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In a future America, a man encounters a mysterious woman.
All else is black. I look around. The platform is falling through open space. I'm not slipping from my position on the platform, so this is a controlled fall. This is fine. This is planned. My heart pounds but I will it not to.
I look up and see the enormous tunnel now resembles a faint, shimmering star. It hits me; this is a cavern. It's huge! My god, it's bigger than any cavern of theirs I've even heard of; the entrance must be a mile away already. I squint at the ceiling and look for the glimmer but see none. From this far away though, it might not be visible. I look at the platform, but it's hardly visible without the light bouncing off the sealed walls. I try to ignore the feeling that I'm in a black void falling endlessly. What could they have possibly needed to build such an enormous cavern for?
The platform begins to rapidly slow. I immediately hear the buzz of the platform's electric hover propulsion revved up to full deceleration. Above me is still dark, but I know the hover propulsion gives off light so I make my way closer to the edge. I see a dimly lit floor far below, but it's getting closer by the second. Decisions, fast.
I look for cover but there's none within the lit area. I look for movement, but see none. I listen and, even without gear, can hear the evenness in the echo; I'll be landing in the center. Fuck, if this is a simulated breach, I'm blind and dumb. The ground is getting closer, maybe 15 seconds. Then I see it. An arrow etched into the rocky floor of the cavern. Next to it there is her call sign, Sia. I realize that when the platform lands, the propulsion will shut off and the light will be gone. I align my body to point in the same direction as the arrow. I want to think about what this cavern was used for but there's no time. The platform comes to a halt and a second later there's only complete darkness.
I stay still enough to hear my every heartbeat and my exhalation through my nostrils. Too loud, I think. Much too loud. I take faster, softer, shallower breaths. Better. Still I can hear my heartbeat. If they were near, I'd be dead. I take a knee, making sure to keep my knee pointed in the same direction I've been lying in. This is Earth. Siama is down here, somewhere. Be calm, be invisible.
I feel my heartbeat slow a little, then a little more. Good enough. I need to move away from the platform, it's a known position. My first step is too quick and too loud; my second is noiseless. I count 40 steps, a distance I calculate to be the edge of the lit area I viewed from the platform. Beyond this point the next step could be off of a cliff and I wouldn't know it. I listen to my heartbeat and decide its quiet enough to keep moving.
I make it 100 paces, stopping to listen every ten. Nothing. I keep moving, but slower, recognizing the possibility that I've deviated from the direction I started out in. I think back to the height of the cavern and realize that I could have a very long distance to cover. Is there time for this? Launch is in less than six hours. I consider speeding up but instead stay low, slow, and noiseless.
What was this enormous thing used for? I start listing the possible uses: it could be that their tunnel intersected a natural cavern but it's unlikely. It could have held water, also unlikely. The manmade hidden city was probably built over this to keep it protected but allow continued covert access. It could be an engineering bay. If so, why is it empty? The emptiness implies that the cavern is a byproduct. Was the open air used to dissipate heat from a power source? I've never heard of an Elori power source that works in such a way. I grow frustrated, knowing that I know nothing about their caves or technology that would suggest why they would require such an enormous, underground space.
Then I hear it, running water.