Saturday, January 21, 2017

Into the Mines, Part 6

Anger built on Zeke's face. "What are you talking about? I don't understand every word, but I get the drift." Zeke raised his gun again and pointed it toward the nearest orb. "I'll just point out that I have a gun and I plan on protecting myself. I'm working as your slave, and I don't think you'll find too many takers on the outside, either. They all have guns, too."

"You will obey. You are now Amalgam."

"I've had enough of this." Zeke pulled the trigger. The gun boomed in his hand. The echo reverberated in the chamber. Weyman winced as a number of small rocks tumbled to the ground, but the chamber ceiling held. The bullet appeared to pass directly through the orb nearest to Zeke and hit the side of the space craft. It left a noticeable ding on the metal hull before ricocheting off.

"We sense a threat to the safety of Amalgam. We will neutralize the threat." The five orbs stopped bobbing in air. Their positions became fixed in a pentagram, and each of the humans heard a humming sound, as though an electrical generator had started up. The hum became louder and louder before an arc of electricity joined each of the five orbs. The pentagram glowed with an unbearable intensity for just an instant, then a beam of electricity shot from each of them, converting to a single point as the beams reached Zeke's chest. His chest burst into flames, the gun clattering to the ground of the chamber. When the others could see, they looked at Zeke, now lying on the ground, a hole in his chest where he had been hit, the wound still smoldering. The air crackled with static.

"Zeke!" Gayle cried, running to him. He stared at her with lifeless eyes.

"Threat neutralized," came the voice inside their heads.

"You didn't have to do that," said Weyman.

"We protect Amalgam."

Vernon stepped toward them, palms displayed outward. "Gentlemen, no need for violence. Surely we can work out something... If you've waited on Earth all this time, you can wait a few more years. Work with us - help us develop our technology - and we might surprise you. We'll help get you home. We might even be able to make some improvements." As he talked, Vernon slowly moved his hands down and simultaneously edged toward Zeke's body, where his gun lay on the floor of the cavern. "Really, there's no need for this talk of slavery."

"Threat detected."

Vernon lunged for the gun. Before he could reach it, the orbs again built up a beam of electricity, this time aimed at Vernon. Again, the beam leapt from the foremost orb, striking Vernon chest-high. He fell only feet from Zeke's body.

"Threat neutralized."

"What did you do that for?" Weyman demanded angrily.

"We sensed that the human intended to harm Amalgam. His words suggested acquiescence, but his thoughts indicated he intended violence toward us."

"You can read our thoughts?" asked Gayle.

"Not directly. We can sense emotional states. This man's emotional state was hostile. Now we will leave."

Gayle locked eyes with Weyman for a moment. He gave a brief nod, then returned his attention to the orbs. She hoped he understood what she wanted to communicate. Weyman clasped his hands behind him and started pacing. "Your murderous bastards!" he said. "You think you can force us to work for you, to be your slaves, but you don't know humans very well. We all will be hostile to you. We will rebel at every opportunity. Oh, not all of us; some will decide that it will be easier for them to do things your way. The rest of us, though, oh yes, we'll be hostile to the core. Every day. What will you do then? Will you kill all of us? One at a time, or will you engage in mass murder every time things don't go your way? We always thought that when we met another race that they would be enlightened and peaceful, that any civilization capable of creating technology so advanced as to allow interplanetary travel would have long since evolved to the point where they respected life. What a bad assumption that turned out to be!" He pace as he talked, the orbs following intently his every change of direction.

"We sense this human is emotionally disturbed. Human, remain calm or we will neutralize the threat."

This seemed to rile Weyman even more. "You'll 'neutralize the threat'?" He sneered. "You're a pathetic excuse for a race, if you ask me."

"We owe you no explanation. We are Amalgam. We act in accordance with our needs. Our highest need is to remain alive."

Weyman thought he knew what Gayle conveyed in her glance. He understood why the cavern had been tightly sealed, and why the exterior door had warned future travelers not to enter. He understood why the mine had closed, despite the heavy concentration of cavorite remaining in this area. But knowing what had happened and knowing that the Amalgam could not be permitted to leave the cavern was not enough. Weyman was armed only with his anger. He focused it on the orbs, daring them to use their weapon on him. "Are you prepared to try to subjugate millions of us, all as hostile as I am, as Vernon was, as Zeke was?" His pacing took him to the aft end of the ship, and further and further from the torches that he and Zeke had set out. He wandered back into the light, then out again. Each time the orbs followed his progress. He could feel the static electricity in the air as they readied their killing shot. Just a little longer... Do you feel my hatred? he thought toward them.

Evidently they did, as the electrical hum increased in intensity. As Weyman circled in closer to the orbs, they fired, the weapon crackling with energy as it discharged.

At the edge of the cavern, Gayle tried to prevent the orbs from reading her emotions. She focused on her happiest thoughts. Outings with her children, intimate moments with her husband. The day she was accepted into university. She reached into Zeke's bag. Tea with her best friend. Her fingers found the sticks of dynamite and the blasting caps. The sensation of ice cream on the tongue on a hot summer day. She worked quickly, attaching the blasting caps to the dynamite. Curling on a sofa next to the fireplace, a new novel by Wilkie Collins in her hands. She dug into the bag for matches. Her first ride in an airship, and the feeling she had as the ground receded from her. She opened the box of matches and grasped for one, dropped it, and took another. Feeling safe as a child in her mother's arms. She struck the match. The pleasures of falling asleep, safe in her husband's arms. She lit the fuse.

The sound of the explosion filled the chamber. The entrance to the chamber collapsed instantly, burying Gayle in a shower of rocks. As the detonation forced itself outward, first the wooden scaffolding in the outer tunnel fell, then the ceiling of the tunnel, then the ceiling of the chamber. As each successive level of the mine disintegrated, the level above lost its support, and the effect rippled upward. The areas most heavily tunneled were nothing more than a hollow shell, the ancient wood the only thing holding together the remaining rock. All of the weight came down on the space ship and its hapless occupants. Though the ship itself had enormous tensile strength, the orbs, caught in the open, had no such protection. The light from the orbs flared briefly before dying out.


The blast leveled trees and houses in the Moors, and shattered windows in Victoria City. Even the instruments on the sky base in far away Middlesea detected the event. The militia, concerned that this might be an attack on Caledon herself, was first on the scene, followed shortly by rescue personnel. They arrived in time to see a few stray pieces of cavorite float gently into the sky before disappearing. Of the mountain there remained little trace, just a plain consisting of chunks of rock.

Later, of course, inquiries from the families of the expedition as to the whereabouts of their loved ones convinced the authorities that the four explorers were buried under the uncountable tons of rock. The Guvnah himself spoke solemn words at a memorial service. There were tears and mourning, but Caledon returned to its business, found ways around the shortage of cavorite, and soon gave little thought to the old cavorite mine - or what  lay beneath the surface.

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