Delaney, Lena, Buffalo and Sinclair were now in the north section of the tunnel. A catwalk similar to the one they were on earlier extended as far as they could see.
As they walked along its shiny black surface, the water rushed past a few feet below them.
The noise of the rushing water, along with the roar of the giant hydro-turbine blades was almost unbearable. Delaney found himself breaking into a slow jog along the narrow catwalk just to escape the raucous sound.
Lena stuck right behind him. She wasn’t going to let him out of her sight again.
Buffalo and Sinclair found the going a little tougher, which was to be expected considering the extent of their injuries.
They had traveled about a hundred yards when Delaney said, “Let’s keep moving guys. I don’t want to be anywhere near that thing when— ”
A massive shockwave, practically visible in its intensity, pulsed out from the area directly above the turbine cage, and unfolded itself along the tunnel walls right towards where Delaney’s team was standing.
The catwalk shook violently. All four of them were sent crashing to the deck by the force of the shock.
Delaney shouted back to his marines as they struggled to make their way along the platform.
“Come on, keep moving!” he said.
Then he saw it…
Something in the distance, just behind Buffalo’s right shoulder. Something black… it was getting bigger, rapidly.
It was the door to the pyramid!
Blown away by the force of the explosion, it was now hurtling along the catwalk towards them.
“Down now!” Delaney shouted.
He gripped Lena by the shoulders and wrenched her down hard to the platform.
Buffalo and Sinclair hit the deck as the door flew past them at what would have been head height if they were still standing.
“Fuck me!” yelled Sinclair.
The door continued screeching along the catwalk railing. Sparks flew in every direction like fireworks, as the door disappeared into the dark distance of the tunnel.
Delaney was half sprawled over Lena, who was coughing and spluttering from being winded when she was unceremoniously thrown down. Buffalo was clutching his wounded arm as he lay there moaning.
But it wasn’t over yet.
“Oh, shit… get up… get up right fucking now!” said Delaney looking past the others towards the hole where the door had been a few seconds ago.
What Delaney saw was the bright orange glow of a fireball that was about to erupt from inside the chasm.
“Quick, get up!” he said, pulling Lena back to her feet like a rag doll. “Run!”
In a matter of seconds, the four of them were on their feet and running along the catwalk again.
The fireball burst out into the tunnel with a savage hiss.
It scorched the walls near the entrance of the white lobby, and continued out onto the catwalk, chasing them like a seething tumbleweed of flames.
Steam hissed up from the water, as the fireball vaporized the top few inches of the torrent near the turbine.
Buffalo, at the rear of the team, could feel the heat through his thermal suit. It was gaining on them.
“Fuck me… you guys…” he shouted.
“We know,” Sinclair acknowledged, trying his best to keep up with Delaney and Lena, who were about twenty feet in front.
The fireball remained strong as it neared them.
Suddenly, it was obvious they couldn’t outrun it. And there was only one thing left to do.
They would have to jump into the rapids.
Buffalo jumped first. He leapt the railing in midstride, and went straight over the edge without a hitch.
Another few seconds and he would have been barbecue meat.
Buffalo hit the water with a great thump, and was immediately tossed about like a cork.
Sinclair had been a few paces in front of his Sergeant. He looked into the water and saw Buffalo tumble past him, arms waving wildly. He couldn’t help laughing as he watched, then realized the flame was about to burn him up.
Sinclair hurled himself over the rail without so much as touching it. He splashed into the water and went straight under. He was soon flapping and spluttering about in the surging water, and looked even more ridiculous than Buffalo.
Delaney and Lena were further along the catwalk, still running from the searing heat.
“Lena… we’re going to have to jump,” Delaney said, sucking in his breath as he ran hard.
“I… I… can’t make it… over that edge,” Lena panted.
She was right. As fit as she was, a maneuver like that was the sort of stuff only trained soldiers or gymnasts could pull off smoothly. If she baulked for a second, or slipped and fell back onto the platform, she’d be caught up in the fireball for sure.
Delaney didn’t have time to argue.
He quickly spun one-hundred-and-eighty degrees to face Lena, and in a mind-boggling move, swept her up in a fireman’s carry, turned swiftly on his heels, and continued running away from the huge ball of flame.
A few more paces to steady himself, and he jerked Lena up in his arms, so that she was now resting on the barrel of his chest and the upturned palms of his hands.
“What are you doing!” she managed to scream.
And then, with a mighty heave, in full flight, Delaney grunted and tossed Lena’s supple body over the railing and into the river below.
A second later, he lunged out with his left leg and caught the rail, then brought his right leg up on top of it, and like an Olympic athlete, dived out over the edge of the catwalk in a perfect swan dive, just as the powerful ball of flames exploded past him.
Now, all four of them were being swept along the tunnel by the current of icy water which surged through the turbine.
The shockwave of the pyrozine explosion had resonated throughout the tunnel. It had fanned out from its epicentre above the turbine, along the walls and through the body of water.
And, in its wake, halfway up the southern end of the tunnel, it had caused something else to occur…
The vehicle—the bug—that Delaney had abandoned in a small alcove, was being buffeted back and forth by the ripples of the shockwave.
Slowly, it rocked loose out of its niche in the tunnel wall. It floated barely inches off the floor, bobbing up and down slightly, then back down again under its own weight.
Then, slowly, the force of the rushing water took hold. The bug was jostled about roughly. Back and forth, back and forth.
Suddenly, it pivoted. Its centre of gravity was being shifted into the oncoming current.
And like a small toy truck in a creek, the vehicle was swept along steadily towards the turbine.
Delaney and Lena and Buffalo and Sinclair were also being swept along by the great river of icy water surging through the tunnel.
The four of them were bobbing around madly, trying to keep their heads above the choppy surface.
Delaney watched the blue tunnel lights rapidly flicking past.
The water was pushing them along at a phenomenal speed.
Suddenly, he noticed little splashes of water erupting up all around them. It was like somebody was throwing pebbles into the water.
Then he heard the muted crack! crack! of gunfire coming from further down the tunnel.
They were being shot at!
“Stay… as… low as… you can!” he managed to shout to the others through gulps of icy liquid.
Sixty or so yards in front of them, on the gantry, stood four yellow figures. Each one holding an automatic assault rifle.
“Oh fuck!... how many… of these… fucking guys… are there?” Buffalo spat out.
The bullets continued to splash into the water, narrowly missing the four hapless bodies tumbling along in the rapids.
In a few seconds, the Chinese soldiers would have a direct, very close, line-of-fire at them.
“Under!” yelled Delaney. “Swim as far as you can under the water!”
Lena and Sinclair each took a deep breath and duck-dived as hard as they could.
But borne of some military instinct or comradeship from serving together for so long, both Delaney and Buffalo remained floating above the surface of the water—each knowing what the other had in mind.
“Now!” shouted Delaney.
And then, in unison, Delaney and Buffalo brought their weapons up and out of the water and began shooting towards the walkway.
Before they had a chance to realize what was happening, two of the PLA soldiers were hit with a throng of bullets to their heads. Their skulls burst like watermelons.
The headless bodies defied gravity for a second before toppling over the rail and falling into the torrent.
The two marines sailed past the remaining soldiers, bobbing up and down with the swell, keeping their eyes focused firmly on the catwalk the whole time.
The Chinese soldiers ran along the deck, chasing Delaney and Buffalo, and shooting aimlessly into the water.
As they did, Lena and Sinclair bobbed back up, having run out of breath.
Lena screamed as she came face to neck with one of the dead bodies floating in the water. The body’s arms tangled around her, like a walking-dead zombie trying to grasp at her.
Lena arched backwards and kicked at the body. “Get… the… hell… off me!” she yelled angrily at the headless yellow suit.
Sinclair came to her aid, just as the body drifted past, then suddenly they were being shot at again by the soldiers on the catwalk.
Bullets smacked into the water near Lena’s face and she quickly went under again, struggling to find any more breath in her lungs.
The Chinese soldiers continued firing and running, but were unable to keep up with the fast pace of the rapids. They were about to give up the chase.
Then, just at that moment, everything came to a halt.
There was a hideous crunching of metal, and the water level dropped abruptly as it flowed away towards the runoff tunnels at the northern end.
Delaney and his team found themselves wading in a foot of water.
Everybody, including the Chinese soldiers, looked back down the tunnel curiously. The water had stopped pumping through the turbine.
Or… something was blocking the water.
The sound again. Metal on metal. Grinding, churning.
Lena started to walk northwards. She looked at the others. “What the hell are you waiting for?”
“Uhh… Lieutenant…” stammered Sinclair.
“Move Private,” said Delaney. He also began to walk towards the north end.
Buffalo looked up at the soldiers on the walkway, some sixty feet above him. They had the same idea, and were moving rapidly away from the crunching noise.
“Sergeant, will you be joining us any time today?” Delaney asked sarcastically.
There was another horrific metallic crunch.
“Hell yeah!” Buffalo said.
They were practically sprinting. The sort of run you attempt when you have to be somewhere urgently, but you’re completely exhausted. Arms and legs moving in an erratic dance of spasticity.
“How far to the end of the tunnel, Lieutenant?” Sinclair panted.
Delaney looked across at him as if to say how the hell would I know?
“There!” shouted Lena, pointing ahead of them. “What’s that?”
They ran another hundred yards.
And found themselves standing at the nexus of the three tunnels.
In front of them was a small tunnel sloping upwards to a large sealed door. To the left and right were the massive runoff tunnels sloping downwards—deep downwards—into blackness.
There was no sign of the Chinese soldiers.
The floor trickled with an inch of running water.
It’s dripping echoed eerily as it drained away into the depths of the runoffs.
Lena walked a short way into the left tunnel. She shone her wrist light out in front. The tunnel curved around on a wide arc and downwards into total darkness.
“Don’t go too far, Lena,” Delaney warned.
Lena wasn’t planning on going any further. Her feet slipped a little on the smooth surface as she walked back to join the others on the ramp tunnel sloping up to the door.
Lena noticed there was no control panel visible on this door.
Buffalo stepped up in front of it. He raised his hands high in the air, like Moses parting the red sea. “Open Sesame,” he bellowed.
Lena laughed. With exhaustion more than humor. Delaney and Sinclair just shook their heads.
“Okay, that didn’t work,” said Buffalo. “Any suggestions?”
“Look around for a control panel, or a button… anything,” Delaney suggested.
There was another loud crunch in the distance.
“And make it quick,” he added.
The team fanned out in different directions, searching along the walls where the tunnels joined. Their halogen wrist lights formed ghostly silhouettes on the black surfaces.
“Lieutenant,” said Sinclair after a few moments. “You’d better take a look at this.”
“Tell me you’ve found a door switch, Private, and I’ll recommend you for a month’s paid leave when we get back.” Delaney said.
Delaney, Lena and Buffalo joined Sinclair at the apex of the main tunnel and the left-side runoff tunnel.
They focused their lights on the wall near Sinclair.
“It’s not a switch, Lieutenant,” said the young Private. “But it’ll sure blow a fucking big hole in that door.”
They were looking at the explosives Pak’s men had planted earlier.
“Nice job, Lenny,” Buffalo said sarcastically.
“Hey, don’t blame me, I’m just the messenger.”
“Fuck me!” Delaney said. “Everywhere we go, there’s a fucking bomb!”
Sinclair was staring intently at the linked charges. He followed the wires up and across the wall to an electric detonator box.
“Uh oh,” he said.
“Uh oh, what?” asked Delaney.
“Uh oh, we’ve got three minutes until this shit goes off, sir.”
Delaney’s team was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Behind them, some god-awful crunching thing was threatening to come rushing down the tunnel, probably bringing an even bigger torrent of water with it.
In front of them was a sealed door, and two uninviting steep, dark tunnels leading to nowhere.
And right where they stood were enough explosives to wipe out several city blocks, and they had two and a half minutes to decide what to do.
“Any chance you can defuse that thing, Sinclair?” Delaney asked hopefully.
Sinclair screwed up one side of his mouth. “Sir, this thing’ll go off if you look at it the wrong way.”
Delaney looked around in frustration.
Sealed door. Explosives.
Everything always turns to hell…
“Fine… they want hell, I’ll give them hell. The Devil’s own brand,” Delaney muttered under his breath.
“What was that, sir?” Sinclair asked.
But Delaney was already moving. Towards the C4 charges.
“Buff’, Private, help me with these.”
Buffalo and Sinclair looked at each other, then followed Delaney’s lead.
“Okay… we can’t touch the detonator, right?” Delaney said. “But, we can move these charges.”
Sinclair thought for a second.
“As long as you don’t sever the connections between the charge packs, you can do what you like with them,” the young soldier said, now beginning to understand what Delaney had in mind.
“Good!” said Delaney. “I figure there’s enough spare wire between these charges to move them from here to that door. Start pulling them down off the wall.” Then he added, “Very carefully.”
They had the C4 in place with just over a minute to spare before the timer was set to go off.
Lena looked at Delaney. “Now what?” she said quietly.
Delaney hadn’t considered the “now what” part of his plan. He thought about it for a second.
“Quick! Down the runoff tunnel!” he shouted to everyone. “Oh, and check your suits and close your helmets up. The oxygen containment field might not be the same at this end of the tunnel. Switch your headsets to their external speaker system, so we can still communicate with each other. “
All four of them pushed their retractable helmet return buttons, and headed to the right side tunnel and entered its black depths.
The surface was as slippery as oil, and much steeper than Delaney had reckoned. They found it difficult maintaining a foothold on the floor, even with their ribbed boots. It was as if the tunnel had a coating of slimy algae built up from the constant flow of water over it.
“How much further do we need to go, Jake?” Lena asked. Delaney could sense the trepidation in her voice.
“It’s more a question of how far can we go, ma’am,” Buffalo put in.
Delaney focused his halogen ahead into the murky darkness. “Just stick close to the wall and follow the curve around. Those charges are gonna go off any second, so hold tight.”
Lena had been walking further out from the wall than the others.
Suddenly she screamed out.
The three marines turned sharply, aiming their wrist lights in Lena’s direction. She was gone.