Johnston pried the plywood off the door. In faded letters, a sign on the door read, "Danger! Keep out - DO NOT OPEN!"
"I don't understand," Sawyer said. "This area has hardly been mined, and it should contain some of the richest cavorite deposits.
"Perhaps the ground here is unsafe," Clark replied. "But...no, we're on solid rock at this point. Whoever was here before us clearly dug their way in, and intended to make this an active mining spot, given the size of that doorway."
Sawyer nodded. "And yet they didn't mine it. Maybe we should pay attention to the sign."
Eastcott shook his head. "Are you crazy? We set out to find cavorite. We made it all the way down here, you think there's cavorite behind that door, and now you want to stop? You lot can go back home if you want. I'm going in.” No one moved. “Just remember, I’m not paying quitters. Leave now and our deal is off.” He took the pickaxe from Johnston and swung it at the door. The dry wood splintered at the first blow. Eastcott kept at it until he had created a space large enough to walk through. "Anyone with me?" He stepped into the chamber.
Beyond the doorway was a small tunnel, its ceiling low enough that even Gayle had to stoop to walk through it. At the end of the tunnel, perhaps fifty feet from the wooden doorway, was a wall of rock. A metal door, like the door to a bank vault, was built into the rock. Instead of a timer lock, however, a metal wheel protruded, presumably linked to the bolt holding the door closed. The entire structure was about the size and appearance of the maintenance hatches that led to the lower levels of Victoria City, only installed vertically, on the wall, rather than horizontally, on the ground. The vault door appeared to have been installed hastily, but fitted later with airtight seals along the door's edges.
"Looks like someone was not only here before us, but they wanted to make sure whatever is on the other side of the door stays there," Clark said.
"Mebbe poison gas?" Johnston suggested. Various heads nodded, and Johnston removed a set of gas masks from his bag.
"Wait," Sawyer said. "You're not thinking of opening that seal, are you?"
Eastcott smirked. "Not much sense of adventure from you, eh, Miss Sawyer?"
"A sense of self-preservation, sir."
Weyman Clark caught Eastcott by the arm. "I've had just about enough from you, Eastcott! We all want to know what's on the other side of that wall, but this is not a time to be reckless. Someone went through the trouble of putting not just a doorway there but a sealed vault, and you want to blunder past it? If you have a death wish, that's none of my business. But I draw the line at getting killed with you!"
"Oh, grow up, Clark." Eastcott shrugged off the thin man's grip. Johnston is probably right, there's gas in the chamber. I'll wait until everyone has a mask on, but I intend on going in. Perhaps miners back in Horg Neurocam's day didn't know how to work safely in an area with gas, but we certainly do now. There's cavorite inside, and I intend to be the one to get it out!"
Clark and Sawyer exchanged looks with one another, but neither made a move to leave. Finally, Clark shrugged and said, "You're a fool, Eastcott."
All four placed their gas masks over their faces and adjusted the straps so that the masks fit snugly. Eastcott grabbed the wheel and tugged sharply. It did not move. He placed his body above the wheel and used his mass to create more torque, but still nothing. "It must be rusted shut," he declared.
Johnston rummaged in his bag once more and brought out a stick of dynamite. "We can blast 'er open."
The other three turned at once and said in near-unison: "No!" Clark continued, "The structure above us is unstable. An explosion is likely to bring down the whole thing onto our heads."
"We'll have to settle for some method other than brute force," Sawyer said.
Eastcott brought the pickaxe forward and banged it on the wheel a half-dozen times. "To loosen the rust," he said by way of explanation. He called Johnston over and the two of them gripped the wheel. "One...two...three!" They turned simultaneously. Metal groaned, the wheel moved a fraction of an inch, and, with another mighty push from the two men, started to turn freely. Eastcott spun the wheel until he felt it stop, then pulled the door open.