“How freaking deep is this tunnel?” Buddy asked, gasping for breath. “I may be super-strong, but I’m still regular amounts of athletic.”
“I’m currently under doctor’s orders to be restrained to my death bed, and you’re the one complaining?” Oscar laughed.
“At least you’ve got that robot suit of yours to do all the work.”
“It doesn’t do all of the work, Buddy,” Oscar laughed again, his laughter echoing deep into the hole beneath them. “Just most of it. I still have to breathe and it only barely regulates my heart.”
“I have to admit,” Alexa added, “that I’m starting to deal with some pretty strong issues with claustrophia right about now. Not to mention acrophobia, and a healthy dose of fear-of-the-dark-phobia.”
“Nyctophobia,” Oscar responded.
“What?” Alexa asked.
“Fear of the dark, it’s nyctophobia, or lygophobia, or scotophobia, or–”
“I get it already,” Alexa snapped back. “Whatever you want to call it, I’ve got it.”
“You should’ve said something earlier,” Oscar returned, “with the night vision on my suit’s visor, I didn’t even notice the lights were off.” He pressed a button on his wrist. Thoom, Thoom, THOOM sounded through the hole as lights shot on consecutively from the bottom up, showing that they were still quite a ways from the end of their descent.
“Turn them off!” Alexa screamed, losing her grip as she was blinded by the sudden brightness filling the narrow tube.
Oscar pressed the button on his wrist again. Thoom, Thoom, THOOM. “Jeez, turn them on,” he mocked, “turn them off! Just no pleasing you is there?”
“So, I ask again,” Buddy asked again, “how far down do we have to go?”
“Well, The Bunker itself is about a half mile underground. The Jeffries Tube here takes us about halfway to our destination. We’ve been climbing down for all of about 5 minutes now, so I’d say we’re probably around halfway there.”
“Are you all still whining up there?” Zero yelled up, his voice echoing oddly through the narrow vertical corridor. “It worked a lot easier for me once I just let go and allowed myself to glide down.”
“Not all of us can fly,” Alexa yelled back.
“And I need to conserve power,” Ryan added. “I can’t go into whatever my dad’s placed down here without a fully-juiced suit.”
“Fine, do it your way,” Zero shouted back. “Just tell me how to get through this door. I’m getting bored down here and am ready for some action.”
“Zero, whatever you do, do not open that door,” Oscar yelled. “I repeat, do NOT open that door.”
“God, this is boring.”
“Talmadge,” Oscar spoke, “you’ve been pretty quiet up there. You still with us?”
A faint squeak could be heard from a few feet above them.
“Talmadge?” Buddy asked louder.
“I’m here,” Talmadge responded weakly.
“You okay?” Alexa asked.
“Um, yeah, sure.”
“You don’t sound too sure there, kid. Want me to turn the lights back on?”
“No!” shouted Buddy and Alexa in unison.
“Sheesh, just trying to help the kid out,” Oscar laughed again. “So, Talmy, old boy, anything I can do to make your stay more comfortable.”
“Uh, no. I guess not.”
“You’re sounding pretty weak there, son. Just take a couple deep breaths. The worst thing you can do in a situation like this is forget to breathe.”
A loud exhale could be heard, followed immediately by a quick inhalation of air. This repeated several times in short succession.
“Feeling better?” Oscar asked.
“I’ve just never been a fan of small places. And with the statue closing down back over us, I feel a little trapped.”
“Totally understood, son. Just remember, you’re with some of the most gifted people in the world right now. If something bad were to happen, you’ll be just fine.”
“That’s not what you were saying before we jumped in the hole.”
“Yeah, well that was when I was trying to keep you out. Now that you’re here, I’d rather you not die from fright.”
“Oh,” Talmadge said weakly.
“What’s taking so long?” Zero yelled up again.
“Chill out!” Ryan yelled back. “We’re going as fast as we can.”
A few loud thuds echoed up the tube. “Go faster. Something down here is amiss.”
A couple more thuds, followed by a multitude of chirping noises.
“Oh, crap,” Oscar muttered.
“What?” Alexa asked shrilly.
“Oh, don’t worry, honey. It’s just that, well, when I designed this entrance, I had expected a group of superheroes in their prime to be the ones we wanted to allow to make their way to the bottom, not a group of out of shape or normal folks.”
“Yeah, and?” Buddy asked, tension building in his voice as a group of red lights appeared far below them.
“Ow!” Zero yelled.
“You alright down there, pal?” Oscar asked.
“Of course, chum,” Zero yelled up confidently. “Zero smash?”
“Yes,” Oscar yelled back quickly. “Zero smash!”
“Goody!” Zero yelled back. The floor glowed purple, speckled with the red lights from before, until large flames burst up the tunnel, nearing the descending heroes.
“Up, up, go up already!” yelled Ryan, as the flames closed in on them.
Talmadge was frozen in place. Now visible from the light below, he could be seen tightly holding on to the rungs of the ladder, his eyelids pressed hard against each other as he tucked his head into his chest.
“Move!” Buddy screamed. “Talmadge, move!”
A purple glow sped past the intensifying flames and stopped right at Ryan’s feet just as the fire-burst crashed against it, stopping its momentum.
“Sorry about that, folks,” Zero cheered up to them. “Didn’t know about the blow-back on these puppies. Nice design, Oscar.”
“Thanks,” Oscar exhaled roughly. “Did you get all of them?”
“Yeah, I think so. Not really much to them.”
“Yeah, they were designed to be mobile mines. A little more lethal than I would typically use, but, you know, protecting the base was of the highest importance.”
“I hope that’s not the best you have to offer,” Zero yelled up.
“Not nearly, unfortunately,” Oscar replied.
“Perfect. You kids ready to jump down now? Since I’ve already got a field up there, you could just stand on it and let me be your elevator.”
“I think, considering the circumstances, that would be a brilliant option,” Oscar answered. “Thank you, Zero.”
“Not a problem. My purple prowess hasn’t had nearly enough use lately.”
Ryan stepped down onto the purple platform Zero had provided and assisted his sister in stepping down next. The two were cramped side by side in the small enclosure.
“I think we’ll have to take turns. Zero, take us down.”
“Your wish is my command, Little Red.”
Go to Chapter Sixteen