“So,” I say, “How the heck are we going to get all the way up there?” I point to the mountain that leads to where the hoverbus was wrecked. That thing looks at least two thousand feet high. My legs start to wobble just from looking at it.
“Well, according to the GPS, it seems our only viable option is to scale it to the top,” she says in reply to me without looking up from her communicator screen.
“No, no, no, no way; I don’t do heights,” I say and this prompts her to look at me now.
“But that’s the only sensible option I see on the...”
“Let me see that,” I interrupt her and she hands me the communicator. “You say viable and sensible meaning there’s another...aha, right there!”
“What?” she asks and I hand her back the communicator and point out my discovery to her. “Are you crazy?” she says. “That will get us killed!”
“Oh please, stop being such a wimp,” I say.
“So says the man who is scared of heights,” she says in retort.
“Touché,” I say in reply. “But seriously, I see no reason why we can’t use that other route.”
“You want a reason huh?” she asks me.
“It would be much appreciated.”
“Come look see; I have it set to simulation mode to display the most likely outcome if we decide to use that route,” she says as she shows the screen to me and presses the white play button.
I watch silently as we are repeatedly devoured by sharks, sting rays, whales and even jellyfish. I ask her to turn it off.
“You see?” she says as her hand taps the button and the picture freezes. “Besides, even if we do somehow manage to survive the underwater cavern, we would still have to climb a narrow tunnel all the way up to the top. Do you see the problem we have here?”
“Not really but wait,” I say as my hand goes up.
“What really are our problems here?”
“Our problems?” she says with actual surprise written on her face.
“Yeah, what are the real chances of us failing while using that underwater path? Because I seriously don’t fear anything it can throw at me.”
According to this,” she says as she reads something from the screen, “Our chances of succeeding are placed at 25% while that of our failure is placed at a whopping 75%. The proof is clear Dr. Blay.”
“It really says that?” I say in surprise at how bad the odds are.
“Yeah, sure, something like that,” she says sheepishly.
“Are you sure?” I say. “Let me see that.”
“There’s no need for that,” she says as she tries to keep it away from me. “I already told you the...”
I snatch the communicator away from her and look at the screen. “Alex! This says success is 42% and failure is 58%! You lied to me?” I’m shocked, and a little proud. I would have done the same thing if I were in her shoes except I wouldn’t have left any margin for error like she did.
“No, I didn’t,” she says as she grabs her device back from me.
“I’m disappointed in you Alex,” I say while shaking my head slowly and she just sticks her tongue out at me. “Anyways, I think these are odds we can really work with.”
“Are you out of your mind?” she asks with disbelief written across her face. “You are trying to get us killed, aren’t you?”
“Yes, yes I am,” I say. “What other problems do you have now?”
“You mean besides the deadly sharks, the fact that I can’t hold my breath for longer than 35 seconds, the fact that I am claus...” she says but her voice kind of tails off toward the end.
“Huh, what? You are what? I didn’t quite catch that last part.”
“I said I have claus...” Her voice tails off at the end again.
“I can’t hear you.”
“I, have, claustro...”
“Wait, are you trying to say you have, claustrophobia?”
“No, no, of course not. I’m just saying that I absolutely HATE being confined to small, tight spaces,” she says with a nauseated look on her face.
“That is claustrophobia Alex!” I say in amusement.
“Oh, then that’s it.”
“You were right, this really is bad. You fear tight, confined spaces while I hate heights. This is quite the conundrum.”
“Uh huh,” she says. “But it doesn’t necessarily have to be.”
“Well, since a fear of heights is mostly visual, what if you blindfolded yourself and climb? That way you won’t see anything and won’t be scared.”
“As appealing as that sounds, and trust me, I’m being very sarcastic here, that sounds awful.”
“Oh come on, it won’t be that bad.”
“Really? Then why don’t you blindfold yourself and swim through the tunnels?” I say.
“Oh no, no, no, that won’t work. I’d still know that the walls are closing in around me, ready to squeeze the living life out of me,” she says as she hugs herself and closes her eyes tight while getting the shivers.
“Aha! My point exactly,” I say.
“Okay, okay, I see your point. Blindfolds are a no-go. But what about...”
“Let me stop you right there Alex.”
“We have only two real options right now,” I say. “One, we go back to camp and hope and pray that the guys back at the Underworld sense that something has wrong and send people to find us.”
“Definitely not,” she says. “What’s the second one?”
“The second option is, and I really must say, I hate this option but it might be our only shot.”
“We have to go separately and meet at the top.”
“What? No way! I’m not doing that.”
“Why not?” I ask.
“I don’t know, just doesn’t feel right.”
“Awww, will you miss me?” I make a cutesy voice when I say this.
“Don’t flatter yourself but...”
“Mhmmm?” I say dreamily and her hand swiftly smacks me.
“What if I get jumped by a bunch of post-humanoids on the way? Then what will I do?”
“You’re right,” I say and start rubbing my chin in a cartoonish fashion. “You know what? Just beep me if anything happens and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“And by that you’re only saying that you will probably get there after my face has already been eaten off by those bloodthirsty creatures. I don’t like this at all.”
“Me neither,” I say as I place my arms on her shoulders and look her straight in the eye, “But we don’t have a choice do we? Remember who we are doing all this for?”
“The entire human race?” she says.
“Well, technically, yes but also...Dr. Alfred? Remember him?” I intentionally play the ‘Alfie’ card at this point.
“Oh yes, Alfie, you’re right! We are doing this for Alfie, and mankind!”
“Yes,” I say. “So that’s why I want you to be strong, and go it alone. You’ll be fine, I believe in you. I promise we’ll meet at the top, okay?”
“Good. Do you have climbing gear in there?” I say with my finger pointed to her back.
“Yeah, it came packed in the bag.”
“Great,” I say and take my hands off her shoulders. “Then see you up there.” I say and extend my arms leading to a long and meaningful embrace, probably for the last time. Oh gosh.
I smile at her as she walks away to make sure that she doesn’t see how much I’m freaking out inside then take a moment or two after she disappears from sight to centre myself. I walk slowly into the calm waters before me, being extremely careful not to even think about looking back at her, lest my fatherly instincts kick in.
I am hoping to get really deep in before I start my dive down so I keep walking forward until the water is almost at neck-level and prepare to dive deeper into the water. When I taste my first swig of salt water, I pull my helmet over my face and prepare to leap.
Just then, I hear a faint sound behind me that causes me to emulate the wife of Lot and look behind when I vowed to myself not to.
“Dr. Blay, Dr. Blay, wait!” she says frantically and trips on the sand.
“Alex? What are you doing?” I say as I turn toward her.
“I’m coming with you,” she says as she wades through the water toward me.
“I’ve decided to go with you instead,” she says when she reaches me. “I’m sure it isn’t as tight down there as I think and besides, it’s much better if we stick together.”
“But,” I say as I slide my helmet off and taste more salt water, “What about that awesome motivational speech I just gave about all this being for Dr. Alfred and the earth huh?” I say in disappointment.
“It was a marvellous speech Dr. Blay but I already have my diving gear on and we’re running out of time so let’s move!”
She dives into the water and out of my reach before I have a chance to interject so I have no choice but to just shake my head, slide my helmet down and dive after her.
“Gosh it’s dark down here,” I hear Alex say from beside me. “Don’t you have a light on you?”
“I don’t think so.” I wipe some seaweed off my helmet and accidentally slide my hand over the forehead of my helmet, causing a bright bluish-white light to illuminate our immediate surroundings.
“Oh yeah, the diver’s lamp, I totally forgot about that. Good work Dr. Blay,” she says.
“Yeah thanks,” I say. “I obviously meant to do that.”
As we keep descending deeper and deeper, I notice that the water is surprisingly warm. I thought the deeper you go into the ocean the colder it gets? I’ve really messed the earth up huh?
“How come you need a scuba mask to breathe down here?” she says suddenly. “I thought you didn’t need oxygen to survive?”
“I actually do need oxygen to survive,” I say. “But I can also survive off nitrogen, which I can’t take from the water since I don’t have any gills. Sadly my mom, who was half sardine didn’t pass them down to me.”
“I don’t appreciate the sarcasm,” she says.
“You walked right into that one Alex,” I say with a smirk on my face but she doesn’t seem to be amused. “So how much farther to the cave?”
“Ummm,” she takes her communicator out of her pocket. “According to this, only about, about...”
I was staring at her face expecting information but she suddenly seems frozen with fear and keeps looking straight ahead of us for some strange reason.
“Hey Alex, helloooo,” I say as I wave my hand in front of her helmet but she fails to respond and just stares blankly into the distance. “What is wrong with you?”
She doesn’t answer but one of her hands shakily rises in the water and points to something in front of me so I turn, expecting to see nothing but as I turn, I am suddenly faced directly with a giant bulbous snouted nose, one belonging to a ruthless killer of the deep.
Suddenly, the creature growls and lunges at Alex instead of me.
“Alex, watch out!” I shriek as I manage to pull her out of the way of the creature which just misses her by a whisker and bangs its head on a giant rock behind us giving us time to swim away.
“What was that thing?” she says as we swim to safety.
“It was a dang shark!” I say.
She starts feeling herself and then says, “No! No! Oh gosh no!”
“Why, what’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
“It got the communicator!” she says and we suddenly stop swimming.
“Darn it!” I say as my hand rises to my head. “We’ve got to get it back,” I say and start looking around for the killer creature.
“Yeah we do.”
“Which way did it go?”
“I think I saw it swimming toward the surface...wait where are you going?”
“I’m going to get that communicator back,” I say as I remove a weapon from my belt and begin kicking towards the surface. I feel a sudden tug at my foot and look down to see her grabbing my foot. “What?”
“Don’t tell me you’re going to fight that thing, alone?” she says.
“I am,” I say and fear immediately spreads across her face. “Don’t worry about me Alex, I’ll be fine.”
“I’m coming too.”
“Most definitely not, you are staying right here,” I say. “I’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”
She takes a moment to think before saying, “Please be careful.” I turn back to give her a reassuring smile then continue thrusting toward the surface.
I grasp my weapon so tightly in my hand that I almost think I’m going to break it but all I am secretly praying for is that I they work underwater else I’m shark bait. Coming to think of it, I basically am already.
I raise my head up out of the water after swimming at top speed to the surface and slide my helmet upwards. I feel a bit disappointed, but mostly relieved when I see that the shark is nowhere to be found. I scan the area for a while longer until I’m satisfied that it’s not up here anymore.
I am about to take my dive when I see a pointy grey tail sticking out of the water a few feet from me. I have a mini panic attack as I fumble with my prongs then take my battle stance in a bid to gee myself up before approaching it, cautiously of course.
I paddle carefully through the water, hoping to sneak up on the shark from behind and end this early. I stop a few feet from the creature and grab the weapon tighter in my hands. After a deep breath, I leap and stab the water before me with all my might but instead of a large blue spark of jolting electricity which should have happened, only a pitiful yellow flicker shines for half a second before fizzling out. Well that didn’t do anything to help me hurt it but all it did was rather make it angry and alert it of my presence.
When it finally dawns on me that I’m still in danger, I swim away with all my might with my useless weapon in hand as it chomps at my butt. I dive down with all my might in a bid to avoid it but it is quite swift for a creature of its size. I look back and see it charging at me with three rows of sharp, skin tearing teeth, ready to spill blood, my blood.
I try outrunning, or rather outswimming it but I’m afraid I’m not that fast so to keep it from making an easy meal of me, I manage to use the rod of my prongs to keep it at arm’s length, hoping and praying that it doesn’t break and leave me at the shark’s mercy.
With mind-boggling force, it manages to push me deeper and deeper down into the water, almost about a metre down, continuously snapping its giant jaws at me, hoping to have me for an early afternoon snack but surprisingly I’m keeping it at arms length well. It is only at this point that I realise that I never slid down my helmet.
With my arms starting to ache and my oxygen reserves running out rapidly it’s pretty obvious, I need a plan, fast!
“Dr. Blay!” I hear Alex’s voice from behind me and I cock my head toward her slightly while still keeping that thing at arm’s length. “You must have run out of charge in your prongs. That’s why the first attack failed!”
She uses her hand to slide down my helmet and I take in a large breath of sweet oxygen. “Alex, I thought I told you to stay back!”
“I tried but you really looked like you needed help,” she says.
“Do I look like I need help?”
Almost immediately that leaves my lips, it somehow manages to skip past my thin blockade and violently lunge at me, almost chomping my head off but with incredible agility completely foreign to me, I react quickly enough to dodge it. When it realises that I have evaded it, it charges at me again and we resume our struggle.
“Yes, very much!” she says.
“I got this Alex; get as far away as you can! I’ll be there in...”
Just as I’m saying this, as my rotten luck would have it, the handle of the prongs bend inwards, leaving me at the shark’s mercy and it wastes no time in engulfing me in its flame of endless teeth. I give a muffled kind of half-scream in searing pain as I feel it chomping on my legs. I grabbed its tongue so I’m only halfway into its mouth, desperately wriggling and trying hard to free myself but to no avail. My new tough skin isn’t breaking despite the tremendous force with which the shark is biting with but I seriously doubt it’ll hold out much longer due to the extreme pain I’m experiencing right now.
I faintly hear Alex screaming outside, almost commanding the shark to release me but there isn’t much she can do at this point except making herself a target for its desert.
“Alex, swim away! I’ll be fine!” I yell inside the shark’s mouth but it appears as if she can’t hear me because I still hear her panicky voice outside.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Alex’s communicator lodged behind one of the shark’s back row of teeth and remember why we came after it in the first place. I try stretching to grab it but the creature has such a deadly grip on my legs with its huge, jagged rows of teeth that I can’t get to it without activating every injured nerve in my shins and my calves.
The situation looks hopeless for me and I typify this by just lying there dejectedly on its giant, fluffy tongue. I guess this is the end for me, it’ll definitely swallow me soon. Suddenly, I don’t feel intense, piercing pain on my legs anymore as the shark’s mouth shoots open and a mini-roar of pain escapes its throat. I act fast by leaping into its mouth, grab the communicator and get out before it snaps its giant jaws shut again. That was extremely painful to execute but I had to do it.
When I come out, I look down at my legs and see the suit actually repairing itself to my astonishment. I look up and spot Alex stabbing the shark in the side with her prongs repeatedly as it shrieks in pain and when she sees me, she stops this incredibly brave action and swims toward me.
“Dr. Blay! Are you okay?” she says me as she lays a hand on mine.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say. “My legs are a bit sore though.”
I look ahead of me and the shark stares me down as if it is going to charge again but when Alex brandishes her weapon stained with its own blood, the deadly creature surprisingly shrinks back in fear, and then flees in defeat into a dark part of the ocean with its tail, well tail fin tucked firmly between its legs, gills, well whatever sharks have that remotely resemble legs.
I spot Alex laughing heartily beside me. “Why, what’s so funny?” I say. “We, well I, barely got out of that alive.”
“Yeah well I just kicked a shark’s butt so I deserve a chuckle,” she says as she rolls the prongs around her finger.
“Careful Under-water taker, before you take someone’s eye out with that thing,” I say as I dodge her steadily rotating prongs. “Let’s get into that cave before the scent of my sweet sweet blood attracts even more sharks.
“Don’t worry, if any sharks come around, I’ll take care of ’em,” she says while trying to act tough but I just burst into laughter from how hilariously cute that was.
“Are you absolutely sure that you’re ready to do this?” I say to Alex who is floating beside me as we stare into the dark cave before us.
“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” she says as she stares into my eyes then deeper into the cave.
“You know you don’t have to do this if you think you’re not ready yet.” I say.
“No, no, it’s better for me to conquer this fear now and forever,” she says and I examine her for a few seconds to detect any signs of apprehension from her.
“Okay, let’s go,” I say when I find none.
We swim slowly into the dark cave, right past the entrance and the helmet lights are left as our only source of light now that the sun is far out of reach all the way down here.
“How are you doing?” I ask her as we progress slowly but steadily through the pitch-black cave.
“I’m okay, for now,” she says.
“This isn’t even as bad as I thought it’d be. It’s actually kinda fun, like a spooky adventure or something. What?” she says when she catches me smiling at her.
“Oh, nothing,” I say in ignominy and quickly look away. “I was just thinking to myself how incredibly bold you are for doing this.”
“Doing what?” she asks me.
“You know, conquering your fears and stuff. I just wish I had that much heart to be able to conquer my fear of heights.”
“Don’t you stress about that at all Dr. Blay,” she says and I look at her again. “I’m definitely gonna help you with that when we’re done with all this saving the world junk.”
“I am not looking forward to that at all,” I say and she laughs at my cowardice.
We slowly swim on in silence for a while, negotiating just a few curves and bends in the path and waiting for the tunnel which was shown on the map to take a sudden upward turn that will lead us right to the top of the mountain, which is our destination of course.
Suddenly, after we negotiate a small curve, we are suddenly faced with two separate but identical and equally dark-looking paths.
“What the?” I say in surprise. “Is this even on the map?”
“Actually it is,” she says while looking into the communicator screen which casts an eerie blue light on her face. “Right here, see?” She points to the two tunnels on the screen and shows them to me.
“So which one is our tunnel?” I ask after handing her communicator back to her.
“Well, it appears that the path on the right leads upwards whilst the path on the left leads downwards to some kind of underground cavern, and look,” she says and she swims down, picks something off the ground in front of the left cave entrance and shows it to me.
“What’s this?” I ask as I take it out of her hand to examine it.
“It looks like a piece of metal, probably been here for a few weeks too because it’s starting to corrode due to all the salt in the water,” she says as I hand it back to her and tosses it away.
“Do you know what this means?” she asks me.
“I’m formulating an idea but you couldn’t possibly be thinking what I’m thinking, could you?”
“I’m pretty sure I am,” she says. “But when will we get another opportunity to come back down here and explore down there?” she says and I take a few moments to think the matter over.
“You know what?” I say after my moments of reflection.
“What? You have an idea?”
“Yes, but you won’t like it.”
“Hmmm, okay but you let me hear it anyways.”
“Okay, well I was just thinking that I go down there, alone, and check things out while you take the lead and go on up to the mountain and, I’ll meet you up there later.”
“No way, I want to go with you,” she says. “No splitting up remember?”
“I know but this time it’s way too dangerous to risk you and what if we meet another shark? We might not get so lucky this time.”
“It wasn’t luck Dr. Blay, it was skill,” she says with a matter-of-factly tone. “I want to help you search for it.”
“I know you do but look Alex,” I say with a change of tone. “You know that I love you, like a daughter and I really appreciate it but I seriously wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I let anything happen to you, okay? Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“But there is,” she makes a pun and I actually laugh at it. “What if you get into trouble? Then what will you do?”
I search through my bag, remove my communicator from it, since I’ve barely used it during this entire mission so far and hand it to her to reassure her.
“If I get into a sticky situation, I’ll beep you,” I say and she twists her mouth upwards like she does when she isn’t in agreement. “But first, please put the map of the underground cave on mine.
“Please be careful,” she says with a pleading look on her face. I take the communicator back from her and slide it into my pocket.
“I will girl, trust me,” I say. “I’ll be fine, I promise.”
She looks at me with sad eyes as I prepare to descend into the dark left cavern path. “Wait!” she says just before I almost take my dive.
“What?” I ask as I check my leap.
“Your prongs, they are out of charge right?”
“Oh yeah, good call,” I say as I take the misshapen prongs out of my belt holder and toss them to her.
She asks for my communicator and attaches my prongs to them and a tiny, red light shines from the bottom to indicate that it’s charging then she hands it back to me.
“How long will it take for it to reach full charge?”
“It could take anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour,” she says in reply.
“I can’t wait that long,” I say. “You know what?”
“Why don’t I leave mine for you charge my prongs for me and let me take yours. That would be much better than just waiting here for mine to charge fully, right?” I say and she instantly removes her prongs from her belt and tosses them to me.
“You’re right,” she says when I catch it, fix it on my belt and I hand her mine. “Okay, well, good luck I guess.”
“Yeah, thanks Alex,” I say as I prepare to take my dive again.
“Be careful,” she says and I nod.
I take a deep breath to centre myself then after looking back at Alex who has her arms wrapped about herself in concern, I leap into the dark path on the left.
I was expecting a small drop but the drop seems to go down for a few metres at least and a strong current pulls me down so I just kick back and relax as the strong current pulls me deeper and deeper down into the relatively unknown.