: 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...
Titan Hall was the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen. The journey there had been somewhat heart-threatening though because she’d had to choose from climbing down a ricketty ladder or rappelling down the long drop to the inner chamber of Titan Hall. Ever since she’d been thrown out of the window of Lex’s Smallville castle when she’d interviewed him that first time, well, she’d been scared of heights, but Chloe had refused to let the others realize this.
Since most of the others had chosen rappelling because it seemed to be the quicker and safer of the two options, Chloe had chosen it as well, and had gone down earlier than some of the team, right along with Kathryn, Alex, and Dr. Nikolai, and while Kathryn and Dr. Nicolai took samples, and Alex began taking pictures and some film exerts to start off the beginning of the documentary of their adventures, Chloe stood a ways off, observing the untouched beauty of Titan Hall.
She ignored the others who’d put up the protective tents and stationed their technical equipment under them, she ignored the people who installed the large balloons of light that lit up the dark hall, she even managed to somehow ignore Jack and his team as they came down and got their first look at the awe-inspiring place.
Stalagmites and Stalactites decorated different areas of the cave though most of it was smooth rock. Clear water rose up from below them, and the lights from the different lanterns and equipment gave it different colored reflections. Something eerie yet magical filled the walls, and it wasn’t exactly the moss that grew on the sides of the water-covered stones that she was talking about.
She could hear Top, one of Jack’s men, talking.
“O2 sensors, calibrated?”
Briggs, another of Jack’s team, answered. “Calibrated, check.”
“Oxygen running at 0.4?” Top read from the checklist.
“0.4. Check.” Briggs called out.
Chloe peeked out from behind one of the large natural rock pillars that kept the cavern up, and noticed that Briggs was in full suit, in the water, going over the gadgets while Top read to him from the checklist. She’d never seen the procedure before and was curious, watching them as they spoke.
“Now, you find it, you name it.” Top spoke, sounding like a tired father telling his son the rules once more just in case. “Make it good.”
“First scout’s privilege, Top.” Briggs grinned cheekily at the other man. “I got a few ideas. You know I’ll come up with something.”
Chloe frowned. Briggs was the first scout? Hadn’t Tyler said he was the first scout?
“Okay.” Top shook his head, looking down at his watch as Tyler came up behind him, carrying some equipment. “Synchronize watches to 0811 on my mark. Three, two, one…mark.” Both he and Briggs pressed down on a button on their watches that caused them to beep.
“All okay?” Tyler asked from besides him, a conflicted look on his face as Jack and Charlie appeared.
“I don’t think it could be any better, Ty.” Briggs’s grin in Tyler’s direction was smug, like he knew that he was getting one over the other guy and liked it.
“Yeah,” Tyler shook his head, trying to smile. “I bet.”
Jack stepped into the water, wearing a pair of sweatpants and a shirt. “Alright, here we go.” He bent near Briggs, handing him his helmet. “This is a long passage, so I want you to pace yourself.”
“Yeah.” Briggs nodded, putting the helmet on.
“Tunaround’s one-third, okay?” Jack reminded, his voice conveying how important this was.
“I find a dry cavern, I’ll give you a call, Jack.” Briggs smiled, and once again it rubbed Chloe the wrong way.
Her gaze ventured to Tyler, who shook his head, obviously finding it hard to keep his smile anything other than sardonic as he folded his muscular arms over his chest and watched his obvious rival take his place on the team and disappear under the water.
The men and Charlie then went to the computer where they could see all the images Brigg’s camera was capturing, and could communicate with him. Chloe watched them talking to Briggs, not being able to hear what any of them said, but from the way Tyler suddenly tensed and moved away slightly, and the way the others were looking and him and then at the communicating device in slight irritation, it was obvious that Briggs had said something arrogant that’d ticked Tyler off. Probably had mentioned once more that he was the first scout and Tyler wasn’t.
Jack patted Strode’s back and went towards where Tyler was off to the side, busy putting order to equipment in an obvious way of letting out pent up frustration. “We need you ready around 0100 hours, all right?”
Chloe backed away, not willing to spy on this obvious confrontation in the making, but she winced when her foot got caught in a crevice. Tugging at the foot caused her to bite down on her lip to keep from yelping in pain as the stone seemed to dig into her sneaker.
“Oh, I’ve beenready.” Tyler announced, his voice unable to hide his annoyance.
Jack turned back towards him from where he’d been retreating. The sag of his shoulders proved that he knew there would be a confrontation and he dreaded it. “You got something to say, say it.”
Tyler turned to his brother. “You know I’m the best scout.”
“That may be so,” Jack sighed as he turned around and walked away from the fight. “But I can count on Briggs.”
Tyler watched his brother and then shook his head, a hurt looked on his face as he stormed away--ironically, he stormed towards Chloe. She was silent, trying to mold into the pillar and hope that he would just pass her and not notice her, but he stopped right as he was about to do that and turned to look at her, his hurt expression morphing into confused amusement.
“Are we playing hide and seek and no one told me?” He grinned at her.
She glared at him. “No, we are not.” Chloe sighed, motioning down to her trapped foot. “I got stuck.”
“Nike.” He commented, bending to his knees and surveying the situation with obvious amusement. “Not exactly my choice of footwear, but I gotta commend you for not going wearing heels or something like that.”
“You know, despite the fact that the whole world thinks otherwise, blondes are not stupid, it’s the dyed blondes that give us a bad name.” She informed him, feeling somewhat silly as he tilted his head from side to side, obviously quite enthralled with the current situation as he gave her foot an experimental tug, which caused her to yelp in pain and threaten to kick him with her free foot.
“You’ll have to undo your laces and try get out of the shoe itself.” Tyler announced after his lengthy investigation, looking up at her with a grin on his face. “Didn’t think it’d be that easy to unlace you.”
She mustered a crooked grin at that innuendo as he began to undo her shoelaces. “You wish, McAlister, you wish.”
“So,” Tyler announced as he pulled back the tongue of her sneaker and grabbed her free hand, as she placed the other on his back for leverage and pulled her foot out of her sneaker. “You heard what went down with me and Jack.”
“Uh, not intentionally.” Chloe balanced on one leg as Tyler tugged her sneaker out from the crevice and waved it tauntingly at her. “Give that to me.”
“Such a princess.” He teased, passing her the shoe and grinning at her when she bent and put it back on. Tyler’s grin left however by the time she’d straightened and looked back at him. “You know, I want to thank you, you’re the first person who hasn’t given me a pitying look ever since Jack made Briggs first scout.”
“You don’t look like a man who would appreciate pity.” Chloe said truthfully. “But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you really wanted to be the first scout on this job.”
“Yeah.” He smiled sadly, looking down at his feet. “I just wanna be the first in a place nobody’s ever been.”
“You sound like Le--Mr. Luthor.” Chloe announced, ignoring the silent question Tyler sent her at the slip up. “He is always trying to visit new frontiers, try new things, test the new and not the tried, and if he finds something unique, something special, something rare, he wants to put his name on it, claim it.”
“Is that what he’s done with you?” Tyler asked.
Chloe blinked, looking at him in surprise, trying to fight the blush rising up the side of her neck. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Tyler watched her in silence for a moment before shaking his head and looking out at the peaceful water longingly. “You not going to ask me why I’m not first scout?”
“Figured you’d tell me if you wanted to.” She replied, stepping besides him and looking out at the water as well, hands in her pockets.
He sent her a sideways smile at that. “My brother and I had a problem some months back while on a job.” Tyler was once more serious, looking at the water. “I got a little cocky, didn’t listen to his orders, and I nearly got Charlie killed.”
“Yeah, she’s like a little sister to us so it was a harder blow.” Tyler sighed. “Jack and I haven’t been on the best terms since.”
They both turned and looked at Jack.
“You wanna come?” Tyler asked her.
Chloe nodded and followed him as they made their way to where Strode, Top and Jack were looking at a monitor filled with static.
“What’s up?” Tyler asked.
“If Briggs doesn’t show in 10, I’m sending you.” Jack announced, eyes on the screen, rubbing his fingers together in a sign of nervousness.
“Come on.” Tyler snorted. “It’s Briggs. He’s probably showing off.”
“What’s going on?” Chloe asked, frowning.
Strode turned to look at her. “We lost contact with Briggs a while ago when he went darkside, but we should have gotten reconnected with him by now.”
“Oh.” Her eyes widened.
“Listen, you’re probably right,” Jack told Tyler, obviously ignored the sub-conversation going on between the others. “But go get ready anyway, okay?”
Tyler sighed. “Okay.”
“Wait, what’s that?” Chloe asked, pointing to the screen.
“Jack!” Strode called in excitement. “We got him.”
“Wakey-wakey Titan Hall!” Brigg’s outline in the darkness grinned smugly at them.
“Oh, Jesus.” Top muttered to Strode’s right as everyone crowded around to see better.
“Is anybody up there?” Briggs smirked. “Or have you all gone to sleep on me while I do all the real work?”
“No one’s sleeping, you arrogant bastard.” Charlie announced with a laugh as she appeared by Jack’s side. “Where are you? Everything’s so dark we can only see a little bit of your ugly mug.”
“Mean girl.” Briggs grinned at her. “And as to the question of where I am, well, I’d say I’m sitting at advance base camp, which will now be forever known as Kublai Khan.”
Charlie rolled her eyes.
Jack chuckled. “About how far in would you say, Briggs?”
“Ohhh…” Briggs looked around him in the darkness dramatically. “Only about 2.4 miles, Jack.”
“Fantastic!” Strode clapped his hands.
“Two-point-four.” Charlie pumped the air with her fist in excitement.
“I’m uploading the date now.” Briggs’ voice could be heard but the screen was now showing the data being uploaded. “Read it and weep.” The monitor blinked into life when it finished uploading, showing his trajectory. “It’s amazing in here, man.” The data was saved to the computer and the screen once more showed the filming Briggs was doing in the cave, his meager beam of light only showing patches of what had the potential of being a very large sub-cavern. “I haven’t seen a hole like this in a long time.” Suddenly the camera shook. “Oh shit!”
“Briggs?” Top asked, as worry filled them.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Brigg’s voice was getting distorted and static beginning to fill the screen. “Hold on a sec. Something just ran past me.”
“Ran past--?” Chloe asked, clutching her hand to her heart. Were there living things down there?
“Got it!” Briggs called out victoriously, pulling up a viciously fighting, small, mole-like creature into the view. “Is Kathryn or Dr. Nicolai around?”
Chloe jumped when she heard the Russian’s voice behind her, not having heard him when he’d arrived.
“Dr. Nicolai!” Briggs struggled a little with the creature. “Can you see this? It’s some kind of large rat or a mole or something.”
The noises from the creature attracted Alex Kim and Kathryn, who both shared a disgusted expression before returning their attention to the screen.
“Buckteeth, webbed feet.” Briggs continued with his description of the creature. “Looks a lot like Tyler.”
Even Tyler managed a small smile at that given the circumstances.
Suddenly the thing got loose. “No--!” Briggs was heard crying out as the camera topped over and the screen went black.
“You alright man?” Jack asked, concerned.
“Shit.” Briggs picked up the camera and his face was once more shown. “Yeah.” He gazed to his right. “What the fu--?”
Everyone shared a laugh, everyone but Chloe, who hugged herself and rubbed her suddenly chilled arms.
“I think I pissed him off with that Tyler comment.” Briggs smart-mouthed once more.
“Hey listen man.” Jack leaned forwards. “Good work. We still have some things that need to be finished up here before we start for over there, so you should try get some sleep.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Briggs nodded. “Some sleep”
“You need anything down there, man?” Strode asked.
“Hold a sec.” Briggs frowned, looking at something above him. His cocky smile disappeared in a second and he went pale.
At the same time the equipment began to give trouble, the image on the screen wavering.
“Briggs.” Top spoke.
“Yeah.” Brigg’s eyes never left whatever it was that he was looking at. “Yeah. Hold on, guys. There’s--I’m gonna try to get—“ the image continued to malfunction. “There’s something that--.”
The image left suddenly, but you could still hear Brigg’s voice.
“What just happened?” Jack asked, agitated.
“Could be the feedback.” Strode frowned.
“What the hell was that?” Briggs’ could be heard gasping. “Goddamn it!”
“Briggs.” Top’s voice was calm despite everything. “Key me if you can hear me.”
Everything suddenly went silent.
Strode leaned over Top to check something in the system and sighed, sitting back in his seat. “Fiber optic must have snapped.”
“Maybe we should send in a second scout just to be safe.” Top said slowly, turning to Jack and Tyler.
Tyler made a face. “No. Come on. We gotta get in the water.”
Jack nodded his agreement before turning to Kathryn and Dr. Nicolai. “We’re going in earlier than planned, so get whatever it is you need done now, whatever extracts you can wait to get when we return--wait.”
Kathryn nodded and grabbed Chloe, pulling her along with her as they made their way away from the others. “You look a little pale.”
“Did you see that thing?” Chloe shivered, remembering the creature.
“Yes, it was fascinating.” Kathryn grinned broadly, clearly excited. “I’d love to be able to capture one and study it. It seemed albino, didn’t it? But that’d make sense considering that it probably has never seen the light of the sun before.”
“But how can there be life down there?” Chloe whispered, looking at the scientist, a little unnerved at how happy and excited she was.
“Chloe, don’t you get it?” Kathryn asked. “We haven’t just stumbled upon a new, highly developed cave system—we could have found a new ecosystem, filled with its own established life forms, and species we’ve never even known existed!”
Yeah, she knew, and that was what worried her.
“Think of the amazing things we’re going to see down there, Chloe.” Kathryn announced as they hurried to gather her things together. “I’m so happy that Lexcorp chose me to be the one for this, what we’re going to do, it’s going to go down in history.”
Chloe paused as she looked at the elder woman. “Doesn’t it worry you? The unknown?”
“Nah.” Kathryn continued to pack her things. “I’d give my life for science.”
“You’re crazy.” Chloe laughed, shaking her head and running her hands through her hair in a nervous gesture.
Kathryn only smiled. “You need help getting your things ready?”
“Nah.” Chloe looked away, focusing her green gaze onto the smooth, crystalline water. “I’m really not bringing much of anything with me.” Except for the pictures in the water-sealed container and some other things that no one else will know of. She felt a little bad for the deception on her part, but she knew that it was important for her to check this out and see if the information in the parchments found in the newly discovered, secret chamber of the Kawatche caves was true.
The blonde sighed and continued to look at the water. “I have to call Le—Mr. Luthor before I go under, I promised him I would do that, and he’s not going to be happy with our timetable shifting. He’s not happy about this situation at all, and the fact that it isn’t going as planned isn’t going to help him in control--and to remain stoic and cool, Lex has to be in control.” She smirked slightly, realizing that she was probably one of the only people who didn’t hold that particular quality against Lex.
“Chloe, can I ask you something without you getting offended?”
The blonde turned to the elder woman, tense. “Depends on the question.”
“Fair enough.” Kathryn nodded. “What sort of relationship do you have with Mr. Luthor?” She asked. “It’s just that you are so young--.”
“To be his right-hand?” Chloe sighed, picking up one of Kathryn’s instruments and looking at it in silence. “I hear that a lot you know. Most people probably think that I earned my position on my back with my feet in the air, but I didn’t. I’ve been friends with Lex since I was a junior in high school.”
Kathryn’s eyes widened.
“My best friend and at the time crush saved Lex from drowning when he drove off of a bridge, and I met Lex through Clark. Certain events happened that caused us to spend time together, and we developed a strong affinity and respect for the other.” Chloe smiled. “When I graduated from high school a year early thanks to my extra credits, my goal was to be a writer for the Daily Planet, but Lex asked me to do a favor for him and work as Lexcorp’s PR. Lexcorp was just beginning, and Lex needed a lot of help with the image of Lexcorp. I was only supposed to help him for about a year, but I fell in love with my job, and Lex isn’t a people’s person, and he doesn’t trust a lot of people, so he made me his spokesperson, his right-hand-woman.”
“Wow.” Kathryn looked at Chloe up and down as if she hadn’t really noticed her before, a small smile touching her lips. “You know, I thought you were going to be a crotchey old woman from what I heard about you.”
“Huh?” Chloe’s eyes went wide.
“All I’d heard of was the intimidating Ms. Sullivan, and the men all seemed somewhat afraid of you, so when I saw this young blonde girl in a business suit I was floored.” The elder woman admitted. “Then, I’ll admit, I thought you were some blonde-bimbo trash that got the job by other merits, but from the moment you first opened your mouth and started to talk, I knew you weren’t a bimbo.”
“Uh, I think I should be saying thanks, but I’m not too sure about that.”
Kathryn grinned. “Believe me, I like you, that’s a large compliment.”
“Excuse me, ladies.” Jack’s voice caused them to turn to see the sandy-blonde-haired man behind them. “I need to talk to Chloe.”
Kathryn grinned brighter. “She’s all yours.”
Chloe sent the older woman a look before following Jack as he moved away from Kathryn and towards the water. “Is there a problem, Jack?”
He looked out into the water. “You didn’t tell me that you’ve never dove before.”
She winced, realizing that Kathryn must have shared that information with someone else and the news had gotten back to Jack. “The closest I’ve ever got to any sort of diving is snorkeling in the Caribbean a couple of summers back when Lex decided we needed a vacation.”
Jack turned and gave her a curious look before shaking his head and returning his gaze to the water. “I’ll give you a quick lesson before we get into the water, and once we are in the water you’re going to stay by my side at all times, no matter what happens, you stay close enough for me to be able to reach out and grab you if I have to.”
Chloe frowned, not liking the tone he was using on her. She was the superior on this job, if it hadn’t been for her he and his team wouldn’t be here in the first place.
“I want to be able to get to you in a second if you’re in trouble.”
Okay, she wasn’t so angry anymore. A small smile touched her lips as she looked out at the water in front of them.
“I saw the look on your face when you saw the rat-thing Briggs caught.”
She blinked and turned her head to look at him, surprised to find him watching her. She’d thought that Jack had been only concentrating on Briggs at the time, hadn’t noticed him looking at her.
“Webbed feet means that it’s probably a swimmer,” Jack warned. “So while the thing is obviously mean but harmless, we might find some during the swim to Kublai Khan, and I don’t want you to panic. I’ve seen people do things like pulling their masks off, or racing away and getting lost in the cave, and end up drowning because of it. I also know that you’re terrified enough as it is of the diving, and you don’t know what to do, so the risk is greater.”
Chloe hated to admit a weakness, but she nodded.
“I normally would refuse to let you in the water considering that you don’t have any idea about what to do,” he confessed, giving her a sheepish smile. “But you’re the boss, and I don’t want to get kicked off of this job. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“It is.” You have no idea.
“So I want you to swim next to me, shoulder to shoulder.” His gaze roamed her face, expression serious. “If something happens, if for whatever reason you get panicked, I want you to get my attention, grab my hand and squeeze.” He reached for her hand and squeezed.
Chloe’s heart raced in her chest as his thumb softly rubbed the curve of her palm in a calming manner.
“I want you to only look at my face, don’t look anywhere else--no matter what is going on around us, and calm your breathing. I need you to trust me and do exactly as I tell you.” His voice was soothing, and the sound of it along with the feel of his thumb against the skin of her palm calmed Chloe immediately. “I need you to do that for me. I need you to trust me.”
Chloe felt the tension drain out of her body, and she looked up at his through her eyelashes. God, this guy was good! If it hadn’t been for the fact that she’d started having a small electric shock the first time she touched other Metahumans she would have thought that he had some sort of power.
She hadn’t even noticed that she’d leaned in a little towards him, eyes half-closed, hand in his, his thumb still caressing her palm.
The sound of someone clearing his throat in slight irritation caused Chloe to pull her hand from Jack’s and turn around to see Tyler McAlister.
“Jack, Dr. Nicolai wants to talk to you.” The dark haired man told his brother.
Jack nodded, turning his attention back to Chloe. “Please get your things ready and get changed into your wetsuit. We’ll go over that quick lesson in a couple of minutes.”
Chloe nodded and walked passed Tyler, going to get ready.
The lesson had been quick and basic but as they jumped into the water, beginning their journey to Kublai Khan, Chloe felt a little better than she had at the beginning. The water was clear and yet shadows danced all around them thanks to the darkness of the area and the brightness of their lights.
“All right.” Top’s voice could be heard saying through the mic in his mask as he swam up ahead with a large light. “Let’s take it a little slow.”
Chloe had a feeling that swimming in the front of the pack was usually Jack’s position, but the blonde was swimming shoulder to shoulder with her, and she’d caught him sending her discreet sideways glances, making sure that she was fine. The blonde had to admit that the handsome leader of the cave diving/spelunking team was the only reason she felt safe…that and the fact that with her healing and resurrection powers she was very hard to kill—or at least remain dead…then again, she’d never drowned before and didn’t know exactly if she’d wake up from that.
So that kept her cautious.
“We’re right on your tail, mate.” Strode’s voice announced.
They entered through a small crevice in the cave, entering another unit, and as the others followed, Chloe hung back, heart beginning to beat rapidly at the darkness inside. She’d been buried alive once, and ever since that’d happened she was afraid of dark, enclosed spaces.
She felt a hand grab hers and she jerked at the feeling, heart seeming to jump to her throat and back as she turned to look at Jack. His hand rubbed hers in that same soothing fashion, and he didn’t speak, just looked at her until she nodded that she was ready, that she could do this.
He didn’t speak because he didn’t want the others realizing how terrified I am…
She smiled softly to herself and let Jack lead her through the crevice, only letting go when it got too narrow for them to pass through together. He gave her a little shove and helped her through, making sure she went first and wasn’t left behind, before appearing by her side inside of the dark, underwater cavern they were now swimming through.
Chloe looked below, shivering slightly at the stalagmites that rose up from the floor and seemed to try and reach for her.
Stop imaging things, she growled to herself.
“It’s not bad, huh Top?” Jack asked from her side.
“Yeah.” Top answered. “There’s a lot of life in here.”
Plant life, tiny little fish life. Chloe repeated that motto over and over again. No sharks, no crocodiles, no freaky rat/mole thingies. Just nice little fishies. Nothing to be afraid of…
“You okay Tyler?” Jack asked his brother, who was up ahead with Strode, carrying the equipment.
“Yeah.” Tyler’s voice sounded odd. “I’m just thinking about Briggs.”
“He can take care of himself.” Charlie interjected.
“How long till we reach the cavern?” Dr. Nicolai asked from where he was right in front of Jack and Chloe, swimming next to Kathryn.
“It’s a long run, Nicolai.” One could hear Jack’s amusement. “Enjoy the ride.”
Dr. Nicolai sighed.
“This has got to be one of the most beautiful caves I have ever filmed.” Alex’s voice was excited and amazed.
“I know.” Charlie answered him. “This beats anything we saw in the Yucatan by a mile.”
“Hey, Kim.” Kathryn finally spoke. “Did you get a shot of those cave draperies?”
Charlie turned her flashlight to where Kathryn was pointing. “Sick, dude!”
There was a flash of light. “I got it.” Alex finally replied.
“It’s totally rockin’.” Charlie announced.
Jack chuckled and shook his head.
Chloe turned to look at him at the sound, deciding that she liked it.
They maneuvered through the maze of ups and down, lefts and rights, and Chloe couldn’t help but feel slightly panicked at the thought that she was completely lost. If their returning to Titan Hall rested on her shoulders, they would never make it back.
Stop thinking that sort of stuff!
They dove in silence after that until they squeezed through another opening and entered an open, dark cavern, one in which they could hardly see anything due to the black-ink darkness of the waters.
“Dr. Nicolai, you and Kathryn should check this out.” Top said from the front, obviously being able to see something from where he was.
The two scientists shared a look before swimming to the front lines.
“Where are we?” Chloe asked, barely missing a stalagmite that suddenly appeared to her left when she shone her light in that direction.
“We’re almost there.” Jack responded. “Advance base camp should be about 200 yards ahead.”
“Thank God.” Dr. Nicolai exclaimed from the front.
Chloe and Charlie giggled at the same time and turned to look at each other in amusement.
“We’ll see you guys there.” Kathryn announced as she, Alex and Dr. Nicolai veered from course to go see what Top had called them to look at.
Chloe shone her light in their direction as she and Jack passed them, and she gasped. “Is that--are those bones?”
“C’mon Chloe.” Jack urged her past the large skeletal remains.
Chloe didn’t even know for sure if they’d taken any other turns after that, all she knew was that her mind had blanked after seeing the large remains of whatever could have been that huge and lived in these caves. She didn’t understand how this didn’t seem to bother anyone else—then again, maybe she was just letting her history with meteor freaks and stuff cause her imagination to run rampant. It could have been the bones of a baby whale for all she knew.
Chloe looked at Jack and then up ahead watching as Charlie pulled herself out of the water. The blonde felt relief enter her body as she followed Jack and surfaced, pulling off her mask and breathing in air. Jack helped Chloe out of the water and soon they were on dry land, shining their flashlights around the large cave, heavy oxygen tanks on the ground at their feet.
Jack turned to her and grinned. “That’s usually the first reaction of a first-time cave explorer.”
She grinned back at him.
“Briggs?” Top called, walking around the corner of a large rock growth and disappearing from sight. “Man, where are you?”
Jack frowned in concern and turned to follow Top, motioning for Chloe to come as well. She looked around, noticing that Kathryn and the others were arriving, while Tyler and Strode were going back into the water, though she wasn’t exactly sure why. The younger McAlister caught her staring at him and saluted her with a smile before diving back into the water after Strode, some wires and other things in his hands.
Shaking her head at him, Chloe forgot for a second that Jack was expecting her to follow him.
“They’re going to fix the break in the wires Briggs left that caused him to lose connection with topside in the first place.”
Chloe jumped in surprise, realizing that Jack had waited on her. “Oh, is it safe?”
“Course.” He shook his head.
“BRIGGS!” Top could be heard yelling. “WHERE ARE YOU?”
“Let’s go see to that.”
Chloe nodded and followed after Jack, accepting the hand he offered as they went over the uneven ground of Kublai Khan, walking around the corner and noticing Top a few feet away, shinning his light on Brigg’s gear, which looked worse for wear.
“Yo, Briggs?” Jack called, noticing that some of the equipment had been damaged.
Chloe hung back, frowning at the damaged material. What had happened here?
“Briggs?” Top called out.
Chloe turned and shone her light around, sure she’d heard something.
“Briggs!” Top called again, as he and Jack shone their lights in front of them, searching for their companion.
Chloe narrowed her eyes as she heard the sound of pebbles hitting water coming up from across the cavern room just a little above, and shone her light slowly upwards.
“Hey Briggs.” Jack didn’t sound as nervous as Top, but he sounded a little worried. “Answer me man!”
Chloe gasped when something shifted when her beam of light touched it, but when she quickly jerked her beam higher and found it shinning into the face of Briggs, who’d been hiding in one of the higher caverns with a smirk on his face, she sighed and rested on hand on her hip in irritation, lowering the beam of her flashlight so that it was illuminating his stomach.
He grinned at her as if saying, did you REALLY expect me not to play with their heads a bit?, before standing. “About time you ladies got here!”
The men twirled around and shone their flashlights at him.
“You two should be ashamed of yourselves, Ms. Sullivan found me right away.” He grinned. “Come take a look at this.”
They climbed up the slight ledge and Briggs gave Chloe a charming grin as he gave her a hand and pulled her into the small sub-division of the cave, letting go of her hand the moment she was firmly on the high ground. Briggs turned around and walked deeper into the small little division before bending to his knees and shinning his light on something. “We’re not the first ones here after all.”
Chloe and the others looked over his shoulders in the small sub-division and saw the article he was pointing to.
“Looks like somebody lost his boots.” Top announced from Briggs’ right.
“It wasn’t anyone recent.” Noticing them turn to look at her, Chloe blinked. “The style is an old one, hardly used, but it’s combat, probably worn by militants around the time of the Cold War.”
Top was still looking at her oddly.
Briggs shook his head. “Lady, how in the world would you know the style of combat boots militants wore around the time of the Cold War?”
“Mr. Luthor’s father had a fondness for the era.” She wondered why Jack looked away from her at that comment and his smile died. “Let’s get out of here, I’m suffocating in this darkness.”
“Yeah, it stinks in here anyway.” Briggs agreed, standing, forcing the others to turn and back out of the sub-division. Chloe slowly climbed back down and they made their way back to the others, who were putting up protective, water-proof tents that would protect their equipment from the water dripping from the ceiling of the cavern.
“Hey Briggs!” Charlie waved from where she was helping Alex put up one of the tents.
“Hey Charlie,” he grinned back, before turning to Jack. “Did you all get a good look at those mole thingies? Man are they ugly!”
Chloe left the men to talk to each other and went towards Kathryn, who’d spotted her and was grinning, motioning her over. “You seem excited.”
“Chloe, this is amazing!” Kathryn exclaimed, pulling her over to the side. “Those were intact fossilized remains! I’m not exactly sure of what they were, but I don’t think I’ve ever studied a structure like that before. I don’t want to get Lexcorp’s hopes up--but we may have found the remains of a previously unknown of species of water-inhabiting dinosaur!”
“Dinosaur?” Chloe blinked in surprise. “That is big.”
“I know! We may have a huge find on our hands already—and this expedition has only begun!”
Chloe smiled, looking around and pausing when she noticed that Tyler still wasn’t back. “They’re taking a long time to fix the broken wire.”
“I’m sure everything’s all right.” Kathryn waved off that worry. “Dr. Nicolai and I are trying to come up with a name for the possible new species.”
“Well, knock yourself out with that, I’m--.” But Chloe’s words were interrupted as the cavern began to shake violently and stalactites fell from the ceiling all around them, the water beneath them bubbling up fiercely.
“Tyler!” Jack screamed, turning to the water as a smaller stalactite fell to his right and smashes to pieces, bits of it showering him painfully.
“Jesus!” Dr. Nicolai cried, being thrown to the ground by the force of the underwater eruption and the shaking of the cave.
“Strode!” Top hurried into the water and would have tried to jump into the still vicious current if Briggs hadn’t grabbed him from behind, pulling his struggling form back against him. “Let go of me! Our friends are down there!”
“Not letting go of you, Top.” Briggs told him in a solemn voice, tightening his hold on him.
“What the hell was that?” Charlie gasped, turning to Alex.
A body shot out from the blast and lay motionless o the top of the water, groaning.
Jack was the first at his side. “Tyler!”
“What’s happening?” Tyler groaned, obviously disoriented.
Briggs let go of Top and they both hurried towards the fallen man.
“Oh my god.” Chloe whispered as she and Kathryn hurried closer.
“Take it easy man.” Top ordered as he and Briggs helped Jack pull Tyler away from the slowly dying geyser towards the land.
“Tyler. Tyler, wait.” Jack stopped the men from moving him. “You all right?”
“Yeah. Yeah. I think so.” But the force in Tyler’s voice said otherwise.
“Where’s Strode?” Jack asked. “Huh?”
Chloe glared at the elder McAlister. Couldn’t he at least wait until Tyler was on dry land to interrogate him?
“I don’t--I don’t know.”
“Shit!” Jack hurriedly went to the bank and grabbed his mask and gear. “Top, bring the J-bar.”
Briggs stayed by Tyler, pulling him onto dry land before going to help the other men.
Chloe glared at them and went next to Tyler. “Are you alright?”
“He kept saying ‘Help’, like he was being attacked.” Tyler tried to sit up but cried out in pain and laid back down immediately. “So I went back for him, but I don’t know what the hell exploded.” His voice was pained and his eyes closed shut.
He might have broken a rib. Chloe didn’t notice what she was doing until she’d unzipped Tyler’s wetsuit and pulled the top part off of him, reaching under the shirt he wore and running her fingers down his ribcage with practiced knowledge. When they’d realized that her Metahuman ability was to heal, Lex had done all in his power to help her learn to control her powers, and with that came basic knowledge of the human body and its functions.
She ignored the curious expression on Tyler’s face as he watched her silently, but that changed when her fingers ran over a certain rib and he cried out in pain. It’s cracked. “Sorry,” she turned to look at his face and began to talk to try and distract him from her fingers, hoping that he wouldn’t notice the slight burn from her flesh against his, or the fact that her fingertips were glowing. “I’m just checking you over, it’s a miracle that you survived that explosion and without anything broken.”
Thankfully everyone was either talking or looking at the water in expectancy, and when the cave shook again, yet this time very tame compared to the first time, it gave her the cover she needed to finish healing him without anyone even realizing what had happened.
“Jack and Top are still down there.” Kathryn announced with worry as the shaking subsided.
Chloe stood and turned her back on Tyler, worried gaze on the water, never noticing when the dark haired man stood, placed one hand on his ribcage in surprise, and look at her oddly before pulling back on his wetsuit and coming to stand by her side.
She was the first to notice the men when their silhouettes darkened the water. “Thank God.”
Jack emerged from the water, pulled off his mask, and refused to meet anyone’s gaze. “Get out of your wetsuits and into your clothes. We’re having a meeting in five minutes.”
“What about Strode?” Briggs asked Top, going towards him.
Top looked away. “You heard the boss.” And with that the dark man walked passed Briggs onto dry land.
They congregated in the driest part of the cavern, sitting around a light in deadly silence, watching Jack as he kept his back to them, looking out at the now tranquil water. Chloe sat next to a terrified-looking Dr. Nicolai and a wary Kathryn, knowing deep in her bones what Jack was going to tell them, and torn between wanting to remain in denial a little bit longer and hearing the truth.
Jack breathed out and turned to them, his eyes saying it all. “All right. Listen up.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “We have a few realities to face here, people. The first is that we’re not going out the way we came, the passage is completely blocked.”
Dr. Nicolai covered his face with his hands and shook his head.
“The second,” Jack continued, looking each and every one of them in the eye. “Is that we’re not even gonna be missed for 12 days. Which is right about when our supplies run out.”
Chloe closed her eyes, fighting the sense of claustrophobia that threatened to overwhelm her. That was the part that she’d been screaming in her head for the last five minutes.
“We have to find out own way out.”
Chloe opened her eyes and looked at Jack when he said that.
“Hold on a second, Jack.” Briggs stood, glaring at the other man. “You still haven’t told us what happened to Strode. Tyler said it sounded like he was being attacked.” He stepped closer to Jack, his stance menacing. “He was Special Forces, for chrissake! He knew what the hell he was doing!”
Jack stared silently at Briggs, his jaw clenched.
“Now something got him down there.” Briggs continued. “And I’ll bet it’s the same damn thing that got whoever ownwd those boots!”
Charlie frowned. “What boots?”
She was ignored.
Jack kept his gaze on Briggs. “We’re all hurting, man. Strode was a friend to all of us. Don’t you forget that.”
Briggs looked away and went to stand next to Top, who patted his arm.
Jack sighed and closed his eyes for a second in what seemed like a prayer, before turning to Dr. Nicolai. “What do you think, Dr. Nicolai? Is there anything that could have attacked Strode?”
“I don’t know.” The Russian scientist admitted, pulling his hands from his face. “The mole is the largest animal we’ve seen in this type of system.”
“The fact that they exist at all proves that there’s an abundant food supply down here.” Kathryn interjected, causing everyone to look at her. “Question is, are moles at the top of the food chain, or is there something else?”
Charlie looked away, as if unable to look at Kathryn as she said that.
Chloe couldn’t help herself, she quickly looked around the dark of the cavern, fearing that any minute a monster would attack. Knowing her luck, those moles were at the very bottom of the food chain--and Chloe’s luck never changed, so she had a very good reason to be paranoid.
“Look,” Tyler broke in. “Strode could’ve just screwed up his mix.” He ignored the disgusted look Briggs gave him at that suggestion. “Narcosis, hallucinations. It happens. He panics and ruptures his scooter--that’s the only explanation for the explosion.”
“What about the wire?” Chloe asked. “You said that it looked like it’d been chewed.”
“Those little rat-things could have done it.” Tyler turned to her. “Didn’t you see the dead one Kathryn found? Its teeth are huge and sharp. And also, rats are known for causing house fires because they chew through the electrical wiring.”
“But there’s a difference between the sizes of electrical wiring and the wires we use.” Charlie finally spoke.
“Whatever it was,” Top interrupted. “It doesn’t matter now. Because right now, our primary concern is getting out of here alive.”
“Amen.” Alex whispered from the other side of Briggs.
Dr. Nicolai shook his head and smiled in slight disgust. “Jack, this is the Carpathians. We can spend an eternity trying to find a way out…if there even is one.” He let them digest that before putting in his two cents. “Come on, Jack. We wait.”
“Wait?” Chloe gasped. “Are you joking?”
“No, Ms. Sullivan.” Dr. Nicolai turned to her. “A rescue team will come for us.”
“After 12 days!” Chloe shot up to her feet, unable to believe her ears. “Supplies aside, we don’t know what’s down here. And anyway, it’ll take around two days for everyone topside to realize we’re missing and get a search party organized and on site--and even if they do come looking for us, they don’t know where we are. We’re lost and trapped with our communication wire chewed through!”
“Chloe’s right.” Jack nodded, voice even and eyes determined. “We’re a mile below the surface and three miles in. The best people to get us out are all right here.” He made a circle with his finger to emphasis his point. “We are the rescue team, so here’s how it’s gonna go: Top and I, we’re gonna start scouting for an exit immediately.”
Briggs looked up and was about to say something when Top raised his hand to silence him, and the usually unruly man shut his mouth immediately.
“Now, I’d recommend that you all get some rest.” Jack told them. “You’re gonna need it.” He turned to leave. “Top.”
The dark man nodded and moved to go.
“Be careful man.” Briggs whispered to him.
He nodded and walked passed them, following Jack.
They were silent as they watched the men leave.
“We’re making a mistake.” Dr. Nicolai finally broke the silence once the men were out of sight. “We should wait.”
Chloe turned her back on him and rubbed her arms, trying to convince herself that the sensation she had of being watched was all in her head.