The Ziggurat Interior.
1st December 2151.
There were no handrails guarding the side of the stairs, but they were wide enough to descend without straying too close to the edge. Only two members of the expedition had any difficulty with them: Porthos, whom Archer carried tucked under his arm for safety, and---perhaps inevitably---Professor Partridge, who included heights amongst the very long list of things she was afraid of. At this revelation Sato started to say "What? In those heels?", but she trailed off with the realization that Partridge was wearing sensibly flat hiking boots instead of the usual stilettos.
With Tucker at her side for security she eventually made her way down. "Pacifist or not, if some one tells me that corridor's a dead end and we have to go back up, then I'll eviscerate them."
"I was going to tell you something about that corridor," Corporal James said, "but I think I'll let Tipping tell you instead. Nah, I'm joking. It goes on for a couple of hundred metres, sloping slightly down, and ends in what looks like one of those automatic doors. Of course, we've only been looking with these," she tapped her rifle's scope, "so we can't be sure it'll open."
"It better open." Archer said as he approached. He handed Tucker a pad. "Latest message from the city. Confirmation that it's not just a power blackout. The energy reserves are somehow being drained as well."
Tucker was incredulous. "What? How's that even possible? Let's look at that..."
"If there was something interfering with the power broadcast system," Partridge mused thoughtfully, "that would explain the blackouts. But not an energy drain..."
"Unless..." Tucker started. He prodded at the pad, calling up the data his engineering team had included in the report. "Lookit this. All the buildin's in the city are loosin' power. But some more than others. Mostly it's the places that need
a lotta power. The Command Centre, the hospital, the labs..."
"So this could be a targeted attack." Reed said.
"Huh. Hadn't thought o' that. It's possible
," Tucker conceded, "but I kinda think it might all be down to simple engineerin'."
Archer said "The places with the greatest energy needs have the biggest receivers for the broadcast system."
"Got it in one, cap'n. An' under the right conditions, a receiver can act like a transmitter. Hey, Hoshi. Can we use our communicators this far down?"
She nodded. "Normally no, but I've set it up so that, if you're in range of either the LOSLAS relay or one of the marines, our communicators will be automatically routed through the LOSIR net to the Coms post on the surface."
"Thanks. I got an idea." Tucker flipped open his communicator, tapped in a code. "I've no idea if'n it'd work, but it's---Crispin? It's the boss here. You monitorin' the drain? Yeah? Where are you? Yeah, that should do. Listen. I want you to deactivate the energy receiver. That's right. Turn it off, right off. OK, anythin'? No? OK, try disconectin' it. No no, completely. I'll wait."
He did wait, but not for long. After about a minute Crispin was back on the line, having unplugged the receiver, excitedly announcing that the drain had ceased. "Good work, good work. Now listen. Get onta Gov'nor Trex, tell him to have all the receivers disconnected 'cross the city. It won't get the power back on, but it'll stop it from bein' all drained away."
Before he could flip the communicator shut, Partridge grabbed it from him. "And tell him to leave it attached in at least one building, somewhere unimportant. That way they'll know when the power comes back on again."
"If it comes back on again." Locke muttered as Tucker closed the line.
"It's our job to make sure it does." Archer said. "Without power life's going to get very hard for those colonists very quickly. So unless anyone has any urgent business right here, I suggest we go look at that door."
It got steadily colder as they traversed the sloped corridor. Whatever the reason for the heating in the upper chamber, they had left it behind them. Soon their breath could be seen as faint clouds of vapour in the torch light. Archer fastened his jacket tightly, glad they had brought the cold weather gear. and turned the collar up.
Despite her earlier misgivings Partridge suddenly chuckled. "Hey, Trip, you know what this reminds me of?"
Tucker looked around. "Can't say that I do."
"All those night's we spent at Rodney's, back in uni. Staying up till three in the morning playing Dungeons & Dragons. Mysterious pyramids, dark underground tunnels....this takes me right back."
"You played Dungeons & Dragons?" Archer asked his Chief Engineer, trying to repress a smirk.
Tucker looked embarrassed. "Just for a little while. The revival was a bit of a craze with the students, y'know, and I got sorta pulled into it."
Partridge said "For three years. Honestly Trip, don't worry about seeming uncool. I
was playing D&D, so that makes it cool by association."
"Yeah, right." Tucker drawled. "I suppose you made bein' a Goth cool as well."
It was hard to tell in the torchlight, but it seemed to Archer that a near panic flashed across Partridge's features before she adopted a poker face Sato would have envied. "I don't know what you mean. I was never a Goth."
There was a moment of silence, broken, eventually, by Tucker. "Right. Riiiight. My mistake. You were never a Goth. Got it."
"Good. Glad that's cleared up."
They continued a moment longer. Tucker caught Sato's eye and winked. "Never a goth. Guess I musta been thinkin' of someone else. That's it. I 'member now. It was durin' that six, maybe seven month you just up an' disappeared from the university. Gone without a trace. An' in your place, there was a woman who looked, you know, kinda a whole lot like you. Same height, same shape..."
"The same shape as the Professor?" Corporal James asked, intrigued.
"Oh yeah, looked almost 'zactly the same. 'Ceptin', o' course, this woman had jet black hair, with blue an' purple streaks. Dressed like she were goin' to a Victorian funeral."
"Trip..." Partridge said softly.
"An' she was smart, too." Tucker went on, enjoying himself. "Took over all the research an' lecturin' an experiments an' stuff Polly was doin'. An' still had time to write some pretty awful poetry."
"You said you..." Partridge began, before trying to cover it up in a fit of coughing.
An unexpectedly cheerful Doctor Locke asked "Sore throat?" She responded with incoherent grumbling.
"So...did this woman have a name?" Sato asked.
"Oh yes." Tucker waited, stringing the moment out, until he was sure everyone was listening. "Phoenix. She were called Miss Persephone Phoenix."
Someone snorted, the sound of a barely suppressed laugh. Partridge glared daggers at Tucker. "Right..." she started.
"Looks like we're getting close to the door." Archer said, cutting her off. "Malcolm, I think a scouting party is in order. The rest of us will wait here."
"Yes sir. Everyone douse your lights, we do this with night vision only until I'm sure the area is secured. Tipping, Cross, Priest and Dumont, stay here and keep an eye on the party. Everyone else with me, by the numbers."
Before turning his flashlight off Archer sat and dug a pair of night vision goggles out of his pocket. They were his own private property, a present from his dad. During one of his earliest planetary surveys he'd been attempting to observe the habits of a group of nocturnal mammals, but the UESPA issue NVG projected a bright green glow onto the area around the eyes. He stood out like the proverbial sore thumb, and the creatures had ran whenever he approached. He'd put in an official complaint about them on his return to Earth, but the bureaucracy moved slowly and that design was still in use. Henry Archer had got him this set soon after, the best civilian model available.
With the goggles on the corridor seemed more brightly lit than it had in the torchlight, though it faded into inky blackness as he looked back the way they had came. The most obvious sources of illumination were the emitters on the shoulder plates of each marine's body armour. The inbuilt light sources at the end of each rifle also shone out into the dark. They were so bright it was hard to believe they would be invisible to the naked eye. Yet that was driven home as he looked at those around him, apart from those with goggles, he seemed surrounded by the blind. Porthos whined softly, so Archer picked him up and stroked his head.
The scouting party approached the doorway. With his communicator off, and no direct link to the LOSIR net, he couldn't make out what was being said. Fascinatingly, he could spot the tiny flashes of infra red as the coded signals were sent back and forth. Reed lifted an arm, then swept it forward. Two of the Marines, James and Tharpa, to judge from their stature, approached the door. With a grating noise it slid up into the ceiling.
"What's that?" Partridge asked shrilly.
Archer explained "The door's opening, which is a relief. Malcolm and his people are going inside now."
"As long as there is nothing nasty coming out I'm happy. I'm not really suited for facing monsters. Well, not without a mithril chain-mail bikini and a plus three longsword of smiting." She dug in her pockets for her brown paper bag and offered it round. "Anyone fancy some licorice? Johnny? Trip? Hoshi?"
Sato took a pipe. "Thanks."
"Hold on a second." Archer said. "Hoshi, how did you find the bag in the dark?"
"Well, I guess my eyes must have adjusted..." She trailed off, looking around in surprise.
Tucker said "She's right Captain. Should be pitch black down here, but I can jus' make things out. It's all a big blur, but still..." He got to his feet, looking around.
Archer slipped his goggles onto his forehead, but could see nothing at all. His own eyes were still adapted to the bright display of the night vision gear.
"It's the ceiling." Partridge said. "It's glowing faintly."
"Are you sure? I can't make that out." Sato said.
"It's too diffuse to make out directly, but if you look back the way we came it looks like a sort of luminous trail going off into the distance."
A short pause. "Oh yeah."
"There's never been anything like this at the main site." Phlane said. "Or at least, if there has, it's never been reported."
"No." Archer said, rubbing the back of his neck thoughtfully. I think we now know where the power from the city is going. It's coming here. This place is...for want of a better term...it's waking up."