Today's Reading

Gyre scowled, then straightened up and looked around the cavern. Her suit used a combination of infrared and sonar pulses to generate readings on the surrounding topography, which was reconstructed into what looked like a well-lit but colorless scene on the screen in front of her. In an emergency, the reconstruction could be turned off and a normal light turned on, but it wasn't advisable to have a lamp burning, giving off heat, attracting attention down in the cold darkness of the caves.

There was a reason, after all, that cavers could demand enough money that they'd be able to get off-world after only two jobs, maybe three.

Too many cavers didn't make it that long.

Just one of the many reasons Gyre was going to do it in one.

"Continuing," she acknowledged, but paused first to drink in the space. The ceiling was high and vaulted, the ground even and dry. Far off, she thought she could hear water. The surface had been in a near-constant drought since she was a child, but most of the deep caves in this area still had water flowing through them, and would periodically flood from harsh, sudden storms that destroyed settlements and washed away topsoil and structures on the surface. This was the first time she'd personally set foot in a chamber this deep.

It was beautiful.

It was also unnerving.

She made her way to a marker blinking on her HUD, clambering down a wide natural staircase, a duffel full of equipment and food slung over her shoulder.

"Where's the mine, base?" she asked as she slid over one of the larger drops and landed in a haze of dust. "Is this new ground, or just a new entrance?"

Base was, of course, silent.

Maybe this was normal. She'd never heard of taciturn support teams from the senior cavers she'd talked to, but she also hadn't been allowed in the topside command rooms. The problem was that if this was normal, the team would expect her to know that.

They didn't know this was her first time down.

Gyre came to the edge of another, larger drop. Like the five she'd descended to get down to the initial crevice, this one had an at the top, and a fresh, high-quality rope leading down. There had been other cavers here, and recently.

"Base, requesting a topside search," she said, considering the rope.

"Confirm that there are no other cavers ahead of me. I'm seeing signs of—"

"There is no mine, and no other cavers," the woman said. "Equipment was put in and caches established in anticipation of your descent."

Okay. No mine wasn't ideal, but not unheard of; her boss must just be looking for deposits in new ground, sending people in one after the other. It wasn't common these days, with most of the land already picked over, but in a true expedition like that, pre-stocked caches were a good idea. Given the pay rate on this mission and the sophistication of her equipment, this was clearly a high-end pursuit, and yet. . .

And yet so far she could only be sure of one person in the support room, and the techs who had helped calibrate her suit hadn't been chatty or worn the logo of any of the major mining concerns. She'd known from the beginning that this was an individual-run expedition, and at the time, money and the quality of the equipment had eclipsed all other considerations. They'd been worth falsifying her credentials here and there to make her look proven. They'd been worth hiring a surgeon to redirect her bowels for a month—something she really couldn't afford, but the payout from this job would more than cover it—just so that she'd have the appropriate scars when the expedition's doctors cut her open.

But now that she was underground, she was beginning to wonder if she had made a giant mistake.

Of course, there could still be five or ten techs. Maybe they were all shy. Maybe the woman with the mic was territorial and a total idiot. It was possible.

If that was the case, she just had to keep going until shift change.

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