The Sum of All Fears
Journey to the Center of the Earth
By John Pirillo
No one knew how long they'd been down under as they were beginning to call their trek through the vast, seemingly unending tunnels and labyrinths of stone and molten lava rivers. Yet, no matter how far they walked, or how long, it seemed the path was never ending.
Once they had gotten excited when they found what could not be ignored: Proof that Jules Verne had actually made a trek beneath the earth. The only question was how he had gotten so far and how he had found his way back home. Perhaps more importantly yet, why?
Why had he made the journey?
Why had he risked his life and that of his party of brave friends?
What had they hoped to achieve?
If they could answer one of those questions it might yet help them determine a positive and perhaps saving turn in their own downward spiral...it had to be that...into the interior of the planet, Earth.
Rush, a former explorer, had been at the height of his career, preparing to ascend Mount Everest with the woman of his life, whom he had been fighting with in their mountain chalet in Switzerland when the Big One struck.
His fortune, his fame, his life, his love had all been swept away by cascading avalanches of snow, ice and rising walls of lake water.
Just like that Rush had lost everything. All hope. All life.
It had taken the Special Forces and their mission to enliven his heart again. That and finding men and women, who like himself, were haunted by a past they hoped to forget and a future they hoped to save.
Everett was a spicy Brit, a Professor, a climatologist who had warned everyone that something big was in the air, but no one had believed him. And after it happened, no one believed it then either. He had been there in London, just a short distance from the famous headquarters of the last two Beatles when the Big One had struck.
He had watched in horror as building had been lifted like child's toys and plummeted back to the ground in thousands of pieces, seen civilians smashed, rended, and torn by flying debris, collapsing edifices, and hurtling pieces of metallic cars that had lost control.
Both men had a lot to forget and now. And now?
Rush and Everett looked more and more like the cavemen they were beginning to look like. They had both given up trying to keep their beards shaved and their hair short. Now, they just threw their beards over their shoulders, and wrapped their hair in tight bundles on top their heads.
"If the President could see us now, he'd think he'd gone back in time." Everett grouched, picking at the tiny creatures that now inhabited his scalp and hair. Yeah. It was hell down there. Bugs were everywhere. All sizes.
"Rowlf!" Their tall bug like companion noted and both men just grunted, sounding like Cavemen too.
Rowlf barked in his grinding low voice and both men did their best to ignore his laughter. It was becoming more and more irritating and besides he was starting to look like a walking turkey breast. None of them had eaten for about eleven days now. Water was abundant. Their trek had brought them to an underground stream that poured downwards along their path.
Without the water, no doubt both men would have died long ago. Both were familiar with the concept of fasting, but neither particularly enjoyed having to do one because they had no other choice. It's one thing to fast when you know you can raid that frig at any given time, but when the only thing you can raid is an eight foot plus Insectoid, who also happened to be a friend, then fasting became distasteful as well as painful.
"Remember when there used to be KFCS all over the place." Rush reminisced during one of their more and more frequent stops.
Rowlf listened behind them, still as a statue, for some reason he'd become more and more quiet as the two men slowly starved to death. Whether it was because he feared for their lives, or was himself beginning to see them as walking meals, no one knew. No one wanted to conjecture or voice their own fears, knowing each had enough as it was to weigh their minds down.
"Yeah. And the fries at Burger King. Those new fancy ones that were low fat." Everett added, wiping at the spittle gathering in his mouth as his hunger pains kicked in again.
Last time they did that he had thrown up.
It was supposed to make you throw up. Being hungry, but when the stomach hurt that bad, it no longer obeyed the laws of the universe, but began turning in on itself. He could tell his body was beginning to eat itself up. He could put a finger around his wrist effortlessly. Before it would have taken his hand to do that.
Rush nodded. "And when grasshoppers and night bugs were the worst of it."
Rush glanced over at Rowlf, who was still silent. "My apologies, Rowlf, no insult intended to your family line.
"Rowlf nots buggy." He finally said, then lapsed into silence.
Everett looked at Rush. "See! Now look what you've done. You've insulted our meal...I mean our best friend."
Rowlf stomped off, leaving the two of them behind.
Everett pulled himself up and wobbled on his legs a moment, then sat back down.
"Great! Just when dinner was getting so close."
Everett chuckled. "You know I didn't mean it."
"Yeah, but he doesn't!"
Everett sighed. "Do you ever wonder...?"
"If we're the last humans?"
"Constantly." Rush said with a grunt, picking at another critter trying to get into his right ear. He caught it and held its struggling form out before his friend. "Whose turn?"
Rush made a face and popped the bug into his mouth and began chewing it. For a brief moment it struggled for its life before his teeth mashed it into bug matter and juices, which he savored for the length of time it lasted. About two seconds.
" For all we know the Hollow Earth Special Forces are just echoes streaming down towards the center of the earth now, hollow memories in a hollow world of hollow souls fleeing to nothing and nowhere."
"Wow! That was really philosophical." Rush pointed out with a sigh. He scratched at his head and clasped another struggling critter between his fingers.
Everett scowled at the creature and shook his head. "I'd rather die."
"You will die if you don't eat." Rush reminded him.
"We're dying anyway. They're living off us. We're living off them. The balance is shifting not to us, but to them. You know it. I know it. We're just meals on wheels."
He barked with laughter.
Rush joined him.
The two men stopped as suddenly as they had started.
"I wonder what it's like to be with a woman again."
Everett looked over. "What? My hair too much for you?"
"You idiot! I like girls, not Neanderthals!"
Everett made a girl swing of his beard hairs and a cutesy smile, fluttering his eyes in a mock flirtaceous glance at his friend. "Not even once...for old time's sake?"
Rush scowled at him. "There's never been an old time's sake and there's not going to be a new time's sake. We'll be dead first."
Everett let his beard hairs drop back over his shoulder again and sighed. "Do you think angels have sex?"
Both men got very, very tight faces and then they broke into a laughter so bright and clean that both got their energy back, even if temporarily.
Rush stood up, t hen gave his friend a hand up.
They leaned on their stone spears and eyed the direction Rowlf had gone. "Down or sideways?" Rush asked.
Everett snorted. "Does it even matter?"
"Well, for one the water goes down...."
"And for two, Rowlf went that way."
"He's our friend." Everett agreed.
Without another world both men made their way along the moss lit path that wound round and round great glowing lichen covered boulders and past glowing streams of lava that coursed in channels parallel to the water they needed to survive.
As they descended the path broadened.
Everett suddenly stopped and put a hand up.
Rush looked at him, almost falling over he was so weak.
Everett grabbed him to steady him. "You smell that?"
Everett pointed ahead. "That. That!"
Then Rush smelled it.
Both men held onto each other and hobbled as fast as they could to reach the origin of the smell. They forced their sore feet, their weak muscles, their tight backs and sore arms to carry them the hundred yards necessary to reach a weak fire, set by a stream of molten lava.
Rowlf sat there on a stone, while he rolled over with a thinner stone, shaped like a branch, several odd looking bloated things that steamed in a bowl of water he had forced from the flowing stream to lay next to the molten lava and warm it up to cooking temperature.
Both men stumbled to a stop as Rowlf turned to eye them. "Twaste wike chicken!"
He cackled and both men laughed.
"I don't care if it tastes like my old tennies right about now." Russ said, and then his eyes rolled up in his head and he fainted dead away.
Rowlf got up and hurried over to Everett who was barely able to lay his friend down, before he also collapsed. He lay beside Russ and closed his eyes.
"Whatever you do, Rowlf. Don't bury me next to that lice infected sonuva bitch, will ya?"
And then he lost consciousness as well.
A bright light flickered in his face.
"Go away!" He cursed.
The light flickered again.
"I said go away!" He cursed even louder.
Then something stuck him in the arm. He screamed, and then woke up all the way.
General Miles Davison loomed over him, watching with a smile, as Nurse Betty administered to him. She stabbed him with another shot, after which he cursed again, but not at her, instead at Russ who lay next to him, watching silently.
Russ reached a hand over. "We made it, pal."
Everett looked again at Nurse Betty. "Do you like to dance?"
She stabbed him with a third shot and he began to lose consciousness. "That isn't an answer." He slurred, and then vanished in a peaceful slumber.
She turned to Russ, who was looking ready to go out himself. "If it wasn't for your friend, Rowlf finding us, you'd both be dead. What in the world did you two eat that horrid thing for?"
Russ grinned. "When in Rome..."
General Miles sat down next to Russ and patted him on the knee.
Then Russ became aware that dozens of men and women were gathered about him and Everett, all smiling. "Did I die and go to heaven. And if I did, why aren't any of you wearing wings?"
Nurse Betty laughed and turned to General Miles. "Can I keep this one?"
And that sweet voice was all that Russ heard for the next sixty four hours as he descended deeper and deeper into the Hollow Earth alongside his best friends, Everett and Rowlf, as they searched for a way home.
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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!"