Abruptly, Mark’s com beeped. Asteria Wolfe turned and glared at him briefly, before turning back to her work. Mark pulled the com from his pocket, looking apologetically to Sharee, and saw that it was Kestral calling him. “Yes, I’m here.”
“Mark, is anything going on over there?” Kestral asked.
“No,” Mark replied. “They are on schedule to start running in a few minutes, and everything looks like it’s going according to plan. Is something wrong?”
“Mister Goldstein just spoke,” Kestral explained. “He said, and I quote: ‘Shura Dva is very upset.’”
Movement out of the corner of Mark’s eye brought his head around. Asteria Wolfe was bearing down upon him, murder in her eyes. She shot out a hand, with a speed that belied her age, and Mark actually flinched… but instead of striking him, she snatched the com from his hand and brought it to her face.
“Kestral?” she called out shrilly. “You have Goldstein there? What did he say? What is he doing? What did he say?”
“He’s here,” Kestral replied, “and he’s not doing anything. He just said, ‘Shura Dva is very upset.’”
“What does that mean?” Wolfe cried. “Ask him—”
A sudden tremor in the floor of the plant brought her up short. It had been a short tremor, almost as if there had been an impact somewhere nearby. Everyone stopped what they were doing, and peered about, at the floor, the upper scaffolding, the walls, the equipment, trying to localize the source of the tremor.
Then it came back. This time, it was not a short bump, but a prolonged shaking, violent. Everyone bent at their knees, or grabbed at whatever was nearby to steady them. Sharee gripped at Mark’s arms, leaning into him for support and looking around in wide-eyed attention. The vibration became a rumble, then a roar, punctuated by the popping, hissing, and clattering of shaken and broken machinery in every direction.
Mark grabbed his com back from Wolfe, who looked about to drop it in her need to find a stable purchase. “We’re having an earthquake!” Mark called into the com. “It just started!”
“Order all non-essential personnel offsite immediately!” Wolfe yelled out. She turned and pointed at Sharee and Mark. “That means both of you… out! Now!”
As if to punctuate her order, there was a loud report from above. Everyone looked up to see a structural member, a massive beam, falling free from its mounting far above the deck. It plunged downward, unchecked, and when it struck the deck, the entire deck heaved as if it would upend from the impact.
Wolfe turned back to her control personnel. “Give the order: Code red evacuation! Secure stations and evacuate. Repeat, code red evac!”
The personnel stood up, working a last few switches, then turning and bolting from the console. Wolfe watched then tensely, and noted that Mark and Sharee had not yet left… Sharee had a hand on Mark’s arm, poised to pull him away, but Mark hovered, in case he could help. “Engineer,” she shouted at Sharee, “get him out of here now! Escape route C! Go!”
“Yes, ma’am!” Sharee abruptly started moving and exerted her strength, pivoting Mark around. Mark spared a last glance at the control crew, but they had all managed to leave the control area… and Wolfe was now following them, in another direction.
So he relented to Sharee’s urging, and the two of them took off in a sprint, Mark following the apprentice Engineer. He took a moment to shout, “We’re evacuating!” into his com, before he jammed it back into his pocket and dedicated his efforts to keeping up with Sharee.
Along the way, they had to dodge some fallen structural members and toppled equipment. Once, they had to double-back when a fallen tank blocked their way. Throughout, Sharee maintained a determined calm, pointing the way, and issuing rapid orders to change direction as needed. Mark could not help but be impressed by her composure. Eventually, she brought them up to a series of small tubes, open-ended, with capsules roughly the size of two people sitting atop the openings.
“Get in!” Sharee ordered, and Mark slipped into one of the capsules. Sharee crowded in with him, closing and dogging the door, then slapping at a large red button embedded in the door. There was a loud hiss, and instantly, the capsule began to descend at a speed that would have impressed any pilot, and put the railed cars to shame. Mark’s breath coughed out in surprise, and Sharee wrapped her arms around him. The capsule changed its angle, and they found themselves essentially lying on their sides as the capsule travelled downward at a sharp diagonal angle.
“Where does it go?” Mark half-yelled.
“I don’t know… out!” Sharee replied. “It has a remote—”
Sharee was interrupted by a shock that reverberated in the capsule. For the first time, Mark saw confusion and concern in Sharee’s eyes… whatever that was, it wasn’t supposed to happen. Then, before either of them could react, the capsule began bucking wildly, slapping them against its sides. The slapping stopped, and for a moment, they felt weightless in the capsule. Then there was an impact, and the capsule pinwheeled crazily. Another impact, and the capsule’s top spun away. The side caved in, the bottom fell off, the door popped open, and as fast as that, Mark was airborne, with Sharee next to him and flying bits of capsule all around him.
Then one more impact, a blow that hit him in the head and back, and Mark lost consciousness…