The sound of falling rocks stopped, replaced by a deep and oppressive silence. In a few moments, the panic began.
Even rural dwellers like me, who are used to the deep gloom of the night, will rarely experience the profound darkness that comes from being underground. One of the girl friends started screaming and sobbing while I fumbled about for the emergency torch. Even when the bright beam swept through the dust filled air, waves of fear continued to sweep through the party. Only when I shouted at them to shut up did some semblance of sanity prevail.
I shone the light over the collapsed entrance and quickly realised we were not getting out that way, even if we could count on the bandits moving away. The fear on the faces that looked at me was palpable, even when I held out the blue artefact to reveal its delicate and detailed rendition of the environment around us.
I told them to look at the glowing map projected before us, and focus on the fact that we were no longer blind, that the light of the torch and this miracle would save our lives.
The map contained a myriad of faint lines and shadows, which appeared to be the underlying structure of the rocks. Bright and clear shone the passage way where we stood, leading off towards distant side branches and chambers. Outside, I had estimated its range was some three or four miles, and it remained roughly similar inside the mountain, though it occasionally rescaled to show greater details at random.
As soon as we were organised, we struck out quickly to what appeared to be the main workings. The map showed huge chambers and access tunnels ahead of us, testament to the application of anti-gravity technology to underground access, allowing vast spaces to be created and navigated without the constraints of reinforcement and construction of elevators. As a kid, I remembered seeing the huge anti-grav mining vehicles and ore carriers disappearing into the mine through large holes cut into the ground. It was my intention to find one of those access ways and make for the surface.
Progress was slow but steady, with the greatest danger coming from flooding and the slippery rock. The facility was already badly affected by neglect, with way stations and medical refuges rotting or collapsed. The strangest development was the occasional bodies we found. They were all Sansica security or science personnel, none of whom should have been down here.
The glowing map started to change as we neared the main mining area. It continued to show the workings and passages, but now had a large glowing spot and hieroglyph in the chamber ahead of us. Some of the lights and ventilation fans still worked around here, and as we entered the chamber, marvelled at the partially lit interior of the giant artificial cave. It was an adjunct to a more regular shaped hangar to one side, and it looked as though it regularly flooded.
Griping the wet handrails tightly, we gazed down at an extraordinary sight. A futuristic blue craft lay on its side, partially submerged in the pale green water. Whereas everything we had seen showed signs of rust and decay, the blue craft shone with no mark or defacement of any kind. Looking at the artefact again, I could see that it was made of the same blue material, and the craft was the focus of the hieroglyphs.
We had no idea what it was, and there seemed no easy way to scramble down to get a closer look. In front of us, the glowing map showed one of the big access tunnels leading gently up towards the surface. It was with some reluctance that our curiosity succumbed to the lure of escape, and we were forced to leave the enigma behind.
-- Mona Asuridanavan, somewhere in the Monazite Creek mine.
Ship model created in Truespace and Hexagon. Bridge from Stonemason's Back Streets.
Scene assembly and final rendering in Vue 6 Pro Studio. Post processed in Photoshop CS2