They awoke to find themselves in endless darkness. There was a no noise except for a faint echo like dripping water, and no breath of wind stirred the hot air. The group remained paralyzed until Sheen broke the silence.
“Who turned out the lights?! Jeez, I feel like my heart and my bladder just traded places! Guys….? Guys, are you there?”
Jimmy’s reply echoed out of the void, followed by Libby’s and Carl’s.
“OK,” said Jimmy, “everyone stay calm. Goddard, activate emergency lights!”
Goddard's back panels opened, and a bulb flickered on. Orange light flooded their surroundings, which turned out to be a small cavern of some sort. Stalactites hung from the ceiling like rock icicles, little beads of water falling from their tips.
“Jimmy,” began Carl, trembling as his eyes moved over the cavern walls, “where are we?”
“It appears to be a cave of some sort, but I can’t be sure. This is an alternate universe after all, so we have no way of knowing what we’ll find.”
“I don’t like it here. Those things on the ceiling are like big ugly teeth waiting to chomp down on us.”
“I'm not to fond of the décor either, Carl, but there’s nothing we can do about it. We came here to save Cindy…”
“Where is my girl anyway?” asked Libby, glancing about. “Shouldn’t she be here too?
“Yes, that’s what worries me. Come on, let's...”
The sound of footsteps came flying toward them from beyond their circle of light, and Carl nearly tripped over himself.
“Ya!” Sheen jumped out in front of the others and began throwing punches at an imaginary foe. “Come out and face us like a man!”
The footsteps bounced off the walls like cruel laughter, and Sheen cowered and dove behind Libby. They all stood breathlessly as the footfalls grew louder, until at last a familiar figure darted out from an alcove in the wall.
Jimmy exhaled in relief. “Cindy! You’re OK!”
He reached for her arm, but she pushed him away in disgust. “Of course I’m OK, no thanks to you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, don’t even get me started,” she answered bitterly. “My list of complaints against you would take YEARS to read. But for starters, it sure would’ve been nice if you'd been a little quicker on the uptake. I must have wandered around this cave for half an hour! What, did you have second thoughts about coming to rescue me?”
Libby pushed back a braid. “Cind, what are ya talkin’ about? We came in right behind you.”
“Libby’s right,” said Jimmy. “No more than thirty seconds passed between the time you left and the time we left.”
“Um, NO you didn’t. I’ve been here for at least twenty minutes.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure! Unlike some people, I'm not a complete idiot.”
Carl tilted his head to one side. “'Some' people? Who are they?”
Cindy rolled her eyes, and Jimmy scratched his chin in thought.
“Hmm, interesting…there must be some sort of time dilation between our universe and this one. It appears that time passes faster here than back at home. Perhaps if the spacetime fabric were stretched tighter in this universe, then the decreased quantum entanglement would result in a temporal displacement paradox…”
“Ya, ya,” broke in Cindy, “not that this isn’t FASCINATING, but there are more pressing issues at hand. For starters, let’s get out of this cave. I can’t stand it in here another second. Besides, you’re not going to believe what I found outside.”
Sheen turned his back to her and counted on his fingers. “Unless it’s Ultralord, food, a bathroom, or a bunch of runway babes, I’m not interested.”
“Just shut up and follow me!”
The others trailed behind Cindy as she navigated her way through the cave. Every few yards she stopped and ran her hands along the cavern walls, as if feeling for landmarks.
“OK, if we go a little further down this passageway and then turn right, we should find the exit…Aha!” Cindy pointed to a patch of sunlight up ahead. “There’s the end. See it?”
Jimmy’s eyebrows shot up. “Wow Cindy, I’m impressed. I had no idea you were so adept at navigation.”
“Believe me,” she said with a snort, “I wandered around for a long time before I found the way out.”
“Well, Cindy, if we ever get back to our own universe, you can look forward to an exciting career as a spelunker.”
She gave half a laugh as they continued walking towards the exit. “No thanks.”
“Um, yeah,” cut in Sheen, “maybe it’s just me, but what the HECK is a spelugger?”
Jimmy gestured at the passageway around them. “Not 'spelugger', Sheen, Spelunker. You know, a person who explores caves.”
“Oh yeah, now I remember! My Uncle Miguel was spelunker. He was a professional bat guano gatherer back before he started robbing convenience stores. He used to eat the stuff on our family camping trips…apparently it’s considered a delicacy in some countries or something. I tried some dog guano once, but I didn’t think it was all it’s cracked up to be.”
Libby's lips curled in revulsion. “Eww!! Are you tellin' me that you ate dog doo?”
“It was a delicacy!”
She shuddered. “New rule, Sheen: from now on, you gotta stay at least ten feet away from me at all times.”
They reached the exit, and Cindy pointed out into the glaring light of the open. Her voice rang out loud and clear into the vast expanse beyond.