“Deeper Than Hell” by Josh Millican
Chapter Eight (Previous Chapter | Main Page)
“Hey Sonny, did I ever tell you that John Quincy Adams funded an expedition to find intelligent life underground?”
Drews voice had a tinny quality, like I was hearing him through an old ham radio. I was unconscious; my body had gone into torpor in order concentrate all its energy on combating The Surgeon’s venom. It was a state of disembodied pain that felt soothing in comparison to some of my recent trials.
“The guy had a pet alligator, but that’s a totally different story,” Drew proceeded. “So J.Q.A, the 6th President of the United States, he was an excellent diplomat. He was crisscrossing the globe on goodwill missions to Europe and South America—anywhere he could make a good impression and stack up allies should the British ever attempt to take back what they still referred to as ‘The Colonies’.
“So around this time, there’s this guy named John Cleves Symmes, Jr. was crisscrossing the country looking for funding for an underground expedition. Symmes was an educated Hollow Earther, not a quack like Edmond Halley who though there was an inner sun and reverse gravity. Symme was one of the first scientist ambitious enough to follow the clues to ‘Inner Earth’ which he knew was a catacomb of layers, each with diverse ecosystems, each capable of supporting advanced civilizations. He’d been trekking from California to New Jersey, hitting up ever institute of higher learning along the way for donations to fund his expedition.
“He didn’t manager to rally much support in the way of money, but people were interested in his ideas, and he eventually went to Congress to pitch his expedition. While both houses scoffed, J.Q.A. was intrigued, especially by the idea of underground civilizations. Not only did he see potential for a military alliance, he was keen to investigate any trade potential; an underground society would have all kinds of exotic exports, and would surely be interested in what a budding America could offer in return. So after everyone else had passed, J.Q.A. decided to throw his support behind Symmes’ venture and plans were set into motion. Under the President’s guidance, a team would be assembled and dispatched to the North Pole within 2 years.
“It would have happened, too, except that J.Q.A. lost his re-election bid to Andrew Jackson; one of the first things that asshat did was axe funding to Symmes’ expedition. And it wasn’t even because he believed in the inner-sun version of Hollow Earth Theory—Jackson was a fucking Flat Earther! He thought any expedition underground would end with explorers falling through the final inches of Earth and into an endless oblivion. Ridiculous! The man was completely unhinged. You know he shot someone, right?”
“You shot someone too, Drew.”
“You got me there, Sonny.”
“Where are we?” I ventured once the pain subsided enough for me to care.
“Outpost 10. Welcome to Wonderland!”
“You got it, Sonny: Deep Underground Military Bases. Part of the most extensive interconnected subterranean colonies established by man! An excellent side effect of the Reverse Space Race.” Drew explained how, while everyone was distracted by the United States and Russia blasting rockets into orbit, both countries were secretly invested in a different endeavor: Drilling through the crust and into the mantel—those with all the real power already knew the future is underground. America began Project Mohole in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico while the Russians set to work in a remote location on the Kola Peninsula, an area that was mostly Murmansk Oblast territory, completely inside the Arctic Circle. While the US had a head start by starting underwater, Russia hypothesized their proximity to one of the main portals at the North Pole would give them an advantage.
“Project Mohole shut down in 1966 supposedly due to was lack of funding, but the true story is much more complex. The shutdown was preceded by some kind of accident that left 78 members of a Coast Guard contingence dead. By this point, the US already had spied working at the Kola Superdeep Borehole, so The Mohole Incident was swept under the rug. The Russian expedition continued until 1996.”
“Did they make it to the mantel?” I inquired?
“Not even close; barely seven and a half miles.”
“So why’d they stop?”
“That depends on who you ask, Sonny, but I can tell you one thing for damn sure: It wasn’t for lack of funding. The official scientific explanation was that it got too hot down there, that there isn’t a drill bit in existence that wouldn’t immediately melt before making any additional progress. Most of the people who worked at Kola have a different explanation: They say they broke into Hell.”
They were nowhere close, of course, but then again, nothing about Mohole and Kola was what it seemed.
“It was a manifestation of the Inverse Drake Equation,” Drew attempted to explain. “The 4th Reich had been colluding with the Church of Euthanasia and the Knights of the Solar Temple. Plans for a final conflict were accelerated in 1979 after the Treaty of Easter Island collapsed. The Greatest Conjunction is at hand!”
I was lost, but what else was new?
“Drew, I thought I understood, but now… I’m just not sure.”
“What are you saying, Sonny?”
“I’m saying I’m ready to call it quits. I just want to go home.”
“You don’t have a home,” he told me coldly. “You want to go back and live in that toilet tunnel?”
“I just want things to go back to the way they were.”
Drew looked vastly disappointed; his consternation appeared all the more terrifying as he was now in advanced stages of decomposition. My unconsciousness was his to manipulate; he could grant me peace or misery—and right now, he was pissed.
“I didn’t want to have to tell you this, Sonny, but since you’re reverting into an extreme pussy, I don’t have a choice.”
“You can’t go home again, Sonny. Not ever. It’s gone.”
“It’s not gone yet, but if you did make it back, you wouldn’t like what you found.”
“Everything’s changing. There’s a new president and everything’s gone to shit. The borders have been closed and Martial Law was declared after 7/17.”
“Remember 9/11? 7/17 makes 9/11 look like a mediocre day. New York has been practically leveled. Los Angles has been overrun by a new plague. Chicago and Atlanta are in chaos and the Federal Government has already relocated underground.”
“I don’t understand, Drew. I don’t understand any of this.”
“Enjoy your coma, Sonny. It’s the last sleep you’re ever going to get.”
‘You’re lucky we spotted you when we did,” Sargent Applewhite told me when I emerged from my poisoned unconsciousness. “We caught a blip a few days ago, but couldn’t make a move while you were in Slag City. When we saw you had been cast out, we made a move.”
“How… what was that thing?” I asked groggily.
“A Bantar; it’s a species of monitor lizard that lives exclusively underground. The one about to make a meal of you was the size of an elephant.”
“What… how did you find me?”
“You’re chip. When did you become a member of The Alliance?”
I didn’t know what the Alliance was, or what my “chip” was.
“I’m not… I don’t know. What’s my chip?”
“You’re ID and GPS location tracker; the one implanted in the back of your neck.”
I slowly reached around to the back of my neck and felt, for the first time, a ridged bump; it was like a cyst or an infected bug bite with a hard clot in the middle.
“When were you tagged?”
I had no idea; had Dante or Dr. Sasha given me the implant while I was unconscious? Is that how they knew I had made a break for it? And if so, did this mean The Children of the Inferno were somehow affiliated with The Alliance (whatever that was)?
“I don’t know,” I admitted.
“Bantar venom causes limited amnesia. Still, we’re going to have to keep you in the clink until we figure things out.”
As soon as I was alone again in my gray cell, I dove down deep and found Drew.
“Who tagged me? Why do I have a chip?” I screamed.
“This is news to me too, Sonny.”
“What are you talking about, Drew?”
“I mean, you must have had that chip before we even met.” For the first time ever, Drew was looking at me suspiciously—like he didn’t trust me; like he thought I was trying to pull one over on him.
“I don’t remember ever getting a chip in the back of my neck. Are you sure it wasn’t Dante—or Hauptnadle?”
“Not a chance, Sonny. I need some answers.”
“So do I,” I lamented. “I don’t even understand what’s going on… who these guys are… The Alliance?”
Outpost 10 was one of 26 bunkers that dotted America; they were waystations between larger city-sized compounds and underground hangers. These interconnected passageways, however, were unlike anything I’d ever seen—or imagined.
“We have the ability to relocate the entire infrastructure of Washington D.C. all the way to an undisclosed location in Oregon,” Applewhite explained (and Drew concurred). Image a corridor big enough to drive a tank through; now imagine a corridor big enough to drive a fleet of tanks through. Applewhite told me these corridors were actually big enough to fly aircraft through, anything up to the size of a jumbo jet. In addition to these transport corridors, there was a system of trams that took passengers on high speeds jaunts throughout Wonderland.
“They didn’t build the corridors,” Drew later explained: “They found them.”
“Who built them, then?”
“That’s the billion-dollar questions.”
The corridors weren’t natural and hadn’t been carved by any excavation device known to man. I mean, what could possibly drill a tunnel this humongous? The walls were coated in a nearly impenetrable ceramic layer, like the surrounding earth had been melted and solidified; the corridors would never cave in or decay.
“What were you doing in Slag City?” Applewhite interrogated; “Slag City” is what they called The Great Bottom. “Slags” were what they called the residents.
“Be careful what you say to this guy,” Drew whispered in my ear.
“I got lost… I was living in a runoff channel in Vegas and I got lost.”
Applewhite wasn’t buying it. “How long ago was that?” he inquired.
“I don’t know… it feels like at least a year ago. I don’t even know today’s date…”
“You came down after the election, didn’t you?”
“I don’t remember any election.”
Applewhite chose his words carefully: “Do you know who the president is?”
“Is it still Obama? I don’t know follow politics.”
Applewhite erupted into a huge fit of laughter. “Oh man, you’re in for a shock, my friend!”
After everything I’d been through, I was skeptical—but I shouldn’t have been.
“What’s your objective?”
“I… I told you, I got lost.” I wasn’t about to tell him the truth: That I was on a trek with my ghost buddy to live with ancient giants in a land without pain.
“You wouldn’t mind taking a polygraph, would you?”
Outpost 10 was manned by 25 “Defenders”; established in 1955, The Defender Corps’ stated purpose was to train specifically chosen soldiers for the impending Conjunction. Recruits were subjected to an intensive regimen to prepare them for 5 to 10-year stints underground. In order to become a Defender, soldiers were required to denounce all relationships with friends and family. Before being dispatched, they were “killed in action”, meaning the Army faked their deaths and even held mock funerals for them. This was done so no one would miss them, so no one would seek them out or make waves about a relative who vanished during service. Becoming a Defender was a life-long commitment, one that Applewhite claimed his men accepted with great honor.
Drew told a different story: “They’re part of the Phantom Army, a contingency of tens of thousands of supposedly dead soldiers. But it’s not an honor, Sonny—they’re dregs. These are the guys with serious psychological issues, problems that make them societal pariahs, but uniquely qualified for underground service. The ones who didn’t have psych records before enlisting are the ones who cracked, soldiers who went on rape and murder sprees after snapping in combat. There’s no place for them on the surface, so the government put them to work in the Outposts.”
“They’re Defenders, but they’re also prisoners—and they’re all dangerous.”
Applewhite had a fatherly air about him, but Drew warned me not to get too close.
“All the time-tables were accelerated after North Korea dropped the bomb on Japan. All of the Government’s top scientists agree Day One is eminent,” Applewhite explained. Day One was the name given to a point in time when all of mankind’s previous history would become inconsequential. It seemed to correspond in an adjacent manner to The Singularity. “It’s going to get crowded down here,” Applewhite told me in an ominous tone. “We thought you might be bringing down the first wave of new residents.”
Applewhite was the only resident of Outpost 10 who maintained contact with the Surface Command Center; he got the orders and passed them down among the ranks. His authority over the compound was absolute and unquestioned.
“Who’s your Commander?” Applewhite asked.
“Drew Armstrong,” I told him.
“I don’t know him,” Applewhite replied. “He must be new.” The Sargent no longer believed my story about being a homeless junkie who slipped through the cracks after a drug deal gone bad. He thought it was my cover story; he was certain my arrival was part of “the plan” and that my purpose was tremendously important. “I don’t know if you’re trying to pull a fast one or if your mind is still scrambled on Bantar venom. Either way, you need to get your head on straight.”
After struggling with my explanations to the point of exhaustion, Applewhite left me alone in the stockade. “Get some rest. We’ll pick this up again in the morning.”
“What’s the plan Drew?”
“We can’t make a plan until you get out of jail, Sonny. Right now, you need to sit tight and find your balls. No more blubbering about going home; no fantasies about staying put. We’re almost out of time, Sonny. We’ve got to hurry.”
“Because of the Greatest Conjunction?”
“And, what happens if we don’t get to Xanadu in time?”
“Believe me, Sonny, you don’t want to know.”
I’d decided not to sleep anymore. Not only had Drew freaked me out by making me think there wasn’t a second to spare, I didn’t like dreaming anymore. Drew lecturing me, badgering me; his state of decay becoming more pronounced by the day—by the hour. He stank; I could smell him even when I wasn’t dreaming, but when we met in unconsciousness the odor was overpowering. The main reason I swore off sleeping, though, was because I’d been dreaming about the girl in the desert—and it was killing me. I wanted to die.
“Drew, why can’t I just kill myself? Wouldn’t it be easier if we were both… dead?”
“Shut your fucking mouth, Sonny. Dead isn’t what you think it is, believe me. It won’t make things any easier; in fact, it will completely fuck everything to hell.”
Can’t go home, can’t go to sleep, can’t die. My eyesight was fading; too much time underground had weakened my coronas while overextending the muscles in my sockets.
Applewhite’s next visit changed everything. “I got word from Surface Command. They explained everything. Sorry to have inconvenienced you, Sir.”
“Yeah, no problem. So, Surface Command explained everything?” I stumbled.
“Affirmative. Again, I apologize for everything Capitan.”
“We’ll start getting you caught up immediately. Here’s your uniform, Sir.”
“What’s happening, Drew?” I whispered.
“You tell me Sonny—if that really is your name.”
Once I was dressed, Applewhite introduced me to the rest of the team: Gunnar, Specs, Houser, Clinton, Jones, DiCaprio, Sanchez, Scooby, Frost, Tenner, Hunk, Joker, Ramirez, Berkowitz, Bunny, and the rest. It was the most rag-tag team of “soldiers” I’d ever seen. They all looked at me with a mixture of respect and confusion. “He’s the Captain?” I heard them whispering amongst themselves. “Never question the Sarg, asshole,” was one response.
“Does this mean Day One is coming soon? Are we on the cusp?” Frost asked.
I waited for Applewhite to answer, but it was clear he was deferring to me. “Don’t blow this, Sonny,” Drew whispered in my ear.
“Uh, that is correct,” I responded, attempting to emote the confidence of my “rank”. “Day One is coming. So, I’m here to check out your preparedness and make sure everything’s in order.”
“Clinton!” Applewhite barked, “Give the Capitan a tour of the facilities!”
“Sir, yes Sir!” Clinton responded before turning his attention to me. “Sir, follow me, Sir.”
Clinton took me through a series of small rooms, each filled with outdated computer equipment, connected by a series of cramped corridors. It felt almost like we were in a submarine or a space station. Eventually, we arrived in the main control room, filled with all manner of flashing pads and machinery. The room’s main feature, however, was a panoramic window that offered a view into the cavernous expanses of Wonderland. It was the opposite of The Great Bottom: It was illuminated by various. powerful unseen sources; it was vast and flat, the ceiling nearly undetectable except of occasional fixtures that flashed in reds and blues. It really was big enough to fly something through, proved by a small fleet of F-16s parked in a row. There were stacks upon stacks of shipping containers, along with dozens of jeeps and something that looked like a triangular stealth craft.
“We’ll get your work station set up immediately,” Clinton told me. “Gomez is almost done preparing your room.”
The room wasn’t much bigger than the cell they’d been holding me in. Applewhite stopped by to pass off a binder: “I assume you’ll want to review this”. The binder bore the heading “Project Ultimate Solution”, and it was full of nightmare. “I look forward to your assessment, Capitan.”
I shouldn’t have ever opened it; I should have tossed it into a corner and ignored it—but I didn’t. I stayed up for hours absorbing every word in a state of shocked disbelief.
I’d always believed in aliens, in theory, but this was black and white.
It was all hanging over us by a thread: Invasion, apocalypse, plague, resurrection, and rebirth. No one would be unaffected.
“Do you believe me now, Sonny?” Drew whispered into my ear.
Yes, I did.