The water flowing down the tunnel was rapidly building up, almost to the point of the torrent that it was when they had first entered.
Buffalo and Lena were doing all they could to steady themselves against the Asteron’s hull under the canopy of the large inflatable ramp.
Delaney was pushed up against the wall where the main tunnel and the right side run-off tunnel met. He was staring up at the Chinese troops making their way out of the Asteron’s door.
It was now obvious the Chinese had planned their takeover of Mars with more thought than Spacecom or anybody else had given them credit for. Somehow, they had known of the Asteron’s existence on Phobos and sent their own team there to hijack it.
Hijack… the very word made Delaney’s blood boil. It was hijackers who had cut short the life of his wife not long after they were married. To Delaney, a terrorist was the lowest piece of shit there was. And these Chinese troops had just crossed the line from soldiers to terrorists.
Delaney sneered viciously at the leader of the troops who led his men onto the ramp. His gun was still raised. Even with only a few shots remaining, he’d rather go out fighting and take a few of these bastards with him, than surrender to terrorism.
Buffalo eyed his lieutenant worriedly.
Then, he suddenly realized the crew of the Asteron weren’t aware of him and Lena below them.
“You know how to shoot that thing, ma’am?” Buffalo said quietly to Lena.
She nodded affirmatively, even if she wasn’t exactly sure what she was doing.
“When I give the word, start shooting up at the ramp. Everything you’ve got—empty the clip.”
Lena nodded again.
Buffalo positioned himself, legs apart, back up against the hull. He aimed at the ramp with his M4. Lena did the same with the Desert Eagle. Buffalo looked one last time at Delaney, not sure whether the lieutenant knew what was about to happen.
They both started shooting into the tough canvas ramp. There was a series of hisses and pops, followed by rips and tears.
The soldiers on the ramp looked around in panic, as the thing began to explode all around them.
Delaney crouched and joined in the shooting, both at the ramp and the men standing on it.
Then there came the noise of more gunfire—different gunfire—from the stone door. Delaney whipped around and saw another group of Chinese soldiers coming through the hole.
This time they were being led by a young Colonel. It was Pak.
Pak ducked through the gunfire and headed straight for the Asteron.
Delaney used his last couple of bullets to finish off the men entering through the hole, then threw his rifle down in disgust. All he had now was his remaining pistol and twelve rounds.
Meanwhile, the ramp gave one final breath of escaping gasses and erupted. The soldiers aboard it dropped thirty feet to the ground, screaming as they fell. There was the sound of breaking bones and moans of agony, as they lay in a crumpled pile on the tunnel floor.
Delaney rushed in and confiscated a weapon from a dead Chinese soldier. Just in time, too, as yet another wave of troops reached the hole.
Delaney backed up, pushing against the rushing water, which was now chest high.
Buffalo and Lena were somewhere under the deflated canopy of the ramp, struggling to escape. They exited in separate directions. Buffalo towards the stone door, and Lena back down the tunnel into the path of the water.
Right at that moment, there was a nerve-shattering screech of metal.
Everyone stopped and looked up.
The Asteron tilted—
It crashed down directly onto the injured soldiers who had been aboard it, with a loud whump! Delaney looked away as the bodies were flattened.
The Asteron was now fully in the water and being shunted back and forth between the walls of the main tunnel and the run-off tunnel on the left.
“Lena!” Delaney called out, now realizing she was separated from him and Buffalo by the ship.
Lena was floundering in the icy river, still gripping tightly onto the pistol, and struggling to get back towards Delaney.
All of a sudden, the Asteron swung around and lurched at Lena side on. It was bearing right down on her. She screamed out as a wave cascaded over her head and tons of metal loomed above her.
There was nowhere to go.
The Asteron swung right down on Lena. Then she was gone.
Lena popped up out of the water and hit her head on something.
It was a gun rack.
She was inside the Asteron! She had been in just the right position when the huge ship lunged at her, and had been washed inside through the entrance door.
Now she was being tossed about like a cork in a washtub.
Lena managed to grab onto one of the crew seats and hooked her arm through a strap.
Great waves of water crashed in on top of Lena as she struggled to maintain her grip. She let her pistol drop.
The inside of the cabin was well lit, but the thrashing about was causing the lights to flicker off and on like a crazy disco. Lena was becoming disoriented by the stroboscopic effect of the lights. Her head was spinning.
Then she saw a silhouette of a figure cross her vision.
It was a yellow uniform—Colonel Pak!
He was aboard the Asteron with her, standing in the doorway gripping the frame with one hand and holding a silver anodized Beretta 92FS pistol in the other.
She stared at the gun for a second, and then at the man holding it.
Pak was wide-eyed and dazed, obviously just as stunned as Lena was to find himself inside the gigantic spacecraft.
He took a couple of stilted steps away from the door and grabbed hold of a seat strap. He wiped a glove across his helmet faceplate, smearing what dirt was there even further.
Lena made a dash for the door as Pak tried to clear his vision.
Pak saw this and brought his weapon hand around half-blindly, preparing to shoot to stop Lena from getting out. He didn’t have to.
The Asteron lurched up, sending Lena careening back against the far wall of the cabin. Her shoulders cracked hard against the metal surface, and she cried out in pain.
Pak also lost his footing, and came tumbling down on top of Lena, adding to her injuries.
Then there was another loud roar as more water rushed inside the cabin. The Asteron spun forcefully on its own axis—and started moving forward!
There was an eerie silence… a strange gliding feeling, and they both realized at once what was happening.
The ship was moving down into the dark, bottomless run-off tunnel.
Buffalo stood at the entrance of the stone door, his mouth open in disbelief, as he watched the Asteron fall away into the darkness.
Delaney was already rushing through the water toward the secondary tunnel, pushing himself harder than ever in the slim chance he might still be able to save Lena.
He screamed out as the ship pulled further away from his sight.
“Lena!” his voice rasped desperately.
It was no good. He watched helplessly as the large ship’s hull lights receded down into the depths of the tunnel.
Lena was gone.
Buffalo didn’t know what to say. It was probably best not to say anything at all. He had already seen his lieutenant and good friend go through the loss of a wife. And now this.
Delaney turned and headed towards Buffalo at the door, his head bowed, silent.
“Don’t, Buff’” Delaney said quietly. “We’ve still got a job to do. We can use their weapons.” He pointed to the bodies floating around in the water at the bottom of the damaged door ramp.
“Sir, I’m sorry…”
“Yeah, I know… me too, Buff… me too.”
Just then, they both heard a loud whumping noise in the distance. It was coming from the other side of the door. It was distant… a long way beyond the control room, beyond the Grand Hall even.
Buffalo gazed in through the hole in the door.
The light was switched on in the control room, but there were no Chinese troops to be seen.
Everyone had disappeared.