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Diamonds are Forever: Section Four

       Last updated: Wednesday, April 14, 2004 23:45 EDT



4. Echoes of the Present

    "Are we getting a signal now?" Jodi asked, having adjusted the reception parameters again and checked the fifth probe's functioning.

    "We get signal," I said in a monotone. "Main screen turn on."

    "You run through that stupid routine once more, wiseguy, and all your mouth is belong to duct tape."

    "What you say???"

    "I mean it!"

    "Anybody want a peanut?"

    "C'mon, Clint, stop the comedy, I want to see if this works!"

    "So do I," I said seriously. "I was making the last adjustments. You do the honors."

    It had been, for me, a tense couple of days, as she'd seemed almost on the edge of asking questions I couldn't have dodged well, and they had assuredly been active. Like asking about the steel shutters, which we'd explained with older history about local feuds and some later paranoia born of the Cold War and survivalist themes. Fortunately she'd been with Mamma, talking nonstop about dresses and color schemes, when Jonah had come running in to me and Father to give us the news about the hole in the storage shed and the concrete all going missing. I'd made a virtue of that necessity, heading into town with Jodi so we could be together while picking up the concrete-and while Father and Adam fixed the shed so it looked okay. After getting the road repaired the last two days-well, making new road, really-Jodi and I had finally gotten around to setting up SUITS, the Subterranean Ultra-Infrasonic Tracking System.

    "Here goes," she said. "Igor, throw the switch!"

    The screen flickered, then began to show a multicolored jumble of lines and dots all over the place. There was a big central blob, some dark and light areas, and so on. To a layman, it would look like a modern art piece, but we could tell there was some kind of structure there. " Oooooooy vey," Jodi moaned. "Look at that, the signal's such total schmootz I can't make out anything."

    "Hey, don't worry. That's the raw signal. Looks like the gadget's working just fine. I just have to clean up the signal. I could do averaging, but if we're looking for individual signals that might really screw up things."

    "We're sampling at 2 GS," she pointed out. "We could probably take five, ten and average them without losing too much, unless all the signal we want is on the really high limit."

    I nodded. "Probably. And it's already sorting by band... maybe I can take each band separately and focus on individual strong-signal regions."

    We started fiddling with the various algorithms I'd already coded into SUITS. Slowly a more clearcut image began to appear on the screen, although it would have been no less arcane to a layman.

    Jodi stared at it. "What sort of cockamamie signal is that?"

    I had to admit it had me stumped too. There was a huge zone under the Hollow that was... different. Signals changed going through it. I tried some analysis on it. "Dense. Really, really, really dense, Jodi. Specific gravity over 5, at least."

    "Totally meshuggeneh, Clint. There's almost no natural rock even close to that density, except..." Suddenly she stood and stared around her. Then she bent back to the display. "Clint, look-gimme a better look at some of the signals coming in from here. Yeah. Now, what's that say to you?"

    I was starting to get her drift. "I think I see. That's why the Hollow looks like it does."

    "One big mass of nickel-iron. Your Hollow is a meteor crater."

    "Darned if you ain't right." I caught myself before commenting on how much sense everything made now.

    "And look here, around the area-these deader spots. Clint, I think you've got caves running through your property!"

    Ice seemed to pierce my heart. I tried to act casual. "Where?"

    "Look. You know there's karst all over around here, it isn't unlikely. Isn't this part over near the road? Maybe that's why it slid, some kind of small cave-in or sinkhole."

    She wasn't far wrong, of course. "Yeah, that would make sense."

    "Maybe there's even an entrance around somewhere!"

    "I'd think we'd have found it in the past few centuries."

    She looked crestfallen. "I guess you would, yeah. Darn, but I would've loved to see a new cave! Well, at least we're stopping by Mammoth Caves on the way back, right?"

    "I promised, didn't I? Didn't I know you were a caver? Just didn't want to stop on the way up, we'd have spent a day and a half there, I know you."

    She nodded, grinning sheepishly.

    "Anyway, this isn't helping us check out the real signals. I'll have to clean 'em up from the interference here, start trying to sort out different patterns, all that, and then correlate them with tremors in the area."

    "Right, right. It's running good now."

    "Sure is."

    We left SUITS to gather data for a while, and went to join Adam, who'd invited us to go fishing. While fishing wasn't Jodi's favorite thing, she was a good sport about it. Me, I was just glad to have a distraction while I recovered from yet another near-miss.

    That evening, I filled in Father, Helen, Grandpa, and Adam on our discovery.

    "By thunder, that explains it! No wonder they almost never tread on the home ground!"

    Father nodded. "Good thing."

    Couldn't argue with that. I'd seen what the back of the storage shed looked like. If that was what they could manage in a desperate raid, half-blind and stretched to the limit, I hated to think what would have happened if they hadn't been slowed up.

    After everyone went to bed that evening, I had my own portable crunching away at the signals. There were some interesting patterns turning up. I was trying various signal envelopes, filters, and so on to see if I could make any sense of them. They were clearly signals, not random noise, but it's always hard to figure out what a given signal is if you don't have a prior reference point. And these were pretty faint; processing could pull them out of the noise floor, but they weren't big, clear signals that I could rely on correlating with something else. Something about their general patterns seemed vaguely familiar, but the familiarity just wouldn't gel. Oh, well, I'd figure it out eventually.

    It was the middle of the next morning that Jodi came running out of the house to where Adam, Father and I were doing maintenance on the generators. "Clint! Clint, come on! You have to see this!"


    "Come on! You'll love it! I was looking over the whole signal plot and I think-well, never mind, we'll see when we get there!"

    I looked at Father and Adam. They'd looked interested when she first came over, but their eyes started to glaze over when she said "signal plot." Father gave a tolerant nod and let Jodi drag me off.

    To my surprise, we went straight past the house and started up Cold Breeze Hill. "Hey, I thought you found something on the plot!"

    "I did!"

    I followed her, a sense of foreboding building as we went up. Her footsteps slowed as she found herself walking a well-defined path, worn by feet that had climbed those very stones hundreds-maybe thousands-of times since the dawn of the 19th century.

    Her eyes narrowed and I swallowed. "I found a signal pattern that seemed to indicate that a cave came very near the surface here," she said quietly as she continued to walk.

    I was silent. We rounded the last corner, passing between Winston's Gap-two huge boulders that forced you to walk single-file.

    And there it was, a yawning hole in the ground with the massive iron grate secured across it with a heavy steel bar and chained with a hardened steel padlock. The big metal sign across it blazoned: Slade Family Property. Keep Out.

    Jodi stared at the barrier, large enough to make a decent bank vault, and finally turned to me. "Okay, Clint. What in hell is going on here?"

    I closed my eyes. Was there any way...?

    Not a chance, I answered myself. Too many mysteries, and this one just couldn't be explained away. Not with her caving enthusiasm and my evasion of the subject only yesterday.

    "I think you'd better come back to the house. We've got a lot of talking to do."

    Jodi followed me. It was not a companionable silence.

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