The new world which replaces the old. The sudden revelation which re-frames everything I thought I knew so drastically as to effectively destroy it. Though I suppose the yard is not technically destroyed when the ant learns it isn’t the entire world…it just becomes a miniscule, nearly irrelevant part of the new understanding. That process looks very much like destruction from some angles.
I dwelled on my family. On Melanie and other friends I left behind, even knowing it would only bring me pain I could do nothing to diminish. If I love them, I decided, I could do nothing except throw my whole body and spirit into this fight. They were good as dead if I failed.
A burst of static interrupted my ruminations. Just by wanting it to be audible, I somehow caused it to be. The staff interpreting that desire as a command to focus on the signal and amplify it no doubt. “From the eastern passage…exploded, then the generators caught fire, there’s no…surrounded on all sides, more coming out of the ruins. Don’t…”
Screaming and the sound of what I assumed to be rapid vaporization followed, then silence. Tlalo just stood there grimly absorbing it all. “Do we help them?” I asked. He shook his head. “Nothing left to save by now. They’re very thorough.”
Drena…how I wished that she could’ve escaped in time. “The captive. They must’ve been tracking him somehow, maybe even allowed us to capture him for that purpose. An implant? Or by mental connection to his staff. We were so excited to finally have one of them completely at our mercy, it made us sloppy…”
He made no effort to disguise the pain in his voice. I did not embrace him this time, instead focused on navigating the serpentine tunnel through the Earth’s crust. I knew exactly how “excited” they were, anyway. I was there, I saw what they did.
A guerilla war that’s gone on for this long has no “good guys”. Though of course Tlalo never made any such pretense, that was just my naivete showing. Fresh out of that by now. The exterior lights illuminated the tunnel for about fifty feet above and below.
If not for that, it would seem as if we hovered perfectly still in darkness. Something about how the saucer stabilized itself prevented me from feeling any acceleration or vibration except on the rare occasion that it scraped the tunnel wall.
There was an ever-present humming though, as well as a faintly detectable resonance. Really low pitched, what I assumed was the entire craft flexing under the forces of constant changes in direction and speed that I couldn’t feel.
It felt strangely familiar. Natural, good and right to be in control of this machine. Something like getting onto a bicycle again after having not so much as seen one for so long that you no longer remember what a bicycle is. Just lingering muscle memory.
This vessel. This staff. Everything where it needs to be, working in perfect harmony, with me at the helm. I briefly felt unstoppable. Despite the fact that Tlalo’s last redoubt had been taken, despite the fact that we were descending towards a civilization on the interior of the Earth I knew to be aligned against us.
“It feels like we still have a shot.” Tlalo didn’t react immediately. When he turned towards me, there were tears running down his face, but he was smiling. “I believe you’re right. Of course now there’s no other choice but to try. Even so, when I hear you say it, you make me believe it.”
As we approached the terminus of the tunnel, Tlalo informed me that Kembis and his troops would be launching their attack on ground based anti-saucer weapons, detection and tracking systems and so on in 14 hours.
“You really cut it close, didn’t you? With me on the surface, I mean. What if I decided to come back, but took a day or two?” Tlalo confessed that he’d worried about that but did not want the information to sway my decision.
The tunnel emptied out not in the Earth’s hollow interior but a cavern, much smaller than the one Tlalo’s base and ancestral ruins occupied. There was nothing like a city here, or even any recognizable dwellings.
Just machinery. Somehow looking at the same time old fashioned and futuristic, spiraling electrical towers and what resembled computers alongside oversized gears, pistons and drive belts. It all reminded me somewhat of the huge electrical equipment seen in theatrical depictions of Frankenstein’s lab.
Some of it advanced beyond any possibility of identifying its purpose. Other components almost laughably primitive. The result of technological progress along a path isolated for millennia from the one humanity took.
I realized as we passed by the contraptions that, even with my layman’s understanding of the principles involved, I could have pointed out a dozen or more improvements to how certain components were designed. Just a result of human brains being wired differently, excelling in areas where the Vril-ya’s brains fell short, and vice versa.
Probably not what he wanted to hear right then. I just couldn’t help but dwell on it because of the relevance to our situation. How easy it must’ve been for our enemies, and even for the native Vril-ya for that matter, to narrowly consider only the capacities in which they excelled and conclude that they were the most superior life form.
Ignoring, perhaps not even consciously, the areas where they lagged behind us. Maybe their culture never considered those capacities important, dignified or whatever other nonsense one conjures up to rationalize away feelings of inadequacy.
“I am skilled at X, therefore X is the most important skill one can have. I am not skilled at Y, but it is of no importance because Y is a trivial and useless skill.” Then designing their society in such a way as to rely upon and leverage X, but not Y, in order to reinforce their conviction.
The notion of “more evolved” always struck me as absurd in the same way. Every species alive today has been evolving for the same amount of time. Every species is therefore equally well adapted to the environment it lives in, unless there has been some recent, significant change to it.
The cavern was very plainly not intended for continuous habitation. I never noticed back at Tlalo’s hideout, but that cavern must’ve had some hidden mechanism for dehumidifying the air and managing seepage from above.
By contrast, this cavern was like any I’d ever been in before all of this started. Drippy, cool, humid. A constant gentle whoosh of moving air. I never really gave any thought to what sort of technologies would be necessary to condition the atmosphere of a cave system to make it more like the surface, so that you could tolerate living in it long term.
The machinery didn’t appear rusty. Worn out, but not a spot of rust to be seen, presumably because the materials it was made out of do not oxidize. I assumed those multi colored metallic plates on the floor had been copper, aluminum and other familiar metals.
I now figured they were probably just superficially similar, and that if these people had developed that pale golden alloy so long before we did, probably all of their other metals were unknown to human metallurgists as well.
“How old is this place?” Tlalo didn’t turn to look at me, just kept walking. “Millennia” he muttered. “Before the staffs. Before servitors, at least of the type you’ve seen. All of this used to be necessary for atmospheric processing, and recycling of all types of waste.”
I idly thought to myself that almost anything down here that I pocketed and brought to the surface, even their junk, would likely be worth millions just because of what it’s made out of. Perhaps a bit premature to have such ideas though, given recent events. Odds seemed better than even that I’d be dead before tomorrow.
We came to a point where the cavern widened into a much larger tunnel, perhaps a lava tube. The ceiling was collapsed in a few places within reach of the light, such that there were sizable piles of ragged boulders blocking our way.
Stay Tuned for Part 26!