FROM Hyperion by Dan Simmons
For the hundredth time Rachel wondered who had built the Tombs and for what purpose. Dating of the construction materials had been useless because of the effect of the anti-entropic field. Only analysis of the Tombs in relation to the erosion of the canyon and other surrounding geological features had suggested an age of at least half a million years. The feeling was that the architects of the Time Tombs had been humanoid, even though nothing but the gross scale of the structures suggested such a thing. Certainly the passageways in the Sphinxrevealed little: some were human enough in size and shape, but then meters farther along the same corridor might dwindle to a tube the size of a sewer pipe and then transform itself into something larger and more random than a natural cavern. Doorways, if they could be called such since they opened to nothing in particular, might be triangular or trapezoidal or ten-sided as commonly as rectangular.
Rachel crawled the last twenty meters down a steep slope, sliding her backpack ahead of her. The heatless glow-globes gave the rock and her flesh a bluish, bloodless cast. The ‘basement,’ when she reached it, seemed a haven of human clutter and smells. Several folding chairs filled the center of the small space while detectors, oscilloscopes, and other paraphernalia lined the narrow table against the north wall. A plank on sawhorses along the opposite wall held coffee cups, a chess set, a half-eaten doughnut, two paperbacks, and a plastic toy of some sort of dog in a grass skirt.
Rachel settled in, set her coffee therm next to the toy, and checked the cosmic ray detectors. The data appeared to be the same: no hidden rooms or passages, just a few niches even the deep radar had missed. In the morning Melio and Stefan would set a deep probe working, getting an imager filament in and sampling the air before digging further with a micro-manipulator. So far a dozen such niches had turned up nothing of interest. The joke at camp was that the next hole, no bigger than a fist, would reveal miniature sarcophagi, undersized urns, a petite mummy, or—as Melio put it— ‘a teeny-tiny Tutankhamen.”
Out of habit, Rachel tried the comm links on her comlog. Nothing. Forty meters of stone tended to do that. They had talked of stringing telephone wire from the basement to the surface, but there had been no pressing need and now their time was almost up. Rachel adjusted the input channels on her cornlog to monitor the detector data and then settled back for a long, boring night.
There. was the wonderful story of the Old Earth pharaoh- was it Cheops?- who authorized his huge pyramid, agreed to the burial chamber being deep under the center of the thing, and then lay awake nights for years in a claustrophobic panic, thinking of all those tons of stone above him for all eternity. Eventually the pharaoh ordered the burial chamber repositioned two thirds the way up the great pyramid. Most unorthodox.
Rachel could understand the king’s position. She hoped that – wherever he was – he slept better now.
Rachel was almost dozing herself when – at 0215 -her comlog chirped, the detectors screamed, and she jumped to her feet. According to the sensors, the Sphinx had suddenly grown a dozen new chambers, some larger than the total structure. Rachel keyed displays and the air misted with models that changed as she watched.
Corridor schematics twisted back on themselves like rotating MObius strips. The external sensors indicated the upper structure twisting and bending like polyfiex in the wind – or like wings.
Rachel knew that it was some type of multiple malfunction, but even as she tried to recalibrate she called data and impressions into hercomlog. Then several things happened at once. She heard the drag of feet in the corridor above her. All of the displays went dead simultaneously. Somewhere in the maze of corridors a time-tide alarm began to blare. All of the lights went off.
This final event made no sense. The instrument packages held their own power supplies and would have stayed lit through a nuclear attack. The lamp they used in the basement had a new ten-year power cell. The glow-globes in the corridors were bioluminescent and needed no power.
Nonetheless, the lights were out. Rachel pulled a flashlight laser out of the knee pocket of her jumpsuit and triggered it. Nothing happened.
For the first time in her life, terror closed on Rachel Weintraub like a hand on her heart. She could not breathe. For ten seconds she willed herself to be absolutely still, not even listening, merely waiting for the panic to recede. When it had subsided enough for her to breathe without gasping, she felt her way to the instruments and keyed them. They did not respond. She lifted her comlog and thumbed the diskey. Nothing… which was impossible, of course, given the solid-state invul-nerability and power-cell reliability of the thing. Still, nothing.
Rachel could hear her pulse pounding now but she again fought back the panic and began feeling her way toward the only exit. The thought of finding her way through the maze in absolute darkness made her want to scream but she could think of no other alternatives.
Wait. There had been old lights throughout the Sphinx maze but the research team had strung the glow-globes.
Strung them. There was a perIon line connecting them all the way to the surface.
Fine. Rachel groped her way toward the exit, feeling the cold stone under her fingers. Was it this cold before?
There came the clear sound of something sharp scraping its way down the access shaft.
‘Melio?” called Rachel into the blackness. ‘Tanya?
The scraping sounded very close. Rachel backed away, knocking over an instrument and chair in the blackness. Something touched her hair and she gasped, raised her hand.
The ceiling was lower. The solid block of stone, five meters square, slid lower even as she raised her other hand to touch it. The opening to the corridor was halfway up the wall. Rachel staggered toward it, swinging her hands in front of her like a blind person. She tripped over a folding chair, found the instrument table, followed it to the far wall, felt the bottom of the corridor shaft disappearing as the ceiling came lower. She pulled back her fingers a second before they were sliced off.
Rachel sat down in the darkness. An oscilloscope scraped against the ceiling until the table cracked and collapsed under it. Rachel moved her head in short, desperate arcs. There was a metallic rasp—almost a breathing sound—less than a meter from her. She began to back away, sliding across a floor suddenly filled with broken equipment. The breathing grew louder.
Something sharp and infinitely cold grasped her wrist.
Rachel screamed at last.