We were taken below by several of the Spanish sailors armed with swords and daggers. The leader had an old flintlock pistol tucked into his belt, but I think it was more ornamental than functional. As one of the sailors opened the hatch, two of the creatures landed on the deck. They stood away from us, studying us with those blood red eyes. The sailors didn’t seem to be concerned about them landing there.
And then we were below the decks being lead down a narrow, short passageway. The leader stopped near a hatch, used a large key to open the lock. When the door was opened, he gestured. I ducked and entered. The women followed and Eric brought up the rear.
The interior was dark. There were chains fastened to beams over our heads, but the Spanish didn’t enter. They merely closed the hatch and locked us in.
I turned around slowly and inspected what I could see. There was a dim square of light at the door where there was a small, square window with two thick bars set in it. The deck under us was wood and except for the chains hanging from the beam, there was nothing else in our prison.
Christine sat down, her back against the wall. She drew her legs up and propped her chin on her knees. She didn’t say anything to any of us.
Eric watched her for a moment and then said, “This is getting monotonous. Everyone we run into in this world keeps tossing us into cells.”
“At least we’re alive,” I said.
Eric looked at Christine and then Huana who hadn’t moved since the door had been closed and locked. “But for how long?” he asked.
Rather than respond, I crouched near Christine. When she looked at me, I asked, “Are those creatures intelligent?”
“Can they think? Are they rational?”
She shook her head but said, “I don’t know. No one I know has ever talked to one. They just attack and kill.”
I rubbed a hand on my face and stood up. I moved to the window and looked out. There was no one in the corridor outside our cell, but that didn’t matter. There wasn’t a way for us to escape from it easily.
I turned and said, “Seems that the Spanish are trading with the creatures.”
No one responded to that and I wasn’t sure where I was going with it, so I let it drop. I paced off the cell, discovering that it was quite long and very narrow. In the darkness I could hear the scrambling of tiny claws on the wood and was sure that there were rates in there with us. Rats seemed to have invaded all the world’s environments but I said nothing to the others about them. We didn’t need to worry about rats.
I sat down and closed my eyes. I hadn’t realized how tired I was. We hadn’t gotten much sleep in the last few days. We had been on the run almost from the moment we jumped from the window in the palace. Without realizing it, I fell asleep.
And then was awakened by the door of the cell banging open. I sat up with a start and saw two huge men, each holding a sword. One of them growled at us. “Captain wants to see you now.”
I stood up and moved toward the door, a hand up, protecting my eyes. As I stepped into the corridor, I blinked. When the others had joined me, all of us were taken to the captain’s cabin. Outside it, we waited while the guard knocked. There was a muffled response from the inside and we were told to enter.
The cabin was in the stern of the ship. Across the open door was a wide window that looked out on the river. Surrounding it were statues and vases and goblets of jewel encrusted gold. There was a carpet on the floor, made of the finest wool. There were bars of gold in one corner and bars of silver in another. The cabin was loaded with treasure worth millions of dollars.
The captain sat in a chair covered with ornate carvings and decorated with gold and silver. It looked more like a throne than a chair.
He was a big man, burly. He had long black hair, a huge beard and small, brown eyes. His hands were huge, looking as if they were too big for his body. As we entered, he sat up and boomed, “Who are you?”
I bowed slightly and said, “Captain David Stone, formerly of the United States Army.”
“Captain?” he said. “United States, huh? You look English to me and I know not of this United States.”
He had me on that one. I didn’t know what to say to him, but that problem was quickly forgotten when he said, “I am the duly appointed representative of the King of Spain. You are on land that belongs to the King. Have you his permission to be here?”
At the moment we were on a ship but I didn’t want to debate the point with him. Instead, I said, “We became lost while exploring the islands off northern Canada and found ourselves drifting in these waters.”
“A likely story,” he boomed. He waved a hand around the room indicating his treasure. “I believe you are spies, or pirates, come to steal all this from my King.”
I glanced at Eric who shrugged. The captain caught the motion and asked, “Who are your friends?”
“I am Sergeant Eric Jansen of the United States Army.”
“Jansen? Do I know that name?”
“My father made a journey here a number of years ago. He has not returned. I,” he stopped and waved a hand and then continued, “we have come to find him.”
“European like yourselves?”
Jansen shook his head. “Americans.”
“I don’t know of this place.”
“The New World,” I said again. “Columbus discovered it, sailed there many times. Europeans settled there. We are descended from them.”
I wasn’t sure if the explanation made any sense to him, but them, I wasn’t sure that it mattered. We were his captives and we could invoke whatever we wanted and if he didn’t fear it, or retribution from it, he would do what he wanted.
The captain decided to ignore me and picked up one of the jeweled goblets. He held it up to the light. “A beautiful thing,” he said. “Made by some of the finest craftsmen in this world. It’s worth a great deal of money anywhere in the world.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “It’s beautiful. Was it created near here?”
He looked at me as if I was trying to get information from him. He smiled showing broken, yellowed teeth. “It will do you no good because Governor Pizzaro has already conquered the Incas bringing them into the realm of Spain.”
When he said it, it all fell into place for me. It was why I had recognized some of it. Why it had seemed familiar. I remembered some of the accounts I had read about the Inner Earth that contained the theory that the Inca had escaped into the caves of the Andes taking their treasure and culture with them. And now I was seeing that some of the Spanish had followed.
I snapped my head around and looked at Christine. The moon! She had mentioned a festival of the moon. But a group who lived in the perpetual daylight of the Inner Earth wouldn’t have seen the moon. They would no nothing of a moon. That was an obvious carry over from the time that they had lived on the surface of the planet.
This was an anthropologist’s dream. A culture that had been destroyed centuries ago was now found to have survived, partially, living in a remote spot inside the Earth. Sure, there were changes, but not all that many. I felt the excitement build. This was a significant find. The gold, the silver, and the treasure paled in comparison to the value to science.
I rubbed my hand over my face as these thoughts flashed through my mind. This was a discovery on par with Colombus and the New World. Sure, other had been there before Colombus, but he was the one who returned with the information that allowed others to follow. Now I was in a position to do the same.