“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
T. S. Eliot (from The Quartets)
Arrival (from the journals and memories of Eric of the Cave Men, Earth-born human and expedition engineering leader)
The last ones made it up only seconds before the core ignited. Ten souls, scrambling to lift a heavy steel storage container into the cave mouth. Two of my engineering staff remained behind with the last group up and it looked like they hadn’t been as lucky as the rest of us. Geoff had nasty red welts across both arms that would need immediate attention. Our systems analyst, Will, however was unconscious.
Two nurses ran to him and settled him into a pile of bedding and rags close to the rear wall of the cave. One had a wet compress, I watched as she wiped his dirty face, but Brian called out for everyone to get down and take shelter. The entire melt-down took barely four hours from the first alarm, so we had little time to evacuate everyone to a safe distance above our landing site before everything we knew , everything we had, disappeared in a suffocating blast of molten silicon, twisted metal and ash.
The cloud rushed out at us seconds after the shockwave hit, sending boulders rolling and trees tumbling. The cave filled with choking, black smoke.
Inside, those brave enough, tried to watch through the caustic gloom. As soon as the smoke cleared and we stopped coughing, everyone gathered at the cave mouth. We watched the remaining embers and pools of molten metallic slag slide into the ground. Dirt, sand and stone slid in behind to bury what was left beneath tons of debris. Only a shallow, singed depression remained on the valley floor, where a week ago, we’d arrived. We had been forty-two men, women and children, full of the excitement of a new home and the peaceful joy of knowing everyone that started out had survived the twelve-year journey, plus a few. Not now. Only fear lingered.
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