Scene 20  1560 4D

“You must decide.” Galanaisa looked around at the fugitives, from Derizan and his family members to Mentrianos and Tellina and finally Guinban and Piotras. They all stood in a domed, underground chamber of Fornonck, one large enough to hold several times their number. “Our lookouts have spotted a larger group fleeing the relocation column, and they are following your route, a day or two behind you. Some of them are injured, and they are moving slowly. We need the space for them, and that means getting you on the way to the next station.”

She pointed to a map on the stone wall behind her. “The most-common choice is to follow the series of our settlements north-northwest, through the Sleethe, up to meet the Kiliasil road. There you can choose to go west and south toward Purusil – not a bad choice, if you can avoid the City militia patrols – or you can turn northeast toward the North Mines. But that way is bristling with military and corp muscle, and you will most likely get captured and put to work digging plute with the andros.”

“Those are the only choices?” Daryuz snapped.

Galanaisa looked grim. “No, you can always cross the road and head for the Northwest Marshes, but that takes you through wild country. Lots of lakes up there, but settlements and food and shelter are hard to find.” She looked sympathetically at Tellina. “You will be traveling with a baby, too. The easiest and safest path is through our settlements to the road toward Purusil.”

“Isn’t there any other choice?” Now Astina stood beside Daryuz, her brother.

“We’re always looking for alternatives,” Galanaisa said, pointing at the area of the map north of Fornonck. “We’ve just uncovered what looks like a very-deep, very-ancient underground transportation tunnel that runs north and south through here. We don’t know where it leads or lets out. It might make a temporary hiding-place for now, but the air is terrible. We also have no idea what may be alive down there.”

“Not much of a choice, is it?” Derizan. He scanned his family members, and all of them looked unhappy.

“Not yet. But this world has a lot of buried surprises. The great City you’ve left was the biggest, but Purusil and Monford are as well.”

“Surprises? We’ve lived in the City for generations! What are you talking about?” Daryuz again.

Galanaisa said, “Archeologists have shown that all the underground cities show unmistakable clues of nonhuman habitation dating back many thousands of years, even before we humans colonized the surface of this planet. Ancient history.”

“How does ancient history help us?” Daryuz.

“We’re researching another possible refuge for you: the poorly-explored underground city of Escaondar in the far north, past the Mines. The corps and the government aren’t established there at all.”

“Past the Mines? How would we get past the Mines?” Now Piotras spoke quickly, his voice strained. “Andros die there digging, all the time! For us it’s a death sentence.” He turned to Guinban. “It would kill you too. Nobody comes out of there alive. Even the guards stay out on the walls and fences.”

“How long before you know more about this deep tunnel?” Derizan asked.

Galanaisa turned to a woman beside her. “Tell them what you know, Terrenci.”

The engineer responded, “It’s so deep down that it may pass underneath the Mines altogether. The Mines are relatively close to the surface level of the plains facing the mountains, and where we were was over a hundred meters down. It may slant even deeper. But its size and features tell us it predates humanity here. It might lead to Escaondar. That’s what we’re hoping to learn in the coming weeks.”

“Weeks! How does that help us if we have to leave today or tomorrow?” Selech’s agitation contorted his lean face.

“You can buy a little more time,” Galanaisa said, her voice steady, “if you follow the usual path through our settlements. We can offer you good transportation. That way we can get word to you about the new tunnel findings, and see if that helps. You could come back here and take that route if it turns out possible.”

Derizan turned to face the group, holding up both hands. I hope this won’t make for a split in our group. He said, “Let’s discuss this on our own. I like her last suggestion because it buys time and gets us more information. Galanaisa, thank you.”

She and Terrenci nodded and left the chamber.

Now Denzari spoke. “Our chances don’t look good no matter what.” The others all nodded.

“Never mind,” said Derizan. “Our chances were less than zero when I got you out of that column. It may be a long way to good, but now it’s a much-longer way away from being dead. Come on, let’s think this over. We have some hours we can use, and we’d better use them well.”

Shouts erupted from the corridor, then shots and blasts. Dust rained down from the root ceiling. Two heartbeats, and Terrenci burst back into the chamber. “Follow me. We are under attack.”


Next scene.

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