***This story is best enjoyed if you have already read the original Dirty Dank Depths , by Max Kenworthy***

It had been several years since my throat was unceremoniously slashed by Ben’s spatha. To be murdered by a friend is a betrayal like no other, but to be murdered by a role model like President Thompson truly stings. Fortunately, I survived, so no hard feelings. On Tuesday of SUSS’ trip to the Vercors, my team were preparing for our final assault on the Berger. It was the usual suspects – Creamy Ben and Maximum Kenworthy – and Brendan along for the ride.

The weather, like Ben’s neverending tenure as SUSS president, was mostly fair. Although the nerves were building as we piled into the car, I felt hopeful: I’d been on over three caving trips this year and only one had ended badly. The mix of Halloween songs and Rammstein kept us psyched all the way to the car park, although I did notice a twitch in Ben’s eyebrow when Max requested the monster mash for a fourth time. Not quite a furrowed brow, but not the doe-eyed admiration they usually reserve for each other. Intriguing…

Brendan’s navigation led us astray for ten minutes, but we reached the cave at about 10, ready to descend at 11:09:12. To the untrained eye this may seem slow, but Botcherby’s first law states that faff increases proportionally with cave depth, and ours is not to reason why, ours is just to do then die.

The first few pitches sped by and we were soon jammed up in front of a group from the Craven, who – despite fresh faces and even fresher morale – insisted they had reached -1122m. Brendan spat on the ground and dismissed this claim out of hand, and we continued to descend past the meanders. We stashed a 3L of Frosty Jacks with the required mixer of double cream (Ben is always loathe to abandon good cream, but we insisted we would return) and carried on down to the grand gallery and starless river.

Psych was high on the way down to camp 1 and into the cascades, at which point we saw the sign stating “-640m, if you have the brass bollocks to continue below, be warned that the air is thick and turns minds to mush”. I was concerned, but Ben pushed us on: “Not to worry, Max has been operating like that for years”.

??? What was that? A chink in the armour of the otherwise unbreakable bond between a knight and his squire, a master and his padawan, a teacher and his pupil, a sewage engineer and his scaffolding engineer, a dom and his sub?

Max looked as shaken as I did, his otherwise steely resolve shooketh to the core. His caving confidence was predicated on the safety net of Ben being there to catch him if he fell (often literally), and without that… who knows?

Our trip continued as planned through the canals, but more than several times, Max would forget to clip in both cowstails. He slipped off the ledges, finding himself dangling with his luscious locks dipping into the canal. Ben was quick to respond, “For god’s sake max, you’re embarrassing us in front of that fucker from Leeds”. In that moment, Max was glad his face was soaked, as his idol could not see the tears streaming up his forehead. I chortled, and Max shot me a look of anger, with a hint of regret and… no, was that remorse?

Despite my increasing fatigue and longing for a break, I was now enjoying caving for the first time since I faked my death and chased my dreams all the way to the land of the free: Birmingham. We soldiered on and were soon at the top of hurricane pitch.

We sat back and I took stock: at this point, the group was fracturing and it showed. Max, a human in otherwise good physical condition, was a pitiful lump, sitting in a bothy and crying. Ben, while initially guilty over his earlier outbursts, had begun to enjoy them and had seemingly sentenced Max to death by a thousand (emotional) cuts. Brendan seemed confused but otherwise entertained like a baby with a rattle: we had set him up in front of Tomb Raider. I felt in my prime, like a young chem eng back at pop tarts again, the only difference was I was actually caving, something I’d tried to avoid during university.

After descending hurricane and hurrying along to the bottom, we were faced with a decision. I cannot remember what decision we were faced with, but I can remember the outcome: we took a dip in the the final sump, mistaking it for the pseudo siphon. Ben led the way, with Max and I following behind, going from walking to wading to swimming in mere metres. We continued on for 50m before Ben submerged completely. We paused, confused but never wavering in our trust of Ben.

He resurfaced 8 minutes later, announcing his latest discovery: a vast empty chamber that he would name: “Disappointed and Dejected, an Investigation into the Psychological Effects of Trying and Failing to Mentor a Wayward Youth”. He shot a pointed glance across the murky water at Max, and swam past us back towards Brendan, who was making significant progress in Tomb Raider. A flailing foot caught max on the chin and I stifled a laugh: Ben does not flail, he is in total control of each muscle and he would not kick the jaw of a man whose jaw he did not wish to kick. Max knew this as well as I, and it pushed him over the edge.

He is not fool enough to challenge Ben in his own watery domain, but once back on dry(ish) land, he erupted “what the fuck is up with you today Ben, was the spooning not up to par last night?”. Ben turned, stony faced and said “If you don’t know what you’ve done wrong then I can’t help you”. Max was at a loss. Ben was right of course, and nothing Max could say would make it any better. He knew he was done for, so instead pivoted and immediately asked forgiveness, begging on his knees for a second, third, even fourth chance. I looked at Max and laughed: the enormous clown shoe was firmly on the other foot now, and Max knew it.

Ben told Max to “do better or get lost” then shoved him to his feet and started towards hurricane pitch after Brendan. “Wait!” Max called “let me prove my devotion by going up first and getting your cream ready at the top”. Even after all this, he knew Ben’s sweet spot, and he rushed up the pitch after Brendan.”Why would you give him a second chance Ben? He doesn’t deserve it” I asked. “When I failed you it meant immediate execution, and my failure was just breathing heavily”.

“You’re wrong on both counts Co-nor, his devotion to the Cobden earns him countless more chances than you would ever get. Your own failure was not breathing. Your failure was doing chem eng.” Ben continued with accusations. “Your failure was one too many pop tarts and one too few suss weekends. Your failure was betraying Sheffield and allowing yourself to be killed at the first sign of danger. Your ‘death’ was planned for months before we managed to get you caving on a Sunday, you fool”.

They were fair points, and I made no rebuttal, instead sitting in silence and trying to return my mind to the serene state of seeing Max’s broken spirit. The stony silence continued for a time until we heard Max shout “Rope free…” My heart lifted, I could escape Ben’s devastating truths,”…in HELL”.

The rope fell to the floor, frayed where Max had cut it cut and the realisation washed over us like chilli on a naked caver, working its way into every orifice and seeping into our souls. Max had fucked us and he’d done it with villainy in his heart. A part of me was slightly impressed he had freed himself from Ben’s siren song, but most of me was pretty irritated. For the second time I had been murdered by Max, and again Ben was involved.We were left alone with our thoughts.

Lights went off, we huddled in a corner, and discussed:”Callout?” I enquired.

“He’ll cancel it” Ben replied”

“What about Brendan?”

“What about him? He’s probably on Tomb Raider 2 by now”

“Can we free climb?”

“Not without my climbing crocs”

“Somebody else will notice I’m not there, there are people in suss who don’t hate me”

“Don’t be so fucking stupid” said Ben, and we returned to silence.

The silence lasted a while, punctuated only by my progressively more insane ramblings about pipes, poon tang, and pop tarts. After half an hour I could see that familiar glint in Ben’s eye as he fiddled with something inside his pocket. I prayed that he was playing with himself but I knew better: he was preparing the spatha.

Just as Ben stood up, reaching into his pocket for the knife, we heard a noise in the distance above us. “Wait Ben! That’s people! You don’t need to kill me this time!”. He scoffed, “Don’t be stupid Conor, it’s cave noises again. You can’t talk me round like I’m one of your chem eng professors” (he was right, I could turn a 1st into a 2:2 in one short chat). But he listened. What was that noise? As it got closer we started to recognise the tune…that jig, that swashbuckling anthem, that orchestral orgasm. Pirates of the Caribbean! But there was something more. A 22nd century twist on the classic theme tune, with more bass and more synth than any 17th century jig should reasonably get away with.

Within a few more seconds a light appeared at the top of the pitch, and within minutes was bouncing down the rebelays. We shouted to wait, the rope was cut! But they paid no heed and seemed to float down the pitch with no problems, leaving a magically healed rope in his wake. He reached the bottom of the pitch and we saw him in the light for the first time. “I am Edouard the Rocket. You are safe now.”

Then he continued running down towards the sump, his unusual red PVC oversuit glistening in the torchlight.

Ben and I were cold and tired but started up the pitch and had barely cleared the top before the Rocket came back past us towards the surface, having already swam in the sump and returned. Curiously, his oversuit had now turned yellow…

Shortly after that we reached the Grand Canyon and spotted a light near the top of the slope. It was Brendan, in his bothy and well into the directors commentary of Tomb Raider 2. Truly a dire situation, so Ben took pity and began to escort him out, asking him where Max was as he went.

Brendan was shaken but coherent:”He came out of nowhere, we couldn’t get out of his way. Max was the happiest I’ve ever seen him, prussiking without you two looming over him. We barely heard that godforsaken pirate theme tune before he was upon us. One moment Max was on the rope, the next he was gone. The rocket exploded him.”

***This is a work of fiction: the only truth is that Brendan really did watch a lot of Tomb Raider in the Berger. It also seems like Edouard genuinely is a rocket, just not a homicidal one.***

Web Secretary & COVID Officer 4th year chemical engineering student who is still riding high off an expedition…