Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Land to the North - Epilogue

(Blogger's Note: Yes, it has taken a long time, but the story is finished. If you have enjoyed it, please take a look at On the Second Tuesday of Next Week, a time travel novel of a war in space. You can find it in the Kindle store at under my name. Thank you... and now back to our story.)

The rest of the diary was blank. That was the last entry. Morgan closed the book and for a moment, believed every word that he had read... and then, he didn’t believe any of it. There were no hidden civilizations inside the Earth. There were no holes at the poles to allow anyone to enter. Google Earth and satellite imagery had proven this. The book was a work of science fiction that Morgan found interesting, that belonged in another age or another time, but that was all it was.

He stood up, looked at the pistol again and thought that it was a nice prop to prove the story. But it wasn’t as if there weren’t thousands of such pistols around and there was nothing special about this one. Because he could touch it didn’t mean that the story he had just read was true. It just meant the pistol was real.

Somewhat disappointed, he put the diary, along with the pistol, back in the trunk and closed it. He couldn’t figure out why either had been hidden, why the pistol hadn’t been removed long ago, why his parents had hung onto all this nonsense. They certainly weren’t looking for a publisher for this story and no one was searching for the mythical entrance to this lost world inside the Earth or the missing uncle.

He walked downstairs, into the family room and then sat down at the computer. He did what everyone did when he or she had question. He typed the information into a search engine to see what he could learn.

He found that David Morgan Stone was an American officer of the First World War who led a scientific expedition to the Arctic Circle in which his partner Eric Jensen died. He, and a woman he claimed to have come from the Inner Earth, were found drifting in a small, palm-leaf boat in the northern Atlantic. He, with the woman, Christine, who he later married, embarked on a lecture tour about the wonders of the Inner Earth. Stone was one of many such adventurers who either supported the claims of a civilization inside the Earth or who claimed to have been there to see this mythical land to the north. All his claims were based solely on his observations, backed up by those of his wife. The Stones said that they would return to the Inner Earth to prove their tales true and disappeared on an expedition in either late 1928 or early 1929.

Morgan was stunned. It meant that everything in the diary was true.

And then he realized that it meant nothing of the sort. It meant that his uncle had told the story as if it was true, but he offered no proof that it was. Or rather that he had no proof that it was. Morgan was left with the same questions that he’d had before he searched the Internet.

He was still sitting at the computer, staring at a very old black and white picture of his uncle with Christine when his parents came home. His father burst into the room, yelling that they had returned and then spotted Morgan sitting at the computer.

He walked over and then froze, his eyes fixed on the photograph. Then, quietly he said, “So now you know.”

Morgan turned and looked up at his father who might have been a younger version of this uncle. There was an unmistakable family resemblance there.

“I know that he disappeared. I know that he believed there was another world inside the Earth.”

His father pulled another chair around and sat down. He looked at his son and said, “This has been the family’s dark secret. Your uncle made quite the splash in the 1920s. He made a lot of money on his lectures, but as the audiences became more sophisticated and our knowledge of the planet became more enlightened, we all knew that there could be no civilization hidden in the Earth has he said. They all believed him to be deluded and we all believed the same thing.”

“Then what happened to him?”

“He left the family. He took his wife, who said she had been born in the Inner Earth, and disappeared. He left a small fortune to the family and a trust fund to be used by any family member who wished to follow him. That trust was broken as satellites began mapping the planet. It was broken because he had been delusional when he set it up and under the law, the contact was invalid. Now the money is used to send family members to college.”

Morgan sat looking first at the photograph on the screen and then at his father. “Then nobody ever followed him?”

“Where? Clearly he was deluded. Some believe it was because of his injuries in the First World War. The delusion was harmless enough, and in fact, his lecture fees were enough for the family fortune to expand. No one cared what he said as long as the money kept coming in and he didn’t embarrass the family in some way.”

“So it was all about the money?”

Morgan’s father shrugged and said, “This was really before my time. As I say, he was harmless as were so many others roaming the country at the time talking about their expeditions to Africa or South America. Some had stories of riches buried on far off islands, some had tales of mysterious lands hidden behind banks of fog, or of mysterious lands that no one else ever found. And there was just enough being discovered to lend some credibility to his tales. His were as real as most those others and people paid to hear him talk about his grand adventure. I understand that he had a real passion for his tale.”

“And then he just disappeared?”

“One day he was there, in Kansas City, and the next his house was closed, the trusts set up, and he was gone along with his wife.”

“You didn’t try to find him?”

“I am much too young for that but some in the family did. The last report that anyone believed was that he was spotted, or rather had bought some supplies in northern Canada and from there the trail went cold, if you’ll pardon the pun.”

Morgan sat back and scratched his head. He looked at the computer screen picture of his strange uncle and then at his father. He said, “I’d like to find out what happened.”

“So would the rest of the family, but there isn’t much to go on. He headed north with his wife and disappeared. They were alone, on their way back into his lost world.”

Morgan was quiet for a moment, thinking. It seemed impossible that a relative had been chasing a tale of a world inside the Earth. But then, it was nearly one hundred years ago, and people just didn’t know that much about the Earth. They didn’t have satellites that had photographed the planet from every angle using every available medium to do it. A hundred years ago, Antarctica was a huge unknown, much of South America, especially the Amazon basin had not been explored, and people were still disappearing in Africa.

But in a modern world, with all the information available, it just made no sense that there was something hidden away. Morgan shrugged and said, “Do you know what happened to him?”

“I don’t know, but I believe that he traveled north with Christine and then died trying to find that entrance into the Earth. All we know is that he said he was going to try to return for the proof he lacked.”

For Morgan it wasn’t a satisfactory ending. It left a door open a crack. Maybe his uncle had found his way back into the Inner Earth. Maybe his expedition had been a success, but he hadn’t been able to return. Or maybe he had just frozen to death in the great white north and some day someone would find his frozen remains.

Morgan’s father stood, signaling the end of the conversation. He pointed to the computer. “Well, there’s the best tool for learning about him. Let me know what you find out, if anything more, but dinner will be ready soon.”

Morgan watched his father walk into the kitchen and wondered how he could be so uninterested in this aspect of the family history. And then he realized that his father had probably done the same thing as he was growing up. He hadn’t found any answers so he had lost interest, but Morgan knew that didn’t mean he wouldn’t find something. After all, he had the Internet and his father hadn’t.

Land to the North - Chapter 20

We drifted with the current in the river and while it had brought us into this world, I had the feeling it would also take us out. All we had to do was let it run its course. I had no idea how long that might take, nor did I have any real idea of how far we had come on our journeys. We had been forced to march in so many different directions that we might have made a huge looping turn and been near our original entrance, or we might be at the far end of this world, near another entrance to it. I just didn’t know.

In the last several days, or rather, in a long period of this eternal light, I had little opportunity to sleep. What little that I had was not as restful as it could have been. It seemed that there had been so many crises that there was no rest. We had been fleeing so many captors in so many places, that rest was not possible. Too much happening too fast.

Christine looked so peaceful in the bottom of the boat, lying so that she avoided the little bit of river water that was sloshing around. Her right arm was up, over her eyes and her legs were stretched out, away from the water. She didn’t move and it was difficult to see that she was breathing, though she was.

I sat with my back against what would be thought of as the stern, through there was no real difference between the front and the back of the boat. Fore and aft was determined by the direction the boat was heading, and I was sitting so that I could see the river in front of us.

I didn’t feel drowsy at all. My eyes didn’t burn, my eyelids were not heavy and I wasn’t yawning. I was tired, really tired but not drowsy.

It was the fog horn that woke me. I started and grabbed for my pistol when I realized I couldn’t see much other than the gray of the cloud bank we had drifted into. I could hear the distinct rumbling of an engine, a mechanical devise, and I could hear the mournful sound of the fog horn somewhere out there near us.

Christine sat up suddenly, frightened. She stared into the clouds around us, and then looked back at me. “What is it?”

I waved a hand to silence her, but there was no reason to do that. I knew exactly what it was, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from in the fog. The sound seemed to reverberate as it bounced around, seeming to be all around us.

Then I heard a faint splashing as the bow cut through the water and new that it was very close. I drew my pistol and pointing it straight up, fired it three times, hoping that whoever was on the boat would recognize the distress signal that I have learned in the Army. Three spaced shots meant you were in trouble.

I thought I heard the engine slow and the splashing seemed to be quieter. I said, “I think they heard us.”

Christine stared at me and I didn’t know if she was frightened or just confused. There were no engines in her world and no real fog like this. Just the ever present sun, some haze created by the humidity, and a fight to stay alive every minute.

The splashing stopped and the fog horn blasted three quick times. I raised my pistol and fired three more shots. Then I heard a voice that sounded as if it was close.

“Ahoy there. Where are you?”

For an instant, I didn’t realize that the voice had spoken English. It was the first time in a long time that I’d heard someone speaking English, other than Eric. I suddenly knew that we had escaped from that inner world, though I didn’t know where I was nor how we had done it.

I put a hand next to my mouth and yelled, “Out here in a small boat.”

“Can you see my light?”

I tried to figure out the direction to the voice and stared into the fog. I saw nothing for a moment and then a dull glow that looked like the sun on a cloudy, rainy day. Just a small smear of brightness in a dull background.

“I have you in sight,” I yelled.

“Can you come to us?”

If I had been planning, if I had not been running from those on the Spanish galleon, if I had not been fleeing that inner world, I might have looked for oars when we found the boat, but we were in such a hurry, we just jumped in and took off.

“I have no motor,” I said, hoping that would be sufficient.

“Hang on,” said the voice.

I didn’t know what they planned. I didn’t know how big their boat might be. A freighter could easily swamp us or run over us before they managed to get organizated. I heard nothing for several minutes.

Christine said, “What is happening?”

“I think we’re about to be rescued.

She stared at me and then shivered. I realized that it was chilly in that fog. Not really cold, as you’d expect above the Arctic Circle at any time of year. Not the cold that could seep in and kill you in minutes. Just chilly and uncomfortable, given where we had come from and how we were dressed.

I heard a distance splashing and then a voice. “Can you give us a direction?

I didn’t know how to do that because I didn’t know where I was or the orientation of my boat to theirs. I yelled, “I can give you a long count if that would help,”and then, not waiting for an answer started counting upwards.

In seemed as if an hour had passed, though I hadn’t counted nearly high enough for that when I heard their oars in the water. A moment later, the boat appeared out of the fog no more than twenty or thirty feet away.

The crew were bearded men wearing heavy coats. Four were pulling at oars while one in the bow was searching for us and another was in the rear steering.

“I see them,” said that man in the bow and pointed.

Their boat turned toward us and as it came along side, the men pulled their oars in. One of the men reached out and grabbed the side of our boat. He started at Christine.

“How in the hell did you get out way out here?” he asked.

Christine didn’t move. She looked frozen with fear. I reached out and took her hand, pulling her closer to the rescue boat.

One of the men was stripping his coat and held it out for her. She didn’t know what to do. I pushed her closer and the man leaned over, draping his coat over her shoulders. She understood then and wrapped it tightly around her.

In minutes we were on their boat, standing on the bridge, both of us wearing coats provided by our rescuers. The captain stood staring at us and said, “What in the hell were you doing way out here?”

Once we had been given warmer clothes, gotten something to eat, and had a chance to relax, the captain joined us. He looked us over carefully again and then asked again, “And how did you find yourselves out in the middle of the ocean?”

“That’s a very long story,” I said.

“We have some time now. We can’t be making our observations in the fog.”

He explained they were a scientific expedition that had a task of observing the glaciers in the Arctic Circle with an eye to figuring out a way to predict the way the icebergs were formed and the drift pattens that sometimes affected the maritime world. Their research was an outgrowth of the Titanic disaster some years earlier.

Given that they were on a scientific mission, I told him that I had been part of one as well. I explained about our attempt to penetrate the Earth’s crust to reach the interior world and that we had been searching for the father of Eric Jensen who had originated the journey. I told him that Christine was a resident of that world.

I could tell that the captain didn’t believe much of our story, though we had been dressed for a warmer climate, we had been in a boat that was clearly manufactured from tropical type plants, and there was no other explanation for us being as far north as we were. I suspect he believed that we were deluded in some way and had somehow assembled the elements of that delusion into a little bit of physical evidence. He was just too polite to mention it.

When I finished my tale, he slapped his hands on his knees as if to push himself out of his chair and said, “It’ll be several days before we return to port. Until then you have the run of our boat. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”

As he left, I laughed and said to Christine, “I don’t think he believed me.”

“Then where did we come from?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose it all depends on exactly where we are now.”

“What are we going to do?”

I smiled at her and said, “Stay warm and not worry. We’re safe here, unless the weather turns bad and we run into a storm.”

When I saw the look on her face, I quickly added, “But I don’t expect that to happen. Besides, this boat isn’t all that large so I don’t think we’re all that far from land, either Greenland or Canada.” I didn’t explain to her what Greenland or Canada were and she didn’t ask.

In talking to one of the scientists on the boat, I learned that they were documenting everything they were doing. Eric and I had sort of planned that, but given the way our expedition worked out, I had lost everything except for my pistol and the clothes I was wearing. Our maps, charts, photographs, and anything else that would prove what we were doing was gone. I’d lost Eric in the process and we hadn’t found his father or sister. We had failed, or rather I had failed, in everything that we were trying to accomplish.

All I had to show for it was Christine who could, of course, tell about her life inside the Earth, but then, no one would believe her either. They’d just believe she was an actress hired to prove the point or that we were both suffering from the same delusion.

I convinced one of the scientists to give me one of the spare journals and set about chronicling the expedition as best I could. I spent the ten days putting down as much as I could remember about the expedition in the order that it happened. I knew as I was writing it that everyone would see it as a work of fiction, but I thought it important to put down as much as I could. Someday it might be seen for what it was.

We have now arrived in Nova Scotia and we have been put off the boat. I cabled home for money from my father and he sent it along. I was able to buy train tickets for New York and since we were in Canada and came off an American boat, everyone believed we were Americans. I told customs that Christine was my wife and that we had lost everything at sea. Given everything else, given the way ships were damaged and people were sometimes stranded, they believed us.

My goal now, is to return to the Inner Earth with a proper expedition to find Eric’s relatives and to prove that it can be done. Christine isn’t sure she wants to go with me, and that is up to her. She said that there is nothing left for her there, but I think she’ll change her mind if I can get another expedition, a proper expedition, together.

If I succeed in returning to the Inner Earth, I want my family to know what happened and where I am. I leave this record, for the family and not for science. Someday, if I have gone but not returned, maybe one of you will follow me...

Land to the North - Chapter 19

I hadn’t planned the escape. I knew that we were going to have to make a break for it, but I hadn’t thought much beyond that simple idea. And suddenly we were standing close to a single guard, bending over to put food on the deck in front of us. There hadn’t been a noise in the corridor outside. This was an opportunity that we simply couldn’t pass up.

As the guard started to straighten, my foot snapped out, like I was kicking a record field goal. I felt pain shoot through my foot as it connected with the chin of the man. His head snapped rearward with a cracking of bone. He flipped around, landing on his back. I leaped to him, put a hand against his throat but there was no pulse. I grabbed the dagger at his belt, wishing that we had better weapons.

I jumped to the door and peeked out. I held up a hand, telling the others to stay put. I stepped into the corridor and hurried along it. When I reached the ladder that lead to the upper deck, I turned and saw that Eric was watching. I waved him forward.

When he and the others joined me, I started up the ladder, pressing my back against the rough wood to the side of it. There was a square of bright light over me and I climbed toward it. When I reached the top, I hesitated, poking my head up so that I could see. Toward the bow there was no one. On the stern, I could see a couple of men and one of the creatures.

There was nothing that we could do. Either we stayed, trapped in the passageway, or we tried to get to the bow where we could dive into the river. I ducked back, leaned close to Eric and whispered the plan to him. We would run across the deck and leap into the water, letting the current take us away from the ship.

“That’s your plan?” he asked.

“All of it.”

He turned and asked Huana and Christine, “Can you swim?”

Both nodded and Christine grinned.

“I’ll go first. If I make it, then you follow. If not, duck back and try something else.”

Eric chuckled and said, “Your plan really stinks.”

I said, “Yeah,” and then peeked up again. I saw that the men and the creature were looking at something on the shore, facing away from me. I used that diversion to exit the hatch. I stepped onto the deck, turned and ran for the bow. As I dodged around one of the masts, I ran into a sailor, bowling him over.

As he went down, he shouted, “Hey!”

I pounced on him, driving my fist into his face. He grunted in pain and as I punched him a second time he caught my hand. He twisted my arm and I began falling to the right. As I did, there was a scratch and then a boom as someone fired a flintlock pistol. I felt, rather than heard, the ball whiz by my head and heard it smash into the wood of the mast. A man was standing on the stern, wrapped in a cloud of blue gun smoke.

And then Eric was beside me. He kicked the sailor in the side. The man grunted and fell to the deck. Eric reached down and grabbed my wrist, jerking me to my feet. I turned and saw a sailor coming at us, his sword held high.

There was another shot that did nothing. I dropped and kicked, hitting the man with the sword in the knee. He toppled right, losing his grip on his sword. Eric danced in and grabbed it. He spun around to face another sailor.

I turned and saw the captain standing there. He held the Mauser, aiming at Christine. I dived at him, cutting his legs from out from under him. He crashed to his side. He rolled to the right, trying to get up. I scrambled to my feet and jumped, knocking him down again. When he dropped the Mauser, I dived for it, snatching it.

There was another shot from a flintlock and the wet slap of a bullet hitting flesh. As I rolled clear, I saw Huana fall to the deck, a spreading stain of crimson on her back. Another of the Spanish was raising his weapon, ready to shoot. I fired first, the slug catching him in the throat. He fell to the deck and didn’t move.

Eric, swinging the captured sword, leaped toward Huana. He chopped at one man with all his might. The man fought back, parrying each of the blows, but losing ground. He stumbled then, throwing up a hand. Eric swung, chopping it off. The sailor shrieked and fell to his side, cradling his wounded arm in his other hand. Blood pumped onto the deck.

I reached Christine and pushed her toward the bow. As she jumped over the railing, there was a shot. It missed her and I heard her splash into the water. I glanced over and saw her swimming away in long, graceful strokes.

Eric was cutting his way toward me. A man leaped between us. There was a flurry of activity, the blades ringing against one another and then the point of Eric’s sword was protruding from his adversary’s back. The man fell to the deck with a low, quiet groan.

Overhead came the flapping of leather wings. One of the creatures was screaming out of the sky like a fighter plane attacking a trench. I aimed and fired. There was a burst of red and the beast flipped out of the way. It disappeared over the side of the ship.

And then four men swarmed from a hatch, all of them attacking Eric. He shouted, a call meant for the Vikings in Valhalla. He waded in, chopping and hacking, screaming at the top of his lungs. I wanted to help, but couldn’t find a clear target. I held my fire and saw Eric driven to his knees, blood covering his face, chest and arms. He kept shouting at them, his voice lost in the noise of battle.

Eric fell to the deck as the sailors hacked at him. I fired at them. Two dropped, blood on their clothes but I didn’t know whose blood it might be. One turned toward me, his sword raised, his teeth bared. I put a round in his face. The last man standing turned to flee.

There was nothing more I could do. Eric had been literally hacked to pieces. His blood spread over the deck in a thick, red mass. I could see his bones and his lungs and knew that he was dead.

With that, I tucked the pistol into my belt and whirled. Someone fired a flintlock. Someone fired an arrow. I dived over the railing and hit the water. I pulled myself away from the ship underwater. I opened my eyes, could see the sunlight filtering down. There was a snap beside me and I saw the twisted path of a bullet through the water. A second and third shots were fired but they missed as well.

I surfaced, gulped at the air and ducked back as two or three others fired at me. An arrow cut close. Then there was silence and I burst up again, sucking at the air. In front of me I saw Christine, still swimming as fast as she could.

“Head for shore,” I shouted.

She looked back over her shoulder and then turned. I followed her. We reached the bank and I stood up, the water was about waist deep.

“Where are the others?” she asked.

“Didn’t make it,” I said, shaking my head.

For a moment she didn’t speak and then asked, “Do you think they were captured?”

I moved closer and said, “No. They weren’t captured. I couldn’t get to them.”

She stared at me, her eyes filling with tears. She turned and reached for the root of a tree, dragging herself up, out of the water. She stood for a moment and then collapsed to the ground.

I crawled up after her. I wiped the water from my face and looked back at the Spanish ship. There was activity all over it, but no one seemed inclined to give chase. One man stood on the bow, firing arrows at the water. They fell far short of where we were hiding.

“Christine,” I said, “We’ve got to get out of here. We’ve got to move.”

She didn’t respond immediately. Then, rather than speak, she got to her feet and stood waiting.

I moved to her and held her. She was shaking and I wondered if it was her attempt to control her emotions or if she was cold from the water. We stood close for a moment and then I let her go and turned.

“We have to get moving.”

She nodded her agreement.

Together, we headed to the south, along the bank of the river. To the right of us was thick jungle, so dense that we couldn’t see more than a couple of feet into it. A giant green wall climbed high above us. To the left were a few scattered bushes, some tall trees, their roots dipping into the water and, of course, the wide expanse of the river. The water was clear and in some places so shallow that we could easily see the bottom. We could see the fish swimming just under the surface.

It didn’t take us long to put distance between us and the Spanish ship. I stopped frequently, but there was no sign of pursuit. It was as if the men on the ship didn’t care that we had gotten away. Of course, I had shot the captain and if there wasn’t a well established chain of command, the sailors might be fighting among themselves for the top spot. Not the best way to run a military command, but one that would allow us to get out of here before they got organized.

We kept traveling, staying close to the river. I figured that it would provide us with food and with a means of travel. All we had to do was remain patient.

After an hour or so, we stopped to rest. I took out the pistol and examined it. Using my shirt, I cleaned it as best I could. When I was finished, we started moving again, always heading away from the Spanish ship and the little bit of civilization that we had seen near it.

We finally came to a small dock. There was a wide spot in the jungle and the trail leading into it. I looked up the trail but it was like looking into a long, green tunnel with nothing visible at the far end.

I turned and saw the boat tied to the dock. It was a reed boat, woven with loving care. The weave was so tight that there was only a little water in the bottom of it. Without thinking, I pushed Christine toward it. When she stepped down into it, I slipped the rope from the pole on the dock and climbed in beside her. I leaned back and shoved. We floated out to the middle of the river, were caught in the current and began the next stage of our journey.

“Should we take this?” asked Christine, somewhat belatedly.

That was a question that I hadn’t thought about. Someone had made this boat and they hadn’t done it for my benefit. I had just slipped the rope stealing it. Taking the boat was wrong, and I knew it, but I wanted to get out and this, I believed, was the quickest way.

I said, “This will get us out of here.” It wasn’t much in the way of justification.

She looked at me and then, without a word, stretched out in the bottom of the boat. She looked as if she was going to speak but then said nothing. She closed her eyes and in moments, surprising me, she was asleep.

I sat there for several minutes, watching the shore, waiting for a pursuit. When it didn’t develop, I shrugged and laid down next to Christine. I reached out and touched her sun hot skin, smiled at her and thought that things might work out. I shoved the thoughts of Huana and Eric from my mind. I would have to deal with all that later, when I had the chance. Now I needed to stay alert. And in that, I failed.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Land to the North - Chapter 18

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.