This week Captain Darrow goes to the abandoned opencast mineworkings as part of his investigation of the missing quartz. To read the book from the beginning go here. Darrow looks a bit like actor Michael Sheen.
Intruders chapter 7 scene 4 [last week had scenes 2&3 together]
Following his interviews, Darrow called in on Wil Jones, the Base Administrator.
‘Mr Jones, I’m going out to the old opencast mine workings. Is there a map?’
Jones crossed his arms.‘I don’t see what you expect to find. They were searched. There’s nothing there.’
‘I simply want to see for myself. As I explained before I want to be able to report to Chert that I checked everything. Now, is there a map?’
Jones relented. ‘There's an od one. Do you have a pad? I’ll download it for you. Just be careful, the crust is thin in places.’
‘Thank you,’ Darrow passed his data pad across. ‘I’ll let you know if I find anything.’
Darrow first headed to the Kestrel and was displeased to find the bridge empty.
‘Captain on board!’ he said over the intercom. ‘Report!’
‘Ensign Stubbs here Captain. Dr Robinson has had an accident out on the surface and Ensign Reuel is assisting Dr Thomas with the rescue. I’m waiting at the airlock.’
‘Very good. Is anyone else on board?’
‘Very well. I’m going out to the old opencast mine workings. I’ll be using that airlock myself. There may be a problem with communication if I go underground, so consult Commander Holland at the pithead if you need advice. I’ll notify him now.’
Darrow notified Holland and returned to his office. Urgent messages were waiting for him and he paused to check them. His contacts had gone to unexpected lengths checking post mortems on the unexplained deaths that coincided with the other suspicious incidents. Calneh had shared details of the “unknown” enzyme. The others had not only looked for it, but had circulated its details and compared them. Of those post mortems they had managed to access, fully half had identified the same enzyme. Darrow gasped in astonishment, he felt a growing sense of vindication. The evidence was mounting.
He pulled his attention back to the situation in hand and went to put on his suit and gather his equipment. He took a powerful torch to supplement his helmet light and a rope and grapple in case he needed help to climb down into the workings. He also took his walking pole. He loved hill walking on verdant planets, but he had found the pole equally useful on other terrain. Mindful of Jones’ warning about the patches of thin crust, he planned to use it to probe the ground ahead of him, to test the safety of each step.
He went through the cargo bay and out of the airlock and stepped into the shadow of the ship without turning on his helmet light. The light from the stars was dim, but he wasn't looking at his surroundings, he was looking up. He loved the feeling of being in space without a ship. No atmosphere between him and the stars. His imagination soared into the black as he slowly turned on the spot. His turning brought him back to face the Kestrel with the dome behind, and brought his mind back to the task in hand. He switched on his helmet lamp and turned left around the ship until he reached the dome and then followed it.
The ground was undulating, covered in fine dust, and in places it became uneven. Darrow used his pole to test the ground and to boost himself over rough patches. He weighed almost nothing in the minimal gravity, but there was enough to keep him upright at least. The gently rolling landscape soon became rough. Piles of spoil were dotted around, and he struggled on for some distance until he found a path between them. The workings had obviously not been approached from this direction. Soon he saw ahead a large dark patch, even in the dim light from the dome. The mine workings. Reaching the edge, he shone his hand lamp down into the hole. It was about ten metres deep and thirty metres across at the widest part. The inside of the pit looked like broken eggshells: the remains of voids, some shallow, with most of the walls removed to gain access beyond, some like caves with just a small opening. Where to start? How long would it take to search for hidden quartz?
If it’s hidden, then it must be in one of the caves, he thought, so that narrows it down a bit. But how to organise a search methodically?
He played the light across the workings and saw a disturbance in the layering of dust at a cave entrance.
That’s as good a place to start as any.
He shone his lamp around the rim and found some crude steps a few metres away. He worked out a route to the cave, put his torch on his belt and climbed down to the bottom of the pit. Once there, he used his torch to relocate the cave. It was dark in the pit, with only the light from the stars to see by. As he drew near he saw the dust was disturbed along a track from the cave entrance to the pit wall. He ducked his head and went inside, where he was met with a blow to his leg from inside an alcove near the entrance.
Darrow stumbled, shocked by the unexpected attack. As he fell, he instinctively swung his walking pole at his assailant, who dropped his weapon - a torch - which went out. The force of the blow pushed Darrow down into the cave. He thumbed his comm unit and shouted ‘Mayday, mayday!’ but there was only static.
Damn! he thought. Too far underground.
Hearing his call, the man turned towards him. Darrow let his torch drop so he had two hands for his walking pole, which he used to halt his progress. He got his feet under him and pushed off, launching himself back towards his assailant. As he brought the walking pole round to use as a weapon, the man wrenched it out of Darrow’s grip and threw it out of the cave entrance. They grappled, and the man grabbed Darrow’s arm and smashed his comm unit against the rock face. Now he would be unable to call for help.
The man’s helmet light was off and his face plate was polarised, so Darrow could see nothing of his features. Darrow turned his own helmet light off, so the only light in the cave was his dropped torch, shining against the back wall. It was likely the man could see nothing through his darkened face plate. While the man was disoriented, Darrow reached down and turned off the man’s air supply. As the man let go and scrabbled for the control, Darrow de-polarised the man’s face plate and then turned his own light on. Both men stopped in shock. The man because he was discovered and Darrow because of what he saw. Not that he recognised the man, but he was green.
[Next week in chapter 8 Dr Robinson gets rescued]
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