Just Below the Surface
Before the war, the small community around Helder’s Mine was responsible for much of the crystite production in the region. Unfortunately when the Arclight crashed and the world went to hell, Helder’s Mine was one of the first places to be abandoned. As I approach the main gates, the oriental dragons adorning the top of the gate cast an ominous shadow against the fluorescent glow of the Melding wall. As I walk towards the abandoned mine, I pass by two powered-down anti-personnel turrets– likely used by the mine owners to keep potential poachers away.
Entering the mine, I find myself in a massive courtyard. More anti-personnel turrets rest with their barrels pointed towards the ground, seemingly waiting for somebody to come along and flip the switch to bring them back online. Heavy machinery sits idle away from their garages, left by their operators when the order came to leave the mine. Tattered cloth hangs from over the doorways, acting as makeshift awnings for the small residential dwelling that used to house the miners. Now, however, the building only serves as a ghostly reminder of what life used to be like here.
As I make my way further into the camp, I can see the entrance to the mine in the distance. The entrance sits in ruin, collapsing from either the advancing Melding, or an accident during the evacuation, or one of a hundred different culprits. Moving closer to the entrance I can’t help but notice something in the air; a smell that is, to be kind, utterly rancid – a combination of old meat and wet dog. Where the smell is coming from is beyond me, but it’s safe to say that this is one instance where my curiosity does not get the better of me.
I step over the fallen scaffolding in front of the mine entrance and make my way inside. Immediately I’m a little surprised to see that the lighting is still operational – of course, powered by crystite you would expect such things to still work, but it catches me off guard all the same. I follow the tracks deeper into the mine until I’m met with a massive wall of fallen rock that blocks my path. However, to the right of the tracks are twin service elevators which lead deeper into the mine. I’ve already come this far, I think to myself as I step into one of the elevator cars and pull the lever. As soon as I pull the lever I feel the elevator cart shimmy before gradually descending deeper into the mine.
The elevator lands with a metallic thud and the grated door slides open. As I step out I’m hit in the face by the smell of wet mold and motor oil. I follow the mine cart tracks away from the elevator until, once again, a cave-in prevents my further advance. However, to the left I see a large dig site. I approach the edge of the metal platform, looking down into the dig site. Large automated machines sit in what looks like ankle-deep water. For a moment I think about rolling up my pants and wading through the water to see what else is down there, but then I notice the electrical discharges from the disconnected batteries. If I were wearing a rubberized battleframe bodysuit I’m sure I’d be fine. Sadly, in my cotton shirt and slacks I’d merely wind up becoming a sizzling, absorbent piece of the décor. So I decide to stay on the platform and walk around the dig site.
Despite the fact that I’m roaming around in a geologically unstable mineshaft that could collapse and crush me at any moment, I feel strangely relaxed. I’m not running from monstrous beasties, nor am I having to hide from Chosen armies. I don’t have smartass Accord guards mocking me, or crazy hermits trying to tell me that the entire Chosen war is a fabrication to keep humanity in line. It’s just me, alone, in this cave with a backpack of stale rations (that’s how they taste, at least), my voice recorder, chalks and paper. It’s actually quite wonderful.
I walk into what looks like an office of sorts, where a dusty shortwave radio sits on a large table. Across from it, the warm yellow glow of a computer monitor illuminates the corner. Sitting on the table next to the computer are four books, all of which look absolutely ancient. Wiping the dust off one of the covers, I see the title: “A Tale of Two Cities,” a personal favorite of mine. Figuring that nobody else is going to need it, I grab it off the stack and place it in my bag before continuing on.
As I begin to walk further into the mine, I hear the rumble of a motor as metal scrapes against metal. Something – or somebody – has called the elevator up. Not wanting to be trapped in an old mineshaft, I double back and sprint towards the elevators. It takes me less than a minute to arrive back at the elevators, a feat which is no doubt attributed to the fact that I’ve been doing a lot of running in the past few weeks. I notice that one of the elevators has gone back up, but the other remains. I walk inside the elevator cart and reach out for the lever, but stop myself short of pulling it. Instead I keep my hand on the lever, waiting for the right moment to pull it and send myself back to the surface. After all, the last thing I want is to run into a group of armed thugs who’ve taken to calling this place home.
Oh, don’t kid yourself - you know that’d just be my luck.
Standing in the elevator cart, I wait for what feels like an hour, but in truth was only about 40 seconds. Soon I hear the adjacent elevator cart begin to rumble back downward. As soon as I know it’s on its way down I flip the switch and send myself ascending back to the surface. Nice job, I assuredly think to myself as the rickety elevator shimmies up the shaft.
After a few moments the car reaches the top of the elevator shaft. Feeling especially proud of myself, I step out of the elevator cart and take about three steps before I notice the four men in white hooded coats standing near the old mine cart, each one holding an assault rifle. Immediately the notice the dirty civilian walking out of their elevator and turn their rifles towards me.
And I was having such a good day, too.
“Who the hell are you?!”
“Oh, hell…” I mutter aloud, raising my hands. “My name is Emmanuel. I’m a reporter working for--”
“Are you Accord,” the one of the men in white asks me.
I arch a brow. “If you’re asking if I’m military, no.”
The four men in white stare at me for a moment before lowering their rifles and allow their shoulders to slump, obviously relieved that I’m not an Accord spy… or something. One of the men, his face almost wholly concealed by the hood, takes a step forward.
“My apologies for the less than cordial introduction – we simply want to make sure that Accord officials don’t stick their nose in our business.”
“Understandable,” I say to him. “What are you doing out here?”
“Same as you, I imagine – trying to survive. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, friend, but you stumbled into our home.”
“Yes.” The man in white takes another step, looking me up and down while gripping his rifle. “You didn’t take anything while you were down there, did you?”
“No,” I lie. “No I did not.”
“Good.” The man in white says, smiling as he steps to the side. I stare at him for a moment, and he stares at me. Then he nods his head towards the exit. “Well, go on.”
I arch a brow and then slowly begin to walk forward, being cautious as I pass by the hooded men. As I back towards the exit, I hear the man speak again.
“You may want to hurry,” he says, his voice echoing off the rock walls. “We’re powering on the turrets in a few minutes.”
I sigh, turning around and rushing out of the mine. I’m hesitant to say that I was running, exactly, but I was certainly walking at a fast pace towards the exit. As I walk out of the mine, I feel the gazes of several more hooded men watching me leave. None of them raise their weapons or confront me – it’s clear that they want about as much trouble as I do.
In only a couple of minutes I find myself exiting the same gate that I had entered at. Looking around a moment, I bring up a map of the nearby area on SIN. I see that there’s a moisture farm not too far north of my position. Oh, why not, I think to myself, closing SIN and starting down the road until I turn north, and begin making my way through the forest on this cloudless day.