Carpathia III: Episode 20 - The Tunnel


Rising Falls

In the days leading up to their departure, Artemis tended to many tasks, the first was convincing Phobos to submit to a computer scan. It took several dozen minutes for Artemis to convince him that he had no intention of erasing him and he finally cooperated. The data he received confused him greatly, for very little was left of his original programming. He plugged in Deimos next and was shocked to discover that her original programming was also beginning to be altered. What also shocked him was how fast it was happening. He decided to leave Deimos's programming alone.

Adell was busy as well. None of them knew how long the tunnel was, whether or not it was hewn with tools or was natural, or if it branched off in many directions, affording ample opportunity to get lost. Adell stuffed as much food as he could in his backpack, most of which were the old man's own sorry attempts at bread-making. They were hard. They were tasteless. However, they were edible and unlike the fish, they didn't spoil quickly.

Phobos surprised Artemis again when he offered to help. Artemis had both Phobos and Deimos on sewing duty. They took whatever loose scraps of fabric the old man would allow them to have, which was nearly all of it, to fashion another backpack for Adell to carry and two small backpacks for themselves, all of which they would load with as much food as possible. The final issue was water. Fortunately, amongst the fabric were bits of leather, large and small. With speed and precision that had Artemis smiling with pride over his engineering handiwork, Phobos and Deimos fashioned crude but usable waterskins.

By the time Adell returned from filling the waterskins, dinner was ready. The old man spent several hours cooking their final meal on the island, using all of the few spices available on the island. The old man put forth a more cheery demeanor than usual, leaving Adell and Artemis both believing that he was forcing it. The fare was little more than the usual fish and vegetables, but they savored every bite, both to please the old man and because both Adell and Artemis did not know when they would be able to have another hearty meal. Adell continued to press the old man to come with him and each time he tried, the he simply shook his head. Once they were finished, Adell inspected the backpacks that Artemis had packed almost full to bursting.

Adell: We forgot something. I'll be right back. It'll only take a minute.

Adell ran outside, leaving Artemis with the old man.

Artemis: You're sure you don't want to come?

Once again, the old man shook his head. Before he could ask the old man any more, Adell returned to the house with a stack of large leaves. He opened one of the backpacks and started jamming them inside, trying to take care not to tear any of them.

Artemis: That was quick. What are those for? I don't think they're edible.

Adell: They're not for eating. We don't know for how long we're going to be in the tunnel and I don't want to have to... hmmm... how shall I say... "clean myself" with a jagged rock.

Artemis: I... er... uh... ew. Yeah, that's a good idea, I guess.

Adell: Should we have torches or something? We don't have any flashlights.

Artemis: Phobos and Deimos have them in their eyes. No problem!

Phobos: Ahem!

Everyone turned and looked at Phobos, taken aback at his sudden outburst.

Artemis: Okay, okay, Phobos, would you mind using your eyes to guide us?

Phobos smiled.

Phobos: I would be happy to. Thank you for asking.

Adell snickered as he watched the two of them.

Adell: I think that's everything.

The old man helped Adell and Artemis with their backpacks and waterskins and they set out for the tunnel.

Confronted with the prospect of goodbyes, they hesitated when they arrived at the tunnel entrance. Adell decided to make one last plea to the old man to come with them.

Adell: Please come with us. There are plenty of provisions for all of us for days.

Again, the old man shook his head. Then he pointed to himself, and then at one of the mausoleums.

Adell: What? You're not planning to die now, are you?

The old man shook his head again. He then pointed at himself and then to Adell and Artemis. After that, he pointed to the sky and then formed a ring with the fingers on both of his hands. When it seemed like Adell and Artemis weren't quite understanding, he used one of his hands to make a falling gesture from the ring.

Artemis: He's talking about the wormhole we came through, I think.

The old man nodded. Again, he pointed to all of them, including himself, in turn, and then made a small ring with the fingers on one hand. He kneeled close to the ground and made a falling gesture once again. When he stood up, he made the falling gesture one last time and then held his index finger and thumb about two inches apart.

Adell: So, the distance we fell was short?

The old man nodded again. He pointed to several of the mausoleums and made another ring with his fingers, this time holding it up high and made a grandiose falling gesture.

Adell: And they fell far and died. I see.

The old man nodded before he pointed to himself again and then stooped, scooping an imaginary object into his arms and pretended to carry it. He pointed again to the mausoleum and then dropped the imaginary object inside.

Adell: And then you bury all of them. People who came through the wormhole, like us, but not so lucky.

The old man shook his head. He patted Adell and Artemis on the head and raised his hand up high. Both Adell and Artemis had to think about what this could mean for several moments.

Artemis: So... we're tall? I'm not sure I follow.

The old man nodded. Then he pointed at the mausoleums and held his hand down low, just above his waist.

Adell: They're little kids?

The old man nodded.

Adell: All of them?

Again, the old man nodded as Adell began to tear up.

Adell: That's... horrible.

The old man became flustered and he started pointing to himself and then to the ground repeatedly.

Adell: I think I get it. It's your job, right? To make sure everyone gets a proper burial?

The old man held his head low and nodded slightly. Adell walked up to him and hugged him tightly.

Adell: Thank you for everything. You take care of yourself.

Artemis was more reluctant, but eventually gave in and awkwardly hugged the old man as well.

Artemis: Thanks.

The old man held up his finger, a gesture he often used to ask them to wait. He reached into a pouch tied to his waist and pulled out two bags. He opened one, revealing the crystal inside, still glowing green from when Artemis touched it. He closed up the bag and held it out towards Adell.

Adell: What? Oh no, I couldn't take that.

The old man reached out and grabbed Adell's hand. He placed the bag with the crystal in it and backed away quickly. Adell, believing there would be no way to refuse the gift, accepted.

Adell: Thanks. I'll keep it safe.

The next bag he held out to Artemis, who accepted more readily. He opened it up and inside was a myriad of coins. Some, he recognized as Carpathian, others from Earth, but he couldn't identify all of them.

Adell: I'm not sure this money would do us any good here.

Artemis examined some of the coins carefully.

Artemis: Don't be so sure. We don't know what metals are valuable here. Some of these might be worth a lot more than we think

Adell: Where did they come from.

The old man pointed to the mausoleums again.

Adell: Oh, right.

Artemis: Thank you. This could be very helpful.

The old man smiled and nodded as Adell and Artemis looked at each other and then to the entrance to the tunnel.

Artemis: You first, Phobos.

Phobos stood where he was for a moment until his eyes began to glow. He stepped into the tunnel and his eyes brilliantly illuminated the stairway before them. Artemis followed behind him. Adell stopped at the entrance and looked back at the old man. He smiled brilliantly at them as the tears streamed down his face. Adell smiled and waved at him. The old man waved back, and with that, Adell and Deimos descended the stairway.

Deeper and deeper they went down the ancient, stone staircase, twisting and turning through the claustrophobic passage. With Phobos preceding Artemis and Deimos preceding Adell illuminating the path before them, they were able to find their way easily down the staircase, only stumbling occasionally on a loose step or crumbled piece of tunnel. The stone walls were bare and damp and Phobos and Deimos's lights danced off of them like a twinkling holiday show. The roar of the falls above quickly faded away, but instead of finally being enveloped in sweet silence, a new, louder roar quickly took its place, coming from far down below and echoing up the walls of the staircase.

Finally, they reached the bottom of the stairs and emerged in a wide tunnel. The path before them was straight and wide. Both Adell and Artemis were grateful that the lights in the eyes of the two androids were as powerful as they were, for they were able to see easily where they were going. After a very short distance, the walls to their sides disappeared as the tunnel opened up into a vast cavern. Adell and Artemis both stopped in their tracks and looked around in awe.

Adell: Phobos, could you sit on my shoulder?

Phobos: No problem.

Phobos didn't wait for Adell to stoop and scrambled up his back and plopped himself on Adell's shoulder. Now, wherever Adell turned, Phobos's lights would turn with him and he could look around.

Artemis: Deimos, you sit on my shoulder.

Deimos: Yes, Master Artemis.

Deimos did the same and together, they looked around them. They were all in a vast cavern underneath the island. Huge, stone columns rose up from the black depths and soared high above them, spreading at the top to form the ceiling and what they presumed to be the bottom of the island. Along with them were monstrous geysers of water which erupted from the depths continuously and through large holes in the ceiling. The cavern walls, just barely within the range of the androids' lights were all covered with a thick wall of water, which slithered up the cavern's sides as though it were alive.

Adell refused to step too close to the edge of the pathway, but Artemis was less fearful and carefully leaned over and peered into the inky, black depths. After a few moments, he straightened up again and backed away from the precipice. It was much louder in the cavern and Adell had to shout just to hear himself.

Adell: Did you see anything?!

Artemis: No! It's too deep! Phobos, are you recording any of this?!

Phobos: Yes, Dad! I ascertained from your facial expression that you would like a record of this!

Artemis: That's good! We should go then! I don't know if this place is stable or not!

The four of them continued on, with Phobos and Deimos remaining on their shoulders. Finally, they came to the end of the cavern and to another tunnel opening. The water rose up on either side of the path and they were close enough now to see the fish riding the water up to the surface within it. Both took one last glance around the cavern before they continued into the tunnel. It didn't take long for the roar of the water to fade away and they could speak normally again.

Adell: I understand why the old man does what he does, but I still wish he came with us.

Artemis: I wouldn't worry about him.

Artemis suddenly looked down at the ground, somberly.

Artemis: At least his life has meaning.

It took Adell a few moments to fully understand what Artemis just said.

Adell: Aww! You really are just a great big teddy bear inside, aren't you?

Artemis's head snapped up suddenly, as though he were awaking from a dream.

Artemis: Huh? Bear? No, I'm half cat, obviously!

Artemis pointed to his ears and wiggled them around. Adell snickered at him before becoming serious once again.

Adell: I can't help but think about what they were saying on the radio the day we left my house. They announced that that day was the 10 year anniversary of the disappearance of Lord Lynx's two sons. You don't suppose they ended up as one of the kids who died on that island, do you?

Artemis: It's possible, I think. Absolutely nothing was found to indicate what happened to them. It was a very strange case. And there are Carpathian coins in this bag.

Neither of them said a word for a long time after that, preferring to walk in silence, each lost in his own thoughts as they continued down the tunnel. Eventually, the roar of the water in the caverns faded away entirely and they were left with a deafening silence that they had not known in four months. The sound of their footfalls was not enough to permeate the stillness around them and Adell had a distinct ringing in his ears that he could not shake.

To their delight, they found that the tunnel did not fork often and always had a clear choice of a vast, wide path and a narrow, crumbly one. They always took what appeared to be the safer route, marking the direction they came from with stones, just in case they had to backtrack. They took frequent breaks to sip from their waterskins and nibble on the food they brought. Water was not proving to be a problem as they continued on, for they sometimes found small pools of fresh, clean water which welled up from somewhere below and had frequent opportunities to refill their waterskins. Food, however, was another matter entirely. The only thing remotely edible that they ever came across was an occasional patch of slimy moss that covered the walls in some of the moist areas. Other than that, there was nothing. No animals. No plants.

Inside the tunnel, they lost all sense of time. Only the clock on Artemis's computer and the androids' internal chronometers told them how many days they traveled, but deep underground, it all seemed very arbitrary. They eventually began to follow their natural instincts instead. When they were tired, they slept. When they were hungry, they ate sparingly. Despite the fact that water was frequently available at the beginning of their journey, they did not overindulge in case it was not later on, and they were glad they did. Water became more and more sparse as the days dragged on. Throughout it all, the scenery never changed. The tunnel never narrowed. The color of the rock never changed. It felt like they were not making any progress at all.

Until the fifth day.

Phobos: Dad, I'm detecting the end of the tunnel.

Artemis: Not a dead end, I hope.

Phobos: I do not believe so. There's a short stairway up and only a piece of iron blocks the exit. 4 feet in diameter, one inch thick.

Artemis: Hey, what's with the imperial! I taught you to speak in metric units!

Phobos: Apologies, Dad. Adell suggested that I try the system used in more common parlance on Carpathia.

Artemis gave a smiling Adell a menacing glare and continued on again without a word. Finally, they came to the staircase that Phobos spoke of and the iron plate at the top.

Artemis: Deimos, you're the stronger one. Open that.

Deimos: Not until you ask nicely.

Artemis: You too!?! Alright, fine. Deimos, could you open the cover, please?

Deimos: No problem. Stand back, please.

Deimos approached the iron cover and gave it a mighty shove. It came loose right away and fell outside. They all followed Deimos excitedly out of the tunnel and emerged into the cool night air.

They looked around and were relieved to see the lights of a city in the distance.


Commissioned art in this episode from:
Atomic Clover
Thatwildmary

All city pictures from SimCity 4

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