Chapter 6

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The corridor was sloping downward at an angle that was clearly noticeable now; no stairs, just a ramp going down, and down. Burke wasn't sure if stairs would've been better if they had to hightail it later, what with Al's bad leg - they'd probably be fucked either way. What's worse was that the corridor went down in a straight line, without curving, or turning corners, as far as he could tell in the weak light, so if he had to throw one of the grenades, they stood a good chance of blowing themselves up in the process. He had no idea if these were from the 22nd or the 27th century; no idea how big their blast radius would be. If he tried one, he'd prefer to be able to take cover first.

„Al, I swear to god, if you don't turn around now, I'll smash your fucking crutch over your stubborn skull and drag you back to the surface myself," he hissed. „This was a stupid mission from the start - you knew we wouldn't have enough time to really go looking for clues... and not enough firepower to do it safely, either!" And there was no way to know when they'd even find something to explore - it was entirely possible that their journey would end at another gate, one that the dead explorers hadn't gotten the opportunity to blow up. He fervently wished for so much luck.

Virdon didn't react; if anything, he was moving faster now, as if something was pulling him downward on an invisible string. As if he was hypnotized.

That's it. I'll knock him out, haul his sorry ass out of here...

But when he caught up with Virdon, Burke saw what had been calling out to his friend.

Light.

Cold, blue-white light shining out into their corridor from another gateway below them, still weak, but stronger than the gray glow that had been assaulting his eyes until now. If he had needed any proof that these ruins were inhabited, that light was it.

Who lived here? How did they live? What did they eat?

Not me, that's for sure!

He grabbed Virdon's arm. „Slow down, Al," he whispered. „Don't wanna stumble into these people before we know if they're friendly or not."

They crept closer to the gate that would've been the end of their journey if it had been closed; Burke guessed that his puny grenades wouldn't have made a dent in the heavy metallic door. Unfortunately, it stood a bit ajar, wide enough to squeeze through, wide enough to let that light shine out into the dark corridor.

For some reason, Burke suddenly remembered how deep sea fish sometimes used the same strategy to lure prey.

But Virdon had already slipped through the gap. For someone on a crutch, the man was too damn agile. Burke clutched his grenades and followed him.

The hall behind that door was empty; but Burke noticed that the corridors leading away - or into - the hall didn't have doors, and weren't lighted. Anything could be watching them from there, under the cover of darkness. And the little hairs on his neck were standing on end, assuring him that there was something in those corridors, and urging him to grab Virdon and get the hell out of here.

His commander seemed to be devoid of instinct, though, or was simply too stubborn to listen to it; he slowly limped out into the hall, maybe ten steps, before he finally stopped and surveyed what could be seen in the light of the neon lamps along the wall.

The room had the aura of a waiting area, like a station hall; and when Virdon half-turned, and gestured to the ceiling, Burke wasn't surprised to find old inscriptions above the tunnels. Not... not really surprised, no. But it still filled him with a strange feeling to read the designations in plain old English, knowing that they had to be close to a thousand years old.

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