"Meeting Mom"
By Susan

Part 2 - Sand Trek
         They spent a brief time packing for their trip in the direction of the cliffs. Meryl took a moment and looked up at the sky. The two suns were still in the morning side of the sky so the day wasn't too far-gone, but why, she winced, did this planet have to be so annoyingly bright? She heard Millie humming a tune as she loaded up her pack. She went back to her own pack mentally checking off her list as she double-checked each item. She came to her pip gun picked it up and turned it over affectionately in her hands. It was light and smaller than her palm with barely a kick and had a sting, as Millie disdainfully put it, of a spit-wad.
         Millie, on the other hand, had the heaviest handgun available issued to her. Meryl smiled as a memory from cadet training came back to her. That particular day the lesson was "making friends with the MLX-4-A92", or disparagingly known as "Gut Buster" by the cadets. It was the basic shape and idea of a bazooka, only longer, fatter, and heavier. It was a favorite of the ground pounders. It was extremely unlikely that a sky jockey would get into a situation where they would need to fire a Gut Buster but Cadet-Captain Tuskin insisted they take a turn in learning to take apart, reassemble and shoot one at least once to "get the feel" of it. It was carried in two separate packs split between two cadets and then assembled on site. Millie had put theirs together in record time and she was also proficient at hitting any target she was aiming at. No big surprise to Meryl.
         Unfortunately because of her petite size, Meryl couldn't lift hers off the ground. CadCap Tuskin had to pick it up and place it on her shoulders. She had nodded to Cap, indicating that she had control of it. Well, she did, until he let go and she had promptly fallen over backwards, triggering shot after shot. Cadets had scrambled in all directions as Cap had bellowed orders. Afterwards Cap had called her aside, leaned his beefy red face down until he was so close she could see the vein pulsing in his forehead. He barked at her around his unlit cigar, "Cadet Stryfe, it's God's own wonder you didn't maim or injure any poor sucker stupid enough to get hit! But do us poor grunts a favor and stay a sky jockey!" Then he had handed her the smallest gun issued, took the chewed up cigar out of his mouth, eyes fierce under thick frowning brows, and said "My personal opinion Stryfe, is that from now on you should stick to derringers. Here's your grade, I'm passing you. Don't come back!" Meryl could have kissed him. She had hated that class and he had freed her from that prison with a little pip gun.
         Lost in memory she was still smiling when Millie called her name. Meryl blinked away the memory and saw Millie already had her pack on and was giving her straps one last adjusting tug. Meryl fastened her pip gun to her belt and quickly fixed her own straps to her satisfaction when she heard Millie exclaim, "Ready!" and hurried to shoulder her own pack and her scanner and holder to her thigh.
         At last they were ready for their trek. She turned in place for one last look around and her eyes fell on her guitar case. Her gaze lingered on it for a moment before she turned her back on it.
         "I'm ready, are you?" She addressed Millie, knowing she was but habit made her ask anyway. At Millie's nod they climbed up the ladder through the hatch into the blazing heat of the day.
         Millie dropped to the ground while Meryl took a moment and entered the sequence of numbers that would lock the craft from any pesky car thieves.
         After a few hours of plodding their way through the various types of sand and soil; the kind that slid out from under their feet to ankle-twisting rocky ground. Finally, they had staggered to a halt to catch their breath, give their calves a rest, and drink some water from their canteens.
         Wiping sweat from her forehead, Meryl advised Millie to breathe through her nose and keep her mouth closed as much as possible. Millie tilted her head in thought for a moment and then asked.
         "You know Meryl, our class graduated ahead of schedule and we never did complete survival training, just the jungle and artic survival. So tell me, where did you get that little tidbit on keeping the mouth closed?" She queried.
         Meryl mumbled something.
         Millie leaned closer, "What? I didn't quite catch that."
         "DUNE! Okay! Dune. I got it from reading Dune and you know it, you read it the same time I did." Meryl said grudgingly.
         Millie laughed until a thought occurred to her. "Hey this is a desert planet too. You don't think they have giant worms here do you?" She gave an anxious look around. "This would be a perfect environment for them."
         "Geez Millie, I didn't think that until you brought it up! But no, I don't!" Despite her protest she cast a furtive eye across the horizon from under her brows with the thought "Oh please don't let there be giant sandworms here!" She wouldn't be surprised if one erupted right in front of them spraying sand everywhere what with all the strange things going on lately...
         "Hey!" She turned to see Millie calling back to her and realized she had stopped walking. Hurrying to catch up she was breathless when she reached Millie's side and heard her announce, "I think this is it." She consulted her scanner again before looking up and around them.
         Meryl joined Millie in scrutinizing their position. They were much closer to the cliffs though and appeared much more impressive than when viewed from their craft. Still, she continued her visual scan; she didn't see anything unusual...
         Well, except for that.
         She nudged Millie with her elbow. Millie turned around and eyes widened.
         Hovering above the ground not ten feet away was a thin oval-shaped shimmering film, just barely translucent. What kept it from being invisible were the darting and twinkling lights zipping and flitting in all directions on the film. It appeared to have a width no wider than a sheet of cardboard and stretched above them another twenty feet. Again, like before, every conceivable color in the rainbow materialized only to disappear with a small comet-like trail behind them. But for all its beauty it was not the same phenomenon they had watched the night before.
         Without conscious thought they both took a couple steps closer to the sheet of light.
         "It's so beautiful!" Whispered and awe-struck Millie eyes tried to take in every glittering movement at the same time.
         "I'll be." Meryl also whispered. "I don't believe it."
         Not turning to look at her, Millie asked, "Do you know what it is?"
         "I'm not for sure. I have never seen one before, but I think it's some sort temporal sideslip film. It does remind me though of a description I hear in Professor Rod N. Bary's class. He mentioned a new theory being worked on and from his description it sounded a little like this. Let's see, um, two cousins, I think, Luke and Steve Berg believed that a "door" could be created to take one into an alternate universe or time. I am not clear on that, maybe it was both."
         Millie gave her a look she chose to interpret as reproachful.
         "HEY! He said it wasn't on any exams so I stopped taking notes and, well, sort of stopped listening so closely! Anyway, what I do remember is that in order for it to work it would need unbelievable amounts of energy and we couldn't build machines big enough right now in order to supply and maintain the structural integrity of the film for any length of time. He gave the impression that it was a nice theory, but would never happen in reality."
         Millie glanced down at her screen and said, "Well, it's not showing up at all on my scanner."
         "No surprise there," Meryl retorted, "I think they bought this equipment at a kid's discount toy store." In disgust she jammed her scanner back into her thigh pouch.
         "Gee, it sure is pretty. Did they have a name for it?"
         "Oh yea, it's named after the inventors Luke and Steve, they call it a Lucas Film, or "L-film or short."
         Millie started to take a step forward before Meryl grabbed her arm and held her back. "What are you doing?! We have no idea if that thing is dangerous or not." Scolded Meryl.
         "Meryl, don't you think that if it were dangerous it would have done something by now?"
         "You're just not suspicious enough for your own good! Here." Meryl bent down and picked up a rock, bouncing it in her palm a few times to get the feel of it. "Let's toss this in first and see what happens, because I know you, you want to touch it don't you?" Meryl couldn't help but return Millie's sheepish grin with a lopsided one of her own.
         Winding up like an old-style pitcher from ancient Earth, she took aim and let the rock fly. Perfect, right in the pocket... if there had been one there of course.
         Both girls started back a step as the lights on the film... Winked out. Vanished. All at once. They advanced to the place where it had been, if somewhat cautiously. Millie waved her hand through where she thought she had last seen it. Nothing. It was if it had never been there. A couple more steps forward and they were standing in the spot the film had been.
         Millie looked up, around and then down at their feet. Not a sign anything had even been there. "Well," She offered, "If I was the suspicious type..." She threw a quick glance out of the corner of her eye at Meryl. "I would suspect this was a trap meant to lure us here."
         Meryl nodded. "Yes, I believe you are right. So let's just..." She didn't get any further when the ground began shaking under them, throwing them off their feet.
         "Earthquake!" Shouted Meryl as she tried to rise just as the ground heaved up under her again, flipping her and Millie like drops of water popping on a hot griddle.
         At the same time as they were being bounced around, there was a growing sound of a whoosh followed by something that made Meryl think of a sucking noise.
         Oh great. They did have giant sandworms after all!
         The sound soon shifted to something grating, or metal grinding across metal, but whatever it was, it was growing louder and louder and it was definitely underneath them. The ground slowed in its shaking until it was a slight tremble, which Meryl was grateful for as she tried to stand. Then she noticed the sand beginning to swirl away from underneath her feet.
         "Run Millie, it's a..." Was all she got out before a gaping black hole instantaneously swallowed her up into an unknown darkness.
         Being farther away from the rapidly widening hole gave Millie a head start as she spun and ran from the encroaching hole but it, with lightening speed, ate away at each swift step she took until the ground disappeared in front of her and she dropped into the yawning abyss.
         The rushing wind pulled at her hair and clothes, as her body twisted and turned in the relentless plunge downward, Okay then, put out the good china because here we come. She refused all dire thoughts and shoved worry aside as the dark sides rushed by her and the light at the top receded with her rapid descent. The unexpected was expecting them. Uh, maybe Meryl was right about this planet after all. I'll have to make sure to tell her at the bottom, after all, Meryl likes being right.

Part 3 - Sand Trap or Down the Rabbit's Hole
         I knew it! I was right about this freak planet all along! I HATE being right!
         Meryl wasn't sure when it happened but at some point her fall had transformed into a slide. She had tried to put out her hands to stop or at least slow herself down, but it was like trying to grab greased lightening. There was nothing to grab onto nor was there any way to use friction to slow herself down. Also, she had no way to tell in the darkness how wide or high the slide or tunnel was except that it was able to accommodate her so it was safe to say it was large enough. I'm going to keep falling forever; this is the endless abyss! With a thread of panic she tried to clutch the walls again but with the same result, her hands slid away as if repelled by some force.
         Soon, she cataloged her downward journey as the Infernal Slide of Doom from an adventure ride at a psychotic's warped idea of an amusement park. It incorporated elements of Meryl's worst fears, a speeding, out-of-control race in a downward spiraling flight in the dark, and just for grins as if she didn't have enough to worry about, an added twist of "fear of the unknown" at end of the ride. Would it be rotating blades of death, a vat of bubbling green acid, or maybe into the mouth of a hideous slime beast? The way my life has been going lately any of them is a likely bet!
         "I HATE MY LIFE!" She screamed to no one in particular. Which didn't matter, at her rate of speed her words were being snatched in shreds out of her mouth to scatter behind her. "AND I ESPECIALLY HATE THIS HELL-SPAWNED PLANET!" Oh dear Lord, was she actually speeding up?
         Millie, feeling that inkling of knowing again from her unknown knowing place, felt excitement growing with every curve in the tunnel and flung out a gleeful, "Whhheeeee!!" Delighting in the rush of wind as she sped along thinking, I bet Meryl's having the time of her life!

         I'm just having the time of my life! Thought Meryl fiercely somewhere between panic and sarcasm. She opted for sarcasm. I don't know WHEN I've had more fun!
         As if on cue, Meryl felt herself, suddenly and without warning, come to the end of the tunnel and shoot out with the velocity of a star cannon's projectile. With flailing, wind milling arms and legs, she flew for an immeasurable distance before tumbling to the floor with a painful and unexpected jolt. Careening head over heels she finally landed on her stomach and slid across the floor before slamming into a wall.
         Groaning, she rubbed her thigh, ribs, and arm where they had absorbed the brunt of the crash. Trying to see something, anything was a lost cause, for without even a glimmer of light she felt completely and utterly disoriented. And a little scared. She felt her stomach trying to heave. Apparently it hadn't enjoyed the ride either. She willed it to settle as she slowly pulled herself into a sitting position. "Ow." She experimented to make sure her ribs weren't broken. Bruised, sore, but thankfully, nothing was broken. She waited until the dizziness passed. Just when she thought about trying to stand, she froze, hearing a flapping or soft thumping noise growing louder by the second. Tensing, she tried to place it while images sped through her mind of a large bat-winged predator stooping for the kill, or perhaps a giant one-eyed ogre smacking drool-covered lips. It suddenly dawned on her that maybe Millie hadn't made it to safety after all but had followed her down the hole. If that is the case then the most likely place Millie will land is... Oh Crap! right here! Exactly where Meryl was presently situated. Uttering a little yelp she tried to scramble to her hands and knees.
         Too late.
         With one loud whoosh and accompanying thud, what felt like a bag of wet cement slammed into Meryl knocking her over into another awkward roll that smashed and pinned her against the wall. This time though she felt a snap and a sharp breath-stealing pain in her side before being pinned by Millie's weight.
         She heard a quavering voice softly inquire, "Meryl, are you here anywhere? I hope you are. I don't like being alone in the dark like this." She ended in a whisper.
         Carefully sucking in a shallow breath of air in order to answer, she barely managed to get out, "Un... der... neath... you... Millie." She felt the pain sharpen and bit her lip. This time she felt sure she had indeed broken a rib. Yet when she went to take another agonizing breath, she suddenly felt a warmth spread along her side, heard a pop sound and the stabbing pain faded.
         "Oh, I'm sorry Meryl, really I am but I didn't see you there. Did you break anything?"
         "Only the land speed record... and me with no witnesses!" Joked Meryl, silently stunned and puzzled over the instant feeling of well being and cessation of pain that swept over her. She decided to keep whatever just happened to herself, she really didn't feel like explaining it. "I seem to be just fine." Which was true, she was feeling stronger and less bruised every passing moment. "How about you Millie?"
         "Oh, I thought I had sprained my ankle and wrist." But in a perplexed tone went on to say, "I guess I was wrong." But quickly turned back to her normal self, "It's kinda strange, but I feel great! Why, I don't even feel hungry!" Meryl couldn't help the chuckle that escaped her. "Yep," Millie sang out, "Right as rain!"
         "Okay then. Let's stand, but first, hold on my hand so we don't lose each other in the dark."
         Reaching out, they found each other's forearms and held on as much for comfort as well as support, and together slowly rose. Once standing, they drew closer. "It's really dark in here Meryl." Millie said, whispering again. Meryl was secretly relieved that Millie felt the same as she did about the oppressive blackness that seemed to be an almost tangible presence hovering over them.
         "Millie, see if you still have your flashlight on your belt." Meryl felt Millie let go with one of her hands and she did the same to check her belt. Hers was gone, no surprise considering all the tumbling they had done. Millie replied, "No, mine's gone. How about yours?"
         "Mine too. We must have lost them in the landing."
         "Hey Meryl, my supply pack is gone? Is yours." She reached a hand up to check her shoulders even though as soon as Milly spoke up she had noticed the absence of the dragging weight.
         "Damn! It is! Okay, don't panic!" Saying it more to herself than Milly who was actually sounding pretty calm.
          "I bet they are on the floor somewhere. Maybe we can find them if we get down on our hands and knees and look for them."
         They began to slowly lower themselves to a crouch and though neither had said anything both were reluctant to let go of each other.
         "Look Meryl." Millie said in a voice that almost sounded like a shout to Meryl after all the whispering they had been doing. "I think it's getting lighter in here, don't you?"
         Meryl glanced around at the blackness as it shifted to a lighter shade of dark, which Meryl didn't even think was possible. The transformation from deep black to a soft light was gradual enough that the girl's eyes easily adjusted to the change. Meryl was relieved to see that they were not in a cavern, pit, or chamber, but in a rather nondescript room. As soon as it was bright enough to make out details, Meryl quickly turned to look Millie over. She found Millie finishing her own visual inspection. They grinned at each other and Meryl asked before they let go of each other, "Are we having fun yet?"
         Millie answered, her enthusiasm returning with the light, "Yea! Wasn't that a blast? I was going so fast that I felt like I was flying. I wish we could do it again!"
         Meryl grimaced. Good sarcasm lost on the perpetually optimistic. I should know better by now.
         The girls looked about them, but it wasn't until Millie uttered a surprised, "Oh!" that Meryl turned to look at her with a raised eyebrow. Millie waved her hand about the room. "Where's the hole?" She asked with a puzzled look on her face. Meryl's eyes darted around the room in search of their tunnel exit. Millie was right. It was gone, not even a slit, bulge or a seam to indicate where it had been.
         Meryl mentally added it to her "Things to Freak Out About Later" List.
         "Gee Meryl, how are we going to find a door if there isn't one?" Questioned Millie. Meryl looked around and mentally kicked herself for not being more observant. Millie had, once again, spotted the obvious while Meryl was still pondering the improbable.
         "I don't know. This is completely baffling." Said Meryl with titled head, studying the room with hands on her hips trying to think of something brilliant or inventive to help them get out of the room. The problem with trying to be brilliant and inventive was that one had to possess a modicum of intelligence to back it up. Meryl felt she had already used up her meager supply trying to fix the unfixable. I quit! It's too difficult to fake brilliance when I am limited by my own mediocrity. She felt her shoulders slump with weariness and gave in to the urge to shut her eyes while rubbing the ball of her thumb between her eyebrows. Maybe something would occur to her.
         There was a moment of silence.
         "Ummm Meryl?"
         "I gotta pee."
         Meryl turned to stare at Millie, Please, just one problem at a time, come forward when your number is called and no pushing or shoving in line. This never happened to the scantily clad heroines in her com vid space operas. Nope. Never once did Bambi No Brain, or Barba Big Breasts ever have to pull their star cruisers over for a potty break. Mental note, new definition of a space heroine: notable absence of a functioning bladder. Meryl found herself gazing helplessly around the room. A guitar and pudding cups galore but where's a port-a-potty when you need one?
         She saw Millie gesturing toward a wall and Meryl spun around in time to watch a hole spiral open in the middle of the wall. Meryl's jaw sagged open. The edges gave the impression of being organic; growing back from the middle of the doorway to the frame, leaving an ever-widening hole until a door twice the size of Millie and several yards wide stood waiting. "A door! Hallelujah and pass the biscuits!" Shouted an exultant Millie. "A door! Now we can find the bathroom!" Meryl still gaped.
         "Oh someone heard me! Thank you!" Millie gushed in the general direction of the ceiling. Meryl didn't bother looking up. Her mind was wrangling with the idea of "someone" as she moved with Millie towards the door. She stopped for a moment to reach out with a careful finger to feel the edges of the doorframe. It felt solid, as if it had been that way all along. She gave herself a shake, no matter how the doorway had gotten there, they certainly couldn't stay where they were, they had to keep moving if they wanted to find a way to return back to the surface.
         Both girls stuck their heads out the doorway and swiveled their heads left and right checking out the their surroundings.
         To the right extended a long hallway. Meryl stepped out, or more accurately, was pushed out by Millie in her eagerness to search for a place in which to relieve her full bladder. To the left the hall extended into darkness giving the impression it went on like a bottomless pit. It was rather intimidating. She turned to look down the brightly-lit side of the hallway. Obviously, whoever or whatever owned this quaint underground dwelling wanted them to follow the corridor that was lit up. It couldn't have been simpler if there had been arrows painted on the wall pointing out the correct direction to take.
         Meryl puffed out her cheeks with a breath and then squaring her shoulders said, "All right then! Let's find you that Ladie's Room!"
         "Right with you Meryl!" Responded Millie enthusiastically and to show her support, or her urgent need, she crowded right behind Meryl, nearly shoving her along more quickly than Meryl felt comfortable with. Meryl instinctively leaned back, resisting being pushed forward. Millie noticed and said pleadingly, "I really have to go Meryl!" Meryl nodded because truth be told, she was beginning to feel the affects of a full bladder herself.
         The unseen occupant of this place would have to cool their heels for a few moments while their reluctant guests searched for the equivalent of a powder room or a potted plant.
         With growing urgency, Meryl's desire now matching Millie's, they hurried down the hall, which went on and on, seemingly without end. The only thing that Meryl noticed in their hasty search was how the walls curved to an arch above their heads. Other than that, she was oblivious to everything else except for the one thing they were becoming more and more desperate to find.

Part 4 - Are We There Yet?

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