It was a sixteen-hour hike from the ship to Abasca’s Rest, and Kwamie hated every single step of it. She wasn’t the only one who detested the jungle at the end of the trip, but she was the only one who truly understood what they were getting into.
She’d ignored the jokes and the jabs at the amount of food she was carrying or the extra supplies she’d thought to bring. Everyone thought this was going to be a walk in the park — but Kwamie knew better.
The reality of it hit them three hours in. They were wading through a swamp, through thick mud and heavy foliage. The great beasts of the jungle that everyone had talked about at the beginning were nowhere to be seen, and the conversation shifted to complaints about bugs, filth, and stench.
Nobody thought to apologize to Kwamie, and she didn’t need them to. She’d survive the journey a little better than the rest — if any of them survived at all. There were always things that were impossible to prepare for, but all you could really do was say a prayer and hope the gods didn’t have a mind to screw around with your life that day.
Captain Grashot used a flamethrower to harden a layer of mud into a campsite. Kwamie suggested they simply camp elsewhere, but Grashot wouldn’t hear it. While the others worked to pitch tents into the stoney, caked mud, Kwamie found two sturdy trees and strung a covered hammock up between them.
That night, when the caked mud broke apart and the tents collapsed as the ground beneath them went soft, Kwamie simply turned over in her hammock and let them deal with it.
There were hard feeling about that.
After that night, everything started to change. Grashot was still in charge, but he kept a close eye on Kwamie. When she did something, he recommended that everyone else do the same. When they couldn’t, the crew did their best to imitate their behavior. As a result, the final leg of their trip passed without incident.
They reached Abasca’s Rest on the third morning, after a hearty scramble over the jungled hills left everyone soaked in their own sweat and stench. The temple rose out of the hard-packed earth, a collection of ancient stone etched with the stories of native tribes neither Kwamie or her people knew about.
Grashot walked to the temple entrance and ran his hand along the etched stone markings. Kwamie always suspected that those markings were more than just decor — that they told a story of some kind, but no expeditionary team had ever been able to make sense of it.
“You think it’s in here? The Heilomak?” Grashot asked.
An ancient treasure, to be sure. The Heilomak had been sought after for generations, the first major breakthrough the hyperlight technology that gave rise to everything from space travel to temporal displacement devices. Practically speaking, it was worthless in today’s age. But to a collector or a museum somewhere in the core, it would fetch a high price.
“I have seen it,” Kwamie told him. “Though I do not think it was a product of these people or my own. This temple is not of this world.”
“Your people didn’t build it?” Grashot asked.
Kwamie shook her head. “Our history is not reflected in the markings here. We do not know where it came from, but our people did not build it.”
“You ever been inside?”
“No,” Kwamie said. “I know that the building is booby trapped. Some of our premier science teams were lost in this way.”
Grashot looked the building over, a deep frown on his face. “Great. Sounds like just the kind of place to die in.”
Kwamie couldn’t tell if he was joking.
They camped beside the old temple, planning their advance into the forgotten halls long into the night. Grashot was adamant that they could avoid most traps if they tunneled under the building and directly to the room where the Heilomak was held. He sent drones to scan the structure, and his crew analyzed the result.
“There,” Grashot said, pointing at the hologram projection around them. “That’s where it’ll be. Near the tomb at the center of the structure.”
When they awoke the next morning, Grashot and his crew transformed their multitools into shovels and set to work. Kwamie watched men and women smash their tools into the ground, the tough metal chipping away at the rugged earth.
Slowly, a tunnel began to form. They made their way down and under, then up toward the surface of the building. When they broke through, they set stints into the passage to prevent its collapse and retreated, clearing the way for Kwamie and Grashot.
“You ready, girl?” Grashot asked.
They ducked into the tunnel and, at the other side, climbed out into the center of the temple. A large sarcophagus sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by a collection of once-great treasures caked in rust and decay. Dangling from a hook on the wall, Kwamie spotted something that resembled the Heilomak drawings she’d seen in the past.
She pointed to Grashot, who followed her finger.
“That’s it,” he said.
“Wait,” Kwamie warned, but the captain ignored her and snatched the piece off the wall.
Kwamie heard the high-pitched ring a second before the detonation. She dove back into the tunnel and scrunched her body into a ball.
Overhead, an electrical pulse fired, the sound deep and throaty. The wave passed over her, out into the open. Kwamie heard a host of screams from the opposite end of the tunnel and felt her stomach twist into a knot.
She waited for a full hour after the noise and the dust settled. Then she poked her head out. Grashot was dead, little more than ash on the temple floor. The crew fared no better.
Kwamie found herself alone.