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Authors: Warren Fahy

Pandemonium

BOOK: Pandemonium
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks to Don Lovett, chair of the biology department at the University of New Jersey, for helping me design another roller coaster; Michael Limber for bringing the visuals to life; my agent, Peter McGuigan at Foundry, for greasing the rails; and Bob Gleason, for being just crazy enough to open the ride to the public.

 

CONTENTS

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Acknowledgments

Epigraph

Prologue

1957

January 28

PRESENT DAY

January 29

February 21

March 12

March 14

March 15

March 16

March 17

March 18

March 19

March 20

March 21

March 26

March 28

March 30

March 31

June 23

Map and Illustrations

About the Author

Copyright

 

Pandemonium the Palace of Satan rises, suddenly built out of the Deep.

—J
OHN
M
ILTON
, Paradise Lost

 

PROLOGUE

We think of the underworld as a place for the dead. Yet beneath our feet teems a world of life more vibrant, diverse, mysterious, and resilient than anything clinging to Earth’s fragile exterior.

Our deepest drills, boring a mile below the ocean floor, found
life
. Three miles down the shaft of a South African gold mine, life was waiting for us. Even inside a body of water the size of Lake Ontario locked two miles under the surface of Antarctica, researchers found an entire ecosystem of life they never imagined.

In the depths of the Earth dwell organisms impervious to boiling heat, freezing cold, intense radiation, toxic salinity, noxious gases, extreme pressure, and total darkness. Far from fragile, these communities of extremophiles have proved themselves hardier than any surface life in the temperate zones that we call home.

Indeed, after sampling the depths of our planet, scientists now believe that even cataclysmic impacts from extraterrestrial bodies could not eradicate life on Earth. Subterranean species would undoubtedly survive. Life might even have endured the death of other planets and traveled trillions of miles inside meteors to seed our islands and seas, resulting, three-and-a-half billion years later, in scientists who question life’s endurance.

With all the shifting, layering, and folding of our planet’s geology, the variety of microorganisms evolving inside its crust must be impossible to guess. Whole worlds separated by an inner space of solid rock have been adapting for millions and billions of years, each in entirely unique conditions. Most organisms in these isolated ecosystems grow very slowly, some dividing only once a century. Others devour rock and, over geological ages, they have created some of the world’s largest cave systems.

When exposed and then sealed, caves capture samples of life from the surface and carry them forward on diverging evolutionary pathways across inconceivable spans of time. The Movile Cave in Romania, isolated five million years ago, contains today thirty-three species found nowhere else. A recently unsealed cave in Israel revealed unique shrimps and scorpions whose ancestors must have entered from the former Mediterranean shore millions of years ago. Newly discovered caves of Sequoia National Park revealed twenty-seven new species, some of which had evolved to live in only
one room
of the cave.

Over a quarter of a million caves have been documented, so far, and the number grows more rapidly each year. Humans have explored only a fraction of these subterranean worlds, each of which contains a different atmosphere of gases, a unique mix of minerals, and a collection of species that have adapted to its conditions descending from different epochs in our planet’s history.

And yet, for all the exotic species that we know must dwell beneath the Earth, the species closest to the underworld, both physically and spiritually, may be us.

Researchers excavating a South African cave recently discovered evidence that our “caveman” heritage stretches back at least two million years. Caves were, indeed, the cradle of mankind.

Stone Age Europeans and ancient peoples in the Americas frequented caves that stretch for miles, as modern-day spelunkers have discovered to their astonishment. Such dangerous journeys were undertaken for mysterious purposes, and certainly not practical ones, suggesting a fearless fascination with the infernal regions that may run deep in our psychological heritage.

During their long Stone Age, humans accumulated an intimate knowledge of Earth and its layers that would lay the foundations of our future progress. Along the way, the fossils borne up by the earth were like bas-relief friezes of gods and monsters. The odd shapes they saw in the stones, spiraling symbols and complex forms, leaped out of the rock like words into the brains of primitive hominids. The fossil record of the Earth was a premonition of art, mythology, and geometry. We now know that Neanderthals were the first to paint symbolic animals on a cave wall, and we know that they collected fossils. These first paleontologists actually sorted them by species like religious relics. The pages of Earth’s own history book thus instructed our ancestors’ intellectual evolution.

As far back as 15,000
B.C.
, in Turkey, humans began to modify caves. And it is there that centuries later cave dwelling reached its apex in the underground cities of Cappadocia.

Over the course of the Stone Age, accident and insight fused fire with rock. And at the end of that long precursor to human history, the principles of metallurgy emerged. The smelting of ore produced copper, equipping humans with tools that could cut limestone and construct the pyramids that mimicked mountains riddled with tunnels and caves. Bronze forged from the earth enabled men to chisel marble into cavernlike temples supported by stalagmite pillars of marble built of disks resembling the fossilized vertebrae of crinoids.

We left our caves behind for freestanding dwellings aboveground, and yet we humans have continued to return to the underworld long after to mine its mysteries and treasures. With new technology, our species has drilled and blasted vast subways for us to travel beneath Moscow, New York, London, San Francisco, Paris, and Hong Kong. Whole underground cities have been carved under Seattle, Montreal, Sydney, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Beijing, Kish, Osaka, Tokyo, Kawasaki, and Nagoya, and they are currently occupied by millions of people every day. Yet even these titanic excavations shrink before the future engineering projects already grinding their way into our planet’s crust.

Particle accelerators that spare the surface from the consequences of quantum physics, sensors buried deep under mountains to detect cosmic rays, earthquake sensors miles beneath the ocean floor, and even more ambitious underground engineering projects to divert surface floods, span channels, cross mountain ranges, or hide secret military operations are under way around the globe every day. Deep oil-drilling techniques will soon bore five miles into the Earth’s crust and, as oil grows ever more scarce, drill ever deeper.

We know we are not the only exotic creatures expanding their niche in the vast inner space beneath us. Whatever the earth yields up, whatever its shape, story, and strategy, it will certainly prove more incredible, perhaps more infernal and diabolical, than all the myths our ignorance has conjured.


from the afterword of
The Underground History of Planet Earth
by Anastasia Kurolesova, Moscow Geological Institute Press

 

1957

 

JANUARY 28

12:02 P.M.


Poékhali!”
bellowed Taras Demochev, Guard No. 114 of Corrective Labor Camp No. 479. He pushed through the men in the tunnel as he walked beside a mining car carrying a load of blasting powder. “Why aren’t we
moving
?”

For nine days, prisoners had struggled with faulty pneumatic jackhammers and pickaxes to widen the last fifty yards of the tunnel so that a newly arrived boring machine could gnaw through a stubborn layer of dolomite. Tethered by straining cables a hundred yards up the grade behind Taras, the borer steamed like a locomotive on wide-gauge rails.

Taras barely regarded the half-starved prisoners clogging the tunnel ahead, casting them aside like scarecrows as he bulled forward. The wretched convicts, even the ones in their twenties, were already
dokhodyaga,
“goners,” buying their last hours of life by digging their own graves. “Move your asses!” Taras yelled. “Out of my way!”

A young subordinate guard rushed to meet him.

“What’s the holdup, Yvgeny?”

“Some
zeks
fell out of the airshaft.”

As the men parted before him, Taras saw five men sprawled on the ground under a hole in the ceiling twenty yards ahead. He had sent the men up that morning to continue drilling the ventilation shaft. Their heavy pneumatic drills had battered and mangled them on the way down, and the men lay tangled under the heavy equipment and hoses in a pitiful heap. Taras strode forward and fired his revolver into the groaning pile, shocking the younger guard. Many of the prisoners doubled over at the earsplitting gunshot, though most could not hear.

Since they had come under Taras’s command, none of these men officially existed anymore. Once they were sent to Corrective Labor Camp No. 479, their lives were erased. Sixty thousand ghosts labored in this ancient salt mine near the village of Gursk in the Kaziristani highlands. Criminals and lawyers, rapists and poets, murderers and doctors, all were now
zeks
to the guards. Like ants, they worked until they died and were carried away.

On the mountainside above, the
zeks
slept in rough wooden barracks slapped together with timber from the foothills of Mount Kazar. Each of their dormitories was the size of a double-wide trailer and housed 120 men by day and 120 by night. Hundreds of the ramshackle dormitories dotted the mountain slopes around the salt mine that, until now, had provided the nearby town’s sustenance for seven centuries. Since their new rulers confiscated the mine four years ago, the villagers of Gursk called the mine that once fed them, “Stalin’s Mouth.”

Over twenty thousand men had been swallowed by the mine. Convicts continuously arrived, but the camp’s population never grew. The townspeople rarely saw salt harvested these days. Instead, an endless stream of mining cars and conveyors disgorged a miniature mountain range of pulverized rock at the foot of the mountain.

More bewildering to the villagers was what they saw going
into
the mine. Endless shipments arrived by train and were taken by truck and mining car into the mountain—cement and ceiling fans, bricks and marble bathtubs, Persian rugs, alabaster pillars, terra-cotta tiles, bronze streetlamps, bicycles, beds, even baby carriages. Some whispered that they had seen crates of French champagne, beluga caviar, even ZIS-115 limousines straight from Automotive Factory No. 2 in Moscow, all fed into the mine’s mouth.

BOOK: Pandemonium
2.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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