Daylight from the open doorway illuminated a few feet of the interior. Something whirled, making a ratchet-like noise and he jumped, and then looked around. Rows and rows of tiny round, lights covered one wall. Hundreds of them, some blinking, some emitting a steady blue or red glow. Others had been set in rectangular plates standing on edge on nearby shelves, and thick plastic tubes – cold to touch – ran down the walls from the ceiling. Black glass sections displayed strange glyphs – something the shaman had once told him were numbers and letters. But they hadn’t moved in the shaman’s books – yet on the glass panels, they did.
He tore his gaze from the panels, blinked and shut his eyes to acclimate himself to the dark, a trick he’d learned as a child exploring pitch black caverns in the remains of collapsed buildings. No matter how dark it seemed, there was always a little light, and this let him use it to see with. Sometimes he found old bones, broken wooden chairs, and twisted pieces of metal. The latter proved valuable. He sold it for village tokens, thin leather discs stamped in black with an elder’s face.
Skittering sounds alarmed him. He whirled in time to see shadows jerking up the side of a shelf. He readied himself for attack. Fight to the end. After a few moments, he realized the shadows were servicing the shelving in some way. Unlike the V-Wings, they were uninterested in him.
Turning back around, he took another step, stumbling forward as his foot went into a hole in the floor. He grabbed at a shelf to keep from failing, then extracted his foot and got on his knees, reaching into the hole. It was large, but darkness prevented him from seeing what was inside it and thoughts of snakes or other reptiles lent him caution. His hand touched something hard and hot, and he jerked it back, then felt with more caution – something about its surface, and its thickness, reminded him of the shaman’s thick, braided electrical wires… though they weren’t usually hot.
He poked around, discovering as he did so that the floor was made of squares that moved. He grabbed a nearby floor panel, lifted it, then pried several more loose. As the hole grew, the dim light revealed a network of thick cables – wires like the shaman’s – snaking below the floor. It suddenly made sense. The shaman had shoved his wires under a thick rug when visitors joined him for the once-a-week meetings he held in his house. Collin had watched him repeat that action many times before being called on to serve as a waiter and a greeter for each gathering. He’d been rewarded with the opportunity to sit in a corner and listen to smart men and women discuss things he wished he better understood, but the shaman had never explained why the wires had to go under the rug. He still didn’t know why, but now he knew what he was looking at.
He kept lifting floor tiles, tossing them aside. Spider bots popped up, then click-clicked away. When he reached the wall, he stopped, straightened up, and looked around the dark room. Nothing had changed, other than a huge hole in what had been the floor. Lights still burned: tiny red and tiny blue. Skittering spider-like machines went up and down the sides of the shelving. Something whirled and made a steady racket. Much of the bunker’s interior remained as mysterious, and as seemingly invincible, as it had been when he first walked in.
He frowned in thought and narrowed his eyes slightly as he looked around.
Technology can’t be tamed he’d been told as a child by everyone except the shaman, yet when he trained as a soldier, he was taught that the V-Wings could be defeated, and he’d even managed to crash one with the help of several other soldiers. Maybe this place could be defeated too. He was now too far from the open door to see anything other than the blinking lights, so he felt along the warm wall until his fingers told him he’d found a ladder. He gripped one of the rungs, then paused in thought. The service bots didn’t need ladders, they scurried up and down the walls, and over the shelves, without a problem. V-Wings were too big to get into the bunker. And the shelves apparently couldn’t move, so they certainly didn’t need them. What did that leave?
His eyebrows rose at the realization.
The place had to have been peopled in the past. People who used the ladder to get …? He slowly looked up at where the ceiling had to be, then set a foot on the bottom rung and started climbing. Reaching the ceiling he pushed, lifting a door on rusty hinges.
A V-Wing could be waiting, he thought. He could meet scattered shots in a moment, fall dead the next moment, and fail as surely as that dead soldier he passed on the way in.