Taking Time – A Slip into Darkness
by Lieutenant Commander Michael Evans

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Post Details

Title   A Slip into Darkness
Mission   Taking Time
Author(s)   Lieutenant Commander Michael Evans
Posted   Fri Jan 15, 2010 @ 4:56pm
Location   Cedar Dell Karst Region
Timeline   Shoreleave 2, 1100hrs

The morning air was gentle and sweet in Michael’s lungs as the sun warmed his back. The rich scent of water, soil, and mosses filled his nostrils as he clambered amongst the boulders of Cedar Dell. Forest covered limestone bluffs rose to his left, a drop and then a crystalline stream rushed and tumbled with happy abandon to his right. His path led to a crevice in the grey-white rock, that opened black as pitch into the mountain side, out of which the stream coursed.

As he approached, the cave entrance was shaded and sheltered somewhat in a modest undercroft that dripped wetly. The water poured out of the right side of the mouth of the crevice while a dry stony path entered into the left of it. He knelt by the stream and dipped his cupped hands into the glassy water, they blanched with the chill of it. He brought it to his lips and drank the mineral-sweet water. Surely there was not a finer thing to drink in all the worlds of the galaxy. Energized by the draught he stood, checked his pack and his hand light, then stepped into the velvet black.

He touched the water-worn smoothness of the limestone walls as he went. The path was easy so far with gentle twists and curves always going in an almost imperceptible upward slope. The ceiling opened to an easy six meters above him, though the passage itself remained narrow at only a couple. The stream gurgled companionably from under a stony lip to the right. It was now hidden from view. The path continued to slope more insistently upward as he continued, and soon he was breathing some with the effort.

After a few minutes he stopped abruptly at a wall of worn dolomite. The easily-dissolved form of limestone was porous with many holes between a centimeter and several decimeters in diameter. The beam from his light shone up the somewhat tiered wall that he estimated to be about seventy five meters high. An easy climb, but he would have to watch out for weak hand- and foot-holds.

He reached the top without incident and as he swung his legs over the top rim, discovered with an icy splash that the wall was holding a pool of water. No doubt the same water that splashed in the stream below. The surface had been so impossibly still that he hadn’t seen it. His light, that had passed clearly to the bottom of the shallow pool as though it had been air, now danced through the disturbed water to the floor of the reservoir and shimmered on the flat ceiling not two meters high. Fortunately the pool was shallow, though broad, and was only about a foot and a half deep.

He waded through the icy pool without difficulty. About half way across he noticed it clouding about his feet with the ferrous-red of packed clay. Soon his shoes began to stick in the sediment, and by the time he reached the far shore in the broad room his shoes were filled with it.

The packed clay that made the floor beneath his feet was extremely slippery when it got wet from his dripping and he skidded a little as he tried to cross its surface. Before he got very far however, his feet suddenly shot out from under him at what he was sure was near-warp speed and he fell hard onto his back. He lay there a moment slightly winded, and once he realized that he wasn’t hurt he smiled. Then he laughed. Soon the room was ringing with his mirth as the muddy clay squelched through his shirt.

Once he regained himself and caught his breath, he sat up and looked around. He had been paying so much attention to his footing that he hadn’t realized what was around him. The room had opened up into a large chamber. The ceiling he estimated at thirty five meters high and was positively dripping with speleothems of all make: stalactites, soda straws, bacon, drape, curtain. Columns surrounded the room like a Parthenon made of dripping wax. Little mounds of onyx rose from the floor of compacted clay mud like so many heaps of mineralized ice cream. Away and to the right, about one hundred meters he guessed, was an opening.

Realizing that standing would be completely futile, he slid on his bum for most of the way. The floor was so slick that it actually required little effort on his part and he was soon at the opening which was only about three meters in diameter. The walls were of more limestone and quite smooth. The compacted clay continued for the floor but was rather drier, and he found that he could stand without too much difficulty.

After walking for only half a minute the ceiling lowered so that he had to duck. The walls narrowed so that the passage was only the breadth of two men. He was wearing a helmet, but for reasons of comfort decided to continue at a sort of crouch. A short time later he stopped, as a pit about two and a half meters across had opened up at his feet. Not so much a pit, he decided after observing, but a funnel. The compacted clay had formed a slide of sorts leading down and to the right, to what end he could only guess; but he did hear what sounded like the stream running in the black below. He guessed the funnel at fifteen meters deep based on the sound. Looking more closely he discovered that there was a narrow ledge (made of the slippery clay, of course) that circumvented the edge of the funnel to the left and continued to the path beyond.

He decided that it would be better to go on his hands and knees as it would provide the most surface area to contact the ground and thus better traction. Wishing fervently that he had remembered to bring some rope, he carefully inched onto the ledge. It was very narrow and he found it quite difficult to make any movement without a great deal of effort and concentration due to the slippery surface. His muscles became fatigued and he shook with the strain as time ticked away. There were a couple of close calls, but after fifteen minutes he had nearly reached the other side.

Heartened by the closeness of the solid passage ahead and his muscles burning from the constant contraction he decided to make a sort of leap the last two feet. Concentrating he launched his body for the safety of the broader floor, but the mud was more slippery than he anticipated. He flopped over the rim of the mud funnel, his body spread as flat as he could make it for maximum traction but to no avail. Slowly he began sliding into the pit. Frantically he grasped for anything on which he could hold, but the walls were damnably smooth and so was the clay floor. He dug his hand light into the clay, hoping to use it as an anchor, but the compacted mud was too dense on the passage floor. With a slight sense of panic he decided to simply accept the inevitable and slide as safely as possible into whatever might be at the bottom.

He flipped onto his back and slid feet first, going faster and faster on the red clay to the very bottom. He hit the water with a shockingly chilly splash and scrambled to stay where he was. As he fumbled he lost hold of his light and it slipped into the quickly flowing underground river. He watched as the light bobbed, dipped, then disappeared under a low roof. He was left in utter darkness and stared around at the icy black. It did not matter which way he turned his head or how wide he opened his eyes, it all looked the same. He was waist deep in the quickly flowing water and was leaning against the slick funnel that had deposited him there. He lay there for a while, collecting his wits.

The good thing about simply sitting in silence and thinking is that, eventually, something will come to you. He felt in his pack for his spare light, which was a head lamp, and fitted it onto his helmet and flicked it on. He shone the light about and discovered that it was as he feared: the small room into which he had been deposited had no outlet except for the stream. Not knowing the course it took to get to the lake he had recently waded, he decided against trying to navigate it under the low ceiling. The only way out, then, was up.

He fished around in his pack again, looking for anything that might be helpful. Food bar, nope. Sanitizing/clotting agent, nope. Canteen, nope. Pen light… hmmm. His last light. With it he dug experimentally into the mud and it left a reasonable gouge. With his last light source now serving as an e-tool he began the most arduous task of digging hand- and foot-holds into the mud so that he might climb out of the pit (if not the freezing water).

Scrape, scrape, dig, scrape. Step. Scrape, dig, dig, scrape. Step. Each took at least a couple of minutes to fashion. Twice he slipped down into the water again, having not made the holds deep enough or perpendicular enough to the incline, and he had to stop more than once for a breather. Finally, after what he knew was hours, he emerged over the rim into the upper passage. Had it not been for the constant work he would have been dangerously hypothermic by now. As it was, he was feeling rather chilled and was sure that his lips were blue. He sat up and for one moment of sheer panic thought he might have emerged on the wrong side of the funnel, but then recognized the pit’s direction of slope and felt a wave of relief.

He continued on through the cave. There were no more pits. Another wall to climb. A gravelly path. The stream had disappeared since he last saw it in the mud funnel. Finally, he felt what seemed to be actual dirt under his feet. He felt a breath of warm air with the scent of grass on it. He rounded a corner and was dazzled by a ragged hole of green plants and blue sky that were etched almost painfully, about forty meters in front of him, into the darkness surrounding. He stepped gratefully into the warm afternoon sun and out onto a sloped grassy hill that continued to rise above and behind him.

He turned and hiked wearily to the top and stopped on the knoll, looking about. The hills stretched before him, colored green with grass and with forests. His own hilltop was specked with violet and yellow flowers. The warm breeze caressed him with delicious scents of living things and of rich soils. The stream was barely visible in a dark line so many hundred meters below. A hawk shrieked somewhere in the distance.

He inhaled the afternoon breezes once again and let them out in a long sigh before saying, “Computer: arch.”


A post by:
Dr. Michael Evans
CMO / Second Officer USS Tethys