Krubera: Part 5

5.

The Lost World

Elliot rose from her dazed, half-sleep at the incessant beep of her wrist device, programmed to alert of dawn on the surface. Across the small, LCD screen, SGSM relayed the local weather; “MORNING: SUNSHINE, AFTERNOON-NIGHT: RAIN AND THUNDER.”

She read it over twice, marveled at SGSM’s ability to reach her here, through the mile of mountains and caves above. Her minor awe gave way to a sore groan, and a stiff neck and back as she pushed herself up for the tent’s flap. Her pack scraped gravel on rock, was drug out with her other gear into a pile to break down the tent. The others awoke at the disturbance, followed suit to stow their gear, and encircle the pile of glow-wands and torches, They made plans by its eerie green light while Liana half-listened from a far, and Anthony passed out a handful of sheathed diving knives.

He affixed his knife to a leg as he explained, “The final passage could be long, end in a shaft with thousands of those creatures. We should be prepared to defend ourselves if we need to.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t, and we don’t,” Elliot said.

Though it was a discovery of epic proportions, a single species wasn’t the lost world she sought. Even if there were millions of that said, single species, hidden away in a cavern that had been lost to time, she needed more to justify the expense that had been spent.

The group hoisted up their packs, re-fixed their air-tanks to run the few, last-minute checks, and exchanged their boots for fins.

Elliot ran a double-check on everyone, with close attention to Liana’s gear, “’Gonna be okay with the weight?”

Zelenyĭ.” Elliot’s face sketched confusion. Liana sighed, “Yes.”

Elliot stepped for the water’s edge, the others lined up beside her, “If something happens, pull the tether.” She gave the length of cord that connected them a tug, tightened the three and a half meters of line between each of them, Elliot at its lead.

She bled her air hose’s line, “Let’s do it.”

The breather’s rubber mouth-piece set into place on her mouth, and she dove with torrent of aeration around her. Her feet kicked forward until the resistance on her line slacked, then tightened four more times. They were all in the water now.

She clicked on the HID flashlight at her wrist, grabbed it up to shine it backward. One-by-one, beams flared on at her, each of the team-members illuminated by the piercing, bright light. With a thumbs up, and a quick, left-to-right flick of her light, Elliot turned away, began to swim forward.

The passage seemed endless from the start; her beam shattered the darkness until it overpowered the light, swallowed it whole. She made, slow, forward progress, the others in time with her. Their wrist lights scanned each crack, crevice, and bulge of stone twice-over to assure nothing lay in wait to ambush them. Not a single nook nor cranny of the twenty-meter deep passage escaped scrutiny.

They continued on at the slow, methodical pace for roughly twenty minutes, until Elliot’s light hit debris on the floor, forced her to pause. She angled back at the others, tread water to motion them up. Her light swung back on to floor and debris, twitched up at the ceiling. Not even Liana needed to be told what the debris meant; this was where the shaft had once ended, evidently broken open by something– most likely, an earthquake or a simple, tectonic shift. Whatever the cause, it single-handedly proved at least half of Elliot’s hypothesis. Krubera’s depths had been opened to them. Whether or not her Lost World was truly ahead, only time would tell, but at least she’d been partially right.

Elliot studied the damaged ceiling and the debris; huge chunks of rock had been dislodged, large enough that even the five of them, together underwater, could have lifted a single one. If it had taken such force to create the fracture, open the door way to what lay ahead, should it have been opened? She asked the question somewhere in the back of her mind, but had no time for its various philosophical conundrums; they were running out of air, living on borrowed time.

She motioned forward again, continued half a kilometer as the passage slowly shrank in height and width. At times it bulged wider, even deeper than before, but ever-returned to its claustrophobic narrowness. After the fifth bulge, the floor-to-ceiling distance was less than two-thirds what it had been when they’d entered it.

Just as she thought it might go on forever, Elliot’s light kissed an opening, sprinted forward into a wide, open darkness beyond. She followed after it, stopped short as a school of three-hundred fish swam darted through the light in angled paths. The rest of the team caught up to her, stopped beside her just beyond the opening.

The spectacle ahead was nearly indescribable, large bass-like fish, patterned in various hues of concentric rings, boucned the light of their torches off thick, armor-like scales. They lacked any ocular organ, but along their sides ran thick, scaled-tubing just below their dorsal fins. It seemed present everywhere on the dozens of species of fish that criss-crossed the large, open lake just beyond the reaches of her light; an extensive, over-adaptation of a surface-fish’s lateral line. She caught trout-like bodies with dorsals that sported wide, translucent webs between sharp, spear-like spines. Other, frying-pan shaped, round-fish bore tails and anal-fins that shared the spiny protrusions, and long, stream-lined shapes with thickened pectoral and pelvic fins. The latter suggested an evolution meant to increase speed and maneuverability without hindered defense.

One of the stream-lined schools wandered too close, caught sight of her small movements to stay steady beneath the water, and shot off with frightening speed into the darkness behind it. She smiled, suppressed giddy glee; before, she’d been apprehensive of admitting the inevitable, but now she wanted to scream it from the highest mountains– she had found the lost world!

For more than seven hundred years, man had speculated on its existence. Decades of contemporary media frenzy made the phrase an overt selling point for books, movies, and television shows, its original idea diluted beyond recognition. The lost world had become anything hidden beneath a rock, under a canopied jungle, or tucked away just out of view. But this world was different, a picture of evolution in action to surpass any they knew of.

While many of her colleagues no longer subscribed to the theory, preferred the watered-down Hollywood versions, Elliot had sought the glory and splendor of its pure form. The select few that shared her version said that it was trapped somewhere in a jungle, or hidden within an unexplored ocean, or ancient tundra. Elliot said caves, and now she was right.

A strange feeling rippled through her; they needed to continue, but…. Something stopped her train of thought. Light bounced and flitted around her, the tether tugged back, her body went with it, reeled in toward the others.

A massive silhouette thrashed left-to-right just out of range of the group’s lights. The ripple she had been small school of eel-like fish that fled from the silhouette. They cut through the water like snakes with fins, swarmed into the tunnel with a powerful wake. Elliot’s attention was fixed to the mass in the shadows; It swam like a shark, undulated in circles that drew it closer, but was shaped like a crocodile in profile. The long, blunt figure was thin from top to bottom, roughly eight-meters from head to tail. Its jaws and teeth would be proportional in size.

Elliot’s heart stopped. They needed a way out of the water, had no idea what lay ahead, and knew there was nowhere to run to behind. Only one hope for escaped was open; a dim-light that glinted dully of the surface far forward and above the canopied passage that they hid in. Elliot’s muscles were frozen, petrified. They would have to cross open-water before they could reach it– and it might not even help if it wasn’t the surface.

Her body shook as she tread around slowly, careful not to create more of a disturbance than necessary. Her hands sank in front of her, made a slow circle. The four understood, inched toward her to form a large circle. Each person now had a view behind and beside the next. They had no choice by to group up, move as one entity in the hopes that the predator would pass by such a large, illusory animal, or avoid it entirely. Their evasion tactic was the as that of schooling fish, but could it work in a world where fish had evolved differently? There was only one way to know.

They kept ranks, closed the small gaps that formed around them, schooled forward languidly. Their breaths quickened collectively, the aerators bubbled faster. The predator turned for them. Elliot drew a sharp inhale from her mouthpiece, forced back a stuttered cry. It closed the distance to the edge of her torch’s light, appeared in full-view.

Its crocodile-shaped head gave way to a slender, shark-like body absent of a dorsal fin that cut a swath through the water. Its pectoral fins left small wakes behind it with sharp spines, swept back to a massive tail that propelled it forward with sideways pumps. The body gleamed as the light caressed it, rubbery and with more, barbed spines that stuck out every which way, and were clustered around the cranial hump near its crown.

Elliot’s hand went for her knife, unsheathed it as they schooled forward, angled for the surface.

The predator’s tail snapped sideways. It shot through the water with unnatural speed. The group split down the middle, missed it by a hair’s breadth. It followed through, overshot by a meter to come about at them. The group re-formed behind Elliot with Anthony at the lead; its maneuvers were slow, but its charge was lightning fast.

Anthony back them up and across the open-water. His aerator belched with terrifed breaths that made massive plumes of bubbles every few seconds. Another charge came. They split, let it follow through, regrouped faster. Elliot returned to the lead. The creature lumbered in a turn, readied to charge a third time.

Elliot was too slow. The others split, but her trembling arm jumbled a move. She was half way in the path of the thing. A forceful tug on the rope jerked her body back fast, created a strong wake in the water, alerted the beast of their tactic. It followed through a final time to come about, but did not charge. Instead, its fins and tail ceased altogether.

No one dared move, the light from the torches illuminated the terror in one another’s faces as they sank back toward the bottom. The creature descended with them, neared the bottom.

Something rocketed between Chad’s legs, startled him. It forced a shutter through the water. The predator was on him with a dart. Chad dove away, recoiled when his line pulled taught. The broke ranks, cut their lines to swim off as fast as possible. Elliot swam backwards, let the others pass, waited for the creature to round on her.

A might pump its tail force it ’round, another rocketed it towards Elliot. In one motion she balled up and kicked out of its path. It wasn’t enough. Her velocity was too low. One of the jaw’s barbed spines snagged her diving fin. The force of the creatures speed nearly pulled her leg free. It remained intact, drug her along behind it. She bit hard on the mouth-piece, nearly punctured the rubber.

The predator slowed, suddenly sensed her weight. It thrashed, bucked her like a rag-doll. She dropped the torch. Its beam fell to the floor, her eyes largely useless without it. Her hands were rigid, tense. Her arms fought the thrashes for her knife, pulled it free with all of her might.

The dim light from the others’ torches glided up, away, their positioned fixed as it flung back and forth in her goggles. She felt sick, ready to vomit, grit her teeth against the rubber. Her body hunched in a ball to grasp her legs.

The creature began to roll, upend itself to dislodge her. The knife slipped beneath the strap on the fin. With a quick flop, the creature righted itself. The strap slid away. She swore silently, foght for another grip. The predator rolled in the other direction this time, pulled her toward its back and the multitude of barbed spines. Her grip tightened on the knife. It slipped under to sever the strap just as the creature flopped back again. One of its upper-jaw barbs caught her arm with the motion. She screamed through the water. The breather fell free.

Tears formed beneath her goggles. Her arm made angry, erratic flails, hacked at the creature’s face with desperate violence. The knife plunged above the mouth. It snapped, sprinted forward, the knife drug back by the force. It twisted and writhed its way forward, Elliot out of air. The knife came free, her arm still caught, almost shredded to pieces by the flails.

The knife plunged a final time, met the un-armored hump of spines behind the head, sank into flesh softness. The beast struggled harder, Elliot near unconsciousness, ready to drown. A final burst of adrenaline compelled her into furious rage as she pulled the knife out, stabbed it back into the hump a dozen times. It twisted back and forth with a final pierce, forced itself deeper.

The creature’s movements suddenly ceased, and it began to sink, pull her down. Green-tinted blood flowed out from the creatures brain. She hacked at the spine in her arm, her vision narrow and fading. Red mixed with green in the darkness as she hacked off the barb, tore it from her arm. Her hands felt for her breather, her chest heaved. It graced her lips with a welcome breath of oxygen that re-focused her eyes enough to retrieve her light.

She rocketed up and away, glanced back at the trail of blood that leaked from her arm, saw the predator’s body swarmed by smaller scavengers. The open water ahead narrowed quickly to a small passageway, grew shallower. A shock-wave of bubbles appeared as something dove into the water. She shined her light her ahead, her knife ready. A body kicked toward her, accompanied by Raymond’s face. She exhaled, relief, followed him from the water, and burst through the surface at a small rock ledge.

She spit the breather free, coughed and choked for air. Hands grasped and worked to pull her onto the ledge, turn off her air-tank, pull it free form her back. Her eyes clenched shut from pain as Chad began disinfected and bandaged the wound. Her screams and cries were quieted by gritted teeth and the terror of what the might bring. When her eyes finally opened, minutes later, what filled their vision was nothing less than spectacular.

Elliot was awe-inspired. Her mind raced at the implications while her adrenaline flowed with the rush of pain and the glory of their discovery. The rock ledge was roughly a stone beach beside a jungle treeline of palms, ferns, and other thick foliage in a semi-darkness. All around the trees were composed of thick iron-hued bark, that wrapped up the trunks like coils. But at their tops, were leaves with a marvelous, chemical-luminescence that glowed green to taint the area with an eerie light.

Elliot looked closer, saw that everything green glowed, some more brilliant than others. As she marveled at the wonder and eerie beauty, the device at her wrist vibrated. SGSM updated her screen with a scrawl of blocky text; “SGSM READS EARTHQUAKE MAGNITUDE 8.7: EURASIAN-ARABIAN PLATE: SHOCKWAVE ETA; 15-MINUTES TO CURRENT LAT-LONG: ADVISE APPROPRIATE MEASURES.”

Elliot read the update twice; an eight-point-seven was unheard of for the Eurasian-Arabian fault. While the plates had collided more often lately, this would be the largest quake there since SGSM was launched. Elliot found once more questioned what she’d gotten into, informed the team.

“At this depth it’s going to be a hell of a shake,” Anthony said, nerve-wracked from the attack.

“Just keeps getting better doesn’t it?” Chad asked, sarcastic and furious.

Anthony grimaced, “We’re here Ellie. We found it. What’s the next move?”

Elliot looked them over, surveyed her bandaged arm. They were all exhausted, their faces haggard, tired. There was little time before the shock wave would hit, and only two options; the jungle, or a path of tall grasses far to the right, where the tree-line ended. The jungle’s glow menaced her away form it. Jungles had a way of getting people killed easily, quickly, when they weren’t paying attention. Sprinting into it to find cover wouldn’t help. With her vision adjusted to the low-light, she judged it was a half a kilometer to the end of the tree-line that was roughly three to four kilometers wide.

She dropped her pack, removed her fin, “Boots on.” They followed. Elliot continued as she laced and tied her boots, “It’s a half-kilo to the plain– what we’ll call east for now. If we hurry we might it away from the water before the shock-wave hits. Maybe find a safe-spot to brace ourselves in it. Either way, we need to move.”

They finished changing, bolted for the jungle’s edge. The eighteen kilograms of weight at their backs made walks a chore. This was a nightmare. They ran for ten whole minutes without slowing. Their chests heaved with sharp, painful breaths, eyes darted sickeningly for stable ground. Elliot suddenly questioned if anywhere down here was safe. They were sprinting through something that shouldn’t exist, a hollowed-out mountain, where any shock-wave could knock loose tons of limestone from the ceiling. From what Elliot could tell, it was at least two kilometers high, any debris that might hit them….

She didn’t want to think about it, pushed her aching limbs for the edge of the trees ahead. A glance at her wrist said they had less than five minutes, and were only slowing. She felt each weighted step tear at her calves, the weight on her back excruciating. Liana was far at the back, the most encumbered, with almost forty kilos, but Elliot was afraid to look back, check on her.

The first region of plains appeared within reach. Knee-high, wide bladed, grasses imbued with a small glow lit a gentle slope upwards to a hill with sparse, deciduous trees atop it. Elliot used the last of her strength to cut a path through the grasses. They felt wrong against her suit, felt thistle-like, with small punctures, as though it tried to grab hold of her. She slowed further, could hear Raymond’s heavy breaths behind her.

The incline began, steeper than she’d anticipated. A foot misstepped. She stumbled. Raymond caught her mid-stride, drug her up. She scrambled, struggled to regain her balance as he sprinted past, pulled her forward. Raymond let go as she recovered, took the lead. Anthony passed her first, Chad on his heels with terror etched into his face. Liana caught up, matched her pace as she fought her way up the hill. Liana was red-faced, her teeth grit and face serpentine as though madness had seeped in.

They barreled up the hill together, reached the top with the last of their strength and fell into the cover of a large, twisted tree. Its limbs large enough to stand on. Not a moment later, the ground began to shake. They braced themselves against the shock-wave that rocked the ground beneath them with violent heaves. Branches cracked and split in their ears, their eyes clenched shut.

Elliot’s wounded arm shook from agony as she strained to keep herself up. Loud debris hit plummeted to the ground somewhere near the jungle. The ground at one edge of the hill ripped, tore free to heave a large chunk upward and create a plateau. The quake climaxed in a violent, stuttered tremble, that shook their bones and snapped tree-roots with loud cracks of wood.

The last of it drifted off as though it were a massive box-truck that passed by, rumbled the roads it traversed. The sounds and shakes drifted off, dissipated. The five fell to the ground, exhausted. Elliot’s arm bled through its bandage. She sank against the tree, shook from the pain. Liana passed a bottle of water around as Chad re-bandaged her wound.

Exhausted, bloodied, and bruised, Elliot surveyed the plains from the edge of the new plateau. Liana appeared beside her over the scent of MREs warmed on small hotplate. Elliot had redressed in her hiking clothes, her wet suit beneath them before taking in the view. An unsettling beauty in this became more evident as she looked out.

This was a different world, lost millions of years ago, walled up and morphed by natural forces since the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Drop-by-drop it seeped back into the other world, the two so radically different they were incompatible. Elliot felt like an alien in this place, physically stressed and stunted by a noon-time darkness. Even so, the sun’s absence to have had little impact on the flora’s prolific abundance. The world must have compensated the sun’s loss with some yet, undiscovered force, but for now it was impossible to say what that was.

Elliot’s mind drifted, her eyes plotted the horizon. She re-estimated the ceiling between twelve and sixteen kilometers high; it accounted for the cave’s entrance, and more than part of the Gagrinsky range. They must have moved further both downward and laterally than she’d realized.

Despite a shroud of mist-like vapor that clung to every inch of the air ahead, four kilometers or more to the north, a small range of jagged rocks rose in a wide berth. The micro-mountains appeared as massive stalagmites accumulated from eons of calcium runoff from the sky above. Between the plateau and mountains, the plains were dotted with rivers like great, veinous tendrils that transferred water from lakes to Eastward beaches like the one they’d emerged on. By the looks of it, the whole lost world was simply a peninsula.

Indeed, the jungle to their west was roughly the five kilometers wide from this angle, a near square when Elliot considered the width they’d seen then run. Beneath the plateau, and East through the sprawl of plains and mist, more, wooded plateaus covered in coniferous trees rose randomly with hazy glows and silhouettes. The trees seemed larger, on the realm of eight or ten times their surface counterparts.

Beside her, Liana sat silently to stare out on the world they’d found. The plateau rose high enough to give them a downward view on the darkened valley they’d come from. The grasses’ effervescent green, provided scarce light that emanated through it with just enough light to see the trampled path they’d made.

Elliot’s eyes were fixed on the mountains and a river that snaked through the plains, into and behind the range. Thin clouds drifted over their peaks to obscure them, as Elliot wondered where the air might have come from. Evidently the trees, or something else, still exhaled oxygen, but it was certainly of a different consistency than their surface counterparts.

It occurred to her now, how heavy and thick the air felt. The CO2 content would have to be higher here, she postulated, due to the creatures’ divergent evolutionary lineage. It gave some time-frame to when the two world split, diverged on their separate paths. It had to have been sometime in the Jurassic or Cretaceous, when the oxygen content and composition was most unlike now, but still enough to allow for respiration. That put the divergence somewhere between two-hundred and sixty-odd million years ago; about the time that conifers ruled the earth, to roughly the last of the dinosaurs going extinct.

The last hundred-million years had altered the earth so greatly, that Elliot found herself both terrified and intrigued at what might lay, unseen, in the distant mists. The water that spilled into the Black Sea was now an exchange of both ecosystems, but even so, nothing had been large enough to suggest even half the divergence they’d already seen. More importantly, the risk of contamination to both words had increased dramatically simply from the quakes. Whatever was here could be in danger of disappearing if the right fish, crustaceans, or even microbes transferred from the Black Sea to the water here. Their own presence alone could be enough to destroy nature’s delicate balance here, but she could think of no other way to protect it but to leave.

Her curiosity wouldn’t let her leave though. She thirsted to understand, discover everything here. It was all so foreign that an internal ecstasy had flooded her veins, while the rest of her fought to keep focused on survival. In truth, they were trespassing in this place, and all of them knew it. If they stayed too long, it would inevitably kill them. And yet, she couldn’t leave– not until she got what she came for, or at the very least, something to return with to prove its existence.

Elliot buried her thoughts, turned her eyes from the eerie beauty around her, to address Liana, “How’s your back?”

She hid her fatigue well, “No worse for wear.”

Elliot sighed, “I can’t believe we found it. It seems so… surreal.”

“I can believe we found it,” Liana admitted. Her voice turned grave, her eyes narrow, “but I am not certain it will allow us to leave.”

Elliot’s eyes widened with alarm, “What? What makes you say that?”

Liana spoke stoically, she greeted her own death, “You said it yourself; this place has been undisturbed for millions of years. Evolution has been allowed to adapt unabated by a human presence. Everything here is a possible danger. There is no co-habitation of man. No degradation of nature at the hands of Humanity. It does not fear us. We are food, nothing else. In our world, we rule. We control nature to suit ourselves. If we have illness from plants, we eradicate the plants or artificially mutate ourselves so that they are no longer a concern. We control our world. But this world–” She hesitated with a distant look through the plains. “This world controls its inhabitants. These two methods of existence are mutually exclusive. Either we won’t survive, or it won’t. It is the nature of the universe to be chaotic and disordered. That pits the odds against us.”

Elliot’s chest was stabbed form the silence after her profound words. Her mind drifted to the strange creature at their cavern campsite. It was only then that she realized how eerily silent the valley was. Other than a breeze that swayed the grasses of the plains, there was no wind. Its silent stillness contradicted the most-accepted theories of Jurassic and Cretaceous evolution. Most stated that animal life, thought to have gone extinct, gradually evolved into avian creatures. She expected to find flocks of birds that screeched endlessly, glided through the air or fluttered between the treetops. But she saw none, not even the creature they’d found in the cavern.

Concern bubbled in her, popped by Anthony’s voice that rippled her chest, “Elliot?”

“Huh?”

He shot her a look, “You alright?”

“Yeah. Just… thinking. What’s up?”

He nodded slowly, skeptically, stepped up beside her, “I was wondering what you thought of filming things. This’d be a good place to start, right?”

Her mind returned to the task at-hand; to document their discoveries, retrieve samples for John and the Museum. She turned away from the plateau’s edge and Liana, “Yes, it would.”

Liana seemed to consider something, then followed her Anthony toward the trees where Raymond and Chad had sat to eat. When Elliot was sure they were ready, she began, “We need samples from everything here; grass, soil, trees, rocks– anything that visibly differs from a previous sample, needs to be re-sampled. In the mean time, someone needs run the camera. We have enough battery and video for forty-eight hours. It’s important we take back as much evidence as possible, otherwise the museum may not organize a second expedition.” They nodded in affirmation. She continued, “If we’re able to get near any Fauna that can be filmed, we need to focus on showing a clear, evolutionary difference form anything we’ve seen before. Since everything here seems radically different than surface life, it shouldn’t be much of a problem, but it goes without saying.”

She looked at the team’s tired faces, lit and shadowed by the luminescent patchwork of bark, grass, and amorphous leaves around them. She knew they were exhausted, but in just two days they were scheduled for a return flight from Abkhazia, and needed to move as fast as possible.

“Way I see it, there’s five main sections to the area: The jungle, water, plains, forest and mountains,” Elliot said as she turned away from the group, gestured outward. “We need as many samples as possible from each area. We’ll save the jungle for last, hit it on our way out. Tony, where’s your book?”

He handed over his sketch-book. She drew up a crude map of landmarks with an X for their position. She set a compass rose on the map, placed the jungle at the west, the mountains to the northwest, and the forested plateau to the east and south-east. The water south encompassed most of the, with a circle and the word “passage” scrawled near the entrance they’d found. She etched out a route, prepared to alter the route in time. It stretched forward into the plains, curved with them to the mountains, and down to the jungle and water.

She passed it off to the others, “We’ll start moving in twenty minutes. Until then, I need two people taking samples from here, and someone getting as much footage as possible from this vantage point. If we find a suitable place along the trail, we’ll set camp. Chad, cam duty; Tony and Ray, samples.” They set to work as she looked to Liana, “I need to see your bag.”

She nodded, dropped her pack to remove the components of several weapons. In the space of five minutes, she assembled three firearms of various sizes beside boxes of ammunition of their calibers.

“Jesus,” Elliot remarked. “Were you expecting an army?”

Liana laughed, “This is standard for any expedition I partake in. Outfitting for war is much heavier.”

“Speaking of which–”

“There is no worry,” she interrupted. “It’s eighteen kilos plus the eighteen you provided. I was trained to carry fifty-five on a light day. I’m fine.”

“This is only eighteen kilos?” Elliot asked, surprised at the arsenal before her.

A pistol laid beside a larger, pistol-like weapon, and beneath a long, menacing rifle. Beside them were small, white, clay-like blocks.

Liana explained, “These are super-lightweight, special law enforcement weapons. The rifle is the heaviest at three kilograms, the SMG at one and a half, and the pistol at one and a third. I brought five magazines each for the rifle and SMG, seven for the pistol. Most of the weight comes from the magazines and ammunition; one hundred rounds for the first two, and ninety-four for the pistol.”

“That’s a lot of ammo.”

Elliot suddenly thought of her fight with the predator, wondered what it would to take down a land predator. She had gotten lucky during the attack. Large land-predators would be much more difficult. She gave an unconscious look at the bandage Chad had affixed as Liana stole her gaze.

“It is not that much. There is no doubt we could use it all.”

“Is this why they sent you? So they could send military armaments to protect us?”

“Not exactly,” Liana admitted uneasily. “Georgian soldiers use Russian hardware. This is German.”

“German?”

“These are Heckler and Koch weapons,” she pointed to each weapon in turn. “The rifle is an S-L-eight, the SMG an M-P-seven, and the pistol an M-K-twenty three. They’re German-made for civilian agencies, collectors, and stockpiles– I believe your own military even uses them– Unfortunately, they are also very illegal right now.”

Elliot suddenly remembered a news article she’d read before she’d left for Abkhazia. Illegal weapons had turned up in militant hands near the Georgian borders. A silent question suddenly rested on her lips, Liana sensed her apprehension.

“I see you have heard something of these weapons, no?” Elliot winced. Liana explained quietly, “Yes, these are militant weapons. Understand this though; the Georgian government sent me, but did not outfit me. I was not walking into the unknown unarmed. As such, I choose the best of what was available to me.”

The words did little to ease her tension at their illegality. If, for some reason, these weapons were connected to her team, they could face a serious issue upon exiting the caves. She stilled a rapid heart-beat; there were more important considerations at hand.

She looked to the white blocks, “So what’s this?”

“Composition-Four.”

“Which is?”

“Explosive ordinance,” Liana replied. “Highly-potent in any quantity. I don’t intend to use it, but it could be useful.”

Elliot’s face filled with concern, “Is it dangerous?”

“Not unless it is armed,” Liana reassured her.

Elliot returned her attention to the weapons, “Will all this do the job?”

“Without a doubt,” Liana replied, her face fixed, certain.

“Give me the pistol,” Elliot said. Liana hesitated, raised an eyebrow. Elliot was instantly defensive, “I’m not walking away unprotected if I have a choice.”

She reluctantly passed Elliot a holster, “Clip it to your belt.” She pointed to a the side of the pistol, flicked it back and forth in its grooved housing. “Safety on while it’s holstered or not in use… Safety off otherwise. Understood?”

Elliot nodded. Liana had been right, the weapon was light in her hands, even lighter as it slid into the holster. She snapped the holster shut, took the magazines from Liana, slipped in them in the pockets of her pack. Liana slung the other two weapons over her shoulder along with her pack.

Chad started for them, “Tapes done, Ellie. Got as much as I–”

A bright light suddenly flared ahead of them. It began to crawl upward along the impossibly distant walls of the cavern, sprinted along to its high ceiling to shower light down on them. It was a fiery, porous sunlight that overtook the brilliance of the chemical luminescence through-out the cavern. As it climaxed in bright haze, the green glow dissolved away and the haze thickened.

Chad fumbled with the camera, pointed it at the ceiling, his voice airy with delight, “Looks like it’s finally morning here in the lost world.”

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