Timeline: Mission Day 56 at 0200
Teague came back to consciousness slowly, as though pulling himself out of a deep black sea that tried to draw him back, over and over, into its depths. The wrongness of that is what made him fight to get his eyes open, to assess the danger he felt but didn't understand, and could see nothing. Literally nothing. He shifted, feeling a sharp edge of something under his shoulder blade, and his hand closed on a bit of jagged rock.
Rock? He'd been sleeping on a wooden floor and there should be moonlight at least coming in through the windows. Maybe a bit of breeze. But there wasn't. The air here was stagnant, still, and smelled more of damp earth than anything else. He reached out with one hand and felt the edge of something ... no, someone. "Wake up," he whispered. "Something's happened."
A voice awakened Cassian from his slumber, but it wasn't Teague's.
"OW! SOMETHIN' POKIN' ME IN THE GORRAM ASS!"
Boney. It was only when Cassian closed his eyes to sigh and opened them again that he realized he was in pitch darkness.
"Boney, quiet!" Cassian whispered as loud as he dare. "Ain't right hereabouts."
"Yeah, you can say that again!" Boney exclaimed, albeit quieter than before. "Nothin' right about a man's nethers gettin' poked while he's sleepin'!"
"So help me, Boney, I will slap you stupid if you don't hush your mouth." Cassian was often not so harsh, but he didn't feel himself.
"I'd like to see you try it, choir boy," came Boney's retort from the dark.
Cassian sighed again. "Lookit, I don't wanna fight, but if you aren't gonna' be helpful, then at least be quiet."
The Mandarin blue streak Boney muttered under his breath was decidedly unhelpful, but he quickly let his protest fall flat.
You two want to argue like schoolboys, do it back on the ship," Teague snarled as he brought himself to a sitting position. "Don't know about the rest of you, but I'm sitting on what feels like bits of rock with hard-packed dirt beneath. Anyone remember anything after falling asleep?"
The body against whom Teague's hand had brushed belonged to Juniper and for just a moment she sighed, before the rest of her senses came awake and the wrongness of everything flooded in. Teague's voice, then Boney's and Cassian's seemed as though they were inside her head, a splitting headache making her ears ring. She groaned, curling her body inward, legs drawn up to her stomach, eyes still clamped shut, and was rewarded with a snoot full of dirt and dankness.
"Where in the cold black tit of the 'Verse are we?" she murmured, letting anger rule over the fear that coiled in her. One hand came up to Juniper's head, threading into her hair which, unsurprisingly, was a mess of curl and knots. She massaged lightly as she sat up, finally trying to open her eyes only to find that they either weren't working or there weren't enough light to see by. "Teague?" she asked quietly, her voice coming out a bit like a whimper.
"Here," Teague answered and, as it often did in times of stress, his accent became more pronounced. "No bloody idea where we are." He stood up cautiously, one hand above his head, and felt a wealth of bruises that spoke of rough-handling. He moved forward sideways, feet sliding along the ground, testing for bodies and rocks and solid ground as he went. He'd gone only a few feet, when his hand bumped up against a wall. "Dirt-packed with perpendicular beams embedded ... bloody hell, are we in a shaft?"
Sula groaned. She had not felt like this since the war and even then, she had not felt like that often. "Was I drinking last night?" she asked to anybody in particular. She shook her head slowly. "No.... I was not drinking. This feels...feels....wrong.... My head's fuzzy.... And why is it dark?" she wondered aloud. She looked around. "Am I blind? I can't see! It is dark!"
Teague's confirming response settled Juniper in a way that spoke to their long acquaintance. Wincing at the pain in her head, the redhead moved slowly onto all fours, then pushed herself to her knees before climbing to her feet. It was disorienting doing so in the dark with no certainty of whether she was about to run into something... or into someone. "We all here?" She asked, tone firming up like a bulwark against the fear and anger she felt. She thought she recognized everyone's voices, but she'd feel better having the verbal confirmation in absence of the visible.
"The horses?" Sula asked in response. "Are they here? Where are they?"
"Hope not," Teague said. Unnoticed in the inky blackness of wherever the hell they were, Teague grinned. "I don't think we'd all fit." He'd been inching his way down the wall, trying to assess the distance. "This wall isn't very long ... I'd guess maybe ten feet or so?" He found the corner and continued along the next length, looking for an opening, a way out of the trap.
"I must be in the middle then...." She started to wiggle about, trying to get a sense of any boundaries.
"See if you can find Boney and Cassian," Teague said as he continued his slow progression along the length of the wall. He thought about his own condition and paused a moment, fingertips against the corner of another rough bean, but said nothing.
"I'm over here," Cassian called out in the darkness. "I don't know where Boney is."
A loud thud elicited a pained outcry from Cassian.
"Guess that's you, brother," said Boney with a sadistic chuckle. "Like he says, we're over here." Wherever that was in relation to the others.
Third wall now and finally, an opening. "There's an opening here," he said. He placed his fingertips on the arch and crab-walked to the side stretching out his arms as he went. "It's wider than my arms outstretched." Now that he had an opening, he moved through it, sliding to the right side because he had to start somewhere. He found the connecting wall and moved forward maybe two or three feet and found another opening. "Another opening." This one was a storeroom of some kind with shelves and pegs hammered into the rock. Slow painful movements, feeling his way among dirt and what he thought for certain were cobwebs, he found a lantern. Hoisting it up, he shook it slightly, and was rewarded by the welcome sound of liquid sloshing inside. He carried a small metal case in his pocket and, after opening it, pulled out a wooden match.
A few moments later, the lantern was lit. He pulled another one off the shelf and did the same thing, then carried them both back to where everyone was still ... just sitting there. "Well," he said, "Get up ..."
"Easy for you to say," Boney groused, "not getting poked in the ass and all." He stumbled to his feet with a visible limp.
"Hey, what's that?" Cassian pointed to a twisted heap on the ground where Boney had been laying. "Is it a leather strap or something?"
Boney looked down and jumped. "No! It's a gorram snake!" He grabbed his posterior with both hands. "I been snakebit!"
Taking a closer look, Cassian said, "Easy, now. Just a run o' the mill bull snake. Dead, too, from the looks of it." He let out a snicker. "Not sure if it died from smothering or from the chunk it took out of your hide."
"Damn right!" Boney said, taking it as a compliment either way.
Sula shook her head and refused to comment regarding the boys making fun of each other. She maneuvered to the hole and lifted up her arms, "Help me up, now, please."
"I think," Teague said as he extended his arm to Sula to pull her upright, "that we're at the bottom of a mineshaft." They were on level ground, with a scattering of small rocks, in a squared off area; in the flickering light from the lantern, it was clear that they were a long, long way down. He gestured upward and added, "I'm guessing that the elevator that brought us down here is up there which means, the only way forward," and here he gestured to the large opening, "is that way."
Sula wondered aloud, while taking Teague's arm and pulling herself up, "Well, I'm a might bit confused. If we're at the bottom of a mineshaft, who brought us here? How did they get us here without waking us, and how did we not wake up to begin with? We're not dead, so that was not someone's aim. So, what was it? None of it makes sense."
"I rather agree with you there," Teague said softly. "Doesn't make sense." He yawned as he moved toward the doorway, intent on doing some exploration. "Why am I so bloody tired? It's almost as though ..." He stopped abruptly and spun around. "... as though I've been drugged. If we're all feeling the same way, that might explain a bit of it."
The moment the idea of anyone being drugged was raised Juniper's face turned cloudy and her eyes narrowed at her companions, ready to have the blame pinned on her. She'd prepared the food after all. Up to that point she had been standing quietly to the side, taking in what could be seen by lantern light and listening, trying to get a grip on the fuzziness of her head. Drugs did fit. She was never this fuzzy in the morning and even on little sleep she could be sharp enough. This was more like someone had place a layer of fleece over all of her faculties.
She looked quickly between each person and then, figuring she'd get ahead of it, said, "Weren't me. I'm down here with you and the food I served came straight off our wagon and straight from the Xiao Jin before that."
"Well of course you didn't do it," Teague said, his brow lowering into a frown at the idiocy of the notion, "but there are other ways to knock is out. Gas would do it just as easily, especially if we were sleeping when it happened."
Maybe it was the way in which Teague so quickly dismissed the notion, but as he proposed alternative options Juniper felt her whole body unwind like a spring that was being gradually given space to expand. She made her way over to Teague, not particularly eager to be left with the Grimshaw brothers and not sure what to make of Sula in a crisis. "We shouldn't split up," she said, "particularly if we've been drugged." As if to punctuate that point a yawn overtook her. "At least we should always have one other with us. What's your orders Cap'n?" she asked, watching him and waiting for a plan.
"Gas?" Sula asked mulling the thought over. "OK. That could be but it would have to have an area effect and a long enough exposure. I mean, none of us choked or gagged or woke up while it was going on, did anyone? Gas, as I understand it, would not be like breathing in regular air, so we could not have just soundly slept through it all, could we?" the Shepherd/medic asked. "The thoughts are making my head spin. I don't rightly know if I'm making sense. And again, why leave us here?"
"Now that," Teague said, "is something I'd purely like an answer to before we leave this rock. Let's look around a bit. Priorities, for the moment, is a light source because this isn't near full and a way out of here."
A thought occurred to Cassian. "Just 'cause we don't remember nothin' after going to sleep don't mean we didn't do nothin'. There's drugs out there that make a feller' forget as surely as make him pass out." A chill went up his spine.
"You're freakin' me out, Cass!" Boney objected. "Gorrammit! Prolly some lunatic hill folk out here that set us down here before they cook us and eat us!"
"Besides the snake, you mean." Cassian couldn't help but poke fun at his idiot brother. "I'm just saying... one or all of us mighta' done something we don't remember. Let's keep that in mind as we make our way out."
"I think you're all being paranoid," Sula told them. "Let's focus on getting some light and getting out."
"Wise words, and as I said before, get off your 'arses and start looking for a bloody way out," Teague grumbled. He left the base of the elevator shaft and went back into the storage area. None of the lanterns had much in the way of oil but there were some old-fashioned torches buried in a nest of cobwebs. He set the lantern on a shelf, made sure nothing was moving in the barrel, and then started hauling the torches out. Once he had enough, he took them back to where the crew was. "Should be enough for everyone. Almost no oil left in those bloody lanterns."
As Boney took a torch and lit it from the lantern, he mused aloud, "You know, reckon if they was mining anything good down here, mebbe there be something left behind." A greedy glint shone in his eye. "Mebbe we oughtta' take a gander before we rush out of here."
"Do as Teague says," Cassian said as he took his turn lighting a torch. "Exit first."
"Says you," Boney grumbled.
"Says me too," Sula told Boney softly. "We have to figure things out first."