Sunday, 27 September 2015

Intruders: Blog the Book 4.2

This week the Kestrel crew are taken to the mine. To read from the beginning, go here. I picture Mike Holland as actor Tom Cruise, but taller (and younger)!

Intruders chapter 4 scene 3

As Gareth Davies led them to the mine, Tabitha looked him over. He was ruggedly built, a perfect specimen of the manual labour involved in mining, yet he moved with grace. On Alpha, the men were cumbersome and awkward.  She was fascinated and tried not to stare.
‘Can you explain the setup here?’ Holland asked as they made their way across the dome, followed by the diggers and lifters.

The pit is in a separate dome attached to this one,’ said Davies.  ‘It means we can keep the air separate in case of a gas release from a new void, and we can have different gravity too.  We maintain 1G in the main dome, because that’s what we’re used to, and it means there’s no adjustments when we go home on leave.  But in the pit dome it makes sense to reduce the gravity to make the machinery and the quartz easier to handle.  We keep it at one quarter G, just enough to stop things floating about, so you’ll feel it change in the airlock.’  He looked around.  ‘I hope you all know what you’re doing in low gravity.’

Tabitha caught Chambers’ eye and shook her head, her eyes wide.

‘Just take things slowly and listen to Lieutenant-Commander Hoy,’ he whispered.

‘Lower gravity in the mine is a great idea,’ Holland was saying to Davies.  ‘Does it take long to get used to switching gravities all the time?’

Davies smiled, ‘It can take a while.  We have bets on how quickly new guys will adapt.’

‘Well, we’ve brought you some new people to bet on.’  Holland grinned.

‘Now you’re here we can give some of the men a much-needed break,’ said Davies, ‘and if necessary we’ll be able to operate round the clock.’ 

They crowded into the airlock, and Tabitha's heart sank as she read the warning signs about the gravity. I'm still trying to cope with 1G, she thought, what will this be like?

As the airlock cycled and the gravity reduced, Davies pointed out the handrails.  ‘There are handrails and grip points everywhere.  Let’s get you kitted out and get that scanner down to find those men.'

Davies stepped out of the airlock without a second thought and launched himself in a graceful leap towards the pithead. Tabitha understood why he was so graceful. The rest of the Kestrel crew were more careful, moving with varying degrees of confidence. Tabitha felt so light she was afraid to move. Chambers took her arm and stabilised her as they followed the others.

Davies handed out breathing masks, goggles and heavy gloves.  ‘The air can get full of dust when we’re digging, so these are mandatory - these razor quartz crystals really are razor sharp.  Before you go down, there is something important you need to know: the crystals respond to noise, and certain frequencies of sound can cause a resonance overload.  The whole mine rings with it.  So keep the noise down when you’re underground.  Here we are.’

“Here” was a hole in the ground with a winch at one side.  There were rungs set in the shaft wall. 
Davies introduced two men. ‘This is Dai Williams. He’s organising work on Level Two above the cave-in.  Arwel Hughes is on Level Three starting to dig into the rubble.  The two levels run almost parallel, so if, as we hope, the men are beyond the cave-in, we should be able to reach them from above.’

‘Ryan, you go down to Level Two with the scanner,’ Holland said.  ‘Chambers, you’re with him.  Hoy, take Enns down to Level Three with Mr Hughes.’

Dai Williams stepped over the rim of the shaft and allowed himself to fall, controlling his descent by tapping on the rungs.

Ryan looked back and grimaced. 'Forget it,' he said, and used the rungs as a ladder. Chambers followed suit.

Tabitha held on tightly to a handrail and hung back while the first team descended.

Meanwhile, Davies took Holland to a console and hooked his feet under a bar at the base.  Holland did the same.  Davies called up a 3D map of the mine. Tabitha craned to see.

‘When it was surveyed this asteroid was found to be a honeycomb structure.  Every void has huge quartz crystals growing on the walls.’

‘So this place is full of holes,’ said Holland, with a smile.

Davies didn’t get the joke.  ‘Exactly,’ he said.  ‘Originally they mined the quartz using opencast methods, but it was too awkward, so they sank a shaft and worked from that.  It also meant we could have a dome and not work in suits.’  He pointed to the map.  ‘There are three levels which run almost parallel, although, since we go from one void to the next, the tunnels are not straight.  We’ve got a man on Level Two who has scrambled across the cave-in and is drilling a pilot hole at the place where the tunnels next cross.  Let’s hope he’s not wasting his time.

[Next week we’ll see what Chambers and Ryan face on Level Two in the mine]

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