I wake up with a gasp of air as a replay of a horrific accident flashes in my mind. It must have been having a nightmare; thank God.
I rub the back of my head and realise that there’s a heavy bandage all around it. I close my blurry eyes and rest my head back on the soft thing it was resting on just a few moments ago.
“Are you feeling better Dr. Blay?” I hear a voice from above me. I open my hazy eyes and rub them until a clear image forms and I see a figure in a hood looking down and smiling at me.
“What the?” I exclaim in surprise. “Alex, is that you?”
“Yes silly. Who did you think it was?”
“Ummm, forget it,” I say as I sit up from her lap and orient myself with our new surroundings. “Where are we?”
“We are inside a cave,” Dr. Alfred who is sitting beside Alex says. “Well technically at the mouth of a cave.”
“Wouldn’t it have been safer to go deeper inside the cave?” I ask.
“We tried that but there were a whole bunch of post-humanoids skulking further down in the darkness so we settled up here and started this fire which is keeping them away, for now,” Dr. Alfred says.
“Wait, if there isn’t any oxygen out here then how is a fire burning in here?” I ask while a bit suspicious.
“I don’t get your question,” he says before starting to poke a stick into the fire.
“Hmmm, indeed,” I say while getting even more suspicious. “So what happened exactly? How did we get here?”
“You don’t remember?” Alex asks me.
“Not really. I do remember us crashing into a mountain or a rock or something but that is the last thing I remember up to now.”
“Hmmm I guess that’s not strange since you have been out for the past day or so.”
“I’ve been out for a whole day?” I ask in surprise.
“Yeah,” she says as she holds her breath, opens her mask and pops some food in her mouth. “You got quite a nasty bump on the head.”
I don’t reply her but just stare reflectively into the fire as I feel my head throbbing a bit and I grab it.
After a few moments of silent reflection, I notice that we are down a few numbers and ask, “So where are the others?”
“They went back to the wreckage of the hoverbus to salvage as much supplies as they can before we think about our next move,” she says as she pops another morsel of food into her mouth then offers some to me but I decline.
“Was the crash really that bad?” I ask.
“Bad is an understatement Dr. Blay,” Dr. Alfred says. “But I blame myself really, you know, for deploying those UV grenades without warning you first.”
Instead of arguing with him about that, considering the fact that it’s completely true, I just grunt, get to my feet and start going towards the exit to see the wreckage.
“Wait, I’ll go too,” Alex says as she gets to her feet.
“Fine,” I say as I pause in my walking and she catches up then we exit the cave. “But leave the food.”
“Hmmm,” she says as she drops the bag of food on the floor and walks toward me.
Once we’re outside the cave, I realise that the sun has actually set but due to the lack of an atmosphere, there is still a dark reddish tint in the sky which creates kind of an eerie glow as it reflects on the orange sand.
“They are over there,” Alex says as she points to a faint white glow in the distance and we walk toward their light.
I see a person with their head inside the hood of the bus and say, “Hey guys, anything I can do to help?”
The person pulls out their head so quickly that they bump it on a piece of metal and as he rubs his head, I realise that it’s Dr. Randy who just had his head in there.
“Dr. Blay? You’re awake, great!” he exclaims and comes in for a man-hug which I don’t refuse.
“Wait, did you say Dr, Blay is awake?” I hear someone with Dr. Alice’s voice from inside the bus.
“Dr. Blay!” she shrieks once she sees me and she also rushes in for a hug. Despite her small size, she almost knocks me to the ground due to the shear ferocity of the hug but it’s still appreciated nonetheless. “We were all so worried about you.”
“All?” I ask as she continues to squeeze the life out of me.
“Yes, all,” says the third person who just joined the fray.
“I don’t expect that you want a hug too?”
“That would be nice,” he says as he spreads his arms.
“Well forget it! Don’t even get close to me you ring tossing bas...”
“Dr. Blay!” Alex says as she smacks me to stop me from continuing.
“I, I, thought...” he says with surprise on his face.
“You thought what?” I say coldly. “That I’ve forgiven you? Well forget it. What you did was unpardonable.”
“Look Dr. Blay,” he says with a pleading look on his face. “I know you are mad but honestly I am sorry. It was a mistake. Can you please forgive me? I will help you find the ring I promise.”
“Well?” Alex says almost urging me to accept his bogus apology.
“I have nothing more to say,” I say as I turn my nose up at him and start to walk away in a bid to get back to the campsite as soon as possible.
Halfway back to the camp, I start to feel a bit bad inside. Maybe he was being sincere. I should go back and...No. Think Ignatius; don’t forget that this is the man that threw your wedding ring, your most precious possession ever, out of the Underworld in a fit of blind rage. He is beyond forgiveness.
I think that to myself as I stuff my hands back into my pockets and keep walking back to the camp with no intention of accepting that apology.
I take off my hood once I’m inside the cave since I don’t really need the oxygen to breathe and also because it’s really itchy and is giving me a rash.
I look around expecting to see Dr. Alfred asleep, reading or something but surprisingly, he is nowhere to be found. The fire is raging in the middle of our makeshift campsite but no one is around to tend it. I start to get a bit worried.
I stand up to look outside the cave just in case he went to pee or something but I get even more worried when I see nothing in either distance. I start to panic a bit. What if something bad has happened to him like he fell down a cliff, or worse? No, I’m being silly. He’s a tough dude; he can handle himself. Those words calm me down a bit as I sit down on the ground to stare at the fire but that is immediately interrupted when something red on the floor catches the corner of my eye when the fire reflects on it.
God please let it be a shadow or a reflection from the fire, I think to myself as I move toward it and my heartbeat triples in rate.
I drag my wobbly finger through the red stain on the ground and hold my finger up to the fire and immediately, I know that it’s exactly what I feared it might be. It is blood.
I go into full panic mode now as I stand up and begin pacing around the cave in complete confusion. I just considered an in the heat-of-the-moment decision to charge down alone and get Dr. Alfred back from those bloodthirsty creatures but thank heavens my brain started working again so I instead of that suicidal move, I rather go outside and call for the others to come quickly.
“What, what is it Dr. Blay?” Alex says while panting from running all the way back here.
“I, I came back here and Dr. Alfred was missing and I found blood on the floor, finger I draw and fire shine and, and,” I say with a shaky voice as my thoughts refuse to be coherent due to my panicking.
“Calm down Dr. Blay,” Alex says as she stabilises me with her arms. “Now, start again and slowly this time.”
“I, I, came back here after leaving you guys at the wreckage and I realised that Dr. Alfred was not here then I found some blood on the floor,” I say more coherently this time and they all make scared sounds.
“Wait, what are you trying to say?” Alex says while almost shaking like a leaf.
“Calm down Alex,” I say this time trying to calm her down but she continues to shake from obvious fear.
“What are you trying to say Dr. Blay? Where is Alfie?” she asks almost in tears.
“I, I’m saying that Dr. Alfred is...missing,” I say.
The moment these words leave my lips, she falls back and collapses from shock into Dr. Randy’s arms since fortunately he was standing behind her. We lay her on the ground and try to resuscitate her but she seems to be really deep under. This bad situation just got a thousand times worse.
I look reflectively down into the darkest part of the cave that Dr. Alfred was most likely dragged down into by God knows who, or what. I feel a strong hurt build up inside me due to the fact that I’m completely powerless to do anything right now that wouldn’t result in my getting killed, like Dr. Alfred probably is. No. This is no time for negativity. We need to help him and we can’t do that by just sit around and assuming that he’s dead. We need to at least try to help him and that’s what I intend to do as soon as possible.
“Dr. Blay?” Dr. Alice calls me from behind and I turn to her. “She’s awake.”
I rush to Alex’s side as she bats her eyes slowly and tries to sit up. “Alex, are you awake?” I ask her.
“Yeah, what happened?” she asks as she finally manages to sit up. I take her into a hug which she doesn’t object to.
“We told you of what happened to Dr. Alfred and you passed out,” I say as we separate from the hug.
“That happened?” she asks with sad hopefulness in her eyes even though I know she knows the answer to that question. I shake my head softly to indicate that sadly, it wasn’t a dream, although we all wish it were.
“Sorry Alex, this is all my fault,” I say. “I should have gone in after him right after I saw that blood on the floor.”
“Don’t beat yourself up, it’s all our faults,” Dr. Randy says. “We shouldn’t have left him alone and defenceless, besides, there is no use in you going down and getting...killed.”
“That’s true,” I say and stare into the fire for a few seconds. I then get up and put on my bag. “Alex, now all we need you to do is lie back down and get some rest. We’ll be right back.”
“Where are you guys headed off to?” she says.
“We are going deeper into the cave to look for Dr. Alfred,” Dr. Whitford says and my chest pounds.
“Not without me you’re not.” She gingerly gets to her feet and slings her gear bag around her shoulders.
“No Alex,” I say as I entreat her to sit back down. “You’re in no condition to be fighting whatever awaits us down there. I point and look deeper down into the darkness.
“I am,” she says. “I’m going Dr. Blay.”
“No buts Dr. Blay, I’m going,” she says and I look at her with total confusion. “I must go Dr. Blay, he’s my brother. I must at least try to rescue him else I’ll never forgive myself if anything happens to him. Now are we ready to go or not?”
“Yes we are but first,” I throw some sand on the fire and it is smothered as we’re plunged into thick darkness only illuminated by the communicator screens. “Okay, now we’re ready.”
“Then let’s do this,” she says.
I grab my prongs tighter in my hand as I begin to walk ahead of the group. We descend deeper into the pitch-black cave. At the bottom of the little descent, I hear a bit of scratching and growling just up ahead so I hold up my hand and the rest stop dead in their tracks behind me.
“What is it?” Alex whispers to me.
“I hear something,” I whisper. “Wait.”
I take out a UV grenade from my holder and with all my might, I swing it at the point I heard the scratching from and we all shield our eyes. Once the ball explodes into a burning ball of white light, sure enough two post-humanoids collapse in anguish as their bodies get charred by the blinding light. I remove my hand from my eyes.
“Nice going Dr. Blay,” Dr. Whitford says from behind me.
“Shhh, there are post-humanoids crawling all around here. Let’s keep moving but keep your eyes peeled and ears open,” I whisper to the others.
We begin to move forward through the cave, taking each step as carefully as humanly possible until we eventually come out of the straight path and are now faced by two separate paths by which we can go by.
“Oh great, now where do we go?” Alex asks just a bit as confused as I am right now.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” I say. “I can’t see any blood on the floor, so what about this one?” I say as I point to the path on the left.
“I wouldn’t go through that one if I were you,” Dr. Whitford says.
“Why not?” I ask.
He digs into his pouch, removes a ball and swings it at the entrance to the path and on the left; a few post-humanoids stagger back in retreat then start to charge in our direction. I can’t see very well but I would say there are about six or seven of them all coming for the four of us simultaneously.
“Go!” I say as I ready my weapon. “I’ll hold them off!”
I grab a handful of balls and throw them at the post-humanoids to even the odds a bit and two of them are fried as the others stagger backwards. I extend my prongs and they glow with an enchanting blue light indicating that they’re ready for action.
“But we can’t just leave you!” Alex says.
“I said go! I’ve got this!” She pauses for a split second to think a bit then she runs off with the others toward the other path.
One of the post-humanoids attacks me and tries to take a bite out of my neck but I manage to use the pole of the prongs to hold it off. It is frantically trying to take a bite out of my neck, spilling buckets of saliva on me in the process but I use the handle of the prongs to hit it into the wall to my left and while it’s trying to get up, I use my prongs to stab it in the chest. It gyrates a bit from the electricity before it finally dies.
I try to pull my prongs out of the chest of the dead post-humanoid but before I can, I feel one of them take a painful swipe my back. I can feel the blood seeping out from the wound as I crash to the ground in pain. I try to make a leap for my prongs which is right in front of me but they all dog pile on me and after they pin me to the ground, they keep taking swipe after swipe, drawing blood from different parts of my abdomen with each one while crushing me with their considerable combined weights. If they go for my neck, I’m dead.
Suddenly, I hear a loud screech as the bodies on top of me suddenly become lifeless so I quickly push them off me. I get up and look around for the source of my rescue.
“You didn’t really think we’d leave you behind, did you?” says Dr. Whitford with his prongs in hand as he pries it from the back of one of the creatures he just saved me from.
“You, you, saved me,” I say. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” he says. “It’s what teammates do.”
“Yeah, teammates,” I say as he places my hand around his shoulders and helps me to walk. I wince in pain as I feel the wounds on my stomach and my back.
“Grab your prongs and let’s go,” he says with urgency in his voice. “I doubt those were the only creatures lurking around here.”
I get to full length, be it in searing pain, and head for the lifeless body of the post-humanoid in which my weapon is stuck. I step on its head and with one almighty pry, I manage to get it out.
We run quickly through the left path and it eventually terminates into a new room, this one with a huge crack in the roof that lets in a substantial amount of sunlight that should keep the post-humanoids away for the time being. The ladies and Dr. Randy all rush toward us when they see us emerge from the pathway.
“Thank heavens you guys are alright,” Alex says. “I was so worried.”
“Dr. Blay, your stomach, it’s...”
“Bleeding, I know,” I say to the middle-aged woman as I sit on a rock while groaning in pain. “I’ll be fine.”
“No you won’t,” she says. “We need to get it cleaned. Thank God I remembered to bring these,” she says as she digs through her bag and pulls out some wet wipes. “This might sting a bit.”
I was about to say how I’m a man and how some little thing like baby wipes won’t hurt me but once the alcohol in those things touches my sores it melts all my manliness away and turns me from a lion into a kitten.
“Sorry” she says in a bid to comfort me but that doesn’t work; it stings badly. “Almost done,” she says as I look upwards and bite my lip to keep from crying.
While looking up as tears form in my eyes, I faintly spot something standing above the crack in the roof. Before I can compute just what it is, I see the figure start to dive down toward where we are all gathered.
“I am done,” she says. Barely a millisecond passes after those words escape her lips do I push her out of the way as the thing thankfully misses her and comes crashing down on me.
It tries frantically to take a bite at my neck but I am just about strong enough to hold it off me as we struggle on the ground before I kick it away and get to my knees.
I punch it in the jaw and it falls down beside me as I stumble to my feet in pain. I try to get my prongs out but it is already back on its feet. It charges at me with such blood thirst in its soulless eyes that it forces me to readjust and forget about getting my weapon out. I manage to dodge it and it crashes violently into the wall behind me. The unstable parts of the cave we’re in start to crumble all around us.
“The cave is collapsing!” Alex yells the obvious and dodges a falling rock.
“Get out of here!” I say as manage to get my balls out and throw them at the creature charging at me but they have no effect on it.
“This one’s from the surface!” Dr. Randy yells. “It must be immune!”
I have no more time to react so I manage to adjust myself swiftly enough to get down and swipe it down with my legs and this surprises it too as it’s sent crashing to the floor. Once it hits the floor with a huge thud, the already shaky cave floor gives way, sending us crashing down with it into the unknown.
The air rushes all around me as I manage to get my prongs out of my belt holder. I stab the post-humanoid which was attempting to swim toward Alex in the back. I punch it to turn it around and while it looks at me with an unquenchable thirst for blood in its eyes, I stab it in the chest repeatedly. It squirms in pain the goes limp after a while as we smash into the ground with such force that it causes dust to spread everywhere.
Fortunately for me, the body of the post-humanoid which was under me broke my fall so I get up pretty much unscathed, barring a few bumps and bruises here and there. I wipe the dust off my suit.
“Whoa, that felt like a fifteen foot drop!” I say as I remove my prongs from the creature’s chest and step off its lifeless body.
I slide down a mountain of rubble and when I touch the ground, I think I step in something earthy and soft, almost like like soil. Is it soil? No, it can’t be. It’s impossible. I bend over and pick it in my fingers. It feels just like...
A sharp shriek alerts me immediately. “Alex, is that you? Where are you?” I say as I follow the sound of the shriek.
“I’m here!” she yells with discernible pain in her voice. “Help I’m stuck!”
I follow the sound of her voice through the dusty air and find her on the ground with a large rock slab on her legs which has her trapped.
“Alex!” I scream and rush to her side. “Are you okay?” She nods and points to the rock on her feet. “Let me try and get this off.”
I grab the slab and try with all my might to lift it off but it won’t budge.
“It’s too heavy!” I say.
“Help! Someone I need help over here!” I call out to no one in particular as I keep trying in vain to lift the slab of her legs.
“What’s wrong?” I hear Dr. Whitford’s voice behind me. I examine him briefly as he walks toward us and surprisingly he looks as if he just took a bath. He’s completely clean, not even a scratch; odd.
“Over here, help me lift this slab off her!”
He grabs one side of the slab while I grab another and we manage to lift it just enough for her to squirm herself free. The slab makes a huge thud and raises even more dust as it hits the floor again. I quickly rush over to Alex and help wipe the dust off her suit and check for injuries.
“Are you okay?” I ask with concern as I clean some mud off her hood.
“Yeah I’m fine,” she says as she shoves my hand away and proceeds to clean herself. “Just a few cuts and bruises on my thighs.” She tries to get to her feet and I go to help her up. Dr. Whitford just stands there looking disappointed. “Where are the others?” she asks and I look at Dr. Whitford but he just shrugs his shoulders to indicate that he has no idea and I do the same.
“Dr. Randy! Dr. Alice!” she yells but it just makes an echo in the place and receives no reply. “Something’s wrong. Use your communicator to locate theirs’. We have to find them.”
“Good idea,” I say as I pull out my communicator and scan the area.
I find their signals and follow it with the others tagging along behind me. The dust in the air makes it impossible to see anything so we just follow the signal and keep bumping into things. The signal leads us to another part of wherever we are in and when I find the signal I stop suddenly when it indicates that they are right before me. I look up from my communicator slowly but my face drops once I realise that their communicator’s signals are coming from inside a huge mountain of rubble. I go to the other side to see if they’re behind it but no, it definitely says they’re in there.
Alex sees the look on my face when I come back and asks, “What’s wrong? Where are they? Have you found them?”
“What?” she says.
“It says that they’re...in there,” I say as I point to the huge mountain of rubble before us. It takes a moment for the reality to register in her.
“No, it can’t be, let me see, it must be wrong, it must be wrong! They could still be alive!” she says hysterically and starts to dig the rocks out one by one.
“Stop Alex,” I say as I grab her but she shoves me away and continues her futile digging. “It’s no use; there is no way in heaven they could have survived a fall like this, with this many rocks crushing them.”
The moment those words leave my mouth, she drops the rocks she was holding, falls to her knees and lets out a loud shriek of pain that breaks my heart as a wave of tears pours in droves from her eyes. I put my arm around her to comfort her.
“Alfie’s gone, now Dr. Alice and Dr. Randy? Why?” she asks rhetorically as the tears flow even more steadily now.
I have nothing contrary to say that will comfort her so I just let her cry. Dr. Whitford also joins us in kneeling on the floor at this point. As Alex continues to sob softly, I glance at Whitford and he seems to be smiling at Alex. When he sees me, he quickly turns his head away. What a weirdo.
I seriously don’t feel a need to cry. I just didn’t know them that well. This is still sad. I just sit and stare reflectively at the huge mound of rocks before us.
After a while, her tears dry up so I get to my feet and wipe myself off.
As she sits on the ground, I walk around and pick up all the little pieces of wood I can find. I place them around the mound of rocks and throw the rest on top. She stares at me as I do this.
She immediately sees what I’m doing when I rub two sticks together and create a fire, which slowly spreads over the mound.
“They deserve a proper send-off,” I say and she just nods. “I think we should keep moving and try to find Dr. Alfred.” I help her to her feet. “When we find him, we’ll know what to do.”
When Alex gets to her feet, she put my arms around me and squeezes me tight. Due to how miserable she looks, I assume she really needs a hug right now.
“Everything will be fine, I promise,” I say to comfort her. A more despicable lie couldn’t have been told.
Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong and what is the guarantee that we will even find Dr. Alfred alive anyways? I guess only time will tell at this point.As the dust in the air settles and visibility improves, we spot a small path leading into a small tunnel with light at the end of it. While trying to salvage any hope we have left, we decide to use it as we reminisce and come to terms with our horrible setbacks. We need to stay together and look to the future from this point onward.