As Devra looked out, she could see the massive hole in the ground in front of her. At least a half mile wide, and probably just as deep. A man-made crater. It looked like the earth had been hit by a meteor. Her stomach sank.
Next to the dirt roadway leading into its interior, there were warning signs.
“Restricted area. Authorized Strategic Explorations personnel only.”
“Level 3 Contamination Protocols from this point.”
“Theft is punishable by immediate termination.”
“Guards have been authorized to shoot trespassers.”
Devra’s mind raced. She could sense the mass and pull of the mine. An invisible, suffocating weight. Another Hulong Dark XM mine? Had they found an ancient power-spot here?
In the distance, a dust cloud was kicking up. An SUV was racing across the desert landscape, along the rim of the crater, coming toward them.
The Hulong men had stepped far enough in front of the T282 that Devra could see them again. They were aligned in a row, waiting for the SUV. Their weapons, modified AK47s with collapsible folding stocks , were at their sides. If this was unplanned, the men didn’t seem nervous about whatever was approaching.
“Who’s that?”, Devra asked the driver.
He wasn’t smiling. “Don’t know”, he said. To Devra, it sounded like he was telling the truth.
Suddenly, a loud ringing echoed in the cabin. Although the Liebherr T282 was one of the largest vehicles on the planet, the operator’s cabin was only big enough for two people. The truck wasn’t designed to haul people, but millions of dollars worth of ore each and every day. Making it comfortable for more than the driver meant adding weight, which meant adding costs to operate, which meant subtracting from the bottom line of why the truck existed in the first place.
The driver fumbled for his phone. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at the screen.
Someone he knew. Frustrated, he tapped on the screen and brought the phone to his ear.
“This morning... what did I tell you about calling? Specifically, not to... aghhhh!”
The driver screamed out, his cries echoing around the small cabin. Devra watched as his eyes rolled back and his head collapsed forward, smashing into the steering wheel.
The phone dropped from his hand onto the floor of the cabin as his body went limp. From the speaker of the phone, Devra could make out a high-pitched whine. After a moment, it cut out.
Devra looked at the lifeless driver, then out toward the Hulong men. They hadn’t seen anything. How could they? What just happened might as well have been inside the third floor of an office building. They were in another world.
The SUV was getting closer.
Suddenly, the radio in the cabin turned on. It was part of a flat panel display set in the center of the driver’s console. Devra watched as digital numbers scrolled across the screen, then stopped. A moment later, the voice came through.
“Hello, Devra”, ADA said.