We’d finally passed the four mile mark in the Mponeng Mine. The date was October 1, the year of our Lord, 2018. Old fashioned? Perhaps.
But as only He can save us now, it seems appropriate.
It started as soon as they broke through into the Chamber. The miners who’d been in the excavation team, those still alive, had erupted out of the shaft lift, trampling each other in their screaming haste to escape. Terror wasn’t a strong enough word. Of the one hundred miners that had gone down, only ten returned. And most of those had lost their mind.
Moses Batlhako, the shift foreman, was the biggest, angriest man I’d ever met. Now, even he shook and wept uncontrollably. He rocked backwards and forwards, babbling. What we could get out of him made no sense. He wailed hysterically about disturbing the badimo, the ancestors. Whatever he’d seen, it was tall. Eight feet at least, its flesh covered in scales, damp like a fish and pale. So pale he said, you could see through their skin. See their blood pulsing through the veins, their organs beating, their intestines devouring whatever was inside.
As the CEO listened, all the colour drained out of his face. He made us swear never to repeat anything we’d heard. If word got out it would be catastrophic. The politics of mine safety, the bad press, the gold price – we couldn’t afford it.
Would anyone have believed us? It sounded like science fiction, some pale, great-eyed aliens hiding in the dark.
Our oath made no difference. It was the miners who talked. Ancient superstitions came alive. Even if they hadn’t, we couldn’t deny the fact that ninety men were dead. The survivors never returned to the mine. Most died within two days. The doctor said they’d died of fright. The rest hanged themselves.
We had to employ an entirely new crew. Nigerians and Congolese. We had to fly them in and keep them apart from the other men.
When their first shift was over, a crowd including senior management, gathered at the shaft head and waited for the lift. It clunked, rattling to a stop and the gates swung back. It was empty. Wet, dripping and sticky, but empty. The CEO reached out and touched it. It was blood. He started to scream. I don’t think he ever stopped.
I can still hear him when I try to sleep.
We don’t get much now. It’s too dangerous. If you want to live, you have to stay awake.
After that we couldn’t get anyone else to go down that shaft. Eventually, they sent the army. The first recon team never came back either. The second took down flame throwers. The soldiers were also rigged with microphones, so we could hear everything. They made it into the Chamber before the fight broke out. The microphones were a bad idea. So were the flame throwers. The recon team died to a man. But the aliens, the bodimo, whatever they were, they were very much alive and wanted revenge. Once they reached the surface, survival was all we could hope for.
We decided to destroy the Chamber; bury them for good, destroy their burrows, their nurseries. We went in through an ancient, abandoned shaft that began far from Mponeng. The bodimo had left it unguarded. We made it to the Chamber undetected. What we discovered there was unbelievable. It was clearly a spaceship. They were aliens after all!
But something was very wrong. The ship had been there so long it was almost completely encased in stalactites, its form distended, as if melted with age. One side of the ship was open, giving us a way in.
Leaving two men on guard, the rest of us explored the hollow, empty vessel. There was one door that refused to open. It took the combined efforts of four men to budge it.
I wish we hadn’t.
Steel drawers lined the room. We broke the airlock on one and slid it open. Inside was a sealed, temperature-controlled, cryogenic life-resuscitation capsule. The naked, perfectly preserved body lay on its back. Female. Pregnant.
We had it all wrong.
They weren’t the aliens.