Prodigy vs. Beastie Boys – Voodoo Sabotage mash-up…
The pink glow becomes red as we take the exit almost on our side, and we remain at an acute angle as the chute becomes a twisting, accelerating helter-skelter downwards, pressing us back into our seats on board the boat.
Just when it seems like the hull is about to disintegrate, screaming in protest, we fly out of the far end, and plop neatly into a still, subterranean pool. The jolt almost knocks us overboard.
The high roof of the cave glimmers with surface reflections from the cool – and thankfully clear – water.
“Are we in another Lounge?” Carvery asks, leaning over the side to squint down into the depths. “Looks like it’s seen better days…”
I follow his glance. Far below us, I can see walls and pillars, even broken statues and stone stairways, relegated to an underwater tomb. Small shoals of pale pretty fish dart between the wreckage.
“My father did not frequent the Lounges,” Crispin replies, his zombie monotone echoing hollowly around the cave walls. “He was not a man of leisure, and only visited what he knew as the Boardrooms. Where munitions business was conducted.”
“Doesn’t seem to have helped these guys,” Ace remarks.
“Rumour has it that the Atlanteans declared war on Atum,” Crispin shrugs. “It was foolhardy of them, to say the least. I know my father spent many years trying to analyse their plans, trying to distil what they imagined would work – but of course they never stood a chance. One tiny earthquake, and they vanished without trace.”
“Why would they declare war on a god?” I ask, curious.
“Atum represents unfinished business in the creation of the world,” Crispin reminds me. “An advanced culture that wants to stay ahead of the game does not want to see progress elsewhere.”
“Like running a monopoly,” says Luke, darkly.
“Quite, Mr. Lukan.” If Crispin has taken offence at the remark, he doesn’t show it.
It’s rather melancholy, looking down into the ruins of the ancient city. I wonder if there were any undead survivors, and how they would exist for all these centuries…
A flash of silver tail and snake tattoo behind a pillar causes me to choke on my own tongue.
“I saw something!” Ace announces, before I can speak. “Like a shark!”
Did I imagine it?
“There should not be any danger, Mr. Bumgang,” says Crispin. “But we will have to swim our way out…”
“Not more Hermit Squidmorph eggs?” I say, warily.
“No, they are not indigenous to this region,” Crispin reassures me. “The mature adults are too big to nest here. They need direct access to the Deep Ocean Trench.”
“Gooood,” Homer approves, obviously as relieved as I am.
“The best way out is from the feeding sites of the Great Flatulent Clams,” Crispin continues. “They come to filter microbes from the underwater lichens, which is why the water here is so clear. But they return to the shallow seas to convert the dormant chlorophyll to sugars in the sunlight. If we catch them at the right time, we should each be able to hitch a ride out of here.”
“Can I be the one to say…” Carvery begins. “…Flatulent?”
“They continuously emit bubbles of oxygen, Mr. Slaughter,” says Crispin. “Which is how I imagine you will all breathe underwater, without scuba apparatus.”
We exchange looks.
“Follow me,” he says, and steps ashore, onto a rocky outcrop.
Nervously, I follow.
There might be no sharks down there… but there might be a harpoon-gun-toting fishtailed-man-babe, whose motives are not as clear as the water is…
“Hey,” Luke says, as we pick our way over the rocks, around the perimeter of the cave. “Do you think there is any Atlantean treasure lying around? Anything of archaeological value?”
“If there was, I’m betting that the Dry family beat you to it,” Carvery replies. “You’re more likely to find it buried back in that dusty old mansion of Crispin’s, than anywhere here.”
It does look as though what remains of the great city is now just bare stone foundations, and the occasional ruined statue. Not so much as a broken urn or piece of crockery is visible.
I don’t know what Luke was expecting to discover… brass-bound chests? Giant pearls? The kind of thing you see in a dental surgery waiting-room fish-tank… well, the diving-suit would be useful, come to think of it.
“We will have to climb the wall here to the next part of the caves,” says Crispin, pointing up towards a narrow gap near the roof, where a rock-fall has divided the underground air-space. “Homer – jump onto my back, and hold on tight.”
“Yes, Homer – eventually…”
The rock wall gives Ace and Carvery no issue at all, and even with Homer piggybacking along in his peacock-blue prom dress, Crispin navigates the handholds deftly. Luke grumbles about the prospect of arthritis.
“I’m not as young as I look, you know,” he says, as his slipping foot finds my ear for the second time.
“Working legally since 1971?”I remark, recalling the chase across the rooftops of the Eight a.m. Lounge. “From that, I’m guessing you can bend the truth in more ways than one.”
Somehow I keep up, my fingers blistered and bleeding, and crawl after the others through the vertiginous gap, to the far side.
“Down there,” Crispin points, to where a slight bubbling is visible on the surface of the water. “We are in luck, Sarah Bellummm – the clams are grazing.”
We scramble back down the rock-fall to the water’s edge. I find myself scanning the depths, looking for any sign of tattooed, silver-tailed merman – imaginary or otherwise…
“They are quite safe to approach,” Crispin is saying. “The oxygen is emitted from a clear respiratory tube near the hinge of the shell. You should be able to grip either side. When they decide to move, allow them to lead. They always take the shortest route to the open sea outside.”
As if to demonstrate, Homer wades happily into the shallows, fully-dressed, and disappears beneath the surface.
Okay – at least it doesn’t look as though clothing will be a hindrance this time. I glance regretfully at Ace and Carvery, who have only rolled up their Stetson hats and shoved them into their boots.
Then I swallow the ball of nerves and bile threatening to rise up the back of my throat, and follow Homer into the water.
The weight of my clothes soaking through drags me down easily, and I blink, into depths which are remarkably clear. I can see Homer hugging a great frilled bivalve, and I paddle my way forward to the next, following the trail of bubbles.
The respiratory tube looks remarkably like a snorkel mask, pointing slightly upward of a shell about three feet wide. I find handholds in its ridges, and tentatively move my face near to the tube’s outlet.
I get a shock, as it strikes out, clamping to my face. Suddenly I’m breathing pure air, deep underwater.
Maybe they need the carbon dioxide to activate the chlorophyll in their diet? It’s most bizarre. I feel as though I’ve been attached to an artificial lung…
One by one, I see the others joining us, and just after Crispin enters the water, I feel my ride twitching, and pushing off from the bottom.
Here we go, I think. Should I close my eyes? Kick my legs? No – let them lead, Crispin said…
Homer overtakes me, his fatter mollusc pumping out a jet of water to propel itself through the caves, and we leave the rocky ledge and head deeper.
I can feel my panic rising up again. This can’t be right – not deeper underwater, surely?
What if it’s a trick? What if they’re dragging us back to a nest of hatching Squidmorphs?
Out of the corner of my eye, I swear I see the flash of silver tail again…
We enter a tunnel of pitch darkness, and my fear is now on full Red Alert. I’m already imagining tentacles emerging from every crevice. I shake my sleeve upward a little, so that the glow from the clockwork hand around my wrist gives out some reassuring light to see by.
Even worse, my Flatulent Clam seems to be flagging…
Breathe, I will it along. But it starts to slow to a drift, and worse – the air-flow drops.
Damn! Just my luck to pick one that’s on a diet!
And then I feel it hiccup – with a definite waft of Sloe Gin Sling.
Oh God – I’m the first human to get a Great Flatulent Clam drunk, on my own breathalyser-breath!
I can see daylight at the far end of the tunnel, and both Ace and Homer now way ahead of me. Luke shoots by, a trail of seaweed flying from the side of his buff clam, as it jets past smoothly.
I kick my legs desperately, but then even the adhesion of the respiratory tube fails, and my ride is suddenly a dead weight.
Holding my breath, I have to let it go, and try to swim forward on my own.
Without the clam’s propulsion, it suddenly seems like a very long way indeed. And the enchanted clothes I’m wearing feel like ballast, dragging me down and holding me back. I close my eyes in defeat.
I’ll never make…
…An arm locks around me abruptly, knocking the last of the air out of my lungs, and I shoot forward once more.
How?? Not – the merman…?
I feel a respiratory tube pushed in front of my face, and take a blessed gulp of air before it moves away. My hand is guided to grasp the back of another clamshell. Has the mysterious merman brought reinforcements…? But as I turn to look at my rescuer, the shock is even greater than that.
I almost cry out all of my precious breath again, and looking irritated, he gives me another slug of oxygen from the respiratory tube. I take one, and push it away quickly, knowing the fate of my last steed to be my fault.
I’m never drinking again…
Fortunately, Carvery’s bivalve is a speedy one, and we quickly exit the tunnel.
A few exchanges of air-supply later, we break the surface of the sea, as the clam arrives at its basking-beds, in the shallows of an idyllic shoreline.
I can’t even look at it, backing away from Carvery in the waist-deep water, in shock.
“The word you’re searching for is ‘Thanks’,” he prompts me, pulling his cowboy hat from his boot and straightening it out, shaking the drips off before putting it back on.
“What?” I gasp. “You can’t stand me. Why did you save me – again?”
“Do you want the honest answer?” he says. “For later. The only set of spare female donor organs we seem to be able to hang onto around here are inside you. Keeping you alive is the best way of keeping them fresh.”
I take it back. I’m going to drink and drink until my organs are pickled…
“Good, we all made it,” Crispin’s voice interrupts our awkward stand-off, before I can threaten to tear up my donor card. “We should head inland, where we will be less exposed.”
“Exposed to what?” Luke asks. “Where are we?”
Up on the rust-coloured sandy beach already, Ace Bumgang points.
“Look,” he says. “The Five a.m. Lounge.”
We all look. On the horizon, the unmistakeable outline of the pyramids are jutting heavenward, like an omen of our future.
“The time-line has been corrupted,” Crispin says. “Potentially, we could encounter anything…”
Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life trailer – Enjoy 🙂
More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum
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