The clicking tink-tink-tink grew louder as we stood there, like a melodic wave roaring toward shore. The eleven of us stared uncertainly at each other, faces pale. The terror in our eyes could be seen starkly in the rough light of the hoverplatform’s running lights.
Something was on its way.
Commander Brink took control of the situation, resuming his authority like a sweater he’d shrugged off. “We need to get out of here now,” he ordered. “Everyone back on the hoverplatform.”
Despite the misgivings we had about the commander, we hurried back towards the platform and safety. I risked a quick glance skyward and saw the entrance to the Pit—a thing so massive from above—as nothing more than a little circle of blue light.
Eerie glints of light appeared around the hoverplatform. Something strange was catching the light and throwing it in different directions.
Glass, I realized as we neared. Or at least, what looked like glass. Transparent spiders poured out of a cave opposite the side of the Pit we’d been exploring. Thousands of them. Most were the size of my hand, but some were much bigger. A few would have come up to my knee—if I’d had any intention of ever getting that close to one.
One giant further back in the crowd was enormous, at least eight feet wide from leg to leg and taller than any of the scientists. He let out a jarring hiss and clacked his mandibles when I shined my lantern light in his glassy eyes.
I skidded to a halt in horror, heart thumping. Everyone stopped. Woole and Hadrex raised their laser rifles. Brink fumbled with a tablet computer. Hondo and Lena stood to my right. Doc Taryn was just to my left, still holding her own tablet. The bright screen displayed little human-shaped figures with diagnostics next to them. The rest of the crew was fanned out behind us.
“Everyone stay back,” Woole ordered, holding a hand out to motion us back. He and Hadrex opened fire. Red flashes of light burst across the Pit floor, flying into the mass of spiders.
The laser bolts bounced harmlessly away.
The two kept shooting for a few more seconds until one of the laser bolts almost ricocheted back into Hadrex’s face. By then the nearest spiders were close, less than ten feet away. They didn’t seem to care about us yet, but what would happen if we tried to get on the hoverplatform?
“This isn’t working,” Woole said, looking to Brink. “What now?”
Brink nodded toward the seething mass.
With a roar, Gareth came to life on the hoverplatform. His electronic battle cry echoed across the Pit. The robot had laser guns set into both of us his palms, and he immediately began firing at the creatures. Light blazed in all directions, a few bolts of light nearly striking us. Darkeson ducked with a shriek when a blast whizzed past his ear.
Seeing his efforts fail, Gareth gave up and reached for a sword strapped to his back. The blade looked like an ancient medieval weapon, but it was capable of emitting an electrical charge.
“It’s no good, companions!” Gareth called out. “These creatures are quite tough! I suggest you flee!” With a chink he dropped his sword, cleaving one of the spiders in two. It was just one among hundreds, though, and more were still emerging from the far cavern.
We stepped backward. I moved my lantern toward the walls, searching for a safe exit. Several spiders followed my light, crawling after the beam as I moved it across the Pit floor. In the background, I heard another chink as Gareth killed a spider.
“They like light!” I called out. “Maybe we can use it to move them away from the platform.”
“Great idea,” Hadrex said. “Gareth! Turn off the lights on the hoverplatform!” he called out.
“Wait! No!” Brink cried. “That would mean—”
Gareth flipped a switch at the pilot’s station, throwing the Pit into darkness.
For a moment we stood motionless in the near-darkness. The only light came from the flashlights we held.
“Well . . . ” Woole said after a moment. “That was dumb.”
“Sorry,” Hadrex replied, breathing hard with fear. “I panicked.”
The spiders moved toward our flashlights, their tiny legs clattering against the stone.
“What now?” Hondo asked.
“Gareth, turn the lights back on!” Brink ordered.
There was a click, but nothing happened. “I’m afraid it’s not working, friends!” the robot called from somewhere in the darkness. “The little devils seem to have damaged the controls!”
“They’re coming toward us!” Lena shouted, turning off her flashlight. I turned mine off, too. The sudden rush of darkness was disorienting. I could still hear the tick-tick of the spiders’ legs. Knowing they were there but not being able to see them was so much worse. I slipped off my backpack and reached inside for my gauntlet. I didn’t know if it was better than a laser gun it would sure beat nothing.
Doc Taryn had become still. I turned to look at her. Hadrex shined a flashlight right through her; the light glowed on my face. She’d been transformed into a glass statue. Squinting through the brightness, I could see spiders crawling along her transparent body. Her tablet computer dropped to the ground, landing with a thud. It was still lit up.
“RUN!” someone screamed.
The crew fled. Everyone scattered as they ran in terror. Someone slammed into me, the force almost knocking the wind out of me. I powered on my lantern. The giant spider loomed a mere eight feet away. I raised my gauntlet. I just had to think the command. The glove released a jagged burst of energy. The transparent body of the spider absorbed the jolt. The captured light inside its bulbous torso turned from yellow to red.
Nothing good was about to happen.
“Prometheus!” Lena called out.
I turned and ran. Behind me, I heard the spider click its mandibles at me, and then the beam of light shot back down, destroying the ground where I’d stood a moment earlier. I tore into the nearest cave. I couldn’t see a thing with the lights out and my eyes dazzled by the flash from the spider.
“This way, this way!” Hondo cried out from somewhere in the darkness ahead.
I reached out and felt the wall of the cave, using it as a guide. I heard people ahead screaming and shouting at each other, and spiders pursuing behind, but I couldn’t tell where anyone was. Protect Lena, I told myself. She was smart and capable, but she was also the youngest member of the crew and my baby sister. I wouldn’t hesitate to take on glass spiders again to protect her.
The maddening tinkling followed me as the spiders pursued us. They were hungry for more light.
What were beings that craved light doing this far underground? Doc Taryn had been turned into a glass statue like the Pitworlders we’d seen. If that what had killed the rest of the Pitworlders, why weren’t there more glass statues around?
These questions crashed through my mind as I clawed my way along the wall of the cave, trying to keep ahead of the endless tink-tink-tink of the spiders’ legs on stone.
After a few minutes of running, I felt wind on my face. The tunnel opened up.
“Hello,” I called out. “Lena?”
The only sound was the musical clatter of death crawling closer.
They’re coming anyway, I told myself. May as well risk the light.
I turned on my flashlight. I stood at a round junction that split no less than seven ways.
Four ahead, two to the left, one to the right. Glancing at the walls and the floor, I couldn’t see any sign of the crew. Just more of those stupid purple vines.
“Well . . . poop,” I said, my voice echoing ahead of me.
“Hello?” I called again, cupping my hands over my mouth this time and yelling as loud as I could.
“Prometheus!” a voice replied. The words came from a distance. I couldn’t decide if it sounded like Lena or not.
“Straight ahead,” I said to myself. Of course, in the dark, you would keep going in roughly the same direction, or follow the wall.
I turned around and jumped as I realized I’d almost let the spiders catch up. They were a mere six feet back and closing the distance fast. Whoops.
I bolted toward the middle tunnel, intent on finding Lena.
“Hey, turn off that light,” someone called. A figure burst from the tunnel just left of the one I wanted.
“Don’t go that way,” Hadrex said, waving a hand behind himself. He held his rifle ready. A sheen of sweat glistening on his forehead in the glow of my flashlight, his breath coming in gasps.
Behind him, I heard more spiders tink-tink-tink as they crawled after him.
“This way,” I said, and began to leave. My lantern could hardly cut through the waiting darkness.
“Turn off that light!” Hadrex said again, more fearful this time.
I heard the sizzle of a laser weapon being fired somewhere to the left.
“That sounded like Donald,” Hadrex said. “We need to go this way. They might need our help.”
I thought again of the voice. I’d decided I was certain it had been my sister. “I’m going this way,” I said indicating the waiting tunnel. “I heard my sister... I have to find her.”
“Suit yourself,” he said, and ran down one of the left-side tunnels, darting between two hordes of glass spiders. He fired his laser as he ran, but as before it had no effect. Red light bounced off the creatures.
I broke into a run, hoping the spiders would leave my tunnel alone. “Lena?” I called out.
Behind me, I heard several spiders continuing to follow me. I sighed. Not my day. After several minutes of running, I saw a bright, blue light ahead.
I doubled my pace and burst into a jungle.
A fat, blue sun shone in the sky. It hung low, seemingly about to rise or set. There was a faint blue tint to the world, though the trees and ferns that waved their leaves over my head were all still green.
Seven moons hung dead center in the sky, all in a perfectly straight line.
Behind me, the spiders hissed and clacked their mandibles. They didn’t seem to like it out here. They liked yellow light, ignored red, and hated blue.
I swiveled, hoping to spy some sign of Lena or my crew.
There was no way all this could be hidden inside a planet. There could be no denying it.
I was on another world.
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A mysterious world is discovered with a massive, miles-wide pit torn through one continent. The planet is strewn with the remains of a fallen civilization. What happened to the locals, and what were they digging for so desperately? A young intern assigned to the first expedition into the Pit will be among the first to find out...
J.L. Ender was born on planet Earth, third planet in the Sol system, which is located in a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Ender enjoys coffee, Mexican food, and devastating robot apocalypses. He has tamed a member of the local wildlife, a thing called a dog. In a fit of confusion he named it Bear and often finds himself walking the creature.