overly thrilled with the rickety green and white bus that
was ferrying him and his companions through the dense
woods. The driver was going at least sixty miles per hour,
and Mac’s teeth jarred with every single bump in
the rough gravel road. To distract himself from the constant
shaking, he glanced out the window at the endless waves
of green leaves and wet logs. The forest seemed endless,
almost claustrophobic compared to the dry and open spaces
of Southern California. The trees seemed to spin as they
rushed past, and he quickly glanced back at the other
people on the bus.
“Am I the
only one who feels like he’s gonna be sick on this
ride?” he said.
From the seat
across from him, MacGyver’s friend Willis nodded
in agreement. “Definitely going to get sick. Probably
as soon as we stop.”
a miracle that this bus still has a suspension at all
after all of this.”
think the path is bumpy now, just wait until you’re
inside the cave,” remarked the middle-aged geologist
sitting behind Willis. She tucked a lock of graying red
hair behind her ear as she looked up from her book with
a smile. “This trail is going to seem smooth in
but we’re not going to be going seventy miles an
hour in there,” Willis replied.
just so excited,” said the local university student
who’d been acting as the group’s research
assistant for the past week. “It’s going to
be so great to get out of the bunkhouses and into Mammoth
Cave! There’s no telling what we’ll find down
“With any luck, our new navigational systems will
help map out all your discoveries a lot faster.”
The last member
of the group, a lean-muscled speleologist named Daniels,
shook his head. “Maybe, but all that new technology
can’t replace a good old-fashioned pencil and paper.”
got no arguments from me,” MacGyver said, cutting
off Willis before the Phoenix researcher could jump in
to defend his new favorite project. “But you have
to admit, sometimes the new stuff can help out. At the
very least, it can’t hurt to have a machine there
to double-check your measurements.”
but said nothing else.
and shook his head at Willis discreetly. The researcher
frowned and slumped back against the bus seat, but followed
Mac’s lead and kept his mouth shut.
The group dynamic
had been like this for days: everyone preparing for their
mapping expedition down into Mammoth Cave in Kentucky
and everyone excited about testing out the Phoenix Foundation’s
experimental navigation device---except for Ryan Daniels,
the Cave Research Foundation worker who refused to even
look at the Phoenix equipment, let alone consider using
it. MacGyver had dealt with that type of stubborn person
before, but Willis was an idealist and he was proud of
his creation, so naturally, he took everything personally.
MacGyver bit back another sigh as he watched Willis, almost
able to see the gears in his friend’s head turning.
Surely Daniels would come around after he saw how helpful
the computerized mapping device would be…eventually.
everyone, get ready to hop out. The entrance is just ahead,”
the park ranger driving the bus called out. She parked
the bus with a hiss of air brakes and opened the front
door. The team of volunteer explorers followed her out
onto the gravel and up to the cave entrance. “Remember
the protocols for caving in the New Discovery area. Respect
the landmarks, record as much data as you can, and above
all, remember that it’s safety first. The National
Park Service has rescue teams standing by, but if anything
goes wrong, it’ll be hard for anyone to reach you
once you’re down into the deeper levels. I know
that all of you have already gone over this during the
trainings earlier in the week, but I just want to be doubly
sure that you remember to be cautious. Don’t forget
that people have died in this cave before---lots of people.
We don’t have any clue what’s down there in
the unexplored parts, which is why we appreciate your
contributions to mapping these sections of the cave---but
it’s also why you’ve got to be careful. Does
anyone have any questions before you head inside?”
Silence and headshakes
greeted Ranger Ellis’ warnings, so she shrugged
and unlocked the padlock on the steel door set into concrete.
“In case you missed this during the seminar, this
is one of our manmade entrances. The park service blasted
it just before World War II, but the war put the tours
here to a stop. After that, we decided to keep this area
off-limits except to researchers. Consider yourselves
lucky---not many people get to see this.”
Willis said as he stepped through the door that she was
“Oh, before I forget,” Ellis added, “Your
scheduled return times have all been logged. If any of
you are two hours late getting back, we’ll start
sending out the search parties. Happy hunting.”
up his blue winter coat as he followed Daniels and Willis
down the steep metal staircase. He could feel the cool
cave air cutting through the Kentucky heat as the group
descended deeper into the damp darkness. At the bottom
of the stairs, the path was lit for a short distance by
old electric lights, but beyond their range everything
was black and unknown.
time to split up and start searching,” said Daniels.
“Professor McClure and I will take this passage
to the right. We’ll map it with our current equipment.
The Phoenix Foundation team will map the other passage
with your new navigation system.”
about me?” asked the student assistant. “Which
team am I going with?”
“Up to you.”
After a glance
at the geology professor, she shrugged. “I’ll
go with the Phoenix team. I want to see how the new tech
“Sounds good. We’ll meet back here in three
hours to report to Ranger Ellis.”
MacGyver, I guess it’s showtime,” Willis said
cheerfully. “Are you ready to switch on the INS?”
Mac nodded and
reached over to unzip Willis’ backpack. Nestled
inside a cocoon of a soft blanket and some caving gear
was a black metal box, about six inches square with what
looked like a circuit board across the top. MacGyver gently
plucked the device from the pack, handed it to Willis,
and zipped the pack up. Willis smiled down at his creation
like a proud parent as he flipped a toggle switch and
watched the red light on the side flicker on.
said the research assistant. “What exactly does
an inertial navigation system,” Willis replied.
“It contains three ring laser gyros, three temperature-compensating
accelerometers, a GPS receiver as a backup, and of course
a temperature sensor and a voltage reference.”
it’s a machine designed to be able to calculate
your exact position regardless of any external factors.
It can tell what direction you’re going, your speed…that
kind of thing,” MacGyver said.
The young woman
nodded slowly. “So…it’s a GPS?”
face took on the aspect of a man forcing himself not to
pout. “No. The satellite receiver in this unit is
just for a backup, to help in calculations if there’s
an uplink. But if this thing functions the way it’s
supposed to, it’ll take accurate measurements even
without the satellite connection.”
a GPS without a satellite,” she tried again.
and nodded. “Well… Yeah, let’s go with
that.” He stuck his hand out towards her with a
shrug. “My name’s Willis. This is MacGyver.
I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name earlier.”
Clarkson. Hi,” she replied as she shook his hand.
forward to getting to know you better, Elisa,” Willis
said, just a bit too enthusiastically.
off a smile. Had he ever looked that overeager and awkward
when talking with a pretty girl? “C’mon, let’s
check this out.”
the three of them ventured forward into the unknown.
Walking for what
seemed like ages, they paced through the passageway, past
gypsum flowers, soda straws, and crystal formations that
took MacGyver’s breath away. They paused at intervals
to check on the navigation machine and take measurements,
and during one of these brief rests, MacGyver found himself
staring up at the ceiling of the cavern. Or rather, the
lack thereof: as he looked up, the beam of light from
his headlamp simply dissolved into darkness.
how deep we are at this point?” he muttered.
about six miles underground right now,” Willis answered.
“So, to answer your question, very.”
“Impressive.” He shifted his gaze to the cavern
wall, the rows of stalactites and stalagmites stretching
out to touch each other. “Amazing what a little
water can do over time.”
creepy,” Clarkson said. “But also really cool
at the same time. I’m definitely going to be in
the top of my geography class for this one.”
majoring in geography?” Willis asked casually, glancing
at her sideways from behind the navigation machine that
he was holding like a shield.
She shook her
head. “No, my major is in education. But volunteering
for this cave thing was the opportunity of a lifetime---not
to mention all the extra credit. I really hated Professor
McClure’s class until this came up.”
a smile behind the flashlight that he was shining around
the passageway. Willis sounded disappointed in his new
friend’s lack of enthusiasm, but Mac was sure that
Willis would soon find something else to like about the
girl. Why not help things along and change the subject?
“What else are you interested in, Elisa?”
he asked with suppressed amusement as he peered between
a cluster of closely-growing stalagmites.
she replied, and Mac nearly hit his head on a rock as
he twisted to look at her.
team?” he asked, intense seriousness replacing his
humor from moments earlier.
Her thin shoulders
lifted in a shrug. “Sometimes. They’re usually
pretty good.” Her coffee-colored eyes glinted. “I
really love it when a fight breaks out on the ice. Hockey
is just the most violent sport, and I love it. It’s
great for getting rid of some of that pent-up rage.”
Willis shared a quiet glance at each other. Slowly, Willis
edged away from the pixie-like (and apparently violent)
college student, shoving his glasses further up the bridge
of his nose. Clearing his throat, MacGyver turned back
to the stalagmite formation. How about another change
be wrong, but I think there might be another passageway
Then we should explore it!” Willis said. “This
could be an amazing scientific discovery!”
know,” Mac replied. “This gap is pretty narrow,
and we don’t know how far back this passage goes.
It’s probably a dead end.”
past MacGyver, peering into the hole. Her headlamp only
illuminated the edges of the opening, the light failing
to shine against any back walls or blockages. The narrow
entryway was just like the rest of the unexplored passages:
a mystery. “I can fit through there,” she
said. “I can see if there’s anything back
there, and maybe I can find another way in so you can
mouth twitched into a frown. “It could be dangerous.”
be extra careful,” Clarkson replied as she adjusted
sure you want to go in there?” MacGyver said, an
edge of caution cutting into his voice. “I’m
not sure that this is a good idea. We have no way of knowing
what’s back there, and Willis and I won’t
be able to reach you if something goes wrong.”
I’ll keep my eyes open and I won’t go very
far. Just let me try. If I don’t check it out, we
won’t be able to explore it at all,” she argued.
Mac nodded. “All right. Just be very, very careful,
In a flash, Clarkson
shimmied through the gap in the rock, her graceful legs
touching the floor with a splashing sound just before
her compact shoulders vanished into the darkness, dropping
out of view in the newly-found cavern. As Willis and MacGyver
peered through the aperture, the mens’ headlamps
allowed them to see her shining a flashlight around the
a lot of water back here,” she said, “just
puddled on the ground in places. I can hear it running
behind these walls. And it’s colder here, but I
can’t see anything.”
see another way in?” Willis asked.
She shook her
head, causing the orb of light from her headlamp to bob
around like a deranged spotlight. “Not yet, but
I’m working on it. The space to my left is a wall
of flowstone, but it looks like the passage in other direction
runs parallel to the one you’re in, so they probably
connect back together somewhere down the line.”
to himself. “All right, Elisa. You keep going down
that passage and we’ll keep going down ours. See
if we can find that connection point. But if the tunnel
branches off or hit a dead end or something, just come
back here and wait for us. We’ll all meet back here
in fifteen minutes regardless. Sound good?”
Clarkson replied. “See you then.” Her petite
hand waved goodbye to Willis before she headed down the
tunnel, a wave of light slowly swallowed by darkness.
his headlight down the main passage and adjusted his backpack
before beginning to walk, turning halfway to be sure that
Willis was with him.
really think it was a good idea for us to split up?”
Willis said after a moment or two of no sound except footsteps
and distant running water.
all, but Elisa seems like she can handle herself. As long
as we all keep level heads and watch our steps, we’ll
be fine.” MacGyver struggled to keep a straight
face. “Contrary to popular belief, you know, sometimes
it’s okay to split up. Real life isn’t a horror
she falls, or there’s a cave-in or something?”
Willis said, worried.
if there isn’t? Then by not letting her help, we’d
be taking away her opportunity to do something that she
might love.” MacGyver scrutinized his friend for
a second. “I have to wonder if you’d be so
worried about her if she weren’t so pretty. If it
were me going through that tunnel, you wouldn’t
give it a second thought.”
his eyes behind his thick glasses. “You’re
MacGyver. You can do everything. I don’t know anything
that you like her. Be honest with me.”
and fidgeted with one of the straps on his backpack. “I
barely know her.”
“You should ask her for her telephone number before
we leave here. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”
sure she doesn’t like me yet. I couldn’t do
that. Could I?”
a little courage, Willis! How do you know she doesn’t
like you if you don’t try to make friends?”
check on the navigation system,” Willis blurted.
to turn a chuckle into a cough as he reached for the zipper
on Willis’ backpack and checked the machine. “Yeah,
okay, whatever you say. You’re the expert.”
Mac looked over the portable computer, examining the sensors
and comparing the readings to the measurements he’d
recorded in his waterproof notebook.
looks good here, Willis. I’ll zip you back up. So
far, the measurements are accurate within a couple decimal
points.” After a moment, he added, “Well,
either that or my math’s wrong.”
“Remember, you’ve got to add first, then you
“Oh, so that’s where I was going wrong.”
bantering lasted for a few more minutes as they wandered
through the cave…
But then their
laughter was cut short by the sound of a scream.