into the shaft.”
Solomon stops struggling, strangely glad he’s not able to talk – he’s not sure he could have stopped himself saying something otherwise.
“Kill him,” the voice says. “We’ve wasted enough time here.”
When he’s released, Solomon tries to twist, although he’s not sure what the hell he’s planning to do. It doesn’t matter – Vincent's hands come around his neck and pull. The crack is a distant sound, to go with the distant pain when he drops. He thinks of Haley and he thinks of his son, and then there's only fading light.
Until he comes around to hands shaking his shoulders and Maggie shouting his name, over and over. He raises his hand and she falls silent with a choking sound. The arms that pull him up are gentler, and her voice isn’t much more than a murmur when she says, “Professor Zond?”
“I thought we agreed you were calling me Solomon now,” he manages to rasp.
“That was before you scared me half to death. Can you stand?” She begins to pull at him, so Solomon guesses the answer is yes.
When he’s more or less steady, he checks the inside of his jacket with a sudden panic, but the outline of the tablet is still there. Still his. He gives a rusty laugh. “We got to get home, Maggie. Someone will be waiting for us. Sooner or later.”
He guesses sooner.
Maggie pats his arm and kindly doesn't ask questions he can't answer, just lets him lean on her shoulder as they climb.