The bottom line, if you'll excuse the phrase, is that we are now in the most interesting place, in terms of our discussion. We can't have a Hollow Earth to play in because physics and geology, darn them to heck, take our fantasies and turn them into smooshed dinosaurs.
But now we're in the Lithosphere. This is where we can play. And this is where things get really weird.
Now we are at the crust. That's between five and twenty-five miles of rock and soil that, while you still have to be concerned about heat, pressure, and the occasional pocket of lava bubbling up, are the chief playgrounds for people like myself. Give me a well-tuned tunneling device, a good map, and a watch, and I can take you places you'd never think could possibly exist.
My predecessor, the original Underman, made a number of maps of his explorations of the Crust before he retired. I should point out that these maps were, in turn, based on the life's work of numerous other Lithonauts, going all the way back to the 19th century. Only they had to rely on finding large cave systems, and digging their way down with as much machinery or manpower as they could throw at the problem.
Underman, and those like him, had technology on their side. The kind of technology that can create a nuclear-powered tank with an extremely large diamond-tipped drill, capable of slowly boring a permanent tunnel, or quickly passing on through and throwing the debris back behind the vehicle so as to not create geological instability.
Okay, sorry. Nostalgia. You know how that is.
Though I gotta admit, it'll kill you if you're not careful.
* * *11/21/11
They called him Teleman.
Note the "they." He preferred to be called something a lot less descriptive, or at least darkly humorous. But "they" were the ones who wrote his paychecks, so he put up with the decidedly 80's name, and tried not to think of New Wave, parachute jackets, and MTV.
Luckily for him, "they" kept him so busy that he didn't have much time to contemplate his unfortunate, Agency-handed handle. The ability to teleport yourself anywhere in the world, so long as you knew exactly where you were going, made you an extremely valuable entity.
(The only drawback being that he couldn't take anything with him, or take anything back, unless it was completely inside him when he did it. But a nude man can still do a lot of damage, even without the knife in his mouth, or the datastick/camera in a surgically-created pouch in his navel. Some of the martial arts they'd trained him in were so secret they didn't even have names.)
And while "they" might have had him squarely by the !@#$ (youthful indiscretions -- you know how that goes) his check-writers made !@#$ sure he got to handle some of the value his services provided to them. It was their way of ensuring he stayed their valuable asset, and didn't go moonlighting, or changing sides.
So when "they" offered him a cool million for what was, on the surface, a pretty easy-sounding job, Teleman wondered what the catch was. Teleport into a specific cell, kill a prisoner before anyone realized he was there, and then teleport back out again? He'd done that dozens of times, using the Dim Mak (or its modern day, Krav Maga equivalent) to ensure that even the best pathologists would believe that the target had just died from a heart attack.
Then they told him he'd be teleporting into the Heptagon, and killing a target right under SPYGOD's nose.
To his credit, Teleman did not decline the job. But he took an extra half-second to "think it over," which consisted of him thinking the word "!@#$" several times, and wish his youthful indiscretions weren't so !@#$ indiscreet.
They got him everything he needed. A layout of the place, complete with coordinates so he could focus on where he needed to go. A printout of a camera image of the cell, itself, so he could fully materialize himself within it. All physical data on the target, so he could strike him with precision and kill him instantly, rather than having to inspect his body for the right spots to hit him.
(That's the problem with the Dim Mak; there's no "one size fits all" death touch. You have to study your opponent's chi in order to disrupt it that savagely, or else all you're doing is making an energy hiccup in the body. And all those do is trigger the "fight" side of the fight or flight reflex, which makes for an even messier conflict.)
At 3:21 AM, on Monday, November 21st, Teleman declared himself ready. He ran through the plan one more time in his mind, closed his eyes, and then began to concentrate.
At 3:23 his employers noticed that he was starting to turn translucent, then transparent. That was a good sign. he was almost there.
At 3:26 he vanished. There was a sound like a marker on glass, and then he was gone. The clock was running, and they expected him back in thirty seconds or less.
(It never took him more than a few seconds' concentration to come back. Getting there was the hard part, but coming back was a literal snap.)
At ten seconds in, they started to worry. At twenty someone actually asked out loud if something had gone wrong. At thirty, they all did.
Forty. Fifty. A full minute went by.
Then two. Then three.
At 3:31 AM, the Agent in charge of the operation called his superior and told him it was a wash. He recommended using the bomb that Teleman didn't know was wrapped around his C3 (put in at the same time as his navel pouch). His superior agreed
The operatives all left Teleman's apartment and locked the door behind them, knowing they'd never come back.
* * *
Anyway, the plates. I'm sure you've heard of Plate Tectonics. That is not a progressive rock band...
Um, sorry. Had to try.
Let's try that again. Plate Tectonics has to do with why we have earthquakes and volcanoes in the first place. It's why continents shift over time, and why it looks like South America and Africa could fit into each other like puzzle pieces.
That's because, once upon a time, they did.
The Crust lies atop the Mantle, like we said, and that's the Lithosphere. What I didn't say, yet, because I got all weepy-eyed for days long past, is that the Lithosphere is not a solid object. It's broken up into several different plates, which move, ever so slowly, like conveyor belts or rotating gears. In some places the plates slide past each other, in others they go up and push away from each other, and in others one gets pulled under the other, and new parts get pulled up from the other side of the plate.
It's what happens inside these plates that is so amazingly cool. It's like of like Earth having 15 true continents, all below the surface. And each one having its own unique biosphere and history, depending on whether it's mostly underwater or above it.
Oh yes, that's got your attention, now.
The Big Man is not in a good mood, today. Not at all.
First, he has it confirmed by an unwitting source inside the Secret Service. They did, indeed, find the Agent he had programmed. They didn't turn her, like SPYGOD claimed. They just tackled her, wrapped her up so she couldn't harm herself, and took her away in a COMPANY car.
No one knew where she was, now, but chances were good SPYGOD was using the N-Machine on her. If he did, he'd find out where Biggs encountered her, and how he contacted her, and how often.
None of these things are good.
Second, he finds out that a number of his retired operatives have vanished off the grid over the last 12 hours. They're disappearing from their homes in the middle of the night, like Soviet dissidents in a bad propaganda movie. Some have actually been snatched off the street like little kids baited by lollipop-wielding strangers.
Then he is told, in no uncertain terms, that the Director of the CIA does not care to answer his calls, anymore. At first he thought the man might just be really busy, what with all the problems he's having right now. But the last time he called, and tried to mention -- however obliquely -- that the Director might really want to communicate with him, the man's secretary actually told him to lose the number.
"Lose the number." Like he was a jilted lover who wasn't getting the point.
And now this: a graphic picture sent to one of his many mail drops. It's of a naked man who's been fused half-in, half-out of a prisoner's restraint chair. His head is gone -- exploded from the neck up, from the looks of things -- and there's a sign around his neck.
The sign reads:
Thought I'd Redecorate the Cell.
Your Move, !@#$face.
- SPYGOD -
And while The Big Man had no idea that the Agency was going to use Teleman to take care of their mutual problem, the fact that SPYGOD apparently thinks it was Biggs who sent him, rather than the CIA, does not make the loss of this valuable operative any less painful.
Hargreaves is keeping well away from him, today. It's probably for the best. Right now Biggs is so angry he'd probably tell the man to stud his hand with razors, reach around, and fist!@#$ himself to death on the front veranda, just so he could finally think over the white hot anger coursing through his mind.
This is war, then. It's time to stop pretending.
He calls his son in Corsica. Ever the good boy, Xerxes answers on the second ring.
"It's time, my boy," Biggs says: "Get the team together, and activate The Skull. We're going to destroy The Flier with SPYGOD on board."
Xerxes giggles. It's just his way of saying "yes" to his beloved father. Then he hangs up and goes back to whatever fresh new depravity he was exploring today.
"King takes Queen," The Big Man muses, feeling the anger subside. For now.
* * *
Let's talk about what's right under our feet... well, under the Flier, anyway. The North American Plate. It's North America, all the way down to Central America, over to Greenland, and the Easternmost part of Russia and the Northernmost islands of Japan, along with the North Pole.
It is home to the race of small but powerful beings we call the Subterraneans. These stooped, hairy people live in underground cities lit by luminescent fungi, connected to one another by well-built tunnels that are much older than they are.
They have no real knowledge as to who or what built those tunnels. But given how large the blocks they're made of are, they must have either been human sized, or else had access to powerful machinery. Maybe both.
The cities are definitely theirs, though. They're concentric streets of simple buildings that look like igloos made of rocks, with the bricks stuck together with that weakly-glowing fungi. They can build larger structures, but prefer not to, mostly because they don't have the time or energy. They're always out looking for food, which is mostly nasty cave spiders and other squirmy things.
Oddly enough, they won't eat the fungi, even if they're starving. It's sacred to them.
Subterraneans are mammalian, but are not descended from the common ancestor that gave rise to humans and apes. We're not sure what they may have come up from. They remind me of what happens when an inbred farmer boy gets in bed with a badger, but that's not what their myth cycles tell us.
Not that we've had a lot of luck getting the information out of them. These guys are about as vicious as badgers in a trap, and don't play well with others. You'll note I didn't use the term "Empire" to talk about their massive complex of cities? That's because the cities are all technically at war with one another, and if it wasn't for the fact that the tunnels run for hundreds of miles between the cities, and food sources are scarce between them, I think they would have wiped each other out ages ago.
Not that you should go buy a gun and point it at your gopher holes out of fear of what might come up them. They stay well underground. On those rare occasions when they get too close to the surface they rarely stray far from the caverns they come up in, and then they only come out at night. They can't handle any light source more powerful than a candle without being blinded, either temporarily or permanently, and they're scared to death of us.
We smell terrible, apparently.
* * *
SOMEWHERE IN LANGLEY, VA
It's shower time for Agent Armatrading.
In this case, "shower" means two of her minders put restraints on her hands and feet, and then pull her up and out of her chair so another one can give her a sponge bath. They're careful not to rip out the IV picks, or disturb the tubes and sensors, but other than that they're not very gentle about it -- especially when they get down lower and have to deal with her on a more intimate level.
(Her period started two days ago, and they didn't think to get tampons when they abducted her. The fact this makes some of them uncomfortable gives her a little twinge of joy when she mentally comes up for air.)
Of course, not all of them are weirded out by the fact that a naked woman strapped to a chair is going to get messy. One of them is just enraptured by her otherwise-embarrassing biology.
It's one of the men. She notes his fresh face and glittering eyes as he holds her up and down. She recognizes that look: it's like he thinks she's a bug, and he wants to put a pin through her stomach and mount her for framing.
Oh yes. He's the one. He's the weak link, here.
And while he doesn't know it, yet, he's going to get her out of this situation...
But she turns that thought off, very quickly. She can feel Agent S rooting around in her brains, again, looking for information that's going to help him plan the next step in trying to take SPYGOD down.
(It's bad enough he used her skills to frame that poor Agent, and then make him think SPYGOD was going to kill him for using his COMPANY card inappropriately. He might have, of course, but not like that.)
As he's in her, she's in him. She can feel the endgame coming. If he can't find anything actionable or nasty that he can use against SPYGOD, he'll probably have to find some way to kill him, and make it look like she did it.
That way he gets rid of him and her in one move.
The thought almost makes her react to the point where she loses control, and gives away some of her thoughts on getting out of this mess. But at the last moment she gets control, again, and finds a way to wrap herself into a pleasant memory loop --
Beatrice kisses her, there by the wharf. Someone laughs at the dykes. They don't care. Beatrice kisses her, there by the wharf. Someone laughs at the dykes. They don't care. Beatrice kisses her, there by the wharf. Someone laughs at the dykes. They don't care.
-- and the monster who's stolen her body just passes on through, apparently uncaring that she's remembering her last girlfriend's last sweet gesture before things went all so !@#$ wrong between them.
Had it really been that bad? Did Sue really have to have said those things? Did they really need to have broken up, talked behind each others' backs, and x-ed off so many friends for taking no side, or the wrong one?
She doesn't know. If none of this had happened, she'd have said yes, and continued to badmouth the dumb !@#$ that did her wrong.
But here and now, looking at what might be the last days of her life, she wishes there was some way she could reach out, across the distance, take Beatrice's hand in hers, and tell her she's sorry.
And thank her for that one day, there by the wharf.
* * *
The discovery of the Subterraneans can be credited to one Herbert P. Bloomdale, back in 1927. He's the guy that started digging for gold up in Saskatchewan, and found a series of caverns that spiraled all the way down to just next to one of these massive tunnels. He came back up to the surface missing a leg, and scared to death for obvious reasons, but stories of his find got out.
It's only because the Canadians are capable of keeping certain things very well contained that most of you have never even heard of these folks before. But there was a man named Iben Colson, back in the 30's, who cobbled together a means to get down to the tunnels. He figured he could go down there and wow them with some technology, and get himself his very own empire below the Earth.
It worked, for a while, and most of what we know about the Subterraneans' disjointed history, myth cycles, and way of life is courtesy of Mr. Colson. My predecessor met him on a few occasions, back in the day, when Colson was a stammering wreck of a man who'd been underground so long his eyes had become totally useless, and he was finding his way around by smell.
Where did they come from? Who built the tunnels? What happened to their society? Why did their writing style look almost exactly like cuneiform? He had no idea.
But he did say one thing: "The answers lie below." Apparently that's one of their many pithy sayings.
Another one is "outsiders are food," which is why my predecessor didn't go back for more information after the last time he came into town. It turned out that Colson had since died, and the Subterraneans didn't care to have another "uplander" coming down and telling them stories in exchange for their lives, food, and the occasional sexual experiment, which was all his "empire" really amounted to.
You like that story? I got more. A lot more.
The mysteries below Ayers Rock, and the nasty, black things that live down there. The Lost Kingdoms of India and Arabia. The ancient horror under the Nazca Plate. The crystal palaces of South America...
But, before we go anywhere with those, we have to talk about the Pacific Plate, and what GORGON's disappearance into the Subduction Zone means to us.
* * *
"... And you're absolutely sure of this?" Director Straffer is asking, his telepresence walking through a table like it isn't there.
"Well, the !@#$ at the Agency were sure of it," SPYGOD says, downing another beer in two gulps: "They traded it for something of vital importance, at the time. Now, of course, it could be a fake. But..."
"But it looks like the real thing," the ghost of a man says, looking at the schematics on the table: "And it makes a lot of sense. I've often wondered about how they could have gotten the capabilities to pull off some of the things they've done with that, over the years."
"And suddenly it makes a lot of sense. They meet up at Outland with a few would-be alien conquerors, make a really good deal, and suddenly they have their very own, genuine, mother!@#$ Ybari dreadnought... minus the bias drive."
"They wouldn't need it if they're just going to drive around the planet with it. But the drive doesn't just handle the motive units. It also handles the power supply."
"Which means that they can't have all systems running at once, which is probably how we beat that !@#$ thing back so many times in the past."
Straffer considers this, and looks at the schematics again.
"So if we took out the nuclear engines, and some of the more terrestrial weaponry and propulsion, I'd say this is more than 75% alien technology."
"What's the cut-off for DAMOCLES?"
"Well below that," the Director says: "Alright, we've got a deal. But I want you to know this isn't going to be a regular thing. The less we have to do things like this, the better. I get enough flak from the budget people as it is."
"I think we won't need something like this again. But thank you. I appreciate it."
"Is that an actual thank you I just heard? My telepresence must be malfunctioning."
SPYGOD smiles: "The real thank you comes next time you're downside. The beer's on me."
"Well, I don't drink," he says, smiling: "But you can get me a table at Per Se."
"What? That place that charges out the !@#$ for little bites of super-gourmet rocket food?"
"That's the one. I've been dying to get in there."
"Okay, then. Table for one?"
"I was hoping you'd join me, actually."
SPYGOD grumbles: "Well, okay. But just for you. And I am not !@#$ dressing up."
"I wouldn't dream of insisting. Speaking of which, it's Thanksgiving. Shouldn't you be breaking bread with the troops?"
"Yeah, well. Business first. But yes, I do have about two dozen turkeys deep-frying on board The Flier that I should probably get back to. Hopefully no one's caught anything on fire, yet."
"Paris is burning, my friend," Straffer tips him a wink and vanishes, and for a weird moment SPYGOD has no idea if he was just hit on, or not.
But yes. It's Thanksgiving, and today he can be thankful for a number of things, and people. It's been a weird year since last May, and as much tragedy and bad times as he's brought down on himself, there's also a lot of wonderful things going on.
And as he straps on his rocket pack, and makes ready to head back up to The Flier, he's grateful for so much. He almost cracks a big smile in spite of it all, and decides he's going to do something really nice for his overworked, overthreatened personal assistants come Christmastime.
Especially Sue. !@#$ is she turning out to be a crack Agent.
* * *
You see, the North American plate isn't the only one that has those old tunnels running through them. The African Plate does as well. And so does the Pacific Plate. It's just that, since the crust there is mostly underwater, so are the tunnels, since they run fairly close to the surface in places.
And that's very bad news. When GORGON vanished off our radar, all those months ago, they most likely went into one of those tunnels. That would indicate that they know about them. That would also mean that they may have been exploiting them for quite some time, now, and may have all kinds of bases and facilities built into the tunnels, themselves.
Suddenly we have a much smaller area to look through. But at the same time, we have a more dangerous brief. There's things in those tunnels that have been festering and breeding down there in seclusion for millions of years.
Yes, millions. That's how old those tunnels actually are.
Did I mention that, earlier? No? Oh, sorry. Yeah, something made a network of tunnels in the crust of the Earth millions of years ago, and whatever it was, it was not us. And we have no idea who or what it was.
Except that there may be a story that explains it, sort of.
Has anyone ever heard of Richard Sharpe Shaver? Oh, okay, one of you had excellent taste in reading while growing up. Okay, two of you? Anyone else?
Well, Shaver was a nutcase. He claimed that he was receiving mental transmissions from an underground civilization that was based on rape and torture. High science, low regard for life, you know the type. Once the editor of Amazing Stories got hold of his rambling letters and fictionalized them, they made for great sci-fi tales, at least until the readers decided they'd had enough and made the editor stop carrying them.
But one of the things he spoke about has a certain weight to it.
Some of you may have heard of Deros. The term's a conjunction of "Detrimental Robots." Something like the rape machines from that one early Gary Numan record. They were biological creatures that had become so degenerate that they killed, maimed, and tortured with all the unfeeling efficiency of a robot, hence the name.
Well, the name "Deros" was attached to something else, later on. Some of the older hands here may have heard of the Advanced Supersonic Nazi Hell Creatures from Below the Hollow Earth? No, that's not a progressive rock band, either, and it sure as heck wasn't a Syfy movie, either.
That was the name given to certain foo fighters, back during World War II. There's no real good pictures of them, due to the fact that they moved so freaking fast, and didn't leave a lot of witnesses, but we have a few descriptions. I think the most evocative one was "flying, fire-breathing, dragon train."
These things attacked our planes and ships in the South Pacific. They appeared from nowhere and then vanished just as fast. And whenever they left the scene of an ambush, they were seen to dive into the Ocean, and sometimes even crash-land on islands. But no wreckage was ever found.
The suspicion was that the Japanese had gotten their hands on some sort of advanced technology, and were using it against us. The fact that we didn't have those things being thrown in our faces every day led Military Intelligence to believe that they didn't invent them, themselves, but rather found them, or bought their services, somehow.
But then the war was over, and during the Occupation we found out that the Japanese had absolutely nothing to do with it. They were as astounded by these things as we were, except that they didn't attack them, for some weird reason. So they assumed the Nazis must have been trying out a secret weapon and not telling them about it, much in the same way the Japanese didn't always tell them about theirs.
A little more digging, and it turns out that, amongst some of the islands in the Micronesian chain, Dero is a known entity. It's what the islanders call a long, swift demon of the sea that launches out of the water, attacks anything that trespasses into its domain, and then disappears. They don't show up all that often, but when they do it's never a good thing.
This leads a few Nazi UFO conspiracy theorists to make a loose connection, and before you know it the two stories are conflated. Suddenly we've got Nazis riding these monsters they found below the hollow earth while turning Antarctica into a submarine base. Not completely off base, in some respects, but there's nothing below Antarctica that synchs up with the Dero.
But you can't help but wonder. All those tunnels suggest a home for something long and swift. And
the fact that we haven't come across any giant, metal skeletons on the Ocean floor might suggest that they don't come from our ocean, but maybe something lower down.
Is that what the tunnels were made for? If so, who made them? The Deros, or whatever they served, or served them?
And if they're down there, along with GORGON, we could be looking at quite a wild op.
That's all I've got for you, now. The next time we meet we'll be talking about how we're going to go about dealing with the situation. We've got some ideas, of course, but it's going to be a tough one.
But you know, one thing I've learned in my relatively short time, here at The COMPANY? Tough isn't just part of the job description. It's when we're at our best. I think this toughness is going to make us even tougher, and...
Um, okay. Yes sir. I'm shutting up now.
Thank you all for listening. Good night.
(SPYGOD is listening to Fascination Street (The Cure) and having an Oskar Blues G'Knight)