We walked the rest of the way in silence. Soon we caught up to Cornelius and Katie. They were standing in front of Violet’s hillock, a bump in the snow not five feet high. Still, it was the single distinguishing feature on the snow plain. There was still no sight of Violet.
“It’s an entrance,” Cornelius said. He waved vaguely to the other side of the mound. Erin and I went around to see that some of the snow had been cleared away to reveal a hole in the side of the hill. I stepped closer and turned on one of the camera lights. The hole was a tunnel, carved of solid, unmarked rock, and there were stairs leading down, down beyond the radius of my lights. Erin pulled out a scanner, and crouched down to examine the rock. I looked up at Cornelius.
“Katie’s comm readings say Violet is down there,” Cornelius said.
“Or her comm is,” I said.
Cornelius said nothing.
Erin stood up, squinting at her ministation through the snow. “The rock is indigenous, but the tunnel isn’t a natural cave. Someone carved it out using sophisticated tools. But it’s been here for a long, long while. Whoever built it left centuries ago, at least.”
“There are steps, Erin,” I said, half caustic, half pleading. She shrugged, aware of how inadequate her report was to answering any of our questions. I sighed and reached out to rub her arm gently in apology.
“Call it in,” I said to Katie.
“Wait,” Cornelius said. “Nothing out of the ordinary has happened yet. The rock could be blocking the comms. There’s no reason to get New Rome up in a panic over stairs. We are on a mission. We knew there was something out of the ordinary going on out here. We’re fully qualified to deal with it.”
I gaped at him.
“So far,” he amended.
“You think we are qualified to deal with the fact that this uninhabited planet has just showed its first signs of previous habitation? A fact that the initial surveys all missed? Who’s to say the previous owners have left? What exactly is the logical reason for not contacting New Rome? Violet is gone. Vanished. And you want to keep that raging pilot’s ego of yours in tact by not asking for directions.”
Cornelius smiled at me, a lazy predator’s grin, full of teeth and warning. “It’s a good thing for the mission, Ovid, that you have no decision-making capability. They leave that to the trained professionals, who don’t base their actions on a bad mood.” He came around the hillock to grip my shoulder. “You’re going first. We need full documentation, and you have 360-degree lighting on this rig.” He leaned in close, then, right to my ear. I tried to pull away from him, but his grip was crushing.
“Speaking of egos. You’re just determined to be right, aren’t you?” He shoved me toward the hole. My only thought was how dearly I’d love to smash his smug face in, a thought very unbecoming to an Ovid but intensely satisfying, when the momentum of Cornelius’s shove brought my boot down on the first stone step.
Mirrored from Oasis Stories.