*Continued from Uncharted, Part IV
"Spear 6 to Aegis, we are ready to close the tunnel." Aleksandr Lermontov has been a soldier in the Phalanx Nautikos for seven years, but this is the first time he's ever seen one of the portals. Barely visible, it almost looks like a single drop of water hanging from a freshly used faucet, only larger than a man. This one, the Jezercë Tunnel, happens to be larger than a bus. According to Compass, the Jezercë Tunnel hasn't been here long.
If everything goes according to plan, it won't be here much longer.
Aleksandr's earpiece buzzes. "Spear 6, Aegis. Proceed with detonation."
He snaps his fingers and the three others with him begin moving down the mountain, one taking care to brace a detonator as they begin lumbering their way, weighed down by climbing gear. Ordinarily the team would consist of nearly a dozen - seven more wait at the base of the mountain - but these four are the only expert mountaineers in all of the Phalanx Nautikos. In a few moments, the PN will be devoid of expert mountaineers.
The drop of water shimmers, instilling a vision of a splash in Aleksandr's vivid imagination, and something comes through. Before he can react, its arms - matted in a putrid-smelling fur - grab Aleksandr around his stomach and snap his spine in half. He's already dead when it pulls him back into the tunnel.
A moment of panic causes the demolitionist to twist and pull the detonator. Snow and rock tumble through the moonless Albanian night and the three remaining mountaineers tumble to their deaths.
Spyglass bolts awake, sweating profusely under a blanket. It takes a moment, but she realizes that she wasn't in Reception. Merely dreaming. Another nightmare.
"Oh, shit." She forgot someone else was in the room. Compass. Slaving over his blasted laptop, tinkering with schematics and spreadsheets in an attempt to design an effective system of locating the Tunnelers.
Compass stares at her, wide-eyed. His expression reveals one trying to figure out whether to offer assistance or to start laughing his ass off. Since he's crushing on Spyglass, he chooses the former. "Nightmare?"
The adrenaline subsiding, Spyglass feels her cheeks turn red. Another embarrassing moment in front of Compass. He may never ask her out at this rate. If he wanted to, that is.
She nods quickly, pulls the blanket over her head - barely tolerating the smell of her own perspiration - and tries to control her breathing. Terror and embarrassment are a difficult mixture. She hears the tone of Compass' phone and his muffled greeting.
"On the way." The phone snaps closed, then the laptop.
"Get up, Spyglass." Spyglass knows something's wrong. That's the only time Compass addresses her by title. "Shit hit the fan."
Captain Kofi Danquah hates debriefing the Navigators. Not that he minds their company, but given his level of autonomy in running the Phalanx Nautikos, Danquah tends only to debrief the Navigators after something bad has happened. Born in Greece - the son of a Ghanaian diplomat - Danquah finds the winters of Switzerland far too cold. But he loves his job.
Except this part of it, of course. The only thing worse than debriefing the Navigators is doing so in front of a blinding projector light.
"At 0217 Central European Time, Sergeant Lermontov's team conducted a peripheral reconnaissance of the Jezercë Tunnel..."
Clock interrupts. "Peripheral?"
Danquah nods, answering Clock's implied question before resuming the debrief. "Two members of Lermontov's team entered the tunnel, which is when they discovered this." Danquah taps his remote and the projected image changes.
"What the fuck is that?" Nobody has to ask whether or not that was Compass.
"We don't know," Danquah replies. "Permission to conduct a recon in-depth was not granted."
"Nor was it asked for, Captain," scolds Clock.
As he's not yet been made privy to all of the radio transmissions, Danquah was not aware of this. He purses his lips and attempts to hide his burgeoning anger at being left out of the loop. They were his men, after all. His soldiers. He should've been allowed to oversee the operation, even if from a remote location. But Clock had demanded oversight. One does not question the decision of a Navigator, even the commanding officer of the Phalanx Nautikos. Wisely allowing his ire to pass, Danquah continues.
"Preliminary analysis suggest a lock of some kind."
Sextant speaks this time, which shocks everyone. Such an act is a rarity in any formal Order conference. "A lock? For what?"
"We don't know that, either."
"Is there any imagery?" Compass asks.
"Destroyed in the accident."
Marianne and James, sitting unobtrusively in the back, begin whispering to each other. Though it was his idea to reveal the Order to them, Clock is annoyed by their presence in the conference room. "Something to share?"
"If it's a lock, and this tunnel is newer than the other ones, what if it's not a tunnel at all? What if it's a door?"
Sextant speaks again. "Manufactured?"
"Well, yes. Why not?" Marianne is rather pleased with herself. The pleasure doesn't last long.
Sextant snaps his fingers. "Kracken Protocols. Immediately."
Two seconds ago, there were nine people in the room. The four navigators, Captain Danquah, two PN intelligence specialists, and Marianne and James.
Two seconds later, there is only Marianne and James.
Marianne sprints through the corridor, chasing Compass. James struggles to keep up behind her.
"What?" Compass doesn't turn to look at her. Nor does he stop jogging.
"What's going on?"
"Sextant thinks we're about to get invaded."
Marianne stops, dead in her tracks. "Invaded? By the Tunnelers?"
"No. Just one Tunneler."
Elsewhere, entering her dormitory, Spyglass shivers. She hopes Sextant is overreacting - he's done so before. In fact, this will be the third time the Kracken Protocols have been implemented since she's been Spyglass. But never before has it happened after a Phalanx Nautikos mission went awry. And never before has anyone even considered the possibility that the Tunnelers can make their own tunnels.
All Spyglass knows is that she's no desire to meet Krueger in person.
*Continued in Uncharted, Part VI
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