Goddard pressed a button. The lift doors closed and they began to descend. Archer watched as the numbers on the lift’s display started to count down from twenty to ten to one, then Ground and Lower Ground. Suddenly they had reached floor minus-one, minus-two, and the minus figures counted up as they continued to descend. The numbers counted faster as their descent speed increased. The numbers changing rapidly, climbing past fifty, then one hundred then five-hundred.
Archer felt no difference in the lift. Actually, it felt as though they weren’t moving at all. Though he began to feel a little ill when the lift numbers went into four figures, he realised that his nausea was psychological, he was imagining the floors rushing by outside, and he struggled to suppress the uncomfortable sensation.
‘So Archer,’ said Goddard calmly. ‘How long have you been with the Axiom Few?’
Archer ignored him. Goddard didn’t take the hint. ‘Are you glad they pulled you out of the sea?’
Archer tried his best not to let a response register on his face. He stared at the rapidly changing floor numbers.
‘Why did you jump Archer? Was it something to do with the scar on your face?’
Archer uttered a low grunt. ‘You gave me that scar Dad. And yes, if you really want to know. That’s exactly why I jumped.’
The lift stopped at floor minus 3472. There was an understated ping as the lift doors opened.
Goddard placed a hand on Archer’s shoulders. ‘We have an important task to work on. It’s vital that we forget our differences for now.’
‘Believe me. The only reason I came was because the Space Foundation promised to fund the Axiom Few’s ventures for another six months. I’m not here to do you any favours.’
Goddard nodded, and shifted his gaze toward the door. ‘As long as we know where we stand. Please follow me.’
Archer followed Goddard out into a cold underground corridor, where muddy water cascaded down the walls and his breath was visible in front of his face. Harsh bright lights ran in a strip along the length of the tunnel, which stretched for about fifty metres downhill away from them and then snaked around a corner. Round that very corner came a young woman dressed in a white lab coat that was several sizes too big for her.
Goddard leaned towards Archer, and Archer caught an unpleasant whiff of whisky on his breath when he spoke. His voice gated by the cylindrical tunnel. ‘We’re nine kilometres down into the crust now.’ He turned to the woman, ‘Good evening Rachel.’
Rachel smiled. She was holding three pairs of goggles, and she handed one to Archer, then Goddard, before putting the third pair on herself.
Goddard put his on, and Archer followed. Archer was apprehensive, and hated Goddard more with every passing minute. Hated him from bringing up the past. Why couldn’t they have just kept things professional?
They began to make their way along the tunnel, Rachel in front, followed by Goddard, who turned occasionally to continue his disclosure to Archer.
‘When the oil companies came to shoot seismic over this whole area, they didn’t find any hydrocarbons - at least, none of a commercial quantity. But what they did find scared the living daylights out of them. So they alerted the authorities, who in turn alerted the Space Foundation. What they found was…’
‘They found another artifact, right?’ Archer interrupted, unsure of whether to smile or frown. Somehow he managed both.
‘Precisely. But things are a bit different with this one. It’s light and motion sensitive. It actually fires some kind of lightning bolt at anyone or anything that tries to approach it. So far it’s killed twelve people. Twelve people! The one up at Euclides didn’t defend itself like this one does.’
They stopped outside a hatchway set into the wall. Rachel opened it and walked in, Goddard and Archer followed. They were in a tiny room, barely larger than the lift. Archer became increasingly apprehensive when Rachel closed the hatch behind them and flicked a switch, plunging the room into absolute darkness. A moment later Archer could see. Everything was red, and he understood the nature of the goggles.
In the grainy infrared enhanced gloom Rachel turned to the opposite wall and opened another hatchway. They followed her into little cavern with a low ceiling, which actually turned out to be a small upper ledge near the roof of a much larger cavern, which stretched out below them.
Goddard pointed down towards the centre of the cavern, ‘Can you see it?’
Archer looked down, and could just make out a small stone plinth at the base of the cavern, about a hundred metres away. On top of the plinth sat another artifact, embedded in the rock.
‘But surely, if we can see it, then it can see us, right?’
‘Wrong. It’s proximity based. From this distance we’re okay, but go anywhere closer…’
Archer’s eyes tried to make out the other features in the cave, but found he was struggling to see anything but rock, ‘So this one’s protecting itself.’
Rachel spoke, ‘Yes. We think that’s because it hasn’t been triggered yet.’
Goddard stepped right in front of Archer blocking his view of the artifact, ‘Think about it. There we were, trying to re-create a virtual reality image of the planet that once exploded and eventually became the Ceres Asteroid Belt. We were hoping to find out what caused the explosion in the first place. But then we found the smoking gun, buried inside Euclides. You see Archer, it’s a chain reaction.’
‘A domino effect across the solar system, and… and the layout depicted on the artifact is the timed-trigger for the next explosion.’
‘Precisely,’ replied Goddard.
Archer shook his head in disbelief, ‘What kind of civilisation would rig up a complex set of time bombs like this?’
Goddard waved a finger in front of Archer’s face, he was smiling, but it was a sinister smile, ‘A profound question Archer. I have my theories. We may have finally spotted them watching us from the sun. But I’m afraid it is a conundrum for another day. Right now our priority is to disarm the thing.’
‘Wait, wait, disarm it? You’ve been able to build around it so far. How did you build this cavern?’
‘It was already here.’
‘But – the hatchway, the tunnels.’
‘Machines built those.’
‘Well can’t you get machines to help you now?’
‘Too clumsy, and we don’t understand the technology. We need a human to do the job. Now, if you could somehow use that light distortion jacket your mob have invented, maybe we could…’
Archer interrupted. ‘Why didn’t you tell me this when I was on La Luna? I could have easily requested to return to Earth earlier.’
‘It was only a couple of days ago that all this fell into place for us. What I have told you today is the culmination of months of hard detective work.’
‘Why can’t we hurl the thing into space?’
‘We already tried to move it. We tried to cut it out of the rock. I lost a very good friend that day. Now, will you bring the suit?’
In the Axiom Few test shack Davey gazed apprehensively down at the suit he was now wearing. To Geek, Davey seemed to be in awe of it. Perhaps that was not a good thing, for Geek knew that technology was not to be feared.
‘Okay,’ said Geek, ‘don’t move. I’m increasing the light distortion ratio.’
He started to tap commands into his computer. Within a few moments Geek thought he saw the corrugated metal wall of the shack directly behind Davey. Davey was looking down at himself.
‘My God,’ he said. ‘It’s working.’
‘Hold still. Just a little longer. Do you feel nauseous at all? The electromagnetic field can have that effect.’
‘No, no I feel fine. This is amazing!’
‘Congratulations Davey, you’re about to be the world’s first invisible man.’