Authors: Brian Evenson
Tags: #Horror, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Media Tie-In, #Action & Adventure
“You hardly know what you’re doing,” he said. “You’re going to get us both killed.”
“Shut up,” said Dantec, not even bothering to turn around to look at him. He powered up the drill and started it going. The whole craft shook. With a jerk, they slowly began to burrow into the muck.
· · ·
The F/7 performed better than expected, digging slowly but inexorably downward, the drill gouging a path forward and the pulverizers decreasing the debris. At first it was mainly mud and silt, particulate matter that had filtered downward over the years. It was easy to dig through, but also there was very little for the drill to grab, so the going was slow.
The real question, thought Hennessy, looking out the back through the navigation porthole at the way the tunnel was already filling up, was how easy it would be to get out again. The pulverizers were definitely getting rid of some of the debris, but not all of it, and they could very well get stuck if they just tried to reverse out the way they’d gone in. They’d have to dig a circle and try to rejoin the tunnel. Either that or just dig a second tunnel going up. As long as Dantec was careful, it’d be okay.
“Dropship, can you read me?” he heard Dantec say. “Dropship?”
All Hennessy heard on his own earpiece was static. He assumed from the fact that Dantec didn’t continue speaking that he was hearing the same. Just the two of them, then, at least for the moment.
said a voice within his head before scuttling away.
The F/7 lurched a bit. The sound the drill was making changed. They hit something harder—marl, he guessed, from what he’d seen of the geological maps. Calcium carbonate and mudstone. He’d be able to check the readings and the exact composition if he were in the chair he was supposed to be in.
He checked the readouts, looking over Dantec’s shoulder. They seemed to be on track. So far, nothing to worry about.
You’ll listen to me,
said the voice in his head.
Before you’re done, you’ll listen to me.
“I’m busy,” he said aloud. He shook his head. He bit the insides of his mouth until he tasted blood, hoping that would distract him from the voice he was hearing. For a moment, it did.
“What?” said Dantec.
“What did you say?”
“Oh, that,” Hennessy said. “Sorry. I wasn’t talking to you.”
He held still, phasing out a little bit, listening to the hum of the drill, feeling the bathyscaphe shiver around him.
I’m not here,
he started telling himself at one point.
This is all a dream. Nothing but a dream.
He leapt into awareness again as the craft jerked and the sound of the drill changed again. The F/7 slowed considerably. He turned and plastered his face to the rear navigation porthole, trying to see the side of the tunnel. Darker rock now, a breccia amalgam and andesite glass. Here and there traces of shocked quartz, due to an impact.
“We must be getting close,” he said to Dantec.
Dantec grunted. “Fifty or so meters to the tip of the target,” he said. “It’ll take some time still. You’ll have to be patient.”
he thought. He couldn’t promise anything, but he would try. All they could ask of him was that he try.
Then suddenly the drill stopped and the oxygen recirculator died. The lights flickered out and the readouts on the control panels were reduced to lines of static. Not even the emergency lights were working. He heard in his ears, for just an instant, Tanner’s voice, his tone terse: “—do you read, co—” and then nothing but dead air.
In the silence he listened to the sound of Dantec pressing
buttons, trying to work the controls. Nothing. His hands, he suddenly realized, were doing the same.
“What’s happened?” he asked, almost screaming it.
“I don’t know,” said Dantec. “It’s not working!”
Hennessy felt the porthole and started pounding on it.
“Stop it,” said Dantec. “Whatever you’re doing, stop it!”
The darkness was thick all around him, too thick. He could feel it tightening its fingers around his throat, the air already growing warm and then hot. It was more than he could stand.
And then suddenly it got worse. There, briefly illuminated, on the other side of the porthole, was a face. At first he thought it was his own face, but it was pitch dark. How could it be his own face? Or maybe a deepwater fish, something with its own luminescence. But no, it was a human face, not a fish, and he was sure it was not his own face. It was there, just on the other side of the glass, pressed between the glass and the wall of the tunnel they had just dug, glowing softly. And it was a face he knew—a puffy and slightly pudgy face, curly hair that floated in the water, a somewhat slack mouth, crooked teeth. He and the face shared the same eyes—their father’s eyes. It was his half brother, Shane.
Shane had been dead for years. He had died in college, a freak accident when he’d been driving down the highway and a restraint broke on an automobile transport vehicle in front of him, sending a car crashing off its top level to crush him. Hennessy was sure he was dead. He’d seen the body. Even seen, when the undertaker was looking the other way, how if you grabbed Shane’s hair and tilted the head, a huge bloodless gash opened up just under the collar. No, it was impossible.
And yet, here he was.
Shane mouthed. Hennessy heard the words sound aloud within his head.
“Hello, Shane,” he said. “What are you doing out there?”
“Shut up!” said Dantec. “What’s wrong with you? Shut up!”
It’s good to see you, Jim,
Hennessy put his face very close to the glass. “I have to be quiet,” he whispered. “If I don’t, Dantec’s going to throw a conniption.”
Shane nodded and smiled, then pretended, as they had done when they were kids, to be zipping his mouth shut.
“I have to be honest, Shane,” Hennessy whispered. He couldn’t see his own face in the darkness, but he imagined his forehead to be wrinkled with worry. Hopefully Shane could see that and would take the question in the spirit it was intended. “I thought you were dead.”
Of course you did, Jim,
That’s what they wanted you to think.
Hennessy nodded. “Those bastards,” he whispered.
They’re not that bad,
They just don’t know any better. But you know better, don’t you, Jim?
“I do now,” whispered Hennessy. “God, Shane, it’s really great to see you. But I have to ask you another question.”
You can ask me anything.
“What are you doing out there?”
said Shane, looking down shyly,
to be frank, Jim, I was hoping you’d invite me in.
Hennessy looked around at the darkness, trying to picture in his mind what the cabin looked like. “Shane, it’s already pretty cramped in here. I don’t know if there’s room.”
Trust me, there’s more room than you think,
Invite me in and you’ll see.
“But what will Dantec think?” he asked.
“Stop whispering!” shouted Dantec. “Stop it now!”
Shane gave him a sleepy grin.
He’s not the boss here, Jim. I know how things really are. You’re the boss. Dantec, he’s just a big bully. He needs someone to put him in his place. I’ll be quiet. I bet he won’t even notice me.
“You’re right, Shane,” whispered Hennessy. “He’s nothing more than a big bully.” He waited, pressing his face against the thick glass of the porthole. “Why not, then? Come on in, Shane. Come on in.”
With that, suddenly the lights flickered and went out again, then came on in full force. The readouts went live again. Hennessy heard crackling in his ear, saw Tanner’s ghost on his holoscreen before it was rubbed out by static.
The oxygen recirculators started up and the drill began to hum. Dantec gave a whoop. “We’re okay,” he said, casting a quick glance over his shoulder. His face, Hennessy saw, was slick with sweat. “We’re going to be okay.”
But Hennessy already knew it would be okay. His brother, good old Shane, was here now, sitting right beside him on a chair he hadn’t remembered being there before. Shane must have brought it with him. He was smiling, holding Hennessy’s hand in his own. Now that Shane was there, everything would work out.
He gently disengaged his hand from his brother’s and looked at his chronometer. Six thirty-eight, it read, but he could tell by the way the numbers flashed and then slowly faded that it had stopped. Why wasn’t it working? He showed it to Shane, who just nodded.
Nothing to worry about, brother,
It doesn’t really matter.
Shane was right, of course, it didn’t really matter, but he still wanted to know what time it was.
“What time is it?” he asked Dantec.
“Leave me alone,” said Dantec. “We’re getting close. I have to watch this.”
Hennessy waited a moment and then asked again.
Distractedly, Dantec looked at his wrist, then held his chronometer to his ear. “It’s stopped,” he said.
“Mine, too,” said Hennessy.
Dantec turned and looked at him. He didn’t seem to notice Shane, even though he was right there, right next to Hennessy.
People see what they want to see,
“Doesn’t that seem weird to you?” Dantec asked.
Hennessy shrugged. “Nothing to worry about,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter.”
Dantec narrowed his eyes. “And another thing,” he said. “Why are you so fucking serene all of a sudden?”
Hennessy cast his eyes toward Shane, then realized what he’d done and flicked them back quickly to look at Dantec. Dantec’s eyes moved to the side, stared through Shane, then moved back.
“It’s just like that,” said Hennessy. “I just feel better. I don’t know why.”
Rolling his eyes, Dantec turned away.
Just between you and me, Jim, should he really be doing this?
“I don’t know,” said Hennessy, “should he?”
Some things it’s better not to mess with.
Hennessy nodded. Shane was probably right, but if he told Dantec that, he wouldn’t listen. What could he do about it? Maybe it was a bad idea, but even if it was, he didn’t know how he could get Dantec to stop.
After a few more minutes—or maybe it was longer, impossible to say—Dantec slowed the drill. He drilled forward slowly until they struck something and the drill made a whining sound. He reversed it, backed up a little, and then approached at a slightly different angle, shearing away the side of the tunnel wall. Hennessy just stayed smiling, glancing occasionally over at his brother, waiting.
Are you sure it’s a good idea?
asked Shane again. Hennessy shrugged.
Dantec backed up again, came in once more, then a fourth time.
I think it’s a mistake,
There was, Hennessy could see, a strange shape, still half enclosed
in rock on one side. It was hard to see past the particles of rock and silt swirling through the water. Dantec pulled back a little, then turned off the drill.
“What’s out there?” asked Hennessy.
“How the hell should I know?” said Dantec. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
It’s the Black Marker,
The Black Marker,
Hennessy thought. As the water settled, he began to see it more clearly. It looked like a monolith made of some sort of obsidian. It narrowed to a point at the top, the whole of it twisting slightly as it rose. It was horizontally striated and covered with thousands of symbols, symbols unlike anything he had seen before. Were they glowing, or did it only look like they were because of the way the light was catching them? He couldn’t tell for sure. What he could see of it, of the part that was uncovered now, was probably three meters tall.
“Oh my God,” said Dantec, his voice filled with an uncustomary awe. “Who put this here? Or what?”
That’s the last question you want to ask,
said Shane to Hennessy.
Better not to know.
He remembered suddenly the schematic that Tanner had shown them of the Marker. He pulled it up on his holoscreen. There were two horns at the top, pointing out in either direction, and he could see the Marker went on much deeper below them, probably another twenty meters or more. “How big is it?” Hennessy asked.
Dantec, confused, said something, but Hennessy wasn’t asking him.
said Shane. He moved Hennessy’s hand to the porthole, pressed it against the glass. Together they stared out.
You don’t want to mess with this,
You’re in danger.
“I’m going to move us closer,” said Dantec.
“Are you sure?” asked Hennessy, still staring out. “Maybe we shouldn’t mess with it.” Beside him, just at the edge of his peripheral vision, Shane nodded.
“Try calling Tanner,” said Dantec. “See what he wants to do.”
Hennessy tried, got only bursts of static, little bits of Tanner’s voice spliced into it like it had been torn apart.
“I don’t know,” said Hennessy. “There’s something seriously wrong here. Let’s leave it alone.”
“We came all this way,” said Dantec. “We’ve been in this coffin for hours. Now that we’re here, we have to get a better look.”
Hennessy remained for a moment, staring at it, and finally nodded. “It wouldn’t hurt to get closer, I guess,” he said. “As long as we’re careful.”
He looked over at his brother, who was shaking his head.
It just might,
Dantec eased the ship forward, then cut the engines, let them drift. There they were, right up against it. The F/7 bumping softly against the Marker ’s side.
“It’s marvelous,” Dantec whispered.
It’s not marvelous,
said Shane, his face stretched into a strange rictus.
It’s horrible. Dantec is becoming one of them, brother. I’m afraid we’re going to have to get rid of him.