How to Transport a Giant Gerbil through an Underwater City of People Trying to Kill You

“What’s this?” I asked, as we came up to the door.

“How am I supposed to know?” Tam replied.

“You led us here.”

“Because this is where my sensors led me.”

“Like they led to me.”

“Exactly,” Tam replied, looking at their arm display.

“So that means one of us is in there.”

“If there were an ‘us’, whatever’s inside wouldn’t be one of it.”

“Stop being difficult. You know what I mean.”

“There’s a non-native in that room,” Tam said. “I can tell you that. Whoever or whatever it is, it is emitting exotic material that is similar to the material that is emitted from your other ‘friends’. Is that clear enough for you? Because that’s all I can tell you with certainty.”

“Just open it,” I told them.

The door puckered open revealing the unmistakable giant gerbil known as Gnomenasher. But, before I could move, water began streaming into the room and I belatedly discovered that he had been kept in there with no rebreather. Meaning to keep him alive, they had kept him in a room filled with air. Air that was currently streaming out. In other words, I just killed Gnomenasher!

I hadn’t meant to do that. It had never occurred to me that the Lowarden wouldn’t have attached some kind of breathing apparatus to him, just as the Merapolian had done to us. But the air-filled room, now opened to the ocean, was beginning to fill with water and stream out all of its air. If we waited another second, Gnomenasher would surely be killed. Fortunately Tam realized this as soon as I did (perhaps sooner) and the two of us rushed inside, closing the door behind us.

The door sealed shut, but the room was already half-filled with water. And while Tam and I could conceivably keep breathing the oxygen in the water, Gnomenasher still needed the air to breath and we had just greatly reduced the amount of oxygen in the room. One would imagine, though, that the Lowardians were pumping air into this room, otherwise Gnomenasher probably would have died from CO2 poisoning hours ago. So, that meant there was a chance the room might even pump the water out of the room as well. It might just be wishful thinking, but I had to try to stay positive.

Unfortunately, getting out of there was still a major problem. We had to leave at some point, not only because we all wanted to get back to our homes, but also because the Lowardians would eventually figure out that we were hiding in here and imprison us, at the best. “Can you get Gnomenasher out of here safely?”

“Are you asking if I can somehow magically carry that big pile of meat out of here while somehow keeping him from drowning in that ocean of water we have to swim through and keeping him from being killed by the army of other dimensional beings that want us all to die?” Tam asked.

“I wouldn’t have used the word ‘magically’, but, yes, can you keep him from drowning and being shot?”

“And how do you think I can do that while also trying to escape with out dying myself?”

“I don’t know. A force field?”

“And I’d keep him from suffocating inside it, how?”

“The same way you keep yourself from suffocating.”

“Frank,” Tam replied, “I’ve been bioengineered to survive under extreme conditions. Your giant rabbit here, hasn’t gone through any of that. He’s going to die if we take him out there.”

“Ok. So then what are we going to do?”

“Well, the smart thing to do would be to just leave him and head straight to the portal and get out of this accident of a dimension, so that we can get back to saving all of time from those authoritarian watchmen run amok, but I get the sad feeling like that options off the table.”

“Yes,” I replied, unamused by Tam rhetoric. “Abandoning people in need who are counting on us is out of the question. We’re going to help these people, so tell me can you get all of us out of here safely? Or do we need to put our heads together and figure this out?”

“No, Frank. I cannot just carry your hamster out into the water and keep him safe. If you’re so desperate to save it, you’re going to have to come up with another solution.”

“Fine,” I told them. “I guess we’ll just have to come up with some other way to get us all out of here.”

“There’s no way out of here, except for that door, Frank,” Tam said. “Either we go through it or we stay here and return to the mercies of the Lowardians. Your friends aren’t going to come and save us, so you can count that out. We can’t just stay here. We have to move.”

“Except we have to stay here.”

“We can’t!” Tam growled. “We have to…”

“Stay here,” I said, getting an idea. “We have to stay here and we have to leave.”

“We can’t do both.”

“Except…we can! We can stay in here AND we can leave!”

“Maybe I should take a look at that rebreather,” Tam said, swimming closer to me.

I pushed them away. “I’m not loopy. I’m serious. All we have to do is leave the city without leaving the room!”

to be continued…


Moral Questions in Underwater Rescues

Tam started to swim off down the transparent tube and I did my best to keep up, but neither of us got very far before we were joined once again by the quintet of squid people looking slightly worse for wear. “I knew this was all your fault,” the lead squid said. “You tried to trick us, pretend that you and the Merapolian weren’t trying to spring a trap, but here it is, the trap. Now, we know. You were the distraction. And that,” he pointed at Tam, “was the trap. Or…are both of you the trap?”

“There was no trap!” I insisted.

“We’ve come for our people,” Tam said, shutting down the explanation I was about to make. “If you want the destruction to end, you’ll return them.”

“The only…” the squid person began to say, but once again Tam interrupted.

“I don’t care. You give them to us or we take them. Those are your only choices.”

“We can’t kill them,” I told them.

I can,” Tam replied, putting heavy emphasis on the singular pronoun.


“He’s right,” the squidperson said. “You will not. It will be us who ends you.”

“Ok,” Tam agreed. Maybe I won’t kill you. But I will do this.“ They raised their hand and ice began to shoot out. Within seconds, the squidpeople were imprisoned in ice formations. Tam then looked at me. “See? Still alive. How about that?”

“You can shoot ice out of your hands!” I exclaimed.

“No. Don’t be ridiculous. I can modify the energy output of the molecules around me. The fact that water this far below the surface is already pretty cold only makes it all that easier.”

The water didn’t feel very cold to me, but I just chalked that up to the rebreather working its magic. “And they’ll be fine like that?”

“They will…” Then Tam turned back to the squidpeople and a threatening tone returned to their voice, “as long as they tell me where the others are.”

“We’ll…tell…you…nothing!” the squid man said, stammering from the ice.

“Fine. Then stay like that. I can find the others just as easily with my scanners. Come on, Frank.”

“Wait,” I said. “Is that true?”

“I found you, didn’t I?”

“And what about them?”

“What about them?”

“We can’t just leave them there trapped in ice!”

“And what would you rather us do, Frank? Bring them with us?”

“We can…”

“Forget them. They’ll be fine. They’re not humans. The cold isn’t so bad for them. You should worry about finding your friends or whatever they are.”

“That doesn’t seem right to me,” I said, though to be honest I really had no idea how the biology of these squid people actually functioned. For all I knew, their bodies would just go into a hibernation until the ice around them melted and they’d wake up fine.

“You know your problem, Frank,” Tam said. “You won’t take ‘everything’s fine’ as am answer. The amount of problems we have right now and you’re worried that the people standing in our way, who imprisoned you, who continue to threaten you, aren’t resting safely in a nice soft bed.”

“You know the problem with you, Tam,” I retorted. “You think ‘not killing people’ is an ask too far.”

“I’m not killing anyone.”

I pointed at the explosions beneath us.

“Ok. But I’m not killing these people. They’re fine.”

“And those people down there?”

“…They started it?”

“Are you kidding me? They started it?”

Tam gave me an unhappy look, then raised their hand. I could see the waves emanating outward, then I could feel the shaking. The eyes of the imprisoned squid people rolled up into the top of the heads. Then the ice around them shattered.

“What did you just do?” I demanded. “Did you…?”

“Relax,” Tam said. “They’re alive. I just sent an emission wave to break the ice that just so happened to have the effect of knocking our weakened adversaries out. Now, can we finally get on to saving your friends?”

I looked at the unconscious squid people and I looked down through the transparent floor at the destroyed city below. There hadn’t been any new explosions in a while. That was good, but I knew it was also bad. That meant they’d be coming for us now. No more explosions meant no more people getting hurt. Or at least, less people getting hurt. But less explosions also meant less distractions, which meant we were now the only thing this entire city of squid people had to worry about. “Maybe we should get going,” I said.

“Finally,” Tam said before quickly swimming away. I did my best to keep up.

After a few minutes, they took us through a hole in the transparent tube hallway and out into open water. I was surprised to feel little difference in the water. Was that the rebreather protecting me from the presumably very cold deep waters, I wondered. I didn’t need to worry about that for long because soon enough we were breaking our way back into another tube on our way to a part of the city that wasn’t see-through.

to be continued…

What to Do When You’re Trapped in an Underwater Exploding City

“Wha..? Me?” I asked, befuddled. “How could I have done anything? I’ve been here the whole time?”

“What did you do!?” they demanded again as the structure began to quake.

“Nothing, I swear.”

“This was a trick. A Merapolian trick! And you were the distraction!”

“What? No. I swear we…” And then stopped myself. Could they have done that? Could the Merapolians, knowing that we were coming out here, decided to use us as a distraction to launch some kind of attack? It seemed strange, but just how well did I know them? If these two groups of people hated each, it could very well be likely that they’d use any advantage that they could to strike at the other, including duping people they promised to help into acting as decoys.

The doubt must have showed on my face because the squid man then shouted, “Lock him in!” Then one of the grey squids hit a controller and I went flying into the wall. I tried to struggle but I was trapped, stuck there. The squid people then turned and swam away. They left me here, unable to move, with the whole city blowing up around me.

I could feel the vibrations running through me through the wall. I could see the explosions out of the corner of my eye. I was already surrounded by water, so I didn’t have to worry about drowning if the tube broke, but the rebreather was not going to protect me from the explosions and their shrapnel. Gnomenasher, on the other hand, if he was here, if he was still alive, probably had no such contraption on. The squidpeople didn’t seem at all interested in making sure that he survived. Though, if that were true, I had no idea why they would even save him in the first place.

And with the habitat exploding all around me, this was maybe not the best time to speculate, but on the other hand I was kind of trapped unable to move, so it wasn’t as if I had much else to do with my time. I had no tools on me, so taking the thing holding me apart wasn’t exactly a possibility. All I had on me was my pocket stabilizer and that wasn’t going to be able to save me this time. The leechvine had sucked out all my residual instability and I had not had enough time to build much more up. I was stuck in this body and this body could not get out of these bindings.

Which meant all I could do was sit here and hope that the squid men could get things under control and return to leading me to Gnomenasher. That was really my only hope at the moment, relying on my captors kindness or, if needs be, their gullibility.

But then things got worse before they got better. I saw a quick-moving object headed my way. It was fast like a torpedo, but it seemed to be homing in on me. It was glowing a bright hot red smashing through anything that got in its path and its path was looking like it was going to be right through me. But I just couldn’t watch it do that. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the end to come. At least this would be quick, though also probably very painful.

I heard an explosion, oh so very close to me, and felt it ripple through the water. Through the water and not through me. I opened my eyes. I was still alive and the torpedo was floating right in front of me.

I felt stupid now. I should have known from the glow. Of course, it wasn’t the bright red glow of great heat, but instead the red glow of a futuristic containment suit. It was the red glow of one I knew very well. The “torpedo” had been a friend all along. “Tam!” I yelled, gleefully. “What are you doing here?”

“All I did was follow that large creature that had captured the others,” they said, using their laser to free me from my bindings. “When I caught up to it I found I was just outside a large populated area.”

“So you decided to blow it up?”

“I decided to free our comrades. And when that giant fish contraption was destroyed, they attacked me. So I subdued them. Then I went looking for everyone else, but because your state of quantum instability is so strong I found you instead.”

“Destroying the entire city as you did.”

“They fought. I fought back,” Tam replied simply.

But I could still see the underwater explosions. “You invaded their home. What were they supposed to do? Let you?”

“Do you really want to argue about this now? I’m trying to rescue you. Would you rather I just leave you here?”

I tried to force my way out of the bindings, but though Tam had started to cut me free, they hadn’t completed the job. I was still held too firmly to the wall. “No. I guess, I would prefer if you just freed me and then we went about finding our friends and freeing them. That would probably be preferred. Then we could get out of here and maybe get back to solving our other problems that we had been trying to escape from.”

“Finally,” Tam grunted before freeing me from the wall. “Now let’s go find this giant gerbil you’re so obsessed with.”

“Obsessed? I’m hardly…just, whatever. Which way is he?”

“Oh, I’m supposed to do that, too? Of course.” And then they swam off. “Come on already.”

to be continued…

At the Mercy of the Squid People

“Who are you!?” the lead squidman shouted. “What are you doing here!?”

“My name is Frank and I’m…”

“What are you!?” the squidman interrupted. “What kind of strange creature have the Merapolians concocted now?”

“Um…well, I wasn’t concocted by anyone. I’m…”

“You are a spy for the Merapolians!”

“I’m not a…”

“Liar! You will die for your lies!”

“No, I’m not lying,” I pleaded. “I’m not a spy!”

“You came from Merapolis!” the squid man ylled. “We saw you! We saw you with those fishtail fiends and their mutated monsters! You invaded our homes in their transport!”

“We didn’t…” I tried to start.


“I’m not…”

“Do you think we are blind! We can see! We can see you and your Merapolian creations swimming here on your transport, destroying our defenses! We can see!”

“I’m not…” I tried yet again.

“You are!”

“If you’d just let me finish, I’d…”

“You will nothing!”

“I just want to tell you what’s going on!” I screamed at them, bubbles rising from my rebreather.

“I know what’s ‘going on’,” he repeated. “You are being interrogated and you will tell us everything you know about your Merapolian masters and their evil plans to destroy our city.”

“There are no evil plans. I don’t want to destroy your city! No one does! We’re here to save our friends. I just want to save my friends. All of them. And you took them. All of them. I just want them back.”

“Your friends are dead,” the squid man replied. “All of them.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“And you will be dead soon, as well, if you don’t tell us what we want to know,” the squid man continued, as if I hadn’t said anything. “Tell us what the Merapolians have planned. Tell us what this attack was about. Tell us what that strange creature we found out in the waves was.”

“Strange creature?” Well, that caught my interest. “What strange creature? Maybe you should show me this strange creature and then I can tell you what it is.”

The squidpeople took a second to talk amongst themselves. I thought maybe I had gotten through to them, that maybe they’d show me where Gnomenasher was. “Then it’s decided,” the Squidman said, turning back toward me. This was it. They were going to take me to go see… “We’ll kill him.”

“What?” I exclaimed. “No. What are you talking about? I was trying to help you!”

“You think I am a fool, Merapolian spy?” the squidperson laughed. At least, I think it was a laugh. “I will not fall for your tricks. You came here for your monster and now you wish to unleash him!”

“Unleash him? He’s a gerbil and we’re in the bottom of the sea. What do you think he could do to you? Drown at you?”

“Yes. That’s what we thought at first, as well, but we know the Merapolians would never be so foolish as to try to attack us with a landbreather.”

“Except the Meropolians have nothing to do with Gnomenasher,” I told him .“They’ve never even seem him before. The only thing the Meropolians have to do with us is that they saved us from the tentacle monster, the giant leechvine.”

“Yes, the Leechvine,” the squidman said, casting strange glanced to his comrades. “Tell us how you destroyed it. You may be worth keeping alive, spy, if you tell us how your Merapolian masters caused it to implode.”

“We didn’’t…” I started, but realized an argument might not be my best course of action. “Ok. I’ll tell how we defeated the Giant Leechvine if you take me to Gnomenasher.”

The squidpeople convened again and when they were done, the leader said, “Fine, Spy. We’ll take you to your monster.”

And I prepared to leave, hoping we would just be able to go like this. But clearly I was a fool to think it would ever be that easy. One of the dark gray squid people tossed a metal disc in front of them, which immediately grew multiple legs and then shot toward me like a torpedo. The disc smacked me hard in the chest, pushing me back, and before I could recover, it wrapped itself around me, pinning my arms against my sides. I tried to fight it, but then I felt a tug and realized that I was in a worse position than I thought. Not only was I ensnared, but I was also leashed.

I tried to struggle against my bindings but there was no give, no room to slip out, no way I could break free. The squidpeople grew tired with my attempts to escape and began to pull me toward the door. It puckered open and they pulled me out through it.

At first I thought they had brought me out into the big open ocean as I could see it all around us. Everywhere I looked there was underwater life swimming in every direction. But I soon realized that we weren’t swimming free, but were instead in some kind of tubular structure made of a transparent material. As I looked out into the squid city, Lowarden, I could see various modules floating in the water of varying size. Presumably – though it was quite hard to tell with all the multicolored fish swimming about – the modules were all different rooms connected through the transparent tubular structure.

But just as I began to wonder which one of those rooms held Gnomenasher, the tranquil vista was thrown into chaos. Explosions at the base of the complex sent the sealife swimming for safety. The tube rattled and the squid people looked upset. They glanced at each other before finally turning their gazes, and weapons, on me. “What did you do!?”

to be continued…

In the Belly of the Robotic Beast

The throat of the giant was surprisingly hard. Was it its bones that I was banging against, its ribcage? It was a strange thought to have while being devoured, but I was still in one piece when I smacked hard into its…its stomach? I’ve studied anatomy and biology and xenobiology. A stomach wasn’t supposed to feel like this. It wasn’t supposed to be so…roomy.

I swam closer to the stomach lining and ran my hand along it. It felt surprisingly smooth and not at all elastic. I banged against the side. There was no give and the sound it gave off was weirdly…metallic. And the light from the rebreather reflected off its side. Organs weren’t reflective. Even if they were underwater creatures from another dimension, their stomach wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Then what the hell was going on? Where the hell was I? What was this monster? And what was it going to do to me? I knew I couldn’t just sit here and wait. If this were an actual stomach, waiting would just get me digested, but even if it weren’t, there wasn’t going to be rainbows and sunshine on the other end. I began to start searching for a way out and quickly found there was only one: the way I came in.

I began to inspect the opening. There was a puffed-up rubbery material around the hole, blocking my escape. Presumably it could deflate when the monster was swallowing. As I slipped my hands through the opening that I was desperately trying not to think of as a sphincter, I braced myself for any surprises. I managed to get about shoulder deep, but from there I was in trouble. I was hoping to find a button or lever that would open the passage, but instead I found only barbs.

As I pushed both my arms through the opening, I could feel sharp edges push against my skin. Foolishly I kept going until I felt it dig into my flesh. It hurt too much to keep going. I had no choice but to pull my hands back out. I could see the blood flowing from the cuts by the light of my rebreather. It seemed who had ever designed this monstrosity had set the opening to make it easy for people to enter, but very painful for them to leave. But if I wasn’t going to be able to leave the way I came in then I had no idea how I was going to get out.

I was also stuck in water, so I could do nothing to stop the bleeding. Strangely enough, I felt no sting from the water, which made me believe that this ocean was somehow completely freshwater. How that could help me, I didn’t know, but it was at least something to ponder in my little prison.

As time went by, I began to probe the opening again, trying to find a way to get through, but the barbs made it slow going. I was barely past the first layer when I was surprised by the passageway suddenly opening on its own. Then with a great force, the water was expelled out of the stomach and me quite forcefully with it. In less than a second I went flying back up the throat, through the large open mouth, and out into an all new cell.

The cell was, of course, filled with water, so I still had to suffer through that problem. There was a door on the far side. I started to move toward it when I noticed movement behind me. I turned and almost screamed when I saw a giant mouth behind me. It took me another second to realize it was just the giant robot eel. But that was no great relief. The last thing I wanted was to do was fight that thing again.

At least one thing went my way. I breathed a bubbly sigh of relief when it turned out the robot wasn’t preparing to strike again, but was instead slowly receding from the room. There was a port on the wall that it was sliding out through. If it could go out that way, maybe I could, too. But when the eel was gone, the port sealed behind it. I tried to reopen it, but it was no good.

It’s fine, I told myself, there was still the door across the room I had yet to try. But as I started to swim toward it, the door slid open. For a brief second, I had the misguided thought that I was going to be let go, that I was going to be free. But before I could really get my hopes up, my captors swam into the room. Five of them.

There was no question they were squid people. I could see their tentacles. Three of the people were red. The other two appeared to be a dark gray. They had large black eyes and heads that raised to a point. Four of them were holding guns.

Or at least I think they were guns. They looked quite gun-like, but then they were squid-people, we were underwater, and I was breathing through a collar that was pumping oxygen directly into my bloodstream, so who really knew what was what. Still, they looked pretty threatening.

“Hi,” I said, trying to make nice. I wasn’t here to hurt them. They weren’t my enemies. I didn’t see any reason why this couldn’t end beneficial to both of us. They, however, did not see things the same way.

to be continued….

Can’t Stop the Mouth from Closing

There seemed to be at least a dozen of them. It was hard to get a completely accurate count while they were rushing toward us. However, I was able to a few observations. The main thing I noticed about them was the bottom half of their bodies, in that they didn’t have legs or even fishtails like the Meropolians. Instead, the lower half of their bodies were made up by tentacles. At first, I mistakenly thought that they were riding octopi, but then I soon realized that, no, those was actually their legs. They were squid people and they were attacking us.

“Run!” I yelled as I began to swim as fast a I could away from our attackers. Pem, the Sheriff, and Toleuk all swam with me. But Tam, however, chose to fight, firing laser blasts into the oncoming squid person horde. This took the squid people by surprise. They clearly had no been expecting a counter-attack. Their charge broke down into panic as they began to retreat.

While I stopped to admire Tam’s work, the others did not. They continued swimming onwards, oblivious to the fact that they were no longer being chased. “Nicely done,” I said as I swam up to Tam, trying to avoid the unconscious squid people, floating about them.

“Thank you,” they said. “But they weren’t..”

“Hold that thought,” I told them. “Because we need to hurry up and catch up to the others.”

“The others?” Tam looked for them.

“Yeah, they never stopped running, so they’re a bit down the ways.”

“Running,” Tam sneered, bubbles coming out of their nose. “Let’s go.” Before they started swimming after them, Tam added, “Well, they didn’t even slow down, did they?”

We swam after them as best we could, calling to them to stop, but they didn’t seem to be able to hear us for the longest time. Then, finally, I noticed the Sheriff glance over his shoulder. After a second glance, he got the others to finally come to a stop. All three of them turned around and waved for us to catch up. Though that helped no one, as we were already on our way, Tam going much faster than I. But their actions did have more dire consequences, as while they were waving us, they were unable to see what was happening ahead of them, namely that a giant sea monster was emerging from out the sand right behind their backs.

All we, Tam and I, could see of the monster was its large open mouth towering over the others. We tried to yell for them to move, to get out of the way, but we were too late and they were too slow. By the time they turned back around to see what was happening behind them, the mouth was already closing down around them.

Tam immediately accelerated, leaving me in the dust. As they got near, they began firing lasers at the monster, trying to stop it from eating our friends. I, on the other hand, was left unable to do more than keep swimming and yell as loud as I could the word, “Run!” But in the end, it didn’t matter. Neither of us could save our friends from disappearing into the mouth of that monster.

The creature then proceeded to sink back down into the ground. “Now what?” I said when I caught up to Tam. I half-expected them to suggest we turn back. With just the two of us, it seemed unlikely we would be able to save Gnomenasher on our own and Tam had never really been a fan of this plan. The last thing I had expected them to do was to dive down into the ground in pursuit of the monster. But Tam did that and that’s what happened.

I was suddenly all alone at the bottom of the sea, in the middle of the ocean in a dimension I now had no way to get out of.

Things were not looking up for me.

Going back to Merapolis was not an option. Firstly, because I did not really know the way back to the city. And secondly, because I just couldn’t abandon my friends. I certainly couldn’t get home without them. I had to hope that they were still alive. I couldn’t believe otherwise, I refused. And if they were alive, then they were in danger. I had to save them. I was going to save them. I began swimming onward.

It was lonely swimming by myself. I filled the time by worrying about if I was going the right way or not. Those worries disappeared, however, as I began to notice an object heading my way. As we got closer to each other, it continued to get larger and larger. This large mysterious object didn’t move like any submarine I had seen. Instead, it wriggled through the water like an eel, like a giant (presumably) killer eel. I immediately wanted to turn and run, but I had very strong doubts that I could get away. For one, it was much faster than me. And two, I was the visitor here, down under the water, this was its home. Really, my only chance of survival was to hide. But where to hide? There were no trees or bushes down here to hide in. No caves or giant corral reefs. I was out here in the open with nowhere to go.

I dropped to the seafloor and tried to bury myself underneath the sand. I’d seen fish do it in documentaries, why couldn’t it work for me? Because I was bigger than most fish and my hands weren’t made for digging, for starters, but I kept trying anyway. I was pretty much out of other options.

The giant eel was upon me before I had even made a dent on the seafloor. Its mouth opened wide, more than large enough to fit me inside. But just as it started to strike, I leapt out of its path and began swimming as hard as I could. The giant mouth went right by me, but it sent me spinning around in its wake.

By the time, I righted myself, the eel was already twisting its head back toward me. I knew that this time I wasn’t going to escape. I could see its sharp fangs glint in the light provided by the rebreather as it struck. I could see down the dark chasm that was its throat as I went falling into it. It swallowed me whole and I went bouncing down its gullet.

to be continued…

No One Will Listen to Pem

We swam onwards. Some of us had an easier time with it than others. Tam, whose suit propelled them forward, ended up towing the trolls behind them. But eventually we all got tired, even the native swimmer Pem. The city was much further away then we would have hoped. “Maybe we could go back and get another wagon?” Crag said.

“Another…what?” Pem asked, confused by the troll’s language choice.

“A transport,” I clarified. “He wants another transport.”

Pem was not put at ease. “Are you kidding me? Do you think they’re going to let me take another one out? I barely had permission to take that one. The only reason I was allowed that one was because they wanted you all out of there so badly that they would have done nearly anything to get it done. Bringing you back will just get me in trouble.”

“More trouble than dying out here in the middle of the ocean?”

“Yes. A lot more.”

“Oh,” I said because what argument could I make against someone who’d rather put his life at risk than risk getting into trouble with his superiors?

So we started swimming again because what other choice did we have. We had been going for a few hours before someone noticed Crag was gone. “Where did he go?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Toleuk said. “He was here one minute and then he wasn’t.”

“How long ago was that?”

“I don’t know.”

“When did you last see him?”

“Hard to say. It’s not like there’s a sun to tell the time down here.”

“He was with us when we stopped,” the Sheriff said. “Did he start swimming with us when we started up again?”

“Wait,” Tam interrupted. “Where are the other deputies?”

We turned to see that we were indeed a few men down. “Where did they go?” I asked. “Did anyone see them leave?”

“They wouldn’t have just wandered off,” the Sheriff said. “I know my deputies.”

“Then where are they?”

And that’s when the giant clam erupted from the ground, opened its shell, and enveloped Domoban before pulling him back under the ground. The Sheriff raced to save him, but he was much too late. The giant troll couldn’t swim anywhere near fast enough to save his comrade. But he wouldn’t give up. The Sheriff immediately began to dig into the dirt. “There’s no point,” Pem said. “He’s gone. The clam-mine’s have him.”

“You mean they’re dead?” the Sheriff asked, aghast.

“Not necessarily,” Pem replied, though I couldn’t tell if he was being sincere or just trying to placate the large, desperate troll. “That all depends on the Lowardens.”

“You know who has my deputies?”

“You know where the blip is?” I asked. “You know where Gnomenasher is?”

“I wasn’t certain before, but there seems to be no doubt now. This is Lowardenite technology. And that is the last place we wanted to go.”

“And why is that?” Tam asked.

“Because the Lowarden are cruel and devious creatures. You’ve seen the technology they use.”

“I’ve seen their defensive devices that activated because we crossed into their territory.”

“You’re taking their side!?” Pem yelled, suddenly growing furious. “They kidnapped your jubel!”

“Gerbil,” Tam corrected. “And we don’t know why they took it. Maybe they were just trying to save its life.”

“Save its life?” Pem laughed. “These are the Lowardens we’re talking about here. They don’t save lives. They take them.”

Tam looked ready to argue, but the Sheriff jumped in. “What about my deputies? What about my people? Can we still save them?”

“Maybe,” Pem said. “But the smarter thing would be for us to turn around now and for me to take you back home. You should forget this.”

“Forget about my people?” the Sheriff was appalled. “Forget about my friends? I can’t believe you would suggest such a thing!”

“I’m suggesting you choose life over throwing it away. There’s no reason for any more of us to do die today.”

“I thought you said they were still alive.”

“I said they could be, possibly. But if the Lowardens have them, they won’t be alive for long.”

“Well, then we should stop wasting time and go get them!”

“I agree,” I told them. “Our friends need saving.”

“Why won’t any of you listen to me?” Pem asked, fervently. “There is danger ahead.”

“There’s always danger, that doesn’t mean we should avoid it. If you want to leave, Pem, then go ahead. We’re not going to force you to go with us to save people you don’t know.”

“And abandon a bunch of landbreathers in the middle of the ocean as they face off against dangers they are clueless about? What kind of man would that make me?”

“Don’t pressure yourself into…” I tried to say, but he cut me off.

“Let’s just do this.”

“Finally,” Tam grumbled and we began to swim forward, the five of us who were left. But it wasn’t long before they said, “We’re being followed.”

“What?” I asked, looking around.

“Don’t look, you idiot.”

But it was too late, I had already looked and, worse, they had seen that I had looked. And, so, they attacked.

to be continued…