Chapter 5.16 – Drone

On a small, secluded hilltop that overlooks Ft. Gnome, Doc sets up his equipment to survey “geologic activity”.
 
Ground penetrating radar has confirmed the existence a large, cavernous area nearly five hundred feet below; a fact he has not divulged to his fellow scientists. Drilling will take days, but his small camp is outfitted well enough to last at least a week. Clandestine operations are not his strong suit, so keeping his colleagues in the dark about the true nature of his drilling comes with difficulty. He feigns interest and excitement in some rather routine findings regarding geologic makeup and local metallogeny. His colleagues’ reactions to a rare find of woohooium also helps to keep him focused on the task at hand.
 
The drilling goes well and takes only three days. When finished, Doc places a specialized seismometer over the dangerously deep hole, and congratulates his team on a job well done. None of his colleagues are very outdoors savvy, so spending three nights sleeping on the ground has made all of them quite eager to return home. After the last sim has left, Doc makes a few adjustments to the equipment. The seismometer is not exactly what it seems to be. He has activated a secret, tethered, recording device that he will remotely lower into the cavern. Using its array of sensing equipment, he will be able to safely observe whatever is causing the temporal loop.
 
Doc double checks the “seismometer” again, then trudges toward home. He smiles at the thought of that word. It is one he has not had much opportunity to use during his lifetime. And it truly is home in every sense of the word. Though he never thought it could happen to him, Hope has become something more than a girlfriend. It still seems unlikely, if not outright impossible that he somehow stumbled upon his fate among the Barimen family; who rank right up there among the Altos and Landgraabs in terms of success. Not to mention that Hope is even more beautiful than he had dreamt.
 
After a long hike through the more remote parts of Sunset Valley, Doc enjoys a bath, a warm meal, and three days worth updates from a very chatty Hope. But it is Faith’s somewhat excited demeanor that leaves him feeling uneasy after supper. She has been avoiding eye contact, (a trait he has been working to break himself of), and had not said much during the meal. She excuses herself from the table quickly, leaving Hope and Doc to enjoy some private time together.
 
Later that night, Doc makes his way downstairs after being awoken by some sound. He sees Faith’s bedroom light on downstairs, quietly approaches through the sprawling estate to check on her. He is still somewhat baffled by the strange behavior she had exhibited during supper. Doc sees the abandoned laptop at her desk, but there is no sign of Faith in the room. Her absence alone is enough cause for alarm. But the image he sees on her laptop causes him to panic slightly.
 
Faith has somehow tapped into the live feed from his “seismometer”. Worse yet, the recorder has been maneuvered out of its housing and down into the main cavern. No wonder she wouldn’t make eye contact with him. She probably knows that what she has done is not only dishonest and distrustful, but also dangerous to his research. Faith bursts out of the bathroom and stops dead in her tracks upon seeing Doc. His eyebrow jerks up as she looks at the laptop, still displaying the incriminating evidence.
 
She starts to say a hundred different things, but none of them come out. Finally, accompanied by tears of guilt, she quietly apologizes to Doc, admitting she has stepped way out of bounds. He should be angry, but is instead more fascinated by her ingenuity. He nods and warns her that his work is very sensitive and important; and that nobody else besides Hope can know what he is doing. He is interrupted by a sudden knocking at her bedroom door. Jimmy, now out of breath, announces that he came as fast as he could, but then freezes when he sees Doc.
 
Doc’s eyebrow shoots up again as he measures a scolding glare toward Faith. Doc sighs and adds a verbal addendum to his last instruction; adding Jimmy to the list of exceptions. When he asks if there is anybody else, she sheepishly shakes her head “no”. Sighing, and accepting the inevitability of being so close with two budding scientists, he asks her what she has discovered that warranted calling Jimmy.
 
Hope had forgotten all about her news and dashes to the laptop with newfound urgency. Frantically talking while her fingers dance across the laptop’s keypad, she explains how she was just taking “the drone” out for a test drive; just to see what it could do. But it immediately picked up a rythmic pulsing sound and steady but faint hits on the motion detector. She has done her best to clean up the imaging feed, but it is still very grainy due to some kind of ground level fog or mist. Faith’s eyes widen with concern and fear as she turns to Doc and Jimmy. Somebody is trapped down there.
 
And whoever it is, they are barely alive.
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