by Stewart Wilson
"Artemis, you're out of your mind!" Stamforth shouted, disturbing some of the other patrons of the dark Edinburgh pub.
The great Aretmis Hemingway glanced to his assistant with what he thought was disdain. The effect was not helped by his taking several seconds to focus.
"Nonsense! It all stands to reason. Haven't you been listening to me, man?"
"I've been listening, I just don't see any actual sanity in your idea. Edinburgh isn't Atlantis. How do you suggest that we find the alcoholic reserves of a possibly-mythical society in the capital of Scotland?"
Finishing his pint, Artemis signalled to Andrew for another. The barman brought three pints of ale for the great man, and a can of Irn Bru for Stamforth.
"Don't question me, man." Hemingway clasped his hands atop his mighty stomach. "Have you no sense of adventure?"
Stamforth cracked open the can with a sigh. "Who am I to question the great Artemis Hemingway?"
"Exactly. Now, we must drink. Our search begins tonight."
"Do you recall," asked Hemingway as he drained one of his pints, "the young archaeologist I made the acquaintance of a few weeks ago."
"Yes, but I don't see what that has to do with anything."
"It turns out that she talks in her sleep. And one of the things she is very intense about is her theory of interstital pathways. If we walk the right route through the city streets by the light of a full moon, we can find ourselves in a pocket of lost space."
Stamforth stared. He'd seen too much in his adventures with Artemis to dismiss this out of hand, but he was still skeptical. "You think that this will work?"
"No, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. " Artemis finished his second pint. "Drink up and we can be off."
Though the main streets were crammed with people out on a busy Friday night, our intrepid heroes soon found themselves wandering deserted backstreets lit only by the glow of the streetlights and the eerily bright moon. After taking a number of strange turnings, including one that James Stamforth was sure didn't exist as soon as they turned out onto another street, Hemingway signalled for the pair to halt.
"This is as far as we can go above ground. We've unlocked one of the portals beneath the city streets, we just need to get there before it closes."
"Well, the caves would be closest."
"Yes, I supose we do have time for a swift pint before heading into the unknown."
"Artemis," Stamforth protested, "we've done nothing but walk randomly around the city for the last three hours. I certainly don't feel anything different."
"And if this doesn't work, you won't feel different in a place that serves alcohol. How is this a bad plan?" Artemis strode forwards before his companion could reply.
Stamforth checked his large backpack. He'd made sure to collect it before they had left the pub, just in case something did happen. He felt better knowing that his omni-rifle was to hand, not to mention a few bottles of potent alcohol to fuel Hemingway's superior abilities.
The caves under the Royal Mile felt strange to both of our heroes as they entered. There was something odd, something undefinably eerie in the air. Only once they had gone through several chambers did Stamforth see what had been troubling him.
"That door... that's not normally there."
"Interstital space. A gateway to Atlantis itself." Even Artemis' whispers had a booming quality to them. The great man strode through the door without another moment's hesitation.
The door banged shut against a rock wall that extended a good hundred yards high. Something about the cavernous darkness above the pair suggested a chamber, but if it was then the ceiling was too high to see. A wan light seemed to eminate from the very air itself, allowing the pair to take in their surroundings.
There wasn't any real way to gauge the size of the chamber. If there were other walls, neither Hemingway nor Stamforth could see them, and thick vegetation seemed to block their passage. Far in the distance, towers of white marble stretched upwards, slender fingers reaching for heavens now denied to them.
"You keep saying that," Stamforth noted, "but I've yet to see any proof that this is that lost city rather than any other. What makes you so sure?"
"You'll see, Jim. I'm afraid I can't tell you any more at the moment."
"Wonderful. At least I remembered our equipment. There's a machete each in here, and a bottle of Laphroaig to keep you going."
"Good man. We should split up, try to find the most effective route. I daresay these plants aren't natural, and they may try to lead us a merry dance indeed." Artemis hefted his machete in one muscular arm and started hacking at the vegetation between him and the ivory towers. "Signal rounds, if we need each other. I hear strange things out there."
"There's something strange about the directions..." James started, but by that point the great man had already vanished from sight. With a sigh, he pressed on into the underground jungle.
Artemis Hemingway sliced through the jungle like a bullet through the pallid flesh of a science-zombie. Stamforth was right, there was something odd about the sense of direction, like space here was curved away from the towers. But though that may confuse a normal man, Hemingway was already drunk enough for that not to matter. The towers seemed to coalesce through his double-vision, and with his off-hand gripping the butt of a Hell-pistol, he moved swiftly towards his target. With a clear path, he knew he could go back and leave a trail of signal flares for Stamforth to follow. It'd probably take the poor chap days to reach the towers on his own, but Hemingway had already worked out the nature of the cavern — its defences were designed to baffle the minds of normal people. Against the amazing brain of Artemis Hemingway they had no effect, but that would only hold true while he was alone.
It was a pity that he couldn't tell Jim how he knew that this was Atlantis, but he'd made that promise to the archaeologist — Sarah, her name was — and he intended to keep it. If he was lucky, he would still be able to save her.
With this thought preoccupying him, he didn't notice the lizard-creature until it had bit down into his off-arm. The wounds dripped with a torrent of blood, but Hemingway remained silent. The beasts would only be drawn to sound, and he didn't want to risk fending off more than one. A feint, then a slash with the machete proved that he meant business. The creature was frighteningly intelligent, but a well-timed slice hacked fully halfway through its neck. The lizard-thing made a surprisingly human sound as it fell, dying, to the floor.
* * *
Stamforth hacked at the strange plants with his blade, carving a path before him. His omni-rifle hung loosely from his pack — though he hadn't seen anything, Artemis' earlier warning of unearthly noises preyed on his mind. Every few paces brought him to strange tracks, and for once in his life Stamforth wished he had a vice, like the great man's consumption of the wondrous booze, or his uncle's incessant pipe-smoking. Though only Hemingway demonstrated greatness where other men were befuddled, it would have been a comfort nontheless.
Hemingway was probably miles away, and Stamforth worried that if anything went wrong then nobody would come to his rescue. For the fifth time, he paused to check the clips on his omni-rifle. The carbine-size weapon had four magazines, each with a specialised kind of ammunition developed by Stamforth's uncle before the unfortunate incident with the infinitely long walkway suspended over the void. Stamforth had tried making more, but his own inventions were nothing compared to the originals.
A roar, swiftly followed by a piercing scream, broke through his daydreams. It had come from just ahead, and sounded very much like a damsel in distress. Why should Hemingway be the one to get all the girls? Stamforth mused, hacking with renewed vigour at the clinging plants.
Breaking through into a clearing, he saw a girl lying prone on the floor, her foot held tight in the vise-like grip of a giant horned lizard. Without a thought, Stamforth raised his omni-rifle and sent three high-explosive bullets at the creature. The detonations caused its hide to rupture with their force, and its body slumped against the floor.
"Are you all right?" With his gun lowered and the immediate danger dealt with, Stamforth had time to look over the girl. Certainly not unattractive, he mused, but why is she wearing all of that metal in place of real clothes? Indeed, instead of clothing she seemed to be wearing scraps of armour that nontheless left little to the imagination. Strange lights flickered on and off, indicators that it was some arcane technology rather than mere decoration.
"I'm fine." Her reply was unnecessarily brusque, especially for someone dressed for a steel swimsuit competition, and any kindness to her words was drained by her thick Glaswegian accent. "My partner would have got me free without making such a fucking racket! I've a right mind to chin you, you bastard. You'll only bring more of them."
"That's a fine attitude to take towards someone who just saved your life."
"Ah, bollocks you did. Stop thinking with your cock and look around!"
Stamforth cast his eyes to the heavens. Three saurian heads leaned towards them from just inside the clearing, needle-pointed teeth dripping as they contemplated their next meal.
"I think I may have spoken too soon! I only hope Artemis is around."
"Who's that? Yer dad or someone?"
But Stamforth was too busy raising his omni-rifle. A signal flare screamed skywards, leaving a trail of smoke for the magnificent Artemis Hemingway to follow.
* * *
Hemingway was barely twenty yards from the nearest tower when he saw the glow of the flare.
"You're on your own for the moment, Jim," he sighed. Deep down he was sure that Stamforth could hold his own for a little longer, and all he had to do was complete the path to ensure that he could find his way through again. He could see the white of the tower through the tangle of vines. His blade, still coated with the blood of the lizard-creature, sliced with renewed vigour.
As he stepped forwards, onto the carpet of grass that extended mere feet from the base of the tower, he was greeted by a flash of light. The ground just in front of him scorched and gave off a terrible smell. Before he could wonder, he saw a beautiful young woman with her arm outstretched towards him, waves of red hair flowing behind her in the slight breeze.
"Yer too late, you thieving bastard. Move, and I'll disintegrate you!"
"What on Earth are you talking about, my dear?" Hemingway drained the dregs of the single malt as he regarded her. Tall and well proportioned, her armoured garb demonstrated her bountiful physical assets.
"Don't you take that tone with me, you old meth git. I know what you're here for and I can't let you take it."
"God's Bollocks, woman! That flare back there means a friend of mine is in danger. Do you really think I care about whatever you think I'm here to do when his life is at stake?"
"Just another distraction from just another thief." The woman shook her head. "Besides, your friend is likely dead. Either it's a guardian-drone or Lydia's killed him already."
* * *
Stamforth looked to the girl. "Of course, that doesn't preclude the idea that Artemis is busy, or distracted." Or collapsed in a pool of his own vomit.... It took a lot to get such a reaction from Hemingway, but the air couldn't be doing his senses any better than it was James'.
"So you're after me to save you? Typical bloke." Light stabbed from her right wrist, cooking the flesh of one creature's torso. Stamforth reflexively changed magazine as he dived from under the jaws of another, blasting a round at the third before it could lash out at the girl. The round billowed, coating the beast's head in quick-setting aerogel foam. With it's teeth dulled, the dinosaur's head bounced harmlessly off a golden hexagonal field seemingly beamed from the girl's left wrist. More silent blasts of light took care of the two beasts that remained alive.
"Come on. Beth's going to have to work out what to do with you."
"I thought you were going to beat me up here and now?"
"Only informally. She gets final say, since you did give her wife a hand and all."
"The fuck are you? Some kind of primitive? Come on. White suprainertial force will counter the black homing senses of the guardian dinosaurs in the securichess system, unless they get too close."
* * *
Hemingway and Beth looked up as two figures emerged from the undergrowth. Artemis merely smirked as Stamforth came into view, looking rather haggard but walking with a very attractive young lady attired in much the same way as his would-be captor. Three guesses what the lad had been up to...
"Lydia, thank Feynmann you're safe!" Beth ran over and held the girl close. Artemis' smirk turned into a grin as he watched.
"Yes, well, I have to admit that one played a part." Lydia backed off just enough to point at Stamforth. "One of the dinosaur sentinels would have forced me to bounce back, otherwise."
"Well done, Jim!" Hemingway clapped his companion on the back.
"She did save my life against the three that tried eating us right after, Artemis. What happened?"
"Her delightful companion over there threatened to shoot me if I so much as risked myself to aid you. Hand me a bottle, Jim. I've been through too much to start sobering up now."
Dutifully, Stamforth passed over a litre of Smirnoff. "What now?"
Beth's attention had returned to the pair. "Now, we let you live. Even if I really don't want to, the Code is implanted in our neurological structures, preventing either of us turning that heartfelt desire into action. But we can't allow you to taint the Atlantean hyperfluid."
"Hyperfluid? God's Bollocks! Will you talk some sense, my dear?"
Lydia shot Hemingway a venemous look. "We'll tell you everything inside, once we're sure you haven't already contaminated the storage chamber."
So saying, she prodded our heroes through the one door of the tower. Inside, the white marble hid pipes and gantries, thin walkways suspended over maintenance ducts offering access to long-unused cables and feed-lines. Static electricity hung in the air, causing Hemingway's mighty beard to stand on end. After several corridors and numerous intersections filled with strange machinery that neither Stamforth nor Hemingway could understand, they finally paused in a high chamber.
The first thing both of them noticed was the body on the floor. Artemis could tell it was Sarah at a glance, despite the advanced age of her corpse. Her eyes were merely hollow sockets and her flesh had the look of brittle parchment.
"You are going to tell us what is going on, or I swear I will not be responsible for the extreme amounts of violence you will both suffer." The great man's voice did not boom. It was a dull monotone, perfectly serious, and with a sureness of meaning behind every word.
"She drank the hyperfluid-" Lydia started, but Beth waved her to silence.
"You're tresspassing here. Nobody is supposed to know that this place exists. Aeons ago, two great island nations prospered. One, Atlantis, lay between Europe and the Americas. The other, Lemuria, sat on the other side, between the American landmass and Asia." As she spoke, images conjoured in the air above her.
"The nations were at war for centuries, strange technologies employed to strike across the surface of the planet. But neither island-state had thought about the powers of the humans in what are now the Amazon rainforests. Our war wreaked havoc on their lands, and they resolved to do something about it. Great slaughter-batteries stored the output of mechanical sacrifice-engines, turning death into raw power. They took both our islands and placed them side by side, transposing them atop a small, insignificant landmass just off Europe. The great capital cities were placed far below ground, with only spatial warps able to access them. So did the ancient people save their lands, and indeed, their planet.
"Over time, the remnants of civilisation prospered and the modern era began. Nobody knew that Britain was really three islands - what you know as the Humber is the southern point of Atlantis, which reaches up all the way to the north-east of Scotland. Likewise, Lemuria is the north-west of Britain and Scotland. The two capital cities were rebuilt as Edinburgh and Glasgow, and in their streets the spatial warps encoded themselves, waiting for people to rediscover them."
"This is all a load of shit, Artemis. Why are we believing them?" Stamforth frowned. He'd heard tall tales from before the time of men before, but this was one of the tallest.
"Quiet, Jim. I want to hear what they have to say. It's always worth paying attention."
"Far in your future," Beth continued, "We unlocked the secret of the past. Glasgow is a new Lemuria, a place of wonders. But we couldn't do the same for Edinburgh. Something had tainted the hyperfluid that encoded the knowledge of the ancients. We traced an incursion back to this time, and we were sent back to trace it. Apparently, you two dickheads weren't it. She was."
Lydia frowned. "But how could she contaminate it?"
"If I may, ladies?" Hemingway stepped forwards without giving them any chance to respond. "This hyperfluid of which you speak. It has an alcohol base. Far too potent for any normal human — look at poor Sarah there."
"But our records and thoughtmachines survived!" Beth was incredulous.
Stamforth grinned suddenly. "I think I know what the great Artemis Hemingway is getting at. Your knowledge was encoded in words and thoughts and machines. This is encoded in booze. Artemis has dedicated his life to studying that particular field. I suggest you let him sample it."
"Your primitive systems aren't ready for it!"
"Do you ever stop being so negative, girl?" Hemingway snapped, reaching for Sarah's discarded glass and the small tap embedded in one of the giant glass tanks. "I am Artemis Hemingway, and there is nothing, nothing I cannot drink!"
So saying he poured a measure of the Lost Booze of Atlantis, and knocked it back. After a couple of seconds, he chuckled.
"Your words and machines survived because they were encoded in a timeless form. But the Atlanteans proved one thing."
"What's that?" Lydia frowned.
"Knowledge is like a fine wine. Over time, it turns to vinegar. Come on, Jim. We'll get nothing more here and if we hurry we can get back just in time for last orders."
The mighty Artemis Hemingway strode from the room, a chuckle still on his lips.