Atlantis! Journey to the Center of the Earth Story. Part 5 and conclusion to a rousing new journey by the Shasta Mountain Special Forces.
Three things happened all at the same time.
Time stood still.
Red did nothing.
The Colonel passed right through the worm and tripped over a boulder in front of him.
Red grinned as the Worm kept right on coming at him, its mouth slavering with slime. "Man, whoever you guys are, you're good. Really good. But not buying it!"
The Worm vanished.
The Colonel sat up, his face blank for a moment as he spotted Red seated on the floor, polishing the barrel of his weapon and whistling a tune. "Just what the hell do you think you're doing, soldier?"
"Waiting for the others to catch up with us."
"Through that....that wall!" The Colonel pointed at the huge slab cutting the corridor off from the others.
"Seems like the right thing to do, as it's not really there, sir."
Red stood up, kicked at the wall and his foot went through it, vanishing from sight a moment, before he pulled it back, and then turned to grin at the shocked face of the Colonel. "Whoever's pushing our buttons has a mighty good imagination. Reminds me of the games my brother and I would play at night before we went to sleep. Who can be most spooky? Only in our case, we're just the spooked."
Diggs stepped through the wall, his face emotionally blank. "That has got to be the weirdest thing this side of hell, which I'm beginning to suspect we're firmly heading towards."
The wall dissolved. The cracks in the floor vanished.
The Colonel stood there in shock, watching as his Forces strained to get back into their right minds after the shock they had been through. Claire and Barnes came running up.
"You two all right?"
Claire didn't answer. The Forces parted way as something unexpected hopped through them: Jiminy!
"Oh Mother Mary in Heaven!" The Colonel swore. "This can't be happening!"
"Oh, it's happening all right, sir." Claire grinned.
She turned and stretched her arms out. Jiminy hopped into them and she hugged him close and turned to face the Colonel. "I thought I was dreaming him, but he was right next to me while I slept."
"I'll vouch for that, Colonel." Barnes joined in. "Scared my britches off when I saw that creature next to her, its front arms wrapped around her neck.
Diggs grinned. "I'll vouch for that. Had to help her pull them back up again."
Barnes turned on Diggs. "Hey!
Diggs shrugged. "Two can play!"
Barnes gave him an appraising look, but said nothing more.
"Sir!" Milford said as he shoved through the nervous and frightened Forces gathered close to the Colonel and the women. "Something you gotta see."
Everyone made a path for the Colonel and Milford as they headed back the way Milford had raced from.
Jerod and Manuel took up point as they passed, both men tense.
Doctor Brevard was waiting for them when they reached a new opening in the corridor. "Look there." Milford pointed.
The Colonel stepped into the opening and gasped.
"What in God's name?"
Before the Colonel and the men and women forming behind him was a huge shining device of some kind with lettering of a kind that no one appeared to recognize. It gave off a gentle melodic sound and its blaze of light gave off soothing warmth, even though it wasn't warm to the touch.
The Colonel and his people swarmed about the device, kicking it, touching it, putting foreheads and palms against its surface.
"It must be over fifty yards tall." Doctor Brevard noted.
Jeffries, who was scanning the device, frowned and said. "These readings can't be right."
The Colonel finally returning to some sense of normality again after all the craziness looked at his people. "This ain't no circus, folks. I want a squad at both ends of this cavern, ready and armed. Red, you and Jeffries with me."
"What about us, sir?" Manuel and Jerod asked.
"I want you also."
They fled the chaos that had become the center of a storm of investigation and wonder as men, women and devices moved into the cavern to examine the artifact. Milford watched the Colonel exit, and turned to Doctor Brevard.
"Those symbols look familiar."
"I'm an expert on languages, Doctor Milford, and I don't recognize any of that."
Milford gave Doctor Brevard a cunning smile. "Maybe you should have read more science fiction when you were growing up."
Doctor Brevard gave Milford a look of disdain. "You might fool the Colonel with all your fake Doctorates, but you don't fool me Milford."
With that he turned away and stomped off.
Milford felt someone near him and turned. Diggs was grinning at him. "I don't like that bastard either."
Milford didn't respond at first, and then he said. "Oh, he doesn't bother me at all. He's just an ant trying to be a queen."
Milford followed a drone as it scanned the sides of the artifact, making notes as he walked behind it.
Diggs shrugged. "What is it with eggheads and egos anyway?"
The Colonel looked back at Diggs and the others, and then stopped.
"What's up, Colonel?" Barnes asked, as she and Claire settled back against a wall, one eye on the activity by the artifact, and the other on him.
Red set his backpack down, and then sat beside it. He pulled out detonators and began polishing them. Jeffries sat next to him.
The Colonel sighed. "Look, don't ask me why, but I trust you people."
Manuel and Jerod came closer, but kept their eyes at point.
"Those eggheads are too full of themselves to see the truth." Red pointed out.
"I agree." Jeffries added, scanning the data on his scanner. He held it up for the Colonel to read. "Nothing. Nothing at all."
"What do you mean?"
"Whoever or whatever is perpetrating these events on us...they're not present, nor are they using any known physical force to exert the phenomena we've been experienced."
"Are you saying we're seeing ghosts?"
"Yeah. Pretty much."
Barnes shivered. Manny gave her a reassuring smile, and then went back to point again.
"Colonel, now that we've found this artifact, maybe we'll have better idea of what we're facing."
"More like not..." Red butted in.
Barnes gave him a frown.
"Just saying." Red said, undaunted by her look. "I don't think we're facing anything. Never have been. Probably never will."
"Your mouth to God's ears." The Colonel said solemnly.
"Look!" Jeffries said, putting his device away. "That artifact is a source of more energy that we have in our entire arsenal right now, and yet it's not measurable in any kind of quantitative way. How is that even possible?"
"Because it's not really there." Red spoke up with a grin. "Oh, I mean the artifact is real, but everything else...bogus!"
The Colonel eyed them sternly. "So how in the hell are we supposed to deal with ghosts and phantom energies when they block our path every time we seem to be on a roll?"
"That's the point, Colonel." Red commented. "I don't think they expect us to stop. But they also don't expect us to continue. It's our test."
"The old lab rat thing again."
"Pretty much." Red agreed.
Jeffries nodded. "Red, remind me never to play chess with you."
"Too late, you already have."
"Oh, yeah. Right."
The two soldiers barked with laughter.
Diggs came running up. "Colonel, you gotta stop them from killing each other!"
The Colonel rushed besides Diggs as he shot for the new cavern. They reached it and dashed inside. Doctor Brevard and Milford were face to face, a hand on their side arms as the screamed in each other's faces.
"You're nuts, Milford!"
"I may be nuts, but at least I know I'm nuts, Brevard!" Milford blasted back.
"Doctors!" The Colonel growled loudly.
Both men, startled, broke apart, but kept hands on their side arms.
"What in the name of Mother Mary is going on here?"
"This Master of Doctorates, idiot and dumb head." Doctor Brevard accused, pointing at Milford. "He's accused me of being small minded and ignorant. I refuse to believe his idiotic conjecture!"
Milford's face went intensely red and he whipped his side arm out. Diggs kicked it from his grasp. Milford turned on Diggs. "He deserves to die. His idiocy is going to get us all killed!"
"What in the name of Mother Mary is going on, Doctors?" The Colonel swore again.
Both men backed up a bit from each other and turned to face him.
"Doctor Brevard thinks this is the source of the emanations causing the Big One."
"And I'm right too. It's got all the energy signatures of Dark Matter!"
Milford snorted. "Yeah. Just like Donald Duck wears a Superman cape and leaps over tall buildings. Come on, you moron, if it were Dark Matter we'd all be dead now!"
"Not if it was harnessed properly!" Doctor Brevard snarled.
Then the Colonel looked at Doctor Brevard. "What's this really about, Doctor?"
"We came on this mission to find the source of Dark Matter. Mission accomplished. Now we should return home and reveal the discovery. With this much power we could destroy our whole solar system!"
The Colonel's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Doctor, whose side are you on anyway?"
Doctor Brevard suddenly realized what he had given away with his outburst. "I meant merely that with this discovery before us, we can now effectively block another Big One from happening."
Milford stuck his face into that of Brevard's. "You idiot, these are not the emitters."
"He's right, Colonel!" Jeffries said with a gasp of air.
The Colonel turned as he and Red joined them.
"The reason why we can't get any measurable energy output is because this here artifact, it's not a source of power, but a reflector of it."
Red nodded. "I'd bet Jeffries' chocolate bars on it, sir."
Jeffries gave Red a nasty look. "You been stealing my chocolate bars again?"
Jeffries and Red snapped to attention.
The Colonel gave them a nod, and then turned to Doctor Brevard's. "Until I can sort this out, Diggs, you'll keep the good Doctor company. Barnes you keep Milford company. And please, make sure they don't wake us up. We're all going to need a lot of rest after all of this settles down."
That's when Milford went out of his mind.
"No! We can't leave now!"
Barnes put a hand on his arm as he rushed the Colonel. He stopped. "I recognize the symbols, Colonel."
Doctor Brevard gave Milford a scowl of disapproval. "And from what fairy tale have you extracted this bit of knowledge?"
Milford ignored him. "When I was working on my first Doctorate I saw this program on TV about ancient cultures. There was this explorer...James..."
"Churchward. Sir James Churchward." Barnes butted in. Excited. "He believed that the Lemurians and Atlantis settled the Americas.
"Not just the Americas." Milford went on, ignoring the outburst. "He believed that the early cultures were helped by their brothers with shining faces, as they called them. Brothers who visited them in vehicles that rose on fire."
The Colonel's face went blank for a moment, and then he let out the air he had been holding and eyed Milford closely. "You saying this artifact is alien technology?"
"No, sir, I am not. I don't believe that at all. I recognize the symbols as being that of a civilization that even the Greeks knew about."
Claire's face brightened. "Atlantis!"
"Exactly." Red commented with a grin. "Way down...below the ocean...where I want to be...she may be. Atlantis!"
The Colonel swiped at the sweat which had been building on his forehead. "If what you're saying is true, then we're not the first civilization to come this way."
Red grinned. "Maybe the last though."
Jeffries kicked him in the shins.
Red jumped back in. "I mean, maybe not the last to figure it all out."
The Colonel looked at Red, then at the others.
"Then the buck stops here, gentlemen and ladies. We don't budge until we solve this."
"What?" Doctor Brevard shot back. "We have to go back, the worlds depending on us."
The Colonel turned on Doctor Brevard. "No, your world does. Mine wants to find the truth!"
He nodded to Diggs and Barnes. "See to them!"
Then he walked away, hands behind his back, head down as he considered the weight of all that they had been through and learned.
Claire started to follow him, and then turned to look at Jeffries and Red, who were setting up a deck of cards. "Use a third hand?"
"Always." Red answered with a girn.
"What shall we offer up for stakes?" She asked.
Jeffries smiled in such a way that it made Claire shiver. "The world!"