The smiley face kept me awake. I couldn’t sleep and the snoring of my smelly dirty mining roommates didn’t help either. I just about jumped out of my skin when the ding of a message emitted from my wristband computer. It had stayed dormant for so long that I’d forgotten about it. That’s when I got dipshit Baxter’s log message that he’d left. That was it, nothing more came through. He’d arranged for his message to come through to me, somehow. Just so he could gloat. So I would know for sure that he was the one who’d done this. So he could get his last dig in before I died down here. All I could think of was, the bastard is down here with us, and I’m gonna find him.
We set out into the tunnels and dug our way through. Martian dust has a unique smell. Percolates, which are various types chlorine salts, mixed with the smell of gunpowder. Gives you sort of the ambience of a firefight at the pool. I haven’t figured out just what causes the gunpowder smell. Maybe it’s the sulfur, and maybe it’s just me, or maybe all those meteors that plowed into Mars over the last couple billion years put some of the same mix on it that they did on the moon. I dunno. But we were kicking up plenty of the dust as we moved through the tunnels, clearing the debris and digging ourselves out.
Carly and Jake dragged Van Desoto behind them on a makeshift travois made from parts of the table in the safe house. He protested frequently that he could walk much more comfortably than being dragged along the dust on a frame of metal. I told him to stay put because I wasn’t sure how far along the nano-cells had gotten with the healing process. They had been tuned to my genetics, and while they may be doing a great job clotting up any internal bleeding, I was sure that his gene sequence was going to give them fits. They would probably halt and allow themselves to be flushed out rather than possibly do harm. There was an incredible amount of sophisticated programming involved with those tiny machines. Alone, a single cell was pretty simple, like some bytes of computer memory, like a few microscopic transistors on a chip. But together, in millions, they combined their resources into a very smart hive mind of medical genius. It was hard to predict what they would do. So I was prepared to get some heat over giving Van some of my blood. First for risking his life, which in my view had already been at risk, and second for unauthorized distribution of nano-materials, which is a federal offense. Fortunately, I work for the feds. So they can just piss off.
We made steady progress for about four hours and then ran into a completely collapsed tunnel. Everyone was exhausted and we just couldn’t deal with trying to dig it out at the moment. Besides, as I looked at the tunnel I realized that there were some pretty big rocks in there that neither I nor Sledge could likely budge. So we sat down in the dust that smelled like gunpowder pool, and we just rested a good long time.
I was feeling pretty dozy, when Carly came up to me and gave me a nudge. “Martin,” she whispered. “I heard something down the tunnel.” She gestured back the way we’d come.
“What did you hear?” I asked.
“Some kind of shuffling noise, then a a little bit of rockslide. It might be nothing, but then it….”
“Might be Baxter,” I finished for her.
“Yeah,” she nodded.
Her face was set with grim determination to be brave, but inside I could see her shaking. Baxter had gotten in to some of the crew, like a freaking ghost demon. Larger than life. I knew that the little bastard was just a man like any one else, except for a very messed up brain. That might give him an advantage on some points, super intelligence, whatever, but when it came down to it, he’d bleed like anyone else. Well perhaps better than myself thanks to the tiny robots in my veins. The point was, it pissed me off that he’d gotten to them. He didn’t deserve to own that kind of power over them, and I mean to see that got corrected—ASAP.
“Carly. Believe me when I say this. I’m going to take him out. He’s going down, and it’s going to be quick and it’s going to be soon. I promise you.”
“You do that Coswell, and I’ll have your back.”
“I’ll be honored to have that,” I gripped her by the shoulder and gave it a good meaningful squeeze. “Now lets have a look down that tunnel.”
I took one of the crowbars we’d brought from the safe house to move rocks with and swung it experimentally. This would do just fine. Carly shone a flashlight ahead of us and we crept along the tunnel with me in the lead. I knew I was sticking my neck out here, but I also wanted Baxter and I wanted him bad after what he’d done to Van.
We hadn’t gone more than a hundred yards down the tunnel when we heard tapping of metal on rock, the sound of rocks and gravel sliding, then some more of the metal sounds again. Ahead I saw the dust kick up and then a light poured in from the side of the tunnel. I gripped the crowbar tightly in my right hand ready to lunge on Baxter if he showed his face. He wasn’t going to take us by surprise. Now that he was caught down here with us in a collapse that he’d caused, it was the perfect opportunity to get him.
“Martin?” A light shone right into our faces. I couldn’t see the person shining the light, but I knew that voice. It was Chalie.
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