PROLOGUE

part II

Armored soldiers held rifles at the ready in front of large sheets of clear plastic that thrashed and popped in the wind, covering a sloped entrance at the center of a construction zone. Material-securing tarps trembled in the storm next to pieces of heavy machinery, the vehicles’ massive tires half-buried in silt.

The Colonel led Carter past the red-dusted guards and through the plastic barriers into a large tunnel bored through the rusted earth. Carter took note of the single string of lights affixed above their heads leading into the depths below, as he removed his dust mask and took a deep breath in the quiet, taking in the thick air that smelled of damp dirt and industrial equipment.

“Not much further, Doc,” the Colonel reassured.

Carter nodded, silently reveling in the unexplained excursion. He had always preferred field work over academia. His hands in the dirt. His feet in the mud. The thrill of discovery. He hadn’t been on a dig for several years and didn’t plan on visiting Earth anytime soon for another. It was dicy enough last time.

No, he thought, this would have to suffice. And at least they had the farm. It’s enough. But, hell, Bell’s going to be pissed when he gets home. Disappearing without explanation is never the best thing to do to your wife. But the sergeant was very clear about not telling anyone, even loved ones. Carter figured the sergeant probably wasn’t married.

Carter considered the size of the tunnel and reflected on the equipment outside, as they walked.

“This is a new transit system?” He asked.

The Colonel nodded but didn’t look back. “Yes, it is. But, rest assured, we didn’t bring you all the way out here to inspect a new mag-line.”

“Of course,” Carter smirked.

“This was to be a new resort bordering the Noctis Labyrinthus. Being built by some belt miner big-wigs. I’ve seen the designs. Beautiful place. Canyon vistas. Greening pools. The works. And, seeing as you’re about to sign your life away after this anyway, I might as well just tell you that they found something.”

Carter shook his head, processing the Colonel’s words, “Look, Colonel, I’m not an engineer or a geologist, so I don’t think I’m the guy to solve whatever problem they’ve run into into down here--and--what do you mean ‘sign my life’--"

The Colonel stopped. Turned around. A sense of hesitation hidden behind his stoic demeanor. “No, Doc. Listen to me. They found something.” He paused. “You understand?”

It took Carter a moment before his confusion became shock. Panic. Astonishment.

“No--are you... holy shit.”

The Colonel nodded the affirmative before turning around and continuing at a clip, “That's exactly what I said.”

Carter scrambled after him into the depths, the whistle of the wind growing fainter over the sound of their echoing footsteps.


180816