We've been walking for what feels like an hour, although I'm sure it can't possibly be that long. It just seems longer with the pain flaring through my ankle with every step.
Elias has gone out a couple of yards ahead of the rest of us, leaving me with America and Star.
"What if we are going in circles?" America asks. "We can't get any signal down here." He taps the side of his helmet where the radio connects in for the tenth time in the past five minutes, like if he hits it enough it will miraculously start working. "We have no way of knowing which way we are even going."
"We can't be going in circles," Star says. "We would have to reach a junction for that to be possible. Other than where that worm crossed the path, the tunnel's been one shot the entire way."
I lick my dry lips. Thirst scratches at the inside of my throat. "We're going to need water eventually," I say. "We aren't going to be able to keep walking like this indefinitely." My mind flashes to when we first woke up on the starship and discovered Carl's body. He was just a skeleton in that pod—long dead by the time we found him. His bones were dried like ancient fossils.
How did he die? Did he suffocate? Die of thirst?
If we don't find a way out of these tunnels, are we going to die the same way? I try to push the thoughts from my mind, but they creep back to me, latching on like tiny parasites.
"Hey guys," Elias calls out, startling me from my thoughts.
"What?" I ask.
"Look." He points up ahead.
For a second, I'm not sure what I'm looking at. Our headlamps illuminate a rough, dark surface in the distance.
"Shit," America hisses under his breath.
"Please tell me that's not a dead end," Star says.
America jogs ahead of the two of us. When he catches up to Elias, he stops. Then, he turns back to face us, a smile on his face. "It's not a dead end," he says.
"What is it then?" Star asks as the two of us reach the guys.
Elias gestures toward the left. "Our tunnel splits down there."
I bite my lower lip, angling my head lamp so it shines down the path, illuminating the rough surface of the cave. After a hard turn to the left, two tunnels merge in a wye with ours.
"Which way do we go?" I ask.
"So . . ." Star trails off. "I guess we don't know where either of them go. Let's just pick one."
A chill creeps across my skin. The feeling of claustrophobia and agoraphobia mix together in a nauseating cocktail. When there was only one path, there was no wrong way. But now, one of these paths might be only a mile from the surface, while the other might lead us on a spiral into the depths of this maze. If we pick wrong, we could be walking for ages without even knowing how close we might have been had we picked the other path.
Based on the uneasy faces on my crew mates, I suspect they might be having similar thoughts.
"What if we split up?" America offers after no one says anything for a while.
"Absolutely not." Elias smacks him lightly on the back of the helmet. "No splitting up."
"Fine, okay," America says. "You're right. No splitting up. But then how do we pick?"
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Down UnderScience Fiction
Shawn, a convicted criminal, never thought she'd see the sun again, let alone call another star system her home. When she's offered an out from her prison sentence, she embarks on a dangerous interstellar expedition along with 18 of Earth's most int...