Delaney was counting off the pings.
Three since the last gong.
Fifty seven minutes left until the Mississippi came flooding down the tunnel.
“You know, Wells,” said Delaney, picking his M4 off the floor, “I’m not sure whether to kill you now or wait to see you drown like a rat.”
“There’s no need for that, Lieutenant,” Wells said nervously as he backed up against the wall on the walkway. “There is an override switch for all these doors, you know…”
Delaney’s eyes narrowed. “Go on…” he said, as he raised the M4 to his shoulder.
“The override switch is an eleventh hour safety button, just in case they somehow got the timing wrong… or in a case like ours… if someone was stuck in the tunnel by accident,” Wells said. “The only problem is, the switch is back in the machinery room—the hangar.”
Delaney lowered his weapon again.
“Are you saying we have to run all the way back to the end of the tunnel and pull the switch before the flood starts, and then somehow make it back here ahead of the water?” Delaney said with a wry smile.
“Not we, Lieutenant… you. I’d only slow you down, but you could make it.”
“And leave you here to walk through the door with your pyrozine bomb when I flick the switch… hmmm.. let me think about that for a second Wells—nnnnnntttttttt!” he made a sound like one of those electronic “wrong answer” buzzers on a game show. “I might only be a grunt to you, Wells, but I’m not a fucking idiot!”
Then a thought struck him.
He raised his gun again.
“Wells! Lower the ladder and get your arse down here!”
Wells thought very briefly about trying something, then realized his options were limited. He did as Delaney said, and pushed the ladder button.
When Wells reached the ground, Delaney removed a length of rope from his pack.
“Up against the ladder, Wells,” he ordered, shoving the frail scientist roughly.
“Y—you can’t be serious, Lieutenant,” Wells stuttered.
Delaney poked the barrel of his assault rifle into Wells’s throat. Wells gagged.
“Look, you fuck! I’m this far away from killing you. Don’t tempt me any further!”
Wells moved up against the ladder, and Delaney tied a series of knots that had Wells firmly bound. Delaney patted him on the shoulder and smiled sarcastically.
“Now, you be a good boy until I get back, you hear?” said Delaney.
He turned and slung his rifle. He took one last look and began jogging down the tunnel. Forty-eight minutes. This was going to be close.
After they had passed through the door from the tunnel near the mesh grille, Simms and Lena found themselves inside a small foyer.
It was black just like everything else. The same synthetic material as the catwalk, and the bug vehicle. Beyond the foyer, another room… but this one had a brighter glow emanating from it.
They moved through the foyer into the bright room.
The room was about twelve by twelve feet. Low ceiling, only a foot above Lena’s head. It was well lit with a sourceless light. Even the floor was lit up, and instead of being black like everything else in the tunnel complex, the entire room was a clinical white.
Directly opposite the door they had just entered through was another door, and to Lena’s left was a steeply inclined corridor leading upward into darkness.
The door opposite had one of the familiar panels to the right, a replica of the other panels throughout the tunnel, except for the fact that it too, was completely white.
Lena turned and looked back up the steep corridor.
It was carved out of rock, and looked strangely out of place where it butted up against the sharp synthetic white material the room was constructed from. Dim lights ran up the length of the smoothly carved rock. They were small, and fifteen feet apart. They created an eerie red glow against the crimson Martian substrate rocks.
Simms nudged Lena to enter the narrow hallway.
Lena stepped warily into the dim corridor, running her gloved hand along the wall. It was smooth—incredibly smooth. She noticed the small lights were embedded into the floor, leading the way upwards like theatre lights built into a plush carpet.
The sound of the thudding signal coursed through the walls all around them as they walked. It vibrated through their boots, rattled them to their very bones.
Lena stopped to check her watch.
Thirty five minutes.
“So, what happens when the clock stops, Simms?” she said, keeping her eyes on the tunnel ahead. She knew very well what was going to happen.
Simms said nothing.
“The water’s going to rush down that tunnel and kill Jake, isn’t it Private? Is that what you want? You want to murder Lieutenant Delaney?”
“Shut up!” Simms hissed. “It wasn’t my idea. I didn’t want anybody to get killed like this. Those guys were my friends—Pancho and A.K. and Lenny. We fuckin’ fought together in the Gulf. You think I wanted this?”
“I don’t know Private Simms. Did you want this? Or are you just Wells’s lackey?” Lena was trying to hit a nerve. “Wells says jump, and you say how high? Is that right?”
“You have no idea how deep this goes ma’am,” Simms explained. “If we left it any longer, not only the Chinks, but every Commie government and terrorist organization on Earth would— “
“Jesus! You sound just like Wells now, Private Simms. He really did a job on you, didn’t he? Wake up, soldier… you’re a marine in the United States Army.”
“I don’t need you to tell me what I am!” Simms shouted angrily. “I know I’m a marine.”
“And you’re proud of your work here today?” Lena kept niggling at him, somewhat dangerously. “So, why are we here without Wells, Private Simms? You don’t even have the explosive. Aren’t you curious where he is?”
“He’ll join us when he’s ready,” Simms said.
“Hah!” Lena laughed loudly. “Chances are, Lieutenant Delaney has already overpowered or killed Wells, and he’ll be coming after you next.”
“Shut up!” Simms was starting to feel alone and a little powerless. Doctor Sorsky was right to a certain degree. Devil Delaney was the type of person who could extricate himself out of any bad situation and then turn it right back in your face.
Simms knew he couldn’t show his doubts though. Besides, he realized now what Lena was up to and refused to play the game.
He tried to calm himself down, speaking out aloud to remind himself of his orders. “My instructions are to secure the machine inside the pyramid, and that’s exactly what I aim to do.”
He was gone, Lena thought. Running on a soldier’s order-directed instinct now. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath.
She felt the hard point of a rifle in her back.
“Just keep moving, Doctor Sorsky.” Simms said without emotion.
Lena continued up the inclined hallway.
They had walked about a hundred yards when Lena saw the end of the corridor ahead. A strong light flooded into the carved tunnel from whatever lay at the top of the slope.
She struggled the last few yards leaning into the steep incline.
When she reached the top, she drew in a deep breath and gasped. “Oh my God…” she whispered.
Simms trudged wearily behind her. He reached the top and leaned against the wall. “Jee-zus.”
The steep corridor had taken them to a point inside the pyramid overlooking what could only be described as the main chamber.
It stretched out in front and below and above them like the Grand Canyon, as far as the eye could see.
Smooth rock lined every surface, as though the entire chamber had been meticulously carved with a laser. The floor disappeared more than a mile below them, maybe further. They couldn’t even see the ceiling—if there was one.
The chamber was basically round, like a cylinder standing on its end.
From where they stood, it must have been two hundred yards to the other side.
A bridge of black plastic extended from the doorway, a hundred yards to a huge black sphere in the centre of the canyon.
Lena noticed more bridges, twelve in all, extending from the sphere outwards to the perimeter, each bridge ending at a door on the chamber’s wall.
Eleven of the bridges were wide enough to carry people standing two abreast, the twelfth bridge was far wider, and would easily support a small truck. All of the bridges were of solid construction, straight and rigid.
There also appeared to be nothing, except the bridges themselves, supporting the sphere in the centre. No cables holding it from above, no pedestal below it.
The thudding sound of the signal sounded different in the chamber too. Not louder, but deeper, more resonant and penetrating.
Lena felt as though she was standing inside a gigantic heart. Every beat shook her from the inside. It was unnerving.
“So, what now Private Simms?”
Simms pointed his gun toward the centre of the chamber, towards the huge sphere.
“We go into the machine,” he said nervously.
Delaney had been running fast for twenty minutes.
He had long ago passed the black bug that he, Lena and Simms had ridden in. He cursed it for breaking down as he sucked in lungs full of air. His legs strained with every step.
Delaney could see the hangar lights in the distance.
The door was still open!
He had dreaded, the whole time he was running, that maybe the system would somehow shut down as the final second approached… close all the doors, seal everything off. Finally, something had gone in his favor.
The glow of the hangar lights spilled out into the tunnel about a quarter of a mile ahead. He felt like stopping. His body was wracked with pain and exhaustion from the extended sprint. He checked his watch.
He could get to the hangar, but there was no way he was going to make it back to the catwalk before the water caught up with him. It had taken him almost thirty minutes to make it here and now he was completely out of breath. His muscles seared with the burn of lactic acid. He gasped for air.
Delaney slowed to a walk. His legs began to wobble beneath him.
He laughed at the irony of his situation. He was stuck down this end of the tunnel with the water about to be released, and Wells was down the other end of the tunnel tied up against the ladder. Opening the door now wasn’t going to do a damn thing for anybody.
He wobbled again, and leaned up against the tunnel wall. Then he realized something. It wasn’t his legs that were wobbling…
The ground was moving.
He heard a muffled rumble. Then felt a vibration coursing through the floor. The rumble grew louder. Everything around him started to shake. The entire tunnel shook violently causing Delaney to lose his balance.
It was another quake!
Just as Wells had told Buffalo earlier. There’ll be another one…
Quickly, Delaney got up and made a drunken-like stagger towards the hangar. He bounced off the wall as he stumbled along. He noticed the structure of the wall was coping remarkably well with all the shaking, bending and twisting. Not a single breach or crack had formed. No lights or other debris falling from the roof.
Delaney continued his wobbling run to the hangar. Another few more yards over the wavy floor…
Then it happened.
The worst possible thing that could happen at that moment.
Just as the quake stopped its rumbling, the hangar door slammed shut.
“Aagghh! That’s not fair! That’s just not fucking fair!” Delaney shouted. He heard his own voice echo around him as he stood alone in front of the great steel door.
He pulled at his thick black hair, walked around in small circles cursing loudly.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” he ran at the door in a wild rage and kicked it hard. There was an odd whirring noise, and then a clunk!
Then, miraculously, the door lifted up to head height.
“Haha!” he yelled exuberantly, then quickly ducked in through the door.
The large gears on the far wall were rotating rapidly now.
Banks of electronic machines lit up like a sideshow alley arcade. The entire hangar hummed vibrantly. If it wasn’t such a bad situation, it’d almost be exciting, thought Delaney.
He heard a loud grinding noise coming from outside the hangar. He stuck his head out the doorway and looked around.
The massive disc plates on the end wall were sliding across the huge pipes, opening up in preparation for the liquid onslaught about to be unleashed. Delaney watched as the pipes were revealed. They were absolutely leviathan. He shuddered at the thought of the amount of water that would soon be rushing out of those holes.
He went back into the hangar and found the override switch for the doors Wells had mentioned. He tripped the switch and heard a sharp click. That was it… nothing but a small click. He smiled wryly.
Now what? For the first time Delaney was out of ideas. There was no way to make it back to Wells. And he doubted whether the hangar would provide safety from the water flow anyway. There had to be another way out. He thought about the ice cave again, but remembered the sheer cliff face that was impossible to scale.
He decided to try another bug vehicle. Maybe he’d missed one earlier. One that wasn’t sabotaged. He could use it to drive back down towards the catwalk, ahead of the water. It was no use. They were all damaged. It would take at least a day to make sufficient repairs to be able to drive one of them.
And he only had ten minutes.
It would soon be over. One day, some explorer would find his body laying there in the hangar and wonder what had happened. Delaney sat down on the floor looking up at the black bug in front of him. It seemed to stare back at him like a giant ugly beetle, taunting him.
Kicking it would do no good. That only worked with doors.
He sat there staring at it… marveled at the sleekness of its curves… the molded panels and shape of its chassis… the smooth lines… the hard shell of the roof…
The roof. Of course!
Delaney jumped up. He ran to the workbench. Piles of tools left there by the Spacecom exploration team Wells had been with all those years ago littered the benchtop.
“Come on…” he said, rummaging through the tools and other tangled pieces of equipment and wires.
He unslung his M4 and laid it on the workbench, and continued picking through the junk. Then he found something. Sitting inside a large red box. He lifted it out carefully and smiled broadly.
“Yes!” he said with a renewed fervor.
Delaney stood there, right there in a strange hangar on Mars, holding in his hands a shipshape, lifetime guaranteed, shiny red, Black and Decker cordless circular saw.
Inside the main chamber of Hellas Pyramid, Private Royce Simms and Doctor Lena Sorsky were hanging on for their lives onto the railing of a now shaking bridge.
The quake had caused a vibrational effect setting all the bridges swaying uncontrollably. In the centre, the large black sphere bounced up and down, attached to the wobbling bridges.
“Simms, we have to go back!” Lena shouted from her position a few feet in front of the young private.
“No, we keep going!” he shouted back, pulling his way along the bridge rail towards her.
“You’ll get us both killed!” she screamed.
Simms held onto the railing with one hand and leveled his pistol at Lena’s head with the other. “Ma’am, move or I’ll shoot.”
Lena looked down into the bottomless cavern.
“This is madness,” she said, turning towards the huge bouncing sphere.