The Collectors. Part 5.

Each time the passageway split, they went right. After ten minutes of walking, Richardson tapped Kate on her shoulder and raised a finger to his lips.

“What is it?” she whispered.

“Turn off your light. Someone’s coming.”

They pushed themselves back against the passageway’s wall and allowed the curtain of darkness to drape over them.

Soon, she heard the footsteps too.

Torchlight began to flow down the corridor, gradually becoming brighter. Richardson glanced toward the light, and made out a familiar, limping silhouette, behind it.

“Piraino?” Richardson asked, stepping away from the wall and switching his own light back on.

The silhouette jumped back in surprise.

“Captain!” Pirano exclaimed. His face was pale and covered in sweat, but a smile crept over his lips when he saw Richardson. Kate switched her light back on. “Lieutenant, too! Thank God. *Thank God!* I thought I was going to die down here all alone! – It’ll be good to have company!” He began to laugh.

“What happened to you?” Richardson asked.

Pirano’s eyes widened and he gazed into the distance. “I… was making a tactical retreat from the metallic monster, when I plummeted down a trap door beneath the sand. Captain – we need to get to the pyramid. I’ve seen some terrible things down here.”

“Mm,” Richardson grunted, “so have we. Kirby set off some kind of trap that’s blocked the exit. We’re looking for another way out.”

“What kind of trap?” Pirano replied urgently.

“There were moving symbols on the wall. He touched an image of a tree and it shifted – transformed – into a sand timer. We’ve got less than eighty minutes before it fills.”

“What were the other symbols?”

“I didn’t recognise all of them. There was the tree… a baby, a bird – I think, oh and a tool that looked somewhat like a scythe.

“Oh God, why didn’t we see it before? Quick – where is Kirby?” Pirano pleaded.

“Trying to deactivate it.”

“He needs to succeed!”

“Easy there – we don’t know what will happen if it runs out. Perhaps it will just reset itself to a tree, after the timer ends – maybe it’s in a temporary lockout right now.”

“Fools!” Pirano spat. He leaned forward and grabbed hold of Richardson’s skinsuit, tugging it toward him. “If that alarm goes off, more of *them* will come. Ships! If more come…” his eyes shifted first left then right, and his voice lowered to a whisper, “they’ll find us. Our own ship will lead them back to Earth -*our* Earth, I mean.”

“Pirano,” Kate began, “what do you know?”

Pirano panted hard and wiped spit away from his lips. “I don’t. I just… *suspect*. You suspect it too, don’t you Kate?”

“Are we some kind of… *food*, to them?”

“Yes. But we are far more than that to them. We are game. They raise us. They hunt us. Then, they devour us.”

“And then, once they wipe us out, they plant new seeds,” Richardson added, “for future hunts. Is that it?”

“Yes. They grow us from samples they will always have saved. That they’ve *collected*.”

“Who are they, Pirano?”

“You’ve not guessed?”

Richardson shook his head.

“They’re the first *us*. Humanity. They are what we become.”


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