The chamber beneath the complex was lit with bright phosphorescent light. Cables and crates were scattered about with computers and equipment of all sorts set up and monitoring all that went on within the room. Every available man and woman were set to their tasks, and all became even busier as Katherine entered the room.
“Miss Tellius, the fore monitors are reading a six and climbing.”
“Good.” she nodded to the man and handed him a large rope of cables, “Get the medical team operational as soon as possible. I want this thing operational yesterday.’
Vale watched them scrupulously as they carried on with the duties assigned them. Twenty or so men hovered over monitors and wrote meticulous details and minute changes upon reams of paper. Others ran lights farther up into the chamber itself and brought cameras to focus on their target.
The small stone box, as Vale had seen before, sat untouched in the center of the grand room. It’s carved surface sat as unmoving as it had for what was likely centuries. He shook his head and laid the parcel he had been given aside. Nearing the object, the doctor looked at it with caution. Pressing his ear to the side he stopped, listening. He plugged his ear on the opposite side and gave it a moment longer. Nothing happened.
Pulling away slightly and shaking his head yet again he muttered, “A stone box at the bottom of a mountain, dead children, and a missing world. Stranger things have happened I suppose.” He placed his hand upon the box to stand and a sudden jostle from within the cube quickly gathered his interest.
“Something moved?” Luthiem inquired trailing the ever inquisitive Rottger behind her.
Vale looked back up and nodded, “I didn’t think it was anything special at first…but now I’m not so sure…”
“Still think it’s a bad idea?” She tilted her head to one side and looked at the box.
Vale nodded, “I don’t like not knowing…and so little time to really test it.”
“It’ll end up being a one shot plan.”
“Wait.” Vale stopped, “Why are you both down here?”
“Captain’s orders,” She replied, “After what’s on with Amelia, I think his mind says better safe than sorry.”
Rottger was standing beside the young woman who had first treated him weeks ago. He asked her questions and pointed to the screens when things changed. Rottger stopped kind of suddenly when he caught sight of the Vhaen and came to investigate. He looked closely at the box and up at his crewmates from his normal stooped position.
Luthiem would nod and go back to watching the science teams work.
Rottger, unsatisfied with this, eyed the holes where the user’s hands supposedly connected into the system. He looked closely at the dark pits that showed no interior, and looked around sort of quickly. He thrust both hands into the dark voids.
The sound that erupted from the normally fairly quiet fellow was so loud and tremulous that the entire party present turned to look.
Sitting back from the box five or six feet Rottger held his arms close to himself. After a moment he held them up as if to inspect them, only to find the black virial mass completely engulfing his forearms with an aggressive hiss. The symbiote had so violently rejected the interface it frightened it’s host. As the black mass drained from his arms and back into his body his crew mates helped him to stand.
“Magic box…doesn’t like me….” He muttered.
“Apparently not.” Luthiem frowned, “What have I told you about touching things that aren’t yours?”
Rottger’s arms had returned to normal by this time, and his attention turned to Luthiem’s face. He wanted to answer, opening his mouth in readiness to give her what she aked, but he closed it again rather quickly. “Tacos?”
This made the clockwork assassin growl under her breath. “Don’t!”
Katherine approached them quickly with a team following closely behind. “If you are staying for the show I suggest you step away from the main platform, here, and stand back near those lights. I don’t want to risk possibly hurting anyone in this test.”
“Who is the test subject exactly?” Vale inquired setting Rottger to his feet.
The blonde woman stood more erect and looked at her men, “I will be, naturally. This is my project…”
“Are you sure this is what you want to do?” Luthiem asked lightly, “You’ve already lost a great deal to this little expedition.”
“You people are quite aggravating, did you know that?” Katherine huffed, “I’ve lost a great deal, so at this point I have the least to lose! My people have families, and friends, and lives to maintain and I would not ask them to pay my price. This mission is no longer one to lead to any discovery, it’s to get out…and that is exactly what we’ll do.” The thin woman came up to the box and looked at it.
The Isabellan crewmates moved from the platform and watched from just beyond the line of lights. The pair of medical team members stood with her and administered a small jar of liquid that looked just like what had come from the jars in the rooms in the paths above them. This she took, and she allowed them to take vital signs and the last few measures before wiring her to several of their machines. She thanked them, and they retreated from the platform.
Katherine stood with her back to them, dusty, blood spattered, and her form somewhat slackened. Lifting her hands she gently slipped the wedding ring from her finger and set it on the edge of the box before her. The gold glittered in the bright lights. Brother Luke came down quickly to the chamber floor, followed only by the captain.
“We’re ready to go.” Luke said quietly, “ The ship is flyable.”
“What’s she doin’?” Cedric half whispered eyeing the situation cautiously.
Katherine never heard him. Slipping her hands into the box she experienced what felt like the sting of ice water. Her hands groped in the freezing cold for the handles they believed to be there. She sank into the dark up passed her wrists and winced, each inch stinging with the frigid interior–but still nothing. The dark took her to just below the elbow when she finally nodded.
“I-I found the handles.”
“Heart rate is elevated but stable.” came an announcement from a woman behind them.
“They feel metallic…sort of rounded, smooth, like rolled steel. I’m going to take them now.” She took a breath and gripped the metal handles tightly. At once the box responded. The carved stone features lit up from within glowing an ambient gold light. Her form went rigid and every hair on her head seemed to stand on end all at once. The chamber itself shuddered in the bright light, lines and well worn grooves cut into the stone spiderwebbed out into geometric patterns like those on a motherboard.
The same marks moved up over her body in a single wave of light, a large round disk opening into a ovular shape and focused upon the woman before it.
“It’s looking at her!”
“Readings indicate large quantities of noise emanating from within the box.” the woman exclaimed again.
The stone around them rumbled gently, “State your name, Citizen.” Every speaker and microphone in the chamber squealed with hateful frequency. All ears rang with the reverberation until finally it came to a silent halt.
It took a moment for Katherine to respond, still caught in the electrical current that surged through her body. “Katherine Tellius.”
“What is your purpose?”
“We just need an escape….”
“Your purpose is to seek and enter the Sah, Katherine Tellius. Sensors indicate Sah vehicle eight zero four nine two is accessible. Will you accept the sponsorship required to take–”the voice stopped a moment and scanned the room with the same gold light. “ One hundred and sixty two passengers?”
“Affirmative. Scan indicates leadership qualities: proceed? Automated response: confirmed.” The lights that pulsed through the woman’s body intensified making a searing burning sound. She screamed in pain as muscles drew up tightly causing her to contort. Her footing nearly went from under her, but she did not let go. Cedric and Rottger both rushed forward to the aid of their comrade, but found her entrapped within a localized force field.
“Do not engage citizen, your child is unharmed. The selection process is here for your betterment.”
When the light dissipated back into the box, the simulated eye blinked slowly. “You have been selected for the Sah, welcome Citizen. May your time under the dark sun, and in the cold be left far behind. ”
The entire room began to shake the lights draining from the walls and floor.Each light returned to the floor around the central pedestal. A screen large and curved appeared before them in the dust filled air, displaying what could only be described as a language processing at a high rate of speed. After just seconds the text vanished and a bright flash of light brought a new image to the projected screen. The entire world appeared in what could be described as a stylized topographical map.
Katherine was far more relaxed now as the pain had seemingly subsided. Dark green trails left by the searing currents adorned arms and neck like the paths of a river. She was focused on the screen above them.
“Captain, I understand what this machine is now…” She turned her head only slightly. “The Vhaen is a vehicle for a program…uploading software to use the Sah…it’s not a transport–”
Vale stepped forward quickly, “It’s a machine! The entire world is a machine!”
Katherine continued, “The world is surrounded by a shell…and this…is the key to crack it.”
The cryptic language written on the screen flashed a variety of points and pinpointed a great number of places on the map.
“A shell?” The captain asked looking at the box scrupulously.”What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The entire world surface is segmented, like tectonic plates, but higher in the strata.” Vale replied quickly. “The undergirding is made,” He was breathing heavily in excitement, “It’s like a giant spiderweb! Each piece interlocking and able to slide against itself! Networked by a single mind! That;s what this little box is for! It’s a geographical decorator and protector all at once! I mean, I suppose, it could be used for a transport too! But…wait…why would something–”
“That’s great an’ all, but what does it do to the mind powering it?” Luke muttered cutting the doctor short. He motioned as if to emphasize his statement to Katherine who slightly slumped.
“Get to your ship, Captain.” She replied finally making eye contact with them. “This will work…”
“What will work!?” Luke asked with his hands in the air.
The walls of the chamber began to quiver slightly as the blonde woman turned back to the map above her and fixed her eyes upon the point underneath the fort. Cedric and Vale quickly left the chamber, pulling Luke, Luthiem, and Rottger along with them.