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.
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!