Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
He’s banging on my helm with some ornate looking rod. The noise is incredible. Echoes of echoes. Being found is usually welcome after so long doing math problems in my head, but this is a bit much.
“Hey! I can see you! Stop hitting this and talk to me!”
He backs off fast, screaming something in a strange language.
Another figure enters my narrow view. Okay, if the man-thing with the rod is some sort of functionary, I’m going to guess this is the authority. I recognise that innate confidence of movement from back when the project started. No mistaking it: lady-thing is a chieftess of some kind.
She examines the helm, then extends a hand with a whispered command. A spindly arm reaches in and deposits a cloth on her palm. She reaches forward and wipes the crud off my faceplate, recoils a little, then peers at me. I smile.
“Hello. My name is Damien, and I’d really like it if you could get me out of here.”
Her eyes narrow. She looks off to one side and beckons. A wizened old man-thing shuffles into view. He clambers up next to her, listens to her rapid commands, then leans close.
“Zumpel asks: are you a lebett waiting to tear us all to pieces upon your release?”
That’s a thick accent. Am I a what?
“I’d not admit it if I were. Therefore, saying I’m not is no guarantee.”
There’s another swift exchange of what I’d guess are conflicting opinions.
“Zumpel says she understands your problem. She thinks it best to reseal this edifice and leave you to your sacred watch.”
“Look, could you ask her Zumpelness if she wouldn’t mind just destroying this edifice, because I’m sick of leaders passing the problem to the next civilisation. I’ve been in here too long.”
“Zumpel asks: what did you do to be sealed away?”
“I do not understand that word.”
“My leaders asked for someone brave enough to try out something new. I said I was. It did not do what they expected, so they hid their mistake. Eventually an earthquake revealed a part of it. Soon after that, the first encounter like this one happened. There have been ten since.”
The exchange of words is longer.
“What will happen if you are released?”
“I might be unharmed. I might turn to dust. I don’t know. Those who made this didn’t know. That’s why they hid it.”
The official reason given – along with a formal apology – was ‘due to the possibility of deleterious chronophasic energy interactions’. I’ve stopped mentioning that. It never translates well.
“What do the letters D-I-S-I-N-T-E-R form?”
“A word that means ‘to dig up or bring to light’. Why?”
“There is a handle set into the back of your strange armour. It has that word engraved into it.”
Nobody ever mentioned that!
“Then I beg you to pull that handle.”
An argument starts, and goes on for a long time. It moves out of my field of view.
There’s a flash. I find myself lying naked on a cavern floor, looking up at the fading glow about the unit. Completely self-contained experimental armoured stealth gear that never worked as intended. The side effects were partial immobility, and immunity to the passage of time. They were too scared to risk turning it off to free me, nor could they risk destroying it. So they buried me alive, forever.
The wizened face comes into view from one side, Zumpel from the other.
I take stock: weak, but mobile. Hungry, too.