The Drawing Rooms
There was no reason to panic. The rooms had been this full before and the transporter crews had always come through. Anderson was anxious as always, transferring the black slick liquid from one room to another and watching the gauges. He checked which were filling up the fastest. Only six rooms remained unfilled, including the one we were now operating in. A small number decided to stay and control the drawing while most retreated to the upper levels of the temple. In the dark and slime stained rooms, Jefferson was reassuring everyone we would be OK. Rescue crews above us were drilling down as he spoke and, even though we were cut off temporarily, we would all laugh about this later over a drink.
In the twelve years since its discovery, the structure had only overflowed twice. Each time the staff had been evacuated before they could be suffocated in the rich thick fuel that flowed into the temple vaults. When the first crews had landed on the planet, the temple had been completely dry. There had been no signs anywhere of the civilization that had built it. Judging from the rich jungle surrounding it, the builders hadn’t originated here. Situated on a high cliff several thousand miles above the canopies of the tallest trees, nothing else on the planet showed the complexity and skill. They began to explore.
After several months, they noticed that the floors of the lowers rooms were becoming slick with a substance rising from the ground. It was a rich hydrocarbon oil that, when distilled, provided an incredible fuel source. Geologists were brought in to survey the area but no-one could work out why the substance was rising up into the temple. It was as if it was drawn up from beneath the jungle floor, oozing along with a life of its own. They searched for any kind of extraction mechanism. They studied the rocks of the cliffs and searched for underground reservoirs. The rocks were porous but could never be used to replicate the process. Most surmised it had to be triggered by our arrival.
It wasn’t long before the Stenson corporation arrived, installing in the lower chambers. The drawing room crews began their work; monitoring the levels, filling room after room while the transport crews shipped it back to earth for refinement. A whole new era of space exploration was being developed on the basis of this baffling discovery. It was lucrative for everyone to spend a cycle working in the rooms between transports. Risks were high but worth it. Now listening to the next room beginning to fill with the black slick; curdling and gurgling as it sloshed around, I thought on that. It was a matter of hours before everyone would be forced to evacuate into the jungle. There were predators down there, more dangerous than the fumes down here.
I could feel the walls vibrating as the crews drilled down to us. There was no need to panic.