IXEOS by Jennings Wright
The McClellands are enjoying a lazy summer vacation at the beach when they are lured from our world into Ixeos, an alternate Earth. Finding themselves lost in a maze of tunnels under Paris and surrounded by strangers, they discover that they have been brought to Ixeos for one purpose: to take the planet back from humanoid aliens who have claimed it. With the aid of the tunnels and a mysterious man named Landon, the teens travel the world seeking the key that will allow them to free Darian, the long-imprisoned rebel leader.
The aliens aren’t the only problem on Ixeos — the McClellands have to deal with brutal gangs, desperate junkies, and a world without power, where all the technology is owned by the aliens, and where most of the population has been killed or enslaved.
The worst part? There’s no way home.
Born and raised in Rockledge, Florida, Jennings spent her early years reading anything she could get her hands on, when she wasn’t spending time in and on the water. She won a prize in the 6th grade for her science fiction stories.
Jennings attended the University of the South and the University of Tampa, graduating with a B.A. in Political Science, and almost enough credits for B.A.s in both English and History. She spent time over the years doing various kinds of script doctoring, business writing, editing, and teaching writing, but mostly having and raising her family, homeschooling her children, owning and running a business with her husband, and starting a non-profit to Uganda.
Thanks to a crazy idea called NaNoWriMo Jennings got back into creative writing in 2011 and hasn’t stopped since. She’s written four novels and a screenplay in less than a year, with more ideas on the drawing board. She currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, also a writer, and two children, and travels extensively.
Crawling down the pipe quickly became painful on Neahle’s knees, and her eyes didn’t seem to adjust as quickly as she’d expected. She could hear the boys following behind her, Marty first, then Clay, both muttering under their breath. She smiled. Marty didn’t do a lot of outdoors stuff back home, that was obvious, and she took a perverse pleasure in dragging him along with them. To be honest, she enjoyed his company, too — he was sharp witted and funny, in an annoying sort of way. Her brother would be grinning by the time they exited the tunnel on the other side.
“I thought you said we’d be able to see,” Marty complained, his voice echoing on the metal sides of the pipe. “I can’t see squat.”
“It’s not like we’re going to get lost,” Neahle said.
“At least you’ll run into the nest of snakes first,” Marty said. “Just send them ahead, not behind, please.”
Neahle laughed and kept crawling forward. She didn’t know how far they’d come, but the dune wasn’t terribly wide and she thought they should be able to see the round eye of light from the Slough-side by now. At least they hadn’t run into any creatures — as much as she’d teased Marty about the snakes, she was more worried about spiders.
“Shouldn’t we be seeing the end by now?” Clay called from the rear.
“I was thinking that, too,” Marty said.
“I dunno,” Neahle said over her shoulder. “But it’s been going straight, so we’ll come out eventually.”
“Great…” she heard Marty grumble.
After another few minutes, she thought she could detect a circle of dim light ahead. “I think I see the end!” she called back. “There must be a screen over it or something; that’s why we couldn’t see it before.”
“I hope we can get out,” Clay said. “I guess we can always turn around and go back.”
“Probably some kind of filter,” Marty said. He was just happy that they weren’t lost. Although he wasn’t sure how they could get lost in a straight length of pipe.
Frowning, Neahle kept crawling forward, wincing as her bruised knees tried to find the smooth places between the corrugated ridges. The light didn’t seem right, even for a screen. And having a filter didn’t make sense, unless there was one on both ends; the pipe would just clog up with debris. Conscious of the guys behind her, she kept moving.
When she was ten feet from the end, she stopped. The light coming from the end was extremely dim. Marty didn’t realize she’d stopped until he ran into her.
“What’s wrong?” Marty asked.
“This isn’t right…” Neahle said softly. “That’s not the outside. I can see a wall.”
“Did you say a wall?” Clay said from behind, confused.
“Yeah… Hang on.”
Crawling slowly, Neahle tried to make sense of what she was seeing. She stopped two feet from the mouth of the pipe and stared, confused. In front of her was a rough, light-colored stone wall, but no screen. There was a dancing orange light, which made her think of a fireplace. The air coming from outside the pipe seemed stale and damp, but in a musty way, not from sea air.
Sitting on her rear, she turned back and ran into Marty. “I told you to wait!” she hissed.
“Yeah, right, like that was gonna happen,” he said.
She could see both of the boys in the dim light. They were leaning over, trying to look around her, confusion on their faces.
“Did we turn into the dune somehow?” Clay asked, scowling.
“And run into a fire? I don’t think so. We didn’t turn, anyway. The pipe went straight.” Marty said.
“What do we do?” Neahle asked. “Go back?”
Marty craned his neck around her. “I don’t see why. We can always go back; the pipe’s not going anywhere.”
As he was speaking, they heard a soft sound and small scufflings. Leaning forward, Neahle laughed. “It’s the ducks! They came down here after all!”
“Why in the world would they come so far?” Marty wondered.
“Maybe there’s some killer duck food here. It could be some kind of feeding station for the Rachel Carson Preserve. Maybe they’ve trained them to come here, so they’ll come in a hurricane,” Clay said.
“That makes sense,” Neahle said. “The light could be some kind of solar or wind powered lamp. We might as well check it out.”
She scooted forward on her bottom, dangled her feet over the edge and dropped down three feet to the ground. Looking down, she was surprised to see that the floor was rock, not sand. Marty and Clay followed close behind her, looking around.
“This doesn’t look like the inside of a sand dune…” Clay said, toeing the rock. “This is solid.”
Marty scowled. “I don’t know what the inside of a sand dune looks like, but I don’t think it’s this.” He reached out and knocked on the rough wall. “That’s not sandstone. That’s rock.”
“And that’s not solar,” Neahle said, pointing to a flickering torch stuck into an iron sconce on the wall.
Simultaneously they all turned around, looking back to the pipe. It wasn’t there.
* * *
“Um…” Marty began. “That seems like a problem.”
Clay was knocking on the wall, trying to locate a hollow place that would indicate the pipe entrance. “It was right here! We didn’t move!”
“Guys!” Neahle whispered urgently. Marty kept mumbling to himself, and Clay kept rapping the solid wall. “Guys!” she said, louder. Both boys looked at her; she pointed to their right. A light was bobbing far down the passage, coming their way.
“I don’t think that’s the ducks,” Marty said.
“Ya think?” Clay replied angrily.
“What do we do?” Neahle asked, her face looking ghostly in the flickering light.
To their left, the passage was inky black beyond the reach of the torch. To the right, the light was moving closer. Clay grabbed the torch out of the sconce and pointed it to their left.
“This way!” he said, jogging forward down the hall. The roof was arched, obviously chiseled out by hand. The ground was smooth down the center from foot traffic while rough and uneven on the edges. Four feet wide, they were able to walk side by side with Neahle in the middle, holding both boys’ hands. Clay held the torch aloft, illuminating a ten-foot circle around them as they pressed on.
“No!” Neahle moaned as they rounded a curve. The way in front of them ended with a blank wall. She glanced behind them, but she couldn’t see beyond the curve.
“What now?” Marty asked in a shaky voice. “And where the heck are we?”
“We didn’t go by any other passageways,” Clay said, turning back the way they’d come and thrusting the torch in front of him. “The only thing to do is go back.”
“But there are people out there!” Neahle said.
“How do we know they’re bad people? If it’s a feeding station, it might be game wardens or something. Maybe they store the medicine for the horses down here.” Clay kept his eyes on the curve but didn’t walk forward.
“This isn’t a feed station, Clay!” Marty said. “The pipe is gone. Disappeared. Kaput. We didn’t wander into some hurricane hole!”
“Okay, what did we wander into, then?” Clay countered.
“I… I don’t know,” Marty stammered. “But it’s not Carrot Island. Even if the pipe hadn’t just disappeared, Carrot Island isn’t on a big bed of rock like this. It’s a barrier island. Barrier islands shift. They erode. That’s why they put the stupid pipe there to begin with! If it was all on a bed of rock they wouldn’t have bothered.”
“You said the pond could be a sink hole. That would only happen with rock, right?” Neahle asked.
“Maybe some kinds of rock,” Marty said, “The sink holes in Florida happen because the rock is really porous. This isn’t porous; there aren’t any holes. This is hard as a… well, as a rock.”
“There must be some kind of covering on the pipe,” Clay insisted. “That’s the only thing that makes sense!”
“The pipe is gone, man.
“Maybe there’s some kind of secret door that hides the pipe…” Clay said.
“It’s not hidden; there’s no door! We would have heard it. Heck, we’d have felt it — we were standing right next to the pipe. It’s gone. Which means we’re not in the dune, we’re not on the island… Can’t you tell from the smell? There’s no salt air, no sand. This is damp solid rock, and it smells old and mildewy.” Marty slapped the wall to prove his point.
“He’s right, Clay,” Neahle said softly. “I don’t think this is the island.”
“That’s not possible! Narnia wasn’t real! People in real life don’t end up somewhere else when they crawl through a pipe in the middle of the day!” Clay’s face was red in the torchlight; beads of sweat had popped out on his forehead. The hand holding the torch was shaking.
“I know,” Marty said, laying his hand on his cousin’s forearm. “But I think it’s true anyway.”