"Meeting Mom"
By Susan

Part 4 - Are We There Yet? or Under the Sea of Sand
          They had been briskly walking down the same hall for quite some time without a sign of a door, alcove or recessed wall of any kind. Barbarians! Everyone knows the sign of a healthy civilization lies in the multitude of its restrooms! Meryl lost herself in that and other such opinionated thoughts. So when Millie disappeared, it took Meryl several steps before she realized that Millie wasn't with her. She spun around just in time to glimpse Millie darting into a doorway. She heard a muffled, "In here!" Meryl hastily ran back with a cold lump growing in her chest. Where had THAT come from! They should have seen that doorway a mile back! Damn! Why was that girl so impulsive, she should have waited until they could have gone in together! And just because there was a door didn't mean there was going to be.....
          She flew through the doorway and pulled up short..... A Bathroom!
         I've got to stop making assumptions!
         On any given normal day, she would have chided Millie and lectured her about being aware of her surrounding environment, letting down her guard, staying cautious, so forth and so on. They hadn't had a normal day since crashing here.
         It wasn't precisely a bathroom but it was close enough. Hanging from loops and pegs around the room were towels, big and small. Up against one wall were ceramic-like buckets, and plenty of water! Jackpot! It had the essentials and that's all they needed. At this point in time they didn't care, and certainly their bladders didn't care if they were using the high grand exalted poobahs drinking mugs and dinner napkins. Pee first, apologize later.
         Ahhhh, but life was good once again!
         After washing up and taking a moment to refresh themselves, they peered out the door glancing back and forth with slightly sheepish if relieved expressions. Not a soul to be seen, certainly no angry landlords bearing down on them, but then they hadn't really expected anyone to show up at this point in time.
         With an "after you" gesture and slight bow and Millie's answering mock curtsey, they chuckled and started off down the hall. Turning to grin at each other, both noticed the same gleam in the other's eye. Without warning, Millie started skipping. Meryl had to trot to keep up but hummed a song about going to visit a wizard.
         The frivolity was only good for several yards before it fell flat under the overwhelming hush of the hall. After looking at each ruefully, they shrugged and fell back to walking.
         "Hey look!" Millie called out. I wish she would let me notice something first for a change. Thought Meryl though she dutifully looked. Millie must have the eyes of a hawk! I don't see anything! However the closer they got, the clearer it became that their hallway was intersecting with another. Straight ahead their hallway continued in darkness. To the right the hall was dark but the hall to the left was lit up leaving little doubt as to the direction they should go.
         This trend had continued many times and the girls found themselves getting more and more irked. Even Millie with her good nature released an annoyed puff of air at the last hall intersection. They had stopped at one point to peek back down the hall they had just followed only to find it plunged in darkness. Someone was trying to discourage them from going back. Meryl said to Millie, "I'm beginning to feel like a lab rat."
         Millie's face brightened. "Oh, that reminds me of my big, big brother's best friend. He had a rat name Tibby. He was so cute. Every time I would come in he would stand on his little hind paws and wave at me. But, he came to an unfortunate end...." She trailed off sadly.          I know I'm gonna regret this... "So, what happened to Tibby?"
         "Poor thing. He was smacked on the head by the rat wheel in his cage by another rat. Killed him. He was an old rat though, but still," She went on with narrowed eyes. "He was found mysteriously dead the next morning. I suspect foul play!"
         Meryl couldn't help herself and burst out, "A premeditated rat murder!? Is that what you're telling me? How do I get into these conversations! Millie we have more important things to think about than rats with personality disorders! Keep your mind on business and stay focused!" Belatedly remembering, and hoping that Millie didn't, the recent humming and skipping down the hall. Meryl felt the blood rising to her cheeks.
         "Oh well, this was about our situation. When you said you felt like a lab rat that made me think about rats, which made me think about how rats run through mazes, and then that made me think about Tibby..."
         "MILLIE!"
         "Oh, yes, sorry, uhm, well, if we didn't mind walking in the dark, I can get us back to the room where we came in at."
         Spinning to grab her friend's biceps, she exclaimed, "You remember how to get back!?"          "Maybe it can't, but at least now if feels like we have a mouse hole to bolt to if we need it. It's just an option, which at this point, we don't have many of."
         "I suppose." Millie replied noncommittally.
         "You're such a pessimist! You need to look on the bright side of life...." Meryl stuck her tongue out at her friend, "So lighten up, eh?"
         Smiling, Millie just shook her head, she knew from past experience and knowing her friend so well, Meryl was wound up tighter than hen at a fish fry, or was it, an egg gathers no moss....

         After a while, it felt like the floor was slanting downwards under their feet. They continued for a while until Meryl suggested a halt to rest their calf muscles as her knees were already beginning to protest. They pulled out their scanners to verify their whereabouts but the only comment that would flash across their screens was an error message. So their only way to prove they were descending were the sore tendons and muscles. Great! She wondered how far underground they were now.
         "Gee Meryl, I wonder how far down we've come?" The girl is a freaking mind reader! She thought to herself as she shrugged.
         "No idea." Turning a disgusted eye back to her scanner before snapping it off.
         Again, their journey continued down hallways some that slanted some that didn't, turning right or left. Once they had halted to discuss whether or not they should try to continue on or turn back. Their indecision stayed an unresolved issue, as they became aware of a sound behind them. Turning warily they heard the sharp clicking of tiny feet skittered across a hard floor towards them. Many little feet, or claws, or mandibles. Then silence for a space of a heartbeat before it would start up again. They weren't sure, but as they tensed on the balls of their feet for flight or fight, they thought they saw dark forms scurrying around in the darker backdrop of the hallway. A hallway they had just traveled down. Both froze. The breath paralyzed in their lungs. Many times in the past they had bravely flown their ship between the unrelenting fire of a foe dead set on wiping them from existence. They had faced barrage from the heavy Snake plasma bombs, frag charges, boring lasers, and star cannons. But while daring in the line of fire, this little rustling noise had their hearts beating faster and breathing quicker than any prior battle they had survived.
         "What does that sound like to you?" Asked Millie, teeth nearly chattering.
         "I don't want to know and I don't need to know! I have an overactive imagination as it is!" Meryl cried in a quavering voice. She couldn't prevent uttering a yelp as the clicking noise started up again, closer. Too dang close.
         "Let's get out of here!" Shouted Millie and without any hesitation grabbed Meryl's arm pulling her along as she began running toward the lighted hall away from the noises.
         "I'm... with... you!" Meryl gasped in wholehearted agreement trying to keep up with Millie's longer strides. Sadistic buggers, did they really think there was a danger of us turning back?!
         Despite all the alarming and distressing events of the past few days that demonstrated just how little control Meryl and Millie had over their situation, Meryl began to feel a resentful burn growing within her. So regardless of all the indoctrination, teaching, classes, and training from the Diplomatic Office of Interspecies Contact along the lines of "We come in peace...." Meryl could sense she was beginning to walk the jagged line. What she really wanted to do was grab Millie's lost gun and ram it up someone alien's noise and say, "We come in with a piece of this!" Her PMS must be kicking in. She forced herself to think calmer thoughts, green meadows; white puffy clouds... calm. Panting now, she couldn't help thinking that it is hard to be calm when running for one's life. The great and powerful Oz is an exceptionally twisted little soul. Meryl thought darkly.
         She noticed Millie slowing down to glance behind them. "Meryl! The lights... are still on... behind us!"
         "Don't stop! Not yet!" Still running full bore; Meryl cast a dubious look over her shoulder. She didn't see anything or hear anything following her though it is hard to hear anything above the pounding of fleeing feet. She did slow to a jog even as Millie kept pace beside her. "I think... we are... safe enough... " Continued Millie, still out of breath. They stopped and turned to scrutinize the way they had come still panting and breathing heavily.
         "I don't remember being so scared, do you?" Millie asked in a trembling voice.
         "I got goose bumps still screaming at me to keep running. Brrrrr yeeech!" She gave a shudder. "I don't want to go back down that hall, do you?"
         "Never again!" Insisted Millie.
         They turned back around and continued their journey but with occasional nervous fleeting looks over their shoulders to make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt they were not being followed by underground killer nasties.
         "Meryl, look at that!" Cried Millie, nudging her hard enough to cause her to stumble sideways a step. Meryl caught herself and looked where Millie was pointing. Sure enough, an end to the hall! With a start, she realized she was beginning to get used to the idea that Millie noticed everything first.
          As they got closer, they noticed the shape of an arch within an even larger framing arch. "About time." Meryl was amazed and looked at her friend in wonder. She had never heard Millie say anything in such a flat tone of voice before. She realized with a sense of guilt that she had not been paying much attention to how hard their situation had been on Millie. She berated herself. Even though Millie was so easy-going and good-natured didn't mean that she didn't feel the effects of the apprehension, pressure and nervous tension too. She reached over and put her hand on her friend's forearm, halting so that Millie halted along with her. Millie looked down at her with puzzled and questioning eyes. "I'm sorry Millie. You so rarely complain about anything. I have only been thinking about how hard this has been for me. I am a horrid friend. You have been much more patient with me than I deserve."
         Meryl felt herself being swept up and crushed in Millie's arms. Hearing sniffling next to her ear she managed to breathe out, "Millie.... Millie... MILLIE!"
         "Huh?"
         "I... can't.... breathe..." Millie set her gently on her feet and started to release her but Meryl hung on for just a moment longer. "Millie, You're my best friend in the world, any world, bar none. I love you." And stepped back. Millie's eyes began to overflow.
         "Gee Meryl, I love you too and you are my best friend also!"
         "Okay, okay," Meryl exhaled, trying to blow her bangs off her forehead, "You know I suck at this gushy stuff, but...." And she lowered her eyes, "ever and always." And held up her curled pinky finger and waited until Millie returned the gesture curling hers around so they made a link, a gesture left-over from grade school days which they still used if infrequently. Then looking up and smiling, they nodded to one another, and turned to approach the arched doorway.
          Their walk slowed as they drew closer to the door. Meryl realized she had ambivalent feelings. She wanted to burst through the door fueled by her resentment and anger and get the answers she felt entitled to even if she had to shake someone's teeth loose. Dammit, we earned it! But coupled with that was a growing and gnawing reluctance to discover what was at the proverbial bottom of the rabbit's hole. It's never anything good.

Part 5 - They Don't Pay Me Enough For This

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