Automation

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They ventured deeper.

Tranton was glad for the experience of living in the caves next to Aviar's crater, which had prepared him for spending so long underground. His life had been one of riding waves or climbing mountains, always with the sky over head, accompanied by the sun or moon, and feeling that he could explore the whole world if only he had the time. Below the surface there was only limitations: walls and ceilings boxing in ambition and ideas, narrow corridors hewn from an uncooperative planet that would most likely have rather remained whole. For this to have been his first expedition into the depths would have tested even his nerves; hence he was glad for having had some measure of mental preparation.

The place was lit by Lagonia's odd source lamps, at least, with their seemingly never-ending illumination casting a soft, unerringly steady yellow glow across the red, muddy walls - though never bright enough and always falling away to darkness sooner than he'd like. To think that Tarn had spent all his life here, slaving away at keeping the valley above watered and fed and efficient. As they had passed through each chamber, Tranton looked upon the empty-eyed drones that worked the machines, many of them not even into puberty, and wanted to wrench them away and tell them to run, to leave, to find freedom as Tarn had done. He'd tried that at first but had received only empty stares and confusion, the workers becoming distressed at the interruption.

"There are no guards," Kirya noted. "Where are they?"

"Looks like it's just the workforce left down here," Tranton said.

Tarn was checking the faces of each worker as they passed, though he didn't disrupt what they were doing. The machines whirred and clanked, great pistons firing, falling and re-firing, cogs turning and gears clacking into each other. Tranton couldn't begin to discern what the machines were doing, but each chamber was filled with them - huge, snaking pipes and enormous contraptions from floor to ceiling. The noise was cacophonous and ceaseless, the noise from each of the chambers blending together into a heightened avalanche of sound.

Emerging from one machine room onto a long walkway, which stretched out across a dark chasm that vanished into nothingness, Tranton became acutely aware of the distance between their position and the car that could carry them back to the surface.

"What exactly are we looking for?"

"The machines have been re-routed," Tarn said, pointing at thick pipes running overhead along the same route as the walkway. "If we follow this we might find out why."

"They're definitely not doing what they were built for," Kirya said. "They keep the city ticking over," she explained, recognising Tranton's expression, "and refine source for use around the valley."

"That's what they've been doing for a while," Tranton said, "but it might not be what they were designed for in the first place."

"Whatever the original intent, the machines have been customised and changed over the centuries," Tarn said, distant and obtuse. "It's very different than I remember."

He'd been talking more and more like that since Aviar. Tranton had listened to the explanations of what had happened and still couldn't wrap his head around the implications, much less like them. "Than you remember?"

Tarn looked embarrassed, as if someone had discovered him doing something shameful. "Different than she remembers, I mean," he clarified. "Her memories are very strong in this area."

The other end of the walkway disappeared into a sheer rock wall. Passing through, they found themselves in an oval chamber far larger than any of the previous. The pipework led into a large, spherical, metal device suspended in the centre of the chamber, blue light flickering visibly between its panels like the beating of a heart.

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