|Chapter4- To The Tunnels||Chapter6- The Bunker|
Liz walked over to a large rock that somewhat resembled an Armadillo. She sat on it and turned to Satan. "OK, we're in hell. Is that something to be happy about?"
"Normally, no. However, I sort of belong here and, fortuitously, nobody has paid any attention to this part of Hell since biblical times. Did you know that Moses led the Children of Israel right down that wash over there? There's the historical marker." Satan waved his hand toward a faded metal sign sporting about three dozen randomly distributed bullet holes.
"Of course, Moses led the Children of Israel just about everywhere. You'd think that after say two or three years of being lost, you'd stop and ask for directions. But not Moses. Forty years from Cairo to Jerusalem ... has to be some sort of record.
"Anyway. The geography of Hell is kind of non-intuitive, Hell being mostly underground and all. Turns out that we aren't all that far from greater, downtown Hades in a place that everyone has totally forgotten about. No surveillance, no patrols up here, no nothing. I think officially, we're in a National Park, so don't pick the flowers." He grinned.
Liz looked at the desolation-scape. "Flowers?"
"Exactly" said Satan.
"So," said Liz, "How far are we from greater downtown Hades?"
"About six blocks."
Liz looked around quizzically. "Six really, really long blocks?"
"No, six ordinary ones. THAT WAY" Satan said pointing downward.
Liz thought that over. "More Tunnels?"
"Well, yeah. But not wild tunnels plagued with elves and gnomes and who knows what else. Real honest tunnels carved out through virgin rock by slave labor working sixteen hour days on bread and water. Solid tunnels. Tunnels we can rely on."
"If you say so. I assume that you have a specific destination in mind?"
"Yeah, there is an abandoned emergency control center about 100 meters directly below that dinosaur femur over there." Satan waved toward a brown rock which was indeed shaped vaguely like a very large, weathered bone. "The place hasn't been staffed since the Protestant Reformation, but there should be food and refreshment and shelter and wi-fi for those who know the password -- which is 'password' by the way. Of course, they'll notice us if we stay there more than a few months. But we should be fine for a week or two while I get the lay of the land."
"Let me see if I have this straight.
"We started out to get my paperwork straightened out and now, after marching me around half the damn universe, you expect me to crawl down another creepy tunnel with you and spend a few weeks hanging out in a bomb shelter that probably hasn't been cleaned or dusted for about four centuries and where I can dine on military rations that probably taste like they were, and quite likely are, made of cardboard?
"Yep, that's about it.
Liz thought about her options. "OK" She said meekly.
"Good girl" said Satan.
Satan led them to the brown rock and began pushing dirt aside with the toe of his somehow still highly polished and unscuffed Italian leather shoes. Rather quickly, a rusted circular hatch appeared (Do not try this at home. Satan is a trained professional. If you try this, the hatch will be about a centimeter deeper than you scrape if it isn't on the other side of the rock entirely. If you are truly unlucky, you will kick into a pile of rusted razor blades and get lockjaw ... If you manage to avoid detonating a landmine... At the very least, your shoes will get dirty.)
Satan reached down and tried to pull the hatch open. When it failed to move, he pulled harder. Then harder yet. He swore, stomped on the hatch hard, then pulled again. No results.
Liz bent over and pointed. "Think those two lumps might be the hinges. Probably ought to pull opposite them."
Satan nodded and pulled, stomped and swore at the point opposite the lumps. No results.
"Here, let me try, not that it'll do any good." Said Liz. She pulled, stomped and swore. She was right. It didn't do any good.
"Why don't you dig out that wand of yours and put this sucker into orbit around Pluto?" asked Liz wiping her brow with the back of her hand.
"I'd love to, but a strong persuasion field this close to Hades would not go unnoticed. Better to avoid force here. I don't think there ought to be a lock or even a latch on this. And if there were, they'd be on this side not the inside. We do not now, and have never had much trouble with illegal immigration to Hell. The doors into hell are never locked" Satan removed a swath of plush red carpet and a selection of brushes from his attache case. He spread the carpet on the ground, kneeled down with a broad painter's brush in his hand, and started sweeping dirt and rust from the cover. Liz joined in the effort using the second largest brush.
"I don't see any sort of latch or catch." said Liz
"Nor do I."
"Wait, I think I see some letters." Liz brushed industriously along an arc along the edge of the cover. "C...A..., Is that an R? ... And here, before that "P...O...O...R -- 'POOR CAR'?"
Satan joined her slowly bringing the lettering into view. "Those 'R's are really 'P's and 'F's. And there are more letters". In a couple of minutes, the label was revealed. "CHILDPROOF CAP."
"There should be some instructions for opening it?" Said Liz hopefully. But a further half hour of brushing around the rim revealed only the words "Patent Pending"
"Jezum Crow," muttered Liz. "If your childproof caps are anything like ours on Earth, "We're doomed. Do you happen to recall what Moses and the children of Israel subsisted on for those forty years? It may be of more than passing interest to us."
"As I recall, they were heavily into Lichen stew and carbonized lizard meat -- Kosher of course. Tastes every bit as good as it sounds ... unfortunately. But before we give up hope, let's try logic." Said Satan.
"OK" said Liz dubiously. She hadn't seen all that much logical in her brief time in the afterlife. "It doesn't move up or down. Maybe it twists."
And indeed, it did twist clockwise about 10 degrees before stopping. But once stopped it moved neither up nor down. "What now Kimosabe?" asked Liz.
"Well, if it doesn't twist or move up or down, maybe it moves sideways."
Liz studied the plate. "Sideways? You're kidding, right?"
Satan kicked transversely with his heel. The plate didn't move.
Twenty minutes later, they both sat back, looked at each other, and sighed. The cap could be moved through an arc of 10 degrees, but that's all it did. Beyond that, it could not be budged.
Liz frowned. "Your friends in Hades Central would detect a persuasion field. Would they detect a cutting torch?"
"Probably not, but we don't have a ... the flashlight." He slapped his hand to his forehead. "Of course, the flashlight."
Liz fumbled in her backpack and produced the flashlight. A bit of fumbling produced a long white flame. "How about I try to cut around those bumps? I really think they might be hinges?"
"OK by me." said Satan.
Liz crouched down and applied the torch to the cover which turned a cheery shade of red. Although it showed no sign of melting, closely packed numbers slowly appeared. 0..10...20...30... "What are those?" asked Liz
Satan again slapped his hand to his forehead. "I think you can turn the torch off. It's a combination lock ... a bloody combination lock. It only turns through ten degrees, but that's enough for a hundred two-digit pairs. And that mark there", he pointed, "is the index"
Liz clicked the torch nee flashlight off. "Yeah, I see how it could be a combination lock. But we don't know the combination, so how is our situation improved?"
Satan fumbled in his attache case and produced a pad of paper, a pencil, several mysterious devices and a stethoscope. "Hey, I'm not just a pretty face. I have certain skills ... When that thing cools, we'll try 10 ... 20 ... 30 and if that doesn't work, I'll do some serious listening to the click of tumblers."
10 ... 20 ... 30 worked. The door clicked and flipped open. Satan looked mildly downcast. He'd clearly been looking forward to the opportunity to show off.
The now open cover revealed a shaft plunging into the ground. The walls were dirt. The lighting was pleasant but subdued. A ladder made of bent rebar extended down the wall. Curiously, the shaft appeared to be straight, but it also did not recede normally into the distance. Somehow it became defocused (sort of) about 20 or 30 meters down. The air from the shaft was fresh and cool with a slight, not unpleasant, barnyard smell. The strains of very faint background music echoed upward.
Liz focused on the music. It seemed familiar. Indeed, it was. The group was Jefferson Airplane. And the singer was Grace Slick. Liz sniffed the air more carefully. Rabbits. The shaft smelled of rabbits. Liz turned to the devil.
"Beelzie, this is a rabbit hole. And I'm pretty sure that it's that rabbit hole. Do you really think that going down this thing is a good idea?"
"Well, it certainly seems to be that rabbit hole. Which is curious because I clearly recall paying to have it dug in Oxfordshire, not the Sinai. But the good news is that that rabbit hole drops clear for 30 meters or so and we're headed for a side tunnel about 10 meters down. In the meantime, we need to figure out what we are going to do about them.
"them?, whom?, which ... some pronoun ..."
Satan pointed to a group of dots a couple of kilometers away clearly headed in their direction.
"OK, let me guess" sighed Liz. "It's the lost patrol."
"I'd guess not.", said Satan, "even the British would have a guy on point and a couple of guys covering the flanks and when there were that many of them in the lost patrol, they still had horses. In any case, it doesn't look like a military operation to me.
"Probably not herdsmen. They are moving too fast and are clustered into groups who are probably talking to each other. Herdsmen conserve energy and they've long since heard everything each other has to say. Besides, which -- no herds.
"What do they look like?"
"German tourists, but I'm guessing they aren't that either. I reckon if we wait about 40 minutes, their nature will be revealed.
"Yeah," said Liz. "I'll have another beer ... maybe two." Liz took a beer and curled up on the hard packed sand in the scanty shade from the rock. Satan sat down beside her with a beer of his own. After about ten minutes he spoke. "Y'know, I don't think that crew out there has seen us. I happen to have a dandy Harry Potter invisibility cloak --- another fine Honda product -- in my kit here. What say we use it and just observe this operation rather than participating?
The two of them covered themselves with the cloak which turned out to do an SPF40 job of blocking the sun. In the relative cool under the cloak, they worked their way around the rock until they could see the oncoming figures who had resolved themselves into a group of perhaps fifteen men and women. They were dressed in civilian khakis or battered jeans and most of the men were carrying bulky objects.
"Will they be able to hear us when they get near?", asked Liz.
"Naw, not unless we shout or remove the cloak"
"Will we be able to hear them?"
"Of course, what good would an invisibility cloak be if it cut off incoming sound?"
"Have any more beer in that bag?"
"Sure, want one?"
"No, I was just idly curious. Of course I want a damn beer"
Beers were opened. A cheese plate appeared accompanied by salsa and tortilla chips.
Liz leaned back against the rock. "You said I had control over my body. Does that mean I can eat this stuff and not gain weight?"
"Sure. It's not like you are actually metabolizing anything here in the afterlife. Damn good thing. Ever consider the logistic problems of trying to get 2500 kilocalories a day to millions of souls buried up to their neck in excrement or otherwise preoccupied dealing with their environment?
"Can't say that I have. Tough, is it?
"You can't imagine. Running Hell is no picnic. Heaven is worse. You can't imagine the whining if the afternoon hors'dourves are even a couple of minutes late or are cold. You sort of expect Hell to operate like airport in a snow storm, but everyone expects Heaven to run like a Swiss watch. I don't envy God one bit.
"Back to this calorie thing. You're sure that this stuff won't make me fat?
"You know. I've been in the afterlife for what seems like a month although I think it's only 18 hours or so. This is the first thing I've encountered that is better in any respect.
"If you continue to accrue experience here at your current rate, I'm confident that you will find something that meets with your approval every year or three." said Satan dryly. Then he added, "What do you make of that lot?" He gestured toward the group of men and women who had stopped. Three or four of them had drifted off on errands of their own, but most formed a loose circle around a man in his early 30s who was reading from a clipboard and was pointing at a spot on the ground that appeared to be in no way distinguishable from millions of apparently indistinguishable spots in the foreground, background, and stretching off into the distance.
Liz considered the question. "The dude with the clipboard and pony tail seems to be the boss. The guys with the cameras -- those are cameras, right? -- seem to be trying to take pictures of something. But everyone is in the way, so mostly they are shooting the backs of people's heads. They don't seem very well organized. And what's with this pair?" She nodded toward a man and a woman who had meandered off almost to the rock and had stopped to examine an extremely dead bush about six meters from Liz and Satan.
"Yes, those are cameras. I think they are filming some sort of documentary. They'll cut and paste the film together into a plausible story line and get someone with a nice voice who hasn't a clue what they are talking about to do the voiceover. I think the strays wandering around are experts. Experts in what? Who knows? Here, wait a sec." Satan dug into his case and produced a small packet that unfolded into a three foot parabolic disk and two pairs of headphones. He handed Liz one pair of headphones, donned the second himself and pointed the antenna at the two nearby experts(?).
"Of course it's cannabis ... Well, maybe. Could be ... unintelligible ... No, it couldn't look at the rachis on the second ... unintelligible ..."
Satan smirked at Liz. "What'd I tell you? Experts"
Liz nodded. The experts were plucking dead leaves from the plant and (expertly) rolling them in cigarette papers. "Could you aim that antenna at the main party for a second?"
Satan did so.
'... I don't see a mine entrance either, but we're dead on the coordinates. Maybe the Ground Penetrating Radar can find the blasted thing. It'll be nice if it is buried. Good footage. ... What do you mean, who's going to dig it out? You think you were invited on this jaunt for your beauty and charm? ... Of course Muhammad is trustworthy ... Whadda you mean 'The map could be a fake?" ... Look, you authenticated it. ... Oh, now it's a fake from the tenth Century BC? ...
Satan giggled. "King Solomon's mines. They are looking for King Solomon's mines. They aren't even on the right continent. They'd be better off using the frontpiece from an old edition of Haggard than trusting a map they bought from some con artist in the bazaar -- or maybe, this being the 21st Century -- on eBay.
"Are they going to find the rabbit hole? And are they going to think that it is the entrance to the mines?
"They most certainly ARE going to find the rabbit hole -- if I have to put on a bunny suit and go out and lead them to it myself. I wouldn't miss this for the world. But I don't think lapinpersonation will be required. Take a gander at our botanists.
Liz switched her attention to the nearest pair who were inhaling deeply on their homemade smokes. The female component had risen to her feet. She was staggering backwards more or less directly toward the rabbit hole -- which -- despite being only six meters away, she and her associate had completely failed to notice.
"By the way," said Satan. "That stuff they are smoking isn't cannibis sativa it's flybane -- so named because the chemicals emitted by the live plants paralyze Diptera. The plants -- the living ones anyway -- are usually surrounded by a circle of paralyzed and dead flies. I've been told by experts that the stuff is a bad trip encapsulated and concentrated and that no one smokes it more than once. Maybe our plant experts should have counted leaves instead of looking at the rachis whatever the hell a rachis is. (Author's note: Sometimes Satan just makes stuff up. Here, Satan has managed to jumble together and elaborate on, the characteristics of a non-carnivorous plant that captures insects to amuse itself and a mushroom -- both called flybane.).
The girl continued her stumbling backward progress trying desperately to regain her balance. Her partner watched open mouthed. The filmmakers had turned and were watching her as well. She staggered back to the rim of the hole, hung in space for a long fraction of a second, and fell. Her voice could be heard dopplering down in frequency as she fell "Oh Shiiiii..."
There was silence which was broken by the voice of the expedition leader "Did anyone get the shot?"
There was silence. He tried again. Louder. "Did Anyone Get The Shot??"
He screamed. "DID ANYONE GET THE SHOT???"
The cameramen looked at the ground, the sky, each other.
"Jesus H Christ" He muttered. "Four, count them, four, 150 dollar an hour camera jocks and none of them got the shot. Oh well, we'll fake something in the studio. Will one of you bozos please get some footage of that hole before it acquires 15000 footprints?
"But shouldn't we check on Melinda?" Someone asked.
"Of course, of course. Just as soon as Ansel Adams here gets his shot."
Several of the crowd gulped. Two turned red. One sputtered. The crowd started to look sulky. Or worse. However, before the revolution could materialize, the cameraman looked up. "Shot's in the can"
Several people ran to the rabbit hole and peered over the edge. "Melinda?" one yelled. A distant voice responded. "Yeah, I'm here"
"Are you OK?"
"Yeah, I might be."
"How far down are you?"
"Can you get back up here?"
"I don't think so. Let me check. Nope, no wings. I think I'm going to need a rope or medivac or something."
"What's down there?"
"Well, there is a pile of leaves and sticks. And there is a tunnel" (Liz muttered acerbically "Of course there's a tunnel, Stay out of it Melinda. Stay OUT!!!"). And there's an empty jar labeled "ORANGE MARMALADE".
Liz tugged Satan's sleeve. "Shouldn't that marmalade jar be in a cabinet half way down the rabbit hole?"
"Sure should" he responded.
The man with the clipboard had made his way to the hole. "Melinda, does it look like a mine?"
The distant voice responded. "How the hell would I know? You know how many mines there are in Key West, Florida where I grew up? None. That's how many mines I've seen. Ask me about tourists or bonefish or Margaritas."
"Now Melinda, this is important. Is there any gold? Jewels? Anything like that?"
"There's a pile of leaves and an empty jar. You're more than welcome to come down and see for yourself, but how about hoisting me out first? Did I mention 'mild claustrophobia' on my resume?"
"Silver? Is there any silver?"
"Quartermain -- I am a botanist, not a geologist. I couldn't tell a silver mine from a subway stop. But I can tell you that if you don't get me out of this hole within five minutes, I will track you down, tie you up in poison ivy, and feed you piece by itching piece to carnivorous plants."
Liz plucked Satan's sleeve. "Is that really Allan Quartermain? The Allan Quartermain? He's not at all what I would have expected?"
"Yes and No and Sort Of. Yes he's apparently named Quartermain. No, he's not the real Quartermain. The real Quartermain is fictional, shorter, and isn't a shmuck. A lot of stuff here in the afterlife operates according to the inviolate laws of analogy. Unfortunately all our researchers have been able to figure out about analogy is that there are laws; that they are inviolate; and that any attempt to figure out what the laws are causes them to change. Having the laws your world works by change constantly is a real drag, so we discourage research.
"Anyway, the Laws of Analogy in their current form somehow allow some fictional characters to materialize. There's a Gandalf the Grey and a Harry Potter and a Rhett Butler and a Dirty Harry Callahan wandering around in the afterlife. Allan Quartermain and his mate Rudyard Kipling who is not fictional at all hang out in the village in the mountain section of Elysium. If you want to meet him, drop by the bowling alley any Tuesday night. But be prepared to drink a lot and sing sentimental celtic songs until the wee hours of the morning.
Tuesday nights in the village in Elysium at the bowling alley. Very interesting. Suspicions confirmed.... Something like that. Liz decided not to pursue that subject.
"OK then, fictional characters can be real. What happens when Humphrey Bogart wanders into Rick's American Bar and encounters Rick Blaine?"
"They both are converted to pure energy in an explosion that sterilizes 70 square city blocks. No, No, I'm kidding. Just like any chance encounter between sometime acquaintances. They find a bar or coffee shop, have a drink, make some vague promises about dinner sometime.
Liz sat back and observed as the mob milled more or less randomly trying to respond to agitated, often incomprehensible, and sometimes impossible directives from Quartermain. Somehow, they managed to drag out ropes, tie down gear, and start migrating down the rabbit hole. One photographer actually managed to get some footage.
Roughly 20 minutes after the start of the chaos, the last crew member disappeared down the hole. Shortly thereafter, a visibly furious Melinda emerged, took a bearing off the sun and marched off in the direction that the crew had arrived from. She could be heard muttering about how she was going to get to London with only $15.78 in her pocket. There appeared to be little question in her mind that she was going to make it to London.
"Beelzie, Will Melinda be OK?" Liz asked.
"I think so. See that little hill off on the horizon?" He pointed. "There's an oasis a couple of kilometers beyond it. There's a 7-11 there. She'll be able to get a couple of tacos and a big soft drink. She'll also be able to hitch a ride to Aqaba, and from Aqaba, she'll find her way to London. My impression is that not much other than Melinda slows our Melinda down. She'll be fine.
|Chapter4- To The Tunnels||Chapter6- The Bunker|