Premiered June 24, 2003
The peace of a small wooded intersection was shattered as Woody came charging up to it at a dead run. He stopped, grabbed a tree for support, and tried to quickly catch his breath. Glancing around, he muttered, "Where's that damn temple?" For a moment he concentrated on where he was in relation to the temple. Then he made a best guess of which path to take.
Just as he was about to start running again, two Riwanians came around a bend walking along his chosen route. Woody started walking slowly down the path toward them. Each of them acknowledged the other with a greeting, and they passed without incident. Quickly Woody checked his watch. Marie had had over twenty minutes to break out of his stateroom and summon help. Clearly he could not delay, no matter how it might look. Abruptly, he broke into an all out run down the path.
The momentary commotion caused by his sudden acceleration, caught the attention of the Riwanians and they looked back toward Woody. Seeing his running, they could only smile and wonder what it was that possessed the far travelers to be in such a hurry.
Within minutes Woody came within sight of the crest of the hill that surrounded the temple. He slowed to a brisk walk as he began to encounter more Riwanians. It had already occurred to him that someone running hell bent for the temple might attract the wrong kind of suspicion. Also, by slowing down Woody would have the opportunity to look around for any possible obstacles.
The first obstacle he saw was Michaels and Sorrenson rounding a corner. They were walking with a purposeful gait and talking with more than considerable seriousness. Woody did not hesitate for a moment. Ducking down and skirting off to the left, he kept out of sight of his two superiors. It was then he realized he was 50 to 100 yards closer to the temple and should be able to beat them there with little or no trouble. Rather than take the chance of another unforeseen problem occurring, he started running again.
As he approached the top of the hill, he knew he would soon be seen. For just a moment he wondered why he had not heard Marie's communications with Michaels and Sorrenson. It seemed apparent they were aware of the situation. Then he realized Marie would have gone to the trouble to cut him out of the communications net. Woody smiled slightly, realizing he must never underestimate Lieutenant Commander Marie.
Just as he reached the top of the hill and started down, he thought perhaps the others had not noticed him. But his communications unit began buzzing. "Woodward! Stop! That's a direct order!"
Woody ignored it and ran for the base of the temple and the door which Dawn had entered. The slope of the hill very nearly sent him tumbling, but he managed to keep his feet. Then as he hit the lower level portion, still 20 yards from the door, he stumbled slightly and came down on one knee. Undaunted, he got back to his feet, and unslung the laser rifle. Taking careful aim, he fired a solid blast at the door.
Searing light filled the portal, as the door took the full brunt of the laser's destructive power. After another second, Woody stopped firing and ran to the door. It was still not ajar, but he could see the remaining obstacle. With the laser rifle at close range, he fired again. A flash of light, and the door gave way, sagging inward.
Without thinking Woody used the butt of the rifle and gave the door one more blow. The door sagged more, but the shock shattered the base of the rifle. Woody cursed and threw the weapon down. He was ready to throw himself against the door, when he heard the shout. Looking up, he saw Michaels and Sorrenson at the top of the hill. Other Riwanians, having seen Michaels and Sorrenson running for the temple, had become alarmed and followed. Suddenly the crest was crowded with witnesses.
Woody saw Sorrenson dropping to one knee and drawing his laser. Woody reacted instinctively and threw himself against the door. The door gave way completely, causing Woody to stumble and hit the floor just inside the temple. For a brief second Woody waited for the blast from Sorrenson's weapon. But nothing happened. Then Woody realized he had more time.
Quickly he was back on his feet and pushing against the door. Slowly he moved it back to where it was nearly closed. Aiming his hand blaster at the top of the door where the top corner touched the overhead, he spot welded the door closed. Taking a deep breath, he paused for just a moment.
ALERT: Intruder; Sector D-4; Witnessed; One male, forced entry. Origin not identified. Violated Area Clean; Entry Chamber Uncompromised. ACTION: Immediate Activation Force Shield. Notify Priest Re Temple Sacrilege. Alert I.F. Commence Sequence PE-1A. Avoid Confrontation. EXECUTE.
It took Max only a second to take in the situation. As soon as they had reached the top of the hill, and spotted Woody, it was clear he had already committed the heresy. Max dropped to his knee, rechecking to be sure his blaster was on stun with a narrow beam, and aimed.
There was an immediate clamor from the nearby Riwanians, as they assumed he was about to fire upon the temple. Max glanced to the side with his eyes only, and then started to look to Michaels. By then he realized Woody was already out of sight. With no second thought, Max leaped up, reholstered his blaster and took off down the hill. Michaels was but a few steps ahead of him.
Max was quick to catch up with Michaels, and then surged on by as the Captain stumbled and fell on the steep slope. Max paid no attention to the commotion caused by Michaels' going head over heels, and continued down the slope, barely keeping his balance. Shouts from the Riwanians rang out, telling both of them to stop. But Max would not hear of it. As he hit the lower part, he was ready for an all out dash. Suddenly he realized the temple had become enshrouded in a blue glow. Running headlong into it, Max felt his every movement slow, as if he were suddenly running in mud. A fury of crackles and sparks sprang up around him, just as the blue glow gained a definitive force and literally threw him backwards to the edge of the slope. For just a moment Max laid there on the ground, totally bewildered at the rebuff.
Michaels reaching his side, asked, "You okay?"
Max just sat watching the blue glow. Then quietly, he said, "Oh yeah. I'm fine." Then after a moment, "What the hell is that?" Michaels made no response, watching the glow with amazement.
Then both of them heard the yells of the Riwanians. "Do not go further! Do not again bring sacrilege upon the temple!" Both of the men suspected they really did not have any choice about the matter.
Woody backed away from the door, turned and tried to gauge his situation. He was in a short corridor, one which opened into another larger room. Then at the end of the corridor, a sliding door began to close. Woody took three quick steps and lunged through the half closed door. He landed heavily and bumped his head as he slid into a pedestal like block of carved stone.
Realizing he might be under surveillance, he ignored the bump on his head and leaped back to his feet. Looking around, he saw a small room with no other entries, and a variety of totally alien and foreign symbols reminding him of ancient hieroglyphics. In the center of the room was a slab pedestal, about the size of a Riwanian. Clearly it allowed for a Riwanian to lay down on it. Several unknown but sophisticated looking objects clustered about the table.
Searching frantically in the dim light, Woody saw a small cubicle opposite the single door into the room. Slowly he moved past the table (still wondering what it was) and stood before the entrance to the cubicle. He knew his time was limited, so he hardly dared to hesitate. He stepped into the cubicle. Subtly he felt the floor under his feet move and the cubicle began ascending. Obliquely he realized he was on an elevator.
After just a moment, a door opened in front of him. A blue glow caught his attention immediately. He realized he was at the top of the temple. He started to step forward, only to suddenly see some of the Riwanians at the top of the hill. Shielded by the blue glow and the darkness of the elevator, Woody knew he hadn't yet been seen. But he also knew this was not the route Dawn had taken.
Stepping back into the elevator, he waited for something to happen. For a moment, desperation grabbed at him. He had to get back to the room and find another exit. Glancing around him, he saw what might be the cover of a control panel. Seizing upon the idea, he pulled his blaster. After setting the blaster for a fine beam, he turned on the panel. Rather easily he cut the hinges and lifted the panel off.
The insides of the panel box gave him a brief surprise. For instead of two positions for the two levels, there were three. He smiled as he realized the elevator was the other exit and all he had to do was go down. He grinned. Being an engineer was sometimes a great help. Almost casually he short-circuited just the right circuit and the elevator started down.
A slight light entered from behind him coming from the room he had originally entered. But it faded as the elevator continued downward. After a slightly longer time in the descent compared to the ascent, the elevator stopped and a door opened noiselessly before him. Quickly he stepped through the doorway and found himself in another room. It was a very strange and different room.
ALERT: Intruder; Entry Chamber Violated; Sector D-4; One Male; Forced Entry; Not Witnessed. ACTION: I.F. Take Immediate Action; sequence 1-3A. Seal Sectors D-2, D-3, D-4, D-5. EXECUTE.
Woody stood suddenly still. The room was overpowering. Not in size, but overpowering in its alien ness. In many respects it was beautiful. Almost nothing made sense, but everything seemed to fit. Woody realized in part why he was unconcerned: the room was totally non-threatening. There was even a measure of comfort. The lighting was peaceful and restful. A blue haze drifted about the room, without the hint of a fog or mist. It was warm and gentle and quiet. The ambience reminded him of an inanimate garden with the unique quality of peace and serenity.
Woody had momentarily forgotten his mission. Everything had seemed irrelevant as he absorbed the tranquility of the room. Then he straightened, as if to throw off this hint of peace and quiet. He started through the room with a quick gait, searching for another exit or entry. It was easy to find.
For a moment he hesitated with the blaster when he saw the immaculate design of the door. It was clearly old and revered, covered with a maze of the alien symbols and signs. It was also substantial. Woody tried to open it without the blaster. When it was clear that wouldn’t work, he began to explore ways of how he could open it with the least amount of destruction. Standing back he used his blaster on what he thought might constitute the hinges. He got lucky. Abruptly the door jerked as a few of the hinges gave way and the door leaned slightly outward. Woody smiled and quickly wedged himself through the small crack between the door and the frame.
ALERT: Corridors Breached, Sector D-4; Single Male. ACTION: I.F. Assume Shields. Isolate and Detain. Avoid Severe Confrontation; All D Sectors Alert. EXECUTE.
Once through the damaged and leaning door, Woody found himself in a stark, lighted, slightly curving corridor. Purely on instinct he moved to the left, counting on the luck of a 50-50 chance. As he ran down the corridor, he noticed an imbedded, track-like device running on either side of the floor. It resembled vaguely the modern super-train tracks of earth. For just a second it occurred to him he might be running blindly down your basic subway tunnel and could reasonably expect the Riwan Express at any time. But then he shoved the thought aside and kept moving at a steady pace, looking for any sign of life.
He had run for five to ten minutes, when he came to an intersection. Without any hesitation, he turned right and increased his speed as the corridor curved back to the left. Then as the corridor straightened, he caught his first sight of what appeared to be some sort of tram.
At least it had all the earmarks of a subway tram. True, it was short -- no more than five meters long -- but it also had large transparent windows all around, was clearly attached to a track, was apparently self propelled, driverless, and appeared to be obviously suited for what Woody surmised to be its intended purpose. Most importantly, it was to all intents, deserted.
Woody sprinted toward the tram, slowing down and approaching it more cautiously only in the last ten meters of his approach. Clearly it was not abandoned, but instead operational and simply on standby. A small overhead light dimly lit the interior.
Woody began to study it, gauging its potential usefulness. He could see a small console panel at one end. Aft of that were cushioned benches running along each side. At the rear was what appeared to be a door. Gingerly he approached and tried the door. It opened easily. There was no hint of danger, so Woody stepped up and into the tram.
ALERT: Station Breached; Sector D-4, 3C; Single Male. ACTION: Seal Station. I.F. Group assume position in corridor D-4, 3c; With Shields. DO NOT CONFRONT. Activate Carrier for Transport to Secured Area. COMMUNICATIONS: Reroute all links from Station 3c. Prepare Comm-Shield. Advise. All D-Sectors, Continue Alert. EXECUTE.
As Woody stepped into the tram and began to study closely the interior, the tram abruptly came to life, the console lit up and the rear door closed automatically. Woody felt the trap swing closed! Quickly he fired his hand blaster at the console. Sparks and a brief flash of fire lit up the front end of the tram. Then with a loud, heavy jerk, a side door on the tram slid open. Behind it a second door, one built into the wall of-the corridor, slid with a jerk part way open and then jammed itself. With an unaccustomed noise it began to try to close again.
Woody fairly threw himself through the door, rolled on his hands and knees, and quickly crouched at the ready with his hand blaster sweeping the surroundings. His first reaction was shock, as he surveyed the room. One wall, perhaps ten meters long and three meters high, was a maze of electronics and computer-like technology. The wall was massive, very impressive and obviously sophisticated.
When Woody recovered from his initial amazement, he looked around at the rest of the room. It appeared to be pentagonal, about ten feet on a side. The other four walls were covered with more of the strange Riwanian symbols and signs, and what appeared to be art. In the middle of the room were strange looking chairs and what appeared to be some sort of communication console.
Then near the arm of one chair, Woody saw the cup, steam still rising from the hot liquid inside. Woody smiled. Clearly someone had just left and obviously in a bit of a hurry. The question was where. There did not appear to be another way out, and the fact the tram was still in place, ruled out that way as a possible escape route.
He began to move around the room, searching for an exit or a hiding place. The walls were to all appearances void of openings, although the hieroglyphics and artistic forms could potentially hide secret openings. The wall of electronics looked barren of any possible openings. Woody felt sure there was some opening hidden in one of the walls, but then began to suspect that perhaps it didn’t matter.
Instead, he went to what he had guessed was a communications console, and gingerly sat down in the chair. For a few moments he sat quietly, first studying the room, and then the electronics. Then softly, he said, "If you're listening, and I'm sure you are, there's only one thing I want. Her name is Dawn. She's just arrived. Send her to me, and we'll both leave quietly."
Woody remained very still, poised for an answer. There was none. Then he tried again, "I know you can hear me. It's not possible you could have this set up without some means of communications. So understand one thing: I'm not here to give you any trouble. All I want is Dawn. It's a simple request."
There was still no answer. Silence dominated the room. He frowned. Then he decided to try a different tack. "You're trying my patience. And if I get sufficiently impatient, I'm liable to carve a very large Z across your lovely computer here. Be assured that my hand laser can do a great deal of damage. If, on the other hand, you want to avoid this, bring Dawn here! Now!" Woody scowled appropriately to reemphasize his point.
His ultimatum was followed by a new sound, a mixture of electrical sparks and mechanical clinking. Woody jerked around to see if anything was near the door where he had entered. When he saw no movement, he turned back to the computer wall and saw a blue mist starting to form before it. His first thought was: Gas!
Woody yelled, "I can see the gas! If it doesn't dissipate in less than ten seconds, I'm opening fire on your computer!" Then to bring home his point, "Five seconds!"
It was quickly obvious the mist had not received the memo to dissipate and was instead intensifying. It was also clear that Woody was not going to be answered.
"Okay. You asked for it!" With that pronouncement he aimed his blaster at an arbitrary point on the wall and fired. His mouth promptly dropped open as he saw the blue mist first absorb the laser beam at its impact point, and then transmit the intense energy from the blast in a ripple along the entire surface of the blue mist, quickly dissipating itself. The computer wall did no more than reflect the increased brightness.
Gingerly Woody fired a few more blasts at random points, with equally disappointing results. Frowning heavily and angry at himself, Woody glanced down at the communication console. There was no protective blue mist about it, and he toyed with the idea of blasting it just for spite. Then he thought better of it. This was not a good time to make your very worthy adversary mad.
Another noise, from near the portal where he had entered caught his attention. He turned just as two figures stepped into the room to confront him. At the sight of him, they stopped and simply stared. Both were female. Surrounding each of them was a light bluish glow.
Woody decided to try just one more time and again lifted his blaster. "Where is she? Where is Dawn?"
For a moment they simply watched him. Woody thought that they seemed more curious than concerned. They were certainly no more than mildly interested in the inherent possibilities of his blaster. Woody sensed something more: an uncanny understanding and compassion.
Another movement from his rear caused Woody to turn back around as three others appeared from the opposite direction through, sure enough, a secret passageway in the far wall. Upon seeing him, the three stopped, keeping their distance. A bluish mist surrounded each of them as well. But Woody noted one other aspect: one of the new arrivals had a slender golden stripe vertically inlaid in his light green uniform on his left arm and chest. Woody sensed immediately that this new arrival was the local commander in chief. Only he did not look like your typical battle commander. There was a tender and generous smile on his face that caught Woody's full attention. It was the look of a smiling grandfather who had just caught his grandson with one hand in the cookie jar.
When Woody turned his blaster on the leader, the man only showed a cynical but considerate smile. Then the humor reached Woody. Awkwardly he asked, "The blaster won't do any good, will it?"
The man smiled in agreement.
Woody continued, "I'm trapped, right?"
Again a knowing nod of yes.
Woody could only sigh. "And you're not going to answer me, are you?"
Smiling the leader again shook his head in agreement. The others seemed equally amused, as Woody swung the blaster down to a casual position at his side. For a moment, he could only look heavenward, wondering how he had gotten himself into this mess. Quietly the others moved closer and gently took him into tow.
Michaels and Sorrenson both sat at the top of the hill, a large group of Riwanians surrounding them. Both knew the group around them constituted their unofficial guards, although no overt hint of the relationship had been given. Max had listened as Michaels had made some off hand comments about the old Rynangi incident, the diplomatic blunders, and now this new interstellar incident. Max could only look down to the ground and wonder about the blue force field that had so effectively repulsed him. Apparently the technology of The Gods was even more than they had suspected.
A sudden movement and the Riwanians parted. Max saw a priest with two others approaching. Quickly he and Michaels got to their feet, even as Max immediately noticed the garb the priest wore. It was more than impressive, complete with studied and intricate decorations. Max was sure no one had seen any priest in anything quite so fine. Even the nearby Riwanians were impressed with the priest's new 'uniform'. Clearly this was an extraordinary occasion.
The priest's stern look as he approached worried even Max. It was clear they were about to be severely disciplined. Max straightened.
When the priest was within a few yards, he stopped and began to study the two men. Then in a no nonsense voice, he commenced. "The far travelers will return immediately to their craft where they will remain until further notice!" Sorrenson shuddered at the demand. The Riwanians, being the epitome of good hosts, had never made demands; it was unheard of. But these were clearly demands now. "The far travelers will not depart Riwan!" Max sensed the priest was deliberately couching everything in the third person, suggesting that he might be unwilling to lower himself by talking to the earthmen.
Michaels interrupted, "Where is Commander Woodward?" Max jerked his eyes around to Michaels. The question was clearly out of line.
Apparently the priest agreed, as his only reply was a stern look and a single command, "Silence!" Max wondered what had possessed Michaels. Then the relationship between the two men came back to his memory, and the concern by Michaels did not seem out of place. But the priest was not finished.
"The Temple of Renewal, having been desecrated by the far travelers, must now be purified. Henceforth, the far travelers will not be allowed anywhere within sight of the temple." The priest turned slightly to glare intentionally at Michaels. "The desecrator of the temple is as yet unharmed. The punishment for his acts has not yet been determined.
"The far travelers will be notified of future developments as The Gods deem appropriate. No questions will be tolerated, and none will be relayed to The Gods." (Max thought, "Don't call us, we'll call you.") "The far travelers, while not allowed to leave at this time, should be prepared to leave on a moment's notice. With or without the desecrator!"
There was a momentary silence as the priest looked at the two men. Both signified understanding. Quietly Michaels asked, "Is there anything we can do?”
Abruptly the priest interrupted him. "There is nothing the far travelers can do or say which is of any concern to The Gods or their people."
With an apparent and new found authority, the priest turned to the other Riwanians. "Escort the far travelers back to their craft."
Without the slightest hesitation, the others grouped around the two earthmen. Michaels and Sorrenson obediently complied and the small group set off for the Intrepid. For just a second Max glanced back at the blue glow around the temple. The technology was impressive, and Max had no doubt the demands were being delivered from a position of strength. Max's imagination began to churn, as they were escorted back to the Intrepid.
Copyright 1983, 1996, 2003 Dan Sewell Ward
Chapter Thirteen -- The Bruise
Chapter Fifteen -- The Gods
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]