Lena screamed again, and this time Delaney ran straight to the source of her voice. He still couldn’t see her.
“Lena, where are you!” he yelled, looking around frantically.
“I’m down here… below you,” came a muffled response.
“What the?” Delaney looked down. A few feet ahead was a grille in the floor of the runoff tunnel. Buffalo and Sinclair joined him, noticing the broken grate Lena had slipped through.
Sinclair walked out a few paces. “Hey, there’s another one over here, too. They’re everywhere.”
Delaney crouched down and shone his light into the hole.
Lena was standing on another floor twelve feet below the grate. She looked up into the light. “Jake, get me out of here.”
Delaney was about to contemplate his next move, when a bone-shuddering explosion ripped through the tunnel system and knocked them all to the ground.
The flash of the explosion briefly lit up the pitch black tunnel system where Delaney, Buffalo Jackson and Lenny Sinclair were spread-eagled on the floor.
The sudden brightness allowed Delaney a good view of the situation Lena had gotten herself into on the floor below the tunnel.
She was clearly out of reach.
The vibration of the explosion quickly petered out, and the eerie darkness just as quickly returned to the huge runoff pipe.
Buffalo slid across the slime-covered floor and almost ended up with Lena down the hole as he crossed the broken grate. He reached Delaney’s side and settled into a more secure position.
Sinclair had started a clumsy walk back toward the nexus of tunnels to check out the team’s demolition handiwork.
“Is everyone okay up there? Jake, can you hear me?” Lena shouted.
Delaney and Buffalo both focused their lights on Lena.
“Thank God,” she breathed. “Now, what are you two doing to get me out of this mess?”
“Hold tight Lena,” Delaney tried to keep his voice calm and comforting. It wasn’t easy, and Lena saw through it. With no rope available, there was still no way to reach her.
Buffalo leaned his large head into the hole.
“Ma’am, have a look around down there. See if there’s another way out. A door, steps, maybe something to stand on.”
Lena’s shoulders dropped.
“A door. Steps.” She echoed sarcastically. “Yeah, maybe there’s a fucking elevator to the women’s fashion department.” She shone her wrist light around warily, hoping she actually wouldn’t see anything. It was even darker under the tunnel, if that was possible.
Buffalo gave Delaney a quirky look that said “think of something quick”.
The Lieutenant knew he was right. Lena was beginning to lose it down there.
Lena took a few steps away from the grate.
She felt herself shivering with fear. It was like being trapped inside her worst nightmare—except she was wide awake and there was no way out. Gooey strands of liquid dripped down on her faceplate from the tunnel. Her imagination was beginning to run wild.
Lena moved back toward the grate and shone her light up.
“That’s odd,” she whispered.
There seemed to be more water cascading in through the grate than there was a few minutes earlier.
“Jake, what’s going on?” Lena asked, her voice trembling momentarily.
“We’re working on it Lena, just a few— “
“I don’t mean that,” she interrupted, now absolutely certain the water was flowing into the hole faster. “It’s the water… the flow’s increasing.”
The marines hadn’t noticed it until now, not having the unique vantage point Lena had from underneath. But, looking down at their feet, they quickly realized she was right. The water had risen a couple of inches, and was more of a stream than a trickle now.
“Whatever was blocking the turbine must’ve been shaken loose by the explosion,” Buffalo observed.
He was right.
The bug vehicle that was causing an obstacle to the flow had penetrated the mesh at the southern side of the turbine, and was now inside the gargantuan spinning motor housing, grinding and churning its way forward through the blades, and allowing the flow to build up once more.
The water was on its way again.
Lena watched the icy water form a transparent curtain as it washed in through the opening above her head.
It looked like a sparkling waterfall as her halogen light beamed across it. A constant splashing sound pattered around her boots.
She had never felt so helpless, or alone.
The nightmarish feeling returned, and Lena’s body shuddered uncontrollably. She cuddled herself, trying to wrap herself up into a protective cocoon, willing the marines to hurry up and do whatever it was they were going to do.
Then, at that cold, miserable moment when she was at her most vulnerable, Lena heard a sound that didn’t quite seem to fit in.
It was a subtle difference in the splashing of the water. A slightly louder, more muted sound. A splat rather than a splash.
She heard it again. She froze.
Something slimy and gelatinous rubbed past her left leg. Lena screamed out in horror, and Delaney and Buffalo were there, hanging over the hole in an instant, wrist lights down.
“Oh… Jesus! What the fuck is that!” Buffalo bellowed.
Lena still hadn’t dared to look down at her feet, but Buffalo’s comment was enough to stop her from looking.
“What is it!” Lena screamed.
A fat, black slug-like thing as big as a dog, and covered in slippery, shiny mucous was flopping across the lower floor right in front of Lena.
“Don’t move,” Delaney ordered.
Lena was still frozen in shock. Her voice trembled. “I—I c-can’t m-move.”
Delaney focused his light on the bulbous slug for a better look. Suddenly, the creature flipped its body violently, moving several feet to avoid the light.
When Delaney aimed his halogen back towards Lena, the slug moved slowly back towards the grate.
“The water… it’s after the water,” Delaney said with some relief.
Lena had also managed to calm herself a little, although she was still terrified at the thought of being trapped in a dark hole with an alien bug.
“It must be feeding off the algal microbes… all this slime,” she added, breathing rapidly and looking down for the first time.
They watched as the creature bathed in the gooey waterfall.
“I wonder if it has any friends?” Buffalo quipped jokingly, then suddenly realized it may have after all. His comments did nothing to ease Lena’s predicament.
But he could be right, thought Lena.
Slowly, she turned, panning her wrist light around the floor under the tunnel. She gasped in terror.
In the glow of her halogen, she saw a writhing mass of hundreds of the black, goo-coated slugs flopping up towards the water.
Lena snapped her head up at Delaney.
“Get me out of here now!” she demanded.
“Buffalo! Grab my legs!” Delaney shouted to the big man at his side. He started crawling into the broken grate.
Buffalo leaned across just in time to grab his Lieutenant around the knees, and support the full weight of Delaney’s body as he hung upside down just above Lena.
“Grab on,” Delaney said to Lena, reaching out with both arms.
She could feel the slugs slapping against her boots. She leapt upwards with outstretched hands and—
Lena fell back to the floor, landing right on top of one of the slippery animals. It let out a high-pitched squeal.
“Would you two stop screwing around,” Buffalo grunted, still gripping Delaney tightly by the legs. “Or all three of us are gonna wind up stuck down there.”
Lena’s grisly shock at landing on the slug lasted about two seconds, then she was back on her feet and ready for another attempt at Delaney’s dangling arms.
She jumped again, this time successfully grabbing on to Delaney’s hands.
Buffalo groaned loudly, and with the strength of an ox, pulled Lena and Delaney up to the relative safety of the run-off tunnel’s main deck.
Lena was dripping with dark slime.
She sat in the running water, catching her breath. She looked up at Buffalo. “I owe you one, Sergeant Jackson,” she puffed.
Delaney got straight to his feet. He looked around for Sinclair, then reached his hand down to beckon Lena back to her feet. “C’mon… it’s not over yet.”
Sinclair was standing on the ramp, one shoulder leaning against the wall, and shaking his head, when the other three came around the corner.
The Private was staring ahead at the still sealed door.
Only a small hole, big enough to fit an arm through, had been the result of the explosive charges.
“Well, we’re fully screwed now,” Sinclair said miserably.
Delaney walked past him up to the large block of stone blocking the doorway. He kicked at the edge of the hole, hoping it had been weakened enough to break away. It was as solid as a steel vault.
He kicked the door again… and again.
“Come on motherfucker!” he yelled angrily.
“It’s no use Lieutenant,” Sinclair said despondently. “If that explosion couldn’t open it, nothing will.”
Delaney looked down the ramp at the rest of the team. They were all visibly exhausted.
“So… that’s it huh?” Delaney said. “You’re all giving up just like that.” He looked directly at Buffalo.
Buffalo’s eyes said it all. It was over.
Even through his faceplate, Delaney could tell by the look on his friend’s face that Buffalo was beat. They had run out of options.
“Lieutenant…” Buffalo started.
“You want to call it quits, Sergeant Jackson, is that it?” Delaney said, putting on his best official military voice.
Lena felt the tension in Delaney’s voice, and decided to stop him before he said or did something he’d regret.
“Jake… they’re right… we have to turn back. We can’t get through the door, but we can go back to the pyramid. We can get back to the surface, take an ATV to Lincoln Base, and wait for help.”
Delaney’s lips thinned. “I’ve seen too many people die waiting for help, Lena. I’m fed up with waiting, and I’m damn sure I’m not going to let those bastards behind the door get away with killing my men.”
He took a couple of steps to the middle of the ramp, and unslung his MP5.
He aimed at the door, just near the hole, and began firing in sustained bursts.
“Lieutenant! Devil… it’s over…” Buffalo yelled over the noise, trying to save his Lieutenant from making a spectacle of himself.
Delaney continued shooting. He emptied a full clip of rounds, then loaded another one. Ignoring Buffalo’s pleading, he carried on firing at the door.
Buffalo started towards him, not really sure what he was going to do. But he was probably the only man who knew Devil that would even attempt to stop him.
Then Sinclair suddenly sprung off the wall.
“Wait, Sarge,” he said, moving to the centre of the ramp just behind Delaney. “Check it out.” He nodded in the direction of the door.
The hole had become considerably larger.
Delaney’s gunfire was chipping away at the stone like a thousand chisels. Amidst the dust and fine powder, large chunks of stone were falling away like pastry crust.
Sinclair drew his automatic rifle up and joined Delaney.
Then Buffalo did the same.
Lena stood at the base of the ramp, in a foot of cold water, watching the bizarre sight of the three marines expending hundreds of bullets on a massive stone block.
Delaney’s second clip emptied, and he raised his hand signaling his men to stop.
When the smoke dissipated, they were looking at a hole in the stone that had grown to a good three feet in diameter.
“That oughta just about do it,” Delaney said, grinning at the others knowingly. “The young Private here should be able to shimmy through that opening and let the rest of us in.”
Buffalo nodded his head and smiled.
“You had me worried there for a second, Devil,” he said to Delaney. “I thought you’d finally lost the plot for keeps.”
“Now, would I do something like that?” Delaney smiled back.
Buffalo laughed and shook his head. Then said to Sinclair: “Okay Private, you heard the man… in the hole.”
Sinclair placed his M41A on the ground, and walked towards the hole eagerly. He took a quick look inside. Only darkness. He sidled right up to the door, and leaned over, extending his right leg through the hole so that he was straddling it at waist height.
“Don’t you get yourself lost in there, Sinclair,” Buffalo chided.
Sinclair was still leaning awkwardly into the door, trying to balance on one leg that couldn’t quite reach the sloping ramp. His suit with all its attachments and peripherals was getting caught on every jagged edge.
“That’s if I ever make it through this hole, Sarge,” Sinclair grunted.
Suddenly, there was a muted crack.
Sinclair’s body shook.
He looked across at Buffalo with wide eyes, staring straight at his Sergeant in horror, silently pleading for help.
Buffalo noticed a small trickle of blood forming on Sinclair’s suit, just above the ribcage.
Then came another two cracks. The marines realized it was gunfire.
Sinclair’s body shuddered twice. He looked at his colleagues, trying to say something, anything that would come out… His mouth quivered.
“Lenny!” Buffalo screamed out in rage, as he saw more blood oozing out from different places on Sinclair’s suit.
Then, Sinclair became a bouncing, jolting puppet as dozens of bullets ripped into his body from behind the door as he sat stuck in the hole.
“Oh God! Do something!” Lena screamed in panic. Tears were streaming down her face as she watched Sinclair’s dead body being used as a target bag.
Then, Sinclair’s shredded frame dropped back out of the hole and on to the ramp. His entire right side was a bloody pulp.
There was no time to do anything as several rifle barrels suddenly appeared through the hole and began firing blindly.
Delaney, Buffalo and Lena ducked and dodged their way back into the main tunnel amidst a storm of bullets.
The water was now thigh high and flowing along rapidly again.
They pushed against it with long strides, trying to put as much distance between them and the door as they could.
A few stray bullets splashed into the water around them.
They had made it about thirty-five yards up the tunnel, when a ghastly boom resounded all around them. The sound was ear-splitting. Painful.
All three were thrown into the water by a jarring force of air pressure that exploded from the area near the ramp.
Pieces of stone pelted down on them, and heavy smoke blocked their view. There was a secondary noise, too. A loud, constant humming sound, like whirring engines.
The team lay still in the water for a second, clutching their abdomens from being winded by the sudden jolt of pressure.
Delaney sat up and coughed into his helmet.
He checked to see Buffalo and Lena were alright. They both sat upright, checking themselves for injuries.
“What the hell that was?” Buffalo said, rubbing his neck.
Delaney slowly got to his feet.
“See for yourself,” he said quietly.
The three of them stood up, looking towards the ramp where the door used to be… and where the ramp itself used to be… indeed, where the ceiling of the tunnel used to be.
“Jesus,” Buffalo whispered. “What is that?”