Authors: Linda Mooney
Tags: #sci-fi, #aliens, #alternate worlds, #action, #adventure, #sensuous, #science fiction, #space opera, #romance
Kelen squatted and lifted the bit of cloth she’d been examining. Sandow leaned over her shoulder.
“It looks woven. From the feel of it, I’d guess it’s some kind of plant-based material.”
Sandow tested it for himself, rubbing the piece between his fingers and thumb. “It would make sense, considering how much of what we’ve discovered tends to have ties to the plant life. Like the bowls the food and water are served in, and those doors up in the temple. Does this also tie in to the theory you mentioned?”
“Yes. If the apartments can dole out food and water, I think one of those glyphs might produce clothes. Or at least the material we could use to make us some more uniforms.”
The man slowly nodded. “It’s a sound theory.”
Standing, she wiped her fingers on her thighs and they exited the apartment to walk over to the room she’d shared with Kyber. They entered the chamber, and Kelen stared at the rows of pictographs that ran along the walls.
“Notice how none of them are higher than a meter?” Kelen pointed out.
“Except in the temple,” Sandow reminded her.
“Yeah, but it’s a temple. It obviously has some religious or some similar significance. They don’t live up there. Here, in these nonagons, this is where they go about doing their day-to-day living.”
“Why do you think some of the symbols are lit up and some aren’t?” the physician inquired.
“I’m thinking the glowing ones are the active ones,” she told him. “It’s where I found the food and other stuff.”
Sandow grinned. “Have you
hitting any of the unlit ones?”
Kelen saw the silent challenge and laughed. Leaning over, she hit one set of black symbols. A box-shaped drawer popped out. “Well I’ll be damned.”
Sandow chuckled. “Score one for the old man.”
Reaching inside, she pulled out a few objects she could not identify. “Any idea what these could be? Or what they might be used for?”
Sandow crouched down beside her and plucked one from her palm. Holding it close to his face, he examined it. “Nope. I have no clue as to what it is or what it’s for.”
Taking it back from him, she dropped it in the drawer and gave the box a little push. The drawer obediently slid into its recess. The second symbol yielded another trio of items she couldn’t identify. The third glyph, another drawer, was empty. Kelen waved a finger at the symbols.
“Want to hear another theory?”
“Please. Go ahead.”
“What if the unlit ones are just storage and stuff, and the lit ones are directly connected to whatever technology is running this place?” She looked to him for verification.
The doctor shrugged. “I have to admit, a lot of what we’re finding simply doesn’t add up. I mean, the indigenous species had the ability to erect those huge towers and that net to create a virtually unlimited supply of energy, yet they ate out of carved, wooden bowls, and wore clothing made of woven plant fibers? What kind of civilization was this?”
“I agree. The contradictions pose more questions than give answers.” She glanced around the room. “All right. Do we assume the clothing was pre-made? Or did they have to make their own? Would it be something provided by technology?”
“Guess we’re going to have to try every single glyph to find out,” Sandow suggested.
She rolled her head around her shoulders to help alleviate the tension. “It would be a hell of a lot easier if we could get Dox to come in here and tell us what these symbols say.”
Sandow turned for the door. “Wouldn’t hurt to try. I’ll be right back.”
While he was gone, Kelen continued to systematically check every symbol. Sometimes the panels popped open like a drawer. Others flipped upward like doors. Most, but not all of the compartments, contained strange and unusual objects. But so far, everything she discovered made no sense to her.
There was a pounding on the door. “Chambliss, it’s me.”
She allowed Sandow to re-enter. The man was alone. At her questioning look, he gave her a chagrined smile. “He’s…occupied. He’s almost finished with the scanner. Since this isn’t an emergency, I thought we should give him the time he needs. Did you find what you’re looking for?”
“No. I found a lot of odd items, though. Don’t know what they are or what they do. I’ve only managed to check the unlit symbols along this wall.”
“Can I help?”
“Sure! Start on the other side of the door, would you?”
They continued to check the symbols one at a time. Like herself, Kelen noticed the doctor was taking his time, stopping frequently to examine whatever odd thing he found. There was no need to hurry. They weren’t under any time restriction, so it became more of a casual search and discover than an actual hunt.
Once she got to the end of another row, she stopped. “I’m getting some water. Want a bowl?”
“Yes, I would. Thank you.”
She gave him the first full container. With the second bowl in her hands, she parked herself in front of him and crossed her legs. They drank in comfortable silence, until Sandow sniffed and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
“Kelen, I’m going to switch hats here. I need to speak to you as your doctor.”
“Oh?” She went into an emotionally defensive mode, knowing that the man never took that tone with anyone unless it was something serious. Fortunately, she could count on Sandow to get straight to the issue.
“I initially sought you out to check on how you’re doing after you were attacked by that black cloud.”
“I’m doing fine.”
He gave a slight nod. “I believe you are, but that doesn’t mean something won’t develop at a later date.” He scratched the side of his nose. “But that isn’t the only reason I wanted to see you. I’m glad you remained behind. I needed to speak to you alone.”
Kelen snorted. “It wasn’t my idea to be left out. What did you need to tell me?”
Sandow stared directly at her. “Are you involved in a romantic relationship with Kyber?”
The question caught her off-guard. She felt her face redden, but she wouldn’t lie to the man.
“Yes.” A simple answer to a direct question. She waited for what else he had to say.
“Is this a physical obsession?”
A physical obsession? She shook her head and gave him a peeved look. “No. Not at all. You can scoff all you want, but the truth is Kyber and I have a very real affection for each other. Trust me, Doctor. We discussed this. We’ve tried to understand why we feel this way, why the attraction, but we can’t. We’ve chosen to accept it for what it is. And the longer we’re together, the stronger our feelings for each other have become.”
Sandow gave her that stoic, unreadable face she was accustomed to seeing. “What you’re saying is you’re in love with the Seneecian?”
She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “Yes. I am.”
“And he shares that feeling?”
“He tells me he does. I believe him.”
“Do you understand the implications when this news gets out?”
“Because I’m the only female? Oh, yeah.” She didn’t try to hide her disgust. “I heard the commander’s tirade. I guess everyone else thinks the same thing. That I’m killing any chance for any survivors to be found on this planet in case help finally does arrive long after our deaths.”
“Well, I admit the chances of you and the Seneecian creating any progeny is extremely remote, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
It took Kelen several seconds before she realized her mouth was hanging open in astonishment. “Are you saying there’s a possibility?”
“I can’t quote you the odds, but Seneecian physiology is not too far distant from our own. He
humanoid, after all.” Setting his empty bowl on the floor, Sandow got to his feet. “At least, that’s
theory on the matter.”
The D’har and the other two Seneecians remained at the rear of the line. Kyber couldn’t tell if they were watching for any possible attack from behind, but his guess was that they weren’t. Their attention was on the three Terrans, although Kyber wouldn’t be surprised if the D’har was keeping a special eye on him and the other Seneecians. The commander had no idea where Gaveer and Massapa’s loyalties lay, and he was too smart to think the men would automatically revert to being back under his aegis.
When they reached the small opening leading from the maze to the gardens, Kyber paused to glance behind him. Fullgrath was moving on his own but by the man’s face, he was struggling. The other two Terrans braced him, in the event the man needed their help.
“Why are we stopping?” the D’har demanded.
Kyber waited for the Seneecians to join them before answering.
“From here, we go through a doorway that opens into the gardens. It would be prudent to keep all eyes open for signs of anything dangerous. We’ve encountered small creatures we call eye worms, and in the gardens was a gigantic creature we managed to kill. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be more of them.”
Without waiting for a reply, he got down on his knees and crawled through the opening. Checking the vaulted room to make sure it was clear, he got to his feet and descended the steps to the wide open area not overrun by plant growth.
As they had during their ascent, they dropped next to the narrow crack in the flooring where the spring of pure water rushed and helped themselves. Kyber kept the D’har and his men in his peripheral view.
Jules went over to a strand of trees where the fruit made the overburdened limbs bend almost to the ground. After plucking a few, he pointed them out to the others.
“This is where we got those blue thumb fruits, in case you’d like to stock up for yourselves.”
The D’har grunted, then gestured for his men to collect their own.
Fullgrath grunted in pain as he half-collapsed beside Kyber. Bending over, he dipped his palm into the running water and drank thirstily. Kyber squatted next to the man.
“How are you doing?”
“Just peachy. How about you?” The Terran risked a quick glance at the newcomers. “The boys and I had a little exchange.”
Kyber nodded. He’d expected as much when Mellori and Jules took turns helping the man through the narrow passageway. Fullgrath continued.
“Kyber, we’re curious to know where you allegiance lies. We need to know…who you gonna side with?”
Kyber responded without making eye contact. “I think it should be apparent, given our current situation.”
He detected the man slowly nodding. “That’s what we thought, but I had to ask.” Fullgrath glanced over his shoulder. “They’re watching us.”
The man clutched his arm and grimaced. “Kyber, why didn’t you tell him we had two rogue men?”
“Who may or may not be alive.”
“True. And you didn’t tell him about our tube weapons.”
“Keep them out of sight and out of hand,” Kyber whispered. “Don’t reveal them unless we have no other choice.”
“Are you thinking the D’har will turn on us?”
A shadow passed over them. Kyber glanced up to see Verin watching them.
“The D’har says you are not to converse.” The remark was made in Terranese. Fullgrath grunted in reply, and moved away to rejoin Mellori and Jules. Kyber drank another handful of water.
“Did any more of us survive, Por D’har?” Verin asked.
“We didn’t know
were alive,” Kyber told him. He eyed the wounded man. “What attacked you?”
Verin made a vague motion with his arms. The blaster in his hand remained aimed not at Kyber, but in the direction where the three Terrans were resting. From this angle, Kyber couldn’t tell how much charge was left in the gun.
“A creature rose up from out of the ground.”
“A big one?”
A thought struck him. “Did it have eyes?” He noticed how Verin reacted, and how the memory of the encounter affected the Seneecian. It also revealed something else. “How many times did it attack you? How many of you died?”
Verin turned slightly to check on the D’har before answering.
“There were six of us. The D’har, me, Kleesod, Parchin, Boroon, and Carg. Carg found me where my pod had landed. We came across Kleesod, Boroon, and the D’har a day later. Parchin found us that night.
“The first creature attacked while we slept. It was barren land. Nothing could be seen for majuurs. It was flat. Open. No buildings, no artificial lights, no sign of civilization. We believed we were alone. There was no warning before the ground heaved. It broke into chunks. The air was filled with dirt. We couldn’t breathe or see the thing until it ate Parchin. It was his screams that alerted us.”
“The creature made no sound?” They were speaking in their native language. A few meters away, the Terran men watched their interchange with curiosity. Beside them, Gaveer and Massapa listened in horror.
Verin shuffled his feet. It was clear he needed to sit, but he was restricted from resting until the D’har gave his permission. “No. We heard the earth rumble. We felt the trembling beneath us, but we never believed we would be attacked.”
Kyber straightened. “You were attacked by more than one? Or more than once?”
“We don’t know,” the Seneecian admitted. “We started running. Our blasters did some damage to it, but not enough to stop it. At least… We don’t know. Every night, it returned. Or one of them returned. It could have been the same one, or there could have been a pod of them. Maybe after we killed one, another took its place. All we know is that it followed us, keeping out of sight in the daylight and not coming after us until nightfall. It wasn’t until the third day that we spotted the towers on the horizon. By then, only the D’har, Kleesod, and myself were left.”