She walked over to the nearest pool, which also happened to be the largest one, and stared into the water. In the glare of Dox’s light, wisps of steam could be seen rising above the surface. True knelt near the edge, careful not to get too close in case it should give way. Reaching down, she brushed the tips of her fingers over the water.
“Oh, wow. That’s warm.” She was faintly surprised. She’d halfway expected these baths to be cold, the same temperature as the water running through the apartment. “I bet it feels heavenly. Is the pool very deep?”
“To me, yes.” He chuckled. “You, too.”
“I can’t wait to be able to swim in it.” She turned to him. “Kelen’s supposed to leave me a spare uniform so I can wash this one. Do you use any kind of soap or cleansing agent?”
“No soap. Just water.”
“That’s okay. It’s better than nothing.” She dipped her hand in up to the wrist, and sighed. “I bet it’s relaxing as hell.” She noticed a deeper darkness further in the rear of the cave. “What’s back there?”
“More tunnels. Not explored much. Not yet mapped.”
The admission didn’t surprise her. They’d barely explored one percent, maybe two at the most, of this world. Thank goodness they had the monitors and mosaic map in the pink room as a guide on what to expect.
“Calling all crew. Attention, all crew.” Cooter’s distinctive accent came over the communications devices clipped to their clothes. The call reverberated within the hollow interior. “Return posthaste to main meeting area. Return immediately to main meeting area. Over and out.”
Wordlessly, she and Dox hurried out of the cavern and down the tunnel, emerging into the enormous lake area. For the first time, True noticed a hint of grayness coming from the upper portion of the cavern roof, and she came to an abrupt stop.
“Dox, is that daylight? Is that the view outside of the planet?”
“Yes. Dawn coming. We must go.”
She hurried to catch up with him, when she caught sight of something rising behind him like an enormous black shadow.
He automatically dropped to the ground as the creature continued to rise, until its head nearly brushed the cavern roof. Taking his cue, she prostrated herself in the mud. Water sluiced off the monstrosity, splashing her and Dox, as well as the towers and transport rock.
She’d instinctively pulled her blaster, but she knew it wouldn’t do any good if she fired. Considering the sheer size of the thing, it would be like trying to throw a rock at a mountain.
Terror froze her in place. Dox lay perfectly still, but she could tell he was closely watching the creature. Waiting to see what it would do next. Hoping, like her, that it would slip back underwater without any confrontation.
“Calling all crew. Get to the main meeting area as soon as poss—”
She reached up to shut off the communication device, but it was too late. The sound reverberated through the cavern, alerting the lake monster. It howled, opening its maw to reveal a pure white throat that could easily swallow her and Dox with one gulp. She barely heard Dox yell, “Lake monster!” when he jumped to his feet. He grabbed her by the arm when he reached her, nearly pulling it out of the socket as he jerked her to her feet.
Together they ran toward the baths. They could hear the monstrosity closing in behind them, despite their mad dash. She chanced a backward glance to see where the thing was, and nearly stumbled.
“Dox! It’s gaining on us!”
He stopped at the door leading into the tunnel and turned to look for himself. His face went white with fear, his green eyes widening. With a hard shove, he forced her inside and slammed the door shut just as a tentacle or appendage banged against the portal behind them.
They were both breathing heavily as they listened to the monster caterwauling in frustration. Only then did True catch the frantic yelling coming from Dox’s communicator.
“Dox! Dox! Damn it, man! Answer us! We’re on our way!”
He hit the responder. “Lake monster out of water! Danger! Lake monster out of water!”