The Tunnel

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Part Three

I was furious. Thornhill had us back in the command tent, and with practiced military caution, had decided to wait for further assistance. It was clear that despite the combined expertise of myself and Elizabeth, we couldn’t actually provide any answers. We could hypothesise, guess, imagine, but without any actual data, it all amounted to nothing. I gritted my teeth with frustration. When I had shouldered my way to the front of the queue, I never once imagined I would be dealing with something so exotic. I wanted to see our discoveries, touch them, analyse. I was standing on the edge of something truly momentous, and to be stopped at this stage made my anger almost tangible. It was deeper than that though. I could not shake the desire to be near the phenomena again. Just knowing it was out there made my gut churn in anticipation. Thornhill was still speaking, but I was barely listening.

“It’s clear our standard procedures are not sufficient for this. There are…additional measures. You’ll join the new scientific personnel when they arrived.”

Elizabeth shrugged, arms buried inside her hoody.

“Yeah, yeah,” was all she said. She had given up, been scared into submission. I was disgusted.

“So we lose our chance? To be the first humans to study this?” I said bitterly. It was slipping away from me.

“Study it with what, Martins? We do not have the equipment or the staff on site. Remember your place, and who employs you. Do as you’re told.”

I spun around on the spot, unable to look at the dispassionate look on Thornhill’s face any longer. I kicked the bench on the way out, feeling the eyes of Elizabeth on my back. I was playing up to the reputation I had earned, but I didn’t care. There were more important thoughts floating through my head. No-one followed me as I left the tent, which came as something of a surprise. Still, they probably thought that I wasn’t capable of being anything more than a blustering idiot. That need resurfaced, the longing to investigate. I had no idea at this point whether it came from me or the object itself, but it was definitely getting stronger. I approached one of the soldiers at the perimeter, who was unloading boxes from a heavy-duty truck.

“Hey, can I have a torch?” I said as amicably as possible. He stared at me, eyes narrowing.

“Come on man, I just need to go for a piss. Please?”

The soldier sighed, relented, and passed me a small LED torch.

“Bring it back, don’t go far,” he said, and continued moving supplies.

“No promises,” I muttered to myself, heading for a wavering halo of light that bordered the mine entrance.

My heart was hammering in my chest as I returned to the winding tunnels. Waves of euphoria pulsed through me on regular intervals, my every step rewarded. I was past the entrance. I might as well be invisible to the technicians; clearly our earlier run in was being treated like a school-yard dispute, and none of them so much as spared me a glance. I felt dreamy and light, fully under the belief that I was doing the right thing. I could almost see it, the bizarre puddle of absolute dark that was calling to me. I reached the doorway, but was immediately shoved back by two soldiers. It felt like a punch in the stomach. I was so close, scant metres from my objective. Thornhill, that bastard. He must have suspected I would try something like this. A commotion behind me; Thornhill and Elizabeth had caught up. They were yelling, the noise largely incomprehensible with the echoing acoustics. Still, what could they say that mattered? They were both cowards, unwilling to explore something truly amazing. The thing pulsed, the air thickening and popping my ears. The two soldiers that had stopped me looked around in alarm. Another pulse, compressed air and a sound like sighing. A clicking noise reverberated around me, and I realised that it was coming from Elizabeth. The Geiger counter was in her hand.

The damn thing was opening.

With a roar of escaping air, the portal became tangible. It had mass, presence, and vibrated the very walls. It was incredible. The nearest soldier was ignoring me now, his attention focused elsewhere. This was my only chance. I had to find out what was in there. Needed to. I grabbed the soldier’s sidearm, pulling it out of the holster, and clumsily lurched towards the hole. I heard the voices behind me diminish to nothing in the roar. I jumped.

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