Long Fall — Chapter 02

It’s story time! If you’re just joining us, you can find the previous entries (Chapter 0, and Chapter 01) by following the links I just smooshed between those parentheses. For everyone else: let’s get started, shall we?

Update: If you’re just joining Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, you can find all of the other chapters right here at the Oktopod Blog.

Chapter 02

Deep in the forsaken jungle, Jack Hernandez was dangling from a rope. He slowly lowered himself into a vertical cavern with a wide mouth some thirty meters across, what the locals called a cenote. The word was found in common phrases for travelers like, “Help, I’ve fallen into a cenote and can’t get up!”

Trees grew from the uneven floor below, tall and lush with tops that largely hid the cave entrance from sight, and between them lay a small pool of water that glimmered like a cut gem in candlelight.

The cave’s interior was treacherous. The soil surrounding the opening looked ready to collapse, and below it waited a motley collection of stalagmites like stakes in a tiger pit. With a bit of self-annoyance, Jack realized he was descending into yet another beautiful death trap, this one levered open like a viper’s mouth.

He’d managed to explore half the region’s cenotes in the past six months with only minor injuries, but even minor injuries could prove lethal when exploring the jungle alone. He would chew anyone else’s ear off for even thinking of such a terrible idea.

But Jack had to keep going, even if he wasn’t sure why. He was looking for something, and he’d know it when he found it. Soon.

The rest of the world wasn’t much safer, anyway.

His five-toed climbing shoes touched down in wet soil, and he released his harness with a click. He glanced upward and waved to his sole traveling companion, a living alien ship who hovered silently above. The ship’s name was Felix and he was slightly larger than a short school bus, shaped somewhat embarrassingly like a tyrannosaur’s athletic footwear.

Sometimes, Jack suspected that Felix could feel his mind when they weren’t connected, even at a distance. The idea set his teeth on edge.

Felix responded to Jack’s signal and flew slowly off, taking the line away with him. He would find a nearby place to land and no doubt eat anything and everything that grew from the ground. The little ship was always hungry and always growing.

Jack pulled a torch from his pack and it switched on in his hand. This was a new model built with the tech Amira Saladin brought back from Mars, some of that freaky Marcus Donovan shit. As far as Jack understood things, it was alive in some sense, but all he cared about was that it was bright, weighed little, and apparently never ran out of juice. Good equipment was good equipment.

The light afforded him a better look at his surroundings. Beneath the ground, the cave ballooned out like a bubble that had been slowly rising up from the depths for eons. Eroded walls spoke of flooding. Shadowed tunnels beckoned, leading further down into the Earth.

Jack’s pulse began to race when he heard the call.

Whatever the hell it was, Jack heard the call as much as felt it, and he suspected he wasn’t literally hearing anything at all. It was like a dusty childhood memory that suddenly surged to mind, obstinately refusing to be ignored. It came to him like the plaintive cry of a wounded animal, something trapped and desperate. In the silence, he heard it pleading for release, for salvation. And so he followed.

He first recalled hearing it shortly after arriving in the Yucatan, but he sometimes wondered if he’d been hearing it subtly for a while, like a subliminal message. Had it led him there in the first place? He had no way to be sure

It was always louder beneath the Earth, as if the rock and soil and flowing waters worked as an amplifier. Here, the call was loud like a strong shout in a granite cellar, and with that Jack knew he’d finally arrived.

“I’m almost there,” he whispered.

He closed his eyes and listened. A breeze whistled over the mouth of the cave, and leaves rustled in the trees. A pair of birds sang back and forth to one another nearby. A spring bubbled softly.

The call came. It was powerful. Blood trickled from Jack’s nose.

He turned toward the strange sensation and opened his eyes, discovering a dark tunnel little larger than himself. With a shrug, he attached the torch to his shoulder and slowly crept in.

Even with a good lantern, the space was dark and cramped, jagged and unpredictable. Some passages made it feel as if the ground were sinking its teeth into him from all sides at once, then a step later it would widen and welcome him deeper inside.

Then a ledge took him by surprise. He set one foot down too confidently and heard the sound of gravel scraping. Sliding. The foot slipped free into emptiness and his weight shifted.

His breath caught with a grunt, and he tried to react. Body bent at the waist, hands scrabbling for some edge to grab onto. Fingers stung as they latched onto something sharp. Only his left arm took hold, and his entire weight wrenched the shoulder.

But he was alive — enough to start breathing again and curse his stupidity aloud. His other hand dangled loose, shedding pebbles that never echoed in the chasm below.

He reached up and found a hold, took a deep breath and heaved himself back over the edge. From there, he crawled a few meters further, and then a few meters after that until he felt the walls close in again. Better off chewed up by the Earth than swallowed whole, he decided.

Jack returned to his feet only after he began to see some shred of light up ahead of him. The cave grew wider and sloped upward, gradually becoming smoother and easier to hike.

Then he came to the opening and it was beautiful. Another vertical shaft stood before him, with a deep pool undulating gently at the bottom bathed in light from the scorching midday sun. The water was a rich shade of blue-green, seeming to glow from somewhere beneath. Jack imagined that meant an underwater cave led to another well lit chamber.

He leaned against a wall and attended to his hand. The palm had a decent gouge in it, but it wasn’t bleeding much. He wrapped a fast bandage around it and thanked his stars it wasn’t worse; he already had one ruined hand to deal with.

It didn’t take Jack nearly long enough to make his next decision. He put two fingers in his mouth and whistled, echoing in the hollow. Felix appeared in the sky above a moment later and waited patiently, showing an underbelly covered in lights that danced like shadows in an aquarium.

Jack grabbed a small rebreather device from his pack and put it in his mouth, then straightened up and dove off the ledge. When his hands sliced into water, he opened his eyes onto a surprising sight: three hexagonal openings were set into the rockface, with a cyan light pouring out of them.

He surfaced briefly to reorient himself, then swam back down to investigate. The light pulsed and ebbed in a slow rhythm like the breaths of a heavy sleeper. Unless Jack was mistaken, they grew brighter as he approached.

He made it to the first hole and peered inside, but what he saw didn’t make much sense. The hole was a sharp edged hexagon cut into stone, and beyond was a cavity formed around a broad, patterned surface.

Jack heard the call and his atrophied sense of caution passed away. He slipped through the hole and swam inside, getting closer to the strange object with each stroke.

The size of it confounded him, like a two-story office building submerged in a tank of water, and the surface was like nothing he’d ever seen before. It resembled a mass of large cords overlapping one another; a roadside attraction, the world’s largest ball of undersea cable.

He slowed near it and reached out a hand. Where his finger touched the surface, it wriggled and shook, no longer cables but now a network of living centipedes. The shapes leapt out from the surface, then snapped back and drew apart to reveal a hollow cavity the size of a closet.

Jack heard the call and he hastily pulled himself inside. The opening closed, the water drained from the compartment, and the opposite wall came apart.

This new place was smooth and donut shaped, formed around a central column whose veins pulsed with eery light. The column was incomplete, with a gap in the middle nearly bridged by thin filaments which shivered and shook like grass blades touched by a spring breeze.

He walked forward across a springy floor of taut tendon, and caught sight of an object suspended within the gap. It was a rounded pentagon the size of a frisbee, and the light inside of it danced and shimmered like a school of sardines.

The chamber quivered around him and he heard the call again, but it was different. Long, high-pitched, surprised.

The threads of the column spasmed as the call cried on.

Jack removed the rebreather from his face and said, “Hush.”

It grew quiet, then he heard a curious chirp like part of a humpback’s song.

“What are you?” Jack asked out loud, but nothing answered.

He stepped forward more slowly. Inside the pentagon, he could now clearly see the glittering points of multicolored light that swarmed inside, and the rippled ring they circled. It was the strangest device Jack had ever laid eyes on, and God knew he’d seen plenty the past few years.

Against all common sense, he reached out again. The lights were attracted to him, repeatedly bouncing off the transparent case in their eagerness to feel his touch.

His finger gently collided with the surface and he once again heard the call. It was exultant.

Every glowing thing in the room surged with blinding light, and Jack instinctively crossed his arms in front of his eyes. It all dimmed a moment later, then began to strobe and flicker with an intense rhythm.

A rumble started all around. The floor quaked and shook, and Jack could faintly hear the muffled sound of stone cracking somewhere in the distance. This thing was trying to move, straining hard against thousands of tonnes of karst.

Jack fought to stay on his feet while the call took on a tone of frustration. The mysterious device in the column grew brighter and began to throb, sending small points of light racing out across every visible surface like trails of burning ants.

He was getting dizzy. He felt as if he were rising and falling at the same time, and there came one last flash of light. It filled Jack’s eyes with white, and it was the last thing he remembered for a while.

And that’s Chapter 02. Mysterious, enigmatic, and filled with Indiana Jones-like adventurosity. We still haven’t heard much about what Jack’s been up to these past few years, but we’ll find out more soon.

I hope to have the first set of Long Fall notes up for your enjoyment later this week, and possibly another chapter to read depending on my headway. I’m trying to stay at least two chapters ahead of my posting here, and #04 has been giving me a little bit of trouble. We’ll see.

Until then, keep it real folks.

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.


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