Hannah and the Kreludorian Tunnels: Part One
Hannah crouched, leaning against the rock hard obsidian walls of Kreludor. Through the hiss of her oxygen tank, she could hear the clank-clank! of the robot as it patrolled the corridor. Between her gloved fingers, she clutched a small, sapphire-blue access key. The door was only yards away, and the black-and-yellow exit only feet beyond that.
The exit to the Canyon Caves would have been ridiculously easy had it not been for that stupid robot. It would perform a heat scan in less than five minutes, maybe a little more, maybe a little less, she estimated, and then she would be discovered. It would feel her added body heat as a small red blot at the mouth of the tunnel at its feet on its radar screen.
Okay, okay, she said to herself. Calm down. Once it turns, leap out of the tunnel and onto the platform above it. She checked her fuel levels. Only about a quarter left. None to be wasted, and just enough to get to the exit platform.
Five, four, three, two . . . she counted. One! Just as it turned, she silently jumped out of the tunnel and onto the platform that roofed it. The robot hadn’t heard her. She took a deep breath and jumped. The muted growl of her rocket boots cut through the silence, previously interrupted only by the robot’s footsteps.
The robot looked up. “Intrusion,” it droned. Its laser blue eyes turned red as they scanned Hannah’s boots and small figure up by the ceiling.
“What?” breathed Hannah, staring at the robot. This was a new development. Kreludorian robots didn’t usually register sound that low. Their receptors were so weak they could only detect loud noises, the sounds of a cave-in or the scream of an alarm. That’s why they were there. This wasn’t natural. If they ever were natural. The robot continued monotonously.
“Intruder: Usul. Female. Estimated height: One foot six inches. Estimated weight: Twenty-four pounds. Weapons: None. Threat level: Little. Code blue. Code blue. Waiting for orders.”
“’Threat level: Little’?” muttered Hannah to herself, picking up the pace. Blue lights began to flash down the corridors, a loud bell sounding at every flash. She could hear the distant clomp of robot boots echoing down the slate-grey hall. She zoomed forward and reached the exit platform. Just in time, too. The notch that indicated her fuel level was hanging downwards. Zero. “You’re missing eight boxes.” It was a mixture of good and bad that the robot hadn’t heard her. Oh well.
“Orders received,” said the robot. “Orders: Terminate Threat. Commence termination.” Its eyes glowed red again. Lasers would erupt from them if she didn’t hurry up. And that was just a guess. Nothing like this had ever happened to her in the tunnels.
Hannah slammed the key into the lock and the door buzzed into the ceiling like a woozy house fly. The yellow-and-black doors were sliding slowly open. Hannah could hear the buzzing of the robots eyes. Soon they would shoot. She hurried up the sliding of the doors by jerking them open and flashing through.
Zzzt! The laser scorched a hole in the metal where Hannah had been standing. “Termination: Failed,” was the last thing Hannah heard the robot say as the doors shut. Failed is right she wanted to say.
Hannah pulled off her helmet, sucking in the air conditioned, unlimited oxygen. After the dank, steamy tunnels and thin air, it was a relief to see the stark-white walls of the safety base. The immaculate floors gleamed.
Hannah snapped back into focus.The robot! She unhooked her wired jumpsuit from the chair and hopped out, her boots clicking against the floor. She stomped over to a door (not unlike the one she had passed), and pressed in a five number pass code with gloved fingers. It slid open quite fast, and disclosed a long, white hallway with a turn-off at the end and one black door along the left side of the hallway.
She opened the door into the office. There were three flat-screen televisions. One was replaying her progress in the Canyon Caverns virtual testing; one was replaying her, zoned out in her chair only minutes before; and one was displaying security readouts from the spy in the hacked system of the enemy. Up to date. Color blazed in Hannah’s eyes.
A Shadow Peophin was currently staring at the last television screen, muttering under her breath. She looked especially aggravated. “Now, this,” she was saying as Hannah walked in, “this is what I was afraid of. I told Phiorri that it was going to happen sooner or later!”
“What happened?” asked Hannah, walking up and leaning against the desk. “What’s wrong, Kowrie?” The two were as close as sisters, and usually Hannah would know what was aggravating Kowrie. But now she was as clueless as Kowrie looked.
“You know what’s wrong,” said Kowrie darkly, watching the virtual testing screen. “You saw it yourself. You escaped by a hair out there. Those robots aren’t supposed to be able to do that.”
“So you’re saying this WASN’T a little experiment in the virtual testing?” asked Hannah, her brow furrowed. “You didn’t mean for this to happen?” That had been her only hope if things happened to NOT be out of the ordinary.
“It definitely wasn’t an experiment!” said Kowrie, gliding over to a computer and beginning to type clumsily with her hooves. “The sensor we planted in Evient’s databases modifies the virtual testing automatically, just as Evient changes the tunnels. The moment you began your testing, the robots upgraded. Their sound receptors got a whole lot better, their lasers became a whole lot more lethal, their scans became more frequent. I got all the settings laid out before me, right here, straight from the sensor. It’s weird, it’s never done that before.”
“So what does it prove?” asked Hannah, hating to be asking all the questions. With an Invisible villain only about ten or eleven miles away, being on the clueless side of the equation was like sending long, annoying letters to Dr. Sloth. With your address on the envelope.
“It proves that Evient knows we’re planning to steal the gems he filched from the actual miners and uncover him to the public. He’s found our filter.” Kowrie’s words were heavy, with both meaning and discouragement. She had never meant for this to happen.
“If he found our filter, why is he still letting it transfer info?” Hannah watched her virtual self leap over that final robot on the television, knowing that in a matter of time, she’d be doing that no matter what happened. “Why doesn’t he shut it off so that when we raid the tunnels for real, we’ll be unprepared? Why doesn’t he stop the threat? He has the means!”
“I hate to say it, but he may be playing with us,” Kowrie admitted, looking sheepish. She never liked to see anyone defeat her. “He thinks he has the upper hand. He thinks he’ll win, even though we’re seeing everything he’s seeing.”
“Well . . . what?”
“Does he have the upper hand?”
Kowrie blew out a breath and stared at the list of info, scrolling downwards. Countless terms flew upward: Video feed, Robot condition, Events. It was hard to believe all that came from one microscopic sensor. And only Kowrie would be able to understand and decipher the code for the maps. “It’s hard to say. He’s not one step ahead of us. He doesn’t know when we’ll attack, but we don’t know if he’ll remake the tunnels, and if he’s planning to, when. We’re pretty much on the same page until someone makes the next move.”
“When’s Phiorri going to let me go into the tunnels?” asked Hannah, sighing and tapping a finger on the screen. “I’m DONE with virtual testing. I can finish the hardest tunnels in less than ten minutes. Robots hardly ever catch me. He’d be lying if he told me I wasn’t ready! And I’m sick of being a lab rat.”
“I don’t know, maybe Phiorri just wants to make sure Evient’s spent his last card. Just calm down,” said the Peophin, leaning back against the countertop. “Maybe he wants to make sure we’d be prepared for the same trap Evient’s making. Hold tight, okay, Hannah?”
Hannah hadn’t slept that well in her compartments. There was a small fish-eye lens camera stuck in her room for security purposes, and the feed was hooked to the main dataframe. It scared her to think that maybe, just maybe, Evient was watching her lie on her back in bed. It was a creepy thought.
She woke up at precisely five in the morning, and couldn’t get back to sleep. Outside of the safety base, it still looked as dark as ever. It was always dark outside of the Kreludorian tunnels. The sun didn’t shine very brightly underground, after all. A short message was blinking on her announcement screen, above her bed. It said: “Hannah: Report to Phiorri’s office immediately”. Hannah had no idea how long it had been there. She felt excitement spark from deep inside her. This had to be about sending her into the tunnels!
Suddenly she felt no fear at all.
To be continued...