The current temperature was constantly being projected into Nadie Jaci's left eye. 6 C. The temperature had not changed since she had entered the network of corridors and chambers below the surface of Osiris IV. She pulled at the hood of her jacket and again thought about putting her gloves back on.
Reaching a T-intersection at the end of a corridor, Jaci turned the corner and stopped. The two Marine Corps privates under her command nearly ran her over. They all looked up and down the new corridor and transmitted what they saw back to the command post. They were far out of range for radio contact with the Elephant or any of the other search parties, but Private Latty had been feeding out a fiber that allowed them to keep in contact with the command post and the rest of the crew. The growing computerized map of the underground base quickly updated to include the new corridor as it came into range of their cameras.
Jaci placed her electromagnetic field sensor against the wall of the new corridor and then marked a small rectangle with her pen. Jaci had always enjoyed solving puzzles and she was feeling something like rat in a maze...a rat with an IQ of 150. She was sure that there must be hidden doors and unseen rooms along these corridors. By guessing where the doors should be, she was having some luck finding what seemed to be a specific type of control circuit. However, she had no means to reveal the function of the circuits that she had found inside the walls. The circuits themselves looked like nothing known to Earthly electrical engineering. She turned to Private Uranch and ordered, "Blast it."
Uranch stuck a thin strip of explosive to the wall then returned around the corner to join the others. He said, "Cover!" The detonation bounced some fragments of steel around the corner, but in a harmless way that was now routine, boring and expected by all to be fruitless.
Jaci returned to the rectangle that was now a hole, exposing the odd contents of the wall. Already the damaged circuits inside the wall and the jagged edges of the hole were shimmering with the nanoscopic repair substance that seemed to exist in every part of this underground complex. Jaci was able to record some week electromagnetic signals in the hole before it was healed over with a new solid layer of steel. In less than 5 minutes there was no remaining trace of the hole and most of the fragments of the wall that had been scattered around the corridor had already been cleaned up by roving swarms of nanoscopic scavengers. Jaci had yet to find a speck of dust in this spotlessly clean base. Apparently the base had been abandoned by its inhabitants and only automated systems remained, endlessly cleaning and repairing.
Private Latty asked, "Which way now?"
Jaci looked at the growing map of the underground base and was about to announce her choice of which direction to continue their search when Private Uranch said, "I heard something."
Jaci turned and saw that Uranch had moved about thirty meters down the corridor and had his weapon pointed ahead of him. Jaci pulled the hood off of her head and listened. She heard nothing, but she ordered, "Pull back. Get back here, Uranch."
Latty turned and pointed the other direction along the corridor, "Now I heard something."
Jaci still had heard nothing except for the noises they were making themselves. "Pull back into the last corridor. Move!"
Latty was not happy about being under the command of a woman, particularly one who seemed enthralled by the power to order that ridiculous little holes be blasted in walls. Latty raised his gun and covered Uranch while he retreated back along the corridor. Latty complained, "We spend all this time looking, finally find something and now we run away?"
Uranch was almost back to the T-intersection of the two corridors when he suddenly crouched and pointed his gun towards Latty and Jaci. Uranch screamed, "Down!"
While Jaci dove to the floor she saw a blur of motion behind Uranch. Latty was already on the floor, firing rounds past Uranch towards that blur. Her mind struggled to identify what was coming up the corridor behind Uranch and her conscious mind only managed to produce a question: Cats? Jaci turned her head to see what Uranch was firing at behind her, but before she could see anything, a heavy body landed on her, smacking her head against the floor. For a moment she thought about lifting her head, but then her consciousness faded away.
An hour after the ambush on Jaci's patrol, a larger squad of Marines arrived and slid the bodies of the two privates into bags. Lieutenant Mhan found no trace of Warrant Officer Jaci. There was not even an indication of where Jaci might be...not even a smudge of blood on the floor, although it was clear that the neck arteries of the two privates had been ripped open. Mhan connected two communications fibers to a robotic reconnaissance station and positioned it near where the two bodies had been found. He ordered the squad to return to the command post and put in a request to speak directly to the Captain.
Mahn was patched through to Captain Betlar. Beltar was in a sour mood. "Report!"
Mahn described what he had found, "Something strange to report, sir. One side of the corridor where they were ambushed is now walled off. Recommend that you send a demolition crew and blast through that new wall."
The Captain was examining a computer-generated three dimensional model of the ambush site. "I see what you mean, but if Jaci is on the other side of that wall then we risk injuring her."
Mahn suggested, "Burn through with plasma torch-"
Betlar cut off the conversation, "I've got engineers on the problem. Just get those bodies back here. Two other patrols were just ambushed. Get back here fast."
Mahn ordered, "Double time!" and started to trot, following the two thread-like comlines back through the maze of corridors towards the command post.
The Captain zoomed out the model of the vast underground complex and looked in wonder at the distances between the sites of the three ambushes. Now all was changed. Recovering Jaci was a low priority until they could figure out what they were up against. The video images from the three attacks all showed strange animals attacking the patrols, but three attacks so widely separated in such a short time window indicated that the attacks were coordinated. Even worse, one of the videos showed several of the beasts attacking through a newly-opened door. If these man-killing beasts could open and close the doors, something Betlar's men had not yet learned how to do, then that was a huge tactical imbalance. Every foot of corridor now represented a potential site of ambush. For now, the only option was to pull back. The Captain entered into his log: Warrant Officer Nadie Jaci, missing in action.
Nadie was cold. She sat up and held her numb fingers in front of her mouth. She pulled on gloves and started jogging in place. All of her communications equipment seemed to be without power. She opened her transmitter and put in another battery, but there was still no glow from the power indicator light.
Nadie picked up her laser rifle and found that its electronics were also dead. The gun included a conventional projectile launcher, but when she tried firing a test round down the corridor nothing happened. She carefully examined the mechanism of the gun and several of the rounds, but she could not understand why the gun did not work.
She only had a jumble of fragmented memories from the hour before the ambush. While trying to remember how she had gotten where she was, Nadie walked down the corridor. The corridor was only about 40 meters long, with no exits. She tried to resist her thirst and conserve her supplies, but she could tell that she was dizzy from dehydration. She sat down and drank one of the two liters of water she carried and then urinated into the empty canteen.
She thought: surely my location is known...and the crew of the Elephant...they must be looking for he and they should soon rescue me! But what was the strength of the enemy? She rubbed her head and wondered if she could trust any of her memories. An image of bounding cats kept coming into her thoughts along with the feel of being pounced on. She muttered, "What the hell is going on?"
The walls of the corridor seemed to reply, "Please speak slowly, I'm still learning your language."
Nadie felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. The voice was odd...inhuman...alien. "Who...what are you?"
The voice sounded mechanical, but produced a human-like laugh. "I saved your life. You may thank me now." There was an odd fluttering sound of alien chuckling.
Nadie wondered if she was dreaming or hallucinating. The pain in her joints and tingling in her cold extremities convinced her that she was awake and lost in the underground base of Osiris IV. She asked, "Why don't you show yourself?"
A pile of the oily goo, that so far Nadie only knew as the nanoscopic repair system of the base, now assembled on the floor. It quickly shaped itself into a humanoid face that continued the conversation, "Is this what you want? A face to talk to? There, are you satisfied?"
Nadie sat down in front of the face and guessed, "You do not really have a body?"
The disembodied simulation of a face replied, "Correct. I live withing the circuitry of this city. In a very real sense I am the mind of this city. This is the face of a Luminad. My mind is derived from the minds of several Luminads."
The face on the floor was like a human face, in the same odd way that a chimpanzee's face seemed almost human. Nadie asked, "Luminad?"
The artificial Luminad mind replied, "The Luminads were the human species that was adapted to this world, what you call Osiris IV."
Nadie crawled forward and touched the assembled nanites. Her finger effortlessly passed through the structure of the "face" as the nanites reformed their positions around her probing finger. "Were? The Luminads are gone...leaving you behind?"
The face replied, "Yes, all of the Luminads had to leave this world in advance of the arrival of your spaceship. This world is now yours. Try not to mess it up the way you've destroyed Earth."
For a minute Nadie sat back and reflected on her good fortune. She decided that, if her fragmented memories were correct, then she could very well have been killed, but for some reason this "mind of the city" wanted her alive. "Why are you holding me captive?"
"I suggest that you get used to the fact that you are dead. I've given you an afterlife. You may thank me now." There was another burst of alien chuckling and the simulated Luminad face showed a look of mirth.
Nadie again examined her sensations. "I do not feel dead."
"You were dead. Your body was repaired. I took mercy on you, so you live again. You will not rejoin your own kind, so forget about that and and get used to your new fate." The face disintegrated and part of the wall of the corridor slid open. "There are plumbing fixtures in there. You can dispose of your urine and all of your other disgusting wastes."
Nadie went into the small room and quickly figured out the unusual plumbing fixtures. She disposed of her urine and filled her canteen with the water that came out of the complex sink-like device. She did not trust the water and drank none, even though it was colorless and odorless. She returned to the corridor and the door to the small room closed behind her with a swoosh.
The synthetic Luminad voice said, "Open the door."
Nadie could no longer see any indication of where the door was. "How?"
The voice said, "Hold on. Let me check something." After about a minute of silence the voice continued, "Now I understand your problem. Our vision was shifted towards longer wavelengths. Use your camera."
Nadie discovered that her camera now worked and was again transmitting a signal to her datacom. The display indicated that the video camera had been set for maximum sensitivity to longer wavelengths. By using the camera Nadie could now see markings on the wall of the corridor. Half way up the wall, just to the side of where the door had opened, there was symbol like some sort of writing in a strange script. The voice said, "Just look at that glyph and point to it."
Nadie could not see the glyph with her naked eyes. Using the camera she located the marking's position on the wall and circled it with her pen. She then looked at the circle and pointed at it. The door slid open. "Neat." She turned the camera down the corridor and asked, "There are rooms all along here?"
"Of course. Rooms, automated factories, transport tubes...everything needed for an underground city."
Nadie tried to open the next door along the corridor, but had no luck. The Luminad said, "I'm not going to let you into most of the rooms. Go down to the third door on the left."
Nadie tried to open all of the doors along the way, but only the third one on the left opened. This was another small room with holes in both the floor and the ceiling. Nadie peered down into the hole in the floor and heard the door close behind her. She turned back and unsuccessfully tried to figure out how to open the door from the inside.
After about fifteen minutes of frustration she looked down into the hole in the floor and asked, "How do I move to the next floor without breaking my neck?"
The Luminad replied, "This is a transport tube. Step into the tube and you will be safely taken to another level of the base."
"How do I control it?"
"I'll control it."
Nadie was reluctant to move away from where she had woken up. She still expected to be rescued. "Where are you trying to take me?"
The Luminad explained, "I'd like to get you to a part of the base where the Sauroks will not be able to bother you."
Nadie waited for the Luminad to explain more, but there was silence. She finally asked, "Sauroks?"
"Your patrol was attacked by Sauroks."
Nadie thought about an image she seemed to recall, a jumbled image of large cat-like animals bounding down the corridor behind Private Uranch. "You mean those cats?"
"The Sauroks have genes from several different families, including what is called Felidae on Earth. Anyhow, even if you do not want to thank me for bringing you back to life you do need to trust me." After a long period of silence the voice said, "Well, I guess you need to think about it."
Nadie heard nothing more from the voice and she had a good long time to think about trust.