Exploration work is mostly what I do, but it's not why I'm here. I'm here to monitor activity inside the Hole and look for ... stuff. Us exploring the Hole is like fire fighters doing drills and inspections and talking to schoolkids -- it's not really what we're needed for, but what they need us for doesn't come up that often and, hey, as long as you're there anyway why not keep you busy? Yeah.
There are ten of us Monitors here; we work two to a shift. I'm on second shift, Wednesday through Sunday, which is a crappy shift because I'm new. That's why I was having 'lunch' at 7 o'clock at night. The Hole doesn't keep convenient 9-5 hours Mon-Fri, though, so neither do we.
Stuff doesn't come through the Hole very often. It hardly ever comes out of the Hole, unless we pull it out. We've got a bunch of sensors and cameras and scrying sigils inside the Hole to look for stuff, most of which doesn't work worth crap 90% of the time. Interpreting the readings, what's an actual object and what's just weather artifacts or your equipment falling apart is more art form than anything else.
So last night, while I'm at lunch, Miguel was covering the monitors. You don't need two people for that. The monitor alarms went off. I don't mean a big Star-Trek red-alert thing with ooo-WEE-woop-WEE-ooo filling the bunker or anything. It actually just beeped at Miguel insistently because five different overlapping sensor systems were detecting anomalies, and then Miguel beeped me because it looked big to him and he wanted me to confirm.
Well, two mass detectors put it at 80 to 200kg, and the Sigil of the Ancients had gone blue-white. None of our cameras picked up anything but weather effects, but they usually don't. Whatever it was, it was falling at a good clip, so we had to make a decision fast on intercepting it. Which we figured, sure, give it a shot.
It was my turn on intercept, so I hopped in my suit, hooked on all the wires and the jetstream hose, ran through the check list with Miguel, and jumped in the Hole.
Inside the Hole is awesome.
Just like you can't see the Hole from the outside, you can't see the world from the inside. There is no obvious light source in the Hole, but you can still see. How far you can see depends on the weather. The weather in the Hole is pretty spectacular. It gets snow, sleet, rain, lightning, fog, yeah. Then there's the weird crap. Aurora, which looks like fog but contains no vapor and comes in colors: purples, blues, greens, yellows. Dazzle, which is like being surrounded by falling fireflies. Eddies, which are like slow-moving tornadoes, whirls in the wind several perceptual feet across. And the Heavy, which isn't visible, it's a kind of pressure change that makes everything feel thicker and harder to move, and makes your limbs feel weighed down.
And there's the wind.
There's always wind, and it's always driving down. There is no gravity in the Hole, just the wind pushing you and everything else down. Sometimes hurricane-fast, sometimes just a stiff breeze. So when an HM talks about falling, it's not really falling but being blown down by the wind. And it feels wrong, because the wind is hitting you from the opposite direction of the way you're moving -- not like really falling, where you'll perceive wind rushing past you from the direction of your fall. Instead, it's kinda like being in a river with a strong current. Our sensors are all mounted on tethered flying remotes to keep them stationary -- more or less -- against the wind. The tethers aren't so much to keep them from 'falling' out of explored range as to let us measure position.
Once in, I snapped out my suit wings and turned on the jetstream and pushed in, with Miguel feeding me my relative position via the open channel. There's nothing to orient by in the Hole except your own wires, and those only give direction, really -- you lose sight of the true end point on them by ten feet into the Hole. Meaning you always *look* like you're ten feet (or less) from the world, even when you're half a mile in and a mile down.
Miguel directed me towards the anomaly. The weather was sparse dazzle and fog coupled with a strong wind and intermittent eddies. The dazzle and fog were getting scooped into the eddies and making them visible, so I could mostly avoid 'em if I wanted to.
Which I didn't, to be honest. This is the best part of the job: diving in, jetting around, watching the dazzle rain down around you, feeling the wind push at your back. It's like flying, like flying in zero G. I wanted to slip into the eddies and let them whirl me dizzy, it's a blast and a half, best roller ride in the world. I didn't, mind you, because it can screw with your wires and much as I love the Hole I do not want to spend the rest of my life falling through it. Not that this was a real risk in these conditions, but best not to be sloppy. And conditions can change fast in the Hole. Also, Miguel would know if I were screwing around.
So I didn't screw around, just angled my jetstream to push me out and down faster than my target was moving. In a few minutes, I was in the right general area, but there was more dazzle and fog around and I couldn't see anything else. Miguel was having a hard time getting a clear fix, and after five minutes we were both wondering if it hadn't been a series of sensor glitches after all. Plus, I was running out of wire.
Then I got a glimpse of something through the fog. First thing I said to Miguel: "Holy cow, it's a Hole Monitor." Person, white suit, wings, free-falling in the wind.
We pull people out of the hole sometimes. Once a year, maybe. They're never from around here. And when I say "not from around here" I mean "Not from my planet", or at least not the version of my planet I know and tolerate. I didn't think about this as I jetted after the guy, double-quick because I didn't want to run out of wire before reaching him. I grabbed his arm. He was facing me.
With the face of a lion.
And then his wings moved. Two pairs of them.
I didn't know what to do. I mean, what the heck? What is an angel doing in the Hole? Did G-d cast him out? Does the Hole lead straight to Hell just like the protesters say? Is this where G-d wants him for some other purpose?
Maybe I should've let him go, but I hung onto his arm anyway, while he stared at me with that lion head, his eagle and human faces in profile. Oh man. I don't know what I said to Miguel, but he started reeling the wires back in. I was staring back at the lion, panicked.
Then he said, "Be not afraid."
Bang! I wasn't afraid. I didn't know what the hell I was, but I wasn't scared. I turned around and pointed my jetstream against the flow, and dodged around the eddies and tried not to think about the fact that the angel was using the hands from beneath his wings to hold onto the wires of my suit. It took a lot longer to get out than it had to get in, what with fighting the wind instead of moving against it.
Miguel kept asking me for details. I said something like "You won't believe it."
"It's the Hole, Ro, what could you possibly pull out of it that would be unbelievable?"
Finally, the wires hauled me and the angel (freakin' angel!) out of the Hole.
The angel moved, and his human face was to Miguel. "Be not afraid," he says again. "For the Lord has smiled upon you. I bring you a sign."
He gestures with his flaming sword (where the heck did that come from? He wasn't holding it a second ago!) A star appears. Inside the bunker. Above the Hole. "In a year's time, will come a man. Welcome him," the angel tells us. And then he flies straight through the bunker wall.
I don't know what the heck I'm supposed to make of that.
Star's still there.
But I did come to work today. Lunch's over and then some. I guess I better get back to it. I got a year to decide whether or not I want to be here for what's coming down.