SIRT 1 : Thoughts of a Dying AI (Part 42 of many)
SIRT 1 : Thoughts of a Dying AI (Part 42 of many) postapocalyptic stories

ferp2 Old, well, old-ish.
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Ranger Weis has a plan.

SIRT 1 : Thoughts of a Dying AI (Part 42 of many)

Ellie's glance upwards from where she was not adjusting Gregor's bandage was met with an almost imperceptible nod from Weis. She stood up.

"All done here. Lead on Ranger Weis."

"Right you are Missus." Weis acknowledged, turning on his heel. As he passed Hobbes, he gave the man an exaggerated stage wink.

Then he walked slowly into the darkness but now backlit in an unwavering beam of light from the archaeologist's torch.

Hobbes let the ranger get almost to the limit of his beam before setting off after him, so concentrated on keeping the little man illuminated that his hand never once shook.

Behind Hobbes Ellie and Gregor shuffled forward, managing to keep the easy pace Weis had set.

Behind them, however, Bodil turned in the opposite direction and, searching with her torch as she did so, listened intently for any sounds coming from the way they had just come.

Satisfied, only then did she turn back and hurry to catch up with the others.

As it turned out, the climb back up the escalator proved entirely uneventful.

It was slow and about half way up archaeologist Hobbes had to help Ellie support a sweating and grimacing Gregor up the slope. But nothing attacked them. They never saw or heard any bugs at all.

Not even the little translucent juveniles that hadn't yet learned not to automatically attack anything that moved.

Weis actually felt a little disappointed, he had been looking forward to stomping the little sods underfoot.

At last, the party reached the concourse at the top of the escalator and their luck still held out.

Now they only had to work their way along the narrow passages and up a final flight of stone steps onto the main ticket concourse where the vertical shaft led up into the fresh air.

Bodil checked her wrist. 15:17. They had been down here for over seven hours; it would likely be eight hours by the time they reached the surface. Oh for a shower.

Even if there was no hot water, as long as she could stand under some kind of watery cascade and wash off the dirt, the sweat and the dried blood.

As they reached the foot of the steps up to the ticket concourse, she could feel the draught of fresh air from above. She closed her eyes.

"Oh, can you just feel that?" She opened her eyes again when she ran into the stationary wall that was Gregor's back.

Up ahead Weis held up a fist. Everyone stood still.

"Never mind that," the ranger whispered whispered. "Can you hear... that?"

Bodil dragged her tired thoughts away from showers and fresh air and listened.

From up the steps, from up above them in the main concourse, came a persistent chittering, clicking, scampering of hard insect feet. Lots and lots of insect feet.

Hobbes was backing away, his head slowly moving from side to side as his brain tried to deny what his ears were telling him.

He managed two whole steps before making a sandwich of Gregor with Bodil on the other side.

Gregor closed his hand around the archaeologist's right wrist, just in case he got careless with the pistol he was holding. Hobbes turned his head and looked up into Gregor's pain filled eyes.

"Are you okay?" The big man asked quietly.

Hobbes seemed to pull himself together.

"Yes. I... It was..." He took a breath. "I'm okay, thanks."

Gregor let go of the man's wrist.

"Okay then. Just be calm."

Hobbes turned away, nodding and massaging his wrist with his other hand.

While this little exchange was going on Ranger Weis was very slowly edging his way up the steps. When just the top of his head creeped above floor level he stopped and took in the scene.

From left to right the part tilled, part ceiling-rubble filled floor area was a sea of mottled white and red translucent carapaces.

Hundreds of juvenile ticks in various stages of development, most being from between ten to thirty centimetres long, skittered hither and thither across the floor.

Some fought with each other in deadly single combat while elsewhere seething piles of them indicated what happened to the losers.

Scattered body parts confirming the cannibalistic fate of the unsuccessful combatants.

What Weis wasn't seeing, though, was any adults.

It was only when his eyes adjusted from the gloom of the concourse to the bright shaft of afternoon sunlight illuminating what he thought were rocks at the base of the shaft that

he realised that all the adult bugs were piled together in a high pyramid there.

Dozens of them, each slowly trying to climb on the backs of the others so that the whole pile collapsed and rebuilt itself before then collapsing again.

Just as slowly, Weis made his way back down the steps and reported what he had seen to the others.

The whispered discussion that followed was in danger of becoming more heated and more audible and so attracting the horde of ticks down on them like an avalanche.

That was until Weis stopped it dead.

"Look, it's only bugs. We can deal with a bunch of bloody bugs.

The alternative, though, is goin' all the way back again and maybe tryin' to get through a bloody big worm and after that maybe more of them bloody creepers."

Bodil got in first with the obvious objection.

"But you said there were hundreds of them."

"Juveniles. I said there was hundreds of juveniles. You can jump up and down on them and squash 'em flat 'cause their shells are still soft."

"What about the adults?"

Weis held up a finger.

"I've thought of that." Holding his rifle between his knees Weis pulled of his pack and dropped it in the middle of the group.

Opening it he delved inside and pulled out one of the belts of grenades he had brought from Wembley.

"I didn't know if these were gonna come in handy or not so I only fetched one belt down with me."

Bodil looked at the grenades doubtfully. They didn't look particularly dangerous. Basically, they were just a small metal ball about the size of a pool ball but with a protrusion on the top.

Weis pulled one of them free from the belt.

"Ignore the top one, that's smoke, the last thing we need down 'ere." He twisted and then flipped over the protruding part to reveal a simple red painted metal button.

"Press this, chuck it at the pile of adults at the bottom of the shaft and three seconds later it goes boom." He carefully covered the button again and twist-locked the cap back into place.

"I reckon three will do the trick if we throw them together. That'll leave us one for any emergency."

"Like it not working?"

Weis turned to Hobbes. The look he gave the archaeologist was not kind.

"It'll work Mister 'Obbes. If it doesn't, we can always run back down the tunnel, can't we? Oh wait..." Hobbes withered under the little ranger's stare. Weis sniffed pointedly and carried on.

"We're gonna have to use feet, guns, anything we have until we get close enough to throw the grenades. After they've gone off, we make a run for the ladder.

Then I'll hold 'em back with Joanna long enough for you to get up."

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