His swirling column of darkness began to unspool.
“Wait!” I yelled. “What about Georgina? Where did Agamethus find her? Is she my child?”
The laughter of Trophonius echoed weakly through the cavern. “Ah, yes. Consider that mystery my last gift to you, Father. I hope it drives you insane!”
Then he was gone.
For a moment, I sat on the ledge, stunned and devastated. I didn’t feel physically hurt, but I realized it was possible to suffer a thousand bites in this snake pit, even if none of the vipers came near you. There were other kinds of poison.
The cave rumbled, sending ripples across the lake. I didn’t know what that meant, but we could not stay here. I lifted Meg in my arms and waded into the water.
Mind your p’s and q’s
When you are arming bombs or—
I MAY HAVE MENTIONED: I am not the god of the sea.
I have many fascinating abilities. In my divine state, I am good at nearly everything I attempt. But as Lester Papadopoulos, I was not the master of one-armed swimming underwater while encumbered, nor could I go without oxygen any longer than a normal mortal.
I clawed my way through the passage, hugging Meg close, my lungs burning in outrage.
First you fill us with dark prophetic bees! my lungs screamed at me. Now you force us to stay underwater! You are a horrible person!
I could only hope Meg would survive the experience. Since she was still unconscious, I couldn’t very well warn her to hold her breath. The best I could do was make our journey as brief as possible.
At least the current was in my favor. The water pushed me in the direction I wanted to go, but after six or seven seconds I was pretty sure we were going to die.
My ears throbbed. I groped blindly for handholds on the slick rock walls. I was probably destroying my fingertips, but the cold rendered my nervous system useless. The only pain I felt was inside my chest and head.
My mind began to play tricks on me as it sought more oxygen.
You can breathe underwater! it said. Go ahead. It’ll be fine!
I was about to inhale the river when I noticed a faint green glow above me. Air? Radiation? Limeade? Any of those sounded better than drowning in the dark. I kicked upward.
I expected to be surrounded by enemies when I surfaced, so I tried to emerge with as little gasping and flailing as possible. I made sure Meg’s head was above water, then gave her a quick abdominal thrust to expel any fluid from her lungs. (That’s what friends are for.)
Doing all this quietly was no easy task, but as soon as I took in our surroundings, I was glad to be such a ninja of soft gasping and flailing.
This cave was not much larger than the one we had left. Electric lamps hung from the ceiling, casting green streaks of light across the water. Along the opposite side of the cave, a boat dock was lined with boxy aluminum barges—for touring the mortally accessible areas of the subterranean river, I assumed. On the dock, three blemmyae crouched over a large object that looked like two scuba tanks duct-taped together, the cracks stuffed with wads of putty and lots of wires.
Had Leo Valdez made such a contraption, it could have been anything from a robotic butler to a jet pack. Given the blemmyae’s lack of creativity, I came to the depressing conclusion that they were arming a bomb.
The only reasons they had not noticed and killed us already were 1) they were busy arguing, and 2) they were not looking in our direction. Blemmyae’s peripheral vision consists entirely of their own armpits, so they tend to focus straight ahead.
One blemmyae was dressed in dark green slacks and an open green dress shirt—a park ranger’s outfit, perhaps? The second wore the blue uniform of an Indiana State Trooper. The third…Oh, dear. She wore a very familiar-looking flowery dress.
“No, sirree!” the trooper yelled as politely as possible. “That is not where the red wire goes, thank you very much.”
“You’re welcome,” said the ranger. “But I studied the diagram. It does go there, you see, because the blue wire has to go here. And if you’ll excuse me for saying so, you’re an idiot.”
“You’re excused,” the trooper said amiably, “but only because you’re an idiot.”
“Now, boys,” said the woman. Her voice was definitely that of Nanette, the woman who had welcomed us on our first day in Indianapolis. It seemed impossible that she should have regenerated from Tartarus so soon after being killed by Josephine’s crossbow turret, but I put this down to my usual wretched luck. “Let’s not argue. We can just call the customer-support line and—”
Meg took this opportunity to gasp, much louder than I had. We had no place to hide except underwater, and I wasn’t in any shape to submerge again.
Nanette spotted us. Her chest-face twisted in a smile, her heavy orange lipstick glistening like mud in the green light.
“Well, lookee here! Visitors!”
The ranger unsheathed a hunting knife. The trooper drew his gun. Even with his species’ bad depth perception, he wasn’t likely to miss us at such close range.
Helpless in the water, holding a gasping, half-conscious Meg, I did the only thing I could think of. I yelled, “Don’t kill us!”
Nanette chuckled. “Now, honey, why shouldn’t we kill you?”
I glanced at the scuba-tank bomb. No doubt Leo Valdez would know exactly what to do in a situation like this, but the only advice I could think of was something Calypso had told me at the zoo: Half of magic is acting like it will work. The other half is picking a superstitious mark.
“You should not kill me,” I announced, “because I know where the red wire goes!”
The blemmyae muttered among themselves. They may have been immune to charm and music, but they shared mortals’ reluctance for either reading instructions or calling customer support. Their hesitation gave me a moment to slap Meg (gently on the cheek, simply to help her wake up).
She spluttered and twitched, which was an improvement over being passed out cold. I scanned the cave for possible escape routes. To our right, the river wound through a low-ceilinged tunnel. I was not anxious to swim through these caves any longer. To our left, at the edge of the boat dock, a ramp with railings led upward. That would be the exit to the surface, I decided.
Unfortunately, standing in our way were three superstrong humanoids with an explosive device.
The blemmyae concluded their conference.
Nanette faced me again. “Very well! Please tell us where the red wire goes. Then we will kill you as painlessly as possible, and we can all go home happy.”
“A generous offer,” I said. “But I really need to show you. It’s too hard to explain from way over here. Permission to come ashore?”
The trooper lowered his gun. A bushy mustache covered the width of his lowest rib. “Well, he asked permission. That was polite.”
“Hmm.” Nanette stroked her chin, simultaneously scratching her belly. “Permission granted.”
Joining three enemies on the dock was only marginally better than freezing in the river, but I was glad to get Meg out of the water.
“Thank you,” I told the blemmyae after they hauled us up.
“You’re welcome,” all three said in unison.
“Just let me put my friend down….” I stumbled toward the ramp, wondering if I could make a break for it.