Tunnel Four wasn’t far away—just two buildings down the same street. We ran at a comfortable pace, thirty miles per hour or so. We didn’t have enough space to go faster. Kals didn’t have any problems keeping up.
Tunnel Four sat between two buildings that weren’t much different than the buildings at Tunnel Three—except that we didn’t see anyone here. Wherever the plant had gone, I hoped he was safe. My bet was that he’d gotten the last people out over here and gone with them when he realized that he’d missed Kamia and the others.
We came to a stop in front of the tunnel.
Jaclyn glanced over at me and then Katuk. “Do either of you sense anyone in there?”
Before I could reply or send out bots, Katuk said, “There are no lifeforms within the buildings.”
Turning to me, Jaclyn said, “Nick?”
“I’m betting he’s got the better sensors, but I don’t see anything so far. To be confident, I’d have to send in bots.”
Katuk looked the buildings up and down. “I’m confident that there are no lifeforms within. I had to recalibrate my sensors after the last building, but I’ve adjusted now. Incidentally, I do not sense any lifeforms in the buildings within my sensors’ effective range.”
Frowning, Jaclyn gave the area around us a look, turning around in a blur. You could argue she’d wasted our time, but not much. Her sensor equipment was the same as mine, but for all I knew, she might have been more thorough in her brief glance than I would be if I’d sent out bots.
In her low, alto voice, she said, “We should join the evacuees. There’s nothing we—“
The whole cavern shook. It was harder this time—much harder. Unprepared for it, I fell over, catching myself on a wall that, to my relief, didn’t fall in.
Crashing noises came from all over the cavern, but from what I could see so far, no buildings had fallen in. Giving a silent thanks to the engineers or architects who designed the place, I checked my HUD, finding that as intended, my suit had been recording the quake.
I added in the new dataset and ran the calculations again, this time with more useful results. The blast came from the other side of the cavern, as I’d known before, but from within Tunnel Eight. I didn’t wait until I felt comfortable. I told everyone even before the last trembles faded.
“I know where the origin point of the last quake is. It’s Tunnel Eight—the one that’s not quite directly across from us.”
Jaclyn’s eyes darted in my direction. “Then here’s what we do. Katuk and Kals go help the colonists. Nick and I take out the earthquake machine. Kals, am I right in assuming they’re taking the same routes our implants downloaded when we got down here minus anything that went through tunnels three or four?”
Kals looked up at Jaclyn. “Yes, but are you sure that the two of you will be enough?”
“Yes,” Jaclyn said, turning, “but we don’t have time to talk about it. Nick?”
She jumped, landing halfway across the cavern. I said, “Good luck,” to Kals and Katuk, fired off the rockets and followed her.
Jaclyn arrived first, but I landed just behind her. Tunnel Eight came out between two more buildings like the ones we’d seen less than ten seconds before—wide stone buildings that reached from the bottom to the top of the cavern with open windows that the people can use to look out onto the underground city.
The tunnel itself was little more than a doorway into the rock that stood between the two buildings on their lowest level.
My HUD showed two figures within the room, a larger humanoid, a smaller one and a waist high rectangle of what I assumed was, for the lack of a better name, the earthquake machine.
Jaclyn didn’t wait. She said, “Going in,” and blurred, running into the tunnel. I followed, but much slower. By the time I’d reached the inside, she’d already taken out the large humanoid (one of the Ascendancy’s clawed and fanged soldiers). All his weapons had been smashed and he lay on the ground.
She’d grabbed the other figure in the room, one of the armored, four-handed humanoids that the Ascendancy used for technical work.
She held him pointed away from the device, upper arms held behind his back and high enough in the air that he couldn’t touch the ground.
I would have been worried that he might try to grab something with his lower arms, but he hung limp in the air.
Still watching him, Jaclyn asked, “Do you need him to turn off the machine?”
I pointed my HUD at the machine, getting a limited view of the insides. My Xiniti implant completed the view, giving an overall picture of how it worked. While machines that caused earthquakes weren’t standard equipment for warfare, they were standard methods for handling underground bunkers—though best practices didn’t include sticking around with the machine after turning it on.
They were either still configuring it or they’d been left to die—not uncommon in the Ascendancy.
Did I need the guy? While it might be dramatic to include a complicated disarming sequence, the Xiniti indicated where the standard device could be punched to safely destroy it.
Unfortunately, from what I was beginning to understand, it was already too late. The quakes it had already started showed that destroying it would only slow the inevitable.