Five more characters are introduced in this chapter, from the point of view of the smallest one in the team.
Dark empty halls stretched on until they faded in the darkness. Five young wolves ran silently toward the darkness. They only had more dark halls to turn back to. Despite the silence that followed them, the smallest wolf knew that they were being followed
Slowing to a halt, the pack leader whispered, "This it it." The other four wolves looked up at the ceiling, to see the dim outline of a vent.
"Hurry up, Alex," insisted Yuri, glancing behind them. Even with his eyes fully adjusted to the absolute darkness, his eyes failed to penetrate more than a meter of the dark veil.
"A.J." said Alex, the leader while he kneeled in front of the vent. The third male wolf stepped forward and climbed onto the leader's shoulders. Alex stood once again, with A.J. sitting on his shoulders, placing the wolf in reach of the ceiling vent. He reached up and wedged some of his claws underneath the vent cover. The vent groaned as it moved out of place.
With a snap that echoed in the empty hall, the popped free and fell toward the ground. One of the female wolves caught it and prevented it from crashing to the ground.
"Thanks Mary," quietly said the wolf sitting on Alex's shoulders. A.J. leaned against the metallic wall and pushed himself further up, reposition his hindpaws to stand on the leader's shoulders. "Your first Mary."
Stepping behind Alex, the she-wolf climbed his back with the help of A.J.'s out reached paw that held her steady. Climbing over the second wolf, Mary pulled herself up through the ceiling vent. Her tail soon disappeared inside the tunnel.
Kaitlin, the second she-wolf and last of the pack remained standing at guard while Yuri climbed the wolves with the assistance of A.J. He clearly didn't want his packmates grabbing his tail to pull themselves up.
Soon Yuri disappeared inside the dark vent too. He only managed to crawl a few meters in before he noticed Mary lying on the vent, ear pressed against it.
"They're close," she whispered. She continued to listen while they waited for the other three to climb in.
Kaitlin was in, waiting behind Yuri when Mary frantically whispered, "Hurry!"
From behind them, there was a sharp inhale followed by the muffled thump of two soft bodies colliding and falling to the ground. A.J.'s frantic scurrying was heard scraping against the metallic walls while he struggled to pull himself in, his support taken out from under him.
"Go!" he yelled while he pulled himself inside the vent. The three wolves didn't need to be told twice as they scurried down the vent. The sounds of a struggle followed them from the vent entrance.
"Abort Evac!" screamed Alex, his voice strained and varying with heavy breathing. "Commence Crane! Crane! Umph!" The pack's leader voice was muffled.
Unable to even look back in the tight vent, the four wolves hurried down the vent turning several corners until only darkness and silence surrounded them once again. Mary stopped, forcing the other three to stop as well while they listened. Only four rapid heartbeats and their slow heavy breathing could be heard now.
"You know where to go Mary," said A.J. from behind them all. "Let's hurry."
Navigating the maze of ventilation in pitch darkness wad difficult, including squeezing through the blade-less fans, descending and ascending several sloping vents and even reprogramming several sensors in order to stay invisible. After two hours of this, the four wolves stopped at a vent shaft that shot straight down into darkness and ascended straight up.
Yuri watched as Mary arched her back around the sharp corner of the top of their vent in order to climb into the vent shaft. Firmly pressing her paws against the opposite shaft wall, the she-wolf also pressed her back against the shaft wall she just climbed out of. Slowly she moved her paws and inched her way up.
Once clear, Yuri attempted to do the same but when he placed his paws on the opposite shaft wall, he could not feel comfortable no matter how much pressure he applied. Kaitlin was waiting behind him, but after a couple minutes, Yuri still couldn't keep his paws firmly against the wall. Crawling out anyway, he pushed his back against the wall with his paws pushing against the opposite and he descended just enough for Kaitlin to begin climbing.
The knowledge of a long hard drop was below him made Yuri's breath and heart rate quicken. Kaitlin looked down at him. "You go first," he said not allowing her to say anything.
While the small wolf continued to apply pressure and reposition in a variety of different ways, Kaitlin climbed in above him and began ascending after Mary. A.J. then came next, he looked down and was surprised to see Yuri there.
"You okay?" he asked.
Yuri could only respond by shaking his head. His chest felt tight making it difficult to breathe and causing his heart rate to constantly flutter. The fear was taking a hold of him despite all the training he's received. The thought of climbing the shaft only worsened the fear, it seemed to be an impossible feat.
"Yes," he said in contradiction to his shaking head. He felt as if hew as about to slip and plummet painfully into the abyss below him.
"It'll be fine Yuri," encourage A.J. "You can do it. We practiced this. There's only four point two-five meters to climb." Yuri nodded but didn't move. "You go up first. That way if you slip, I'll be there to catch you."
A.J. was always the most thoughtful and caring member of the pack. Especially for Yuri, the smallest and weakest.
A.J.'s words loosened Yuri's chest and made his heart stop fluttering. A smile spread across his maw, and with the encouragements of his friend, Yuri did his best not to disappoint him.
Slowly he ascended the shaft, passing A.J. who withdrew in the vent tunnel to allow Yuri to pass. Once Yuri ascended beyond the tunnel that he emerged from, he could hear A.J. crawling in after him.
Half an hour of sliding their paws and backs up against the shaft walls, the wolves only ascended three meters. They were nearly there, but they were becoming exhausted. Each one of them were panting, and their body heat was trapped inside the vent, making it warm and humid inside the vent for all of them
Only Yuri seemed to have been affected by the humidity that club to the walls. The two wolves above him continued to ascend, while Yuri slowed until he eventually stopped. He could hear A.J. breathing heavy below him as he stopped and patiently waited.
"You're doing great Yuri," said A.J. "We're almost there."
Sliding his left paw up a few centimeters, Yuri tried to slide his back up as well. His paw slipped. His chest clenched, squeezing the breath out of him. He felt that he would soon slip and fall so Yuri forced all of his strength against the walls. The vent shaft dented with a loud audible thud.
The humidity and pressure he was applying caused Yuri to lose all traction. His heart jumped in his throat as he slid down, crashing into the wolf below him. A.J. slid too, and fought to secure himself again. He slowed himself down by digging his claws into the metal but Yuri somehow slipped by him and plummeted into the abyss.
Unable to scream, Yuri scrambled and reached out for anything to slow his descent. He crashed into the walls forcefully, causing pain to explode from his wrist and high ankles. The noise of his fall echoed throughout the vent. Falling several meters, Yuri felt something grab his something painfully grab him by the forearm. An earsplitting screech echoed violently through the vent, but Yuri's descent slowed. His wrist that had him suspended was sprained but he fought through the pain to have that paw grab onto the paw that was holding him up.
Looking up, Yuri could see A.J.'s claws gouged into the walls. Blood dripped from his paws where they came in contact with the vent walls. Both his hind paws and his free paw were dug into the metal while his free arm was reaching between his legs holding onto Yuri's arm tight.
"Grab the ledge," said A.J. wincing in pain. Yuri looked around him, and noticed a tunnel vent no more than half a meter above him where A.J. was holding on. Reaching for it, and with the painful assistance of A.J., Yuri managed to take hold of the tunnel ledge and climb in. Crawling a meter inside, Yuri stopped to allow A.J. to follow him.
"Yuri? A.J.?" called down Kaitlin.
"We're fine," replied A.J. obviously in pain. "Go on, we'll find another way."
"You have four hours," said Kaitlin. She continued her ascent.
They knew. Three hours left before their escape plan would be foiled.
"Go, Yuri," said A.J. not unkindly nudging the smaller wolf's forward.
"I'm sorry, A.J.," Yuri apologized. He truly felt it; it caused his heart to ache. Crawling forward, he didn't receive a response but he didn't expect he would have either. They still had to keep whatever stealth they still had.
With every crawling stepped, pain lanced from his sprained wrist. Yuri had to almost limp his way forward for nearly an hour until they came at a perpendicular tunnel. They were lost.
"Which way looks like it has a vent?" asked A.J. from behind. They both knew they had to get out of the tunnels if they were going to make it in time.
Yuri turned left which seemed to have less darkness than the other path. After a few more meters, he was forced to turn ninety degrees where he found an vent opening. Forcing it open, Yuri looked down below him. A.J. waited behind him to go through.
The room below them looked like a storage room of some kind. Slowly, Yuri dropped down into the room. A sharp pain spiked from his ankle when he landed, causing him to drop to a knee and groan. He forgot he sprained his ankle too.
Regardless of the pain, Yuri climbed on an adjacent crate and helped his injured packmate out of the vent. Once both the young wolves were on the ground, they scaled the wall in search for a door.
A beam of light stretched across the floor, and the wolves halted in their tracks. They saw the outline of the door that they were searching for but the shadows that passed through the light caused for the wolves to slowly slink away from the it.
The door started to open with muffled voices coming from beyond it. The wolves darted behind the nearest crates, while they listened. The voices stopped and the swing of the door no longer made any noise. The wolves breathed as quietly as they could, which was not easy due to their anticipation.
Suddenly the door crashed opened. The wolves darted back for the vents but large figures crashed into them, pinning them to the ground. While Yuri was pinned under the weight of a much larger soldier, he saw A.J. struggle and fight back against a lion. A second guard, a yak, came in and subdued A.J. who continued to struggle. They both were picked up and escorted out of the storage room.
"You lot have been causing a lot of trouble," said the lion who escorted A.J. by the shoulder. "Where are the other two cadets?"
Both of the wolves remained silent. They stared at the ground while they were escorted through the lit halls.
"They won't talk," said a third soldier that had Yuri pinned a moment ago. She was a civet, one of their trainers. "If they evaded us this far, there's no way that they'd risk talking to us now. Come on pups, Chief Colin wants a word with all of you."
Five minutes later, the two wolves were escorted into an office. Alex was sitting in a corner under the watchful eye of his trainer. Both of them had their fur ruffled up, hiding minor cuts and bruises that they gave each other. The wolves were sat down next to their pack leader while a medic came over to look at A.J.'s wounds. The wolves remained silent while the trainers chatted amongst each other. The civet and yak stayed behind to help watch over the pups, while the lion went back out into the halls to search for Mary and Kaitlin.
Yuri looked up to glance out the massive window that replaced the wall of the office. The gas giant that the facility orbited was difficult to see on the dark side but the sun was coming over the horizon soon, giving it a bright outline. He remember when he first saw the gas giant; he was a lot younger then and utterly alone.
"You can avoid the interviews and the system if you were to choose this path," Yuri remember Chief Colin saying back at his orphanage. The wolf even remembered the government agent who stood next to the Chief to ensure he made no empty promises. "You'll leave everything you know behind to start over. We will train you to be the best soldiers in the UDAS."
For an orphan like Yuri, the promise of having meaning in his life was more than tempting. Half a dozen of other orphans thought the same when the Chief spoke to them all.
"Make no mistake, once you choose this path you cannot go back until your twentieth birthday," warned the Chief bluntly. The program required him to be blunt and tell the truth. To recruit children was still controversial but after a hundred years of this program, the orphans have come to think of it as a golden opportunity to escape the foster system. Especially for those who have returned to it after having several pairs of foster parents. The system wasn't bad but the problem is that so few wanted to adopt children. "It will be hard and you will want to quit. There is no chance of being adopted into a family after you make your decision. The other children will become your family since you will have to depend on them as much as they'll depend on you. You have three days to make you decision and I cannot accept any replies until tomorrow."
Yuri couldn't believe that he was the first one in line to accept the Chief's offer. Near twenty orphans joined Yuri in accepting in joining the military. He was merely four years old at the time. Before they even arrived at the facility, the orphans were separated and Yuri arrived without a friendly face anywhere. He was placed with the other wolves but only A.J. approached him and helped him join their pack. Only two wolf packs existed in the facility, they were told that they would be the best combat teams in the UDAS.
But they weren't good enough to escape the facility.
"Wake up pups!" shouted a voice. Yuri jumped, being startled awake. He wasn't even aware that he fell asleep. The trainers were still there, but more of them now. Mary and Kaitlin were sitting next to them now. Caught.
A red fox, who looked no older than thirty, was standing behind the main desk in the office. Chief Colin. He was staring right at the wolves. Yuri could only wonder what kind of punishment they'd receive.