Chapter 24

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"What the fuck do you mean, we've lost her?!"

"The Facem isn't responding to our commands. The input is going through, but the propulsion system must be shot." said Hernandez.

The wind howled triumphantly as it ripped across the dry plains, carrying with it an army of dust particles. These created a simmering sound as they struck the west-facing side of the field tent. Caroline and the engineer were alone within; all the radio techs were waiting impatiently in the truck.

"Can you raise Shen? Get him to figure out what the problem is?"

"No dice. It looks like the comm system is down. I'm going to try troubleshooting it."

Hernandez dipped into a focused reverie, ignoring the rage of the elements around him. Caroline continued to watch him for a while, but was soon lost in the numbers and acronyms. When she looked back outside the tent, she found that the technicians and their truck were gone. Only the sand and dust remained.

Thankfully, the field tent was oriented in a way that shielded the entry flap from the worst of the wind and debris. This greatly diminished the sting of airborne gravel and dust, but the severity of the storm was mounting rapidly, and Caroline doubted they could remain in the flimsy shelter of the field tent much longer. Hernandez was entirely focused on the monitors, but even he began to worry.

The technicians, meanwhile, were making their way back to Eridu. They knew that abandoning the admiral was going to result in reprimand, but the storm was prepared to match and exceed any disciplinary action. They would take their chances.

The ride was remarkably smooth, considering the shriek of wind outside it. The armored truck was the largest vehicle in the colony, a hulking behemoth brought to the surface on its own dropship. All its electronics were sheathed in lead to protect from radiation, as was its cabin and main engine. It could survive a nuclear detonation.

The technicians only began to worry when they reached the borders of Eridu itself. Most of the building were still temporary setups, almost tents, and the majority had long since been blown into the haze. There was no doubt that the population had already been evacuated, but the loss of so much material was disheartening.

The truck soon pulled up by the base of the hill, near the dark grey shape of a concrete storm shelter. The technicians hurried to cover their mouths and noses with fabric before the door opened and let in the sand. One by one they exited the vehicle, shielding their eyes from the sting of flying dust.

The storm shelter was dark and crowded with frightened people, all of whom regarded the new arrivals with a displeasure bordering on hate. The technicians shouldered their way in and cowered with the rest, watching the dim light of the shaded sun through the windows.

"Okay, I'm starting to get skittish," yelled Caroline over the rush of storm. "Could you call that truck back?"

Hernandez looked up from his work. "Sure. I didn't know you were one to scare easily, admiral" he chuckled.

"I've got a bad feeling is all."

At first, the colonists of Eridu felt nothing but the violence of the storm. Then, the hill began to vibrate.

Many would argue about the true nature of the sound. Some called it a humming, as if a drill was digging its way through the soil nearby. Others heard a full choir, singing in a million melodious voices, singing a hymn of beauty and perfect order.

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