Lena couldn’t believe what she was looking at. It was like seeing a ghost.
How could Jake—or anyone for that matter—be alive down here without their helmet?
She looked at Simms, bewildered. Simms just shrugged, his lower jaw hanging open. They took a few steps inside the room.
Delaney heard them and turned quickly, drawing one of his Desert Eagles. Then he recognized them. He reholstered the gun, stood up and smiled.
“Welcome to the tunnel,” Delaney said, grinning.
Lena and Simms still couldn’t fathom the reality of what they were seeing.
Hesitantly, Lena retracted her helmet, half expecting it would be the last thing she ever did and that maybe the image of Delaney standing there with no helmet was only a mirage.
A rush of cool air hit Lena’s face as the concertina kevlar and glass helmet folded neatly back into the neckring. She drew in a deep breath of the sweet air.
“My god, that is so fresh—real air!” Lena said.
“Not quite real, but it’s damn near close enough,” Delaney said as he walked over to Lena and Simms.
Simms still hadn’t released the seal on his helmet… still unsure if this was actually happening.
“It’s about as close as you’ll get to Earth’s natural oxygen,” Delaney said. He was holding a small atmospheric analysis computer. “around zero-point-three percent off the mark. I’d say they did a pretty good job of matching it, don’t you think?”
“They?” asked Lena. “Who are they?”
“Whoever constructed this friggin’ monstrosity.” Delaney said. “And, thank Christ they decided to do it too, otherwise you’d be talking to a corpse right now.”
Simms slowly removed his helmet and began to wander around the hangar as Delaney spoke.
“For a second there I was sure I was going to bite the big one on this rock. Funnily enough, if I had’ve kept my helmet on I’d be dead right now. As it turned out, I accidentally pushed the retractor release button on the PASGT when I was trying to contact you with my dying breath. Hell, I wish someone could’ve seen my face when I realized I could breath down here—it would’ve been priceless.”
“So, exactly how are we breathing down here, Jake?” asked Lena.
“Seems this whole complex is pressurized, or held in some sort of containment field or something. The door to the cave lets you in or out quick enough to not make a difference as far as I can make out,” Delaney explained.
“And the containment field would also account for the comms not working between here and the surface,” Lena added.
“Yeah, exactly,” Delaney confirmed. “So, what did you do with the rest of the team? And, speaking of that, why the hell are you two down here anyway? Orders were that nobody sends a rescue mission without explicit instructions from—”
“Oh God… you don’t know… I forgot… you wouldn’t have heard it on your headset,” said Lena, looking unsettled.
“Heard what?” said Delaney.
“Jake… they’re all dead… the whole team. It was the Chinese. They attacked Gateway.”
“What the fuck? What are you talking about!”
“Sergeant Jackson ordered Private Simms to guide Wells and I down the cave. It was the only safe place to go. They’re all gone, Jake.”
“What do you mean “all gone”?”
“The whole team… your men… they’re all dead.”
“Jesus… I can’t believe this shit. I shouldn’t have fucking come down here. If I’d stayed up top, this wouldn’t have happened.” Delaney was gripping his hair with both hands. He was starting to lose it.
“Jake, there was nothing you could have done. You had a mission to carry out like the rest of us. There were too many of them. We were lucky to get out of there alive as it was. Simms managed to stop a couple more that followed us down the cave. That’s when Wells, the slimebag, took off with the heliox.”
“Huh… Wells? Heliox? Oh man, this is just getting fucking better. Where the hell is he then?”
“He came down the cave first and disappeared. Actually, we thought you might have seen him in here,” Lena said.
“He must have slipped right past and continued on down the tunnel,” said Delaney. “I can’t believe this… at least you’re still alive anyway... it’s good to see you, Lena.”
Lena moved closer to Delaney. She looked around to see if Simms was out of earshot.
“Jake… when we lost contact with you…well… I thought the worst,” Lena said softly.
“Hey, never worry about the Devil,” Delaney said with a wink.
“I’m trying to be serious… I was really scared… scared of losing you Jake.”
“Yeah… me too…” Delaney said, in an unguarded moment of emotion. “But look, here we are. All safe and sound. The only thing is, we’re alone now, and nobody even knows we’re down here.”
“Spacecom does,” Lena suddenly realized.
Lena had all but forgotten the message she had managed to send when the invasion was imminent.
“I managed to get off a mayday from the cave. Hopefully, they’re acting on it as we speak,” she said.
“Well, at least that’s something in our favor,” Delaney mused. He gave her a quick smile.
Lena couldn’t take her eyes of Delaney. He was alive. It meant so much… it meant she still had the chance to—
“Lieutenant!” yelled Simms, from the area where the black bug vehicles were parked. “When do we get to take one of these for a ride?”
Delaney laughed as the Private broke the moment.
“As soon as you repair that ignition panel on the bench, Private,” said Delaney, nodding toward the littered workspace. “In the meantime, I want you and the Doctor to refill your heliox canisters. You’ll find a bulk supply bottle behind those drums there.”
Simms grinned like an eager child and headed for the bench.
“Heliox? Down here?,” Lena asked, surprised.
“I know… don’t ask me,” Delaney responded. “It appears someone from Earth has been here before us.”
“So, what’s the story with the vehicles, are they alien?” Lena asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Delaney. “All the drive mechanisms have been vandalized. It was definitely no accident.”
“Who would do something like this?”
“Whoever it was, they didn’t want anybody exploring the tunnel,” said Delaney. “And you know what… that only makes me more determined to find out what’s down there.”