Mobius: Eyes Above the Clouds- Chapter 15
The others finally came our way. Chase was shoved between Joseph and Daniels, an arm on each of their shoulders. Behind them, Mary followed, holding onto her husband’s discarded gear, including the busted lamp. They let the injured man down on the ground, just far enough from the standing liquid.
“Is he…” I asked, looking to Chase’s sleepy eyes.
“Hey! I’m right ‘ere!” Chase bucked up and shouted, his neck still floppy. “Somethin’ like this ain’t gonna’ keep me down!”
“He may have a bruised vertebra or two, if that.” Richards explained.
“I’ve ‘ad worse.” Chase called out again, followed by a shallow cough. “We’ll be movin’ ‘ere in a bit.”
Daniels leaned against the wall, catching his breath. “No need to rush,” He sighed. “At least until we know where we’re at. Sengupta?”
Babir paced around in the water, feeling at a bit of mushroom tissue between his fingers.
“The direction we’ve been traveling… if I were to guess, we should be close to what could be a central nervous system.”
“As in…?” Daniels insisted.
“Brain, spinal cord.” Richards spoke up.
“If we consider the creature to be like us.” Babir noted.
Daniels paced a bit, looking to the tunnel into which the strange stagnant water was trickling. “Always something new to explore.” He bit at his lip and glanced at me, shielding his eyes from the light in the my hand. “How much more fuel do we got, Sami?”
I looked down to the lantern and shook it back and forth. It was distinctly lighter than I had remembered, and the weight of the kerosene inside shifted greatly with each swaying movement. “A… quarter, I’d assume?”
The captain turned his head down, shaking it tiny bits. “Won’t last much longer. And we’re out the other, too.”
I reacted to his worry by twisting on the knob attached to the wick. It retracted slightly into the reservoir, sucking some of the light from the surroundings. “Babir…” I spoke up. “This formation isn’t natural, is it? It shouldn’t be like this.”
He glanced back at me, turning away from his observations. Only the dark man’s gray clothing and the yellowed teeth were visible in the dim light as he talked. “No.”
“It’s disgusting.” Mary said, rubbing at her forearms.
“Something… is not right.” The dark man added.
“Are we safe being here or not?” Daniels cracked. His feet treaded loudly back and forth through the water.
“We are safe.” Babir stressed. “At least as long as we move some time soon.”
Dr. Richard’s glasses glinted in the light. He had taken them from his face to attempt to wipe them down. “Spores from these mushrooms?”
“Yes. And we are likely disturbing them.”
“Me, I’m worried ‘bout that trench foot, down in ‘ere too.” Chase mumbled. “Wet socks and boots’r no laughin’ matter.”
Daniels slid before me, holding out his hand for the lantern. “We’ll be out of here soon enough it seems, Mr. Dunn.” He took the light source from me, and held it before him. “Just catch your breath. Sengupta, Sami, what do you mean this isn’t natural?”
“It is… not of the creature’s being. It is carved out of it, rather. This… is rot.” Babir admitted. His hand was flush against the wall. As Daniels brought the light closer, it could be seen the thick, oily flesh underneath, stained dark. Babir’s fingers dug into the surface, pulling off bits and revealing spots of pink inside.
Daniels held his sleeve to his face and backed off. “Vile.”
“But the shrooms must love it.” Richards replied as if it were a joke.
“They are perhaps a cause, or symptom.” Babir flashed a glare back to the doctor. “No healthy creature should be… infested… like this.”
“No creature has a rain forest growing inside it either.” Daniels countered. “Mobius is clearly a unique being. We know that already.”
“Ever creature has germs and bacteria, captain.” Richards said. “Humans are no different. This is the same, just on a different scale.”
“He is correct.” Babir continued. “But rot eating though one’s body… necrosis… this is… unnatural. Devastating.”
Chase coughed loudly. I turned back to see him standing back up, his hands to his back. Mary jumped by his side to support him. “Hold on, dear.”
“Don’t slow down on accounta’ me.” He huffed.
Joseph joined by his side. “I have you too, Mister Chase.” The big man shoved his arm into his side uncomfortably.
“Don’t push yourself.” The captain complained. “Richards, should he even be moving?”
“If he can… I don’t see why not. It will take time to heal, whether he chooses to move or stay put.”
Daniels shook his head and jostled around the dimly lit lantern. He crouched back down to the trickling water, shining the light in the direction of the flow. “Seems we can continue this way. Sami, you want to take the lead?”
I swallowed and nodded. The captain passed the lantern back to me. I crouched down first, and was able to continue forward with little effort. Joseph had to crawl slightly to move in after me, his back scraping against the underside of the passage. I shined light his way as it hand reached back to grab Chase’s, who was still being supported by his wife. After the three came through, the light from Babir’s torch shined in. I continued along in order to make more room for them, and the extra gear they had to drag through the water. I turned my attention back forward as I saw the captain and Alice finally come through.
The sound of the trickling water and our splashing feet echoed down the passageway. It smelled rank, like the piles of refuse I had once smelled about the town, usually around my father’s factory where some of the workers lived. While I was able to stand upright, I saw Joseph crouched slightly just behind me. There were a few remaining mushrooms clinging to the walls, mostly small ones that had tucked back down to their stems like umbrellas after a rain had subsided.
The middle of the path was slick with a dark muck that hung to the surface in long wavy strands. As I walked, I kept my feet to either side of it, crossing over while necessary to keep my footing. Babir eventually shut off his electric torch, as the path provided little variation. Other than my own lantern, there were no other sources of light. Joseph and the captain maintained a slow pace not too far from me, Chase’s weight and condition holding them back. The women stuck close, hanging just within the reaches of the flame’s glow.
“This was a poor idea.” Mary spoke up, her voice quiet.
I glanced back to Daniels, who was biting at his lip, holding back his words. Alice held Mrs. Dunn’s hand, petting the back of her palm. “We shall stick as one, and find our way out of here.”
Some meters down, my feet splashed into deeper water, hidden in shadow. I lurched back, nearly running into the Captain who had continued without stopping. “What are you up to, Sami?”
I held the light lower, casting a glow upon the murky, oily surface of the water before me. The path had continued downward, so much that the majority had been filled with water. It continued until the ceiling was almost touching the liquid.
“Captain…” I moved to the side, showing the way.
Daniels clicked his tongue loudly. “Lomeli, let’s let the man down for a bit.”
“Yes, sir.” Joseph complied, twisting Chase’s arm off his shoulder, and sitting him down at the wall. The cook landed limply, his breath heavy with his arm across his chest.
“Sengupta.” Daniels called back.
Babir crawled between the others, pushing ahead. “How unpleasant.”
“This water is obviously no good.” Daniels said, washing his fingers back and forth in the shallows. “Are you sure we aren’t somewhere in the thing’s bowels?”
“I am sure.” Babir stated.
Daniels allowed for the dark man to continue before stepping in once again. “Well, regardless, this is the only way to continue on. Who wants to brave it first? See what’s on the other side, huh?”
Joseph hunched back. “Not a good swimmer,” he said, twiddling his thumbs.
“All of the gear is going to get soaked.” Alice complained.
Richards patted at his bag. “Everything worth wile is sealed, the food in foil, at least it should be.”
“Padilla.” Daniels called back. “I’ll need a length of your rope.”
Alice blinked for a few moments, eventually shifting one strap of her back from her shoulder and pulling out one of the wound-up cords. “Here.”
Daniels caught it gracefully. He picked at the knot holding it in its ring, and shoved the end into my hands. “Sami. You’ll go.”
“What?” I caught myself with the only word I could muster at the time.
“Find a way back up to something more dry. The rope will let us get to you.”
“There’s no way-”
“If the passage is too narrow, we can figure that out now before someone bigger than you gets caught underwater.” He insisted. He took the end of the rope back from me, tying it in a square knot to fit over my wrist. “Give it a pull when you’re all the way through. If its just a dead end, come straight back. As simple as that.”
I looked to Joseph and the others for any hope of them volunteering. Daniel’s eyes remained locked on me, urging. Richards pursed his lips. “Just don’t breath any in, Sami.”
I closed my eyes. Daniels tugged the handle of the lantern away from me. The bundle of rope was sitting on the ground, ready to feed out to me. I took my first step into the deeper water sideways. The ceiling was just out of reach. My hand found the wall. It was slick. My legs first disappeared beneath the surface. The liquid was just short of tepid. My torso went in after. My nose picked up on scents akin to rotten food. The light behind me slowly began to fade away, and the rope held limply to my wrist. I took in a deep breath to avoid any of the liquid making its way into my mouth as I continued deeper.
I was no stranger to the water, having taken plenty of swimming lessons though my adolescence in the lap pool behind the tennis courts on my father’s property. This was, however, nothing like that experience. The ground dropped off more and more under my feet, and I could barely keep my chin above the water. Just as my tip-toes could barely move me further, I took the plunge, leaning forward. The water entered my nose, bringing with it the vulgar odor. As my head bobbed, I attempted to rid the taste from my lips. My feet kicked across the slippery bottom, propelling me further little by little. My clothes clung to my body and began to drag against the water. I felt my lungs start to scream out, demanding another breath. I was able to wedge myself against the wall just long enough to reach my lips to the air and take in a breath. The corners of my mouth took in bitter samples of the liquid.
I found the ground once again beneath my feet. I pushed and flailed, attempting to further myself. My hands scooped me further. My hair was flung back as I exited the water a final time. I spat and sputtered attempted to rid my mouth of the oily sensation. My knees found solid ground next. With my strength failing, I continued out on all fours. I wiped my face with a dirty palm, allowing me to finally open my eyes. The pitch blackness was still all encompassing.
“Daniels!” I called out. “Joseph!” I tugged on the rope, hoping for the other end to sense my movements. Rolling over onto my back, I slid myself up the incline, reaching what seemed to be a mostly dry area. There was a silent stillness in the air, complimented by a feeling of hopeless solitude.
A couple of minutes later, the splashing returned, followed by the loud sputtering of a man. “Sami?” The doctor called out to me.
“What a terrible-” He was interrupted as someone else followed quickly after.
“Outta the way.” Chase interrupted. “Quit yer pushing, I can make it.”
“I got ya, Mr. Chase.” I heard Joseph next, his voice accompanied by loud splashing.
Several more loud movements or gasps for air continued after in short succession. First was the two women, then likely the captain and Babir.
“Everyone…” Daniels began, his breath short. “Everyone accounted for?”
I crawled back to make more room, feeling a set of hands seeking their way through the dark past me. “Augh.” Alice’s voice recoiled.
“It’s me.” I responded, my voice low.
“Well…” Daniels cleared his throat. “Lantern is water-logged. Sengupta, your torch?”
There was a mechanical clicking in the dark, before the response came. “It is not operational.”
“Wonderful.” Daniels said back. “Sami?” He began to count us off.
“Here.” I offered back. The roll call went between the others, while I began to undo the laces on my boots.
Someone stood up in the darkness and began fiddling with their clothes. The voice belong to Babir. “We must not remain wet. At least allow your shoes and socks to dry.”
I pried off the thick, rigid leather of the boots off my ankles and down off my feet, following the act tiredly by rolling the socks from my shins. They were predictably saturated, and resisted being removed. I felt an arm beside me, pulling off an outer layer.
“Sorry.” Alice mumbled back. There was a lilt in her voice, as if she had been crying.
I didn’t respond, and continued by beginning to unbutton my own shirt.