Vicky stared down the black hole that served as the entrance to the cave she needed to enter. “One. Why is there a cave down here? Two. Is that water gurgling down there? Three. Are there squids?”
YES. YES. NO.
“That first answer doesn’t make sense.”
IT IS WHERE DARK CAVERNS GO. THEY DO NOT BELONG ON THE FIFTH FLOOR.
“Fine. What about the squids?”
THERE ARE NO SQUIDS.
“How about right now?”
“Will there be squids?”
THERE ARE NO DOCUMENTED CASES OF SQUIDS HERE. CHANCES OF SQUIDS IS LESS THAN ONE PERCENT.
Vicky was still skeptical on the no squids part, “Any other surprises or unknown or anything else I should know about before I enter?”
THERE ARE FOUR TRAPS. THEY HAVE BEEN DISABLED AGAINST MUCH PROTEST.
“Good.” She stared at the entrance of the cave some more. She picked up a storm lantern and coaxed the wick to life. Light splashed into the cave illuminating a few paces in front of her. She gave the bandoleer across her shoulder a tug ensuring it was snug. She had her Winters Special, four single shot derringers, the Repeater, extra bolts, shells, and one rolled up welcome mat from Avera. Vicky was still confused as to why she had been so happy to give her one. It was just a mat. Feeling reasonably prepared, she stepped through the entrance. “If I’m not back out in a half hour, send the TBM after me.”
IT IS TUNNELING THIS WAY PRESENTLY.
Her lantern light played against the cramped, rough stone cut walls and stairs as she descended deeper into the bowls of the Market. The path continued downward for several minutes as the air grew steadily warmer. A small stream joined her in a groove cut next to the steps. Eventually, it emptied out into a small cavern. It was high enough for her to stand in and only slightly larger than the pool of water at its center that the stream drained into. There wasn’t anywhere else to go but into the water. Now she understood why she had been told to put on a bathing suit before heading out. Looking at the pool, she was glad she had gone with a wetsuit instead. Now she wanted more underwater gear. The harpoon repeater would have to do.
Putting the lantern down, she placed the Winters Special, derringers and extra ammo off to the side in a dry spot as best she could. Next, she removed her work boots, uniform jacket and outer layers of clothing and placed them folded on top of the weapons, leaving her just in the wetsuit. She was glad no one else had been here. She would have to shot them. Repeatedly. And then heal them. Then shoot them again.
With one of her boot laces, she fashioned a make-shift light source necklace out of several of the brighter glowing castor crystals. They would be waterproof, and she could smash them in a pinch. She tied back her hair with the other boot lace and slung the repeater and extra bolts over her shoulder.
Vicky stepped up to the edge of the moon pool, ready to continue. Rapidly inhaling several times, she stepped out over the edge and plunged into the watery abyss. The water was not ice cold as she had expected, but pleasantly warm, almost bath water temperature. It felt good. Too good, she decided. Which meant something was off but didn’t know what yet.
The diver floated just under the surface to survey her surroundings. No immediate threats here. A tunnel headed off to her right. It was large enough for her to comfortably walk through if it was not full of water. It was the only way to go, and she swam into it. The water swirled around her, but there was barely any current to push or pull her. Around a gentle bend, an air pocket appeared, and she surfaced into it. The mixed light of the glowing castors danced along the ceiling and the surface of the water allowing her to see that the air pocket ran the length of the tunnel. She wasn’t going to have to swim blindly underwater the whole way. This was too easy she decided and grew worried and treaded water while accessing the situation.
It had been with the utmost importance that she come here and that she come here immediately to address the problem. It was a problem that only she could solve, or so she had been told. With water, that usually meant squids. Avera had squealed in excitement when she found out her current mission, handed her the welcome mat and scampered off, laughing wildly. She had never done that before and wasn’t sure to make of it. Nothing had attacked her yet, but that just meant whatever ahead was just waiting to gang up all at once. Vicky wanted more weapons.
She swam along the air pocket for several minutes before the end of the tunnel came into view, at which point she would need to dive back under water. She waited to see if anything would appear and attack first. She’d rather have to fight above the water than under it. Nothing happened. Treading water forever while waiting for the squids to attack first wasn’t an option. They must be waiting by a trap, and she was going to have to attack, Vicky decided. She shivered in the heated water and prepped the rifle.
Diving under, the tunnel narrowed before opening back up and ending in another pool. The only option was to surface again. Rising slowly, Vicky pushed the Mark VII topside first, allowing her to fire blindly above her if needed. She surfaced into the dimly lit cavern and blinked the water out of her eyes, confused. The only entrance and exit to the cavern was the moon pool. There were no squids, traps, or anything else that could be considered a thread to the Market.
Instead, the entire chamber was covered in fine smooth wood slat panels. Wooden benches and chairs lined up against the walls. The air was steamy from hot rocks hissing behind her. A table held refreshments. Vicky glared at everything until she realized nothing was going to attack her. “The highest level priority job that only I can do? Is this some kind of joke?”
She hauled herself out of the water into the warm air and headed over to the table where a folded piece of stamped metal paper waited. Her name was imprinted in the metal facing the moon pool. Unfolding the metal revealed stamped block lettering with one word, ‘ENJOY.’
Vicky set the rifle down, leaning it against the table. Now she understood why she had been told to bring her bathing suit, “Yeah, I think I can do this.” She picked up a champagne glass, poured a drink and reached for a snack before settling into one of the chaise lounges. She was going to complete this mission to the best of her abilities and enjoy it.