“A team made the discovery about the same time the accident occurred,” Bengoetxea explained. “I was notified, but I didn’t report because of the confusion.”
“I see,” Moore replied.
“Seeing is believing,” Bengoetxea said, with an uncharacteristic grin visible through his visor. The ilmenite mine manager wasn’t usually much given to clichés, and no one in the party had a reason to be smiling.
Of course, Moore didn’t know Bengoetxea especially well. Both attended the various ecumenical religious services offered at the base. Moore had learned that no amount of religion could make the lunar station feel any closer to God.
As the miners and technicians had been sent back to their barracks following the accident, the lava cave was impossibly dark. Bengoetxea carried a case of specialized equipment and a portable lantern.
A steel square set into ancient basalt flows marked the beginning of a long shaft down into the Moon. The platform was designed to support a dozen miners, various tools, and specialized androids. However, only four individuals, each clad in a bulky suit, clambered onto the lift. Bengoetxea activated the elevator motor and the platform dropped downward.
“I need to be back as soon as possible,” Moore said through his transmitter to the others. He was uncomfortable in his pressure suit and somewhat anxious given the earlier accident at the landing pad. An explosion of undetermined origin had destroyed an arriving passenger shuttle. That shuttle carried the man scheduled to replace Moore as executive administrator of the base.
There were no survivors.
“This won’t take long,” Bengoetxea said from behind his superior.
“I hope not.”
“We thought that the best way to handle this was for you to see for yourself,” Jojima offered.
This granted Moore some passing reassurance. He appreciated and trusted Jojima, who had served as the director of the geology department for over three years. As far as the lunar base was concerned, any time served over a year demonstrated considerable dedication.
The elevator shuttered, and Moore momentarily lost his balance. He bumped into Smith, the quiet fourth member of the party. Smith was one of the security guards at the mine, and he was armed. Moore hadn’t noticed this before and uneasily shifted his vision to the dark walls of the shaft.
“The cut through the basalt is a little rough here,” Bengoetxea warned.
“I can tell,” Moore replied.
“Should be okay soon,” Jojima added.
The platform rocked wildly. The entire shaft seemed to tremble and small chunks of basalt made a slow tumble onto the lift from somewhere in the above darkness.
“What the hell was that?” Moore asked with the flat firmness that had characterized his relationship with so many of his colleagues at the base.
Bengoetxea glanced upwards into the dark void of the shaft. Basalt bits continued to rain downward. The platform briefly jolted a third time before resuming a steady descent.
“I’m not sure,” was the only statement the mine manager could muster.
New concerns about the surface rocketed through Moore’s mind. He immediately imagined another explosion. Without wasting another second, he stepped toward Bengoetxea and the lift controls.
“Get me to the surface right now!”
Bengoetxea hesitated and looked away from Moore and toward Jojima and Smith.
“Wait!” Jojima called out from behind Moore. Her voice came sharply across the transmitter with an audible crackle.
Moore turned slowly to see that Jojima and Smith had each taken steps toward him. He raised his arms up in front of his chest and clutched his hands. The movement was clearly a defensive one.
“This is potentially the archeological discovery of a lifetime,” Jojima said coolly, “a find that will rewrite the last two millennia of history.”
“What?” Moore snapped.
“This is more significant than any shuttle crash,” Jojima continued.
“Either tell me what’s down there or take me to the surface,” Moore said flatly.
“A team found the True Cross,” Bengoetxea responded first.
“The True Cross?” Moore asked while turning to face Bengoetxea.
“Well, to be specific, one of the mining androids made the discovery,” Jojima interjected.
“We didn’t move the android for fear of damaging the relic,” Bengoetxea added.
“The True Cross?”
“The physical remains of the cross used to crucify Jesus Christ.”
“You expect me to believe that?” Moore asked.
“We told you that seeing the discovery was simpler than explaining,” Jojima answered.
“There is an inscription on a tablet in Greek and Latin,” Bengoetxea explained. “When Heraclius recovered the True Cross from the Persians in the 7th century, a fake was made and taken throughout the Byzantine Empire. The authentic relic was sealed in a reliquary and handed over to the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Patriarch prayed that God would hide the True Cross from the enemies of Christendom until mankind truly needed to be reminded of the salvation Christ brought into the world.”
Moore assumed the mine manager was reciting the alleged tablet. He wasn’t aware that anyone on the base could read Greek or Latin.
The platform came to a gentle stop and the portable lantern illuminated a small area around the bottom of the shaft. Bengoetxea handed the lantern to Smith, who stepped off the lift with Jojima.
“Take me to the surface,” Moore instructed calmly.
Bengoetxea stood next to the controls and seemed unsure of what to do next.
Jojima extended a hand to Moore. The executive looked at the other three individuals standing a hundred meters below the lunar surface with him.
“Ten minutes,” he muttered.
Smith guided the party down a tunnel, which became progressively narrower. Bengoetxea followed behind the others, lugging his case of equipment.
When the tunnel reached a point where two people could not walk shoulder to shoulder, Smith stopped and handed the lantern to Moore.
“Just ahead,” Jojima affirmed from behind the executive.
Moore stepped forward into a narrow gap in primeval basalt. The glow of the lantern weakly illuminated a tired, deactivated mining android. Moore dropped down to his hands and knees to proceed. He extended the lantern around the machine.
The cross came into light. There was no tablet visible. Moore reached a hand out to touch the relic, which, for whatever reason, was no longer sealed inside a reliquary. As Moore’s gloved hand glided over the cross, the dim light allowed him to make a discovery of his own. This was nothing more than the fiberboard cross displayed at the ecumenical services inside the base.
As Moore frantically backed up, Smith handed his service pistol to Jojima. With a calculated precision, Jojima raised the firearm and pulled the trigger. The recoil surprised the geologist, but the bullet ruptured Moore’s pressure suit. Gasses burst through the small hole, and blood bubbled and boiled in spurts through the opening. Moore gasped, dropped the lantern, and collapsed.
Jojima handed the pistol back to Smith and retrieved the lantern. Bengoetxea emerged from the darkness of the tunnel with his uncharacteristic grin even more noticeable than before.
“Charges are set. We can remote detonate from the lift. Let’s go.”
With the last tried and true company man on the base dead, the three conspirators rushed back to the elevator to rejoin the revolt.
Joshua Scully is an American History Teacher from Pennsylvania. He writes short speculative fiction @jojascully.