The Storyline for the
TeamTNT Total Conversion
The Search for Aasgard
Coming eventually
The project that
wouldn't die...

Chapter Five - Edifice

The flapping of a curtain in the open window of a small cottage greeted Steve as he walked slowly around the town square. It would have looked out of place almost anywhere else, but here it seemed that all sorts of buildings were thrown together. The only important thing was that their doors exited to the central square, and except for the imposing building at one end, all of the others were a single story, mostly made of small stones with wooden window and door frames. And they were all quiet.

Steve peered into the beckoning cottage window, and saw a single room, dominated by a simple wooden table surrounded by four chairs, a bed in one corner, and a fireplace with a large kettle hanging over it. The fire was smoldering slightly, so someone must have been there recently, but there certainly wasn't anyone at home now.

Giving the residents the benefit of the doubt, he continued around the corner to the square itself. There was a well more or less in the center of the square, and a full trough and a bucket nearby attested to its usefulness. With still no evidence of any people around, Steve pondered briefly and then went over to take a drink. The water was clear and refreshing, and, like the streams in the hills earlier, slightly sweet. He felt instantly better, again indicating that it was more than just water.

But all this was too convenient. He came across a town, no one was around, the water was fresh, and the little cottage was inviting to the point that Steve wondered briefly why there wasn't a pie cooling in the window. But no one, he repeated to himself, hoping to drive it home this time, was around. He thought of yelling out, but that really didn't seem like a good idea, either. Maybe they were all in the big building at the end of the square. It looked like an important enough place for everyone to have gone there.

As Steve got closer to what he had assumed was a Town Hall sort of place, he noticed that it didn't match the rest of the architecture around the town. Where those buildings were short and squat, this one was majestic and at least four stories high. The others had a small raised walk in front, and this one had a wide set of steps, bounded by large pillars. Instead of small wooden window frames, this was made with massive multistory windows that were more reminiscent of a castle, framed in stone and decorated with unusual emblems.

In fact, now that he had time to examine it more closely, it was beginning to look more like a castle or cathedral than a town hall, and Steve was curious. "Curiouser and curiouser," as Alice said, and it was seeming more like one of her adventures than a Task Runner mission all the time. Steve found himself curious about himself as well, especially since he should have noticed the imposing size of this place before he even got to the town square. It was actually as if it had grown or changed in front of his very eyes.

Getting his sling ready again, and pulling the hood over his head, he began to scale the steps to confront whatever was next. He felt a lot like David about to slay Goliath, but he wasn't clear in his mind if that feat could be repeated. If he had known a giant-slaying tune, he'd have whistled it, but he didn't, so he shut up and climbed.

The doors at the top of the steps were huge wooden things, with metal bands and huge rivets. It wasn't obvious how they would open, since there didn't seem to be any hinges, but open they did, straight up, as Steve got close to them. Instinctively he jumped back, and tightened his hold on his sling. He heard nothing and saw nothing. And that's what hit him.

Picking himself up from the bottom of the steps, he looked around for what could have knocked him so hard. A shimmering near the doorway caught his eye first, but it didn't seem to have any real shape. Sort of just a blob. He continued to stare at it, and as he did, a square about two or three feet across left the blob and started toward him. It was the same shimmering transparency as the original blob, and was all but invisible. It shrank to about a foot across and back out to its original size over and over as it came toward him, or at least where he had been.

Steve ran sideways, keeping his eye on the blob on the steps as much as he could, while assuring himself that the throbbing square wasn't headed his way any more. Indeed the square vanished completely as it passed even with him, apparently having no thickness at all. Passing further on, it came in contact with the trough at the well, and disappeared in a small flash of light, this time for good. Fascinating, thought Steve, as another one hit him hard. Gotta quit ignoring the enemy...

This thing was slow moving, and the flying squares didn't come that often, but without any warning sound and nearly invisible, it was a formidable enemy to deal with. Steve took small comfort in the evidence so far that this invisiblob would always attack when he was around. At least he'd know when he was getting smacked by one.

Grabbing a rock and his sling, Steve let loose, neatly sidestepping another square. The rock shattered against the nothingness, and he heard the first sound from this thing, like a rush of escaping air. That sold him on this form of attack, anyway. Lobbing one rock after another and playing matador with the oncoming square attacks, he finally heard a huge rush of air followed by a sputtering sound, and the blob was no more. He sighed in relief, and went back to the well for another refreshing drink of the magic water.

Steve wondered idly what this enemy was, but in true scientific fashion he quickly classified it as a Bad Thing and decided to go forth and see if he could find the townspeople. He wasn't sure why he was so concerned, but the truth was that he needed to either get some answers or get out of there, and he really wanted some answers. Stepping forward on the steps again, and as ready for more things he couldn't see as possible, he went through the doorway.

o o o

Dr. Todson walked quickly down the hall from her office, and slipped quietly and unobserved into what purported to be a storage room, rapidly entering a code into the keypad on the door. She moved to the back of the room, pushed aside a box of mop heads, and reached behind them to press a button on the back wall. A rack of cleaning supplies slid silently out of the way, and she stepped forward into the revealed opening. A lift started immediately, and she was whisked down to a well lit, antiseptically clean hallway.

Walking briskly, she went down the hall and made a right turn at the end. She entered another code into the keypad at the door, and smiled at the young man in a lab coat sitting at the end of the table, busily constructing something out of a variety of components.

"How are we doing on the weapons, Solo?" asked Todson of the busy technician. Han Gerbrecht had heard enough Star Wars jokes to last a lifetime, but like it or not it was his name. There was no one to blame but his parents, who had been a bit too enthusiastic when they saw the re-released Star Wars movies in the late 90's. At least they hadn't named him Chewbacca.

"I think we're going to have a good chance of getting something to him tomorrow," responded the young man, "at least if I can get some more testing time in. Any chance of getting me some help?"

"No, I'm afraid not," replied Todson. "I'm already getting some feedback from the auditors that they are wondering who you are and why they never see you. I have to play it cool for now, at least until some of them can be, er, convinced, not to pay so much attention."

"Ah, the great and powerful Oz eh? I was wondering when they'd get involved close to home."

"The one thing we really don't need is sarcasm, Han. They're breathing down my neck now, and PDARC has no idea why we need this project to work so much better than they do. And I don't think "Oz" is quite the thing to call the Australian group that's funding your little project here."

"Ok, I give. Still, we're going to be hard pressed to get this done without some help. I'll send what I can to Riker, but I really wish I had more time to test things."

"I understand," said Todson, as if she really cared. "Do the best you can and let's see if we can get something ready for tomorrow." Not waiting for an answer, she turned on her heel and walked out.

"Riker's gonna end up blowing his own head off, and you're gonna blame me. But I'll develop a really big mouth if you do!" yelled Han after her. But the double door was shut and no one seemed to hear him.

o o o

Steve Riker was through the door, and his eyes began to adjust to the darkness. Nothing seemed to be moving, but instead of the expected huge hall ahead of him, there was just a low, dark corridor. He almost would have said he was underground, except that he could see the town square out the door behind him. The huge doors that had opened up to let him in seemed to be for show--there wasn't anything here and the corridor had funneled down from outside into almost nothing.

There didn't seem to be any source for the light in the corridor, and the walls seemed strangely iridescent. A low hum as of machinery was evident, though machinery in this time in history was certainly not appropriate. Must be something else. This whole place was something else, and it smelled, too.

A mildly unpleasant odor was evident here in the corridor, though it wasn't obvious where it was coming from, and might just be a lack of fresh air. As if to punctuate that thought, the door to the town square, air, water and perhaps hope, closed, and Steve found it immovable from his side. The odor got worse, lots worse.

In addition to the obvious hum, a scraping sound now met Steve's ears, and he searched his memory for where he had heard that before. It wasn't something he really recognized, but was sort of the sound of stone dragging against stone. It was down the corridor ahead, and he readied his sling in case the sound meant there was going to be a problem. Most sounds did, lately.

The scraping was louder now, and without warning the walls of the corridor dropped out of sight. Steve was surrounded by a large room, not much higher than he was tall, but about 100 yards in each direction. There were stones and larger boulders all around, and the scraping became almost deafening. Were those rocks moving? He began to hope for insanity, because at least that way this wouldn't be something he actually had to deal with.

Most of the rocks were staying put, like rocks should, but there were a few at the far edges of the room that seemed to be moving toward him. It was hard to tell much of anything in the eerie glow of the room, but there certainly was movement. Steve pondered whether to flee or attack, but as the nearest of the moving rocks got nearer, he was able to make out what had to be eyes on stalks. Maybe these were more like crabs than rocks and were just well camouflaged. Didn't seem to want to throw anything at him, anyway, and after the last couple of days that was a relief.

One of the curious crab creatures got close enough to really make out, and sure enough, there were two greenish stalks with a bulbous eye perched at the tip of each, vertically slit like a reptile eye. The body seemed to be more stonelike than crab shell like though, and it scrambled around on little feet that raised it a few inches off the floor. Steve momentarily actually thought it was sort of cute, at least until it split open.

With a screeching rattle, the top of the creature split open and an arm with a saw-toothed wheel at the end extended. The wheel seemed to be spinning, though it was hard to tell and even harder to imagine. Steve didn't have much time to think about it anyway, as he tried to protect himself from the blade, spinning or not. The best defense seemed to be a good old fashioned panic run, so that's what he did.

All around, many of the apparently benign rocks began to come to life as Steve ran over them in his attempt to escape. There must have been a dozen or more altogether, all coming after him at the same time and trying to surround him. Only the fact that he was faster than they were and that they'd sometimes have a little tiff among themselves was keeping him alive. Reaching the edge of the room, he grabbed four of the smaller rocks that were everywhere, stuck them into his sling and let loose a volley. The effect was immediate. A couple of the creatures could be seen drawing in their eye stalks while making a very strangely mechanical screaming sound. Steve repeated the process, with similar results. On the third try, one of them sounded a death rattle, and a large chunk broke off the top of the shell and shattered. Running back across this dead one, Steve was able to grab the broken chunks as further ammo, and kept spraying the others with pieces of their siblings. At least they furnished their own ammo, he thought, trying to stay in a positive frame of mind.

A few minutes of this activity was all it took, and with just a few scrapes and scratches on his legs from the attacks, Steve was able to consider this a battle well won. The scraping sounds were gone now, and all he could hear was that low hum. A thought came to him suddenly that fortunately, with nothing but a sling to fight with, he had managed not to end up blowing his own head off.

Had Han known that his words had made it through time and space, he'd have been most impressed with his experiments. But he was still worried, and no one but him knew why.

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