A Long Way Down
When I awoke, it seemed like it would be just like any other day. But by one in the afternoon, I found myself deep underground chasing down the supposed existence of an ancient manuscript that had been lost for centuries. As an archaeologist, I felt at home working in the ground, but not deep inside the earth. My claustrophobia reared its ugly head as we shuffled into the small metal cage, the door ratcheting closed behind us with a loud final clank. After what seemed like an eternity, the door rattled open and we were deposited unceremoniously out into the dark, with one large lamp swinging disconcertingly high above, it’s light barely strong enough to reach us on the ground. I lifted the covers of my dark lantern and twisted the knob, light flaring to life. I lifted my lantern and the darkness slid away somewhat, revealing gears and pendulums swaying and moving hypnotically above my head, the drone of machinery an ever present background noise. The rock walls of the cavern arched above us gracefully, shaped and molded by man. I shook my head though I didn’t think any could see. No, not by man, I thought, correcting myself. By mecchas; machines made in the shape of man.
A voice next to me made me jump and I swung my lantern in front of me as a barrier.
“Sorry to startle you,” the man in said in a smooth, flawless voice that made him instantly recognizable as a meccha. That, and the fact that my light made his eyes glow like new copper pennies. I gathered my wits as best I could. The dark made me jumpy. “It’s fine,” I said, trying to get my voice under control that was being hijacked by my nerves.
The mechanical man patted me sympathetically on the shoulder. I flinched and then winced at my instinctive reaction: repulsion. I hoped he hadn’t noticed, and his impassive, smooth features gave nothing away. He smiled brightly. “We are a long way down,” he explained. “Further than anyone has reached before. But it is necessary, since we are running out of space above ground. There is only so much of the surface left, but down here, inside, it is an untapped resource!” He flung his arms wide, gesturing to the empty cavern that, by the sounds of machines far in the distance, went on for a long way.
I nodded, anxious. “I can understand that but, I’m just here for a manuscript. I heard that one of the machines had accidentally exposed it when digging?”
“Ah, you must be the esteemed archaeologist Mr Wagstaff,” the meccha said, shaking my hand heartily.
I resisted the temptation to pull my hand from his. “Doctor Wagstaff.”
The copper of his eyes seemed to dim slightly, but that might have been my nerves again, playing tricks on me so far down below the earth. It was unnatural to be underground. Only corpses were destined for a life in the earth, not the living! And I made my feelings known to the meccha.
“Simon,” the automaton said. “Simon Clarendon.”
My eyebrows rose at the name. “Clarendon? As in –”
The machine interrupted me, a scowl curling my mouth. “Doctor Joseph Clarendon, the famed inventor, yes. He is my father.”
“You mean creator,” I said without thinking, forgetting my manners. But did un-real people need to be treated so? Unlike us living, breathing men? The thought raced through my mind.
Mr. Clarendon shrugged, brushing away my comment with a wave of his hand.
“Come,” he said, leading the way through the dark without any light to guide him. He must be able to see like a cat, or other creature of the night, I thought as I lifted my lamp to keep him in my own sight.
I had taken roughly five hundred paces when the ground and walls around us began to shake. Massive stones bigger than any carriage began to fall.
I moved to run towards where I thought Simon Clarendon had gone, and an arm blocked my way, pushing me back. “Careful,” he said calmly, pointing with his free hand downwards. We stood at the edge of a chasm, my toes, almost brushing empty air.
“What should we do?” I said, my voice rising with panic.
“Take my hand,” he said, unscrewing it and placing it in mine. I stared at him, dumbfounded. “But, it’s your hand!” I whispered horrified. “Don’t you need it?”
He answered by opening the pouch at his waist and bringing out another hand which he promptly stuck back on with a few quick turns. He flexed his new fingers, wiggling them in my face. “Good as new!” he smiled. He gestured to the hand he’d just given me. “Besides, you never know when another might…” he paused, struggling to hold in laughter, “come in handy.” The last word flew out on a burst of a laugh that he had failed to reign in.
“What-?” I was confused. “We need to get out of here!” I said, as a large chunk of the ceiling fell past us down into the hole so close I could feel the wind of it as it fell.
“Yes,” Simon said. “Follow me. Use my hand. Like this,” he pressed at a point on to top of his hand right at the start of his wrist, and his hand moved out on a stalk, like a metal rope.
I looked at him, then looked at his hand, and then the hand he had given me, in disbelief. “You mean to say we’re going down there?”
Simon nodded, gold eyes glinting. “Trust me.”
The earth beneath my feet moved more violently. What choice did I have?
“Hook my hand onto the edge, like this,” he said, demonstrating.
I did as instructed and watched Simon press his wrist and lower himself over the edge. I followed suit, praying his hand would hold.
Utter darkness enveloped me. It was a long way down.