In The Deep

The World Shaft (under construction), two-thirds below Mile Station 23
Project Elapsed Time: 15 years

The bottom of the great shaft resounded with the clangor of Mahánárel’s own forge.  A few hundred feet apart, the space between crammed with the steam-driven drills, hammers and other machinery that carved the bedrock – and above, that sealed the steel lining sections in place – the walls trapped the noise and reflected it back again and again, cacophony upon cacophony.

In other ways, too, the drill-head reflected the god’s forge; under the glaring light of hissing carbide lamps, men and women half-naked under their protective aprons against the sweltering heat moved through the mist of blasting smoke, vented steam and water-spray from the cooling stream that fell down the 45 wall, tending the laboring machines.

With a screech, the drill-head twisted its way further into the new bore, and the shift-boss cursed as black, oily water slopped over the retaining lip of the catwalk to puddle around her boots, then reached for a speaking-tube.

“Hakal – tell those bloody idlers up on twenty-three to give me more steam for the pumps!  We’re up to the raicve deck-plates in sump-juice down here!”

Even in the office-shack of Hakal Vintar-ith-Vidutar, lined with thick layers of oiled wool padding and softwood panels, the noise was all-encompassing, but it was at least possible to hear oneself think without thick ear-plugs of wax. Pulling the telegraph levers communicating with the mile station up above, he grinned over his shoulder at his visitor.

“Glad you came down for a look, Menys?”

“Glad, yes… is it always this loud?”

“Fires, no!  This is soft rock.  When we were in the granite up by twenty-two, it was at least twice this loud – even without the blasting.  Slower, too.  Couldn’t cut more’n seventeen in a day.  In this, we can cut thirty.”

Whatever Menys said next was lost in the clattering thunder of the mucker bucket arriving downshaft, but the horrified look that came with it was enough to set Hakal chuckling as he turned back to his panel.

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