From that day, it took nearly three weeks to repair the engines onboard the Isabella. Between the crafty stitch and cobbling of parts they simply didn’t have, and the complete fabrication of new parts using what equipment they had…the Isabella wouldn’t fly far…but she would fly.
But broken ribs and pulled muscles could not heal so quickly. The captain and his crew, despite their best efforts were finding their strength wicked away more and more quickly the longer they remained in the cavern.
Those generous enough to help, along with Katherine, slowly ceased their excavation to put the higher effort into the repair of the ship. Something Cedric Whittaker could not express his gratitude for.
“We need to repay them for this…”
“How can we do that?” Kitty Livingston asked in turn, “It’s not like we can just pay them back.”
Amarante sat beside Javert huddled into her wool overcoat. “Could we help them with the excavation?”
“And look at their mass grave, slash, super computer, slash, ritual training ground? To what end…we’re a menagerie of insane mixed with volatile violent tendencies…” Suzeaux huffed sarcastically.
“Well, why not?” Luthiem looked at Suzeaux, “We have a varied mess of geniuses in the crew…not to mention the combined knowledge we bring from all the worlds we have visited… couldn’t it be possible that the artifacts here would make more sense to us than to people who haven’t left the Order protected worlds?”
“I’m willing to give it a go.” Brother Luke smiled.
“As am I.” Kitty nodded.
Throughout the crew the heads nodded in affirmation and Cedric stood tightening his belt about his waist.
“Well, seems I don’t have much to complain about. Let’s get one of the recovery vehicles and take a look at the Vhaen Complex.”
Down into the earth they traversed. The mountain’s paths were worn smooth by what must have been centuries of use. They were wide. Wide enough to stretch one hundred men across shoulder to shoulder; and all of them moved down from the cavern where the Isabella sat into the heart of the mountain.
As they delved deeper, lanterns and wires running over them brought needed light into the dark and still air of the complex. The shadows hung still as they progressed past rooms devoid of effect aside from their existence. As they continued down, the signs of life that had once been there became more and more apparent.
“They didn’t bring me this way before…” Vale muttered as he looked over a cache of bodies, strewn into a mass at the back of a chamber. “These bodies are old…mummified by the dry air….”
“They don’t even smell…” Amarante noted.
“They don’t appear to be injured in any way…just…sort of dead…and in a pile.”
“Check for poisons maybe?”
Vale nodded, that would be an excellent idea. With a careful hand, the doctor swabbed the interior of a paper thin corpse. Removing a glove, the doctor pulled a petri dish from his coat pocket and lined it with the swab.
“You carry…Petri dishes in your jacket pockets?”
Vale looked up at her sharply, “and you don’t…?” Thaddeus closed the lid to the dish and applied pressure to the bottom, “Now…this device will run an electrical current through the jelly inside this dish. That will stir up any living bacteria…and if there is any kind of carcinogen, or poison of any type…it will turn a color…and I will know what this poor fellow died from.”
At first, as the dish began to hum, nothing happened. Vale, perturbed at this, shook the dish violently. All at once, the gel within the small glass container erupted into a brilliant orange foam, followed by an electric blue veining pattern. So violent was this reaction, that the normally placid face of the doctor twisted back in horror.
“By all that is holy!”
The dish flew from his hand and into the pile of dead bodies. The sound of shattering glass and the shutting down of the whirring machine left the orange and blue ooze sinking into the stone with sudden dispersion.
“What was that?” Amarante shouted looking from it to Vale quickly.
“That…was a bad idea…” the doctor replaced his glove and moved Amarante away from the bodies towards the door. “Orange is the sign of an arsenic based poison…and the blue…well..I’ve never seen it turn that color before…Whatever it was in their systems they were riddled with it.”
“Most likely they drank it…” Cedric interjected from the room across the hall.
In his hand laid two large bottles. “There are about three hundred more in the next two chambers.”
“They’re all the same age.”
The group turned to Luthiem who stood with a chart in her hand under a hanging light.
“The historians wrote here that there are fifty chambers containing anywhere from five to fifty bodies each all piled the same way. Like a ritual mass grave. The only difference, is that as they get closer to the central chamber the bodies get older…like they had been there longer.”
The crew around her exchanged horrified glances.
Vale entered another chamber with Mr. Fox. The bodies in this room were fewer and more ornately arranged. They laid on their backs with what appeared to be dried flowers about the heads. Their arms were crossed in an unusual position, charred and black from the finger tips to the elbows.
“The skin appears to have necronized before death…” Vale muttered examining the bodies closely.
Fox frowned slightly…flexing his forearm as he pondered it. “The cold down here is brutal. You would have thought it might be warmer away from the wind.”
“I suppose not…” the doctor mused.
Down below, in the rooms upon the threshold of the main amphitheater shaped main hub, the ever inquisitive kitty Livingston walked the rooms ringed with weapons.
“It smells like death down here…”
“Something….isn’t right is it?” Attica replied looking around the tunnel with brows furrowed.
The main chamber opened up wide just beyond them. It was dark, blackness like a wall within it. But fixed to the wall hung a series of levers. As Kitty and her companion approached the chamber, they proceeded to throw the switches. With each connection made, the largest and brightest of lights flickered to life.
At the center of the room, large enough to house thousands of bodies in what were like stadium seats, stood a platform of stone. upon the platform was a housing of stone shaped like a box.
The pair made no waste of time in proceeding to the center to look at the strange contraption.
“Vale said it was a computer…and that it responded really badly when they tried to remove it.”
Attica’s furrowed brows continued to get deeper. The box sat upon a pedestal of stone carved with intricate designs. Two large circular indentations broke the front seam where the top and front of the box came together. The interior of the holes carved into the piece was obscured from view.
“This feels wrong…” Lighting a match Attica held the light inside the first of the carvings. There was no reflection of light. Like a pair of contained black holes, the orifices in the stone stared back at them unendingly. Leaning close to the box, she placed her hand to the side of it. From within a series of taps made the stone vibrate.Attica stepped back quickly. “Kitty, let’s find the others…This isn’t a good place to be.”
All of a sudden the entire room shook in violent rumbles. Again, it occurred, the sounds of thunder echoing down from above shaking the theater like an earthquake.
Above at the first tier of chambers, the captain grappled with the radio on board the small vehicle.
“Mrs. Tellius what’s going on up there?! Kathrine!?”
The response was garbled and out of staticy. “Cedric!!”
“Copy!” The room shook again. “What’s going on?!”
“They found us! We’re under attack!”