Monday, January 16, 2017

Into the Mines, Part 1

I have been known to use these pages to describe some of my own adventures in the Steamlands. The manuscript that follows is not part of my own tale, however, and the manner in which it came into my possession is somewhat unusual. One morning, while I waited for the kettle to warm, I stepped outside to take in the brisk dawn air. I saw a parcel wrapped in brown paper, tied with a string, addressed to me. The outside bore no other markings - in particular, it gave no indication as to the origin of the parcel or its sender. Curious, I brought it inside, snipped the twine, and removed the contents, which turned out to be a handwritten manuscript, author unknown.

Over several cups of tea, I read the manuscript, then read it again. Though the story was fanciful, it had the ring of truth to it. And, in fairness, I have seen my share of unusual events in the Steamlands. More importantly, the tale offered an explanation for what until now has been a deep mystery: what happened to Caledon’s cavorite mine? This is the tale of the last expedition to the mine. I offer the manuscript as I received it, and make no guarantees of its veracity. - RJ


Vernon Eastcott stepped hard on the wooden plank, making the entire bridge bounce. He didn't bother to look behind him - he knew that the other three were glaring at his back. If he looked, they would take the opportunity to remind him that the wood was old, rotten in places, and that falling through the bridge, to the rocks below, would be bad for everyone's health. He twirled his handlebar mustache and smiled to himself.

Eastcott had no particular expertise for this expedition, unless one considered the ability to write a substantial check to be an expertise. Certainly he thought that ability entitled him to walk ahead of the others, his broad back side constituting the main vista for the three followers.

Just behind Eastcott, Weyman Clark wondered, not for the first time, what he had gotten himself into. Eastcott was correct about not looking back, because Clark, a slender man in his early 40s wearing wire-frame spectacles, was on the verge of reminding the big man to be careful where he stepped and to tread lightly. Clark was an expert in structural engineering, and was there to offer his opinion on whether the mine passages were still sound enough to resume operations. He had no experience with old wooden bridges, but his instinct said this one had little life left in it.

"Stop bouncing!" called out Gayle Sawyer, a petite woman wearing overly-large trousers and work boots, as she walked gingerly behind Clark. Sawyer was a geologist in her early 30s, a little worried about leaving her husband alone with their infant son while she traipsed about the shuttered cavorite mine. But she had analyzed the soil and rock samples that Zeke Johnston, the last member of the team, brought to her, and it was her conclusion that the mine still contained commercially-viable amounts of cavorite that led to the formation of the little group.

Zeke Johnston maintained his position in the rear. He was mindful of the problems with the bridge but assumed that, if it had stood this long, it would last a few more minutes. Johnston had worked the mine for years before the closure, and looked the part: solidly-muscled, with an unkempt beard and faded and fraying clothing. A well-worn revolver hung in a holster on a belt. Johnston hadn't worked steadily since the closure of the mine. He needed the money that would come with re-opening the mine, which is why some weeks ago he was willing to trespass on the grounds of the mine in order to collect the samples for Gayle and why he was trudging behind the rest of the group that morning. He carried a large rucksack filled with tools: pickaxes, miners' lamps, dynamite and blasting caps, and shielded containers to keep any cavorite samples from drifting off into space.

The foursome was making their way from the flatlands of Caledon's Moors to the rocky expanse of the old cavorite mine. For many years, the mine supplied most of the cavorite - that mysterious green ore with the property of generating a field of negative gravity - used throughout the Steamlands, from keeping airships and hovercraft aloft to creating floating buildings. The output of the mine declined precipitously in the 80s. Ownership changed hands several times, and the last owner finally stopped production entirely, closing the mine and declaring the entire area off limits. The years passed and the infrastructure of the mine slowly decayed.

No comments: