: I do not own Smallville, Superman, or The Cave...would be damned rich if I did!
. As LexCorp's representative and Meteor Freak, Chloe is used to 'weird', but when she and the McAlister spelunking team, along with Dr. Nicolai, Dr. Kathryn Jennings, and Alex Kim get trapped in the cave, she'll experience 'weird' on a whole different level. And not only are they trying to find a way out of the underwater cave, and trying to survive the attacks from the monstrous creatures below...but she has a distracting attraction to both McAlister brothers...who return the attraction and are naturally competitive with each other...
As soon as they hit the water, any differences in opinion the others might have had about Jack or his leadership were pushed aside as they once more aligned themselves to follow his lead.
“Let’s not get too spread out.” Jack spoke into the microphone in his mask.
Before they’d set off he’d helped Chloe into her diving gear and told her that the rules remained the same, she didn’t know much about diving and she had even more reason to panic now, so they were going to stick together, swimming side by side, and she was just going to have to trust him.
Chloe did trust Jack, but she still kept her eyes open as they began their underwater journey. Unlike their last dive, Chloe wasn’t able to admire the beautiful underwater life, at every little shifting of shadows she’d look around, expecting to be attacked by some ferocious underwater version of whatever it was that’d attacked Jack.
The underwater cavern grew narrower and narrower until they were diving with the cavern’s roof almost touching their gear and the cavern’s bottom almost scraping their wetsuits. At one point Chloe felt close to panicking, but she’d repressed it, feeling like a coward. Everyone else on this expedition were just as terrified as she was, and yet she was the only one who’d been having a public breakdown.
And that was not the image she wanted to convey of Lexcorp, of Lex. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine how things would be if Lex had come with her on this expedition, and she hated to admit it, but Lex would have remained stoic in the face of even an attack, and he would have protected her at all costs, just like Jack was doing.
I miss Lex…
Something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye, sticking out from the pebbles at the bottom of the cavern. The blonde looked at Jack, noticed his attention elsewhere, and swam towards the green rock. Removing the pebbles from around it, Chloe tugged on the tightly embedded rock and grunted when it finally came free.
She blinked in surprise, unable to believe that her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her. There was green kryptonite in a completely isolated and self-sustained ecosystem in a cave in Romania. It was all so unbelievable that she didn’t notice that the others were leaving without her until Jack’s voice resounded in her mask.
“Chloe, what are you doing?” He sounded irritated. “Get over here! Don’t separate from the group!”
Looking up in the direction of the swimmers, Chloe realized that they were a good ways ahead of her, and that they’d stopped the procession to wait for her. “Sorry, I got distracted.” Closing her fist over the meteor rock, Chloe quickly swam back to the group and rejoined Jack up front.
The rest of the dive she kept rubbing her thumb over the Green K, wondering how it’d gotten there and if the creatures that inhabited this cave-system had been mutated because of overexposure to the meteor rock. She then thought of this cave and of the Kawatche Caves, wondering about the parasites, and if they didn’t live within the green kryptonite and evolved for the need at hand.
The Kawatche Caves hid the secret room, so it made sense that the parasites that protected it would infect those who entered and make them rapidly end their own lives by seeking the ultimate ‘rush’. That way no one would really care about the caves, they’d be all over the place riding in fast cars, jumping off of buildings--.
But the parasite in this cave acted differently, so obviously it’d been created for a different purpose, it didn’t target the adrenaline gland of its host. But what did it do? If what Chloe was looking for was really there, how was this parasite fulfilling its duty by protecting it?
“The current’s pushing us up.” Jack’s voice broke into her thoughts.
“Yeah.” Briggs could be heard agreeing. “I feel it.”
They made their way out of the cavern and Chloe nearly sighed in relief when she saw the surface above.
“Looks like it’s pretty choppy up there.” Tyler commented from the back of the group.
They surfaced one by one and remained in a circle, the water choppy like Tyler had commented on. There were little waterfalls behind them, so the sound of falling and running water was loud, and Jack had to talk above the noise to be heard.
“All right, listen up.” He spoke loudly and yet the sound of the water still drowned out some of the words. “Secure all your gear.”
“Jack,” Kathryn called back, realizing his intent to ride down the rapids for a speedier travel. “We don’t know where the rapids go!”
“What do you want to do?” Top asked in annoyance, pulling off his tank and securing his gear as Jack had ordered. “Go back?”
“She’s right, Jack.” Briggs instead took Kathryn’s side. “We should find another way.”
“This is the goddamn way!” Jack snapped, his patience obviously reaching its limit with their expecting him to lead but questioning his every decision at every step of the way.
Kathryn looked away.
Alex looked at Jack in worry.
“I’ll go first.” Top announced, proving his trust in Jack.
“Yeah,” Jack nodded, thankful. “Get going.”
Hugging his oxygen tank and gear to his chest, using it as a flotation device, Top allowed the strong current to take him away, and everyone watched him going, Kathryn in concern and Briggs with a conflicted expression on his face.
“I’m not doing this.” Dr. Nicolai finally spoke. “This is insane!”
“This is the only way.” Alex surprised everyone by saying. “We have to follow Jack, and he says that this is the way we have to go.”
“Don’t you see how dangerous these rapids become?” The Russian turned to the Asian. “We could all break our necks!”
“Jack and Tyler can help you.” Chloe winced when everyone turned to look at her. “Dr. Nicolai, they’re the best of the best, and with their help you should be able to make it out okay.”
The Russian paused, considering what she was saying.
Jack shook his head. “No, I have to help you--.”
“No, you don’t have to.” Chloe argued back. “Briggs can help me, he’s just as good a diver.”
Briggs preened at that, despite the situation.
Jack frowned. “I don’t like the idea of--.”
“Jack.” She glared at him. “We don’t have time to argue about this!”
“She’s right.” Tyler interjected, earning him a thankful smile from her. “Arrogant-bastard attitude aside, Briggs is more than decent at what he does. They’ll be okay.”
“Yeah Jack.” Briggs added, obviously forgetting that he’d been against this idea from the start. “I’ll take good care of her.”
Jack frowned, obviously not liking the idea, but realizing that time was of the essence and Chloe wasn’t about to budge. “Okay then, you all win. Dr. Nicolai, you’re coming with Tyler and me. Charlie, you take Kim, Kathryn knows how to dive, she’ll be alright.”
Kathryn nodded her agreement.
The Russian smiled, looking much more at ease now as he and Tyler made their way to Jack.
Charlie grabbed hold of Alex and they both took in deep breaths before letting the strong current take them away.
Tyler turned to the obviously frightened Russian. “Dr. Nicolai, I need you to put on your goggles and hold onto me.”
The elder man nodded stiffly.
Jack gave Chloe one last look before joining them and they disappeared down the vicious current.
“Jack has a death wish.” Kathryn whispered to herself as the three remaining inched closer and closer towards the strong current that tried to pull them away with every inch they swam.
“We have to trust him.” Chloe frowned to her friend. “He’s going to get us out.”
“Or he’ll end up getting us killed.” Briggs mumbled under his breath. “Whoa, a couple of more paddles and we’ll be caught in the current. Ms. Sullivan, I think it’s time you gave me a nice big hug.”
Kathryn, who was behind the two, rolled her eyes at the comment. “Dear God.”
Chloe glared at him as she stopped swimming, refusing to ‘hug’ him until the last moment, but she knew that this was a dangerous ride, and she had forced Jack to let Briggs help her through the rapids, so she was just going to have suck it up and--suddenly the small scar at the back of her neck began to throb.
Oh no, dear Go--! She screamed as something grabbed onto her fin.
“What’s wrong?” Briggs asked, turning around to look at her and then crying out as he was pulled into the strong current.
“There’s something in the water!” Chloe cried as she struggled with whatever had grabbed a hold of her fin, trying to yank her under, but Kathryn grabbed her hand and held onto a boulder they were passing by, managing to keep the blonde’s head above the water.
In the commotion Chloe didn’t have time to notice Briggs’ horrified face or the fact that he allowed himself to be pulled into the stronger current and away from whatever had her in the water.
“Try kicking at it!” Kathryn ordered, voice strained as she did her best to keep Chloe above water despite the strong thing trying to pull her down. “You have to get it to let go of you!”
The scar in the back of Chloe’s neck throbbed like the beat of drums in a samba, and she screamed as she felt something curling up along her legs, curling up her thighs. In the back of her mind she registered pain, but her terror was truly the only emotion she felt as the thing gave her an extra hard tug, causing her head to momentarily go under water, but in seconds Kathryn had pulled her back up.
Chloe reached for Kathryn, trying to help her keep her above water, and feeling stupid because during all of this she still had not gotten rid of the meteor rock in her hand.
She screamed as she felt the creature sink it’s teeth into her thigh, but her scream was muted when it gave an extra hard tug and pulled her free from Kathryn’s hold, pulling her under the water and out of the reach of her rescuer. Chloe tried to kick it yet was unable to, it was also impossible to get a good look at it, whatever it was, but she knew that it had an inhuman form, a form like something she’d never seen before, and it had her thigh in its mouth.
Boosted by pure adrenaline and fear, Chloe tightened her hold on the meteor rock in her hand and brought it down as hard as she could on what she expected to be the head of the creature. She did so over and over again, the creature shaking her violently, and dark red blood--not just her own seeping the water dark. She brought the meteor rock down once more as hard as she could, and felt something shift beneath her as the creature screamed, its mouth opening and she was able to escape, rising to the surface and gasping in a greedy gulp of air, surprised to see a horrified Kathryn still there.
“Wh—what happened?” Kathryn seemed to have gone into shock. “How did you--?”
“No time to explain!” Chloe grabbed onto her friend and winced as she swam into the strong current, her thigh throbbing in pain, yet the bite marks were burning her terribly--a sure sign that her body was already furiously working to heal her.
They entered the vicious current and were swept away immediately into the rapids, where there was no ups or downs or left or right, everything was mixed up together and in such a quick rush Chloe couldn’t help but be smashed into a couple of boulders she couldn’t avoid, crying out in pain, feeling her body burning hotter as it continued to heal the damages she was inflicting on herself.
“Ms. Sullivan!” She thought she heard Dr Nicolai screaming over the sound of the rapids. “Ms. Sullivan!”
Barely able to keep her head over the water, or keep conscious as her body grew more and more weary as it continued to heal her, Chloe looked up in time to pass Dr. Nicolai as quick as a blink. The man had somehow gotten separated from both Jack and Tyler, and had smashed into one of the boulders, the dark water surrounding him proved that he’d gotten injured, and badly.
“HELP ME!” Dr. Nicolai cried out, but Chloe couldn’t have swam against the current even if she hadn’t been on the verge of exhaustion. So she was helpless to do anything as the current swept her away in the blink of an eye, and suddenly she was falling…falling…falling down a long, long waterfall into the murky water below, the sound of Kathryn screaming from above her the only evidence that her friend had made it this far as well.
As she surfaced from the dark water, gasping for breath, Chloe turned around, trying to find Kathryn, find the others. Kathryn surfaced a couple of feet away from Chloe, gasping loudly for breath and slapping the surface of the water. “Kathryn!”
The scientist wiped at the water in her eyes and blinked, taking in more gulps of air before swimming towards Chloe, holding onto her hand and looking at her in worry. “Are you okay? Were you hurt?”
“I’m fine, I’m fine.” Chloe assured her, knowing that her wounds had already closed up and by the time they got out of the water there wouldn’t even be a scar on her flesh. It would be a little hard to explain the teeth marks in her suit, but she would manage somehow.
“Where’s everyone?” Kathryn whispered as they both looked around, unable to see anything in the darkness around them.
“Kathryn! Ms. Sullivan!” They turned to see Briggs swimming towards them in the darkness. They were only able to see him in the pitch black due to the small light on his helmet. “Are you two okay? What happened back there?”
“Something had me back there, but I got free.” Chloe looked away.
“No thanks to you!” Kathryn growled, turning her furious glare on him. “You were supposed to be our protection! You ran away!”
He winced. “It was the current--I couldn’t get back to you!”
“Couldn’t get back--couldn’t get BACK--!” Kathryn tried to lunge at Briggs but Chloe held her back.
Something shifted in the water underneath them and Chloe and Kathryn screamed as something surfaced, and then felt silly because the person who surfaced was Charlie.
“There’s something in the water!” She cried, looking terrified as she pulled off her goggles.
Briggs’ eyes went wide. “We have to swim!”
“Where?” Kathryn snapped, obviously still pissed with him. “If you haven’t realized, we’re lost in the pitch dark, separated from the rest of our group, and there isn’t any land in sight! Nothing is in sight! Where do you want us to swim to?!”
Briggs looked a mixture of offended, terrified, ashamed and pissed.
Chloe frowned, pressing her hand to the back of her neck and felt the smooth, still skin. It wasn’t throbbing, so either whatever was under the water wasn’t one of those creatures--or the fact that she’d gotten bitten, and the fact that the parasites were probably now not only fighting each other but her healing powers--maybe it’d killed her ability to sense them.
“Fuck it all.” Briggs cursed, pulling his goggles on and diving under the water.
“Think he’s deserted us again?” Kathryn asked sarcastically, obviously preferring to be angry than terrified.
“Left you?” Charlie asked in a small, voice, obviously terrified.
“He left us up there alone with one of those creatures!” Kathryn exploded, glad to be able to vent her frustration.
“What?” Charlie looked up at the waterfall in horror. “There was one up there with us?”
The scientist nodded her head vehemently. “It grabbed a hold of Chloe and Briggs just ran off!”
Charlie’s eyes widened as she turned to Chloe. “Are you all right, Ms. Sullivan? Are you hurt?”
Chloe shook her head, hand still firmly around the meteor rock just in case she would have to use it on anything else that would attack, because Briggs had been under for a little long for it not to worry them. “I’m fine. It just scared me more than anything.” She smiled warily. “If it hadn’t been for Kathryn--.”
Briggs surfaced and pulled off his goggles. “Oh shit! It’s some freaky and small kind of friggin’ eel!” He reached into his backpack and grabbed a flare, lighting it and holding it under the water between them, obviously trying to scare the eel-like creature away.
“Does anybody have eyes on Dr. Nicolai or Charlie?” Jack’s voice came through the receiver in Briggs’ bag. “Briggs, where the fuck are you?”
Briggs winced and spoke into the mic. “I got Charlie, Kathryn and Chloe—”
“He’s got us.” Kathryn muttered under her breath.
Briggs ignored that. “Nicolai’s wracked up on the rocks above the falls. He’s in bad shape.”
“All right, flare’s coming up. Swim to us when you see it.”
“I see them!” Charlie exclaimed in relief, pointing to the light that’s just flared up in the darkness.
“Yeah.” Briggs sounded relieved now that he wouldn’t have to be in charge anymore. “Looks like a couple hundred yards.”
“We can swim that.” Kathryn interjected. “The bigger the group the safer we are.”
“Safety in numbers.” Chloe rephrased.
“Let’s all swim there slowly together.” Briggs commanded.
“To hell with that.” Charlie announced, beginning to swim towards the light as fast as she could.
“Wait for us, Charlie!” Briggs called from behind the group.
“No, you keep up with us!” Kathryn announced as she and Chloe began to swim alongside Charlie, obviously, the scientist was very much of a grudge-holder.
Briggs hurried up behind them, trying to keep up.
In record time they’d joined the other group, and Chloe’s gaze met Jack’s, nodding her head at his silent question on if she was okay.
“Stick close together.” Jack ordered, and no one dared complain, finding some vain sense of safety all huddled together, floating in the calm, deep, dark, murky water.
The flare Top held lit a small circle around them, yet it really didn’t do any good as in showing them a way to dry land.
A scream echoed throughout the cavern and they all twirled around and watched as Dr. Nicolai’s body hurtled down the waterfall into the water beneath. He’d obviously found a way to free himself from the boulder he’d been trapped on and thrown himself back into the rapids despite his injury. He surfaced with a scream of pain.
“That’s Dr. Nicolai.” Jack announced as the flare died. “Top, light another one, I’m gonna go after him.”
“HELP ME!” Dr. Nicolai could be heard calling as he tried to swim towards the light as Top lit another flare.
“We have to get him and ourselves out of the water quickly.” Chloe said, grabbing Jack’s arm to halt his movements. “Jack, he’s bleeding.”
Jack froze, realizing what she was saying. He nodded before turning his back on her and looking in the direction of the waterfall. “NICOLAI?”
“I’M HERE!” Nicolai’s voice echoed from the darkness.
Jack began swimming into the darkness towards Dr. Nicolai, surprising everyone on how quick he seemed to be moving in the water. Chloe watched him with narrowed eyes, guessing this to be another side effect of being infected with the parasite. She then placed her hand to her thigh and her fingers brushed against the teeth marks in her wetsuit, frowning, wondering what sort of clash was going on between the two different parasites, and her own mutation, inside of her body at that moment.
Shaking her head, she looked at the meteor rock in her hand and pulled off her backpack, opening a side pocket and depositing the stone safely in there before zippering it shut again and shouldering the backpack once more.
“What was that?” Kathryn asked, having noticed her actions.
“It’s a rock I found while we were still diving, it caught my attention so I took it with me to be able to look at it later.” So far that was the truth. “I hit whatever had me on the head with that--that’s why it let me go. I think I might have damaged it’s eye with the last blow.”
“That’s what divers do when attacked by sharks.” Charlie announced, looking somewhat proud of her. “Hit the shark in the face and eyes.”
Tyler’s head swerved towards them violently. “You were attacked? Are you hurt? What happened?” He then turned on a wincing Briggs. “Where were you when this happened?”
“Swimming towards the rapids as fast as his fins could take him.” Kathryn growled.
“I was not!” Briggs exclaimed, angry, too angry for it not to seem suspicious. “The current was too strong! I couldn’t swim against it!”
“What were you doing in the current without Chloe?” Tyler pressed on, eyes angry slits. “You were supposed to be looking after her!”
“Yes, well, you and Jack were supposed to be looking out after Dr. Nicolai and look what happened to him!” Briggs snapped back.
“Will you two stop it already?!” Charlie snapped, irritated with them.
Suddenly the sound of Nicolai’s screams filled the dark chambers, and everyone turned in the water to look in the darkness in his direction.
“NICOLAI!” Jack yelled, swimming faster towards the man as Nicolai screamed, his body being jerked here and there violently from something that had him from under the water, the sound of bones breaking echoing loudly off the wall of the cavern.
“Nicolai!” Kathryn screamed in horror.
“Everybody stay put!” Top ordered.
“NICOLAI!” Kathryn made an attempt to try and swim to him, but Chloe blocked her, holding her back. “Let me go! Something’s got Nicolai! We have to help him!”
“Fall back!” Top ordered. “Everybody in a circle! Backs to center!”
“But we just can’t STAY here—we have to help him!” Kathryn screamed, fighting against Chloe’s hold on her. “NICOLAI!”
And suddenly, all was silent.
Nicolai’s flashlight, floating above the water, the only proof that he’d ever been there in the first place.
Jack reached for the flashlight, looking around him slowly. “Dr. Nicolai?” And then suddenly Jack dove under the water and was gone.
“JACK?” Chloe called, letting go of Kathryn and peering into the darkness. There was no answer. “JACK?!”
“We can’t just stay here.” Briggs announced quickly. “There’s got to be a shore someplace.”
“Nobody’s going anywhere until Jack gets back.” Top announced in a deathly serious voice.
“What was that?” Briggs asked, fidgety, obviously terrified. “Did you hear that? Did somebody hear that?!”
Something made a plopping sound behind them, and Top reached back into his backpack and pulled out a long knife.
“Oh, shit!” Alex screamed, jerking and looking down at the water beneath him.
“What?” Tyler turned to the other man.
“What the hell was that?” Alex seemed close to having a breakdown as he continued to jerk in the water.
“Stop that!” Chloe snapped. “You’ll only attract whatever it is more by jerking around like a wounded fish!”
Alex went deathly still.
Kathryn cried out and Chloe gasped as a long eel-like body slithered between them, brushing against their wetsuits.
“It’s the friggin eels!” Briggs exclaimed in slight hysteria.
“They ain’t small!” Charlie yelled, the light from the flare outlining the two long creatures slithering amongst them. “Why the hell did you tell us they were small?!”
“The one I saw was small!” Briggs yelled back.
“Get back in a circle!” Top ordered.
“I can’t take this!” Alex yelled, slapping the surface of the water frantically as an eel rubbed against him once more. “GOD!”
“They’re leaving--they’re leaving!” Tyler announced to the relief of all as the eels indeed left the group alone and swam away into the darkness.
“Where’s Jack?” Chloe asked once the quiet had settled amongst them. “Where is he?”
The sound of gasping in the distance drew their attention, and they watched as Jack surfaced, breathing in deep gulps of air before turning in their direction and slowly swimming towards them…without Nicolai.
Silence descended on the group until Jack reached them, knowing what he was going to say, and yet still denying it until they heard it from his own mouth.
“It’s over.” Jack said, looking away for a moment in sadness before returning his attention to them. “Let’s get the hell out of the water.”
“He said he didn’t want to go deeper, Jack. He was your responsibility!” Kathryn exploded in despair, her voice choking. “He said he didn’t want to go deeper!”
“It’s over, Kathryn.” Jack looked her dead in the eyes before turning and swimming away.
Chloe reached over and squeezed Kathryn’s shoulder before swimming after him, feeling her friend swimming next to her in agonized silence.
After what seemed like an eternity of swimming, Briggs finally called out the words they’d been dying to hear.
“There’s a ledge here! We can walk!”
They all gathered against the ledge, their feet able to touch the ground, the water reaching them at mid-chest, backs against the cavern’s wall. Jack took the lead and while Top would usually have gone next, the look Jack sent Chloe caused the handsome dark man to help her onto the ledge behind Jack and took his position behind her, the rest falling in line.
There hadn’t been silence for a while now, the sounds of the sonar calls so loud that the others had been able to hear them as well, and Chloe could see that it bothered them greatly.
“What the hell is that sound?” Alex finally snapped from behind Top.
“Echolocation.” Kathryn and Chloe answered at the same time, one from the knowledge gained by books, the other from the sensitivity she’d discovered was only growing now that the new parasite had been inside of her for almost an hour.
“Chloe was right from the beginning.” Kathryn spoke softly from where she rounded the back of the line, close to Tyler and Briggs. “This thing can see us as easy as a bat sees a moth in complete darkness.”
They continued to walk in silence after that, until they reached the shore and happily stood on dry land, changing from their diving fins to their shoes.
“Wait here.” Jack announced from up ahead. “I’m gonna scout ahead.”
Chloe frowned, watching him until long after he’d disappeared from sight, worried. Whatever that parasite was doing to Jack, it wasn’t good, she could tell from how pale he was becoming. Was she the only one who noticed the nearly purple bags under his eyes?
She shivered, hugging herself.
What would the parasite do to Jack?
What would the parasite do to her?
“It’s a strong current, Kathryn.” Briggs’ voice was heard saying, and Chloe turned to see him and the scientist bending by the water, watching it flowing into a tunnel. “It’s definitely worth a try.”
“Yeah.” Kathryn agreed.
Chloe shared looks with Top and joined Charlie, Alex and Tyler as they went towards the two studying the current.
“That’s gotta come up on the surface.” Alex announced, shining his flashlight into the tunnel the water led into.
“I’m not sure I like the idea of deep water right now.” Top admitted, looking around the new cavern they found themselves in.
Chloe sensed him before he emerged from the small, side cavern he’d disappeared into, and that was when she began to get an idea of what the parasite might be doing inside of her.
Charlie turned when Jack appeared, and looked at him expectantly.
“Tyler.” Jack spoke.
Tyler turned at his brother’s voice and nodded for him to speak.
“You and I are going up this wall.” He pointed behind him at the large cavern wall.
Chloe looked up at the wall in question and gulped. Then again, she’d take rock climbing to swimming in a monster-infested stream any day.
“But this is the main water flow.” Kathryn stood. “We just follow it out of the system.”
Jack ignored her, continuing to talk them. “When we get to the top, we’ll secure ropes and the rest of you will come up on ascenders.”
“Jack,” Charlie cut in. “I’m the best climber. I’ll go first.”
He shook his head at her
“Nobody’s climbing anywhere.” Briggs announced loudly from where he stood next to Kathryn. “There’s a huge exit sign here in front of us! All we have to do is--.”
“You don’t have a goddamn clue what’s going on.” Jack interrupted with irritation.
Everyone shared looks except Chloe, who kept her gaze fully on Jack’s face, wondering if it was her idea or if his eyes seemed a slightly different color.
“None of you do.” Jack continued, and once again Chloe worried as she realized just how pale he was. “It’s a trap.”
“A trap?” Briggs exclaimed in disgust. “Come on Jack! Whatever it is, it’s a friggin animal! It doesn’t think, it doesn’t make traps, it just hunts! It just goes on instinct!”
“Like your instinct to run when there’s any danger?” Chloe hissed, surprising everyone by the vehemence in her words. “I’m sorry Kathryn, but just the fact that Briggs thinks going down that tunnel is a good idea is enough to tell me it isn’t!” She folded her arms over her chest. “I’m with Jack on this. We already know that that creature lives in the water, so we should stay out of it.”
Top continued to look around the cavern, deciding. “The wall’s the safest option.”
“Jack and Chloe are right.” Charlie announced. “I’ll go.”
“I said no.” Jack turned to Charlie in exasperation. He turned his brother. “Let’s go.”
Everyone reluctantly followed behind.
Chloe found herself at the back of the group with Kathryn, ignoring the men as they got to the wall and began discussing the best routes to get to the point Jack was showing them with the beam of his flashlight. “I’m not against you, Kathryn, or don’t think that your idea has merit, but I don’t want to risk it. Not after that thing nearly got me above the falls.”
Kathryn sighed and looked up into Chloe’s face as the men went their separate ways to take off their wetsuits, change into their dry clothes, and start what must be done. “I understand that, Chloe, really I do. I’m not mad at you.” She smiled weakly before suddenly remembering something and going to her knees, looking at Chloe’s wetsuit before finding what she was looking for and trailing her fingers over the bite marks in the suit with a gasp of horror. “It bit you!”
“I’m fine, it only got the suit.” The blonde quickly reassured, putting down her backpack and beginning to undo the zipper of her wetsuit, peeling it off of her body to reveal the muscle shirt and shorts she wore underneath. Stepping out of the suit, she let Kathryn touch the unblemished skin of her thigh.
“Fascinating.” Kathryn whispered, shaking her head before standing and beginning to change out of her wetsuit as well. “The chances of that grabbing you and tearing into your suit without even breaking your skin is near to impossible, do you know how lucky you are?”
“Yeah, lucky.” Chloe refused to meet her gaze as she went through her backpack looking for a pants and a different shirt to put on. Her gaze instead went to Jack, where he was sitting on a stone, putting on his shoes.
Kathryn trailed her gaze and stiffened, turning to Chloe. “I understand your loyalty to him, he’s taken special care of you, but Chloe, you have to realize that things have changed since the expedition started.” The scientist announced in a low whisper. “Jack’s ill. He’s not fit to lead anymore.”
Chloe tore her gaze from him and turned to her friend. “I’m sorry about Dr. Nicolai. I know you two were friends from before this expedition.”
Tears made Kathryn’s eyes watery and she looked away, biting down on her bottom lip.
“But that wasn’t Jack’s fault.” Chloe went on to say. “He and Tyler weren’t able to keep a hold of Dr. Nicolai, they both lost him in the rapids. It was an unfortunate event and he was bleeding, I saw the blood myself when I went passed him. The creature that was after me obviously became attracted by the smell of his blood.”
Kathryn whimpered and she closed her eyes.
Chloe placed a hand on the elder woman’s shaking shoulders. “It was a horrible tragedy, but it wasn’t Jack’s fault.”
“But Jack forced us to come down the rapids!” Kathryn cried, turning to Chloe. “Nicolai didn’t want to come! If we hadn’t gone down--!”
“We would have been cornered by that creature and attacked.” Chloe cut in. “One of us would have been killed, no matter how this turned out, that creature would have gotten its belly full.”
“CHARLIE!” Jack’s voice caused them to jerk towards him, following his horrified gaze to find the petite blonde already high upon the wall. He got up and ran towards the wall. “I told you no!”
“We both know I’m the best climber here, Jack!” Charlie called back down as stubbornly as him as she climbed higher and higher very quickly, rope tied around her waist.
“Hey!” Tyler called. “Be careful!”
Top hurried and grabbed the rope, supplying her with more space as she made her fast ascent.
Briggs was by his side in a second helping to quickly untangle the rope. “GET YOUR ASS BACK DOWN HERE, CHARLIE!”
“I’ll be all right!” She called back down on them.
“That girl’s quick, man.” Briggs announced. “Get the rope, Top!”
Charlie paused and inserted the first security hook into a crevice. “Okay. I’m on belay.” She called down.
“On belay.” Briggs repeated.
“Damn, that girl moves fast.” Top announced admiringly.
“Be careful up here, Charlie!” Briggs called.
She was so far up by then that she probably couldn’t hear them.
Jack pulled his microphone to his mouth and spoke. “Charlie, you got good hold to your right.”
Nobody asked him how he could see that in this darkness and from such a far distance.
“Keep moving right.” He added into the mic.
Charlie suddenly disappeared from sight.
“I think she’s over the edge.” Alex announced, his flashlight beam had been faithfully trained on her during the climb.
“ALL RIGHT!” Briggs pumped the air in excitement.
“How are we going to follow that?” Top asked Jack. “She’s disappeared.”
“She just went over the bump.” Jack assured him.
“I can’t even see her.” Kathryn whispered to Chloe’s right.
“Safe!” Charlie’s exhausted voice came through the communication device.
Everyone turned to Jack.
“Talk to me, Charlie.” He spoke into the mic. “What’s going on? Is the line set? We’re ready to climb, Charlie.”
The sound of her panting heavily could be heard. Obviously the climb had been a tough one, even for the best climber in the team.
“Charlie?” Jacked asked again.
“I’m over the ledge.” Her voice responded after another pant. “I can feel a draft.”
“I’m coming up.” Jack told her. “Stay put.”
“No complaints here.” Came her tired response.
Tyler grinned at Top as Jack began the ascent. “We’ll be out of here in no time.”
Suddenly the sound of screaming echoed throughout the cavern and the rope began to pull through the hoops at an alarming pace.
“CHARLIE!” Jack screamed.
“She’s falling.” Chloe gasped. “Someone grab the rope!” When it reached the end and suddenly Top was momentarily yanked off his feet, Chloe realized that the dark man had tied it to his buckle.
“GET ME DOWN!” Charlie’s voice screamed, and yet they couldn’t see her. “IT’S UP HERE!”
“Dammit!” Briggs cursed. “Do something, Top!”
“Get that rope free!” Jack yelled down at them.
“JACK!” Charlie screamed in terror from somewhere in the darkness above.
The sound of the creature’s sonar calls echoed throughout the cavern.
“GET ME DOWN!”
“Motherfucker!” Briggs was obviously very big on cursing, demanding things of others, causing trouble, and never being useful in any sort of situation. What the devil had Jack and his people been thinking by hiring him in the first place? “TOP--!”
“Shut the fuck up Briggs!” Top growled as he and Tyler tried to free the knot in the rope to give Charlie working space.
“Oh my God--Charlie!” Kathryn’s scream caused everyone to look up in time to see Charlie swinging over the vast nothingness between the wall she’d been climbing and the one across from it, and pulling out her knife she cut the rope holding her and flew through the air, hurtling into the wall, grabbing onto whatever she could, amazingly in one piece and standing.
“Charlie!” Briggs screamed, shinning the light on her.
Her relieved laughter echoed throughout the cavern as she secured a hook in the crevice of the wall and hooked the bundled of rope wrapped around her arm onto it, making her now secure to make her descent.
The sound of sonar calls once more vibrated off the walls of the cavern, and Chloe placed a hand to her head as the vibrations cut through her painfully. Her body began to heat up rapidly and the sounds of the sonar clicks became horribly distorted, causing her to become dizzy and disoriented.
No one noticed, all eyes on Charlie as she turned from where she was already making her descent and shone her light at the darkness in the direction where she’d left the creature crawling down the wall at her.
Her light bounced off of a large body with bat-like wings outstretched, gliding down towards her.
“THEY FLY!” she screamed as it neared her. “THEY FREAKING FLY!” She turned towards the wall and closed her eyes as the bat-like creature swooped down on her, covering her completely against the wall with its enormous body and wings.
The lights of the flashlights blurred around Chloe as the room seemed to spin round and round and round so rapidly it was hard for her to remain on her feet.
“CHARLIE!” Jack screamed from where he was rapidly climbing down the opposite wall. “COME AT ME YOU BASTARD! LEAVE HER ALONE!”
But Chloe didn’t hear any of the commotion as her feet gave out on her and she collapsed to the ground, body jerking violently against the rock floor in a near epileptic way as pain shot through her body. Blurry images of ghastly faces flashed through her eyes like a bad movie, and she heard the screams of something inhumane, felt the vibrations bouncing off of her, and suddenly she heard the flapping of wings.
There were screams around her, but they didn’t sound right, they--some were so high and other so low, all too close and yet so far, and then all the air was forced out of her lungs as something heavy landed on top of her, pressing down on her chest as her body continued to jerk erratically, as her eyes continued to see visions of something too blurry to make out, and her ears were deaf to the true sounds of things.
“CHLOE!” The scream finally made sense, and yet the blonde was confused, her mind hazy as her body finally stopped jerking and she tried to breathe, but the weight on her chest was just so heavy. Why where they screaming her name? Wasn’t it Charlie who was in trouble?
The stench of death and something putrid hit her nostrils as something pressed softly against the skin of her face, sniffing.
“DO SOMETHING!” Kathryn sounded terrified. “GET IT OFF OF HER!”
Chloe groaned, feeling the heat rage inside of her as her body fought the effects of the parasite. She closed her eyes tightly, shaking her head when she felt something wet trailing up her cheek, stilling when she heard a resounding growl above her.
Suddenly the effects of the parasite within her wore off and Chloe tensed, opening her eyes and screaming as she looked into the face of what she could only truly describe as a horrific demon.
“Now she screams!” Briggs could be heard exclaiming.
The creature trapping her body to the floor, with its wings around her, hiding her from the others, roared, the sound blending in with her scream as it echoed off the walls of the cave.
“Don’t make any sudden movements.” Alex hissed at someone. “It could attack her!”
“It has her pinned to the damned floor!” Tyler snapped. “I think that qualifies as an attack!”
“Get the fuck out of my way.” Jack’s voice growled.
“What the hell are you--?”
The sound of something flying through the air caused the creature to look up, and it shrieked as the knife embedded itself firmly in the middle of its eyes. The creature pushed off of Chloe, screeching and clawing at its forehead, trying to get the knife out, its wings flapped out and knocked Briggs violently onto his ass.
Chloe found herself pulled to her feet, yet couldn’t even look at her rescuer, wide, terrified eyes on the creature as it continued to jerk before it suddenly collapsed to the ground, dead, killed by a knife to the brain. Even after it was dead, Chloe couldn’t take her eyes off of it, unable to see the others as they hurried to her to make sure that she was fine, unable to hear them asking her millions of questions.
It was finally someone shaking her shoulders violently that broke her from her traumatic trance, and she turned to look into Jack’s eyes.
“Are. You. Okay?” He intoned each word, as if he’d said them before. He probably had.
She nodded wordlessly.
Kathryn pushed Alex out of the way to look Chloe over, she was still only wearing her shorts and a muscle shirt. “Are you hurt? Were you cut?”
Chloe shook her head. “No—no, it didn’t bite me.” She frowned, making a face as she rubbed her cheek it disgust. “But I think it licked me.”
Kathryn paused in her search of Chloe’s body, looking up at her friend in concern before nodding to the others that she was, indeed, unhurt.
“The girl has the luck of the devil!” Briggs announced. “This is the second time that one of those mother fuckers attacked her and she’s gotten away without a scratch!”
Jack twirled on Briggs, eyes darkening. “Second time?”
Briggs suddenly looked frightened, and gulped.
“HEY GUYS!” Charlie’s voice could be heard calling as she was nearing the bottom of the wall. “IS SHE OKAY? DID SHE GET HURT?” She dropped the last couple of feet to the ground and hurried over, looking no worse for the wear considering all she’d been through.
“You’re okay.” Chloe whispered in relief.
“You’re okay.” Charlie gasped. “Thank God! I thought--when that thing had gotten you--!”
“When was she attacked the first time?” Jack ignored the girls and continued glaring at Briggs.
“What I don’t understand is why it just jumped off of me before it could even bite me and went straight for you.” Charlie was telling Chloe.
“I left her in your care!” Jack snapped.
“The current was too strong!” Briggs was obviously sticking to that story. “I couldn’t do anything!”
“EVERYONE SHUT UP!” Top exploded, and then took in a deep breath when silence once more reigned. “We’ve been lucky right now. Not only didn’t we lose any of our group, but we learnt vital information about this creature. Not only can it survive on land and underwater--but it can fly at the same time.”
“In other words, if we climb up the wall we’re screwed, and if we go in the water, we’re screwed.” Alex recapped. “And if we stay here--WE’RE SCREWED!”
“We need to go over our options again.” Kathryn announced. “We need to decide what to do.”
“We climb.” Jack told her. “That’s our only option.”
“No, it is not.” Kathryn glared at him. “The water is our best bet!”
“It’s a trap!”
“PEOPLE!” Charlie exclaimed, throwing her hands up. “Ms. Sullivan and I have just lived through a very horrible experience, so we’d appreciate it if you all just shut up for a bit!”
They nodded and slowly everyone sat down.
Chloe found herself sitting next to Charlie, the other blonde girl and her finding comfort in each other and their close call.
The sonar cries from creatures unseen vibrated off the walls of the cavern, and Chloe closed her eyes, hugging herself as she shivered, telling herself it was paranoid to believe that they were now all being aimed at her.