Two communities both need the tower to live. One mission may be able to save them both.
|No assignment is ever easy, but this one was supposed to be as easy as you could get. Raini, a planetoid, half-machine, half sentient living entity, had provided intel that showing the area in question totally devoid of life, except for bugs, microscopic organisms, and various small plants. Nothing that would be greatly disturbed if uprooted to another place, like the surface of Raini.
Standing on a lip of rock staring at a forest of hoodoo’s, suddenly the mission seemed a lot more difficult. Raini had deposited Ayia and me on a planet more than two million light-years away. From what I could see conditions on this world leaned to the arid. Overtime this dry climate leached enough moisture from the rock that only columns remained. Each spire displaying layers of stone in a myriad of colors and textures, which contributed to the varying widths of each section. Coupled with the wind erosion, one could understand the improbable and precarious balance holding the hoodoo sections together. Somewhere hidden among these stone edifices an energy converting tower sat.
Ayia in her flight suit hopped around the edge of the stone lip. The sharp features of her face accentuated her bird-like gestures. Right now she was tilting her head at an awkward angle examining the terrain. While I stand in the shadow of a rock wall twisting and turning the various sections of my arm instruments.
Turning a steely gaze on me, Ayia asked, “So how do we recognize this tower thing?”
“Why not use its description?” I reply.
Hands-on hips Ayia whistles agitatedly, “What description! Are you perhaps referring to the mangled and indecipherable symbols we found on that broken slab on the floor of the dispatch center?”
Interrupting before Ayia’s voice got any more shrill, I said, “The symbols were ancient, but still quite clear. I read them as...”
“Of course you did!” Ayia chirped mockingly.
I continued pretending not to hear her, “The tower is three stories tall, either octagonal or circular at its base, and employs an inverted diamond to collect and/or intensify the light, or is it the heat? Whatever it is that’s the physical description.”
Looking up from my instruments, only to find Ayia bobbing about two feet from me, head tilted so that her eyes appeared in perfect vertical alignment. In her gold eyes, I could actually see flecks of red, orange, and green. Blinking both of her eyelids together, stanched the moment. Trilling Ayia asked, “What is a diamond?”
A quick smile crossed my lips as I kneeled down patting a flat an area of sand with my hand. “Don’t you have gemstones on your homeworld?”
“Yes, we do,” Ayia answered. “We often add colored stones to the weave of our nests. Is a diamond a gemstone?”
“Strictly speaking,” I began, using my forefinger to draw a shape in the sand, “a diamond can either be a gemstone or a shape, occasionally both. Diamond’s are bits of carbon, or coal that turn clear, and hard enough to cut through some metals or glass. Supposedly when light passes through the stone one can see rainbow prisms. Diamond is also a shape, those gemstone workers proclaimed brought out the inner prisms, a very specific cut they used on these stones.” Drawing Ayia’s attention to the sketch, I explained, “At one end it’s pointed widening to an extreme then trimmed back and flattened. In this instance, we’re looking for the pointed end facing up into the night's sky, while the flat side is firmly anchored to the tower.”
Hopping about Ayia turned to examine the hoodoo landscape once again. Sounding competent if regretful she observed, “This will be considerably easier from the air.” The whirl and snap of mechanical gears as wings moved into place, ready for use. Ayia’s long talon-like fingers caressed the metal suit. The suit was still new to Ayia. We’d found it only a few weeks ago. Before that Ayia looked shriveled and small. Outcast and abandoned when it became apparent her wings would never support flight. Even now the glint of joyful tears shown in Ayia’s large eyes. Ayia’s gaze returned from reading invisible wind patterns to me. “Alwyn,” she whistled, “you can’t fly.”
Getting up I walk warily to the edge. Looking down into the dark abyss of depth and shadow, a shudder rippled through my entire body. Stepping back I begin to twirl through the sections of the instruments fastened to my arms. In a quavering voice, I said, “I should be able to use my cords and grappling hooks. If the columns remain close enough to each other, I should be able to swing between them.”
Ayia’s long fingers caressed my forearm. “There’s no way you could pull that off. I watched all the color drain from your face just before you flinched.” Unable to drag my eyes from the gritty sandstone, Ayia repositioned me in the center of the stone outcrop. “Alwyn,” Ayia said, repeating louder, “Alwyn...” I flashed her an embarrassed and ashamed glance. “Let me take the lead here. I will fly over the area looking, you activate your ground positioning beacon so that I can locate you once I’ve found the tower.” Nodding agreement, I watched Ayia switch on her visor screen and leap into the air, jets roaring to life as she flew away.
Looking around me, I began to feel twitchy. This always leads to my pacing back and forth. You know you never realize how small a thing or place is until you’ve walked around it a dozen or so times. Ticking away inside my brain time seemed to soar past. Raini could only afford to send two of us, its energy was so low. Scanning the skies, straining my ears, no sign of Ayia. I needed to be helping, not sitting here and waiting.
Flipping through my instruments, I found the grappling hook and cord. Setting my arm cannon to fire and the winch to reel the cord exactly one minute after that, I fired the hook into the top of the nearest hoodoo. Pointedly not looking down, I checked the line was secure then jumped off the rock lip.
Braced for the impact I grabbed hold of the rough gritty surface of the column, looked up and seconds later felt the wench begin to haul me up to the grappling hook. It was a bit of a surprise to find just how near to the flat top of the hoodoo I had gotten. I would need to work on my aim. Still, the climb to the top was uneventful, as was retrieving the hook. Taking a few deep breaths, I proceeded to try that stunt again.
At each stage of my slow movement, I chanted, “I can do this!” Sometimes I needed to repeat that affirmation several times. See one thing I had not taken into account was the wind. The air flowing around the hoodoos sped up. More than once the wind nearly blew me off the hoodoo’s top. This is when I was forced to admit, out loud, “I’m terrified of heights!”
Shaking like a jelly I gritted my teeth and kept going. In fact, I was hanging alongside a hoodoo when a strange sound neared. Cautiously I leaned an ear to the winch. No sound was coming from there. Closing my eyes momentarily I focused on calming my breathing and my very loud heartbeat. There it was again, a very definite sound, almost like a screech. Quickly, I disengaged the timer on my winch. Creeping around the circumference of the hoodoo changed my entire perspective. What my hears had thought a shriek now became a high pitched whizzing.
Speeding around yet another hoodoo a small box, seeming to float through the spires, disappeared into a hoodoo. That couldn’t be correct. I mean yes, these hoodoos were about the width of two, possibly three people. But to have some object, even a small box disappear into one, no. Firmly, no! I’d been hauling myself up these columns for the better part of three hours and hollow they most certainly where not.
Staring intently at the place where I’d last seen the box. I once again heard the noise, yet this time something was different. It was louder and... Suddenly I saw the cords, some kind of suspension cables, they acted like tracks. Around a bend came blonde hair with green streaks whipping about in the wind. Billowing smoke engulfing the figure which was screaming, “Come on now,” and, “Potzblitz!” Everything else blended together with the whizzing of two more boxes.
Sounds of crumbling rock followed explosions directly behind the line of boxes. Watching the promenade my eye was drawn to the strange sloping of the smoke. The blonde, green mane seemed to be tilting at a very dangerous angle. Aiming at the figure I released the grappling hook, jumping towards the cables. With one arm I grabbed the figure which was now about to follow the small box falling into the depths of this hoodoo forest. The instruments on my other hand automatically adjusted, clamping onto one of the two cables.
Drifting along on the cable, the sounds of explosions and rockfalls disappearing in the distance, I chanced to look around. The cables were old, laid into paths that wove around the hoodoos, with colors and dust deposits the whole system was practically invisible. A voice shouted, take the next junction. The tightening of arms around my waist told me it was the figure who’d given me instructions. Leaving the main track allowed the two remaining boxes to speed past us. Looking straight ahead it occurred to me the small boxes didn’t disappear into the stone of hoodoos, but into large caverns hidden from view by the hoodoos, which was exactly where we were heading.
Entering the cavern, looking pitch black from the outside, lights instantly turn on. The figure releases me landing with an audible thump on firm ground. I, myself, remain attached to the cord until my toes feel the rough contact of stone. Once on solid ground, the long pent up shaking takes over. I dizzily rest first a hand then my entire body on the nearest wall, sliding to the ground, where I’m sure I bruised my tail bone.
Inside this large recess the cables anchor into the back wall. The middle space is divided into sections where large rectangular compartments sit surrounded by a wide variety of boxes and mechanical debris. Standing directly in front of me a thin wiry woman stared out at the hoodoos. Taking deep cleansing breaths I allow my own gaze to wander in that direction. Instantly it strikes me that this cave is located inside a kind of protective boundary of hoodoos, and if that is true then what else is here?
Feeling drained it briefly escapes my notice that the woman is staring at me. Resting my head on the stone wall. I look into steel blue eyes set into a pleasant triangular face.
“Thanks!” Says the woman.
I nod. Watching the woman cross to a section of the middle space not visible from my position. All at once I hear the sounds of water running into a pool, quickly followed by its absence. The woman reappears carrying two clear containers, offering one to me. Following her example I pullback a thick tube sucking up cold, slightly metallic tasting water.
Kneeling nearby the woman states, “You’re not from around here…so I don’t know why you helped me, but I’m grateful. If you don’t mind my asking, what are you doing here?”
In between sips of water, I ask, “What makes you think I’m not from around here?”
The laugh began even before the smile took over her face. “Ha…I don’t know why but I like you, and that doesn’t happen often. My name is Vesa, it means sprout.” Leaning on a tower of crates and boxes she continued, “And to answer your question I know you’re no from here by your mechanical arms. No one's seen technology like that for a good 200 years or more. Are you a machine, I think they used to call them cyborgs?”
Snorting I point to myself saying, “Alwyn, it means river where I come from…and no, I’m not a cyborg or a machine. I’m as living as you. As for the instruments on my arms they are simply tools that Raini thought I might need.”
Raising her eyebrows Vesa waited.
Unable to focus on Vesa or her indecipherable body language, I asked, “What is this place? For that matter what are those small square devices?”
Nodding at me Vesa explained, “This is a landing dock for mass transport and mechanical support on the tracks. I assume by the description of “small square devices,” you’re referring to the wire clips. The wire clips can move around freely on the tracks, they have to we only have a limited number of them and they need to go wherever the carriers are,” pointing at the large rectangular compartment behind her. “It’s not always possible to simply keep them with a carrier.”
“I was mistaken by the other carriers for an animal trying to live on a clip, it happens sometimes.” Vesa’s face clouded over, “The other clips were firing air bursts at me to protect the one I was attempting to repair. What a failure!” Frustration lingering in her tone of voice. “Now it’s your turn. Why are you here?”
Without preamble, I answered, “I’m here to find something that needs to be returned to Raini.”
“Returned?” Vesa repeated.
Nodding I explained, “Yep. Many long years, more properly ages ago, your world was visited by the planetoid, Raini. Raini was really just passing through your solar system. At that time the inhabitants, or caretakers, of Raini sought to broker a peaceful relationship with your people. So they gave a vitally important object to your world. Only now if it’s not returned Raini and all life on it will die.”
Eyes wide, mouth open Vesa bounced up. Aghast she began to pace the room. Almost accusing Vesa stood before me asking, “You mean to tell me, that the ancient legend, is a real fact?” Her hands fumbled with the water container, picking up and putting it down, over and over again. Once again those blue eyes stared at me, “You know what I mean?” Vesa demanded.
Shrugging I answered, “I only know what I have said. I’m not familiar with your legends or folklore.”
Vesa turned around looking at the room as if it should have changed. Immediately she began walking around the room muttering. It was unclear just who she was talking to but as the words were too difficult for me to discern I figured, nothing was being said to me.
Watching Vesa prompted me to face one very important fact. This area was not devoid of a sentient humanoid presence. Vesa did not speak as if she were alone. It seemed Raini’s intel was incomplete. Did we have a serious problem? The thought rolled around in my head as I shut my eyes.
Incessant shaking, of my right shoulder, prompted me to open one eye then the other. Vesa stood over me, saying, “Come on…you’ve got to get up.”
“What’s going on,” I managed to spit out, hauling my stiff body up from the ground?
Opening a long flat metal cabinet Vesa removes a dark-colored jacket putting it on. Then she grabbed a satchel, slipping it on over her head. Lastly, she placed various items in the bag, before slamming the door shut. Turning to look at me she said, “You’ve been asleep for twenty minutes.” Disbelieving I looked out the opening to find everything was black. Standing by a very narrow opening Vesa asked, “Are you coming?”
The passages were very narrow. As we moved quietly through the rough-hewn corridors, I could hear the sound of people. It was all strangely disorientating. As I stepped over one corridors diagonal lip onto yet another staircase, there came the muffled cry of a baby. In one walkway I had to squeeze my arms out in front of me. I think that was when the smell of garlic overwhelmed the entire area, so strong it verged on bitter or rancid.
Finally, we turned into a long oval cavern. Like the larger cave, this one was segmented. At the back sat a bed. Moving into the center various-shaped cartons prevailed with assorted items in and on top of them. A heavily cushioned chair and table faced a small round kitchen table with matching chair. The area next to the entrance was lined with cabinets, assorted small cookers, and a fridge, each issuing a different mechanical hum. The real eye-catcher was the large basin with running fountain, sandwiched between the kitchen and the outer curved wall.
In this small burrow, the shift from dry to more moist air was palpable. Vesa pointed me towards the slim wire-backed chair next to the kitchen table. The lights flickered ominously as sat down. Opening the fridge Vesa pulls out a large round dish placing it inside one of the cookers. Turning a timer the machine starts to buzz.
Moving to the table next to the cushioned chair Vesa, situates the clutter making a space. I look down at the glass tabletop in front of me, noticing it is already empty of objects. Returning to the entrance Vesa removes the satchel and her jacket hanging both items on a hook. A sharp ding brings her back to the cooker. Taking two glasses to the fountain Vesa fills them placing one on each table. From an overhead cabinet, she brings down two bowls, filling each with the steaming contents of the large dish, placing one on both tables.
Plopping into the cushioned chair Vesa begins to eat. After a few moments, during which I realized that on this planet saying a prayer before eating may not be part of their social etiquette, I followed suit. Leaning towards the dish I caught wafts of sharp cheese, pepper, even celery. Spooning a bite of the creamy casserole, changed me from cautious to ravenous. There were noodles some flakes of meat and a whole host of vegetables in each tantalizing mouthful.
Vesa interrupted my reveling in succulent food, to ask, “So, what is it you’re recovering anyway?”
Swallowing, I murmured, “Its a tower that converts sunlight into a usable power current.”
Coughing Vesa sputtered, “But…the old tower is three stories tall and a full solid acre around. It’s not some object you can just stuff in a bag and walk off with.”
“Leave those details to me?” I replied offering one of my quick smiles. Sensing a change in the atmosphere caused me to ask, “Do you know of any other impediments?”
Vesa nodded looking at me she said, “Alwyn you need to understand. The towers power everything, there's no way to live in chimney valley without them.”
Mulling her words over a question appeared, “First you said the old tower, then you said towers…are there more than one?”
Again Vesa nodded.
The thoughts, “Oh, God! What if Ayia locates the wrong one? It has to be the original gifted tower to attach to Raini.” Instantly crossed my mind.
Meanwhile, Vesa explained, “Yeah, there are several. See the original tower simply wasn’t able to supply enough power to the ever-growing community. So, the council took the blueprints that came with the tower and they built their own. The new towers were redesigned more compact with improved efficiency. They housed the new towers in a ring around chimney valley. Not long after whole sections of the valley’s community relocated to be nearer to the new towers, leaving the center of the valley vacant.”
“Only it’s not vacant, is it?” I observed. “You and I presume others stayed.”
“Phhaaa…” Vesa huffed.
“What?” I asked.
Vesa’s countenance grew grim. “My family is lower class. I grew up in the old city. Living in the ring is nearly impossible if your lower class. See the ring is congested with people. That means you must either have money or connections to live in the ring. So, like many of the families that live in the old city, we have neither.”
“Let me enlighten you,” Vesa said caustically. “There are 2,000 families currently living in the old city. We depend on the original tower’s energy to circulate air through the burrows corridors and caverns, it runs our fridges, cookers, lights, transport clips, and maintains our meager connection to the grid. Without that tower, all of us, with nowhere left to go, will die. No one is going to let you take away the key to our continued survival.”
“It seems our needs overlap,” I said. While my mind sarcastically jeered, “Problems…yeah you’ve got complicated problems. If you move the tower 2,000 families will perish and if you don’t Raini and all life on it will die.” Tapping the toes on my heavy black boots kept me for being distracted by the sound of time ticking away.
Seeing my unease, Vesa said somberly, “I’m sorry, Alwyn. I just don’t see how we can help your Raini.”
Finishing off the last of the casserole Vesa took both of our bowls to the basin beneath the fountain’s medallion shaped spout. Putting on thick gloves I watched as she added a white power to the basin, from a thick heavy-looking pouch hanging beside the fountainhead on a metal bar affixed to the stone, stirring the contents into the water with one hand. My eyes remained glued to the basin, as I heard myself ask, “What are you doing?”
Vesa’s dull tone quickly replied, “Each den-home has only one water basin. We all use the same water, for drinking, bathing, and cleaning. To prevent blockages, and disease we add this solvent. It contains water thriving bacteria that digests food debris, among other things. The bacteria will eat living skin so it's necessary to wear special gloves when handling the solvent.” Turning from the basin she returned the gloves to dry on the countertop.
Sparks fired in my brain. Eagerly I asked, “Do you by any chance have a map of the old city, at least the very part still in use?”
Vesa removed from a basket next to the cushioned chair a long roll. At the kitchen table, we unrolled the thick vellum map. It was a very old map, yellowing around the edges, and at perforated spots. Small objects from around the room were placed on the edges to keep the map open and relatively flat.
“This map shows the district before half of the valley fell away leaving only the stone chimney’s behind,” Vesa explained.
“We call your chimney’s, hoodoo’s,” I commented.
Vesa shot a glance at me before taking her forefinger to trace. “The burrows that remain are roughly U shaped with chimney’s, or hoodoo’s acting as a barrier between the old city and the ring cities. The total area is about 200,000 acres.”
“200,000 acres,” I repeated. “You mentioned a council. What part do they play in the old city? And do they still have the blueprints?”
Vesa blinked at me answering in a mystified tone, “The council returned the plans to the original tower. It was decided at that time that each tower should have its own blueprints. That was before the community relinquished the old city. The council now presides over the ring cities. They have no real presence here, except for the security patrols, those continue to operate off of the programming from the grid.”
“So…” I questioned.
“Well, we don’t have a council. When families began to move back into the old city…Oh, how do I put this,” Vesa exclaimed. “The primary infrastructure, drains, power and such, all needed maintenance. Many of the people still had government files that could be uploaded into the grid systems allowing them to pass through the security patrols, to do said maintenance. Not that it wasn’t an uphill learning curve. Because none of us knew just how to do the maintenance. In those days, there was a lot of movement back and forth.”
Lost in thought Vesa took a deep breath before continuing, “Around that time something happened, no one is quite sure what, but suddenly the movement between the ring and old city ceased. People living in the old city were essentially barred from the ring. Hackers like myself started to convene community meetings. Those who either still had useable files or could pass for older family members with files were asked to volunteer for the maintenance jobs that passed through the security patrols. While those of us without files accepted less dangerous positions.”
“Now we convene community meeting about once a month or in an emergency.” Sighing she finished, “And emergencies are becoming a lot more frequent. Since the security patrols keep rejecting the replacement files we generate, often killing or injuring anyone attempting to perform the needed maintenance. After three generations of hacking systems those potzblitzing security programs still haven’t been cracked.”
Activating my uplink with Ayia, I quickly scanned the map, highlighting the location of the tower. On a separate screen, I messaged her to be careful of security patrols and updating her on the situation. Returning my attention to Vesa, I asked, “Let me get this straight. You do self govern?”
Smirking Vesa scrutinized, “Are you always so hampered? I’ve never seen anyone so at odds with themselves in all my life. In answer to your question, We have community coordinators, usually hackers. When someone is needed to for something a coordinator simply brings it up at a meeting, collecting details from the new volunteer. Otherwise, we just address various community concerns and upkeep issues. We don’t create rules.”
“But these security patrols, they are enforcing rules, right?” I queried.
Vesa interrupts, “It would be more accurate to call them drones. Each one pre-programmed to prevent any unauthorized individual to tamper with vital systems. When I say pre-programmed I mean programmed before the council abandoned the old city. Unlike clips, drones fly around freely. Each drone is equipped with a camera and guns. So on the first pass, a drone will scan faces, if they don’t match one of the accepted files in the drone's database it then fires its guns.”
Suddenly a queasy sensation gripped me, as all that Vesa finally gelled inside my brain. “You said that the security patrols killed or injured people!” Screaming with my thoughts, I uttered, “Oh my god, Ayia.” Immediately flipping though sections and controls on my instruments, which refused to bring up Ayia’s uplink signal. I jumped to my feet demanding, “Vesa, you’ve got to get me to that tower right now.”
Going for her jacket and satchel Vesa asked, “What’s wrong? Who’s Ayia?”
“Ayia’s my partner on this mission,” I explain. “Raini is a sentient entity. You don’t really think that for something of this importance it would send only one representative? And right now she’s flying around out there alone. What kind of guns do the drones pack anyway?”
“Guns,” Vesa repeats absently. “I don’t know. My expertise is hacking and repair not weaponry.”
I followed Vesa as we raced through the twisting labyrinth of walkways. The sensation of cooling titillated heightening until we reached the surface. Once again I felt dry air breeze around me. High above the outcrop Vesa and I stood upon a lone moon shone a ghostly light down upon the landscape. Breathing heavily I looked in every direction seeking a glimpse of Ayia. Soon I felt a raging fire burning my throat coupled with the loud, pounding beat of my heart which totally consumed me. Emerging by my side, Vesa handed me a water bottle. Greedily I drank.
Dropping out of the night's sky Ayia, lands behind the two women, the air echoing the reverberation of her cut engines. Stunned Vesa turns around clutching a water bottle to her chest. I stand thinking, “Ayia is right there standing before me, and still all in one piece.” Inside I long to grab and hug her tightly, but that would not be taken well. As a bird-woman Ayia is sensitive, her bones have hollow spaces in them and intense pressure could easily break or burst them. Still, I long to demonstrate my joy and relief. Ayia coughs lightly, for the first time it occurs to me that Ayia has been flying in this dry air all day, instantly I hand her my water bottle.
Even in the dark one can see Ayia tilt her head this way and that as she looks intently at Vesa. Squirting the water down her throat, Ayia gurgles before swallowing, no doubt to quench a burning sensation. Offhandedly she chirps, “So, I see you found the tower's location before me. How very interesting?” Vesa still clutching the water bottle turns with Ayia as she hops about scrutinizing the native woman intently.
Dispensing with introductions, I wave my arm between the two women, saying, “Vesa, Ayia.” Both nod acknowledgment at the other. Briskly I pressed, “Ayia, did you notice other towers from above?”
“Yes,” she replies. “But only as the sun went down. That’s when the tower tops glowed. As I sighted each one, I kept thinking, that too far away, it can’t be our tower.”
Bobbing my head I agree, “Your quite right. It seems that some time ago the indigenous people of this world, used our tower as an example and built their own towers.”
Squawking shrilly Ayia asks, “They didn’t take it apart, did they? We need it functioning.”
Blinking, I look at Ayia, answering slowly, “No…they didn’t take it apart, though I must admit that thought never occurred to me.”
Bursting in Vesa shouted, “It’s not your tower!”
Patting Vesa’s shoulder, I soothed, “Possession is your peoples, we simply need to differentiate between the tower Raini gave and the ones your people made.” Turning to Ayia, I explain, “We may have a big problem. It seems that a community of 2,000 families is dependent upon our tower.”
“Can they not move closer to the other towers?” Asked Ayia.
“No!” Screams Vesa.
Again I pat Vesa’s arm. “It seems not. There are multiple factions involved. Briefly, if we take the tower from these people they will all die just as Raini and our people are about to. Still, I think there is a possibility that a compromise can be made.”
Vesa mouth open, hands-on-hips, spurted and whistled agitatedly. Exasperation dripped from every word she uttered, “How can there be any compromise? I’ve tried to explain why we can’t move back into the ring. And you’re…talking about taking back the entire tower to this Raini. I mean let's face facts the towers either here or it's not?”
Both women turned hard eyes on me. So I took a long deep breath before imploring, “There is a-way. Please Vesa, is there no way that you can entice your community to listen to me?” After a significant pause, I amend, “We need to approach this quickly times running out. Please, my friend, trust me.”
Vesa’s eyes dropped to the ground. Rummaging through the satchel she pulls out a small simple communicator. A button activating both a red-light on top, as well as, the speaker's microphone, while an antenna broadcasts the signal to all other communicators. Pressing the button Vesa said in a wavering voice, “Emergency meeting…repeat…emergency meeting.” Looking into first, mine then Ayia’s eyes revealed unshed tears. Bravely Vesa said, “Now what?”
Glancing at me Ayia whistled, “Where will your community meet?” Vesa walked over to the cliff edge, pointing at a large round amphitheater setting nestled beneath the tower and the rock warren, or burrows. As Ayia and I stared at the location lights began to pop on. The white glow touching the layers of different colored stone made the whole place seem smaller almost cozy.
Glancing at Ayia, I said, “We may get a more attentive audience with an impressive entrance.”
Surveying my face with one big round eye Ayia asks, “Are you sure?”
All ages of people entered the amphitheater, most still wearing their sleeping attire. Individuals, couples, and households with small children each moved into the stone benches. Murmured greetings, and questions revolved around the space. While lamps flickered people looked restlessly about seeking some indication of what was so urgent, or for the person who had called the meeting.
From above the whine of some unfamiliar mechanical object intensified until every face in the amphitheater was pointed at the sky. Children pointed as the object hovered above the stage. Slowly the whine entered the space vibrating the air. Once inside the sphere of light, jaws dropped for one of their own, Vesa, was holding tightly to the arms of two other women, both looking substantially machine-like.
Carefully the flying mechanical bird rested Vesa’s feet on the ground, the other woman already standing firmly beside her. Released the bird-woman ceased emitting the mechanical whine dropping onto the ground with a series of powerful hops. All eyes remained on the trio.
Vesa walked forward to the edge of the platform. “Families of the burrows,” Vesa began, “I’d like to place before you a strange situation. Standing beside me are two members of another world, they call Raini. It is from this Raini that we have the tower.” Drawing the eyes of her community as she pointed at the solid building standing beside them.
Murmurs broke out, expressions of “I knew it,” and “The legend is true,” echoed off the walls of the amphitheater. The crackle of energy and exuberance filled the air. As Vesa described the situation exuberance became grave sobriety. Again mouths fell open, this time producing no sound.
Sensing the tide turning, from attentive and receptive to fierce opposition I stepped forward. Palms up I implored, “Friends…for you are friends. Raini itself acknowledges this. We are faced with a dire emergency. Neither we nor Raini wish you any harm.”
“Is that right!” Demanded a man from the audience.
“You’re going to kill us,” shouted another.
Again I raised my palms to the audience. “I believe I can offer you a compromise.” General murmuring erupted.
Vesa interrupted with shouts of, “Please…please! I know not what suggestion they have to offer, but please let us hear them out. Try to remember that they are in no better position than us. This Raini who gave us the tower in the first place is also facing death. We none of us want to be responsible for their deaths, any more then they want to be responsible for our deaths.”
The community quieted. Many if not all those assembled actually leaned forward. Thus encouraged I quickly expounded, “My colleague and I can adjust the size of the area to be moved to include your entire community. If what I have understood from Vesa is correct and none of you have any remaining ties with the ring.” Feeling a need and an urgency I’d never felt before, I took a deep breath before reiterating, “We can move all of you and your homes to Raini.” In my head, I heard a subtle change to the tone of my voice. It was the sirens call. Chills ran through me at the realization that I could and were preforming the persuasive call all sirens possess. Absorbed in this moment of revelation I heard myself say, “This is mutually beneficial. You have experience with this tower, you have maintained it for generations. Raini needs your experience. Besides, the dangerous armed drones you are unable to hack, the very same drones that are endangering your lives here; once on Raini they can and will become harmless. Raini can take over their programming and functions to prevent any further injuries or deaths.”
General murmuring rumbled through the amphitheater.
Pouring the last of my soul out, I finished with, “Your community can grow and join with ours. Raini will welcome you, as will our people. That which has been damaged and in some cases lost we can together rebuild, sharing with each other our knowledge and technology.”
Ayia unexpectedly moved to my side sliding her hand in mine. I looked down at her, noticing that her eyes were bright as they took in the community. A whisper ushered from her, so light I almost missed it, “You’ve never spoken like that before. The air vibrated with feeling pulling everyone to you as if on invisible strings.” I smiled shyly down at Ayia.
Movement replaced murmuring as family groups stood up shouting, “Fore.” Uncertain just what this meant, I glancing at Vesa. Her shining eyes were glued to the benches of the amphitheater. All around the ringing sound of voices continued shouting, “Fore.” Turning my face back to the community the entire room seemed to be standing.
Just then I felt Vesa place a hand on my arm. Her firm strong voice adding the final, “Fore,” to the room. Staring into the crowd, I heard Vesa softly explain, “The entire community has voted in favor of your compromise. We all are willing to join your people and Raini.”
Blinking back a tear, I released Ayia’s hand, raising it to the crowd. “Before you go back to your homes and well-deserved sleep, I need your help. We have to place all six tele-transportation rods. The quickest and easiest way to do this is for one person to fly with Ayia to a point outside the ring but containing all your own space and help place one of the six rods.”
Hands instantly flew into the air, as members of the community vied to fly across the sky with a bird-woman. Vesa jumped into action selecting six from the volunteers. Groups almost instantly formed as the other volunteers directed the community. Children were corralled and taken to a strong, safe, central chamber. Many people took up posts along the edge of the old city.
A hollow faced man, with thinning hair, informed me, “That is to identify any structural damage from the transit.” Meanwhile, those not assigned a specific duty chose to either join the children or remain in the amphitheater.
Turning my attention to Ayia, Vesa, and the six volunteers, I said, “Ayia I trust you to coordinate the volunteers.” Rotating one of my instruments I pulled an anchoring hammer from the compartment. Deft fingers quickly fitted and clicked the instrument together. Handing it to Ayia, saying, “Here is a spare.” Ayia started to turn away motioning to the volunteers. My hand shot forward touching her wrist, “I will need to know when the rods are placed so that I can activate and connect them to the link with Raini.”
Breaking in Vesa announced, “Everyone has there, communicators, once they have the rod in place they’ll let me know and I’ll tell you.”
Nodding we all turned to our tasks. Moments later as I began to set up the connection link with Raini, I heard Ayia take off, two excited squeals fading away. Vesa sat on the ground beside me, waiting for the first communication.
A crackle of static from Vesa’s communicator preceded the words, “Rod number 1086, at least I think that's what these symbols on the top are, is in place.”
“Acknowledged,” Vesa confirmed.
While I began activating and connecting the rod. This turned out not to be as easy as Hern, our resident computer genius, his label, on Raini had insisted it would be. Swearing under my breath I promised myself that when next I saw his curly blonde head, I would be insisting on a much more detailed tutorial.
It took several tries before I was able to connect the rod to the link. During which time Ayia had switched one pair of volunteers, and Vesa had confirmed the placement of another rod. Seeing the difficulty I was having Vesa thoughtfully spoke the numbers of the rod into a recording device that she could playback for me once I caught up with the volunteers.
After connecting the first rod, connecting the remaining rods was a comparative breeze. Ayia switched out another two pairs and was just touching down following the last of the rod placements with a pair of volunteers. While I finished connecting the rods linking them to each other, and Raini, effectively creating a bubble with the tower at its center.
Quickly I checked to see both Ayia and Vesa present. To Vesa, I warned, “Prepare yourselves.” Vesa repeated the phase exactly into her communicator. One last deep breath before I hit the buttons that signaled Raini to initiate the move.
Instantly the area inside the bubble shimmered. No one moved. A few seconds later the shimmering seemed to cease. All the people seated in the amphitheater looked about. Vesa called out over the comm’s, “Is everyone ok?”
Crackling static returned. Then all at once, people began to look up at the dark sky. Gasps of awe reverberated over the comm. Ayia and I both looked up to see the familiar sight of floating debris scattered across a sea of stars.
Out of my instruments, the happy voice of Jules said, “Welcome home. You did it.”
Ayia chirped into her suits communicator; you know I think it is the first time I’d seen her do that, “We’re not alone. We have brought home some very valuable new friends.”
Speaking into my wrist, I bellowed, “Jules get your round little butt in the control interface. Raini needs to connect to some flying drones. They're part of the previous world's machinery. This is URGENT. If Raini doesn’t reprogram them we may all be killed; they have guns and require some heavy-duty files to stand down.”
The soft voice of Salus, our own highly skilled nurse, breaks in, “He’s working on it, Alwyn. Is anyone hurt?”
“At present, we’re all good,” I reply. As the ground starts shaking. Unable to keep balance the entire group in the amphitheater crouches close to the ground. A loud series of thuds reverberates up from the very floor.
The shacking ends as abruptly as it began. Over Vesa’s communicator, a wavering voice reports, “Maybe a dozen or so chimney’s have collapsed along the bottom end. From what I can see the tracks and clips are still functional.”
Hollowly Vesa responds, “We hear you loud and clear.”
A strange thumping sound verges on the amphitheater. In mass the people of the burrow move towards the corridors leading away from the open space. Strong arms pick up Ayia and myself dragging us unprotesting into one of the larger entry alcoves.
From above a black rectangle, fitted with a long cylindrical tube, and a whirling, twitching framed box hovered in the air. Blades protruding from its top moving so fast it is impossible to see how many are there.
“Drones,” a voice says from somewhere behind me. Lowering to the ground the drone skims the surface heading directly for the alcove. Stopping just outside the opening the drone again hovers.
A pinging starts emitting out of my wrist instruments. Absently my fingers move, my eyes remaining fixed on the drone. Bursting from the comm’s at my wrist we all hear Jules voice sounding slightly muted and distant saying, “There you are. I can see you.”
Unable to help myself I start giggling. Released from the arms holding me. I fall to the ground, hitting a small pointy rock. Hopping to my feet I move towards the drone. “Hi Jules,” I say waving my hand at the hovering contraption.
“You all look terrible,” Jules comments. “I suggest you get some rest and report with our new community to our welcome room in the morning.”
Chirping excitedly Ayia asks, “Is it working? The tower I mean, is it functioning.”
“Yes,” Jules utters mildly, “Raini is gaining power as we speak. Well done all of you. We will live to see another day. Interfacing with this technology, I can honestly say, Raini is going to have some work for this ingenious community. But for now, let’s all get some well needed and earned rest.”