They stood there not sure what to do next as they searched for a handle, knob, or lever, but couldn't find anything to indicate a latch that would open the door. They even tried pushing their palms against the surface of the door, which felt like a smooth stone, however the door didn't budge. Taking a step back, they looked at the door and frame over and over to see if they had missed something.|
Millie said half-hopefully, "I've read about a door that in order for it to open one needed to say 'Friend'. With her fists resting on her hips, Meryl studied the door, then Millie and then back at the door again, muttering to no one in particular, "And maybe they only speak High Elven."
Staring at it with exasperated eyes Millie observed, "No doorbell, maybe we should knock in case they don't know we are here." Meryl crossed her arms, glared at the door and said in a dark tone, "Oh, they know we're here. They have been toying with us all along." In a louder voice Meryl announced "Ha Ha, very funny! Don't make us slide pamphlets under the door! We can turn around and leave you know!" Sincerely hoping that it was true.
A grating noise and another whooshing sound once again signaled the hole growing process. This is getting to be old hat. Thought Meryl sardonically, I'm not as intimidated as I used to be.
Once the door was fully opened, Meryl breathed out an "Ookkkkkaaaaaaaay!"
"Aren't we going in?" Questioned Milly after a moment as they stood there on the threshold.
"Just screwing up what little shred of courage I have left. I think I used up my allotted quota for the week." She peered intently into the darkness. She was not feeling any strong urge to barge into a pitch black room and she was betting Millie felt the same way.
A nightlight sure would be handy about now.
They took a step in and halted. And waited. The light came up slowly to push back the darkness. They were standing at the top of a ramp with thick handrails that could have doubled as transport pipes. Millie reached out and put her hand on the rail next to her.
"Warm." She muttered. Meryl turned to her rail and laid a hand on it and found hers was warm also. Must be a conduit of some sort.
As soon as she was able to see clearly they looked up, did a double take and kept tilting their heads all the way back and lowered again as they became aware of the vast size of the chamber. Jaws lowered in amazement. The size of the place was massively overwhelming.
Are these aliens freaking giants? With a puff of air, she blew a lock of hair out of her eyes.
"Golly. It's big. Really big."
"Yea." Was all Meryl able to choke out as her eyes roamed over and over the room. Room! As if that word could do justice to the tremendous amount of space that was assaulting their senses.
"What do you think they needed all this room for?"
"Tea parties." Throwing out the first thing that popped into her head.
Meryl wondered if they would stop being stunned by the sights they were discovering under the sands of this planet.
The back of the chamber receded in to a misty distance and was deeper than it was wide. It had the potential of a great cathedral's hushed blend of soaring inspiration and quiet awe if the effect hadn't been spoiled by the chisel marks on the wall as if the chamber had been hastily dug out. It was also smeared with blaster burn marks. Now that she noticed it, she could see the same evidence on just about everything there.
Her eyes fell back to the floor, which was littered with machines jumbled about, stacked against the walls, or tipped against each other as if dropped in a hurry. Everything looked as if it had been hastily deposited in the room without rhyme or reason. Looping cables wound around massive pillars and snaked across the floor but came to an end without being hooked into anything. Meryl suspected they were machines by the little lights blinking on and off, giving her the impression of a computer. Also here and there were opaque balls that, if she and Millie were standing next to them would come up to their waist. She looked at them more closely. Most were broken and shattered with the glass shards spread out near them. The total effect gave the impression of a battle with a rushed and disorderly retreat. The question here was "who won"? And wondered why they hadn't seen any evidence of fighting in the journey through the maze of hallways. Hearing some humming and clicking next to her, she turned to see lines and pipes attached to the wall beside their door. Some also blinked, glowed, or hummed. Energy was coming from someplace, but where? She didn't see anything that looked like it had the capability for being a power source.
"I'd hate to be in charge of keeping these floors cleaned." Millie observed as her gaze swept over the floor.
"Well, at least there are no windows." Meryl replied.
"Doesn't matter, I don't do windows."
"And I don't do weird, yet here we are!"
Meryl was experiencing a sense of lightheaded giddiness and felt a small bubble of a giggle trying to percolate up. She reprimanded herself. Get a grip girl! This is serious. Another attempted giggle popped out. Slapping a hand over her mouth, she looked over at Millie who was grinning like a cat. "Hard to hold it in?" Meryl nodded without removing her hand. I have met my limitations and am about to be done in by a giggle. This is so humiliating! Damn aliens! She waited until the urge passed. Experimenting, she lifted her hand an inch. Okay, so far. She lowered it all the way and took a deep breath, grateful for a morsel of control.
A rumble sounded and the ground began to tremble beneath their feet.
"Not again!' Meryl shouted as both girls looked down at their feet in horror while throwing their arms around the handrails for support. But this time a hole did not open underneath them.
As quickly as it took to blink, a globe appeared. The globe itself was the size, if not bigger, than a Glider frigate, a vessel twice the size of their Wing Glider. It sat on a huge ring that was obviously a pedestal for the very purpose of holding the globe in place. Machines came to life all around the platform. Wires and pipes attached to the back of the globe or platform began humming with the transfer of power. On one side of the globe out of the tendrils of mist or smoke wafting up from the floor, a film, similar to the one they had seen on the surface. They watched a little anxiously as flickers of light began to spin in a frenzied dance causing it to glow brighter. Unlike the opaque smaller globes, this one was clear like glass or the transglass of star ships.
Inside, they could see the twinkling lights darting back and forth, zipping so fast Meryl thought they would collide. Finally, each just stopped, abruptly. Bewildered, Meryl wondered how they could just pop into place like that when it appeared they were practically moving at the speed of light.
When they were all stationary and in place, they began an intricate weaving dance exchanging places with one another but not going outside of the established circle. Faster and faster they went until just one flickering circle materialized.
"I'm getting dizzy." Meryl said faintly.
"Really? I think it is the prettiest dance I have ever seen. C'mon let's get closer!"
Millie started down the ramp and Meryl followed her, still feeling somewhat queasy. Millie's eyes were huge with wonder. The light display in the desert was only a poor imitation compared to this vibrant rainbow dance. To cross the floor, they had to take their eyes off the globe to keep from tripping over the tangle of lines and wires cluttering up the floor between the two ramps. When they finally reached the ramp they paused to look up. Each little twinkler was again brought to a standstill and had grown a little larger. From out of each one stabbed out a beam of light into the center of their circle. When all of the beams were joined a small ball of light began to form.
Meryl expected the ball of light to grow larger but instead it turned in on itself and pulled the light into a small hole that grew to the edges of where the sparkling light had been.
Emerging from the hole were crystalline threads spreading out along the film into a lattice backdrop, filling the film from top to bottom.
Now little flecks of light flowed along the lattice frame, starting at the center and flashing outward to the edges. At the center was a hole growing larger, forming the familiar arched shape of a...
The door opened, in time or space or both or neither, but one thing that Meryl knew for sure was that neither humans nor Snakes had access to 'growing doors in an oversized fortune-teller's ball' kind of technology. This was the major leagues.
Meryl wanted to go up the ramp to the globe but her feet were overriding her mind. Probably deciding they are the only smart part of my body. Fighting the impulse, she forced herself to take one reluctant step after another. However, once she had committed herself it was easier to keep going. As soon as Millie noticed Meryl going forward, she followed, then passed her, gliding up the ramp so quickly she reached the top ahead of Meryl.
"Meryl. The lights, it's the same dance pattern as last night!"
"How can you tel.... never mind. I don't want to know." Meryl replied as she joined Millie on the platform. She looked down at the platform in surprise, what she had thought was metal wasn't clanking as she put her foot down, instead it felt a little spongy.
Millie took a step closer. Meryl stayed where she was but felt obligated to say, "Be careful Millie. They may not want us getting close to their... ball thingy. We don't have a clue as to what it is for."
"Someone's coming!" Millie said, ignoring Meryl's comment while Meryl threw a quick glance back over her shoulder in the direction of the door wishing she had her pip gun before realizing that Millie was referring to the door in front of them. Millie had her brows creased, concentrating on what was happening in the globe. Meryl hesitated and then took a step closer also. Millie already had palmed the globe and was pressed up next to it, leaning her weight against it. I hope they don't come unglued about smudge marks left on their glass. But Meryl couldn't help stepping closer. The whole globe was permeated with light now. As she did so, she felt again, another familiar warm caress pass through her like the she had experienced earlier with her ribs. Before she knew it, she was resting her weight against the curve of the sphere with hands resting lightly on the glass like Millie.
Something was coalescing in the middle of the hole, a humanoid form was taking shape. The circling lights faded as an alien, an honest to God alien, floated through the created circle. HA! Door! I knew it! Meryl thought triumphantly. Her heart began to beat faster, her palms felt sweaty (another smudge on the glass!) and her stomach cramped as she contemplated the fact that they were going to actually establish a first contact with a previously unknown species. The enormity of it took her breath away.
What should I say? Think of something clever, wise, deep, friendly...
"One small step...." No, already used, darn. "Lovely place you have here." Think, think, this shouldn't be that hard. There's got to be something.... some immortal quote that can go down nicely in posterity. How about 'good tea, nice house'... no, that's been used too. She pinched the bridge of her nose and squeezed her eyes shut trying to concentrate. Maybe I should say... "Hel-oooooo!" Piped up Millie. Meryl whipped her head around to her friend who was waving and smiling a genuine expression of greeting, light blue eyes snapping with excitement.
Okay, that will work.
The glow had lessened making it easier to gaze without scrunching their eyes. Meryl could make out humanoid features. She let out a sigh of relief. She didn't believe she was prejudiced against other species but after humankind's first disastrous experience with another race, she had hoped they wouldn't turn out to be reptoids.
The alien floated through the dimming lights obviously their job was finished for now. The alien wasn't wearing clothes so Meryl could see she definitely had female attributes but without all the detailed features of human female anatomy . Meryl decided she would just tag her as 'she' from this point on unless she learned something to contradict it.
"Ooooh!" Millie murmured, "She's beautiful!"
As the alien woman swam closer, Meryl could see her features more clearly and was startled to see the long, tapering ears sweeping back to delicate tips poking up through the longest, thickest hair Meryl had ever seen, at least two body lengths. It floated lazily about her as if on unseen currents.
Meryl tried to suppress the instant envy surging up. What glorious hair, what lovely ears! Meryl unconsciously hunched her shoulders, aware of the sweat, dirt and grime of the past day sticking to and covering every inch of her body. She let out a sigh, oh well; they would probably look ridiculous on her. She didn't think she could pull off the ethereal look as well either. Dang but it looks good on her though! To Meryl it she was an image come to life right out of all the fantasy and fairy tale books she used to read. Everything about this gossamer being sang of a fragile and wispy softness... Yet, Meryl titled her head, she sensed there was an underlying, untapped power at rest deep within. A beautiful exterior wrapped around an unfathomable and ancient power... with elf ears. Go figure.
"Uh... H..Hello." Meryl croaked out. "I'm Meryl and this is Millie." Best to keep it simple at first. "Umm, is this your planet? We crashed here sev..."
"Yes... I... know." They heard a melodious voice chiming that did not register in their ears. It was halting, as if trying to get the feel of human speech. Millie and Meryl looked up and around trying to figure out where the voice had come from. They hadn't seen a speaker grill attached to the ball.
"You. Hear. Me... in.. your thoughts." The alien smiled at them. Smiled! Aliens smiled! Great! Wait. Was it an 'I am getting ready to suck your brains out for a snack' smile, or did it mean the same thing as a human smile?
"Do not... fear. I am not... going to eat you." And Meryl thought she felt a trace of humor in that.
Meryl also noted that it didn't take her long to get up to speed on the language either.
The lady alien floated closer to the glass and Meryl took the opportunity to scrutinize her face. Meryl noticed she had no pupil, iris, or whites in her eye. They were large and oval-shaped and dark but with a sparkle of life dancing in them, like sunlight skipping across the surface of a mountain stream. If Meryl hadn't already decided before, the alien's pointed chin and perfectly-formed small facial features only added to the impression of her being elven.
Hovering before them, she seemed as fascinated by them as they were by her.
I diverted your traveling pod and guided it away from the Snakes intended destination. They meant to send you to one of their research stations." Meryl and Millie paled, they would rather be killed in battle than be a Snake research project. "I also lowered it to the ground so it was not destroyed."
Meryl gasped, "You! You were the one... From the very first, that was you! All the systems that refused to work, the missing crystasis pod, my guitar, the pudding cups, the healings! Millie nodded in agreement, yes, it made sense now.
"Pood-ing." The alien replied thoughtfully. "Yes. I did do these things of which you speak. However, I had help from the one of us riding with you."
"We had someone tagging along with us?" Meryl asked suspiciously.
"Not as I am." Gesturing to herself. "One of my kind, immature, not evolved as I am. A... lesser, not ripe being, if you will."
"Okay, you got me. I'm at a loss." Meryl admitted.
"I know!" Exclaimed Millie. "I know what it is!"
"It's lima bean, Frankie!" At Meryl's blank look she went on, "The power plant! She's talking about the ship's power plant!"
Turning to look back at Lady Elf, as Meryl had decided to name her, mulled over the concept with a frown, trying to comprehend and asked, "Is that right? You're... related to a... lima bean?"
Replying to Meryl's unasked questions that were running rampant across her mind she said, "No, not like that. More like... an... intelligent skin graft. It has been my work to secretly guide and give hints to your scientists for many years. Otherwise, they would never have what they have now."
"You are the reason for this new biopower technology! How the hell old are you anyway!" Demanded Meryl, making a mental note not to swear at the alien in further conversations.
"Many hundreds of your years old, many, many, yes very much so."
Wow. A woman who admits her age.
"It has been my life's work to seed your race with the new developments they will need for the future war."
"War?! What the cra... Er, just what are you saying?"
But the alien went on without answering her question. "We are not like you...
"...My people do not live well here on this side of the door. We need... Devices to help us. Still, even with them, it leaves us vulnerable to our enemies." Looking up, she gestured outwards. "This was once a beautiful, lush planet, one of our outposts. Our enemies found us. They destroyed the green, they destroyed life. They fought us back through our door. There is just enough life left here in our devices enabling me to come through and help and check on you. I used your 'power plant' to boost my range so I could reach you. It is also how I was able to guide your pod here."
"The battle destroyed much. Very little of our installation was left. It took you down the few halls that were undamaged...
Few! Just how big was this place!
The girls nodded grimly, remembering their recent run in with the nasties in the dark.
"As you can see, we, like you, have enemies on our side who seek to wipe out our race. We know they are allied with your enemies but behind them both is another being or beings controlling the actions of both. We know not who. We cannot find them on either side of the door. Who or whatever the one behind is, stays hidden, operating the strategies and battles from afar. But we believe that this epoch is the one in which the hidden will be revealed.
"Our enemies can transverse both sides without our weaknesses and stay for longer periods of time than we can. I intend to remedy that. I seek alliance with humans. I have watched the human race for more long, longnesses..?" Meryl could tell she was searching for a measurement of time and just waved her to continue. Just the big picture for now please. "More times, more ages than you could know."
"So magnificent in the blend of flaws and strengths you are. So creative and destructive, not given totally to one or the other, but both: nurturing warriors and destructive architects. What energy you spend in building and yet so willingly destroy. Yes. A strange mix; reaching to achieve the reality of dreams while hindered by every whim of self-centered egotism. The glory and the stench live side by side. You are most interesting."
"Yeah, well we get by." Blushing, Meryl crossed her arms.
"Gee, she's got us pegged." Offered Millie.
A touch of warmth brushed lightly over them as Lady Elf went on.
"Do not misunderstand..."
"How can I misunderstand 'glory and stench' it doesn't leave much to the imagination, now does it!" She placed her palms back on the globe and leaned against it again.
"You fascinate us." Lady Elf was smiling again. "We need you and we think you need us. We want a merging of races."
A cold wave of panic washed over Meryl. Good gravy. She hoped she wouldn't be asked to draw up any kind a peace treaty. Command would draw and quarter her if she came back with a signed document without approval. She didn't have that kind of authority! She was Glider pilot for God's sake! That's what she did, that's what she knew! She closed her eyes and thumped her head against the glass a couple of times. I hate my life.
"Meryl and I both flunked that class!" Piped up Millie helpfully. "So we are not very good at this kind of thing. Captain Quarterton won't be very happy with us if we sign anything. How about a pinky swear..." She trailed off as it dawned on her that touching was not an option. "Gee, how do you sign anything?" Asked Millie perplexed.
Another laugh. I am glad we are ever so amusing! Frowned Meryl, not knowing why but starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was taking.
"Soon a critical point will be reached. It is time for me to step in and bring together the first pieces that must be set in place." She paused for a moment as if considering and then said, "I am.... decades of your years being pregnant."
Together two mouths bounced open in surprise along with the inability to keep from looking down with a swift glance at her figure. She was looking good for being pregnant that long. She wasn't showing the slightest swelling.
She let the information soak in before saying, "I am pregnant with twins."
Twice a surprise is still a surprise. Where is she incubating them, her ears?
"My sons are a genetic mixture so they may operate in your world like you. They are my bridge of hope and eventual protectors of us both."
Meryl's head was spinning. How did one sign a treaty with an alien race specifying the transfer of babies? How was she going to explain this to Command, oh God, to First Contact? If she thought Command would have an apoplectic fit, what would First Contact's reaction be? They were one scary bunch of foaming at the mouth skeezoids in that branch. And Security, would bark bricks when they showed up with two infants. Wait a minute, what about baby things... did Supply even HAVE baby cribs and diapers? How were they supposed to transport infants home? Where were they going to put them, the storage closet? HOW were they going to feed them? WHAT were they going to feed them? And just WHO was going to change any poopy diapers.? Meryl wasn't, that's for sure. Huh uh, no way, she hadn't signed up for this! Burping babies was not in her job description of defending the human race.
Millie's voice cut through, interrupting her frantic and panicky thoughts, "Oh that is so wonderful! I love babies! I'm really good with them and they love me too!"
Meryl nudged her, "Think will you! What are we going to do with babies? We can't travel back trying to take care of a couple of babies, where are we going to put them? Tie them to the roof?" A heart stopping thought occurred to her. "Say.... you don't expect us to help you during that whole.... er, you know... giving birth process, do you?"
Please say no, please say no.
"Oh Meryl," Millie sighed, eyes shining like stars. "Wouldn't that just be the best! It would be so wonderful to be a part of ushering new life into..."
"NO! and NO! Get a grip Millie! We don't know nothing about birthing no babies!" She turned her attention back to Lady Elf. "Uhhh, back to my question, do you?"
"No." She whispered in their heads.
Meryl sagged against the glass in relief at the answer. There is a God in heaven!
Meryl wasn't sure but felt a nudge of humor coming across. So lifting her gaze up, she inquired, "Just what do you want us to help you with?"
A pause. A pregnant pause. This does not bode well.
"You both are special in different ways that you are not even aware of yet."
Meryl did not like how this was starting out.
Millie interjected, "Why thank you. So kind of you to say so! Isn't she nice Meryl?"
Meryl was having serious doubts about nice.
"I have chosen you both from among many. My sons will need you. I have chosen you to be their mates."
Eyes popped open, and even Millie starting choking. Meryl felt the blood drain from her face.
The surprises just kept on coming. My heart can't take all this excitement!
Finally Meryl's outrage exploded. "To hell with diplomacy! Listen you hormonal alien freak of nature, we are NOT, repeat NOT going to stick around babysitting your young 'uns for you while waiting for them to grow up! We had perfectly happy lives before we landed on this scorched planet of yours and hey, tough break with the whole invaders out to destroy you thing. I feel for you," In a tone that said no such thing, "But we have our own problems and we are expected back. If you want companions for your precious sons, look in the yellow pages; we quit!"
Millie enthused, "But joyous congratulations and best wishes on the impending birth of your babies!"
Hissing out of the side of her mouth, Meryl said, "STOP being so nice to the alien! She doesn't deserve it!"
Millie reprovingly said, "She did save our lives Meryl. We should be grateful for that. I would rather be here than at a Snake research station, wouldn't you?"
Grimacing Meryl grudgingly said, "Yea, okay, uhhh, thanks." She tried to turn to leave and pushed off from the glass. She intended to leave, dragging Millie behind her kicking and screaming if she had to when she found out to her horror that her hands were stuck to the surface of the glass. She pulled again with the same results.
She frantically whispered to Millie, forgetting for the moment the manner in which the alien had been communicating with them. "Millie, my hands are stuck! I can't move them!"
"Mine are too." Millie replied "they have been for a while."
"And when were you going to see fit to share this tidbit of information with me?" Meryl's face flushing in anger, not caring if Lady Elf overheard or not.
"Well what could you have done about it?" Wondered Millie eyeing her.
The woman was infuriating.
Meryl leaned back on the glass and locked seething eyes on the alien like a targeting laser.
She announced, clipping each syllable with precision, "Lady! You are certifiable, loony, nuts, flying backwards with no thrusters! Millie and I have been through hell and back since we landed...."
"Yes, thank you for all the nice things you have done for us!" Millie generously.
"Millie! I'm trying to make a point here!" Exasperation rolling off her in waves.
"Okay Meryl. Sorry." But grinned up at the alien.
On second thought maybe I'll leave her here. Meryl thought darkly, her mouth in a straight line and brows lowered. Taking a deep breath, she went to say, "Alien or not, you are a total b..." Meryl didn't get a chance to finish.
"You will not remember this. I will keep your memories in trust."
Both girls exclaimed at the same time.
Meryl glanced over at Millie, who was now beginning to look concerned.
Oh NOW she looks worried!
With a hint of a smile hanging sadly at the corners of her lips, she continued, "I have rarely gone against another being's will. I will not justify myself."
A pause that pressed down on Meryl and Millie with a near unbearable sorrow. Then the moment passed and she said, though Meryl didn't think she was addressing them anymore.
"They do not know, they will not know! I have chosen. These are the gifts I bestow on them. First, I give them love, which is not without sorrow. Next, I give them life, which is not without pain. And last, I give them mates so they may not have to walk alone."
"HEY!" Broke in Meryl, once again outraged and furious though out of the corner of her eye she saw Millie's eyes were tender and filling with tears.
"What about a mother? What kind of heartless monster allows her children to be raised by strangers not even of her species! This is not right. You don't even know if they will be accepted or not. After all," here glancing at the alien's ears and eyes, "it's not like they will be able to blend in. We are a really paranoid race, have you taken that into consideration? I mean really, how are they going to be treated by a people who you described as stinky!"
"Stench." Millie supplied.
"What!?" Asked Meryl confused.
"She didn't say stinky, she used the word, 'stench'."
"Who cares! I'm trying to make a point here!" Turning her eyes back to the alien, took a calming breath and continued, "What you are doing is wrong, plain and simple." She would have banged her fist against the glass for emphasis if she could have moved it but it was still stuck fast.
Then the first shred of a negative emotion lashed out at them, making both girls wince in pain. As if realizing she had hurt them, the harsh lance of anger was removed. In a chill voice echoing in their head, they heard, "I have done what I have done. I will do what I will do. You are making judgments based on little knowledge. But have no worry. I have already chosen a mother behind another door of time. I must wade carefully the streams of your time, it is not an easy thing to bring the two doors parallel, it takes great skill. But know this, a storm is coming on both sides of the door. I do what I do for the survival of many. I will now take you where the sands of time cannot touch you until your day comes to step again in the light of two suns. You do not know my sacrifice; it is great to me, yet small in comparison for the sake of the great many I seek to save."
She shut her eyes in contemplation of a sight known only to her.