A surly-looking Claw member with a goatee and long blond hair underneath a wide blue bandana stood to one side of the entrance, an AK-47 leveled at us.
"Nice digs," I said.
Kyle motioned us toward the entrance. "This way," he said and went inside.
Mouse glanced at me. "Better not be any rabid bears in there. I'm unarmed."
Tina prodded me in the back of the shoulder with the muzzle of her rifle. "Keep moving," she said.
* * *
Inside the tunnel, the temperature dropped at least fifteen degrees, and I shuddered as the cool air chilled the sweat on my face and the back of my neck. The tunnel was at least three meters wide, the ceiling about as tall, with rocky walls. Wall lamps and support arches reinforced with metal beams were evenly spaced along the length of the tunnel. Thick bundles of cables and wire ran along the bottom edge of either wall.
After passing several side tunnels, we emerged into large cavern with four tunnels branching out from it. More Claw members were here, some passing through carrying equipment and duffel bags, others huddled in small groups and talking.
Kyle signaled a stop and motioned to Tina and another from the group, spoke briefly with them. They nodded and came back to us.
I turned to Kyle. "You said you'd take us to Mac."
"I will," he said. "They're just taking you to a waiting room."
"Let's go," said Tina, and she headed toward the nearest tunnel on our left.
As we started after her, I glanced back.
Kyle was talking to a man in a faded black t-shirt and faded jeans.
The same man from the Airpark Cafe.
Then a thought clicked into place.
And I didn't like it one bit.
* * *
The waiting room turned out to be a cave roughly the size of the Red Dog's back office and filled with stacks of crates two-deep along the walls. Supplies, from the look of some of the labels. Two lamps perched on opposite walls gave off a sickly yellow glow. A thick steel door stood between us and the tunnel beyond.
Cutter tested one of the crate stacks, then hauled himself on top of it and leaned back against the cave wall.
Mouse rapped on the door with her knuckles. "This is not good."
"Something else not good," I said.
"Isn't there always?"
I told her about the guy at the cafe and the guy I just saw in the cavern.
Mouse frowned. "You sure?"
"This is a hunch again, isn't it."
I grinned at her. "Never wrong yet."
"Always a first time," said Mouse.
* * *
Half an hour later, the door clanged and creaked open.
Kyle walked in, followed by a statuesque woman dressed in rumpled green fatigues like the others, long, dark, curly hair swept back from a face with high cheekbones. She had a sidearm in a drop-leg holster and an AK with a folding stock hung from a three-point sling just behind her right hip.
She stepped into the middle of the cave, feet apart, hands on her hips, and regarded us with penetrating brown eyes. "I'm Mac," she said. "I hear you've got something to say to me."
Cutter jumped down from the crate stack and stalked toward Mac. "Since when does Dylan give orders around here?" he said. "I thought you were in charge."
Mac turned to him. "I am."
"Did you order your idiots to shoot down my aerodyne?"
"I did," said Mac.
Cutter went saucer-eyed. "What the fuck, Mac?"
"Dylan said you were carrying a Capital suit."
I stepped forward. "He's not a Capital suit."
Mac and I were standing eye to eye.
The corners of her mouth turned up in a smile. "Big girl."
"The guy your people took off the crashed aerodyne isn't Capital," I said. "He's a tech for Lux Technologies."
"Liar," said Mac.
"Why would I lie?"
"You corp muscle are all alike. Brainless thugs slaving for the corporate machine."
Mouse said, "You borrow that line from a vid?"
Someone fought back a snorted laugh.
"If you give him back," I said to Mac, "we'll get out of your hair."
Mac's eyes narrowed at me. "Telling me what to do? In my own camp?"
"If something happens to Beck, I'm taking it out on you."
Mac shot me a look of contempt. "We're done here," she said and turned to leave.
I put a hand on her arm. "No, we're not," I said.
She swatted my hand away and rounded on me. "Touch me again and I'll kill you."
"You can try," I said.
We locked eyes for what seemed like forever.
Then she snorted, stepped back, turned, and headed for the door.
"Who's the guy in the black t-shirt?" I said. "Skinny. Scruffy chin."
Mac stopped by the door, looked back toward me, eyes slitted. "I said we were done." She turned and walked out.
"You owe me an aerodyne, goddammit!" Cutter said.
Kyle looked after Mac. Then he signaled to someone beyond the door, turned, and walked up to me, eyes narrowed, and folded his arms across his chest. "Faded black t-shirt? Was in the other cave a while ago?"
"His name's Dylan. Mac's second." He tilted his head to one side. "Why?"
(to be continued...)