Author’s Note: Hello, dear readers! Thank you for coming back to read the next chapter in Paradise, my science fiction work-in-progress. Each week I share a chapter of the saga as I write it. The entire story so far is available online. Please keep in mind that this is a first draft, and be kind as to any errors or inconsistencies you might find.
Last week, we left off with our four soldiers, Roman, Sam, Menton and Benjamin, heading out on their mission to capture a Plax. Let’s see how far they got.
Much to my embarrassment, my strength gave out long before the others. Sam was intent on making it to the first bunker before anyone slept. Had Benjamin slung me over his shoulder, it would have been awful enough. When Menton said that she had plenty of energy and would happily carry me first, I wanted to disappear into one of the small cracks in the cave floor.
“I can go on,” I grumbled, but I knew I didn’t have many more steps in me before I would collapse.
Sam nodded to Menton, and before I could object, she swung me up and over her shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Sir,” Menton whispered to me. “It’s an honor to carry you as long as I need to.”
Happily, I passed out from sheer exhaustion a few minutes later.
When I next opened my eyes, we were back in the first bunker. They had decided the medical bay was the safest place to be. Sam and Benjamin were both asleep, and Menton was standing guard.
“Have you slept, soldier?” I asked her.
“Then it’s time for me to take watch.”
“I’m fine, sir,” Menton objected.
“Perhaps you are, but you still need to rest. That’s an order.”
I had a feeling she was not going to sleep, but she did acquiesce and took a place on one of the beds.
The bunker was too quiet, and I was too jumpy. I kept picturing the Plax that had almost gotten Max and me the last time we were in that room. Every little sound sent me into high alert. None of us had been in the bunker in weeks, so it could easily have been infested with Plax soldiers.
When Sam woke up she told me that Menton had done a preliminary survey of the bunker before she or Benjamin had gone to sleep. That knowledge might have made me less jittery had I known, but then again, I wasn’t sure it would have helped at all.
My intention was to stay in the bunker a few days, so I could regain some strength. I had insisted on coming on this mission. The limited strength I had was making me a burden on the rest of the group, and the mission was stressful enough already.
We spent a full day in the bunker. We split into teams, Sam and Benjamin worked together and Menton got stuck with me. Methodically we searched the entire bunker, but ultimately did not find anything.
The next day we set out early toward the surface.
“How long will it take us to get there?” I asked Sam. Nothing in the caves was familiar to me.
“If we hustle, we could be on the surface by tomorrow night. It’s better that we don’t come out of the caves exhausted, just in case we meet up with the Plax right away. There are a couple relatively safe places to rest along the way, so we’ll plan on three days.”
Lifting my heavy boots off the ground was becoming increasingly difficult, when Sam suddenly said, “We’ll rest here for tonight.”
“Here?” I looked around to find the entrance to another bunker. Instead, all I saw was the dark passageway we’d been marching through all day.
“Not here exactly,” she smiled at me. “There.” She pointed her headlamp toward the floor of the cave a few feet from me. I didn’t notice it at first, but then a small opening came into view.
“There?” I asked in disbelief. “That’s barely big enough for me to get my head through.”
“It’s a little snug,” she laughed at me, “but you’ve done it before.”
Menton took off all her gear and got on the floor to inspect the area we would be entering.
“Looks like the opening’s clear,” she told us. “Let me inspect the other side before you follow me.”
Then she rolled onto her back and stretched her arms out straight above her head. Slowly she inched her way into the opening. I couldn’t help but think of a snake eating its prey as I watched her. Something dark twitched in the back of my mind, but I quickly dismissed it.
“She’s not going to make it,” I whispered to Sam after some time. She laughed at me in response.
“I know you are.” She patted my arm condescendingly, which only served to anger me further. “Peadar has gone in and out of this spot several times.”
“Peadar?” I pictured the mountain of the man I remembered from my time in the compound. “He must have been much smaller in real life.”
“How big was in he in the Plax world?”
“At least two heads taller than me and probably three times as wide.”
“Yep, that sounds about right,” she said.
I looked back at Menton. She had made very little progress.
“There is no way.”
“It’s bigger than it looks,” she told me, but I got the distinct feeling that she was lying.
What Sam didn’t tell me was the reason why Menton entered the opening by laying on her back. For one, if there were Plax in the opening, she had a weapon help firmly in her right hand. Two, the length of the opening was longer than my body and slanted upward the further in you got. Laying on my stomach would have bent me in an awkward position as I worked my way through.
Menton gave us the all clear and Sam put Menton’s gear in the opening ahead of her.
“Keep alert,” she told us, and then she started the entry process.
Since Sam was much smaller than Menton, it took her only a fraction of the time. Her feet had barely entered the opening when Benjamin started putting my gear into the opening so I could push it as I slithered along.
Jagged rocks poked me and dragged the length of my body. It was a horrible feeling being in a space so tight with my arms above my head. I could feel that my feet were finally in the opening, as I was able to push myself along better by using the sides of the tunnel for leverage. Yet my hands had still not reached the exit.
Suddenly I was very cold. My heart started to race and sweat sprung up everywhere on my body. I needed desperately to move my arms, but there was no way as they were pinned above me.
“I can do this,” I told myself, but for a few minutes, I couldn’t move, and the fear intensified.
Breathing became difficult. Air came in and out in short jagged breaths.
“Move, soldier!” I commanded myself, but I couldn’t. The sensation of a white shadow started to envelope me as my heart pounded faster and faster. My head felt disconnected from my body and my legs were numb.
“Move,” I told myself with less enthusiasm. “You can do this.”
Then my hands started to tingle like they were asleep, and the feeling was slowly creeping up my arms. Against my will, tears started the stream from my eyes, and consciousness started to escape me.
My heart was drumming so loud in my ears that I could hear the whoosh of my blood coursing through my body. Just when I was sure I had lost the fight, two strong hands grasped my wrists and yanked me the rest of the way into the next opening.
Once free, I immediately curled into a ball, hugging my knees tightly against my chest. Sam sat beside me and placed my head in her lap.
“Roman, it’s okay,” she tried to console me. “You’re okay.”
Breathing was still difficult, and the sense of panic only strengthened as I realized I still couldn’t take enough air into my lungs. I squeezed my hands into fists as my chest started to ache.
“Breathe, Roman,” she told me. “You’re free now. You can move. Breathe. Just breathe.”
I could barely hear her for the noise pounding in my ears.
“What’s… what’s happening?” It was all I could do to gasp out the words.
“You’re okay, Roman,” was all she would say to me.
I didn’t feel okay. In fact, I felt the furthest thing possible from okay. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut and tried to imagine open spaces, but the only open spaces I clearly remembered weren’t real. The illusion of the compound offered no comfort now that I knew it wasn’t real.
“Roman.” Sam started to blow softly in my face. “Roman, you have to breathe.”
But breathing was not possible. The vise around my chest grew tighter as the white shadow took complete control of me. I felt myself slipping further away.
“Sam!” I cried out, but I wasn’t sure any sound escaped me. At least, I didn’t hear anything above the drum of my heartbeat, and there was no air in my lungs to breathe out the word.
“Roman, breathe.” Sam’s voice was muffled, hanging disconnected in the air above me.
I was losing the fight. Terror completely encased me and took my consciousness away in the process.
“Rick?” someone said my name. Whatever had happened was finally over. My mind was coming back to life. Exhaustion weighed on me like a lead blanket.
“Rick, wake up.”
Something was wrong. I sensed it before I opened my eyes.
“Come on, sir, return to me,” someone whispered. I knew that voice.
Peadar! It was Peadar talking to me. Had I died?
“Wake up, Rick, please.”
I tried to shake my head, but it was too heavy. Slowly I was able to open my eyes ever so little.
In the blur that greeted me, I could see that I was in a bright room. It was Peadar talking to me. He was sitting next to me on the edge of my bed.
Gregg and Todd stood guard behind him.
Author’s Note: That’s it for this week. What do you think so far? I would love to hear your comments.
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