Connie wasn’t sure how she felt about being buried alive. On the one hand, it wasn’t exactly how she wanted to go. Too cramped and stuffy and no chance to say any last goodbyes. On the other hand, getting lost while on a secret archaeological dig was a pretty mysterious fate and, if she was ever found, there were so many amazing artifacts around her that she would be an instant celebrity.
“Something is moving out there,” Joe said. Joe had been hearing strange things every since they arrived at the dig site. He claimed that as a porter, site security was one of his responsibilities, and so he had to be extra alert. That didn’t explain why he spent half the night jumping at shadows, but also didn’t mean that he wasn’t occasionally right.
“More than one thing, I think,” Connie said. She didn’t want to panic the guy who was potentially the last surviving member of her expedition more than necessary, but given that they were holed up in a tiny crevice, deep within a hitherto unexplored cavern complex in the Peruvian Andes, and there seemed to be several zombies hunting for their blood, a fairly extreme amount of panic seemed quite reasonable.
Nails hard as steel scrapped on walls of the small passageway outside their crevice. Connie covered Joe’s mouth with her hand. The zombies, or whatever they were, didn’t seem to react to sound much but Connie wasn’t in the mood to take a lot of chances.
Inch by inch, in stuttering rasps, the scraping advanced, as though the creature dragging its claws across the stone was struggling through a great agony to move. It drew closer for several long moments before stopping and sniffing the air with a congested inhalation. Whatever it was looking for, it didn’t appear to find. Instead, it turned and began scraping away into the distance.
“What was that?” Joe asked, his face only saved from being ghostly white by the weird green illumination of the phosphorescent slime that grew in odd patches along the walls and provided the only light in the darkened caves.
“That was not our problem,” Connie said. “Whatever lives down here, was here before we arrived and will probably be here long after we leave.”
“Leave?” Joe held his voice below a scream but only with a visible exertion of will. “How are we going to leave? There’s no way out!”
“We got in, we can get out,” Connie said.
“Do you remember how we got here then?” Joe asked. “Because the last thing I remember was crawling into my sleeping bag and hoping I wouldn’t miss breakfast again.”
“Yeah, whoever, or whatever, took us did it in the middle of the night,” Connie said. “But, they kept us alive which means they want something from us.”
“Or they just want us to be lunch for whatever these things are,” Joe said.
“If we’re supposed to be food then we’d do just as good a job whether we were dead or alive, and dead would mean there’d be a lot less chance that we could get away,” Connie said.
She refrained from pointing out that there were several animal species which would only eat live food. If they were meant to feed things that were put off by the smell of carrion flesh then there’d be an excellent reason to leave them alive. That seemed unlikely enough that she didn’t need to worry Joe by sharing the information.
“Do we even know where we are?” Joe asked.
“In a cave,” Connie said, knowing it wasn’t a helpful response. “We can’t be far from the dig though.”
“How can you know that?” Joe lets his voice get louder, panic blinding him to the danger he was putting them in.
“They took us while we were sleeping,” Connie said. “I’m not a deep enough sleeper that they could have done that without drugs, and if we’d been drugged unconscious for a lengthy period of time we’d still be feeling it. Whatever compound they used has to be a short term thing. Also, I’m not starving. If we’d been out of it for days we’d be weak and hungry.”
“I just feel sick,” Joe said, his voice back to a miserable whisper.
“We’re going to be ok,” Connie said, patting him on the shoulder and giving him a confident smile.
“This doesn’t really feel anything like ok.”
“Believe it or not, I’ve been in worse scrapes before. There was this one time I fell through the ice in Antarctica and wound up trapped in freezing water beneath a glacier and surrounded by three giant squid.”
“Girl scouts honor,” Connie said. “Then there was the time I was skydiving and the plane I was on exploded before I got into my parachute.”
“Wait, I thought you were an archaeologist, why were you skydiving?” Joe asked.
“People can have hobbies,” Connie said. “And I’m not an archaeologist. I’m a librarian.”
Joe blinked and sputtered in confusion, before Connie held up a hand to explain.
“I was a dual major,” she said. “I know. It’s super nerdy, but I really like doing research. Technically I guess I’m both, but since it my library position that pays a salary which I then spend on things like this, I get to call myself a librarian.”
“That’s…that’s not how libraries work is it?” Joe asked.
“There’s a secret to getting the job you want,” Connie said. “It’s real simple – basically know the right people and invent it for yourself. I wanted to be a archeologist librarian, and with years of study, the right friendly contacts, and a ludicrous amount student loan debt, that’s what I became.”
“So how did you survive?” Joe asked.
“Far too much Red Bull and almost enough full body massages,” Connie said. “Plus I stretched out the course work over another year so I could fit everything in.”
“No, I mean the plane,” Joe said. “How’d you survive it exploding?”
“Oh! Yeah, that was fun,” Connie said. “Well, I guess it’s more fair to say it disintegrated after it hit another plane, so that bought me about a half second. Wasn’t enough to get into the parachute but at least I had enough time to see where one was.”
“Why didn’t you have it on?” Joe asked.
“Because I wasn’t supposed to be skydiving that day,” Connie said. “So we crash, mid-air, thanks to the other guy being an idiot after the shortest half second in my life, the fuselage rips open and Mr. Air Currents say that outside is the place to be. I’m falling, our pilot’s falling, all of the divers are falling, and all our stuff is falling. The divers of course all popped their chutes because they’re not stupid. I was close enough to get to one of the falling chutes and get it strapped on enough to be functional. It’s really good I was a theater kid, I’d never have been able to change that fast otherwise.”
“What about the pilot?” Joe asked.
“Well, I was the only one who hadn’t opened their chute, so I got to dive for him,” Connie said. “Again, we were seriously lucky there. Derrick looked like the photoshopped version of a supermodel. He could only break into the triple digits for weight by wearing a wet parka.”
“You caught him?” Joe asked.
“Of course,” Connie said. “I don’t leave people behind.” She bapped him on the shoulder. “Even ones who are screaming in my ear the whole time.”
Joe managed a weak chuckle at that.
“So how do we get out of here?” he asked.
“Well, we start with what we know,” Connie said. “We were looking for some ruins. These are probably them. The room we woke up in had all kinds of amazing pottery in alcoves and the walls have the most fantastic art. So odds are good we’re somewhere below the dig site we were working on.”
“That makes sense. That means we go up?” Joe asked.
“Probably not,” Connie said. “Or at least not right away. Whoever caught us, put us down here for a reason. I’m going to guess the reason for that is because we were poking around somewhere they had something to hide.”
“Why not just kill us?” Joe asked.
“As a guess?” Connie said. “We don’t look that important. Gerald’s the dig site lead. The people who caught us probably want to know what he’s told the outside world about what we’re doing. We’re useful as a bargaining chip or to get answers from if Gerald won’t talk.”
“That means they can come and get us whenever they want,” An edge of panic crept back into Joe’s voice.
“Yeah, which is excellent,” Connie said. “If they can get us, that means we can get out. And if they’re intending to use us for leverage then they don’t think that the zombies in here will eat us right away, so we’re probably safe to move around.”
“But if they left us here doesn’t that mean they don’t think we can get out?” Joe asked.
“Well, they probably weren’t expecting us to get out of the ropes they tied us up in,” Connie said.
“They tied us up?” Joe asked.
“Yeah, you were still out when I came to,” Connie said. “I figured you’d be happier waking up and not finding yourself hogtied. Then I heard the zombies.”
“Umm, thanks,” Joe said.
“Let’s see if we can find how to get out of here, shall we?” Connie asked.
“I think we can help with that.”
Connie regretted the punch that she threw the moment the words finished registering in her mind. Appearances to the contrary though, her nerves were a bit too high strung for her not to lash out at an unexpected voice coming from deeper in the crevice.
Tam wasn’t surprised by the punch. She knew she was playing with fire by making a dramatic entrance. Connie had to punch past Joe to reach her though so she had plenty of time to step back and continue speaking before things got ugly.
“Sorry, that was mean to startle you like that,” Tam said. “You’re Constance Cruz and Joseph Guilder right? My name is Le Li Tam and I’m here to help.”
Connie’s brain wanted to lock up but she kicked her mental gears into action and they spun up a match on the name she’d been given.
“The magician?” she asked. “Like from Las Vegas?”
“I haven’t played in Vegas in a little while,” Tam said. “But, yeah, that one. I brought a friend too.”
“Is this glowing stuff radioactive?” Val asked.
In the dim light cast by the green slime, Connie saw an Asian woman and a Latina woman pressed into the deeper reaches of the crevasse.
“How did you get here?” Connie asked, reasonably certain no one had been in the crevasse when she’d pushed Joe into it. “Does this lead to the outside?”
“Not exactly,” Tam said. “I think the only path out is to either go down to the ancient city below us, which is probably a terrible idea, or to go back up through the ruins above, which will have its own set of problems.”
“Can we maybe move a bit?” Val asked. “I’m getting a rock wedgie standing here.”
Connie started to walk backwards and felt Joe slump against her. He’d passed out and was a lot heavier than he’d been when he was recovering from their drugging and had been able to partially stand on his own feet.
With a grunt, she supported his weight and dragged him out to the cavern tunnel outside the crevasse. Tam and Val joined them moments later as Joe began to come round again.
“So, you’ve got a lot of questions,” Tam said. “The important ones are why are we here, and how are we going to get out. The answers are; to help you because we need your talents, and with as much stealth as we can manage.”
“Stealth? Was I wrong about the zombies?” Connie asked. “Do they want to eat us?”
“Well, they’re not zombies, but they’re not the problem,” Tam said. “It turns out there’s a small army just a few hundred feet above us in the ruins you were looking for, they’re all armed, all pretty cranky, and all ready to shoot anything that comes out of this place.”
“No! That would be terrible!” Connie said.”They might hit some of the relics!”