The light from Richard’s head lamp shone down the steadily descending corridor. The darkness ahead was almost suffocating, and even at maximum strength the lamp barely seemed to penetrate it. Even so, it did manage to pick out the strange indentations that ringed the tubelike passage every ten meters or so.
“Just for the record,” said Rhyn, as they ran their gloved hand along one of the rings, “I still think this is a really bad idea.”
“Your statement will be entered into the log,” came Richard’s reply, his sarcasm noticeable even over the suit comms. “Come on, don’t tell me you flew all the way up to the moon without expecting some adventure?”
Not waiting for a reply, he picked up his equipment pack and began to head further down the corridor. Rhyn followed, although mostly because Richard’s head lamp was the strongest light source around. They both had torches, but somehow the idea of fumbling all the way back up to the surface with only a small cone of light for guidance didn’t appeal. This didn’t mean they were going to let the matter drop, however.
“You know perfectly well that Dr. Fairfax is going to be pissed when she finds out about this, right?”
Richard paused for a moment before replying.
“Alice has stolen the credit for every new discovery since she set foot on this rock, regardless of her actual input,” he growled. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to be relegated to appendix 2, subsection 3: ‘Special thanks to Richard Greer for doing all the fucking work,’ alright?”
They continued in silence for a while.
It was a long tunnel, and once the light from the tunnel entrance faded, it became difficult to estimate just how far they had gone. Rhyn found the experience of walking through the sequence of rings oddly familiar, like driving down a country road with evenly spaced trees planted alongside. There was something else it reminded them of, but that second memory was elusive.
It dawned on Rhyn that they probably ought to be counting the number of rings they passed, but at this point they weren’t even sure of how long it had been since they had found the entrance. A check of the suit chronometer suggested about ten minutes.
Another ten minutes passed before Richard spoke up again, continuing the previous conversation as if no time had passed at all.
“Besides, it is not like we’re disobeying orders. We were told to scan the ruins, and that’s exactly what we are going to do… once we’ve established how far these ruins extend.”
“I thought our orders were to report back any finds,” Rhyn replied.
“Well, yes,” Richard said in a slightly sly tone, “but we can’t report back a find until we know exactly what we’ve found, right?”
Rhyn was pretty sure they knew of several counterarguments to that
Rhyn was trying to pin down the strange feeling of déjà vu they felt, when Richard suddenly spoke over the comms. There was a slightly worried tone to his voice.
“Now, you might think me crazy for asking this,” he said before pausing slightly, “but do you smell metal?”
Rhyn was about to answer that yes, it did sound a bit crazy, when they suddenly realised that they could indeed smell something.
Above the faint plastic smell of the spacesuit, and even above the somewhat stronger odour of a human that had spent rather too long in a spacesuit — and who was rather looking forward to a bath after their shift — there was… something else.
It somehow straddled the boundary between smell and taste. It smelled like the taste of blood. Slightly metallic and very unsettling. Particularly since the suits were meant to be fully sealed. The suit systems were not registering any leaks, however.
“I can smell it too,” Rhyn said. “Let’s go back.”
“After all that walking? No, I can see a light of some sort up ahead. Just a little further.”
With that, Richard set off again, walking faster now. Rhyn followed reluctantly.
As the light grew stronger, so did the strange smell, and by the time they reached the end of the corridor, it was almost overwhelming.
But the smell quickly became secondary to the sight they were greeted with, as the corridor opened out into a massive hollow shaft, the centre of which was dominated by a long glowing crystal.
Eye-wateringly white, the crystal was suspended from a metal support structure far above, and a strange white energy crackled around its bottom. Above them, strange vents and concave dishes lined the ceiling, while below them the shaft disappeared down into darkness.
“This is…” Rhyn began and spent a few moments trying to find the right words. “… so COOL!”
Richard simply grinned.
The corridor they stood in seemed to lead out onto a walkway that ran all the way round the cylinder. The inside edge had a railing that was lined with consoles. Some were the blank surfaces of the Primori, but other equipment seemed to have been grafted and wired in later.
Most of it appeared to be powered down, but here and there a light would shine.
Richard unshouldered his heavy equipment pack and placed it just inside the corridor, then stepped out onto the walkway. Rhyn watched from inside the corridor as he walked further along the row of consoles.
Switching to their long-range comms, Rhyn attempted to report back to the base, but received nothing but a blast of static. Either they were deeper underground than they had thought, or that crystal was causing some interference.
As this was happening, Richard had stopped and was staring at one of the consoles. It looked Primori in make, with no buttons or dials, but right in the middle of it was an indentation the size and shape of a human hand.
Richard stared at the dial, then his hand, then back at the dial. Then, almost without thinking, he reached out.
For a brief second there was nothing, then both researchers felt a tremor that reverberated up their feet, and the crystal began to rotate clockwise, while further down the shaft, sections of the wall began to turn in the opposite direction.
Rhyn saw Richard step back from the console. Initially they thought this was out of surprise, but then they saw him clutch his hand and trigger his suit’s distress signal.
“…….-and….punctured………..stupid thing to……..” came through the comms in a fuzz of static. Rhyn didn’t catch most of it, but “punctured” was a problem.
Even if it wasn’t severe, it was a long walk back up the corridor and back to the base, and Richard’s oxygen was not infinite. Rhyn was kneeling to open the equipment pack and find some sealant when the doors in the corridor began to close.
First the ring nearest the shaft began to narrow, extending inwards into the corridor like the shutters of a camera aperture. Looking through the hole, they saw Richard turn and start to make their way back, but it was almost certainly too late. Walking was awkward in the low gravity, running even more so.
Turning, Rhyn could see that the next ring up the corridor had also begun to close. Realising that they would soon be trapped in the corridor, they snapped into action. Lifting the equipment bag with the sealant, they hurled it through the narrowing opening out to the walkway. They paused for long enough to see Richard stop next to it, then Rhyn turned and ran towards the narrowing gap further up the corridor, throwing themselves forward just in time to make it through with centimetres to spare.
Rising quickly, Rhyn headed directly for the next narrowing ring.
As they ran, they suddenly remembered what the corridor had also reminded them of.
When they had been younger, Rhyn’s father had taken them to visit a nuclear bunker up north. The previously secret bunker had been converted into a museum, and Rhyn remembered the feeling of passing the huge blast doors and the sense of claustrophobia they had felt inside the place.
No, they were not going to let themselves be trapped.
Rhyn had made it past the fifth ring from the bottom before they began to notice the change around them.
As they leapt through another ring that had only just started to close, they noticed that jumping was becoming harder, and sounds were beginning to filter through from outside the suit.
Gravity, atmosphere. What had Richard started?
By the time Rhyn made it to the end of the corridor, fifteen minutes later, exhaustion had robbed them of their head start, and they almost tripped over the last ring as it began to close.
Stumbling forward, Rhyn stopped against the opposite wall and rested their back against it before sliding to the ground, noting how the artificial gravity made this easier.
After taking a moment to catch their breath, they switched on their long-range comms.
“Moon base one,” Rhyn said, then paused and switched on the recording function before continuing.
“Moon base one, come in. Richard has found something.”