The smooth and strong current keeps pulling me downwards so I just kick back and relax as the bubbles on my helmet get lighter and lighter. Out of the corner of my eye, the light from my helmet flickers off something shiny below; oh no. Despite the current attracting me to the hard ground like a metal pin to a magnet, I manage to use my considerable weight as a counterbalance and flip over by grating my fingers into the wall of the tunnel and grabbing a minute ledge. I exhale deeply when I land on my butt after travelling down at about fifteen kilometres per hour instead of the other fatal possibility.
I get off the ground after massaging my sore backside and swim slowly through the pitch black cave. As I go deeper and deeper, I see random pieces of metal objects scattered on the ground. I expected this but sadly, none of them are what I’m after. I stare at my naked finger and try to remember what it even looked like on it. It was beautiful but it’s what it stood for that makes it even more special for me.
After staring at my hand for a few more seconds, i snap back to reality and pull my communicator from my pocket. According to the GPS, I’m about five metres down from the main cavern above. I’m also about fifty feet from a large room that connects to three smaller rooms. These rooms seem to connect all the way back up to the top cavern! Wow, that is convenient.
Maybe I’ll have some luck in there, I think to myself as the communicator slides back into my pocket.
My head instinctively sways from side to side and top to bottom as i manoeuvre cautiously through this eerie tunnel. The bright beam of bluish white light passes over something odd in a small crack of the wall so I swim in closer to examine it. Upon realising that it is a half-decayed skeleton, I instinctively jerk back in fear. I’m seriously contemplating ignoring it and moving on but I swallow my fear and swim back down to it. Who knows what it could hold?
Now, I have to muster up even more courage to touch, that, and turn its head around to see who or what this person was. When I finally grow the stones to do it after five minutes of random fits of the heebie-jeebies and false touches, I grab it and pull it out of the crack in the wall. The skeleton floats slowly down to the cave floor and thankfully it lands so that I can see its face. Upon closer inspection, it seems to have sharp, jagged teeth that protrude out of its skull and well-defined, incredibly dense bones. This surely must be the post-humanoid which escaped with my ring after it was thrown out; but why did it come all the way here, underwater? Why it would come so deep underwater just to hide a tiny ring is beyond me. Maybe it wanted to be selfish and hide it from the others, or, was it being chased by something? I guess I can never know for sure.
After examining the carcass extensively, relatively speaking, to make sure that the ring isn’t still on the decaying body, I kick some dirt onto it and slowly move on through the cave. Soon, the large room I identified on the map lies right before me.
I pause at the entrance of the room to examine it with my helmet light. Wow, it seems that my expectations of what might have been down here have been far outweighed by what I’m seeing right now. I can almost feel my fingers tingling with excitement.
I swim over to the closest mountain and after making sure that my light is pointed to the right spot, I begin my search. There seem to be piles mainly consisting of small knick knacks and ornaments so I search in those first. No luck; I’ve rummaged through three of them and there’s nothing that even remotely resembles my ring; only some rusted screws, springs and other useless junk.
I continue my search in a fourth pile but immediately pause when I hear a tiny clinking sound behind me. I spin around quickly to investigate but I find nothing. My mind must be playing tricks on me since I’m on edge. I just dismiss it as so and continue.
The last pile came up with a few rings but none were mine so I move on to another one and again, I hear another weird sound behind me. This time it wasn’t a click but rather a whooshing sound, like something just swam rapidly by behind me but when I turned back to check, nothing again.
“Alex? Is that you?” I call out. “I thought I asked you to stay back!” No response.
A sixth pile again comes up with nothing so I just let my frustration boil over and kick a spring at the bottom of a medium sized metallic mountain, sending it crashing down. I allow myself to sink to the floor and close my eyes tight to release some pent up frustration. I feel something watching me. I raise my head slowly and my helmet light catches something red, like an eye, causing me to yelp in fear and get to an upright position. With my heart pounding out of my chest, I muster the courage to shine the light on that spot and let out a huge sigh of relief when I see nothing. My mind must be going haywire again. The water pressure down here will...
Ouch! I am sent crashing into another pile when something heavy from behind me takes a huge bite at me and shoves me roughly. That felt too heavy to be Alex, or was it.
Despite the soreness I feel in my back, I manage to flip over and crash to the floor. The moment I’m topside up again, my light catches exactly what just injured me, and it certainly isn’t Alexandria.
It opens its large mouth and its numerous teeth glisten in my light. I wonder if this is the same one that we encountered earlier. As if reading my mind, it turns to its side and lets me see the wound that Alex inflicted on it. There seems to be some brownish liquid oozing out of its sore. It must be the salt in the seawater.
It completes its little show then stares at me for a few more seconds with visible hatred in its eyes. If looks could kill, well, I’d be in this exact situation that I am now, face to face with a killer shark. If it decides to attack now, I’m doomed. I spoke too soon, again.
In an unrepentant burst of unbridled rage, it swims right past the pile which I was engrossed in a moment ago. I try to get up and move but my back is so sore that I am beginning to wonder if I can even move again at all. As if by magic, just as the creature is literally a foot away from my body, which is sprawled helplessly on the ground, I roll away from it and it is sent crashing right into a tall pile of metal items behind me, sending that one and two other piles crashing down.
“Hey, I haven’t searched through those ones yet, be careful!” I call out to it in mockery but this just reminds it that I’m still here.
While it was taking some time to reorient itself, I managed to drag myself off the ground. Even if I’m in unbelievable pain, I mustn’t take this lying down, literally. I’ve got to at least try to fight for my life.
The creature charges at me with full ferocity and thanks to my limited vision so deep underwater, I saw it coming very late but I manage to evade it once more. It was an even closer all this time. It’s not until it comes whizzing by do I realise that it grazed my forearm with its sharp teeth and is sent crashing head first into another pile. When the pain eventually sets in, I let out a piercing shriek of pain. I hold my left arm with my other hand as more blood oozes from the sore and stains the water around me. It feels very numb right now so I shake it to get the blood flowing again. Probably not a bright idea.
My mind immediately recalls what caused this wound so I spin around and see that it’s still on the floor. Now’s my chance. Now that it is partially incapacitated, I remove Alex’s prongs from my belt and extend it to full size, shrieking in pain when the muscles near the sore are called into action. Time to take this aquatic beast down the old-fashioned way, a one-on-one brawl. I suddenly feel up for this fight again.
I swim toward it slowly but one of my lower limbs knocks something and this alerts it of my presence. It immediately swims off the ground and charges at me once more. I use the handle of the prongs to re-engage with the shark as it tries mightily to chomp my head off but I’m no ones sitting duck right now. I use its own momentum to evade a bite attempt and send it crashing into the wall behind me. That sure knocked a lot out of me. The water pressure down here is unbelievable. I swim backwards to pace myself and catch my breath.
That thing seems to have gotten a whole lot more ferocious since our last brawl but fortunately, so have I. To show just how much of a ferocious beast I have become, I grab my weapon in my hand and charge at the beast which looks wounded or concussed. I manage to lodge my prongs in its mouth and use this as a pivot to toss it down. I charge at it again with an unbelievable amount of adrenaline coursing through my vein. I’m as ready as ever to spill some shark blood into these salty waters.
I am literally a few centimetres from ending this fight when two unknown figures suddenly come out of nowhere and take my arms in their teeth, causing me to drop Alex’s prongs. They drag me, by my arms up to the roof and continue to weaken me rapidly by taking random and powerful chomps from me. At least I think they are sharks. I’m losing so much blood that I’m light-headed.
Oh God, I think this is it. My end has surely arrived. It’s only a matter of time before the sit completely breaks open and leaves my soft, fleshy skin exposed to them. I never got to see Martina again. I never even tried that...Wait, is that what I think that is?
“Hey sharks, over here! Lean and delicious human meat! Come and get it,” my saviour says. Surprisingly, they immediately leave me and chase after her as if they understand English. Weird.
Thank God Alexandria never listens to me else I’d be a goner by now. The two sharks that were on the verge of finishing me off got enticed by her and left me to chase after her and the other one which has a beef with her also joined the chase so she has three ferocious sharks on her tail, all for me. What bravery!
I sink slowly to the ground and try getting up to swim after her in order to help her but all the salt in the water reacts with my open sores and leaves me as a writhing mess on the floor. This stings so bad it’s unbelievable! It now seems that I have but one option left, and that is to kill one of them and hope that it scares the others away from her. You know what? That just might work.
There is no possible way for me to catch up to one of them in my current condition but I’m pretty sure I can throw just far enough to do the job so I swim to my prongs and lie on it as the salt stings me more. I hear them pass by again so I get off the floor and pick the weapon off the floor. I’ve got to time this just perfectly. I only have one shot. My head is spinning too much; Alex has to corner them or let them corner her. God I hope I don’t miss.
“Alex!” I say. “Get them to hold still!”
“How...do...you...expect...me to...do that?” she says to me as the chase continues.
“I don’t know, corner them or something!”
“What corner? All I see are piles off...” Alex takes her eye of where she was going so she crashes head first into one of the large piles and collapses to the floor unconscious. Oh God.
“Alex!” Oh my God, they’re charging at her and she can’t fight back. What do I do? What do I do? Wait, I know!
I stand upright, swallow all my pain, slap myself a few times to get my brain steady and extend my arm with the cold rod squeezed tightly in my palm. Only one shot. I miss, Alexandria is dead. I’m not going to miss.
I wait patiently until one of them appears in my line of vision and the moment that happens, with all the strength left in my numb arms, I throw the weapon at my target and collapse to the floor as all my sores reopen. I manage to flip over and watch as the shark which was literally an inch from taking a bite out of Alex’s abdomen gets it right in the neck. A bright blue spark emanates as the shark wriggles around in pain before exploding into tiny shark bits. I can’t believe it exploded! That was awesome, and disgusting.
The other two sharks immediately stop dead in their swims and watch as chunks of their fallen comrade fall on Alex’s unconscious body. This seems to send shockwaves deep into them as they seem not to be able to do anything anymore. I think I’ve got the desired effect I was looking for. After a while, they swim right past Alex and head out of the exit but before they leave, one of them smacks its tail into the cave wall. Odd.
I crawl over to Alex and shake her awake. “Are you okay?” I say.
“What? Wha’ happened? Where are the sharks?” she says while glancing around in alarm.
“Huh?” she says. “What do you mean they left?” I help her up but she touches my arm and I wince loudly in pain.
“Oh sorry. What’s wrong with your arm?” she says.
“I’m fine Alex, really,” I say in response to the concern on her face. “Those brutes just opened up some fresh sores that are reacting very badly with the salty water. Come; let’s get the heck out of here before those brutes return.”
“I doubt they’ll some back,” she says as I place my arm around her as she aids me to swim. “Wait!”
“Why, what’s wrong?” I say.
“We forgot to check for your ring!” The moment that loud echoey voice escapes her lips, I hear something strange.
“What’s that?” I say.
“Can’t you hear that?” I say. “Sounds kind of like, like a faint, rumbling sound.”
“I seriously can’t hear...” the whole place suddenly erupts into shaking. Not only is the roof coming down but the floor seems to be crumbling too. We need to get out of here, fast!
“The prongs!” she says with urgency in her voice when we’re almost out.
“We really don’t have time for that Alex!” I say with near panic in my voice. “The whole place is coming down! We can come back for it later!” The rumbling suddenly gets even louder and a few large rocks start dislodging from the roof start descending around us.
We manage to get out of the huge room just in the nick of time as massive boulder-sized rocks start falling from the ceiling with one sealing the entrance just behind us.
“Watch out Alex!” I yell and just about push her out of the way of a falling boulder. This is very bad! They are falling steadily all around us now.
She swims back to help me but I rather help her on as we swim slowly through the dark, twisty cave with random falling debris all around us.
“Alex, you have to leave me, you have to get out alone!” I suddenly say when I realise that it’s unlikely that we’ll both make it out of here alive.
“But what about you?” she says with deep concern in her voice.
“Just go! I’ll be fine and besides, I’m swimming much better now,” I say and wave my limbs around to make her feel better even though I’m in EXCRUCIATING pain.
She examines me for a while to make sure of what I’m saying and when she’s sure, she begins to swim faster toward the exit as I struggle and lag behind her.
Once she gets out safely, I can relax and coast out peacefully. At least she will get out.
I see her as she reaches the exit and she screams my name as a strong current sucks her upwards. She must have seen what I’m planning. She’ll be sad but it’s all for the best. She’s just a kid with a full life ahead of her while I’ve lived, long enough. I stop swimming completely and just lie on the floor as I wait for a large boulder to crush me and let me die my heroes’ death; one final hurrah.
I spot one promising boulder roughly the size of a car dropping slowly from the roof and adjust myself to make sure that it hits perfectly. Nothing is worse than a painful death. This must be as swift as possible. When I’m satisfied that I’ll be given the swift demise I deserve, I close my eyes and wait for the deed to be done.
Wait, shouldn’t it have hit already? I open my eyes and instead of seeing a giant rock crushing me to death, I see, black, all black. I guess I must be dead. Wow, that was less painful than I thought it’d be.
So this is what it feels like to be dead. It feels good, but my arms still hurt a lot though. Strange. I guess god hasn’t healed me of what ails me yet. That must be where I’m headed because I can feel myself moving but can’t see what’s holding me or where I’m headed. Who cares anyways? I have no worries anymore. I’m free. I signify this by placing my hands behind my head and enjoy the ride.
I’m not dead. I can’t be dead. I noticed that pretty clearly when after about five minutes of coasting, I was immediately ejected out of a tunnel of some sorts and dropped on the sea floor. By dropped I mean a painful face plant into the dirt. My helmet was open so I ate a mouthful of dirt too. So I’m alive, how?
I pick myself off the ground, spit all the dirt out of my mouth and slide my helmet down. I feel something walking in my mouth and almost shriek like a little girl when I spit out a tiny crab. Total lie. I totally shrieked like a little girl.
I try to turn on the helmet light but it seem to be broken because it’s only flickering instead of remaining on. I guess I’ll have to manage. I have to say, I’m a bit disappointed that I’m not dead because I’ll not be remembered as a hero as I intended. Well, let me focus on finding Alex now.
After swimming aimlessly for almost quarter of an hour, I come across a cave that seems to resemble the one Alex and I were in. How will I know that this is the right one anyways? Eh, no use in thinking. I swim inside and soon I know that this is indeed the cave. Most of the floor is gone, sunken in and there are parts of the floor that suck you in if you get too close, kind of like a woman eh? Hehe, I’m funny right? No? Okay then. Anyways I wonder where she...
“Dr. Blay? Dr. Blay!” Found her. “You’re alive! I can’t believe it!” She gets off the floor and jumps into my arms for a deep hug.
“Of course I’m alive what did you think?” I say.
“When the cave collapsed I thought I’d lost you!” she says and her puffy red eyes are testament to that. “How did you get out anyways?”
“I honestly don’t know. I was waiting for a boulder to cru...I mean trying hard to escape when all of a sudden I was whisked out and dumped outside.”
“I just can’t believe you’re okay,” she says as she takes me into another long hug. “I was seriously contemplating going back to the camp to wait for help because there was no way I was going to do this without you.” I don’t respond but I just smile at her and she smiles back.
“You know what?” I say after a short period of silence. “Let’s not waste this euphoria. Let’s keep going.”
“I agree,” she says.
“Good. So you into the tunnel first?” I say and she stares at me then into the dark tunnel that leads up to the mountain.
She takes a deep breath then says, “Okay. Here we go.”
“Are you sure you can do this?” I say to Alex as she continues to stare reflectively into the passage before us.
“Yeah, definitely,” she says a bit overconfidently but overconfidence is good at the moment. “After everything that I’ve gone through with you by my side, why would I be scared at all?”
“I’m right behind you every step of the way.”
She looks away from me then walks up to the tunnel. She pauses right before the entrance and looks back at me again as if pleading for me not to let her do this. I just give her a thumbs up sign and a reassuring smile to spur her on. She turns away from again and takes another deep breath. All of a sudden, she doesn’t stick her foot in the water to test the temperature; she cannonballs right into the deep end and just goes for it. She swims as quickly as she can into the tightish tunnel and I follow close behind her. Her bravery amazes me sometimes.
“Hey, this isn’t that bad,” Alex says as she rises faster and faster through the tunnel and I try to keep up with her lightning pace. “Oh no,” she suddenly says and stops which causes me to almost crash face first into her boots.
“Why, what’s wrong?” I ask since I can’t really see past her.
“The tunnel,” she says.
“What’s wrong?” I say. “Does it twist oblongly? It’s supposed to go like that.”
“No. It gets real tight from here onwards Dr. Blay,” she says with real fear resonating in her shaky voice. “I don’t think I can do this.”
“You can Alex, I believe in you,” I say. “Try remembering what happened to us just a few moments ago; this is nothing compared to that.”
“I know, but what happened just a while ago is still not as bad as what happened that makes me hate tight spaces anyways.”
“Huh?” I say in confusion.
“Do you want to hear it Dr. Blay?” she says to me.
“It’s not like I have a choice,” I say sarcastically but she ignores it.
“Well,” she says, “It was about the time when I was fifteen, back in the orphanage, and I remember three of my friends saying that they were going to try to escape by sneaking out through the air vents.”
“Ummm, could you please hurry your story up a bit Alex life back here is getting pretty rough,” I say as her kicking feet smack into my face for the umpteenth time.
“Yeah, so as I was saying, they convinced me to escape with them but unfortunately, since I was bigger than they were, I got stuck in the vents while my friends got out. I was stuck up there, in the cold, metallic vents for almost six hours until one of the cleaners found me while performing an inspection. I almost died Dr. Blay.”
“Wow that must have been a terrible experience,” I say sympathetically.
“It was a nightmare,” she says. “Ever since then, I’ve hated small, confined spaces.” I begin to feel her pain a bit which is hard when heavy boots keep smashing into your face.
“I now understand you completely Alex but listen to me, you are bigger than this fear. Even though what happened was terrible, it happened a long time ago and you must conquer it before it rules your life like it is doing now, and like my fear of heights is doing to me too. You can beat this fear Alexandria.”
“I don’t think I can do it Dr. Blay. Every time I stare into this dark tunnel, all I see is that cold air vent and that cold night when I kept praying and begging for death to take me and end my suffering. I wanted it to end Dr. Blay I wanted it to end!” Oh gosh she’s delirious.
“You can do it Alex, I believe in you,” I say to calm her down since she was beginning to lose it a bit. “You have got to shut that awful image out of your mind and think of how grateful you were when you were saved and how differently you looked at life from then. Also remember how mad you were when you saw those friends who left you in that vent after they were caught.”
“You know what, you’re right!” she says with an upbeat tone. “Wait, how did you know that they were caught?”
“No one escapes from an orphanage; it’s like a known fact.”
“Yeah, but you’re right about all that other stuff too. I can do this. I’m bigger than this fear. Let’s do this,” she says and readies herself. “But first.”
“Why are you afraid of heights Dr. Blay?”
“Ummm, wow, it’s a very long story. I’ll tell you later I promise.” Lie.
“Alright,” she says. “Here goes.”
She pauses in front of the part where the cave becomes really tight then suddenly, with a huge burst of energy, she bursts into the tunnel. I follow close behind her just in case she has another panic attack and freezes up but her impressive pace doesn’t look like letting up anytime soon.
I can faintly see the light of the exit out of this tunnel in the distance and with the speed Alex is currently travelling at, I think we will be out of here in no time.
“It’s getting tighter Dr. Blay! I don’t think I can do this!” she yells with almost panic in her voice.
“Don’t you stop now Alex; we’re almost there! You can do this.”
She keeps going steadily and when we thankfully reach the exit, her sleeve gets stuck and she begins to panic but I manage to dodge the flailing arms and legs and free her. I grab her shaking body as we stagger out of river and collapse on the grass where we first discovered Dr. Alfred.
“You, did, it!” I say proudly and almost out of breath.
“Yeah, big thanks to you,” she says while lying beside me on the grass with her chest rising and falling rapidly.
“No problem, you just needed a bit of encouragement that’s all,” I say as I continue to try to catch my breath.
I stare at the rocky cave ceiling as I feel my spinning head cool down a bit. After only a couple of minutes, I feel fully recovered due to my advanced heart capacity and just sit up, stare and smile at Alex as she continues to pant heavily on the ground.
“Wow, what a rush,” she says when she’s sufficiently recovered enough to sit up. “Gosh I’m really unfit; I need to work out more.”
“Tell me about it; you looked like you were about having a heart attack.”
“Don’t you start with me. If it weren’t for your fancy-schmancy mutant powers you would probably still be lying on the ground right now begging for air.”
“Ummm, no comment,” I say because I know that what she just said is completely true but I will never give her the satisfaction of knowing that.
“Yeah, I thought so,” she says smugly. “Now where do we go?”
“Well we could try the old path back but, no, not a good idea.”
“Yeah you’re probably right; it must be crawling with hundreds of post-humanoids by now.” We revert back into thinking mode.
“What about the outside?” she suggests abruptly.
“I mean like what if there is an outside path, you know, like one on the mountain side or something?” she asks.
“Hmmm, not a bad idea at all,” I say. “Good thinking Alex.” We both get to our feet and I stretch to get my muscles limbered up for the next part of this long journey.
We both turn without saying a word and head for the exit.
When we come outside, I silently yelp and swallow a large wad of spit when I see how high up we are. I can’t believe I jumped off this thing.
I catch Alex smiling at me.
“Oh nothing, chicken,” she says.
“You are obviously scared to go out there,” she says.
“You must be hallucinating,” I say as we step out of the cave and the evening sun hits us like a warm slap to the face. “You’re the chicken.”
“I’m the chicken?” she says as we walk around the side of the mountain.
“Yeah, scared of some tiny confined spaces,” I tease.
She smiles mischievously at me for a few seconds. “Then I guess you wouldn’t mind going to get...” she removes her communicator from her pocket and in a moment of madness, she tosses it up in the air and it lands on a precarious looking precipice. “That, for me?”
“Why the heck did you just do that girl?” I say in outrage. “We needed that!”
“Sorry, it slipped,” she says and I glare at her. “Since I’m such a chicken, would you be a big, strong man and get it down for me?”
I look upwards to where the communicator land and immediately my stomach churns and my brain starts working double time to figure out a solution. One immediately dawns on me after a few seconds.
“What?” she says as I search frantically through my gear bag, pull out my communicator and hold it up like some kind of trophy.
“We don’t even need your communicator, we have mine,” I say with a smug grin on my face.
“Oh really?” she asks with her arms crossed.
“Yes,” I say.
“Then I’m sure you wouldn’t mind showing me the map.”
“Yes, the map of this mountain we’ll use to find our way, you know, so that we don’t get lost.”
“Ummm, yeah, sure, child’s play,” I say cockily even though I’m panicking on the inside.
I turn the screen on and look frantically through the menus for the place where it says ‘maps’, but there isn’t one. I keep scrolling and scrolling through the hundreds of icons but there is nothing promising. After a few minutes of this, it starts to get very sad.
“You need some help?” she says with visible delight in her voice.
“No, I got it,” I say and click one app which remotely looks like a map app but the whole thing turns off instead of displaying the map.
“Okay, I need help,” I say and hand the communicator to her. “Could you please open the maps section, I’ll take it from there.”
“Oooo, geez, I would have loved to help you but alas, my communicator is the only one I’m familiar with so I can’t,” she says with a huge grin on her face.
“They’re exactly the same!” I say in frustration.
“What’s your proof?” she says and my mouth hangs open but no words come out. “Humph, I thought so. Now it looks like your only option is to get my communicator back off that ledge, but that shouldn’t be too hard to handle since you’re such a big manly-man huh?”
“You are pure evil,” I say to her as I stare up at the ledge and she just smiles contentedly.