He turned away from the hall and ran back toward
the elevators. As he did, the screaming finally stopped. The vision of the
dead, forgotten child, seared into his retinas, burned into his memory forever,
suddenly waned and began to disappear. By the time he reached the lift, the
images had nearly evaporated, becoming a dream after waking, or a half-memory
of a blurry photograph.
He knew what he had seen, though. His future self
had seen it, and by warning him, had destroyed the vision in a paradox created
by his change of course.
into the elevator. He ran his hand through the menus on the computer to run the
car down to the industrial center, which was level six. The last place this elevator went. From there, he would test the
fears and desires of his former mind. Already that part was raving, calling to
him. The doors closed. Andrew kneeled and began preparing himself. He checked
every magazine and battery he had. He tested the light on his front rail and
affixed a bayonet to his front lug. He checked his plasma gun and made sure it
was slung right where he would want it.
Lastly, he reached in his pocket and felt for the
grenade he had rigged up specially to explode immediately upon setting the fuse.
He would not feed the old Andrew to a Wrtla, whatever might happen. The finality of that decision gave him
courage. He knew not whether there was a journey beyond his life through limbo
or purgatory, but wherever he might go, he would go as himself.
Taking a breath, he checked his wrist computer.
His vision blurred and focused. It was 10:00 hours. He tapped the computer,
sure something was wrong. Perhaps it had reset the time when he had entered the
mining facility, syncing with the central chronometer. Toro had given him the codes.
“It can’t have been three hours already,” he said,
reassuring himself. Visions, especially those of the future, were always
He toggled the safety of his rifle, finding it on
semi and feeling disconcerted by the fact until he remembered that he had meant
to fire a warning shot down the hall.
“I’m getting out of practice,” he said to himself.
The elevator slowed and the lift doors opened. He
stepped out and looked down several wandering hallways which led to the lowest
level of housing. Like the top floor, there was an open foyer near the
elevators, but this one was clearly designed with an industrial purpose in
mind. Desks and computer terminals lined every wall. Like the first floor,
these were left in a state of mid-use. Some monitors still showed open
documents, the image of words and draft lines burned forever into the machine,
which carried on refreshing the same still image week after week. Caged doors
opened off the main hall into equipment rooms and other repositories like
lockers and materials storage.
A few wide sapphire windows were set in the walls,
gazing out into an abyss that once was likely the well-lit beginning of the
mine. The darkness beyond irritated a part of Andrew, but he resisted the urge
to shine a light out one of those windows and see the rock for himself.
Andrew walked past all this, shining his light
into dark corners, following his map to the next set of lifts, which would take
him down into the mining area. Once again, there was no life other than the
artificial buzzing of machines engaged in their daily maintenance tasks. He
skipped the dormitories, knowing that if they were not empty, they would
contain things he did not wish to see.
He paused as he passed a workstation, noting that
a half-eaten donut remained by the keyboard, nearly desiccated. He wondered why
no pest had wandered by to claim it, but then he remembered the planet’s
desolate surface. There would be no unwanted life in the colony, save for the
microbes that came along with the colonists themselves, and he had already seen
those at work on the corpse-
“Of the baby,” he said aloud, and shivered. The image
was dim, nearly gone, but he could imagine the horror well enough.
He paused as he turned away, noticing a few pieces
of rubbish in the workstation’s wastebasket. He looked around and saw, as he
expected, no trash in any other basket. The robots responsible for waste
management were working well, except for this one. This one contained a number
of food wrappers and grease-stained napkins that the robots for some reason
could not detect.
I guess the
systems aren’t so autonomous after all, he thought. He walked on into a
wide hallway, brightly lit and floored with a composite pebble. The walls were
smooth and sound absorbent. He held his rifle aloft as he rounded a bend, then
found the next set of lifts. He checked every corner as he approached, his
sense of foreboding growing strong again – telling him that he faced danger,
and also that he was on the right track.
The lift cars that serviced the mine were, as
Andrew expected, both away deep in the various digs. He looked out a nearby
window. Like the others on the bottom level, it was one of few in the facility
that was not made to artificially create a sense of sunlight on a garden
planet. He could see running lights going down a long series of rails and
cables. The lifts would slide along these, going diagonally into the mining
area. In a few places, the lights were flickering or dead, and Andrew knew he had
come to the end of the well-designed automated habitat created for the human
He took a look at the computer panel by the lifts
and noted where the cars were. One was on sector four, the other past it on
sector five, which he assumed was deeper in the infinite rock of the well-named
planet Gibraltar. He thought it curious that the lift cars were not on the same
level, but then remembered he was operating on a set of assumptions that were,
in all likelihood, bunk. It was his precognitive side’s worrying about his
original mind – that “Old Andrew” he kept contained and away from consciousness
– that was leading him to believe in a… whatever you could call it. A demon?
“Then what are they doing in the mine, eh?” he said to himself. He called up the car from sector 4, thinking he would check there before proceeding further in. Once again he had a tickle, but this time it was a mixture of feelings. Dread still hung in the future, but there was also something else, like a quiet anticipation. He wondered which part of him felt that, and as he rolled between his minds, he was reminded of his “old” self – was there something in there calling out?