CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE (draft)

Start from the beginning

And then the walls—or the Pilots—or the shuttle itself—begin to sing.

"Here we go, baby. . . ." Laronda grips her chair armrests and glances at me with a nervous toothy smile.

"Oh yeah," I mutter, then look straight ahead and momentarily close my eyes. . . .

And the next instant, I am being pulled back into my resilient chair by the forces of gravity. . . . Candidates' voices, soft muffled exclamations and other sounds come from all around, as we are pressed, squeezed, flattened by g-forces.

A few gruesome moments, and you can even hear someone retching in the back.

And then it all recedes and gravity is back to normal.

"Are we—are we in space now?" someone asks pitifully.

"Yes, we have successfully achieved orbit," Radra replies in an up-beat manner. "Next up, your destination."

"So what is it? When do we finally find out where we're going, already?" a boy asks.

But the question is ignored. Instead, Ekit's deeper voice now comes through the amplifier.

"Attention, Candidates! First, a quick explanation: thousands of years ago during the time of the original Atlantis here on Earth, we—that is, our Atlantean ancestors—built a major transportation network between the continent of Atlantis and the other continents bordering the Atlantic ocean. A complex system of subterranean caves and tunnels was designed to allow secret travel underneath the ocean from Atlantis to other lands.

"The tunnels connect a series of sunken chambers that get flooded and drained by means of locks and floodgates. This is necessary for tunnel integrity, in order to avoid cave-ins—this way, only a few chambers are filled with air at a time. The mass of water in all the rest keeps the tunnels and caverns intact under the immense weight of the earth and the ocean.

"Now, the entry points to these tunnels are located at numerous places all round the shores of the Atlantic. And they all connect in the center, right underneath Ancient Atlantis itself—the modern-day area spanning Bermuda and the Bahamas."

There is a brief pause, letting it sink it. We sit petrified in our seats, as things begin to coalesce in our minds.

"Uh-oh . . ." Laronda whispers next to me. "I don't like the sound of this."

And now Pilot Radra picks up where Ekit left off.

"These are your instructions for the Finals," Radra says. "Today you will be taken to one of these entry points along the shores of the Atlantic. We will dive underneath the ocean and emerge in a subterranean cavern that will be drained of water and filled with air, initiating the ancient transport system of locks and floodgates—"

"Oh, man, this is bad," a boy mutters behind me, while more whispers start in nervous waves all around the shuttle.

"Once inside the first cavern, you will exit the shuttle. Each Candidate will be provided with a hoverboard, a single weapon of your Quadrant, a flashlight, two flares, and a small pack containing food and water for one day. Control of your final points will also be released to you, to be used at your own discretion. From that moment on, you will act both as an individual and as a team. To transfer points, you initiate the transfer—press and hold your token and the other person's, and speak the number of points to be moved. It is one-way only, you cannot take points from others, only receive them if they are given.

"Your task for the Finals is simple. You have approximately 33.3 hours to cross the distance of 1,000 miles underneath the ocean floor, on hoverboards, which is achievable if you are going at the minimum rate of 30 miles an hour—"

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