It was possible that seismic activity might have shifted the sand, but the granite suggested something else.
Two days later, the site had been cleared up and the walls of the sinkhole shored up and secured, enabling members of the team to descend on to the top of the structure and start clearing away more of the sand and debris.
‘What’s it made of?’ Burnett asked the team’s chief metallurgist, John Jackson.
‘I’m not exactly sure,’ Jackson replied. ‘Seems to be some sort of variant of titanium, but nothing I’m familiar with.’
‘Can we get through it?’
Jackson thought for a moment, then nodded his head. ‘We can, yes. It’ll just take some time.’
‘Get started now then. We don’t know when the locals will turn up, and I want to be inside before they get here.’
Jackson announced that he was through more than six hours later. Word quickly spread to other parts of the camp, and within minutes all thirty members of the crew were there.
The curved metal object was an access hatch, much like a submarine hatch, and was located on what appeared to be the roof of a building still buried underground.
The hatch opened to reveal a metallic access tunnel, with a ladder leading down into the dark.
Burnett stepped forward and turned on the torch secured to his helmet. ‘I’ll go first,’ he announced with authority, and as he placed his feet on the metal rungs, he only knew one thing — this wasn’t the Hall of Records.
He hoped that whatever it was would be worth his friend’s sacrifice.
Claire Goodwin and two other members of the team accompanied Burnett, while the others listened to the radio sets connected to their chief’s communication system.
There were long pauses as the four archaeologists descended the ladder, Burnett commenting every now and then on the structure of the tunnel, and their current depth.
‘We’re at the bottom,’ Burnett eventually announced. ‘We’re leaving the access hatch and entering the structure itself.’
There was another pause as the team dismounted the ladder, and then everyone still on the surface heard a sharp intake of breath, loud over the radio.
‘I… I…’ Burnett seemed lost for words. The team members still on the surface heard him breathe deeply several times, trying to collect himself. ‘I…’ he continued eventually, ‘I don’t believe it.’ Another pause. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before in my entire life.’
The colossal statue could be seen from miles away by anyone approaching the city on the main freeway that crossed through the rainforest until it broke out on to the coastal plain. The statue loomed over the city from its position over two thousand feet high on the mountain, a robed, bearded figure with its arms outstretched towards the ocean beyond.
Made out of concrete and soapstone, the forty-metre-high statue had been a symbol of the city for over ninety years, a focal point for the nation’s devout religious fervour. Weighing in excess of seven hundred tons, it was one of the world’s largest statues, visited by millions of tourists each year, many of whom made the pilgrimage all the way up to the top of the mountain to stand at the huge pedestal upon which the statue rested. There they stood, craning their necks and looking up in awe at the image of the prophet above them.
One such group of pilgrims stood there now, squinting tired eyes into the sun to see their redeemer in all his glory.
And despite the strength of their religion and the passion of their beliefs, nothing in their experience had prepared them for what they saw next.
It was early in the morning, a time many people made the pilgrimage to the top of the mountain, to watch the sun rise over the horizon. It bathed the statue in an otherworldly glow, making it seem even more impressive, as if the statue and the sun were somehow connected. But this morning was different. As the tourists looked on, believers and non-believers alike, they saw the statue move.
The movement of the statue was no mere tilt, as if with the wind, or wobble, as if disturbed at its base; incredibly, the entire statue leaned backwards and raised its enormous head to look at the rising sun, lifting its gigantic stone arms high above its head.
It stopped then, leaning backwards slightly and gazing at the sky between upstretched arms, as if this was how it had stood for almost a century. But the people there knew that this was not the case; they had watched for two whole minutes as the statue had moved ever so slowly to reach for the sky, as if asking the Heavens themselves for help. But help for what?
Soon, it wasn’t just those who were there who were asking the question. The first footage went out over the social media networks just seconds after it happened; within ten minutes, everyone who had filmed it or taken pictures had sent them over the airwaves to family and friends across the globe. And within thirty minutes the entire world knew, and had seen it.
The statue — this seven-hundred-ton block of concrete and soapstone — had moved.
And the world wanted to know why.
Joyce Greenfield felt the bracing morning air and smiled. Another beautiful day, she thought as she skipped lightly down the steps of her brownstone apartment, holding the lead of Sebastian, her pedigree hunting dog.
Sebastian was the pride of her life, at least ever since her boyfriend Adam had left her for another woman late last year. You couldn’t trust men, she’d learnt that the hard way. But dogs you could trust. Especially Sebastian, whom she’d had since a puppy, a wonderful little thing who had been her constant companion in both the good times and the bad.
It had happened late last year, the same old clichéd story heard a million times before, except this time it had happened to her: she had come home from work early one afternoon to find Adam — her beloved, the man whom she had hoped to one day marry — in bed with another woman. In their bed — an even worse betrayal. It was where they had discussed their hopes, their dreams, their ideas of what living a life together would be like; it was where Joyce had told him the little things, the secret things which made a person unique, and which she had shared with no one else.
And the woman wasn’t even just another woman, it was Georgina Wilcock; maybe not her best friend, but a friend nevertheless. How could a friend do that? Joyce supposed she should have known — she’d seen Georgina do the same to other women’s boyfriends, even other women’s husbands, but she had never suspected it would happen to her. Stupid. You couldn’t trust men, and it turned out you couldn’t trust women either.
But, she repeated to herself as Sebastian trotted along obediently at her side, you could trust dogs. You could always trust dogs. Cats were nice too, she thought, but not like dogs. She had always agreed with the idea that there were dog people and cat people. You could like both, sure, but not equally — you had to decide one way or the other which you preferred, and she was definitely a dog person.
She had lived with dogs all her life — her parents were dog people too — and had even found a way to smuggle Francis, her pet from the age of six, into her college dorms for the whole three years she was there; she just couldn’t live without dogs.
She had had others over the years, often fostering dogs for animal shelters before they found permanent homes, and the stories of their lives more often than not reduced her to tears. How could people be so cruel? It never ceased to amaze her. Malnutrition and neglect were the least of the dogs’ problems — some had been forced into fights, resulting in horrific wounds, another had been set on fire for making too much noise during the night, one more had had all her teeth pulled out with pliers for chewing the leg of a kitchen chair.