Kristine Kathryn Rusch: “The Spires of Denon” © 2009.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch  is an American writer and editor.  She is a prolific writer in many genres: science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, and mainstream.
She was  the editor for “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction” , 1991-1997,  and won the Hugo Award as Best Professional Editor.
Awards for stories include the Hugo Award; Endeavour Award;  Sidewise Award for Alternate History, and the John W. Campbell Award.


The sci fi  novella   “The Spires of Denon,” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch,  © 2009, was  reprinted in “The Ninth Science Fiction MEGAPACK ®: Classic and Modern Science Fiction”,  © 2014 by Wildside Press LLC.

“The Spires of Denon”  is a story  about the exploration of an an ancient archeological site, the Spires, in the ancient city of Denon, on the planet Amnthra. This sector of space was colonized centuries ago by humans, but the history of those ancient space travelers, civilizations and technologies has been lost. Only relics remain.

There are three major characters whose paths cross in the exploration of the Spires: Gabrielle Reese, renowned archeologist; Meklos Verr, the sharp and experienced security expert, hired to guard the archeology site; and Navi Salvino, an experienced diver, who is also an investigator tracking the stealing and selling of ancient treasures.

The Spires of Denon are man-made, tall and imposing peaks in the formidable Naramzin Mountain Range. The individual peaks of the Spires are twisted around each other. Made of a white chalky substance, they are very bright in the sunlight. The walls are etched, and have ancient hand-carved designs on them.

As an ancient historical site, the Spires are protected by the Scholars Exploration group, and by the Monuments Protection Arm of the Unified Governments of Amnthra. No landing is permitted anywhere near the Spires;  and scanning is not allowed, as the Spires are believed to be fragile and very sensitive to vibrations.

More than a decade ago, Jonas Zeigler, professor of antiquities and art history,  predicted the existence of the City of Denon in the valley below The Spires. The Denonites had lived there, conquered other people on the planet, had survived many sieges themselves, until they were themselves finally defeated.

The existence of many caverns throughout the mountains led Zeigler to suggest that there are underground caves below the Spires, and that perhaps that’s where the Denonites survived their many sieges. And that they may have hidden their own treasures, and those of other ancient cultures, in the caves. A kind of museum.

A few years ago, Dr. Gabrielle Reese, a renowned archeologist, discovered the City of Denon. She restricted access to the site, and hired more help only after she had published her early research, and as the excavation expanded.

Gabrielle has now discovered a cavern, partially submerged in chalky murky water. The cavern floor itself is a work of art: an inlaid replica of the Spires themselves. In the niches in the natural white walls, she finds small artistic figures and vases . There may be more caves under the murky waters, with more ancient treasures. Only Gabrielle and her assistant Yusuf Kimber, the best archeologist in her team, know about the caverns. She has hidden away a number of the small artifacts, and plans to make some of the discoveries public. She also plans to keep some for her own collection.

Gabrielle requests the Scholars Exploration for a security team to guard the Spires. The security team is led by Meklos Verr, an experienced and sharp security expert. He asks Gabrielle for more specific details, about what they need to protect, who might be likely to pose a threat to the site, and accessibility to dig sites. She is surprised and annoyed by his questions. Although she provides enough information, Meklos senses that she is holding something back. Her lack of consultation annoys him, when she hires two new experts, without informing him. When he meets the new experts, he discovers with  shock, that they are cave divers, Navi Salvino, and her partner, Roye Bruget. Why has Gabrielle not said anything to him about caves, and that the caves are filled with water?

Navi Salvino is an investigator with the Interagency Arts and Monuments Protection League, to protect historic sites in the sector. When Gabrielle requests a security team for the Spires, Navi is alerted: There have been a number of small ancient treasures, of apparent unknown origins, sold through dealers to private collectors. Those artifacts have been traced back to earlier digs led by Gabrielle.

Navi talks to Jonas Zeigler. He thinks that  Gabrielle may have discovered the submerged caves — the museum — containing the treasures of ancient cultures. He also believes that the Spires are actually a giant map of the submerged caves, of the museum itself.

From a nearby star base, a deep exploration ship lands Navi and her partner Roye on the far side of the Spires. Navi scans the ground, and images of caves show up. Some of the images are like the Spires. The scans also show entrances and exits linking the caves to the City.

In the City, in a large building, presumed to be the temple, Gabrielle, Navi, Roye, and Meklos make their way down flights of stairs, to a cavern partially submerged in cold, dark, murky waters. The cavern temperature is frigid. Navi and Roye put on state-of-the-art diver suits  designed for survival under extreme environmental conditions. The  suits are fitted with lights, cameras and various controls. One of the  controls brings up a map of the Spires,  in front of the diver’s left eye.

Meklos has now seen more caverns than Gabrielle has told him about previously. When the divers have submerged and disappeared into the water, he checks their packs. He finds a third diving suit, and when he presses one of the controls, a map of the Spires appears, exactly like the artwork on the floor of the temple. He also sees a dot on the image — it is the spot where he is standing. He realizes, like Zeigler, that the Spires are an exact three-dimensional map of the caves below the city.

Underground, Navi and Roye swim in the murky waters, along passageways leading to various caves. Navi can see niches on the walls of the caves. Curious to know if there are any objects in the niches, she pushes against the edge of a passageway. A thrumming sound echoes through her head, and she feels vibrations throughout her body. Roye is bent over, his hands over his ears. More sediment begins to fill the passageway, and a barrier comes down with great force from the top of the passageway to the bottom. The vibrations and thrumming stop.

The barrier is between Navi and Roye. Navi realizes that she must have triggered a touch-sensitive signal in the passageway wall.
Navi and Roye signal to each other, to return to the surface. Roye will have to swim in the opposite direction from their original entrance. Navi swims back to the entrance where they originally submerged.

When Navi triggers the unknown signal in the submerged caverns, sirens sound on the surface. In the temple, Meklos sees a glowing line on the map of the Spires on the floor. An opening in the ceiling has appeared, and the light is coming into the temple from a glowing part of the Spires outside. He realizes that The Spires are neither art nor a map. They are a defense system against intruders into the submerged caves. The light on the floor image shows where the intruders are.

When Navi finally emerges at the surface, she finds the cavern is completely empty. Then she sees Meklos hurrying into the cavern. He tells her that he has found the map in the diving suit left in the pack. She decides she must trust him, and tells him that she is at the Spires to investigate possible thefts of ancient treasures by Gabrielle.

In the temple, the light on the floor moves to the edge of a Spire, and disappears. The ceiling closes. The defense system has shut itself off when Roye finally gets out of the caves.

The discovery that the Spires are a type of defense system changes the nature of the archeological dig. The focus will be on exploring and understanding the ancient defense technology, rather than artistic treasures.

Gabrielle will no longer be in charge of the site. Meklos and Navi realize that though she may have taken ancient treasures from the caves, there is no record of those objects. They agree that she should be allowed to stay on — a gifted archeologist whose initial discoveries have led to a totally unexpected historical finding.