The loud whumping noise Delaney and Buffalo had heard, and the reason for the Chinese troops disappearing back towards the entrance of the face, was the landing of a second Asteron spacecraft.
The huge silver and black ship was only yards from the grand hall entrance outside the face monument, and the Chinese soldiers arrived at the opening just in time to see a unit of charcoal grey-clad US Marines storming from the ship’s door.
The marines wasted no time initiating the gun fight, and within seconds the entire entrance to the face became a battlefield.
As soon as he heard the first shot, Buffalo pushed his large frame through the hole in the stone door and into the control room.
Delaney took one last look down the runoff tunnel where Lena had disappeared, then followed his sergeant through the hole.
They stood in the bright, sanitary whiteness of the strange room for a moment listening to the distant cracks of the rifles.
Delaney couldn’t help but be fascinated by the screens on the walls and the pedestal standing alone in the centre of the room.
“Buff’, you see all this stuff?” Delaney said, running his hand over the alien artifacts.
Buffalo grunted and nodded. He was only interested in joining the action outside.
Delaney was in another world. “If they got hold of this technology before our guys, it’d change everything.”
“Yeah, well we don’t have to worry about that now,” Buffalo said offhandedly. “Wells took care of that, and himself, back at the pyramid.”
Delaney thought for a moment.
“He destroyed the Trojan Device, but what about all this? He said that SOCOM didn’t want any trace of the technology remaining for that very reason—it could fall into the wrong hands. Why would he leave all this intact?”
Buffalo was becoming visibly edgy.
“Sir… Devil… If we don’t get out there and join the fight, those yellow bastards still might get all this tech.”
Delaney nodded. The muted crack of the guns slowly filled his ears again.
Suddenly there was a louder—much louder—crack!
Buffalo’s body jolted and he spun round and fell to the ground, sending a thick trail of blood in an arc from his left leg. He looked at Delaney and then at the entrance to the grand hall. He’d just been shot!
A tall man in Chinese battle dress stood at the open entrance.
It was General Kwan. His large body was housed in a shiny, golden lattice of coated kevlar amour plating. His helmet matched, with a gold tinted face shield. He was holding a gold armalite rifle.
General Kwan looked down at Buffalo, who was now writhing about on the floor, a large part of his upper thigh torn to shreds. “Rule number one of armed combat… for every man you make a cripple on the battlefield, you remove two more from battle to carry him.”
The large Chinese leader took a few steps forward and the door sealed behind him as he entered the room.
“You have invaded my home,” Kwan bellowed through his headset’s external speakers.
“You’re a terrorist piece of shit!” Delaney spat.
Kwan brought the barrel of his rifle back up and started to turn in Delaney’s direction.
The marine raised his own weapon and aimed it at the General.
“…and I hate terrorists,” Delaney said, glaring at Kwan.
Kwan laughed loudly, the speaker system on his helmet carrying his voice around the room. It was a sarcastic laugh, full of malice.
“Your popgun can’t penetrate my suit. Stupid American.”
Delaney squinted and curled his lip.
“Fuck you,” he said, then opened fire.
The bullets from Delaney’s rifle pinged off Kwan’s suit like pebbles. The golden coating over the kevlar was making the suit effectively impenetrable. And now, Delaney noticed, Kwan was preparing to return fire.
The big Chinese man swung his weapon around and roared, firing across the room in a broad sweep.
Delaney leapt to the floor and rolled a few times before springing back to his feet near Buffalo.
Kwan swept across the control room again, back the other way, blasting holes in the image screens hanging on the walls.
Again, Delaney dropped to the floor, this time scampering towards the hole in the door. He rolled back up to his feet and in a smooth motion dived through the hole into the main tunnel.
Kwan fired off a rally of bullets, shattering more stone from the circumference of the door’s gaping wound.
Ignoring Buffalo, he strode towards the now bigger hole and stepped into the darkness.
As soon as Kwan was knee deep in the water Delaney rushed out of the shadows and pounded into him with a full body tackle.
Kwan reeled backwards, dropping his rifle into the murky water, and let out a wild howl like a pissed off bear. He reached up and grabbed Delaney by the neck, his large hands easily closing around the wiry marine’s throat, and the heliox tubes.
Delaney spluttered and choked as the strong fingers started to cut off his suit’s air supply.
Kwan rose to his feet, still holding Delaney around the neck with both hands. Delaney kicked and struggled pathetically against the tough amour of Kwan’s suit.
Kwan had him completely out of the water, both arms extended fully with Delaney wriggling like a rag doll at the end.
Then Delaney heard a familiar metallic grinding noise coming from the far end of the tunnel. There was a grating screech, and the distinctive sound of a large body of water rushing through a pipe.
For a few seconds, he hung at the end of Kwan’s thick hands, trying not to pass out. Then he noticed Kwan was beginning to waver in the water. It was rising rapidly.
Kwan’s grip loosened as he struggled to maintain his own balance.
The water was chest high, buffeting Kwan back up against the end wall of the tunnel.
Delaney was almost close enough to stretch out for Kwan’s helmet. His fingers were irritatingly close to the helmet release catch.
Just then, another wall of water slammed into the two men, pushing Delaney in close enough to yank the catch. He closed his arms around the helmet, then leant backwards, jerking it off Kwan’s head.
If either men were expecting something to happen, it didn’t.
The oxygen containment field was indeed working fine at this end of the tunnel, and extended as far as the control room.
But the shock of Delaney’s move put Kwan off guard for a second—just long enough for Delaney to smash his right fist down across the bridge of Kwan’s nose, causing it to snap sharply.
Kwan fell back once again, screaming out in pain.
Delaney dropped into the water, plunging below for a moment before pushing himself back up to the surface. He burst out of the water ready to pounce on Kwan and finish him off.
Then something made the hairs prickle on the back of his neck. He stared directly into Kwan’s eyes, who was staring directly over Delaney’s shoulder in pure fear. Delaney knew at that instant something was behind him.
He turned and saw it.
It was the black bug vehicle, mangled almost beyond recognition from the massive turbine blades, rushing headlong towards the two men on a wall of water.
“Oh shit!” Delaney yelled.
There was no time to duck left or right. Instead, he moved with the flow of the water, in a half jumping, half swimming motion towards Kwan and the wall.
The vehicle slammed into the two men with an horrific thud. If not for the cushioning effect the water in front and behind them had caused, they would have been crushed instantly.
As it was, Kwan bore the brunt of the initial impact, his strengthened suit offering some protection.
The deformed shape of the wrecked vehicle too, aiding them, as an extended piece of the chassis smashed into the wall first, acting like an airbag and crumbling before the bulk of it impacted with Delaney.
Still, it knocked the wind out the marine.
And it didn’t stop there. The force of the rushing water continued to pound the car up against both Delaney and Kwan, relentlessly banging them back and forth on the wall.
The bug was caught in an eddy that kept in locked in a small area which just happened to be right on top of the two men.
Kwan was closer to one side of the vehicle though, and he slipped and slid a few feet every time the black bug ebbed away from him.
He reached the edge and fell into the rapids, allowing the icy water to hit his face and jar him back into full alertness.
Delaney was still trapped with the full force of the vehicle, semi-submerged, shunting into him, and the water at chest height splashing up onto his faceplate. He looked across at Kwan, who had found his dropped rifle and was preparing to finish him off.
Delaney struggled to back away along the wall towards the other end of the vehicle, which was now thankfully acting as a shield from Kwan’s aim.
Kwan saw this but he was determined to finish off the marine once and for all, and he started maneuvering around the wreckage to the other side.
Delaney was tiring. He couldn’t keep up this back and forth game of dodge for long. He was totally exhausted from everything that had happened to him, whilst Kwan was relatively fresh.
The large Chinese General would have a clear shot any moment.
And Delaney knew it.
Approximately one mile away, down the deep abyss of the runoff tunnel, Lena was beginning to come to after being knocked to the floor of the Asteron ship.
She sat up slowly, rubbing her head.
Colonel Pak was still unconscious beside her.
Lena looked at the open door of the Asteron, and noticed the huge ship was sliding sideways down the tunnel on a two foot cushion of water.
The Asteron’s outer hull lights glowed eerily off the tunnel wall, and Lena could see they were traveling much faster than before, and the tunnel was becoming steeper.
She didn’t know how long the craft had been falling, but one thing was certain—she did not want to find out how far it went.
Quickly, she composed herself and stood up. Looked around…
She had no choice.
She would have to fly the Asteron back up the tunnel.
Lena threw herself into the pilot’s seat and strapped herself in. She glanced over the myriad controls and gauges and dials stretching out on the panel before her.
She pushed a button marked ‘screen’ and a large section of the metallic outer hull slid away revealing a clear ultra-toughened window.
“Okay dad… this is where I hope all your tuition paid off,” she said wistfully, recalling the almost constant instruction her father gave to her as a young girl and teenager, as he sat with her and explained the ins and outs of flight controls and the physics of flying.
This, with her relentless pursuit of spacecraft knowledge at Spacecom was about to be tested for the first time in reality.
Lena took hold of the steering wheel in readiness for the ninety degree turn she would have to make once the ship had been brought to ignition.
On the main panel, a series of green and red buttons signaled the primary starter sequence.
She pushed each one in turn.
The Asteron lurched as the engines ignited fully, sending a blast of searing gasses out into the run-off pipe.
The accelerator lever had been knocked fully backward. The ship planed across the water, careening into the tunnel wall with an almighty thud.
Pak’s body slid across the floor, and almost out the door.
Then the engines cut out.
“Dammit!” Lena cried out.
She steadied herself and ran the button sequence again, this time positioning the accelerator at mid post.
The engines roared again.
Lena yanked down on the wheel, at the same time pulling back steadily on the lever.
The Asteron began turning on its axis as Lena increased thrust to the rear engines. She pushed another button above her head, and four large flood lights lit up the tunnel in front of the ship.
It was facing back up the tunnel again.
Now, she gunned the engines fully. The ship fought against the flow of the water and started to increase its pace up the steep incline.
But it was still planing on the water.
“Lift… lift… where’s the goddam lift on this thing?” Lena mumbled, looking frantically over the flight panel. Then she noticed the pedals on the floor by her feet.
She pushed down on the right one.
The ship wobbled and leaned dangerously over to one side. The wide delta wing scraped against the tunnel floor, sending a sheet of fireworks out into the darkness.
“Christ!” Lena screamed, pulling her foot quickly off the pedal. She tried the other one.
This time, the Asteron remained smooth and started to lift bird-like above the water. Lena kept the altitude just feet above the water for fear of hitting the roof as the sleek craft began its journey back to the top.
She looked around to see how Pak’s unconscious body was coping with all the shaking and banging. And a chill suddenly ran up her spine.
Pak was gone!
Lena craned her neck further around. He was no longer on the floor. Had he slipped out of the open door?
At that instant Lena felt someone grab her from behind.
Pak’s arms were all over her, grabbing at her uniform, reaching for her breasts, pulling at her throat.
“Aghh! Get off me you little bastard!” Lena screamed.
Pak managed to wrench her right arm off the wheel.
The ship veered into the wall with a shocking crash and bounced back off again, dipping and yawing crazily.
Lena flung a clenched fist out at Pak as she tried to keep the ship steady with one hand on the wheel.
Her fist connected with Pak’s faceplate, snapping his head backward suddenly.
Pak yelped, then dived back over Lena’s chair, now fully on top of her as she sat in the seat.
He pinned her arms down by her side—off the wheel!
Once again, the ship veered erratically up the tunnel as the two struggled. Lena strained to pull herself away from the crazed Chinaman.
Then she had an idea. She leaned fully forward in her seat, pulling Pak off balance so that his feet were no longer touching the floor.
With a mighty shove, she flung her head backward, smashing her helmet straight into Pak’s faceplate.
The shield shattered into Pak’s face.
He crumpled to the floor with a hideous shriek behind Lena’s seat, slithers of strengthened glass embedded in his eyes, blood dripping freely out of both sockets.
Lena looked over her shoulder at Pak’s blood soaked face.
“That’s for touching my breasts you piece of shit.”
Then she straightened up the Asteron and headed back to the main tunnel.