Chapter 19 - Underground
The darkness was absolute in the secret tunnel as the stone doorway ground shut. It was like being on a tour in the Carlsbad Caverns when the guide shuts off all the lights in the cavern known as the Big Room to let people experience a total blackout.
The sensations of being 100% deprived of light for an extended period of time in an unfamiliar location vary from person to person. Some people claim to enjoy a meditative calm while others fall into a state of extreme anxiety. Anxiety can lead to hallucinations as the brain congers up boogeymen as it reacts in fear to having one of its main sensory inputs turned off.
“Do we take the right or left hand tunnel?” Becky asked.
“The scuff marks in the dust on the floor indicate the left hand tunnel is the one most commonly used,” Doug answered.
Out of the inky blackness, an incredulous Cherree asked, “How could you possibly know anything about these tunnels? They’ve been a secret for millennia. I haven’t even turned on the telepathic tokens, yet you seem to know which tunnel to take.”
The reply from Whatsit didn’t help.
“Oh you ain’t seen nothing yet. They can see in the dark among other things. Humans are about to turn your world upside down.”
“What?” Cherree telepathically screamed as she clutched at stones in the wall in an attempt to hold on as she anticipated the planet tilting.
“Settle down, Cherree,” GooYee said when he realized she was taking everything she heard quite literally. “These Humans have some rather interesting abilities and very odd ways of expressing themselves. It may be a while before you get used to them.”
Still frightened by the prospect of her world being turned upside down, Cherree pushed the button on her wrist band activating the telepathic tokens. Icons imbedded in the walls began glowing. Arrows for directions and symbols indicating where peepholes and door activation levers were located became visible. Bars of light similar to fluorescent tubes illuminated the tunnel with just enough light to allow easy navigation. Without telepathic abilities, the tunnel remained shrouded in complete darkness. Anyone without telepathic abilities who used a flashlight in the tunnels wouldn’t perceive the telepathic tokens and could become lost in the maze.
Looking at the Humans named Doug and Becky, Cherree was amazed to find their eyes tightly closed; yet they were moving around as if they could easily see everything. She didn’t know about their sonic hearing that made everything appear like a HiDef black and white movie. As long as there was constant noise to provide bouncing sonic waves, activated Humans could literally see in the dark.
Glancing at Princess Peregrine, Cherree could tell from the woman’s wide-eyed stare that she was for all intents and purposes totally blind. The Asiddian lack of telepathic abilities was plainly a disadvantage in the pitch black corridor.
Feeling her stiffened body and seeing her trembling lips, Miguel realized Caroline was frightened. Surrounded by enemies, defenseless and shrouded in total darkness, the look of sheer panic in her gold colored eyes was increasing with every second. Even though his sonic vision made everything appear in varying shades of black and white, he still knew how her beautiful golden eyes with their dark-brown pupils looked in full color. Dreamy.
Wrapping his arm around her waist and drawing her close to him, Miguel placed his lips close to her ear and whispered, “Trust me, Caroline. Nothing’s going to hurt you while I’m around.”
As his warm breath and lips touched her ear, a thrill rushed down her neck and fluttered her heart. Involuntarily shuddering, Caroline forgot her growing anxiety. She was surprised how easy it was to forget the Human wasn’t an Asiddian male positioning himself for a courting ritual.
Suddenly realizing she was enjoying the alien’s touch, she pushed Miguel away and exclaimed, “Don’t touch me, prisoner! Your physical liberties with my person are unwanted and tiresome.”
Backing away, Miguel said, “No problem, Your Highness. Sorry for any misunderstanding.”
Alone in complete blackness, Caroline’s fears blossomed into near panic. Holding her arms straight out and moving them back and forth, she fumbled around until she felt the cold stones of the tunnel. Putting her back against them, she was just beginning to feel a little safer when something that felt like a hard-shelled worm with at least a million wiggling legs crawled off the wall onto her shoulder. Screaming, Caroline flailed at her shoulder trying to knock the horrid creature away.
Just as the barbs in the worm’s legs began to lock into her skin as it tried to keep from being thrown off its perch, Caroline felt Miguel grasp her gently but irresistibly and pluck the wiggling worm with its nasty little barbs off her. Wrapping her arms around him, she clutched and sobbed against his chest.
Smiling in the darkness, Miguel placed the millipede-like worm back on the wall where he’d found it and mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ as it crawled into a nearby crack. Turning toward Becky, Miguel grinned as she shook her head in disbelief.
“One of these days, I’m going to tell her what you did,” Becky promised him telepathically.
“I have no idea what you mean,” Miguel responded.
“Men!” she muttered as Doug chuckled at both of them.
Someone was shaking her, and she didn’t want to wake up.
“Stop. Leave me alone,” Hannah mumbled as she tried to push away the offending hand.
“Captain Wren! Captain Wren! Wake up. The Princess is missing,” a voice said.
“Princess? What do you mean?” Wren slurred as she struggled to collect her thoughts.
Something was wrong with her thinking. She found it impossible to focus. Every time she thought she had a memory firmly under control, it slipped away. It was like trying to put her finger on a drop of mercury. Impossible.
Suddenly, she felt the sting of a needle in her arm and a cold liquid pushed its way up her vein.
“One mg of Adrenaline administered. She might suffer a heart attack if I give her any more.”
Under the influence of the drug, Hannah began feeling mentally and physically sharper. The fog clouding her memories faded away, and she felt her heart racing as she struggled to sit up. Looking around, she saw the stone chamber was filled with Royal Guards. They were aiming heavy duty sensor equipment mounted on tripods at the walls, ceiling and floor. Lights on the sensor boxes blinked with a rhythmic cadence in a myriad of primary colors. Every so often, one of the devices would ping, and a technician would examine readouts on a nearby computer screen.
“Captain Wren, where is the Princess?”
Wren saw General Montrose Harrier kneeling by her side, a look of deep concern etched across his brow. Harrier was the highest ranking military official in the Asiddian Fleet. His skin was medium brown in color, and his hair was white-flecked with brown streaks. His nose was long and tapered downward at its tip. Piercing deep brown eyes focused on her. Wren got the distinct impression he’d accentuated them with dark eyeliner. Harrier was tall for an Asiddian male at 6 feet 5 inches, and he’d never adopted the colorful uniforms other high ranking Asiddian male officers favored. Instead, he always opted for the dull browns and light grays worn by the warrior class of females. Some gossipers questioned his male gender, but no one questioned his military genius. It was Harrier’s dedication to gathering intelligence about the enemy and his ruthless destruction of Chrysallaman technology that had enabled the Asiddians to conquer the lizards’ Empire so easily.
Narrowing her eyes in concentration, Hannah replied, “She was right here. In this chamber. There were five guards watching the prisoners along with Princess Peregrine, myself, Officer Crow and Dr. Corvus.”
Hannah’s face turned blank, and her eyes batted back and forth as she tried to remember. It was as if she’d been rendered unconscious. She couldn’t recall any memory of the past half hour.
“I don’t know what happened,” she replied. “It’s as if I was knocked unconscious. Where are the prisoners? What about Officer Crow or Dr. Corvus?”
“All the prisoners are gone. Crow and Corvus don’t have any memory of what transpired. None of you has any sign of a head injury, so you weren’t slugged. All the guards are dead. Are you sure you can’t remember anything? Even the slightest recollection might help.”
For some reason, Wren’s eyes kept drifting to the alcove where the table filled with torture devices was standing. Harrier picked up on her glances and ordered two of the technicians to concentrate their sensor equipment on the alcove.
A few minutes later, the boxes began pinging, and Harrier walked over and stood staring at the alcove. Ordering the guards to remove the heavy table, Harrier explored the back wall of the alcove with his hands but found no loose stones or mechanism indicating a secret door. Stepping back, he pulled his disintegrator pistol. The solid wall was at least two feet thick, but the red beam from his pistol chewed a one foot diameter hole in the obdurate stone.
Using a flashlight, Harrier peered through the hole into the inky blackness beyond. A breeze from the hole fluttered his hair, and he ordered, “Guards, use your heavy weapons and take out the back wall.”
Within seconds, the black weapons that looked like SAR-21 assault rifles blasted a huge hole in the wall revealing the secret passageway. Dust from the disintegrating stones drifted into the chamber, and everyone felt a cool breeze flowing from the dark passageway. Three of the Royal Guards clamored over the rubble and slunk into the dark tunnel, their high-powered flashlights illuminating even the deepest crevices in the stone walls.
“The tunnel branches twenty feet inside. No indication which branch was taken by the fugitives,” one of the Guards said after a few seconds.
Harrier stood in silence while considering his options. It was obvious this hidden network of passageways had existed well before the Asiddian invasion. Smiling to himself at the unexpected but welcome challenge, he decided the blasted Chrysallamans might not be the sniveling cowards he’d come to believe. The secret tunnels and the disappearance of the prisoners could only mean one thing. Chrysallaman rebels were alive and well and begging for extermination.
Spinning to the nearest Guard, he ordered, “Fetch me two of the Chrysallaman palace slaves. Make sure they’re some of the older ones. Bring the interpreter.”
As the Guard hustled to obey, Harrier looked at Wren and asked, “Are you recovered enough to help in this search, rescue and destroy mission?”
Narrowing her eyes with determination, Hannah replied, “Yes, sir. Any threat to the Princess must be dealt with swiftly and in the harshest manner.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that,” Harrier replied. “I’m unhappy about the fact Princess Peregrine was abducted while she was under your protection. Your incompetence is most disturbing.”
Without waiting for any response from Wren, Harrier drew his disintegrator pistol and shot Science Officer Crow through the heart. As Hannah gazed in horror, Ramona fell dead, her skull bouncing as it struck the unforgiving stone floor. Death had taken her so quickly, her eyes remained open, and they stared accusingly at Hannah.
Sure she’d never be able to forget the look on Ramona’s dead face, Hannah stammered, “That was unnecessary. Ramona was innocent.”
With an eerie calm in his voice, Harrier said, “Princess Peregrine has been kidnapped. She is quite possibly in danger for her life. I’ll do whatever is required to insure she’s found. No one is innocent. You now know how dedicated I am to her safe return.”
Recognizing the disgust in Wren’s eyes, Harrier slowly aimed his pistol at Dr. Corvus. “Or is another demonstration required?”
Seeing abject terror in Corvus’ eyes, Hannah almost shouted, “No! I understand. You’re in command.”
Looking disappointed, Harrier was about to holster his pistol when the Guard returned pushing two Chrysallamans through the chamber doorway. One of the lizards was male. The other female. Based on their skin color and the wrinkles around their eyes, Hannah estimated they were each at least 80 years old. A third Chrysallaman walked through the doorway and bowed.
The older lizards spotted the rubble in the blasted alcove wall, and it was obvious at least the male knew about the secret tunnels. His eyes bulged with a combination of fear, dismay and resignation.
Observing the reactions of the lizards, Harrier looked at the third Chrysallaman, pointed at the alcove and motioned in sign language.
“Interpreter. Tell these two I will kill them if they don’t guide my soldiers through these passageways.”
It had taken her years of hard work, but Beullah the Interpreter had learned the Asiddian form of sign language. Beullah was forty years old and grew up caring for a younger, mentally challenged sibling. Her little brother, Garrell, had been unable to comprehend telepathic communication because of a genetic flaw.
Instead of having their disabled son euthanized as most Chrysallaman parents opted to do in such circumstances, Beullah’s parents had concentrated on love and teaching. As with hearing impaired Human children, they’d learned to communicate with their son using sign language. Beullah had become an adept signer. Using the same techniques she’d learned from her parents and brother, Beullah found a way to communicate with the non-telepathic Asiddians.
Understanding Harrier’s hand motions, Beullah telepathed his orders to the older Chrysallamans. Shaking her head and frowning, the female Chrysallaman was just about to cross her arms in defiance when a red beam of death diagonally bisected her body, killing her gruesomely. The male knelt over the remains of his companion, tears of grief flowing down his cheeks. Feeling the barrel of Harrier’s pistol poking the back of his head, the male turned and with a look of pure hatred in his eyes, nodded resignedly.
“Excellent,” Harrier said.