Darwin and I do our best to stay hidden in the dark corners as we make our way through the airport to rendezvous with the others. Mom says they found the hangar and provides us with directions. This is good, albeit surprising news to both Darwin and me. I expected it to take far more time to locate the terraforming machine.
Darwin and I navigate our way to the rail tunnels and then follow that down to Terminal C, where we exit the tunnel and head back outside. We’re told if we keep heading west we’ll run right into them. And we do. We find them tucked away between Hangars L17 and L19.
“This is it,” mom tells us patting the wall she’s leaning up against.
“You’ve been inside? You’ve seen it?”
“No, the doors are all locked tight, we checked. But look up, you can see that the building has no roof.”
Unlike most of the other hangars, this one has a slightly pitched roof without any overhang. Stepping back a few feet, even in the moonlight, I can easily see that the roof is missing. Instead, it was replaced with a thick mesh fabric that would allow for air flow in and out of the building. Time and wind has ripped most of the fabric off, but large chunks of it still hang down from where it connects at the top.
“Feel the wall,” mom says. “You can feel the vibration of the machine reverberating through it. This is it. I’m sure of it.”
I walk over and grab a long piece of fabric that reaches down to the ground. I tug at it a couple of times to see how securely it’s attached. “The doors are locked? This might be our only way in. I’ll climb up, then come around to unlock the door for the rest of you.” I yank on it a couple more times just to be sure. Twisting it like a rope to give it more strength, I grab it tightly with both hands and place one foot on the side of the building, ready to climb. “Darwin, Brooklyn, keep an eye out for company.”
The two of them head to opposite corners of the hangar and take up positions. As I ascend the makeshift rope, hand over hand, using my feet to walk up the wall for added leverage. It’s a good forty foot climb, but I try not to think about what might happen if the fabric tears away from the top.
After a few grueling minutes I’m straddling the wall with my legs. I look around in the darkness to see if I can spot Mayze or his crew. In the distance, I hear a pop followed by the frightening sound of a bullet whizzing past my head.
Instinctively, I duck down, hugging the wall with my body. I lose my balance and fall into the interior of the building. I desperately grab the top of the wall, barely catching it with a single gloved hand.
I struggle to find a purchase for my feet, but they connect with nothing but the slick surface of the inner wall. Directly below me, I spot a baggage cart turned upside down, wheels up, but it’s way too far down for me to drop onto safely. As I look around, desperate for options, I hear gunfire erupt on the other side of the wall.
“You might want to hurry up there, LT,” Brooklyn says over the comm.
I throw my other hand up to get a more secure hold along the top of the wall and pull myself up, managing to get both arms over the wall. I wince as it digs hard into my armpits. I reach over and grab the makeshift rope with one hand and pull an arm’s length of it over to my side. And then again. One handful at a time, I am able to pull the full length of the fabric over to the inside of the building. Wrapping my legs around it, I slide down to land on top of the upturned baggage cart. Using the rope once again, I swing off the cart toward the ground below. Just before I land the fabric tears away from the top of the wall, dropping me hard onto the concrete floor.
Still on my feet, I hurry over and unlock the door for the others. I crouch down into a defensive position just inside the doorframe, my rifle aimed in the direction of the gunfire. I bark a command for everyone to get inside. Mom, Mackenzie, and GoPro are first through, then Brooklyn. Just as Darwin crosses the threshold, I see someone pop around the corner with a rifle aimed right at me. I fling myself onto my side and roll out of the way just as a bullet slams into the ground where I was just was. I kick the door shut and Darwin engages the lock. As secure as this building is, we both know this won’t hold them for long.
I take a breath and turn to get a look around the inside of the hangar. In the corner is a make-shift living area. A large, square remnant of carpet has been laid on the floor, bordered by a large TV, couch, and a couple of chairs, all arranged around a small coffee table.
Aside from that, and a hastily added dividing wall erected lengthwise down the middle of the hangar, the hangar is barren.
In the center of the floor, I spot a six by four rectangular shaft pushing out air at a high velocity. I walk over to the edge and shine my light down inside. I see no end, only more black.
“We have to go down that?” Darwin complains.
“Not this one,” mom says. “This is the exhaust. I’m pretty sure it dead ends into a bank of air valves.”
“What do you mean ‘pretty sure?'” I ask. “This is based on your designs, right?”
“Well, yeah. My original design called for filters on both the intake and exhaust sides so the airflow would go either way. But I realized I was over complicating it and had planned to remove the second filter from the schematics. If there is a filter down there, it would mean they built this from an early set of plans.
“No sense taking the risk if the other side is a sure bet,” I say.
We hear gunfire erupt outside as bullets pound the hangar walls. None penetrate, and they soon stop shooting.
There is a wide pass-through in the separating wall leading to the other side of the hangar. “There!” I point. As we hurry toward it, I peel off to grab the fabric mesh. I wad it up into my arms and head to the others as Brooklyn covers me, pistol aimed at the entry door.
“We need something to anchor the rope to,” Darwin says coming back toward me. We both look at the baggage cart with the same idea in our heads.
I call GoPro over to help Darwin and I. We position ourselves along the length of the baggage cart, using our fingers to get under the ledge to lift and flip it onto its side. We then flip it again onto its wheels. Darwin and I push as GoPro pulls, steering from the front. As I push my body weight into the cart, the toe of my boot catches on a small piece of metal that is sticking up through the floor. I stumble, but recover quickly.
We wheel the cart over to the intake shaft and flip it back onto its side so it won’t roll. Allyson ties the makeshift rope securely to the cart which we will use to climb down into the shaft.
I steal a quick look around the top of the building to make sure Mayze hasn’t found a way to climb over. I don’t hear them anymore, and that worries me.
Rope in hand, Allyson asks, “What happens when we reach the filter down below?”
“The first filter is nothing more than a metal grate,” Mom answers. “There are three of them, actually, mounted on a turnstile. When the airflow is sufficiently blocked, a wipe is triggered. The turnstile moves, pushing the debris into the refuse tank and the next filter locks into place.”
“How much blockage does it take to trigger the wipe?” I ask.
“Forty, maybe fifty percent.”
“And the refuse bin is large enough to fit all of us?” Darwin asks.
“Depends on how full it is. We should go one at a time, though. At least until we know how much room we have.”
“We need someone light to go first,” I say looking Allyson and Brooklyn up and down.
“See something you like?” Allyson asks as if I’m checking her out.
“I’m just trying to figure out who goes first.”
“Not it!” GoPro says.
I knew that was coming.
“Seriously, GoPro?” Brooklyn rolls her eyes. “I’ll go, LT”
“Thanks, but I don’t think you or GoPro have enough body mass to trigger the filter wipe. I think Allyson will have to do it.”
“You calling me fat?” she asks in mock offense.
I start to defend myself then think better of it. “There’s no winning that one,” I say, as I take the rope from her to check the knot.
“Just promise you won’t drop me,” she says. “I don’t think my ego can take it. Though my ass probably could.”
“It’s not that big,” I say, immediately wishing I could take it back.
She turns and gives me a sharp look. “You could have done without the added emphasis. I happen to think my ass is quite nice, thank you very much.” And with a wink, she adds, “But it’s nice to know you’re looking.”
I pretend to check the knot again so no one can see me blush.
“Do you two need some privacy, or can we get on with saving the world?” Brooklyn asks sarcastically.
Allyson sits along the edge of the shaft with her legs dangling down into it. She fishes the rope under her to form a swing and ties it together tightly over her lap. With Darwin and I holding the rope securely, she pushes off the side, and we gently lower her down.
A minute later we’re out of rope.
“Can you see the bottom?” I ask.
“No. The pipe starts to curve about ten feet below me, but I don’t know how much farther down it goes before it levels off.”
I remember this from the prototype. The air intake and exhaust come out of the machine like a set of curved horns.
“Hang on,” I tell her.
Darwin and I get behind the cart and push it over the edge of the shaft. This drops Allyson another two feet.
“How about now?” I yell down to her.
“It’s still far.”
“You’re going to have to slide out of the rope and drop down,” I tell her. “The curvature should catch you and bring you to a soft landing.”
Mom looks at me and whispers, “soft?”
“Soft-ish,” I whisper back.
“It’s too far,” Allyson says.
“It only looks far. Position your back against the wall and then drop. The curve will catch you and slow you down, I promise. You can do it!”
We hear her grunt over the comm as she struggles into position. The next thing we hear is her screaming. Then silence. “That wasn’t so bad,” she says calmly. “Now what?”
Mom tells her to stand against the grate and block as much airflow as possible. She does, but nothing happens. We need more blockage.
Darwin and I both have the same idea. We tip the cart upside down again and position it to cover as much of the intake shaft as possible. When Mackenzie screams again, I assume we were able to trigger the filter wipe.
“You okay?” I ask through the comm.
“Yeah, I’m good. Just wasn’t ready for that. There is a surprising amount of garbage in here.”
“Look for an exit. As soon as you find a way out, we’ll be right behind you.”
“This is disgusting,” she says digging her way through the garbage. “I’m literally wading through hundreds of bird carcasses. I’ll be taking a shower the second I get home!” Several seconds pass before she speaks again. “Okay, I found a door.” She grunts a few times trying to open it. “Got it!” she finally says, breathing heavy. “I’m out.”
“Okay, we’ll start sending the rest of us down,” I say.
“Hang on,” Allyson says. “Where do these stairs go?”
“Nowhere,” I answer. “The door at the top is blo—” I stop mid-sentence. “Hold on.”
I hurry back over to where we found the baggage cart. Sure enough, the piece of metal I had stubbed my toe on is part of a hinge for the trap door in the floor. I see the thin square outline of the door in the concrete.
“Allyson?” I say.
“If you don’t mind climbing those stairs, the door at the top will lead you right to us. See if you can open it.”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” she replies wearily.
“Hurry please,” GoPro says.
We hear Allyson huffing over the comm as she gives us a play by play. “A quarter of the way up.”, “Halfway.”, “Almost there,” she informs us. “Okay, I’m here.”
“We should be right above you,” I say, the rest of the team having already joined me. Seconds later we see the floor push up an inch before it falls back down.
“It’s heavy,” she says.
“If you can push it up we’ll grab it from this side.”
Allyson grunts again as the door comes up from the floor. Darwin and I get our fingers on it and pull it open.
One by one we climb down.
Outside, the gunfire starts up again, bullets pelting against the lock on the entry door. Last one down, I pull the trap door shut behind me knowing Mayze and his men will be inside the hangar soon.