After several hours scouting around Mertseger Mons, Barney had not found anything of note. The all-encompassing yellow haze, though thinner than that outside the windows of Colony Number Nine, was being moved by a barely perceptible breeze. Compared to the winds above that sometimes tripled the cyclone and hurricane speeds seen on Earth, it was the definition of peaceful.
Each team member had headed off in their own direction, each on the lookout for any tell-tale signs of diamond deposits. The two most likely locations of diamond deposits were either volcanoes, dormant or otherwise, or impact craters. It was difficult to separate the two, as the satellites in Venus’ orbit were prevented from better definition by the reflective sulphuric acid in the atmosphere.
Barney’s heads-up display on his helmet visor noted each team member, and their distance and direction relative to his own location. Juan and Carolina were within a kilometre of each other to his south south west, Woody was a sole blip to the north, and Kumar had headed to the east. Due to the scorching heat of the planet, the visors implemented an inverse thermal view, so anything not the high heat of the surroundings would show up prominently.
“Woody! How’s it looking over there?”
A faint crackle preceded the answer. “Nothing promising, Barney. It looks like there was a fairly recent lava flow down this side, as the surface is quite smooth and no debris is visible. Claudio won’t be happy.”
Barney sighed to himself. “It is an initial survey. If we don’t find something, he’ll either write off the site or send another crew while we’re on our Earth down-time. Juan, Carolina. How about you two?”
Carolina’s voice reached him first. “Same story my side. Little debris and smooth surfaces as far as I can see. Nothing of value to be seen. Maybe if we weren’t on a tight schedule because of the sulphur emissions heading our way, we could take the time to drill some samples out to take back.”
Juan’s deep, smooth voice came online. “I agree with Argie, Barney. We’d need more time for get some decent samples. Our diamond drills would not get far enough into the ground to take an adequate sample.”
Barney looked at the drill on his arm. It was a sturdy object, the length of his forearm and twenty centimetres thick at its base. The density of the ground was such that it took an hour to drill a hole half the depth of the drill, when you needed five times that depth to make any reasonable guess on what minerals lay underneath.
“We still have just over two hours before we head back. Do some shallow drilling, scoop up any dust or rocks that comes out, and we’ll take that up to Cheesy. I’m sure the lab team will be able to find out something.”
The two answered in unison. “Will do, Barney.” Two crackles of static noted their disengaging of their microphones.
“Kumara, how are you going?”
“You might want to come have a look at this, Barnaby. I don’t know what to make of it.”
Barney’s visor advised that Kumara was a twenty minute walk away. He surveyed his area, and noted that it was little different from what the other three had observed. “I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
One of the wonderful aspects of their surface suits was its ability to mitigate the effects of Venus’ thick atmosphere. An addition to the suit, formally identified as the Atmospheric Mitigation and Regulation Device, was able to create an encompassing field about a metre thick that kept everything inside it at the atmospheric pressure of Earth. While mitigating the crush, it also converted the carbon dioxide and nitrogen around the wearer into the breathable air of Earth. As its nickname suggested, the AMRD created an ‘armoured’ suit against the hellish conditions around its wearer.
He ran at a brisk pace, with long strides. Where the atmosphere of Venus was much greater than Earth’s, the gravity of Venus was a tenth lower. With the atmosphere kept in check, the average miner was able to run much faster, even when they carried their suits and equipment. The terrain changed markedly as he ran. It seemed that a previous volcanic eruption had coated every side of the mountain bar where the Pawnee had headed. He slowed his pace, ensuring he didn’t twist an ankle.
Barney’s visor began to beep just as Kumar became visible on the horizon. As he moved toward his teammate, he saw the edge of what looked like an arch. Kumar turned and raised his arm in greeting, then turned back to look at what was within.
“Here I am, Kumara. What have you got?”
Kumar just pointed. As Barney came to stand beside him, he saw there was a crude yet solid pair of doors within the arch. It looked nothing like the mine shafts that had been established elsewhere.
Barney looked to his friend, with a mild look of shock on his face. “But Claudio said this area hasn’t been visited before.”
Kumar nodded. “I heard him say it too. So how can this be here? There’s no life on the planet.”
“That’s one of the only reasons you and I signed up to work here. We knew there was no chance of displacing lifeforms. We weren’t going to do what had been done to our races back on Earth.”
“Exactly.” Kumar moved forward and put his hand on the door. He gave it a push, causing some creaking and a small amount of dust to fly from the edge of the left door. He braced his shoulder and pushed harder, and the door pushed open.
Barney activated his microphone. “Carolina, Juan, Woody. Kumara has found something interesting. We’re heading underground.”
Woody’s surprised voice rang around Barney’s helmet. “Underground? Are you kidding me?”
“No I’m not, Woody. I’ll set a beacon at the entrance, so you’ll know where we are now.”
Barney reached into a container compartment on his arm, and pulled out a silver disc the size of his palm. He placed it just inside the arch, trying to ensure the caustic atmosphere would not find a way to attack it before he and Kumar returned to the surface. He looked to Kumar. “You ready to go in and have a look?”
Kumar shook his head. “I got a bad feeling about this.”
“Me too. Let’s go.”
– X –