We have been digging in the new sector for three days, carefully laying down a grid, marking off each object found, each change in the consistency of the rock and clay. It will take us weeks to fully investigate this small section of tunnel.
Even here, on the well-excavated Circle, we uncover new things, new data. Yesterday I recovered and catalogued three small metal objects previously unknown to science. Tomorrow, with the rest of the team, we renew our attack opening up the length of the tunnel, driving towards the other team digging towards us from the east.
Weather has kept us in the shelter for the second day running. Some of the others who have been here for the whole of the digging season say it has been brutal – the weather burns harder than ever this far south. As I write this, the others are huddled over microscopes cataloguing the finds: three hard, perforated plastic discs, a crushed aluminium cylinder, and a collection of fragments we have already extracted from the rock chunks we brought back to our small lab. These are the things we often find in these shallower tunnels. Organic material is much more difficult to come by.
8871326 – private file.
Two days of doing lab work inside is starting to take its toll. Two other members of the team were bickering so loudly we threatened to throw them out onto the surface to fry. One member of the team has stayed out of all of these disputes. Despite the tension, she has remained a quiet workmate, only speaking to any of us when she needs to discuss the work. I had hoped for more.
Finally went out on a dig again today. Everyone is relieved.
It is late. After a long day in the field I read, and I think. It is difficult, sometimes, to believe that anything ever lived here. Above ground the blasted earth lies scorched under the sun – the heat of the day would kill you even before a solar flare might. At night it is freezing. Twenty years ago, before the excavation began, no one was willing to believe living things had made these tunnels. What animal could have thrived here? Surely these were natural formations in the hardened clay? But, now the proof seems undeniable – something once lived here, though their city now lies buried below the surface, and the tunnels are all that remain.
The others have gone to sleep. I must study. I read through the pages and pages written about the tunnel network, and specifically about the Circle. But I struggle to concentrate. She still refuses to engage in conversation beyond work or what is politely necessary.
I have been trying and failing to sleep for hours, thinking about what tomorrow might bring. Sometimes as I dig into the earth, as I pry into the rock and soil inch by inch with my fingers, I think about how the discovery of just one big thing – one new station, one mass grave/shelter, could make me famous, could set my career for life. I think about how two sectors to the west the very first dig site is now covered in a weather-proof dome. Tourists come south in the winter, to stare at the section of tunnel first uncovered all those years ago. I still remember the first time I saw it on a field trip with my family. I remember staring at the pristine station, sixty per cent of its walls still covered in white ceramic tile freed from the clay and stone that filled the tunnel. I remember feeling like a time traveller, like the past had suddenly reached out and grabbed me and taken me back with it. I felt a kind of rising sweaty panic, a sense that I needed to get closer, that I needed more.
A long day of digging, but no new tunnels. Only a single piece of bone we haven’t managed to identify. Time is running out for us to find anything before the digging season ends and we head back north.
8871328 – Private File.
Yesterday she told me to stay out of her space, the fur around her eyes bristled and her nose flushed in anger. I have resolved to not speak to her again unless I must for work.
Some maintain that the those who dug the tunnels made them by instinct, like most animals, following some evolutionary programming that forced them to dig, to create these patterns, and then to travel through them on repeating, pointless journeys. This is the theory she prefers, pushing it at the rest of us. It rankles that she is so wrong and refuses to listen to reason. Others, myself included, think the rational, deliberate nature of the complex is undeniable. The accuracy, the intent is obvious.
I find the obvious religious nature of the complex deeply moving. That they spent so much time and effort creating a system of lines and shapes, with the Circle at the centre, speaks to their sophisticated sense of a conscious place in the universe. I think about them, these people, traveling up and down, around and around the tunnels in their glorious act of worship. I try to imagine the devotional thoughts they must have kept in their minds as they sacrificed time, the most valuable of all life’s gifts, to their god. At dinner I tried to talk to her about this, about my theories of religious observance and the shape of the tunnel network, but she laughed and walked away, telling me to keep my fairy stories alive if I wanted to.
8871329 – Private File.
Yesterday, on the dig site, I caught myself staring at her, admiring the way the floodlights highlighted the streaks of red in her fur. I watched as her perfectly polished nails picked through the rock and sand we had already pulled from the newest trench. I have to concentrate harder on the work.
Several days of backbreaking physical work, using the machines and the extra labour we have hired to shift tonnes and tonnes of debris. Nothing new to report.
Victory! Last night, after several days of nothing but rock and sand and dust we broke through into a new chamber at last. It will take months, years to fully understand and study what we have found, but it might just be enough to get us noticed, to bring extra funding to our sector. Too exhausted to say more. I can barely brush the dust from my fur. I must sleep.
We have, it seems, uncovered a shelter in what must once have been a station on the Circle. Thousands of bodies preserved in the clay that fell from the roof as the tunnel collapsed while they slept. It seems to confirm that these tunnels, and the deeper ones, were used as living quarters when the weather aboveground became unbearable. On a deeper line, near the centre of the Circle, teams have found what looks like underground protein and plant farms that resemble primitive versions of our own technology. We return tomorrow to begin cataloguing the contents of the chamber.
8871340 – Private file.
A real breakthrough today. She grinned at me when we found the chamber and tonight at dinner she ate with me and the rest of the group at the same table and even conversed with us. I cannot decide what I am more elated about: the new discovery, or her sudden thawing.
We have only two more days before we will be forced to leave the site. Already the heat storms aboveground rage with renewed intensity. Radiation levels are becoming dangerous. The journey north will be difficult. But we have only just begun to work through what we have discovered. Today two professors from the Institute joined us and began working on the site, directing the digging and collection. I told her yesterday that I think they are stealing our hard-earned work, but she told me to stop being such a cynical bastard.
We have been delicately removing the remains of the people we found in the shelter. Even calling them people is controversial – most scientists feel it is too emotional a word for a species we know nothing about. But I have never been able to think of them as anything else. Gently brushing the layers of clay and grit from their bones I feel connected to them in a way I seldom do to my own kind. I don’t know whether it is the deep concentration needed for the repetitive, small task, but I sometimes feel like I am slipping down into a pool, like the cold, deep water of the fjord back home. I feel my body slipping down and away from me, swallowed by the slow bending river of time that flows between me and these people. And my mind becomes fixed on a single point, on the tiny movements of the brush in my hand against the petrified bone. And that was where she found me, bent over the two, well preserved skeletons that were obviously lying close to each other, whose hands were interlinked even now, the bones of their fingers intermingling. That was where she found me weeping.
Weeping and shaking just a little. You’re just exhausted, she said, come back to the shelter with me, the weather is about to turn. But it wasn’t just exhaustion. All day I had felt a growing sense of unease, of pressure building somewhere behind my ears, of the sound of rushing and chattering, or a noise like the noise of a hive. I had forgotten to eat lunch. I had not slept for days. And I sat, quietly, taking a break to relieve the cramp in my hands, and I sat quietly and I did what I had done almost every day since we had arrived – I closed my eyes and tried to feel what they had felt as they moved through these magnificent things they had built, tried to give myself over, as they had done, to the meditative sense of endless motion, of travelling round and round in a circle on the Circle, a tunnel going nowhere and everywhere and I felt that I too was moving, that, if I closed my eyes for long enough, if I thought long and hard enough, I too would be moving. And then I opened my eyes and I wept.