Episode 498: Someone's Been Here Before Us
"Look, meine Herren!" Fischer called from ahead.
Oberleutant Neumann stepped forward and halted beside the marine
to examine what he had discovered. This proved to be an ancient wall,
partially hidden by brush. Its masonry seemed unusually sophisticated --
dressed blocks of stone, fitted together with some precision. The
lieutenant was reminded of Skara Brae and the enigmatic ruins left by the
pre-Migration cultures of Finland. He noted that one side seemed darkened
with a layer of ash, like the cobbles they'd found the day before.
"Who could have built this?" he wondered aloud.
"It cannot have been the modern islanders," said Fisher. "They do not work
stone in this fashion. Perhaps it was the same people who left the road we
Neumann nodded. This seemed as good a hypothesis as any. Turning his
attention back to the wall, he spotted a gap where a door might have been.
He stepped through to find himself facing an ancient lava flow. An
opening yawned where molten rock had flowed to leave behind a tunnel. This
was surrounded by what might once have been carvings. These had long ago
faded to barely-perceptible scrawls, but something about their geometry
"These people must have built this place to around the entrance," said
Lehr. "I wonder why they thought it so important."
"I don't believe it would be wise to leave such mystery behind us,"
Neumann decided. "We shall investigate."
The Germans adjusted packs and weapons so these wouldn't get in the way,
then ducked to pass through the entrance. Lehr took the lead -- the
radioman had grown up in the coal-mining region of the Ruhr, so he was
comfortable underground. The tunnel was pleasantly cool after the heat of
the previous day, with walls that gleamed dull red in the light of their
electric torches. In places they came upon groups of petroglyphs. These
had fared somewhat better than the carvings about the entrance. Fischer
paused to examine some.
"These resemble the figures we saw on those stones near the coast," he
said. "Here's the same image of a man clashing a pair of cymbals
"There are additional figures as well," Lehr observed. "Those ones could be
miners, and these appear to be working some sort of forge. And what is this
image with the tentacles?"
"I imagine those are palm fronds," said Neumann "It must represent some
type of tree that was significant to the artists. Shall we continue?"
The cavern grew more complicated as the Germans advanced, for the passage
through which they'd entered was joined by others. Like the carvings about
the cave mouth, Neumann found their geometry disturbing, as if they'd been
shaped by some alien physical principle. He was reminded of speculations
he'd read by one of the new scientists -- some Swiss professor whose name
"This place threatens to become a maze," he warned his men. "We must leave
signs so we don't get lost."
Lehr nodded and dug through his pack to produce a small hand axe. He
raised it to mark the walls, then paused.
"It seems we aren't the first ones here," he said. Neumann looked where the
radioman was pointing and saw the `A. S.' scratched above what might have
been an arrow. He chuckled, recalling a work of speculative fiction he'd
read as a youth.
"Either we're in the presence of a remarkable coincidence or someone had a
sense of humor," he said wryly. "Let us see where these arrows lead."
The Germans resumed their advance. They came upon several more
intersections, but at each one, Lehr was able to find a mark their
predecessor had left to show the way. Then, as he rounded what appeared
to be a slight bend in the passage, the radioman vanished from sight.
"Lehr! Where are you!" Neumann shouted in alarm.
"I'm here, mein Herr," came a muffled reply. The airman reappeared as if
he'd stepped around a corner, then turned to examine the bend where he
stood. "This is very strange. This angle is obtuse, but acts as if it was
acute. I have never seen anything like it."
Neumann stood beside the radioman, then looked up and down the tunnel. The
effect was unsettling, as if he was standing in a house of mirrors.
"Could this be a natural formation?" he wondered.
Lehr gave a helpless shrug. "What else could it be? I can't imagine how
anyone could build such a thing, or why."
Leaving the mystery behind, the airmen pressed on until they came to a
chamber where several passages converged. Its walls were covered with
petroglyphs, so numerous they almost seemed like columns of instructions.
Several massive objects occupied the floor -- dark bulks of
closely-fitted stones, topped by chimneys rising to what must have been
openings in the ceiling.
"Those look like kilns," Fisher remarked. "Who could have built them?
The natives of these islands did not use pottery."
Lehr shook his head. "I believe these were smelters. If you look here,
and here, you can see where bellows might have been placed. Molten metal
would have flowed down these troughs."
Neumann studied the channels the radioman had indicated. They were lined
with indentations that might once have held small panels. Most of these had
been removed, but a few were still in place. These had been smashed,
apparently on purpose, but he could still make out alien patterns, similar
to the ones he'd seen traced about the cave mouth. Like those, they seemed
to hint at some unsettling distortion of geometry.
"What are these strange signs?" Fisher asked.
"Perhaps they were magical emblems, placed here to assure that the work was
a success," Lehr suggested. "It appears that someone made a deliberate
effort to destroy them when this place was abandoned."
"What could these people have smelted?" wondered Neumann. "None of the
modern islanders used iron until the Europeans arrived."
"It might have been copper," guessed Lehr. "They could also have worked
nickel if they achieved a hot enough draft. These islands hold much of the
Neumann looked around for traces of ore, but if this had ever been present,
it must have been removed by whoever had vandalized the smelters. He
spotted a few scraps of some greenish mineral amidst the rubble that
littered the floor, but he dismissed these as spoil.
Turning his attention to the walls, the lieutenant found evidence that their
predecessor had been here too. "Our mysterious benefactor has provided us
with more directions," he observed, pointing to another arrow and set of
initials. "Shall we proceed?"
This second tunnel proved more convoluted than the first, with more of the
strange corners that twisted to block the view. It occurred to Neumann that
this would be a good place from which to spy on someone. Then, as they
rounded -- if this was the appropriate term -- one of the corners, they
noticed a glimmer of electric light ahead. Neumann signaled his
companions to silence, then crept forward to peek past the next distortion
in geometry. After a moment he stepped back.
"Interesting," he muttered.
Next week: If These Are White Russians, Where's The Kahlua?...
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