DOWN THE HATCH

Scene 22  1560 4D

The five hatch studs clicked, and the hatchdoor rose, levitating a meter above the opening. The odor brought most of the party to nausea and gagging. Derizan swallowed bile. “Down THERE?” Protests filled the stinking air.

Looking sickened herself, Terrenci shot back, “Yes! Or die right here! I’ll take Turtuz and we’ll investigate, and maybe the air will be better down there.” She leaned in under the hatch cover. “I see metal rungs on the left. This is an access shaft that opens out about two meters down. Then it’s about three meters to the floor where there are rails.” She coughed. “Come on, Turri.”

Turtuz went first, his face set, and Terrenci went down after him. Derizan’s eyes watered, and he tried to draw up his clothing to use as a filter. It didn’t help. Tellina threw up, and Ajina was spitting as if to relieve some flow of mucus.

Soon Terrenci’s voice echoed up to them. “The smell is better down here, and there’s air movement along the tunnel. I think opening the hatch vented some of the worst of it. It’s dark and quiet. Come on down.”

One by one they descended the rungs into the dimness. The tunnel was a wide oval in profile. Their glowlights found few surfaces to illuminate except the walls, which were bare and stony except for excrescences of what seemed to be fungal bloom. At their feet, two sets of rails led off in either direction. A rivulet flowed between each pair of rails. “This way,” Terrenci said firmly, and holding her light high, she followed the little stream as it flowed down.

“Why this way?” Derizan asked her. “Don’t we want to get to the surface sooner?”

“Two reasons. First, surfacing too near Fornonck is risky, because there will be patrols following up on that… operation that hit us. From what we’ve found, the other way leads south and curves east towards Gran Dar. The City you came from. Not a good destination. Second, this direction takes us north, towards the Mines and at this depth, well beneath them. It’s a long way, and we didn’t have time to gather supplies, so we will need to find ways to reach the surface as we go. That won’t be very easy.”

Inkurisar was just behind them as they walked carefully between the left-hand pair of tracks, avoiding chunks of stone and some reddish growths extending out from the rails and the stone under them. He muttered, “Under the mines. No way to the surface. No food. How long will our water last going like this? And what about the baby?” His tone turned biting. “No, that won’t be very easy.”

Derizan said, “Look, you were fine when you had a plan and knew the ways to go. This is different. Let’s try to adapt to what we find. It might not be as bad as you think.”

“Or it could get worse.”

“So can anything. It got a lot worse when that attack came.”

The party walked and rested, walked and rested, keeping most of their glowlights shut off, for several hours, until Terrenci stopped and pointed to the left wall just ahead of them. “Rungs. We’ve found a shaft upwards.”

Turtuz slipped up beside her, said, “Wait here,” and went nimbly up the rungs. His soft, ascending steps went on and on – Derizan counted well over a hundred until they could not be heard, and they waited twice as long again. Then he could be heard coming back down.

“It’s another chamber hatch. I was able to open it from the underside.” His growl had a slightly-musical feel in Derizan’s ears. “I came up at the side of a large circular space with a domed ceiling and a pedestal at its middle. I didn’t see any exits. The pedestal had symbols on its top – it was flat – and they all had a dull glow except one that was bright, white light. I didn’t touch any of it.”

Terrenci asked, “You saw no other ways out?”

“None.”

She nodded. “We need a rest, especially you – Alumaras, is it? And you, Tellina. Derizan, right? You seem to be on top of things here. What’s your thought?”

“Given that we only have a lot of walking ahead of us down here, why not find out more about this pedestal and the room it’s in? I’d like to take Denzari up there, and Ajina and Selech. While everyone rests, we’ll see what we can learn.” I’ll do well with them. Ajina finds things, Selech plays with everything, and Denzari can look at something and tell you how it works.

“Come on,” he told the three, Let’s go up there and see what we can find out. Maybe Turtuz missed something,” And he grabbed a higher rung, put his foot on a lower one and started to climb. “This is going to take a while.” And up they went. After he had climbed several meters, a rumbling sound echoed below him, and he stopped.

“Everything all right down there?” he called. Silence, and then Astina called up to him.

“We’re okay. It felt like a minor quake. Nothing now. But don’t take too long!”

“We won’t,” he called back, reaching for the next rung, feeling its thin coat of rust flaking a bit, and thinking, I sure hope we find something that helps.

 

Next scene.

Last Updated Friday, June 28 2024 @ 12:33 pm  11 Hits   
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