Facing the past

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"What kind of a new plan?" Stryke asked, glancing hesitantly at the throng of dishevelled and dirty workers gathered behind Tranton, Kirya and their squad, stretching back through the chamber and into the tunnel.

"How much do you know about this place?" Kirya replied, gesturing at the chamber behind her.

The air was thick with dust, illuminated obliquely with the light filtering down from above. Broken rocks continued to roll and tumble down the walls from above and down to the chamber floor. The room was packed with inert machinery, battered and in places burnt and warped as if from intense fire, though a rumbling noise from the tunnel suggested that something was still active elsewhere. "Clearly not enough," Stryke said, grimacing. "But I've pieced together enough over the years to know most of the dirty secrets."

"These prisoners," she said, "we need to get them out of here. The tunnels are no longer stable, and the machine is building up to something."

"Building up to what?"

Tranton took a step forward, grabbed Stryke's shoulder and clenched his fist. "Believe it or not, since I last saw you things have got stranger."

"I believe it," Stryke said, looking up past the hole and the pit to the mottled, purple-blue sky above. "You should see what's happening outside."

Tranton and Kirya exchanged glances, then looked at him expectantly.

"Some kind of shield, or wall, or barrier," Stryke said, shrugging. "I don't know what to call it. But it's surrounded the entire valley."

Kirya looked as if she was about to be sick. "The entire valley? Not just where we are?"

Stryke spread his arms out wide. "It's all around. Shimmering. It's not physical, it's like a liquid, almost." He shrugged again. "It's a little outside of my expertise."

Hanging his head low, Tranton sighed. "So we've got a machine down here pumping out some kind of energy. Light beams stretching away down all the tunnels, as far as we can see. And up top there's an energy field surrounding the entire valley." He looked at Kirya, then at Stryke. "These two things have to be connected. Even we can't fall into two cataclysmic events at the same time."

"The machine is generating the barrier outside, then," Kirya said, sounding entirely unsure of herself. "Pienya said that the machine was designed to take her away with Kraisa."

"She said it was going to take the valley," Tranton corrected.

"Do you think that's possible?"

Tranton shrugged, raising his eyebrows and tilting his head in mock resignation.

Stryke held up a hand, drawing their attention. "Did you say Pienya? Is she here?"

There was an odd silence as the other two stared at him, as if he was being exceedingly slow to comprehend something. Then Kirya pointed behind him, her face solemn. Turning his head, a body lying in the dust and rubble caught his attention. It was Pienya Martoc, her small frame crushed and mutilated. Seemed she had gone in a bad way. He heard Michels whistle, long and low.

Confused at his own response, Stryke focused on the immediate task. "Then we break the machine," Stryke said, not taking his eyes off the body. "I've got some people with me who are very good at breaking things."

Tranton shook his head. "The machine is protected. Maybe by the same barrier you've seen outside. I've tried hitting it with something sharp; didn't work."

Stepping out from behind Stryke, Michels walked off the disc towards the machinery in the chamber, which was functioning even despite it seeming to have suffered some prior damage. "The tunnels," he said, after a considerable pause. "You say these beams of energy are going down the tunnels?"

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