Intruders chapter 10
Following Ryan’s advice, Dai Williams called for another drill. This made conversation impossible. Ryan now had to rely on the sensors for monitoring the miners' vital signs, the video screen showed them only faintly through the shifting and increasing dust. As the hole was enlarged Williams planned to try to rig up a canopy to protect them from falling rock and crystal shards.
I dreamed of going into space, Ryan thought ruefully, and now here I am: underground, cramped, dirty, and deafened. Still, it looks as though they’re enlarging the hole much faster, maybe I’ll be back on the surface quite soon. I wonder why Dr Robinson hasn’t returned?
As the dust increased the extractor began to labour, then clogged and began to whine. Within seconds the crystals began to vibrate and the tone spread through the mine.
Williams shouted, ‘Shut down!’ and made cutting motions across his throat.
They cut the power but the sound was self-sustaining. Soon everything was shaking, as the crystals amplified the sound and reflected it back and forth. The noise was deafening.
There was a crack and a large slab of the floor gave way, taking a machine and Jenkins with it. The reverberations died. The dust hung suspended in the air as everyone stared in shock.
‘Told you I’d be first here, didn’t I boys?’ Jenkins’ voice broke the silence.
‘Good of you to drop in.’ came Huw’s reply.
Ryan joined in the great cheer that went up and rushed to the edge of the hole, to see that the slab had missed Huw and John, and also provided a bridge, the perfect means of rescue. Williams radioed the pithead with the news.
Ryan didn’t wait for permission, but jumped down beside Jenkins on the slab and crawled over to Huw and John. He laid a blanket beside John and crawled on to it.
‘I’ll take John, Huw, so they can get you out first. Mr Jenkins,’ he said, ‘help Huw up, would you?’
As Huw got his arm out from under John and Ryan gently took him, the silence was broken by a continuous tone from the monitor. Ryan checked John, as though he didn’t believe it, and Huw struggled to escape from the rescuers’ grip.
‘No John, not now! We’re saved, can’t you see?’
‘Turn that thing off!’ Williams shouted, and they bowed their heads in the silence.
* * *
On the surface, Hoy and Reuel arrived at the opencast workings, from opposite directions. Reuel started after the buggy, but Darrow called him back. He could identify the man later. When Reuel didn’t stop, Darrow remembered his comm unit was broken. He waved his arms to attract Hoy’s attention, pointed at Reuel and his comm unit and signalled negative. Hoy understood and called Reuel back, and they both made their way round the edge of the workings towards the Captain. By putting their helmets together, they could talk directly to each other, the contact of the visors allowing the transfer of some of the sound, lip reading helping with the rest.
‘Are you all right sir?’ Hoy said. ‘Who was that?’
‘Don’t know,’ Darrow said. ‘He attacked me when I stepped into the workings. I can deal with him later. Right now I want to see what he was up to.’
‘Excuse me sir,’ Reuel said. ‘If it was in the pit, should you not say “see what he was down to”?’
Darrow and Hoy smiled.
‘I’m afraid it’s another one of those phrases you just have to learn, Ensign,’ Darrow said. ‘Let’s find a way down to the cave.’
They climbed down to the cave Darrow had found. In a narrow space at the back they found some small rocket-shaped cannisters and a large net on a collapsible frame. Reuel identified the net.
‘We use these on Altair, Captain. In low gravity, a capsule can be dropped from a ship and caught with the net. It can also be used to launch a capsule into space, to be caught by a ship.’
‘Here’s what they were sending,’ called Hoy, who had opened one of the canisters. Reuel relayed it to Darrow. The cannister contained what at first looked like grit, but they realised it was razor quartz micro crystals. ‘Tiny quartz crystals. A few at a time would be easy to conceal, coming from the mine. The tiny ones are quite valuable. They’re used in computer circuits, so they’re in high demand.’
‘So someone is smuggling micro crystals off the base, out to a ship, and getting the empty capsules back,’ said Reuel.
Darrow looked around. ‘This isn’t just opportunistic, it’s organised. The miners, however many are involved, smuggle the crystals out of the mine and store them in these canisters. At pre-arranged times the canisters are put into the capsules and propelled into space, where they are collected by a waiting ship, and the empties returned to the surface ready for next time. I wonder how long it’s been going on?’
Hoy jumped. ‘Sir, a message came in - the miners have been rescued!’ His shoulders sagged. ‘Oh, one didn’t make it.’
‘Check if Commander Holland needs help,’ Darrow said.
‘No, he says it’s under control.’
‘You are not to say anything about this,’ said Darrow. ‘I don’t want anyone to know what we’ve found. Lieutenant-Commander, take the net and a full capsule back to the Kestrel and leave them against the ship near the airlock. I’ll see they get to Mr Jones, the Base Administrator. Now you two return to your posts. I’ll follow you back after I retrieve my walking pole.’
Reuel turned back and put his helmet to Darrow’s. ‘Sir? You have a pole that walks?’
[Next week: Darrow gets some good news and some bad news.]
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