The Way Back

The Way BackJanuary 2005 – These last several months have been most difficult. I never found Slade’s body, but I was able to retrieve his flask after putting myself at great risk. I now carried it with me as a reminder of his resolve. Slade was not a perfect man in any way, but I admired his genius which bordered on insanity at times. Without him I could not have survived here, and without him I cannot leave. After living these last few months in total isolation and with little food except what I could steal away from other explorers, it was time to formulate a plan to find my way back to the surface.

The trip down had been a confusing maze of twist and turns, and I thought Slade had intentions of leading us back out, but I thought wrong. My only chance at leaving was to follow someone out, so I considered the facts at hand. Many explorers continued to arrive, but I was not able to identify which of the many camps around the city actually had expeditions leading back to the surface. I knew it had to be done, I just needed an opportunity.

Several more months passed with me learning every inch of the city, and I found that I could easily spy on any camp of my choosing. It wasn’t long before the names of most of the explorers were now sealed in my memory, as well as their intentions. There seemed to be a bit of a power struggle going on between a few of the camps, and that is exactly what presented me with an opportunity. The confusion among the different camps led to plans being made by one particular group to head back to the surface, and I prepared myself to creep along behind in the shadows.

There would be five of them, led by a short graying fellow that everyone called Dr. Van Zandt. Van Zandt was here with special permission from whatever power was overseeing these explorations, and from what I could hear they were not affiliated with any government agency. It was still unclear to me after all this time exactly what was going on in regards to authority in these caverns. I sensed that Van Zandt was frustrated with this confusion and he’d had enough. He was abandoning his mission. Fortunately for me this turned out to be my way back.

As they stowed away their gear and prepared for the journey back out, I made a quick visit back to the crashed ledge that had taken Slade. I pulled his empty flask from my pack and opened the top. I took a good whiff of the contents and threw it over the side. It clanked and clattered its way down to the bottom and I turned and walked away. Goodbye my fine friend, you will be missed..

As Van Zandt’s party set out I followed close behind. The trip back to the surface seemed much more difficult than I had expected, but I was glad to be going where warm sunlight would once again strike my skin. I did my best to stay far back but not lose track of them, which was not a problem at all. The heavy loads of gear they were dragging along made it easier for me to track them by sound rather than by sight. I noticed along the way the many extraordinary archaeological sites that had been clearly identified and barricaded. I began to understand now just why so many explorers from all over the world were itching for an opportunity to come here and see this fantastic place for themselves.

Van Zandt’s party ahead of me arrived at the surface a few days later, but there was a small problem. The entrance was teeming with official looking people and what appeared to be a small patrol of security personnel. I could not just walk out on my own. From what I could tell it appeared to be about mid-afternoon and the light well in front of me was blinding, even though it was far ahead. I’m certain that the authorities are still on the lookout for me and that presents a whole new set of problems once I emerge. I decide to wait until nightfall to give my eyes a rest and make my escape.

I crawled the last several hundred yards and out of the cavern entrance. To my left was another heavily barricaded area. I ducked into the shadows and made my way across the open desert and partially up one side of the extinct volcano. More barricades and roped off areas were visible in the starlight. I heard voices behind me and made a run for it. I tripped on the small rocks that were scattered about and reached out to grab one of the ropes but it was too late. I fell into the darkness below and was knocked dizzy from the impact. Loose rock and dirt fell from above and I appeared to be in a hole that was quite deep and very long. I lay still for a few hours and fell off to sleep.

In the early pre-dawn hours of the following day my life would be changed forever..

Published in: on November 30, 2007 at 11:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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VanishedOctober 2004 – Slade had a long history of alcoholism and that fact held true under the surface. After all, if he hadn’t been on a binge at the time I met him I would still be roaming the desert Southwest as an unemployed hunting guide. As the months passed I realized that I was highly dependent on Slade for my survival. He had an innate ability to find and identify food sources and discovered a crude but effective method of brewing a potent wine from any vegetation with sugar content. Most of what he produced was quite disgusting but he drank it nevertheless.

Slade’s drinking worsened as more and more explorers arrived from the surface. There were times when I feared for our safety and his loud outbursts of anger while drinking attracted a lot of unwanted attention. My efforts to calm him were useless. I feared if he continued this behavior we would be discovered. In my heart I felt the right thing to do was make contact with other explorers and find a diplomatic way of becoming part of what was obviously a new effort to bring the caverns back to life. The mere mention of such ideas only made Slade more determined to subvert those efforts. He was going off the deep end and any plans I had of stopping him were obviously going nowhere. I suspect Slade’s paranoia was influenced by the fact that his drinking was out of control. In a drunken stupor one evening he grabbed me by my shoulders and screamed into my face that he’d made a mistake in bringing me here and he wandered off with his flask. My attempts to follow him were met with a violent outburst of physical threats. I backed away and let Slade go.

While Slade was gone the sounds of the cavern intensified. I had a few close encounters with other explorers and overheard conversations about long range plans to possibly revive the restoration effort. It was unclear to me at the time exactly what was happening, but from what I could gather these visitors had received some sort of special permission to be here. Slade would surely not be happy about this news. He’d been away for several days now and I needed to locate him and formulate a strategy for what we would do next.

Slade was fond of the high cliffs in and around the city proper. He would often sit in these high places and make detailed notes in his journal while drinking his wine. I decided to search the cliffs first. I spent the better part of a day looking for him. Slade would slip away now and then but never more than a few hours. I began to feel a sense of uneasiness and my mind raced with thoughts of being here on my own. Making contact with the others was now a reality sneaking into my subconscious.

I made my way down by the water and climbed up to a ledge that Slade rarely frequented because of the danger involved in negotiating an area of loose rock. I saw some of the rocks had been recently moved and I made my way up to the ledge and around to the side where he liked to sit and admire the view. I was shocked at what I found. One whole section of the ledge had broken away from the face of the cliff and lay well below me in fragmented pieces. I studied the situation below and a brief glint of something bright struck my eye. It was Slade’s flask. There was no sign of him. I felt my face grow dark and a sick feeling filled my gut.

I am now alone..

Published in: on November 30, 2007 at 9:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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IntrudersSeptember 2004  –  Slade and I were able to live comfortably in the caverns though we were not alone.  There were bands of rebels scattered about.  Friendly or not, we decided to try and avoid them altogether.  This was actually Slade’s idea, and I learned from him over the months that he had other motives in mind.  I was along for the ride and there was no turning back.  I was seeking adventure, but I misjudged Slade.  One night he described his long criminal history to me and I was astounded.  Slade spoke of the other groups of rebels as if they were bitter enemies, and he vowed to do whatever necessary to protect precious resources that were soon becoming depleted.  He would not have to worry about this problem for long.

It started gradually at first but soon there were official looking explorers with new gear and supplies all over the place.  It was obvious to us that something had happened on the surface for the caverns to be reopened.  We decided to stay hidden out of sight, although many of their supplies were easy pickings.  Our clothes had been pretty much torn apart after months of living underground, and it was refreshing to get our hands on necessities.

As the new explorers continued to stream in, we were forced to abandon most of the areas that had become home to us in the previous months, and Slade was in a seething rage.  He now looked upon these entire caverns as his own, and he often spoke of coming here before serving his prison sentence.  Slade claimed he was involved in the original expedition when the cavern entrance was discovered near the surface, and his grasp of the D’ni language and mathematics was astounding.  He also possessed intimate knowledge of the dynamics of linking and was confident in his abilities.  But Slade had a dark side.

Slade would not have to be concerned for very long..

Published in: on November 29, 2007 at 3:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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All Goes Quiet..

All Goes Quiet..March 2004  –  Slade and I continued to lay low for a time until finally the rumors were confirmed.  Our information was sketchy at best as our sources were other explorers with less than stellar reputations, but I guess we fit into that group as well.  We had missed the mass exodus from the cavern and for all practical purposes we would be on our own.  From what we heard we could only conclude that the restoration effort had been abandoned, the city barricaded off, and Slade and I left to fend for ourselves.

We soon began to run low on much needed supplies and decided we would risk breaking into the city to search for anything possibly left behind.  We were able to access one of the rooftops that had been used by many of the explorers and discovered a risky but successful method of scaling one of the high walls and into the courtyard area.  At this point Slade and I agreed to split up in an effort to cover more ground in our search of the city for food and hopefully fresh water, but our attention would soon be diverted by unexplained activity nearby.  We decided not to risk exposing ourselves to anyone possibly left behind and we continued to keep a stealthy presence.

We persisted on what we could find in the city and even risked sampling what little was available in the few ages we had visited so far.  For the next six months we felt both isolated and watched at the same time, as if some unseen presence was watching over us.  Slade and I would hear and see things that would make a grown man shake in his boots.  Little did we know that our isolation was about to come to an end..

Published in: on November 28, 2007 at 11:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Secrets of The Underground

Secrets of The UndergroundIn December 2003 I ran across a cranky old guy in the New Mexico desert named Luther Slade.  Around my campfire one starlit evening Slade had a bit much to drink and began to ramble on endlessly about his supposed association with a group of explorers whom he claimed had access to huge underground caverns.  I listened intently as he guzzled his brew and spewed forth magnificent tales of places in such great detail that I thought there was no way he could imagine it all.  And thus my journey was born..

The following morning Slade had no recollection of what he had told me but I confronted him with what I had heard.  I convinced him to show me these fantastic places and we planned to enter the underground a few days later.  The trip was much more difficult than I had expected and he insisted on total secrecy.  After arriving in the caverns a few days later he looked me in the eye with an evil grin and asked me not to speak to strangers or other explorers.  At this point I began to feel like an intruder but I liked the sense of adventure.  What followed in the months ahead was filled with Slade and I exploring places off the beaten path, many of them obviously never seen by surface dwellers.

Our brief encounters with some of the “authorized” explorers led to much confusion about who had access to what, and we soon developed a reputation as outlaws.  Luther seemed to relish this attention and I too was swept up by it all.

Slade and I soon learned that an effort was being organized to round us up and haul us to the surface, but we had managed to develop a vast network of hideouts in and around the cavern.  Slade shocked me by sharing his knowledge of “linking books”, which enabled us to vanish as if by magic, but he warned me that using the books was risky business, and he’d obviously had experience using them in the past.  We spent January and February of 2004 visiting several of these “ages” which allowed us to keep a low profile.  It was about this time that we heard rumors the cavern would soon be evacuated.

What followed in the months and years ahead would leave us perplexed and frustrated..

Published in: on November 28, 2007 at 6:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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