I wondered how I got myself into this mess. The search party was right outside. I could clearly see Nixie—the gal from the games, one of the leaders of this Knumai patrol. She looked agitated. They knew I was close. They think I’m the killer.
The killings have become more frequent and more gruesome. There have been three killings in as many days, one at every evening meal. There is no rhyme or reason to who gets killed or why. The Atlanteans are too naïve to know how to protect themselves. They can fight, but they don’t understand things like sabotage, subterfuge, lures. They fail to grasp the basics of guerilla combat. And that’s how the killer always slips by them. He comes from nowhere and goes back there when he’s done. But he leaves a mess behind.
Actually, if my guess is correct, the murdered are trophies. After Pincoy was attacked and his bodyguard killed, the next two murders became more deliberate. The bodies were arranged. Parts were cut off and moved around. One of them had its hands chopped off, with large lobster claws stuffed into the stumps. The tongue was removed, but the mouth was wedged open with a hermit crab. The other victim was decorated with spinefish needles, with a pattern like the Queen’s Coral on its back. Sick stuff.
Heqet has told all of Zebulon that Lithe and I are responsible. She tells them Lithe is trying to steal the throne. She tells them I’m the murderer.
I’m not. But I think I know who is.
“fghi.” Nixie was issuing orders. Where previously I had only seen six of the crabmen at a time, there was a full dozen attending her now. Nervously I lowered my body deeper and deeper into the pool. I had been there for about thirty minutes. It was providence, really, that I had been able to hide here. I was on my way back from Liz’s comb and felt thirsty. I hadn’t brought any water with me, so I knelt down beside the water to drink. I heard someone approaching, and the small pool was the only place I could think to hide. It receded beneath a shallow ledge, against the cavern wall, and was mostly in shadow. Only my mouth and nose were above the water. They couldn’t see me.
I waited a long time for them to go. A starfish actually moved onto me, literally fixing itself to my body. I snorted a little, causing Nixie’s ears to prick up momentarily. I held my breath while she tested the air, but she shook it off pretty quickly. The search parties moved on, but I stayed put for maybe another thirty minutes. Or maybe just long enough to get a cramp. I rehearsed the events with Liz as I waited, still trying to puzzle a way out of our predicament.
I decided to go see Liz this morning, after Iara had ducked out to do whatever it is she keeps doing. That is a mystery all on its own. Pincoy had already come and gone for the day, so I figured I was safe. It was probably a bad idea to risk seeing Liz, which is why I didn’t tell anybody about it. That was probably another bad idea.
I don’t really know my way around the Atlantean capital, but I made sure to mark my progress as I went. I made little notches on the cavern walls at hip-height, always careful to make right turns and count the number of left-turns so I could easily navigate backwards.
The light from the pools made it easier than I would have thought to stay hidden. The capital seemed colder than I remember. Smellier too, like the whole place had started to rot and had been shoved into the freezer to delay the decomposition. My progress was slow. I stayed crouched, except for mark-making on the walls, and several times I had to hide in the pools beneath some of the combs in order to avoid being spotted. I can’t believe I made it, but I did. Atlantis must be helping me out.
(Nice to know somebody’s a romantic.)
I hit my first real snag when I arrived at Liz’s place. Hadad and Derkato were outside. Hadad was playing with one of the seafoxes, and Derkato was slouched against the doorframe. I thought better of this approach latter on, but in the moment I didn’t feel like I had a lot of time. So I walked up and said, “Where’s Liz?”
Those two fishsticks about jumped out their skin, though Derkato quickly tried to regain his composure. He started shaking his head and acting tough, but Hadad waved him down. He made a shushing noise and led me inside by the arm.
Dagan was inside, resting. But Enki was in a room with Liz. She was asleep in a two-inch glow-pool and he was watching over her. Neither one of them heard me as I came in, which was good since, by all appearances, Liz needed her rest. Her breath came quick and shallow, little ripples forming in the pool. Her hands twitched and something was coming out of her eyes. It was not quite translucent and looked slow and thick. The skin around her lips was awash with purple and black marks, though red nodes seemed to fade in and out. It was unpromising. Maybe my sadness was intensified because of my guilt, but I can’t be sure. All I know is that seeing her in such obvious suffering made me sick.
“Liz,” I began, startling Enki. “It’s me. Come on. We’ve got to get you out of here.”
Enki got up quickly. He was trying to avoid waking Liz, but the damage was done. “David,” she said. “What are you doing here?” Enki ran off somewhere, and a moment later Dagan appeared at the door. He was armed, but Liz waved him off impatiently.
“I’ve come for you,” I said.
“I don’t have him,” I said, stuttering my next few words. “I’m with Lithe. He’s going to be king.”
“I don’t care about who gets to be king, David.” Liz started to rise from the little pool but lost her balance. She didn’t fall back, but she couldn’t sit up, either. Enki knelt to help her, giving me a look. “Bring me my son.”
“I would, Elisabeth,” my voice started to rise, “but I don’t know what they’ve done with him.”
“They?!” And now she was standing. I swear my wife has a super-human ability to rise above adversity just so she can yell at me. “You gave him to Heqet and they’ve been running God-knows-what experiments on him ever since.”
“He’s still at the Healing Center?”
“Goodbye, David,” she said, finding her way out of the room with Enki trailing like a stray.
“Wait!” I called after her. Liz stopped, turning her head back toward me. “Did you know?”
“What?” she asked.
“About the crash.”
Liz took a step back toward me. “Everyone knew,” she said. “You can’t keep a thing like that a secret.”
That’s not entirely what I meant. “Did you know I was alive? That I was down here?”
Liz walked quickly and put her hands on my shoulders. Her nails dug into my skin. She looked like she might kill me before enlightening me. I was willing to take the chance. “You were the only way to protect our son. Heqet married me to Lithe so she could have a claim to Jonah.”
“He was your only concern?”
She let go, rolling her eyes. “I’m his mother, David. You’re supposed to be his father. You should have been concerned, too.”
“I didn’t know we had a son!” I screamed. “You could have told me. You could have told me you were alive.”
“They wouldn’t let me leave the house,” Liz was screaming now, too. “Heqet knew from the beginning that she had to keep us apart. I could live with that, but I couldn’t live with them experimenting on our baby.”
“Didn’t it even cross your mind that I might need to know some of this?”
Liz started to walk away again, backwards, saying her final lines in reverse. “You’re smart, David. You’re a doctor. You figured it out. I didn’t have time to write love letters. I just had to get Jonah safe.”
You can imagine the courtesy Dagan and Hadad showed me on the way out. I had thought, naively, that if I could get to Liz and explain, then maybe she’d come with me and help figure out what to do. Instead, she had just given me orders. I thought her history with Lithe would generate some emotion–well, some other emotion–about his kingship. If he were in charge, things could be put to rights. Couldn’t they? Liz obviously didn’t think so.
I have to find my son.
Liz is dying, no question. It must be the prolonged exposure to the atmospheric pressure, or maybe a reaction to the food. Maybe there is disease here for which we don’t yet have antibodies. It doesn’t matter. She’s got to get home. But she’s not leaving without Jonah.
Neither am I. Not now.
I was feeling cold again. The water in the pool was pulling the warmth out of my body, and I slowly made my way to the edge and climbed out to find the way back to the hiding cave, taking extra caution along the way.
We’ve been living like refugees. Ever since we returned to the capital, we’ve been fighting to stay hidden. Lithe’s fever hasn’t worsened, fortunately, but it hasn’t’ gotten much better, either. He still lies in the cave most of the day, sweat pouring over his forehead and waxy skin, thin, pale, and moaning.
I’ve got to get out of here.