Chapter 15 - The Clock Conundrum

It turned out to be a hallway. A long, endless and just-so-dull hallway. Those things that you find in wizard castles and dingy dungeons and boarding school corridors. Yes, those hallways. It was so dark even Crimson’s headlight couldn’t see anything distinctively.

“Crimson,” Jake said. “Can you turn the lights brighter? I’m starting to get the impression that I’m going blind,” he laughed. He touched the walls, checking for hidden doors or sliding panels.

Crimson theorized, “I think it’s not that bright because…. there’s no reflecting material. The wall is made of granite- maybe. Or any other type of volcanic rock.” She smelt the stone walls. “These things have been here for, like, forever. I don’t think they would last long after this entire time-”

“Found it,” Jake announced.

“Found what?”


He pressed a panel and it slid, revealing a wooden door. There was a sound of chugging and clicking. Within moments, the door opened automatically; releasing a horde of gas that smelt of Troll dunk. As the air cleared, Crimson saw a bridge- but not just any bridge. A rickety copper bridge, surrounded by swinging clock gears that could shred a person into tiny pieces.

The air was hot, like the acidic steam of the many volcanoes on Planet Rootato. It smelt as if many had rotten in the place, slowly sinking into the lava below like meatballs into soup- melting slowly in treacherous pain until the only thing left was the memory of that person. Tragic.

Crimson shivered. If you thought she shivered of cold and snow, you must’ve banged your head on a table or something. No, Crimson Roth was not shivering from the sheer madness she had been placed in but fear. Strange, powerful fear. The strange, powerful fear overtaking her head like a beast devouring its prey.

Crimson looked down at the ruby-red liquid that spelled ‘Super-Hot Stuff’ on its surface; if she fell, she wouldn’t like it. At least she didn’t have to suffer bearing the end of the universe. Her legs were noodles and her body weighed down from the sheer terrifying thought of… of falling. She didn’t want to die. Not yet. And surely, not here.

“Can you transform?” Crimson asked Jake timidly. “Maybe a large animal with wings so we can get to the other side.” Yes, the other side. Even through the obscuring clouds of smoke, she could see a metal door. Crimson was surprised it had not melted yet.

Jake tried. He clenched his fists and shut his eyes tight. But nothing happened. He tried again- ditto. The results were still the same. He sighed, “I don’t think we could use any sort of magic in here. I think some sort of scientifically ancient radiation in the room instantly defaulted our weapons too.” He stared sadly at his blaster which did not emit the iconic blue glow like the times he used it earlier.

Crimson said with firm, “Then we have to walk. We have to get across- we must. And if any of us dies- if any one of us dies-” her voice melted into a much more grave voice, a voice Crimson solemnly used, “it’s Armageddon for everyone in the universe.”

And so they did, slowly and very gingerly. It was easy, seeing that there were no obstacles to pass or pay attention to. And then there came the second phase; the swinging gears, their square points as deadly as knives. Occasionally, they had to duck. At some other unfortunate times, Crimson would face near-death right at her face.

“Goodness- that was traumatizing,” Crimson said softly, still scarred from the experience. She would have slipped and fell into the molten liquid below had it not been Jake, who was behind her, to grasp her tilting waist in time.

The thin line of the copper bridge stretched for a long distance. Crimson thought she would already die from the Sahara-like heat before she could reach the door. And after additional calculations, she probably couldn’t and wouldn’t touch the door because she didn’t have a clue on how long the metal had been absorbing the heat (centuries, perhaps! she thought) or what hid behind it.

After a few minutes of the jump-scaring torture of the suddenly-appearing gears, the two teenagers finally reached the third and last stage of the obstacle. Not to their knowledge, though, is that the last stage is the most dangerous stage of the. Entire. Thing. Period.

The lights went out- a classic move in a death-defying conundrum, but Crimson could still hear the faint swinging of the gears behind them. They were nearly there. The door was right in front of them; on a large metallic platform that opened up like a blooming rose. They just had to walk there! A few steps won’t hurt-

But it would not be that easy, Crimson thought. This must be a trap. Isn’t that displayed in all cinematic photography? Crimson faced Jake, who instantly nodded, suggesting Crimson that he, too, was thinking the same idea. But another tugging thought arose; the only way is forwards. There was no turning back. (One might add an additional ‘YOLO’ sign above those warning words in a large font of neon pink. NOW READ: It is optional.)

To make things worse, in a matter of seconds, there was a soft crumbling behind them- not a soft crumbling, a loud one. An ear deafening and frightening crumbling sound… like a roaring lion in the eve after capturing its raw prey. The gears and cogs stopped swinging and attempting murder, their creepy sounds disappearing with the monstrous groan of the metal bridge slowly being enveloped by the lava below.

“Run!” Jake screamed in horror, his eyes widening at the grotesque realization. “The bridge is going down!” If he had not warned themselves to hurry up and stay away from the disintegrating bridge a few seconds earlier, the two would have fell to their ends in the deep and unknown chasm of fire.

They ran for their life. Literally. Crimson, who often had the privilege of looking back at what’s happening behind her, did not dare to look back. Her mental idea is that if she focused to whatever the commotion was behind her, she would slow down (being unable to focus on her agility and speed going forwards) and thus if she did slow down, her life would probably be nothing but ash and memory burnt in the waking sparks of flame.

Once they stepped on the silver platform, barely surviving the instant chaos, Crimson sensed a tingling sensation on her back; goosebumps. That pecking feeling on your gut that says, “There is something wrong!” to you without your realization. And there was something wrong. Really, really wrong.

As the metal closed around them like roses in the winter, its silver walls transforming into some sort of dome-like shape, Crimson looked up and saw a swirling black figure, like some sort of Nanotechnological Parasite. A Nanotechnological Parasite, also abbreviated as a NP (often confused with the phrase ‘no problem’ in instant messaging around the galaxy) or a Nanosite. It enveloped around Crimson and Jake like a whirling swarm of barbaric bumblebees.

“What are we supposed to do!” Crimson asked Jake with utter worry, but she heard no answer. The teenager knew that he had other problems to attend to, and so this was (again) a situation where she was on her own. She had a pretty low intellect and a not-so-sharp mind in talking but she knew she has gone through scenarios like these successfully, hasn’t she?

She was Crimson Roth.

And she was going to keep the Doomsday Clock ticking.

Then her mind dived into all that she knew about Nanosites ever since she first read about them in her father’s Technology Encyclopedia. The Nanosites were corruptors of nano-machinery that cause robotic lapses after years of use and damage. They can come from a source of unstable electric energy- and what else? They were often found in cold and air-conditioned places, but how could it have survived here as a mass of dangerous electricity that can kill two birds with one stone?

Then it struck Crimson- the theory.

“If it could’ve survived here for so long, then something must have kept it cool,” Crimson brainstormed, firing shots of warning with her revolver. Then she looked up. The Nanosite mainly gathered there, on its ceiling-like nest, probably like how introverts gathered around the fireplace on a winter’s day. “Bingo,” she exclaimed softly. All she had to do was destroy the nest.

Easier said than done.

Her first goal was to climb up to the source so she can disable the Nanosite from it, making it shrivel in the heat. But how would she ascend to the top if the walls around her were as smooth as glass? She had a dagger, one dagger. A singular dagger… and that’s all. Her revolver would not be much help but to shoot bullets that reflected off the Nanosite’s pixel skin. But Crimson had no choice but to climb with a knife as her only grappling hook.

Her muscles ached as she made her way, her fingers grasping the hilt like gripping on the tip of a cliff. Her palm sweated like clouds on a rainy day, her heart racing like the beating gallop of a horse. She sighed as she stuck her sharp boots in the metal to create inward slopes that barely helped her at all, but it still gave its contribution being an unstable support in times of brief exhaustion.

She was nearly there; the top. It was a round circle with blue electric flashes zapping around it. But how would she have the time to distract the creature? If she had to throw the mini Non-particulate Radiation Explosive she brought along, she would. But how much damage would it cost? Jake was down there, so throwing the NRE to the below would be a terrible decision.

Or maybe she can cut corners slightly.

Instead of risking herself by working on an elaborate distraction plan and (to add more complication) snipping and hacking the wires in the electrifying circle of buttons and levers to manage, she could just place the Mini NRE on the circle and let it do its job: explode. All she had to do was let herself down again and make sure the Nanosite keeps most of itself on the ceiling.

The Mini NRE that she held was a semi-sphere figure made of black and a red light that blinked repeatedly from the inside. Mini NREs, if you don’t know what they are, are simply smaller and less destructive gamma rays. They act like some sort of hole puncher or wall breaker and anything else similar to that given use. Mini NREs really come in handy to make a quick getaway in a troubling situation. For example: this one.

“Okay, see you never, amigos,” Crimson whispered with triumph as she swiftly attached the Mini NRE to the metallic circle. As it came intact with the cold iron, a beeping countdown began. Crimson instantly dropped herself down to the ground, grabbing Jake’s shoulder by her side and forcing them down on the ground. A few moments later-


The ground shook. The circle disintegrated into nothingness. Buzzes of electric bolts bounced in haywire around the interior of the curled ball of silver. There was a moment, a wispy one, where it was all quiet and then…. the tremble of the silence-defeating noise gurgled in Crimson’s ear. Light shone through the fading pixels of the Nanosite. The just-now clean argent was scorched to a jet-black obscurity. And then… and then… all that was left was the whispering of the eerie wind.

Crimson and Jake crouched in a corner of the room, hugging themselves in a bundle. Crimson felt as if she had been burnt for a second before being placed in a fridge for a few hours and then being toasted in a microwave. As she loosened herself, she looked at her torn (and slightly ablaze) vest in surprise with its dark navy blue now a sleek tint of black. Her skin was severed with several wounds and blisters from a second-degree burn. Its pain singed through her skin, a scorching stab of pain resonating within her body.

Crimson groaned as the now-awake Jake helped her to her feet. Crimson muttered under her breath, although able to be heard by Jake, with a sarcastic voice, “If we make it out of here alive, the first thing I’m going to do is to go through all those obstacles again just to get to Time and complain about how uselessly hot it is in here.” Jake chuckled; he was not surprised how, even though the following events have been quite life-threatening and unfortunate, Crimson still kept her signature wit in humor.

That was the last door.

And the second-to-last obstacle.

And a dawning realization echoed within Crimson again-

One of them was about to die.

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