Beyond the door lay a vast cavern. The lamps penetrated only a few feet into the darkness, but their footsteps echoed a long way into the chamber. Eastcott said, "I'll do the honors" and stepped through the vault door. The others followed warily.
Clark and Johnston pulled out torches from Clark's bag. They left the bag at the entrance to the chamber and, moving cautiously a few feet at a time, placed the torches at intervals, lighting each one as soon as it was anchored to the hard cave floor. When they ran out of torches they had not yet illuminated the entire cavern. What they could see of it, however, caused all four to stop in their tracks and stare.
The near walls, which were the only ones visible, were studded with large chunks of cavorite. Loose pieces of the rock floated gently in the cavern, while still other, purer pieces hugged the top of the cavern. Standing in the midst of the cavorite was a metal craft, thirty by twenty feet in area and a half-dozen feet tall. The exterior of the craft was badly damaged, with fire damage visible along the right-hand side and crumpled metal at the point of impact with the floor of the cavern.
Gayle stayed by the chamber opening, cautiously peering into the gloom. The metal craft was obviously created rather than formed, but it would have been impossible to get such a large structure into the cavern. Unless... but no, the mountain had existed for millions of years.
Vernon Eastcott did not share Gayle's sense of caution. He burst past her and hobbled toward the craft as fast as his injured leg would allow. "Vernon, wait just a minute!" Weyman Clark called out to no avail. Vernon reached the side of the craft and banged on the metal exterior. The sound echoed in the chamber. "Vernon, we don't know anything about this... spaceship."
Gayle exhaled when she heard Weyman use the word. She wasn't the only one who thought that the craft was unlikely to be of human origin. But did Weyman understand the implications of what he was saying? An alien race discovered Earth before mankind even existed? Her thoughts were interrupted by a high-pitched shriek. She returned her attention to the craft. After Vernon's repeated bangs on the hull, a door opened, and what appeared to be five balls of light tumbled out.
"What the hell?" That was Zeke. He backed up, pulling his pistol as he moved, and aimed it at one of the balls of light.
"Don't shoot!" Weyman said. "We don't know what these things are, but they don't seem hostile. And at any rate, that kind of loud, percussive sound might bring the ceiling down on us." Zeke didn't fire the gun, but neither did he put the revolver away. He looked at the balls of light suspiciously. By this time, they had separated considerably, bobbing in air in a semi-circle in front of the craft
"What are you?" Weyman asked.
He didn't expect a reply and was considerably startled when he heard, "We are Amalgam. Out of many, one." The voice appeared to be coming from inside his head. Weyman turned to the others. "Did you all hear that?"
"Bloody hell!" Vernon swore, which Weyman took as agreement. Zeke nodded his head, and Gayle, who had taken a tentative step into the chamber, said, "Yes, I heard it, too."
Weyman turned to the orbs. "You understand me?"
Again, the voice came from inside his head. "We understand. We are Amalgam. We know what you know."
Still with a look of shock on his face, Vernon turned to the orbs. "What are you doing in here?" he demanded.
"We were trapped here when our vessel crashed. The force of our impact took our vessel to this, the lowest level of the mountain. Then rock dislodged by the impact fell upon us, sealing us in this chamber. Our power source - the green rock you call cavorite - was dispersed throughout the mountain. What little we had left we used to expand this chamber to attempt to reach the remainder of the cavorite."
Gayle said to the creatures, "But that must have been millions of years ago! How have you survived all this time?"
The orbs bobbed in unison. "We do not need corporeal bodies. We are energy. We are thought. We live until we run out of energy. With enough cavorite, a million of your years is but a moment in time."
Zeke asked the practical question. "What do you plan to do now that your chamber is open? Are you going to go home?"
From inside everyone's head there was a resounding. "YES. But we lack energy. Your world is rich in energy. You have much coal to power your steam machines. If there is coal, there is likely much radioactive material as well. You will mine this material for us and rebuild our engines so we may escape this world."
"We'll do your mining? Why should we do that for you?" That was Zeke again.
"We are energy. We lack the bodies to do this ourselves. Once we had mechanical machines to mine, to build. You would call them automatons. They did not survive the crash. Instead, you will be our automatons. You will mine, you will build."
Weyman asked, "How many people are we talking about? And for how long?"
"We calculate that two million people each working one of your days will take approximately ten thousand, six hundred and twenty-four days to complete the task."
"WHAT?" Vernon said. "You're insane. You can't get two million people to work for a day, much less, what, twenty years for you."
"Slightly over 29 years," Gayle said quietly.
"You have no choice. We are Amalgam. You are now Amalgam. If you do not obey, you are an impurity in the system. We will expunge you."