Episode 64: Another Secret Laboratory?
The trail climbed steeply, winding its way up the side of the hill. There
was still no sign of a settlement, but it was obvious this was no mere game
trail. Someone had gone to considerable effort to cut back brush and clear
away obstacles. In some places, boulders had been uprooted and rolled
aside. In others, fallen trees had been cut apart and dragged out of the
way. In one spot, someone had even used a pickaxe to demolish an
outcropping of rock. It occurred to Iverson that with the right winches and
tackle, one could move substantial amounts of cargo along this route.
"Who could have built this?" asked Sarah. "And whatever did they use it
"Perhaps it leads to another secret laboratory, like the one you found on Oa
Ki," quipped Pierre.
"Really," said Sarah. She seemed annoyed by the suggestion. The Frenchman
eyed her spear and made no reply.
The trail led to the foot of a bluff, where it disappeared into a cave.
Iverson wasn't surprised, for he'd half-expected something of this sort.
The opening was partially hidden by an overhanging shelf of rock, but at
some time in the past, someone had cleared away vegetation that might
otherwise have blocked it.
He consulted his knowledge of geology -- airship officers were expected to
have an understanding of the sciences.
"A limestone formation," he observed. "It could be quite extensive."
"Then eet is good that I brought a set of electric lanterns," said Pierre.
Iverson raised his eyebrows. "However could you have known we'd need them?"
The Frenchman smiled. "You are young, Monsieur. As you grow older, you will
discover that there is a time in every man's life when he needs a set of
They made their preparations, then entered. At first the passage was
uncomfortably low, and they had to stoop to avoid striking their heads,
but as they advanced, the ceiling rose until they could walk upright. Soon
they came upon evidence that others had preceded them.
"A cartridge case," said Pierre. As someone whose profession involved
creeping through unlit buildings, he had taken the lead. He passed the
shell back to Iverson, who studied it in the beam of his flashlight.
"It's German," he announced, "from a Parabellum P08. It appears that our
nationalist friends attacked this place."
"And here is where the bullet struck," said the Frenchman, indicating a scar
on the wall.
"Look," said Sarah. "Rock paintings!"
They played their lights across the surface and saw that it was covered with
stylized figures, armed with boomerangs and atlatls, in pursuit of a variety
of game. Iverson was bemused by this inadvertent juxtaposition of ancient
weapons and modern firearms. Then Sarah noticed something that added to the
"I say," she asked. "Are those electric lights?"
The two men looked up and saw that a row of lighting fixtures had been bolted
to the ceiling, connected by a cable that vanished into the distance ahead.
"I very much doubt that ees a natural formation," observed Pierre. "Let us
see where it leads."
They followed the cable for some distance, past several side passages, until
the tunnel opened into a chamber. This was quite substantial, and more
lighting fixtures, along with several punkah fans, hung from overhead.
The floor had been graded and filled to make room for tables and desks.
Most of these were now bare, but a few still held broken fragments of
scientific apparatus. More fragments were strewn across the floor. On the
far side of the room, someone had demolished a row of cabinets to get at
their contents. The shattered doors were labeled in Cyrillic.
"You were right," Sarah said to Pierre. "It looks like the other Russian
laboratory Helga and I found on Oa Ki. But it's hard to be sure, because
everything here's been smashed."
"The work of amateurs," sniffed Pierre. "Still, they may have left
something behind. If the two of you would search through this room, I will
examine the passage ahead."
The place seemed long-deserted, but Iverson found more pistol shells --
these for the Nagant revolver used by the Russian Imperial Army -- on the
floor behind some of the desks, as if the occupants had tried to make a
stand here against the attackers.
He also found more rock paintings. For some reason,
these seemed older than the ones in the tunnel. Some showed more images of
the hunt. Other figures, executed in a different style, were harder to
interpret. One seemed to be using a mallet to break up what appeared to be
stones. Another was bent over something that might have been an oven or
kiln. And one, more impressive than the rest, was lifting what looked
like a pair of cymbals. Something about the way it was drawn suggested a
mixture of triumph and despair.
It also reminded him of the carvings they'd found on Sarah's island.
"Sarah," he called. "Have you seen anything like this?"
The girl came over and clapped her hands in delight. "It's the
Instruments of Joy! Whatever are they doing here?"
"You mentioned those before," said Iverson. "What are they?"
"It was a wonderful fairy tale!" she gushed. "My grandmother used to tell
it to me when I was child! The Old Ones made them in the Age Before Time!"
"Old Ones?" asked Iverson. "Age Before Time?"
Sarah laughed. "The Old Ones were ancient beings from beyond the sky who
will return to take possession of the Earth when the
stars are right. They made the Instruments of Joy to play a sound so pure,
loud, and bright it had magical powers!"
"What kind of powers?" asked Iverson. These explanations were not helping.
"Anything!" said the girl. "They could drive away monsters, turn night into
day, and transform sand into glittering crystals that glowed in the dark! I
used to love those stories!"
The lieutenant would have asked more, but at that moment, Pierre called from
the passage ahead. They found the Frenchman glaring at a massive steel door
that blocked the end of the tunnel. He pointed at a dial set in the surface.
"A Monitor Bank Lock. One of Linus Yale's early models. Ordinarily it would
be simple matter to open, but someone has taken steps to prevent this."
Iverson looked and saw that someone had used welding equipment to fuse the
mechanism shut. "How did they plan to open it themselves?" he asked.
"Perhaps they didn't. Perhaps they realized they were losing and wished to
seal this place off from the attackers."
"Can we cut it open?" asked Iverson.
Pierre shook his head. "A torch would not work. The metal is too thick
and would conduct away the heat. And I would not want to risk explosives
without knowing what is behind this door. If it conceals an armory, the
results could be unfortunate. We would need high-speed carbide-tipped
Iverson recalled the wreckage they'd found in the desert on their way to
"High-speed carbide-tipped power saws? I believe I know where we can find
Next week: Perhaps We'd Better Start Keeping Notes...