The black bug was moving smoothly, albeit slowly at about ten miles per hour, down the long, dim abyss that was the tunnel.
Its headlights offered little illumination due to the expansive, breadthwise size of the tunnel. Even the lights built into the tunnel walls themselves provided only minimal visibility. It was definitely not designed to be used as a throughway for traffic.
Delaney noticed small alcoves set into the walls spaced intermittently, every quarter mile or so. They were not quite big enough to park a car in, but each one did have a small panel mounted near a recessed door. Accessways… or escape hatches.
Simms had been fidgeting as they drove. There was something eating at him… something not quite right, Delaney thought.
Lena noticed it too.
“Private Simms… Royce,” Lena said warmly, “I want to thank you for what you did back there in the cave. It was brave of you, and well… you saved my life.”
Simms blushed. His head was down. “Just doin’ my job, ma’am,” he said. “Besides… I sure enjoyed giving them bastards what for.”
Lena leaned forward and put her hand on the headrest of Delaney’s seat.
“I hope you’re proud of your man here, Lieutenant Delaney,” she chided.
“I’m proud of them all, Doctor Sorsky,” he replied with a grin. “Especially the ones who gave their lives at Gateway. But… it’s not over yet.” His face tightened. “And me and Simms here are going to get a chance for some good old fashioned retribution. Am I right Private?”
“Hell yeah, Lieutenant!” Simms whooped.
Another fifteen minutes of travel along the tunnel.
They had covered just under five miles in distance, the scenery remaining consistent and monotonous. The thud thud thud and ping of the signal beating relentlessly throughout the giant artificial chasm.
Suddenly the noise stopped. But only for a short moment. Then—
The deep bass sound reverberated deafeningly throughout the vast expanse of the tunnel. The vehicle shook.
Delaney steered over to one side of the tunnel and edged the nose of the bug into one of the alcoves that had been appearing along the way. He let go of the wheel suddenly, and it spun violently as the vehicles wheels locked themselves into the alcove’s doorway.
Another earsplitting sound roared horrendously all around them.
“Jesus!” yelled Lena, covering her ears with both gloved hands.
Delaney and Simms had already activated their retractable helmets out of pure instinct to dull the sound. Lena saw what they had done and quickly did likewise.
The sound echoed loudly for several more seconds, then just as quickly as it had begun, it stopped.
All three retracted their helmets again. They listened… the familiar thud sound started up again, and Lena breathed a sigh of relief.
Delaney leaned over the back of his chair and looked around.
“Two gongs… you think that means something?” He said drily.
Lena grimaced. “Yeah… I think it means we better keep going.”
Simms was becoming even more fidgety. “I think Doctor Sorsky’s right, sir. Let’s keep moving.”
“Okay, it’s unanimous,” Delaney said, turning around to face the front again. “Let’s get out of here.”
He pulled on the steering column. Nothing… no movement. He pushed it hard forwards, then yanked it backwards again. Dead.
“What the fuck?”
He jarred the column rapidly back and forth three or four times.
“Oh, that’s just great… now we’re driving the goddam Noddymobile!” Delaney slid out of the seat and wrenched the side door open.
“Alright…” Delaney said, hoisting his rifle over his shoulder and climbing out of the vehicle. “We continue on foot.”
Ten minutes of walking.
Then they noticed something a hundred yards down the tunnel directly in front of them.
A soft glow of muted light became visible against something else. A dark mesh grate, colossal in size, blocking the entire path of the tunnel.
They had reached the other end!
Delaney, Lena and Simms had been walking dead centre of the tunnel as they approached the enormous mesh circle filling the abyss.
Delaney noticed an odd catwalk structure high up on the wall to their right. It was about sixty feet up, and molded into the wall, like it was part of the wall itself. It appeared to be made of the same black plastic material that just about everything else in the complex was built from.
“You guys see that?” Delaney said, as they neared the mesh wall.
Lena made her way under the catwalk and craned her neck to look up. She looked around, realizing there was no ladder in sight.
“Any ideas on how we get up there?” she said.
“Are you sure we want to go up there?” Simms asked.
“I’d rather be up there than stuck down here like a rat in a drainpipe,” Lena retorted. Simms quickly changed his mind and agreed.
“Well… I’m sure that whoever built it didn’t expect people to fly up there, so I guess we keep looking for a way,” Delaney added.
“Lieutenant, I think I see a way,” said Simms.
He was looking at a door. Hidden in the darkness of the shadows where the catwalk met the wall about half way up one side of the mesh grille.
“Hmm… well, that’s fine but how do we get up to the door in the first place?” Lena asked, becoming frustrated.
“You don’t my dear.”
Lena tilted her head back to look along the catwalk. She recognized the voice instantly.
It was Doctor Peter Wells.
“Well…well… and fucking Wells!” snapped Delaney. “You can kiss your career goodbye when we get back to Spacecom, Wells, you son-of-a-bitch!”
“Oh, please Lieutenant Delaney… there’s a lady present,” Wells smirked.
“Tell us how the hell to get up there, Wells,” Lena shouted. “I swear to God, Spacecom will have your arse for this!”
“She’s right, Wells,” Delaney continued. “It’ll be treason at the very least. And running off with the heliox… hell, that might even be attempted murder.”
“Keep the threats for someone who cares, Lieutenant,” sneered Wells. “The only reason you’ve made it this far is because I didn’t have the time to kill you all earlier.”
“Wells, what the hell are you talking about!” she screamed.
“I’m talking about deniability, Lena… removal of evidence… covering one’s arse, to put it in your vulgar dialect. Think about it for a moment,” Wells continued. “SOCOM, black ops, the Asteron project… Red Exodus Lena! Surely you’re familiar with that?”
“Jesus,” Lena whispered.
Delaney took a couple of steps closer to Lena. “What’s wrong?”
“Operation Red Exodus… I remember reading about it during my Spacecom training. Someone had gotten hold of a classified file and emailed copies of it around the lab. It was quickly removed and we were warned not to mention anything about it,” Lena said. She was breathing rapidly now.
She turned her attention back to Wells.
“That’s where I know you from… Goddam it! You were in charge of Red Exodus.”
Lena noticed Delaney becoming frustrated.
“After the Viking missions in seventy-six, a blanket was thrown up over this entire region,” she continued. “Even people who had spent their entire lives dealing in highly classified documents for NASA and other agencies weren’t allowed access to the files. But we assumed they were just rumors.”
Wells leaned up against the catwalk railing and looked down on the others.
“Not rumors, my dear… reality. The Viking Mars orbiters and landers sent back some very interesting pictures from here at Cydonia. Just as you have seen for yourself today… pyramids, the face, other anomalies… Unfortunately, some of the images made it into the public domain. Naturally, the conspiracy theorists latched onto the whole thing and it became part of UFO folklore.
“Hoaglands Face,” said Delaney.
“Just the tip of the iceberg, Lieutenant,” Wells said. “What the public didn’t find out about, of course, was this…” he walked along the catwalk, holding his arms out, displaying the tunnel as though it belonged to him.
“And what exactly is this?” asked Delaney.
“This entire complex is a hydro-electric power station designed for one purpose—to power a device that some genius back home coined a Trojan Device.” Wells explained. “You see, many thousands of years ago, the inhabitants of this planet—Martians—if that’s what you want to call them, noticed a comet heading towards them.”
Delaney screwed his mouth up.
“Not having the necessary time to get all of their people away in ships, they instead sent a forward team to Earth to construct receivers for this enormous transmitter, which one assumes was put together with extreme urgency.”
“What kind of transmitter?” asked Delaney.
“Why, a people transmitter of course,” Wells said smugly. “The plan was to march all their people through the pyramid above us, where the machine, the Trojan Device, would transmit them en masse to various locations on Earth—pyramids at Giza, the rock at Uluru, other places.”
“Ayers Rock?” said an astounded Delaney.
“Not many people know this gem of information, Lieutenant, but I find no harm in sharing it with you now… the pyramids were never used as burial tombs, and that hulking great rock in the centre of Australia is in fact a hollow storage chamber, extending miles beneath the desert. There’s dozens more scattered around the globe, too.”
“How do you know all this, Wells?” said Lena.
“It’s amazing how much data is left behind by a race whose only focus is survival. We found the full story in biodigital storage disks when we were here in the early eighties. It’s marvelous entertainment. Pity you’ll never read it.”
“The power to run all this must be awesome,” Lena said aloud without realizing it.
Wells walked further towards the mesh wall.
“Look closely into the mesh, Lena. Inside, is the largest turbine ever manufactured.”
Lena peered in through the wide mesh. The hole that was the tunnel tapered in abruptly, forming a smaller hole about fifteen feet deep and twenty or so feet in diameter. The whole thing reminded Lena of a speaker cone.
Delaney started to feel uneasy. He looked around nervously.
“And what runs the turbine, Wells?” he asked.
Wells was waiting for this moment. He smiled sadistically.
“The turbine, Lieutenant, is run by the power of billions of gallons of water, surging forth relentlessly… and you, my dear people, are standing in the water pipe.
Lena’s eyes widened. “Of course… the pipes back at the entrance to the tunnel. I should’ve realized when I saw the condensation forming.”
Delaney followed along with her train of thought. “And the machinery on the far wall of the hangar—the gears and tanks—must’ve been some type of heating system melting the subsurface ice.”
“Bravo…bravo….” Wells said, as he clapped his hands in a show of sarcasm.
Delaney glared up.
“So, exactly what is your part in all this, Wells?” he said.
Wells continued to explain. “Special Operations Command had us scouring the tunnel for weeks. We rode up and down in the black maintenance vehicles, carrying out tests, making reports, exploring Hellas Pyramid inside and out. That’s where we found the device. The only problem was, we couldn’t get the device to actually do anything,” Wells said.
“Clever bunch, you lot,” Delaney sneered.
Wells looked down his nose at the Lieutenant.
“We realized that the timer had been set for an automatic start point, which would initiate the machine at the optimal time. The only problem was, their calculations didn’t allow for the meteor being flung off the Oort Cloud like a slingshot. It hit earlier than anticipated and destroyed all life on Mars. In the process, the timer was frozen for thousands of years.”
“Until now…” Lena surmised.
“Yes my dear… until now, or more precisely, twenty eight hours ago. Anyway, back then SOCOM decided that since the device was dormant, and nobody could figure out how to operate it, it was better left alone. We sealed up the tunnel at the face, on the other side of this turbine, and—”
“And wrecked the vehicles in the hangar,” Lena interjected.
“You must understand, Lena, if word of this place became known to certain people, the shit would have hit the proverbial fan.”
Delaney snorted. He stepped towards the catwalk.
“Yeah, but word did get out, didn’t it Wells. That’s why the fucking Chinese are up here. That’s why those bastards killed my men. Because they knew about all this.”
“The death of your men was an unfortunate necessity, Lieutenant,” Wells said. “And the Chinese have done more than just discover the device. They’ve figured out a way to reverse the process.”
“What are you saying, Wells?”
“I’m saying, Lieutenant, that the Chinese government through the PLA, are planning to send so many troops from Earth to Mars using this device, that the United States will never be able to land another ship here again.”
“Those fucking— “
“Don’t curse the Chinese for your government’s own ineptitude, Lieutenant Delaney,” interrupted Wells. He was pacing back and forth in a grandstanding manner, lecturing like a dictator. “You’ve both had bases here for years. They just happened to discover the meaning of it before you did. Don’t put too much faith in your own worth. You were sent to Mars for only one reason.”
“And what was that, Wells?”
“To protect me from the Chinese long enough to get inside the pyramid and blow this whole contraption to hell!” Wells slammed his fist down hard on the gantry rail.
“Son of a bitch…” whispered Delaney, as he realized he’d been conned into protecting the very person he should have nailed a long time ago.
“And how do you propose to destroy the device?” asked Lena, walking over to join Delaney.
“With these,” Wells said, holding up the silver case he had taken with him earlier in the cave.
“Heliox canisters?” Lena said.
“Not heliox… Pyrozine!”
“Huh?” said Lena, looking totally bewildered.
Delaney closed his eyes. “Pyrozine. It’s an experimental liquid explosive. A hundred times more powerful than anything we’ve currently got. When that stuff goes off, there won’t be much left to look at.”
“You’re fucking insane Wells!” Lena shouted.
“Just doing my job, Lena. The good lieutenant would understand that, wouldn’t you Lieutenant Delaney?”
Delaney let his MP4 drop slowly from his shoulder. He backed slowly away from under the catwalk to get a better view. Then he brought his weapon up suddenly and drew a small red laser dot on Wells’s forehead.
“I suggest you lower that case very carefully, and come down from the catwalk before I paint the tunnel with your brains, Wells,” the rugged marine said.
Then Delaney heard a familiar click.
A firing pin being cocked.
“I think you’d better drop the weapon sir,” came a voice from behind him.
Delaney looked around. It was Simms. He was standing there with a pistol pushed hard into Lena’s neck.
“What the fuck—” said Delaney in total shock. “Simms, what the hell are you doing?”
Simms was hyped. “SOCOM made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, sir,” he said, with a noticeable quiver in his voice. The strain of keeping the secret had almost been too much for the young Private, and now that he was getting it off his chest, it was a struggle to maintain his composure.
Delaney stared right through Simms.
“You’re a traitor?” he asked in disbelief.
“Private Simms is being paid handsomely to make sure I complete my mission unhindered,” Wells explained, as if that made everything alright.
“Jesus, you’ve become a fucking mercenary,” Delaney said.
Lena couldn’t believe this was happening.
“Private Simms…” she said firmly. “Royce… you don’t need to do this. Put the gun down.” She carefully reached her hand up to the barrel of the gun.
“Ma’am, I like you,” said Simms. “But if you move again I’ll blow your fucking head off!” Then added sarcastically. “Excuse my language, ma’am.”
Wells walked back along the catwalk toward the end opposite the turbine.
He pressed a button on the wall. A ladder lowered from underneath the decking.
When the ladder reached the ground Wells said, “Private Simms, send the lovely doctor up first… oh, and be sure to kill Lieutenant Delaney if he so much as breathes.”
Simms prodded Lena in the small of her back with his pistol, motioning her to climb the ladder.
“What now Wells?” Delaney asked.
Simms turned his gun towards the Lieutenant. He was more nervous than he was letting on. After all, this was “Devil” Delaney he was holding a gun to. Not many men had survived to tell after an encounter with the Devil. He knew Delaney’s casual mannerisms belied his ability to pull off a surprise coup in a fraction of a second.
He could be talking to you calmly, nonchalantly, leading you into a false sense of security, and all the while he was like a loaded, coiled spring ready for action. Simms would have to take the utmost care now… he knew that much.
Wells assisted Lena onto the high platform. “Over by the door my dear,” he said. Lena brushed past him, deliberately thumping into him with her shoulder as she squeezed along the narrow walkway.
Simms moved to the ladder, keeping his pistol aimed squarely at Delaney.
“Now Lieutenant,” Wells said. “Private Simms and myself will carry out the task we were sent here for… the destruction of the Trojan Device.” He pressed the ladder button again, and it zipped up into the catwalk.
“What about Lena, Wells?” shouted Delaney.
Wells smiled, “Let’s just say that she is coming along with us as insurance,” he said, walking toward the door.
Simms opened the door leading to the inside of the pyramid. The door whooshed open with a rush of air similar to the one at the main entrance of the tunnel.
Lena gasped, half expecting to be hit with a sudden lack of oxygen from the low pressure behind the door. But it was okay. There was air. A little warmer than the tunnel, but it was good, breathable air.
Simms pushed Lena roughly through the doorway, then followed.
Wells was about to join them when he realized he had left the case of pyrozine bottles halfway along the catwalk, and he walked back to pick them up.
Suddenly a familiar almighty gong sound reverberated through the tunnel. It was even louder than before. Deafening, and painful.
Just once this time.
Wells and Delaney cupped their ears to soften the noise until it abated, then Wells leaned over the railing.
“Right on cue, Lieutenant,” he smirked. “Just one hour left… I do hope you can swim.”
Delaney looked back down the tunnel.
“Christ,” he whispered.
Wells laughed out loud as he walked back to the door. He pushed the panel with the flat, round button on it. Nothing happened.
The door remained closed.
“Huh?” said Wells, pushing the button again frantically. “Come on you blasted thing,” he said angrily, and visibly becoming anxious.
He bashed the door with his fist. “Simms! Simms, open up this goddam door!”
There was no answer.
Wells put down the case. He stood in front of the door, running his hands through his sparse hair.
It was a safety mechanism. A fail-safe to ensure that water didn’t breach the tunnel and end up inside the pyramid. The one hour mark was the cut-off point. The lock-out.
“Well, Lieutenant,” he said to Delaney with a loud sigh. “It seems we’re both in a bit of a pickle now.”