Over a decade ago, I wrote an (very lite) AH story for an APA I was in at the time – First Draft – set in a world where the geology of Jule Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth actually applied.

Much in the fashion of a book that had just come out, filled with stories based on Wells's War of the Worlds (War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches) and I wanted to do something similar with Verne's book. I'd hoped for some "Shared World" response, but no one else bit...

The story's set in an alternate WWII, where the war is being fought both above and below the surface of the Earth. I never fleshed things out completely, but I did make a short series of notes on the world this – and hoped for but never arriving future – stories would be set:

WWII on Vernesian Earth

Small patrol from 3rd Subterranean Brigade ("Marshall's Moles")

General Geographical Situation:

Above Ground:

Germany holds Stomboli (Italy), a secret entrance somewhere in the Black Forest, & some East European entrances

Japan has route through Fuji & is making a play for the Himalayas – suspected to hold several entrances

Allies hold Scartaris (Iceland) & Carlsbad (New Mexico) entrances (note: no route yet from Carlsbad to either the European or Pacific fronts)

Below Ground:

Germans hold S.E. shore of "Central Sea" & galleries back therefrom to Stomboli & Eastern Europe. They also have a route that reaches (at least) to the basement of Moscow.

Japan's holdings are unknown (except, perhaps, by Intelligence) as they do not, as yet, impinge on Allied territory. They are, however, suspected of having a route to the Philippines, and to be looking for a route to Hawaii

The Allies hold the N.W. shore of the "Central Sea" and the galleries back from there to Scartaris. There are also the new Carlsbad holdings, which scouts are desperately trying to link up to the known European tunnels

Both Germany and the Allies have fortified camps on their respective shores of the Central Sea, along with smaller posts elsewhere on their routes to the surface. The Allies "Camp Saknussemm" is the larger (due to it's conversion from the pre-war "Von Hardwiggberg" Danish-English mining & exploration camp)

General Historical Notes:

Following the initial Hardwigg/Lawson expedition of the late 1860's, Government interest in the underworld – and its abundant resources – was very high. Denmark, holding the then only known entrance (initially, Stromboli was ruled out as an entrance due to volcanic activity) realized it was in a very dangerous position as the owner of this prize. It quickly realized that it needed help to hold onto Iceland and the entrance (several major powers were already trying to rewrite history sufficiently that they could put in a "prior" claim of discovery on Iceland and thus make a grab for it. Italy, fer example, was making noises that Iceland was Hyperborea, and thus known to (and theoretically reached by) the Romans) and started casting about for potential friendly allies. In 1873, it and Great Britain signed a pact of duel-control over the entrance. The other world powers grumbled, but backed down on their claims – and immediately started exploring for entrances of their own.

Prior to the pact, there had been only three small return expeditions (and those only as far as the end of the "Eastern Tunnel"). After the pact, however, the British-Danish "Icelandic Subterranean Company" began some serious exploration of the tunnels from Scartaris to the shores of the Central Sea (with heavy emphasis on the mineral bearing sections, of course). While there is quite a lot of potential mineralogical wealth discovered, getting it out is another matter. The company (in the 1880's) begins construction of the "Scartaris Lift" – an enormous elevator from the crater rim to the bottom of the volcano – and a two-foot gauge electric railway from there along the full length of the Eastern Tunnel (which has very heavy coal deposits, amongst other things). Another line along the "Western Tunnel" and from there to the Central Sea is considered, but the narrowness and numerous vertical discontinuities of that route cause the project to be shelved.

Meanwhile, other nations have discovered routes into at least portions of the underworld. Italy manages to find a route thought Stromboli that avoids the lava, Germany finds (and immediately classifies) an entrance somewhere in the Black Forest, Japan finds one going down Mt. Fujiyama, etc. This begins what's known as "The Era of Exploration", at the end of which almost 20,000 miles of tunnels are known. However, only in Europe is there any (known) interconnectivity of the entrances.

In the early 30's, the first stationing of military troops begins. In 1937, Germany builds their base on the shores of the Central Sea. Britain protests (it's suppose to be their sea, after all). In 1939, WWII begins and Germany moves to take the other shore. It sends two forces along each shore of the Sea, towards the British-Danish camp. It loses the battle only because the northern force is waylaid by the giant apes 50 miles from the camp and delayed long enough for the southern force to be driven off. Both sides now begin a heavier build up and attempt to create some sort of naval forces. However, as everything still has to be brought in small pieces, on the backs of the solders, by 1942 (time of this story) the Allies only have nine PT-sized boats in their "navy", and Germany's is comparably small.

And that's where I left things. I did write the one story but, as I said, nothing else came of it. So I figured (twelve years later) I might as well post it on my website. It probably needs a good rewrite (it is version 1.0, after all), but that's something I'll try do do in the next twelve years or so...

Anywho, enjoy!

Battle at the Center of the Earth
by David Johnson - ©1998

I was down to less than a day's rations by the time I found the phone line.

The gallery it ran in sloped gently downwards towards what my unreliable compass said was north-northwest. So, if I was anywhere near where I thought I was, and I followed it, it should lead back to the Central Sea cavern and Camp Saky.

'Course, if I was anywhere near where I thought I was, I wouldn't have been lost for the last week.

We'd been on a ten-day patrol out and down from Camp Saky, looking for a supposed German advance into Grissum's caves. They're about twenty southeast and three up of Saky, and they cover more cubic than I really like to think about. When they were first found back in the twenties, it took 'em three years to map just the main galleries, so there wasn't a chance in hell that we'd find anyone down there, even if the Nazis had a couple of battalions worth of men, fifty tanks, and an aircraft carrier.

Under's so big and twisty, you could hide a whole fleet of those carriers I mentioned just a mile from the guys looking for 'em and they'd never find them. But for them to do you any good, you had to have communications with 'em. Radio's useless down here; won't go through rock worth shit, and in big caverns like the Central Sea's, the static charge's so bad, you could shout farther than they'd transmit. And don't even talk about couriers! It takes forever to get around down here. Trip time from Scartaris Lift to Camp Saknussemm's still three weeks, and that's with a two-day ride on the Western Tunnel railroad. Maybe if they ever complete the damn thing...

Anyway. Radio's out. So's runners. That leaves telephones. And telephones need to be wired together.

So we weren't looking for people, we were looking for phone lines. Find them, you can find the guys on both ends.

Phone lines are lots harder to hide Under than almost anything else. Topside, you'd just bury them, but that's real hard to do when all that's around you is solid rock; camp-shovels don't do shit on granite. Both sides have taken to painting them rock-colors and stringing them up as high as they can so that maybe your light won't pick them up. That doesn't work well, though. You see a nice, narrow, straight shadow on the walls or ceiling, you know you've found yourself a line.

You find one, doctrine's to trace it as far as you can, then tear it up. Most of what the grunts do Under is either tear up the enemy's lines, or replace the ones of ours the Nazi's tore up. Our patrol'd been out five times before in the last month-and-a-half, I think we must have ripped out thirty miles of line, and we still didn't see a single German. It's like that down here.

So we were out on our sixth splunk, trying to figure out why the brass thought seven guys could check fifty miles of tunnel a day, when we ran right into a troop of the giant apes.

Imagine a gorilla twelve, fourteen feet tall that's taken Joe Weider's body-building course, has fangs as long as your hand, and fur that looks like the ape had a bad perm, then stuck its finger in a light socket. Now imagine it's really, really angry.

Giant apes ain't nearly that nice looking – especially when there's nine of them.

I've still got no idea what they was doing there. They usually stick pretty close to the shores of the Central Sea, being fish eaters. That, and they don't like the dark much, and apart from the Central Sea cavern and a couple of other lumies, that's all that's down here in Under – dark. Maybe they got lost. Maybe that's why they was so mad. I don't know. What I do know is one minute we're hiking along, the next one of the apes's biting Kelly in two, five of them are chasing the rest of the patrol back the way we came, and the other three are chasing me down the gallery.

The manual says the apes aren't very fast runners. Maybe not: But they run as fast as I do and that's more than fast enough. Especially when you're trying to run and shoot behind you at the same time. I had to put six slugs into the lead ape before he even seemed to notice. Then he stumbled and dropped back – which left me with just two big angry monkeys that wanted to rip me apart.

Then I saw an opening to the left and skidded through it. The new passage sloped steeply downwards, getting narrower as it went. I pounded down it with the apes still following. All I could hope was that it would get too narrow for the apes before it got too narrow for me.

I lucked out, I guess, 'cause I hit what looked to be an old rock-fall that mostly blocked the tunnel, leaving a hole big enough for me, but not my furry friends. I scrapped through just a couple of feet in front of the new lead ape. He hit the hole, angrier than ever before that I'd got away, and either decided to take that anger out on the tunnel, or thought he could punch his way through the fall.

What he did was cave the whole thing in on him and his friend – which was good – and block the passageway back with about thirty tons of fallen rock – which wasn't. I was now officially lost.

Okay, you say "how could you be lost? You just ran a half-mile – why don't you just run back?" Well, that's great if you're above ground. Down here, you go back exactly the way you came, or you don't get back at all. Just because the tunnel you're in goes the same direction as the one you should be in, doesn't mean they end up the same place, or connect, or even keep going the same direction. In fact, you can bet that other tunnel goes anywhere other than where you want to go.

That's if it doesn't dead-end.

I was not in good shape: I had lightpacks for three weeks, eight days of rations, water for maybe two, and was in an unexplored tunnel that went...somewhere, with my only way back to known tunnels totally blocked. My sit was totally fubar'd. So with nothing else to do, I headed off down the tunnel. Couple of hours later, I hit a branching. One of the new tunnels had a small stream running down it and I turned to follow. With luck, with a lot of luck, it would end up in the Central Sea. I could get back from there...probably. If nothing else, though, it was a source of water.

A week later, it was still a good water source, but from all I could tell, I could be a hundred miles further from the Sea than when I started. I'd tried to keep track of the descends and was pretty sure I was still at a higher level than the Sea, but I'd lost any sort of horizontals when I'd run from the apes in the first place and my compass changed it's mind about what direction was north about five times a day. The stream had gotten deep enough that I was now finding cave-fish, which meant that I could hoard that last day's worth of rations for now, but I'd also caught a glimpse of something big and scaly crossing a gallery to my left the day before. That probably meant a dino.

They'd been seen up to two-hundred miles from the Sea, so it wasn't a good sign I was getting closer to there. It was a good sign, though, that I was going to have to start picking my sleeping spots a lot better: Away from the Central Sea, back in the tunnels, "dino" meant "carnivorous" dino.

That "night" I spied a small side channel high off the main tunnel floor, but with a rockfall making a sort of staircase up to it. The entrance looked big enough for me, but too small for most of the dinos, so I scrambled up the rocks and wiggled into the narrow hole, towing my pack behind me.

The crack ended less than ten feet later, but not, to my surprise, in solid rock, but instead it opened onto another major tunnel, that apparently ran parallel to the one I'd been following. Like on the other end, the opening here was high over the tunnel floor – though with no handy rock "staircase." High enough that I could reach out and touch the tunnel's ceiling...

...and the camouflaged phone-line that was strung along it – with German markings.

It was tricky backing up the tunnel so that I could get at my pack and my climbing gear, but less than an hour later, I was standing on the floor of the tunnel, trying to decide which of my new two directions to go I should be taking. I finally decided to keep going the direction I had been, since the tunnels seemed to be pretty parallel. With luck, I'd hit the Sea before the cable brought me to some Nazi camp, or I ran into a patrol. First thing, though, was to find a good sleeping spot in this tunnel, ‘cause I wasn't any better rested than I'd been an hour ago, when I started looking for a place to camp.

I found my cubbyhole ten minutes later and crawled in for the "night." Since I got seperated from the rest of the patrol, it'd been getting harder and harder each time to shut the light off before I went to sleep. Under, anywhere but in one of the lumies, you turn off the lights and you get a dark so thick you can taste it. I bit my lower lip, but switched the light to "off."

Upper, you can wait for midnight, close the blinds, stick your head under the pillow, close your eyes as tight as possible, and it still isn't half as dark as it was right now for me with my eyes wide open. All I could feel was five hundred miles of dark, trying to crush me from all sides. The cold of the granite I was laying on sucked the heat from me right out of me through my sleeping bag. Every five minutes I opened my eyes and tried to see something, anything. But it seemed darker with my eyes open than it did with them closed.

Within the first month of their being Under, twenty percent of the new guys discover they can't take the strain of the endless dark, the feeling they're trapped, the mental weight of the entire surface of the world right over you head. They crack; "Cave-Shocked" we call it. But just because you make it your first month, doesn't mean you're safe. Guys will go along for months, just fine, then bang, some little thing will set ‘em off and the next you know they're being sent up Top with a medical.

I was scared to death that's what was happening to me. But I couldn't leave the light on. Apart from the fact that I couldn't waste that many hours of light while I slept – when my lightpacks were gone, they were gone – leaving a light on in what was obviously German territory was the same thing as saying "here I am, shoot me."

Finally, exhaustion pulled me down into sleep. It was eight hours later by my watch that I jerked awake. I forced myself to not turn on the light until I could see if there were any other lights around – read: Nazis – then clicked the switch and shuddered with relief as the light flooded the tunnel. I crawled out of my cubbyhole, stretched, and looked down the tunnel...

...and I found myself staring at an arrow and the letters "A.S." carved deeply into the wall.

"A.S." – Arne Saknussemm

The guy the camp was named after.

The guy who discovered the whole of Under, three-hundred years ago.

On the jagged crater edge of Scartaris, staring down over the top of the Lift and into the depths, is a pair of statues: Hardwigg and Lawson. The guys whose expedition in the 1860's told the world about Under. Who walked from the crater to Stromboli in Italy, with nothing more than some rope and lights that they had to hand-crank to recharge. They're considered heros, the ultimate explorers to eighty years of children growing up.

At the base of their statues is the inscription "We only followed..."

Two hundred years before them, Arne Saknussemm somehow managed to do all that they did and more. Legend has it that Saknussemm made it clear to the center of the Earth. The Hardwigg/Lawson expedition, daring as it was, followed the blazes that Saknussemm laid out centuries before: The "A.S. and arrow" that led them ever deeper into the Earth until a rockfall blocked their path. Even today, scouts still find the occasional new blaze and the tunnel that blaze marks is almost always the best route deeper into Under...

...or back up to Top.

The tunnel Saknussemm's blaze marked was the same one the German's phoneline ran down. Hell, their scouts probably followed the marks when they were laying this line. Surer now that I was still above the level of the Central Sea, I continued down the tunnel at a good trot. Six hours later, I saw the faintest glow of light from further down the tunnel. I cut my light and continued – much slower now – towards that light. It could be the light of a German patrol, but I was hoping it was that of the Central Sea.

Thirty minutes later, I was laying on the sand, soaking up the mock-sunshine that filled the cavern of the Central Sea. In a cavern where the weird ee-em fields that create the light also create hurricane-like storms every few days, it was clear, with just the gentlest of cool breezes coming off of the water. The tunnel had come out at what was probably the south-end ("probably" because a compass is even more unreliable in the Central Sea cavern) of a shallow bay, ringed with high cliffs. Across it, I could see the long, slender necks of a pod of plesiosaurs calmly feeding at the mouth of a river. I sat and watched them plunge their necks into the water, then arc back up and swallow the fish they always managed to return with. I was still watching them an hour later when the sound of voices drifted around the cliffs to the south of me.

Before I even really had a chance to think about what I was doing, I'd scrambled behind a bunch of big boulders that sat at the base of the cliffs and tried to maneuver into a position where I could see without being seen. By laying down, I could just peer through the small, triangular gap between the bases of two boulders. The angle was awkward, but I could still see the beach south of me...

...and the patrol of Germans in the gunmetal-grey fatigues that were the Nazi's "Underground Brigade" uniforms. I crouched down as flat as I could. Twenty-four guys with rifles and full packs quick-marched by and continued on up the beach to the north.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Then thought about it a minute and started getting worried again.

Apart from the fact this meant I'd have to dodge Nazis to get back to camp, I was also worrying about the plain fact that they were here in the first place. Now I wasn't entirely sure just where I was on the Central Sea, but I thought I was pretty far south of where the Germans had their camp and this area looked nothing like the recon photos that I'd seen of it. That meant they were someplace nobody knew about and going by the number of grunts making up that patrol, probably in force.

And after ten minutes of thinking about it, I decided to follow them.

Okay, this wasn't nearly as stupid as it sounds. I mean, if they're in front of me, they ain't coming up behind me – I knew where they were and they didn't even know I was here. But I had to get a look at their camp, see how many there were, and maybe even steal a boat or something to make the trip back to Camp Saky.

Sure, Hardwigg and Lawson built their own raft to cross the sea – me, I wasn't near that confident in my boat-building skills to risk something like that. Hell, they almost didn't make it themselves!

I climbed back out of the hole in the rocks I'd hid in and slowly headed up the beach after the German patrol. I could just see the last of them fording the river and rounding the point at the north end of the bay. I was pretty sure I wouldn't have any trouble following them because they'd left a nice trail where their boots had churned up the sand down by the water's edge. So I didn't think I'd lose them unless they headed into a tunnel. If they did that, I'd have to follow ‘em closer and I really didn't want to do that. An occasional glimpse from a distance, that's all I wanted. Otherwise, they might spot me.

A couple of hours and too many miles later, I paused just below the top of a beach dune and flopped down to crawl the rest of the way to the top. I hadn't seen my Germans since they'd gone over this rise fifteen minutes ago and I had the feeling I must be getting close to their camp. Any sort of twenty-mile march ought to be just about used up by now. I slowly peeked over the top of the dune and down the other side.

Below me, the beach narrowed to a thin strip between the water and the cavern wall, which was covered with rock pines and bushes. About half a mile away, a narrow arm of the sea cut through even this thin beach and dived right into a big tunnel mouth about a hundred feet across beneath a giant overhang of granite, like a porch roof, large enough it had its own cap of soil and trees.. A boat, maybe a twenty, thirty footer, was just leaving the tunnel and the shade of this overhang, heading out to sea, on its decks about nine, ten Nazis, probably going out on patrol. I'd found their camp.

I slid back down behind the dune and headed for the bushes along the wall.

The Nazis weren't worrying about security very much from what I could see. There weren't any guards about, even by the tunnel mouth. Maybe they figured it'd just draw attention to the place. Maybe they figured we'd never find them – which we hadn't. Even so, I took a couple of hours slowly working my way though the bushes and trees to the tunnel mouth. The boat had long gone, sailing straight out and across the Sea and I hadn't seen any Germans since then. I did find a phone line that snaked through the bushes, same as I was doing. Hell, maybe it was even the one I'd followed out of the other tunnel in the first place. Reaching the mouth, I realized I'd have to leave my nice cover to go any farther. I took off my pack and hid it in the bushes. I wanted to be moving a light as possible. Then I crept out into plain sight.

You don't want to know how slowly I moved around and inside to the tunnel. I didn't see anybody, but the yard-wide strip of damp sand that was all the land there was between the water and the tunnel wall held about a thousand footprints. I slowly moved farther into the tunnel. After about a hundred feet, light from the Central Sea cavern began to fade, but I saw that the Germans had mounted lights up on the wall, about every thirty feet or so. They weren't all that bright, but for Under, this was pretty good lighting.

Five minutes later, the tunnel opened up into a major cavern, most of its floor a circular bay of the Central Sea. I took one look, and dropped to the ground, trying to make myself as small as possible.

The manual said that neither side would – or could – field a concentrated large force down here in the caverns. It was hard enough to keep a platoon together on patrol, let alone plan a major offensive. Hell, even Camp Saky only runs to three, four hundred gophers at any given time. And getting together enough boats to bring that force across the Sea: Hah! Even if you could get them all down here, no one knew of a sufficiently large enough decent harbor on the whole of the Central Sea. You could find space to shelter five, maybe ten small boats. And given the fact that you get a big ee-em storm every few days, you need to shelter those boats.

In front of me were more than two-thousand Nazi's, marching in formation along the broad beach that circled the back half of the cavern's harbor: The cavern's large harbor. And in that harbor was a large, motley collection of landing-craft, open boats, and just plain rafts. Large enough, in fact, to carry the entire force now marching by. And now I understood why there were no guards along the tunnel, because every one of them was marching onto those boats, getting ready to move out. If they got enough clear time between ee-em storms to cross the Central Sea, Saky was toast.

So were all my buddies.

I had to do something. What, I wasn't sure. But I had to do something. First, though, I had to make it back out of the tunnel without being spotted. Judging by the speed they were getting onto those boats, I had about half and hour before they headed on out to sea. I ran back out of the tunnel, into the false sunshine of the Central Sea Cavern, which became nearly blinding when I left the shade of the overhang...

...which I now stared up at – and wondered just how secure it was.

If I could drop that overhang – I had three standard demo charges in my pack – it would block the whole mouth of tunnel. Even if only part of it fell, it might be enough to keep the boats from leaving. There was a small trail that led up the rock face from about where I'd come out of the bushes to the top of that overhang.

I ran back to my pack, grabbed the charges and the detonators and went up that trail like a mountain goat. Up on top, I found that a big crack ran along the overhang between it and the cavern wall. Maybe another couple of hundred years and it would fall by itself, but I planned to speed things up a lot.

It took me fifteen minutes to plant the charges along that crack. The last charge I put in a really deep spot, right in front of a small cave mouth. I hooked up the wires, stood up...

And found myself staring at another "A.S. and arrow," right on the mouth of that small cave

Hell! Another Saknussemm route – that explains the trail up here in the first place. And my blast was going to bury it! But there wasn't time to set the charge anywhere else. I figured I had maybe five minutes left before the Nazis started sailing out of the tunnel, ten if I was lucky.

I nearly ran down the trail, unreeling the wire as I went. I was angry at the Germans, angry at myself, but I had to blow it anyway. Destroy a piece of the Under's history. Destroy a blaze that had been there for three–hundred years waiting to guide someone down deeper into Under. Who knew where that cave went: I sure didn't.

And no one else now was going to get the chance.

Back down on the beach, my wire spool soon ran out. I stripped the ends of the wires and hoped I was far enough away. Wires around the posts, remove the safety, twist handle and push.

The blast was quieter than I expected. Three fountains of gray and black spouted from the sites I'd set the charges. Then slowly, the great block of rock that was the overhang began cracking. It probably only took a few seconds, but it felt like hours as the cracking went on and on and then the whole of the overhang began to tilt and fall.

It hit with the sound of a million bowling alleys, all filled with garbage men tossing a million garbage cans behind them. It went on and on as the whole face of the cavern wall seemed to collapse in on the tunnel. Dust sprayed out from the collapsing overhang, making a huge cloud that began to fall into the Sea almost as soon as it formed and an enormous wave rushed out from the impact, to disappear into the Sea as well..

It was probably less than a minute of real time between when I fired the charges and when it was all over but for the dust, but that minute took longer than anything else I've ever done in my life.

The dust finally cleared and I looked over at my handiwork. The overhang was now a hill of boulders and earth that blocked the entire tunnel mouth. Blocked it! It pretty much had erased it. No German boats were coming out that way. And if that was the only entrance to that tunnel, no Germans were coming out, period. Now, if I can just get back to camp to tell someone about it. Oh well, I couldn't be more than a couple of hundred miles ‘round the Sea from Camp Saky. Call it two weeks marching. And I had light and water and food – easy living for Under. Hell, how hard could it be for someone who'd stopped an entire invasion force by themselves?

A dark spot up on the wall caught my eye. The small cave, the cave with the "A.S." blaze was actually still there. I buried a whole tunnel, but this cave had survived.

With a lighter heart, I started marching north...