Nick, Hideaway, The Caverns
Far behind me, the cavern fell into itself. I felt the rumble as I ran, followed by cracking noises, a lot of them. It seemed like they stretched out for minutes, but doubted that was true. I wasn’t checking the time.
However long the quake went, it was too long. The floor shook along with each rumble and crack, finishing in a loud but muffled thump that may have been the end of the cavern, but wasn’t the end of the noise. Smaller crashes continued behind me, blowing fine dust upward into the tunnel.
That wasn’t the worst of it.
The worst came when the tunnel I was in collapsed—not all of it, but the part above me and chunks of the tunnel ahead of and behind me.
The Rocket suit registered damage to the suit’s shoulder and notified me that repairs were in progress. That was great, but it couldn’t repair me. The chunk of rock that damaged the suit was longer than four feet, jagged, and at least a foot thick.
It hit my shoulder and my head at about the same time, but it must have hit my shoulder harder because that’s what hurt afterward.
It wasn’t as if I couldn’t use my right arm, but it hurt when I moved it. I had no choice about moving it either. Chunks of stone ceiling fell along with it, burying me—not completely, but enough that I had little choice in the first horrible seconds to wonder if this was it.
I centered myself on my breathing, concentrating on letting one breath in and another out. Then I pushed myself to see the pieces of the problem, in this case the literal pieces of the ceiling and the walls. They had fallen on each other and on me.
It was a matter of pulling out the right pieces, one at a time until I could move. The big piece that had damaged the suit and maybe my shoulder wasn’t the worst. I twisted and pushed it off my shoulder. Then, one by one, I removed the others, using the suit’s strength more than I had in any single event than I had since making it.
It felt a little like playing Jenga—the game where you pull logs out of a tower until it falls—with the key difference that you yourself were integrated with the tower and when you pull out a piece, any pieces resting on top of it fall on you.
Where I could, I pushed rocks off me starting from the top, but after removing the largest, I pushed the ones in front of me forward all at once. They landed with a crash, one of the largest breaking into several more pieces.
I froze for a second, wondering if I’d start another collapse and then deciding that the best thing I could do would be to move forward and not think about it. Maybe that wasn’t the best thing I could do, but it seemed better than overthinking whether or not I should move rocks and which one.
Once I was past my personal cave in, I had to deal with the next one, a pile of rock shards that reached halfway up my chest. This one I pushed, noticing that the space behind it was clear except for small pieces of rock.
Putting my hands on a chunk about halfway up, I pushed the top part of the pile into the clear area and then walked over both.
Once past that pile, I began to run again. It wasn’t bad. Aside from small rocks and dust, it appeared that I’d gotten past the worst of the cave in.
I hoped I’d been the only one caught. I’d have been dead without my armor and for all that the colonists were genetically modified, most couldn’t use their abilities in any way. Thinking about our group, I felt confident that any of us could survive what I’d been through—Marcus better than anyone but Jaclyn.
Cassie had the most to worry about. While strong, she wasn’t as strong as I was in the suit. If enough rock fell on her, her ability to heal would only keep her alive longer. That was good if anyone else was in a position to help, but it might be worse than dying if she were alone.
Deciding not to think too hard about that either, I concentrated on the implant’s map and what I could see in my suit’s HUD. After about a minute, the composite view began to include hints of footprints, dimly glowing fragments of feet that the thermal view picked up.
I slowed a little, sending a spybot ahead. From the number and variation of footprint sizes, it had to be the colonists, but they could have been captured by the Ascendancy. Sending a scout seemed wise.
They weren’t far ahead. The bot’s view showed a crowd of people carrying bags. Marcus stood at the back, his costume in silver imitation Xiniti mode. Tikki stood next to him, her eyes following the bot.