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.
He stepped 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 instantaneous.
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 miners.
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?