The Ithrian Gambit
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Hero – Round 3, Turn 2
Use 5H – Eliza, Born Leader
Proteus distributed the extra scrubbers as the three prepared to venture deeper into the underground tunnel.
"Hmm," Eliza said, giving the alien machine another look, "this isn't rusted. Seems like ordinary metal, though." She blinked several commands into her suit HUD, bringing up the environmental display. "The atmo is different down here, too. Not nearly as corrosive as it is on the surface ."
Jericho picked up a handful of dust and let it slowly drain from his gloved hand. A slight breeze blew the dust back up the tunnel the way they came. "Air current," he said, "coming from deeper in."
"Let's move," Eliza said. "Click must know what's going on."
They wound through the subterranean passage, having to stoop in some places and squeeze through single-file in others. Click's tracks were easy enough to follow, being the only marks in the fine silt that had settled at the bottom.
As they progressed, the tunnel walls and ceiling became increasingly coated with what looked like a strange, rusty moss.
"Hold up a sec," Jericho said, reaching up to his helmet. "Kill your lights." One by one, they switched off their helmet lamps.
Bio-luminescence rippled through the moss, sending waves of light back and forth along the tunnel. The way it flickered reminded Eliza of candlelight, though the color was impossible to describe. Tiny glowing motes emanated from the moss, hanging in the air like a fine luminous mist that flowed gently past them, following the outbound current.
"Incredible," said Eliza.
"I have seen this before," Proteus said. "When I was captured by the Ithri, I saw the inside of one of their ships. It looked the same, but without the moss."
"So this is what, Ithrian terraforming?" Jericho asked.
"That would be my guess," said Proteus.
Just then, their HUDs scrambled, becoming totally unreadable. Proteus cried out in alarm as his augmented vision distorted. He stumbled, but stayed on his feet.
"Proteus, are you alright?" Eliza asked, her voice now muffled from within her helmet. Comms were out.
"I believe so," Proteus said. "There is much interference, but I can manage."
Seconds later, deep clicking sounds echoed through the tunnel.
"That's our boy," Jericho said. "Sounds pissed."
"He must be in trouble," Eliza said, hitting the light switch on her helmet. Her lights pulsed dimly, also affected. She turned them off again. "Are you sure you're okay, Proteus?" He nodded. "Okay, then. Let's go."
They jogged as fast as they dared in the dim, fluctuating light. Before long, the tunnel opened up into a large cavern. The three slowed to a walk as they approached. From somewhere deep within, they heard the sound of an underground river flowing. The moss covered nearly every surface in the cavern, creating a mist that bathed the entire area in a soft glow.
More Ithrian machines filled a space in the center of the cavern, blinking rhythmically.
Click stood near one of them. He was not alone.
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