The plant’s fronds waved. Through my implant, I heard, “Drop the tunnel on them. You can do that, can’t you?”
The techs concentrated. Some of them closed their eyes. The screens in the air changed from black screens to new sections of the tunnel and not all of them the same section. Each screen was numbered, starting from 927 through to 978, but with a seven screen gap in the middle—the screens that had gone blank.
Screens below 942 through to 933 and above 949 through to 956 showed chunks of rock fall. Some screens went dead. Others showed closeups of rocks and pebbles.
“There,” the first tech said. “We brought a couple tons of rock down on them. We can’t bring down the entire tunnel, but that should be enough to kill them.”
I sighed. This guy, whoever he was, didn’t spend enough time watching whatever their equivalent of action movies was. I didn’t have time to tell him so before screen 962 showed the rockfall begin to move. At first, rocks were all we saw. They moved up the tunnel, pushed forward by something. From experience, I doubted that it was telekinesis. I couldn’t quite say how it looked wrong for that, but it did.
Then a yellowish-white glow broke through the stones, first in small beams of light and then thickening until the top of a yellowish-white globe broke through the top of the of the pile. Within seconds, we could see Neves’ bulk, followed by the four handed Ascendant Guardsman. For lack of a better idea, I decided to call him Four Hands in my head. What I’d do if his relatives had also survived was a problem for another day.
I wondered what his actual name was. Four Hands sounded like the Ascendancy equivalent of a racist nickname, a thought that didn’t make me feel good about coming up with it on my own. I supposed that I could ask him for his name if we both survived.
For all the technical skill that I assumed Four Hands had, it wasn’t his force field. Kamia stood behind Four Hands, her armor glowing with the same color as the force field. Behind Kamia walked Agent 957, the Ascendancy soldiers, and more of the “handsies” as one of the techs had called them.
It didn’t seem like there were as many as there had been before and the troops’ armor had long scrapes and sometimes blood. I wasn’t sure that the blood was theirs.
“Again! Drop the ceiling on them again and keep it up,” Crawls-Through-Desert told them.
The techs looked over at Asan and Sian. They agreed.
The techs did what they could. The first two times rocks covered them the force shield shed “sparks.” I wasn’t sure what else to call the fragments that fell away from the shield. I knew how my ship’s shields worked, but these personal shields were a different kind of technology and outside of my experience.
My implant identified Kamia’s armor and the shields as Abominator tech. It figured. They’d created the empowered portion of humanity, so they might as well have built us tools.
“As soon as you find that they’re in a section where you can blow up the tunnel, do it. That shield can’t have infinite energy. One of the times that it gets hit, it will fail.” The plant floated closer to the screens, its pot blowing air out of the holes in the back.
The blue haired tech said, “I think I’ve figured out the speed at which they push through the rubble. They should be at the next explosives site in five minutes.”
“Five minutes? You guys didn’t line the whole thing with explosives?” I didn’t really expect that they had, but it seemed worth a question.
The blue haired tech said, “No, we didn’t want to risk damaging the stability of the caverns. There are tunnels all over and some of them are close to other or close to spots in the rock that could have side effects if we blow them up. Besides, we might need the tunnel later even if we want to blow it up now.”
That made sense.
Ignoring me, the tech continued, “We’re going to blow sections 970 to 977 in three minutes. Everyone quiet, please. No distractions.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Kals touching her bracelet. In the next moment, her voice was in my head. “I’m alerting my mom. We’re going to have to evacuate or fight, probably both.”
“You’re right,” I told her. “I don’t think we’re going to stop them before they reach our cavern. We need to prepare an ambush.”
I wished I had a direct line to HAL just now. He’d probably have some useful observations. Unfortunately, tons of rock made an effective communications barrier. On the other hand, if anywhere in the cavern had a connection outside, it was here.
I considered whether or not I could ask anyone about it and decided I couldn’t. At the same time, the screens corresponding to the next sections of the tunnel appeared in the air.
The blue haired guy said. “We’re going to blow the next section. One…”
Then all the screens went blank. After a second, words appeared and the implant translated. It said, “We’re coming.”
Then it went blank again.
The blue haired tech turned to Asan and Sian, “The bombs won’t respond.”
As I considered how the Guard might have done that, my implant vomited the Xiniti’s experiences with these Guard members into my brain. Among the more memorable lines was, “Four Hands and Kamia have a remarkable synergy between his technical expertise and her Abominator device that allows her to attack computers, AIs, and implants.”
While it didn’t explain this, that’s something I would have wanted to know long ago.