Ah, cave hunting. Last refuge of the industriously suicidal. Sure, there’s the chance you might end up finding some hyperancient raretech and become rich beyond your wildest dreams, but you have a far greater chance of finding some mutated, radiation-mad hybrid beastie or one of thousands of nigh-undetectable traps or a virulent swarm of pestilence nanos or an equally stupid but more intensely homicidal fellow cave hunter, all of which will be more than happy to end you in a dizzying array of hideous violence.
Or, something far more mundane could happen to you. You could get lost, or your light could go out, or the ground could give out under you and you could fall hundreds of feet to the sickening crunch of your doom. Really, the opportunities in the caves are endless.
The problem is that so is the wealth available to you if you should somehow beat the incredible odds of your obliterating failure. And the problem behind that problem is that, if you’re even vaguely considering cave hunting, you’re probably so crushingly impoverished and so dizzyingly far away from any more feasible solution that this actually seems in some way reasonable.
I mean, I do understand.
The caves have probably been around for as long as the earth stopped being lava. They’re endless tunnels and caverns and subterranean lakes and pitfalls and voids all laced down into the rock of the earth like ever so much swiss cheese.
The thing is, throughout the eons, humans have kept finding reasons to use them.
First, there were the catacombs – places for dead people, with the occasional hidden grotto for the keeping of secret treasure or sacred knowledge. Then there were the mines, and that didn’t stop with time. It just kept getting deeper and deeper as we figured out bigger and better machines and found larger and more compliant masses to trek below in search of whatever precious material the age found most interesting. Then there were the disaster days, when plagues and rogue machines went wrong and people had no choice but to hide, building whole cities down here in the blackness, and even once they moved out there were labs and cults and shadow sects that found a life more prudent under the ground.
Most of those are gone now, of course, after earth’s tectonic petulance rebuilt the underground topography and set free things never meant to exist outside of vacuum cells and control zones; after voraciously corrosive energy leaked out of broken generators.
If you believe everything you hear, the offspring of some who stayed are among the dangers happy to finish your life for you should you be unfortunate enough to cross their path. According to those stories, you’re better off dying than rehashing the memories of those gristly things forever after you see them.
But! Let’s say you’re desperate enough. Let’s say you’re foolhardy enough. Let’s say life has left you in deadly urgent need of a few thousand credits and thanks to some pernicious concoction of low birth and less than prudent life decisions you’re fresh out of legitimate or even survival-oriented illegitimate means of generating a little revenue.
They left in a hurry, once the earthquakes started. For a long time, no one could get down there. The earth itself added its own players to the chaos belowground. Subterranean infernos burning through abandoned lab complexes, magma flows filling convenient corridors, toxic gasses, radiation, aftershocks… there was an awful lot left behind, and no way to go back for it, until these last few years when a few foolhardy souls made it in and out again with treasure.
And now, well, that’s not the kind of thing you un-know.
And, like I said, maybe you’re desperate…
There’s been sort of an industry growing up around the caves. Not a savory one, certainly, but data jockeys with access to old records and half a mind to turn a few quick bucks have pried their fingers into ancient records and dredged up the occasional hopeful-sounding intel on something someone had down there, and maybe even where it was last supposed to be. Armed with that knowledge and prodded along by life-or-death circumstances, you might find yourself convinced that there really isn’t any excuse not to go after it.