The Maze A Center to the Center of the Earth Story, Part 3 By John Pirillo. What in the hell is going on? Exactly!
Red might have forgotten his rubber duckies, but he was in no mood to wait around to get his toes wet. He passed Avery on the run, leaving the man huffing and puffing behind him. Manuel, Jerod and Barnes were nowhere in sight. He had no time to figure out what happened. Avery caught up, gave him a stressed grin, and then passed him.
The water kept cascading down behind them. The floor of the corridor behind them was being torn up by the intensity of the stream, and instead of the water all pouring after them; it was drilling a hole in the floor.
Red was the first to stop and turn back. Just a tiny stream of water was reaching him now; the rest was draining back into the hole that had been made.
Avery stopped next to him. "Must have opened into another cavern below."
"This place stinks with holes, caverns and tunnels."
"Report!" The Colonel hollered from behind them as he came running up with Doctor Brevard and Claire.
"I think we're not going that way anymore." Red said, simply and to the point.
"What's Jeffries say about it?"
Red suddenly felt a great sense of loss. He spun around. "Jeffries! Oh God!"
Avery got it the same moment. He clutched his weapon hard. "They're gone." He said softly, his voice dripping with sadness.
The Colonel eyed the disaster ahead and then his two men. "We've got a job to finish. Find us another way. Now!"
Red and Avery snapped to attention, saluting hard, and then moved past the others who were coming forward to see what had happened.
"This is not good." Doctor Brevard commented.
Claire eyed him. "The loss of our people, or the blocking of the corridor?"
Doctor Brevard looked at her.
She saw what she had suspected now for a long time. She shook her head and turned back the way she had come, noting the looks of dismay on all the Forces she passed. They had thought the toughest parts were over. But they were just beginning. Again!
Jeffries, Manuel, Jerrod and Barnes stared at the force of water that now proved to be a barrier to their way back. The hole in the floor was widening and threatening to collapse before them. Barnes touched Jeffries. "We've got to find another way to rejoin our Forces."
"On it!" He replied, and put his sensor back in his backpack, then pulled out another. He began turning slowly, his eyes on the screen of his scanning device.
"Manuel. You and Jerod scout ahead, see if there are any branches we might be able to take."
Manuel and Jerod nodded, then went ahead, their helmet maglites casting laser like blasts of light ahead of them as they moved into the darkness.
Jeffries shook his head. "I've got some possibilities. But we don't have the equipment to burrow through."
"What would you need to get through?"
He looked at her. "Everything we've got and then some."
The hopeful look on her face shattered.
"Such is life." She told him with a smile.
He put his scanning device away, and slipped his rifle from his shoulder. "What do you think that thing was?"
"Yeah. Get that. But from whom and to do what?"
She looked him in the eyes. "I think that's obvious. Don't go further."
With those words she shifted her own backpack, and then proceeded after Manuel and Jerod.
"Hey Chews!" Avery hollered.
Doctor William Milford...Communications Specialist, linguist. Doctorates in Communications, exotic languages and computer languages. "Chews," the nickname everyone gave him because he was always biting on his nails. He turned his tall, lanky body, rubbing at the nub of his thumbnail, his blue eyes focused on another world.
Avery moved through the robots, drones and Forces that were now heading back the way they had come. Red had found another corridor, carefully hidden behind a layer of thick moss. He got clued into it when he lit a match for a friend's cigarette and the flame had flickered as if a strong breeze were moving it. He had turned to look at the oddly mossed section. Sure, there was moss everywhere on the walls, some of it glowing.
Glow Moss everyone nicknamed it, but this moss seemed dry and lifeless. He put a hand to it. It felt wrong somehow. He leaned against it to see how thick it was and the next thing he knew he was falling onto the floor of a new corridor.
"Found one!" He hollered at the top of his lungs.
The Colonel came up several moments later along with Claire. "Damn!"
"Yeah." Red grinned. "And it only took two bruised knee caps and a mouthful of...he spit out some brownish stuff..."...Moss to find it."
Red grinned at her, and then got up to survey the new corridor as other members of the Forces gathered to look.
Avery shook off the incident from his mind as he focused on Chews who was examining the newest star they had found. Directly at the intersection of the corridor that was now blocked by flooding waters and the one they stood in.
"Those damn pesky things again." Avery swore.
Chews gave him a very Spock-like raise of his eyebrow. "Most peculiar. Yes. But definitely a warning of some kind."
"Yeah. Well too bad the bastard was hidden from view."
Chews gave Avery a considering look. "What if it wasn't hidden at all?"
"What do you mean?"
"What if others knew of it and it was only kept that way to divert attention.
"Attention from what?"
"Going the right way."
Avery considered that. "I'm not so sure anymore that there is any right way?"
Chews nodded, and then raised his other eyebrow. "What if there was no right way whatsoever?"
Avery growled. "I don't think I like where this is going, Chews."
"Or I, Doctor." The Colonel said from behind as he joined them.
Chews touched the new star symbol. "The last one we saw had seven points, this one has only three and there are a series of smaller points in the center."
"Very much like the old Aztec and Mayan stuff." The Colonel noted.
"Correct, but their symbols were of their deity."
"Maybe this is also."
"I don't think so." Chews shot back, uncharacteristically excited.
"What if the symbols were like levels?"
"Levels? You mean like a skyscraper?"
"More like a basement, a very, very deep one."
Avery shook his head. "If this is a basement, someone show me the up buttons, please!"
"See that everyone has something to eat and rests. We have a decision to make and I don't want anyone facing it on an empty stomach and a tired body."
He saluted and left to take care of business.
The Colonel looked at Chews, whose left eye tic was beginning to increase. A smart man, probably a genius on the level of Einstein. Didn't care a shit about his personal life. His work was his god and his life.
"There's more, isn't there?"
"Call me Hank. All my friends do. And you're not a soldier. Officially at least. But the way this damned expedition has been going I just might draft you before this is over."
Chews laughed, and then he saw the serious look in the Colonel's eye. "Oh."
"I think...and I've spoken of this before. I think that all these different corridors and levels...."
"You mean all the intersecting corridors and up and downs we've been traipsing?"
"Ever seen a test that's performed on rats?"
The Colonel gave a snort. "Next thing you're going to say is that we're rats in somebody's experiment."
Chews didn't say a thing.
The Colonel looked at the man and swallowed hard, fear rising in his throat like vomit. "You're serious."
Chews again didn't say a thing.
The Colonel sighed. "Damned, if it isn't bad enough we are trying to put out a fire before it happens, the damned fire is trying to test us at the same time!"
He stormed out of the corridor and began hollering at his Forces. In moments five of the toughest looking Forces spread out around Chews and took up protective positions. None of the men and women was smiling. They held their weapons at the ready, locked and loaded.
Manuel and Jerod sat next to each other, toasting some jerky over a small fire made from dry moss lights they had gathered. Barnes sat opposite them. Jeffries sat to the left, his eyes scanning data on one of a tablet computer he used to correlate data on.
Jerod nodded. "Usually does, Manny."
"Think we'll ever see daylight again?"
Jerod laughed. "I'm sure we'll be seeing rainbows if we go back the way we came."
Manuel laughed. "Funny, dude."
"Yeah. Like a hole in the head."
Barnes took several sips from her canteen, and then handed it across to the men. They took turns, and then set it next to Jeffries, who slipped a hand around it, gulped, never once letting his eyes stray from the data-screen ahead of him.
"What's really strange to me." Manuel started. "What's really crazy is that this whole expedition, which started out so perfectly co-ordinated and in control has devolved into a machine of broken parts, hoping for redemption."
"Sounds like the rest of humanity." Jerod said, his tone sarcastic. "Why should it change any for us...just because we got better weapons?"
Barnes shifted her eyes from Jeffries screen to Jerod. "We rely too much on electronics and mechanics."
Jeffries flicked his tablet off and shifted into a more comfortable position, hugging the tablet to him. "Maybe you do, but me, this baby is the love of my life."
He gave it a kiss.
"So what do you think about all of this, Jeffries?" Jerod asked.
Jeffries put his tablet into his backpack, took another hit off the canteen, and then returned it to Barnes. "I think we're neck deep in shit and in danger of becoming nose deep."
Manuel burst into laughter.
Then a slight scraping sound caught their attention. They all grabbed their weapons and stood facing the direction the sound had come from. From the falling water.
The tension grew as the scraping grew closer and closer, then something jumped into view. Everyone burst into laughter. It was a huge grasshopper, the size of a small cat. It had a hurt back leg and was dragging and kicking itself along.
Barnes immediately dropped back to her knees and held out her hand towards the creature. "Come here, honey. Jerod, give me some of that cracker you just ate."
Jerod grabbed it from his backpack and handed it over.
Barnes held out the piece of cracker towards the grasshopper. Its antenna thrust in t hat direction and its eyes swiveled to examine the cracker more closely.
"I'm going to name it Jiminy." Barnes announced.
"Oh great!" Manuel laughed. "A pet grasshopper. How much more weird can this expedition get?"
The grasshopper leaped forward so fast that Barnes fell backwards. It landed on her chest. The men went for their knives to get it off. Barnes put a hand out towards them."Hold off! Hold off!"
The grasshopper sat on her chest a long time, not moving, and then it shifted slightly, its eyes still on the cracker in her hand. She slowly raised it, closer and closer. The grasshopper made a chirping sound that almost resembled a bass sound and grabbed the cracker with a front hand and thrust the cracker towards its mouth, where it began gently nibbling at it, like a connoisseur savoring a new piece of gourmet food.
The men all sat down as Barnes slowly rose to sit up, cradling the grasshopper in her lap. As it ate she sang a soft tune to it and lightly stroked its head. The eyes in its head swiveled up to watch her, but it didn't move, or tense. It kept eating.
When it had finished, it backed off her lap, and no longer hopping or dragging its feet, it walked straight at the wall to their right and passed through it and from view.
"What the fark?" Jeffries cried out, jumping to his feet.
Red and Avery were scanning the new corridor, using a drone to scout ahead. The screens in their hands were lit with a data path being created by its flight. The screen went black a second on both men's, and then lit up again. A hand was waving in the camera's view.
"What the...?" Avery swore.
The Colonel listened as Jeffries, Barnes, Manuel and Jerod told their side of the water fall incident. Chews stood on his left and Claire and Doctor Brevard on the right.
"You say this creature..."
"A grasshopper, doctor." Barnes explained.
"This creature." Doctor Brevard continued, ignoring her correction. "Was hurt, you gave it food, and then it was whole again and leaped into this corridor?"
"Yup." Jerod agreed.
"That's it." Manuel commented.
"Clear as a crystal." Jeffries agreed.
Doctor Brevard looked at Chews.
Chews lifted both eyebrows on his face as he spoke; his left eye was twitching violently as he spoke. "I'd say our rat's maze has just been turned up a notch."
"I thought you said it didn't make any sense." The Colonel snarled angrily.
"No! What I said was that it didn't make any sense to us!"
A coldness none had felt before began seeping into their bones.