Lieutenant Angela Bale and her team arrived at the coordinates that her friend Gilmore had given her and found nothing in the way of answers, but much in the way of questions.

Why had Gilmore asked her to check this out, Bale wondered. Each communication made by the nervous little guy put himself at risk so it must be important, but there didn't seem to be anything important here.

There was a lot of curious though. They'd come from the south and nearly driven into a collapsed fault line on the way. At least they'd thought it was a fault line until further investigation. Scans revealed it was a collapsed tunnel, recently collapsed too by the looks of it.

Then, while still more than 20 klicks from the coordinates they came across a crash scene. A horrible conflagration, but this too had more questions than answers.

The deep gouge into the earth had very little debris, indicating a severe thump by a well-built vehicle that was then removed. The few pieces they found indicated it was another of the eponymous Starbus craft seen flitting all over the place these days, but in the midst of the crash site were three charred bodies. One could only imagine the odds of crashing on three people in Buffalo Commons, odds raised by the amount of devastation in the crash site.

Were it not limited to that immediate space Bale would think a missile had struck the ground obliterating everything, but only in a very narrow space.

Before she called Gilmore for more information she ordered her team on to the coordinates and there they investigated further.

Brushed dirt, gouged deep by heavy treads in some places. Tracks moving in circles but not in any visible direction. Like someone dropped an old armoured tank beside this rock face, let it tool around in circles for a bit and then removed it piece by piece.

More likely, Bale thought, it was plucked into the air in the same means as it was placed on the ground, but again, why? Why here, why just in this spot, and why gone? Why now?

The team drew into the reserves a bit, Bale was miserly about that, and took the Carrier up to the top of that foothill, but the view didn't put anything into perspective or provide any insight.

Something had gone on here, five days ago by the looks of it. A craft had crashed, the crash had ignited a massive yet contained fire killing three people, possibly instantly. A treaded vehicle had donuts for a few minutes near this ridge, and a tunnel had collapsed.

Well, the tunnel was odd for many reasons. There weren't any decaying centers near here, no bodies of water to tunnel under, in fact the collapsed ridge, which looked even more like a fault line from up than it did at ground level, didn't seem to go from anywhere to anywhere.

Maybe, Bale thought, it was a cavern, some artifact from when these foothills were created, possibly like those lava tubes she saw in northern California on that last vacation she had. And maybe, the crash created a seismic shock of some sort that caused the cavern to collapse.

That fit the facts. At least it fit those facts. But the tread tracks below them didn't fit into anything.

They returned to ground level and continued to investigate. Were there any footprints? Yes, quite a few. They seemed to come from the crash. Odd.

Was there any debris, trash, or other clues? No. The place had been brushed clean, presumably by broken branches laying against the cliff wall. Why?

Finally, after a few hours of finding nothing, Bale opened her Personal Comm and keyed in the return code. After a few seconds Gilmore answered, "Hello?"

"It's me." Bale said clearly, hoping nothing more was needed. "I'm on-site and not finding much. What am I looking for?"

The voice on the other side was squeaky, the sort of squeaky a voice gets when its saying something that doesn't make any sense and they're not sure of it themselves. Oddly it was pretty normal for Gilmore to sound this way, "A tunnel large enough for tanks to come out of."

It's funny how one piece of information can start putting pieces of a puzzle together. The treads were by a hill and didn't go anywhere. The dirt they'd trodded on had been swept. Nearby a ridge of dirt almost five kilometers long had formed looking like a fault but scanning as a collapsed tunnel. It pointed to this hill.

Bale turned around and looked at the hill, the mass of broken tree branches laying against it, not debris but deliberately set to mask whatever was behind it. Bale now suspected that what was behind those branches was the entrance to a tunnel.

She spoke as she walked toward the mass of branches and began tugging at them, "What exactly happened here five days ago?"

* * *