Escape From Hell

Free Escape From Hell by Larry Niven

Book: Escape From Hell by Larry Niven Read Free Book Online
Authors: Larry Niven
any of them. “Stay low to the ground. If the wind gets under you, you’ll be up there with the rest of them. There goes Frank again!”
    We crawled downhill. The musty smells grew stronger. Fading oranges, used bedsheets. Sweat. A whorl of human shapes spun near us, and one reached out of the dozen and had both fists in my hair and ears. I heard a woman’s laughter. I turned with some effort and saw mouse–brown hair, brown eyes, sharp nose. Trim, athletic build. Flexible, as I had good reason to know. But nothing of the beauty about her. “Elena!”
    “Hi! I don’t remember —”
    “Allen Carpentier. Carpenter. Listen, if you’ll crawl down and get a grip on some rock —”
    She tried: hands gripping my face, shoulders, arm. Rosemary pulled her down by the foot, and she had a grip. I asked, “Where’s Cameron?”
    “Not dead yet, I guess. Breast cancer got me. How’re you wandering loose?”
    “You can, too. Rosemary, this is Elena Robinson. Elena, we’re on our way out. Come along?”
    “Out of Hell?”
    “Yup. I know the way.”
    “I’d better wait for Cam. Wup!” And the wind was under her and she was away.
    Rosemary asked, “Old girlfriend?”
    I was trying to find her in the storm pattern. “Sort of. We’d meet at conventions. She slept with a lot of men. I knew her through three marriages. Cam, he slept around, too. Then one day Cam just damn well demanded they stop, and she bought it, and they quit cold. There were friends who couldn’t believe it. ‘You can’t mean me!’ But they did.”
    “You mean she was chaste when she died?”
    “That’s my guess. But I knew her, and I don’t think she ever regretted anything at all.”
    “No repentance. Uh–huh. All right, Allen, how will you rescue Elena? Or any of these?”
    “One at a time. All I need is a rope.”
    “Where will you find rope?”
    “In Dis. The City. It’s downslope. And before that there’s a swamp with vines. They use ropes in the construction crews, too, and that’s not far from here.”
    “Are you going to come back here, then?”
    “I hope not. Rosemary, I already got one soul out of the Winds. Let someone who led a less active sexual life than I did work on the rest.”
    “But you set out to rescue everyone!”
    “No, ma’am, I set out to make myself certain that everyone can be rescued. I’ll help those I can, and I’ll recruit a replacement before I leave. That’s got to be enough! Doesn’t it?”
    Rosemary studied my face, and I flinched a little. She said, “Not my call.”
    •    •    •
    S ylvia had been quiet for a long time. I broke off a small branch. Blood flowed. “Not my call, either,” Sylvia said, “but for what it’s worth I’m on your side.” She laughed, a real laugh, not the nervous giggle I’d heard before. “Of course that does mean you must show me how to get out of here.”
    “I knew that,” I told her.
    “She was waiting for her husband,” Sylvia said. “She could have gone with you, but she chose to wait. That has to count for something.”
    “Yeah. But what?”
    “Allen, I don’t know.”
    “I didn’t like it, but I left her there. And Rosemary and I did get across the Winds without being blown away.”
    “Tell me,” Sylvia said.

Chapter 8
    Third Circle
    The Gluttonous
    In the third circle am I of the rain
Eternal, maledict, and cold, and heavy:
Its law and quality are never new.
Huge hail, and water somber–hued, and snow
Athwart the tenebrous air pour down amain;
Noisome the earth is, that receiveth this.
    W e tumbled over the edge of the Circle of Winds. The steep slope beyond was slimed, and there weren’t any handholds. We slid down. Halfway down the slope we were in sleet driven by winds I’d have thought strong if I hadn’t just come from the circle above me. The slime turned to filthy slush. We slid right down to level ground and lay there in cold filth.
    “Bugger this for a lark,” Rosemary said. She looked awful. I

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