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

Chapter Six - Gateway

The living rocks now defeated, Steve noted a similarity between their broken carcasses and the split rock that he had seen out on the trail. So they were as likely to appear outside, he mused. Funny that he hadn't seen any besides that one.

Reaching the outer edge of the Room of Rocks, Steve found that a wall extended in an L from the corner, forming an alcove. Stepping in, he was able to make out a wooden door just about his size. Pushing on the door made it rise into the ceiling like the big front door had, again with the grumbling sound of friction and pulleys. Must be counterbalanced really well to open at a touch. A good understanding of mechanics was becoming evident, perhaps a bit too advanced for the time.

Through the open door, he saw that he was entering a the side of a long hallway that extended a short distance to his left and much further to his right. Peeking around the corner, he found it to be completely devoid of people, so he stepped out into the open. The hum was a bit louder here, and at the far end of the hall there was a soft green throbbing glow. Looked like the right kind of place for something that would be humming, so Steve turned left instead, to the short end of the hall.

Another door was evident across the hall near the end, so Steve grabbed a rock, wished he had ever gotten around to cutting that stick, wished even more for some real weaponry, and opened the door.

No big deal. Just a room with about 400 people in it, all neatly packaged up in tubes. Some of them seemed to be installed into the walls at three vertical levels, with others more or less freestanding in the room. The ones out in the room were connected to the floor by wires and piping, whereas the ones in the wall seemed to be self-sufficient or at least connected where Steve couldn't see it.

The tubes were filled with an orangish gelatinous material that was hard to see through, but he could tell that these were human bodies, apparently being preserved for something. Surprisingly, the whole room was modern, stainless steel and glass, with computer panels around. Now this was an anomaly.

There seemed to be no guards or other beings in the room, so apparently there was no danger as Steve wandered among the tubes looking for some new evidence of who could have done this. It was as if the whole town had been sucked up into giant test tubes, but no crazed rocks or bugs did this. His mind went back to the shimmering enemy on the steps, but that didn't seem right either. Unless that was a creature with some sort of cloaking ability that made it seem invisible...

Coming up to the far wall, Steve saw what seemed to be a computer console, probably controlling the environment and the tubes. He hesitated, not wanting to do something that would kill the inhabitants of the tubes if they were alive, but wanting to help if he could. Deciding that the safest thing was to leave things alone, he pressed some keys on the console. Steve had never been known for following the path of safety.

One of the nearest tubes split open, and nothing came out. That is to say, the same nothing that Steve had encountered earlier came out, just a shimmering shape. It might have been a robed creature, but it was certainly just a shimmer now. The sound of a whoosh of air met Steve with a mighty blow to the midsection, and he staggered back. So this was what that was, a simple regeneration of a person from the town into an invisible robed creature with equally invisible power to cause pain to any Steves that happened to be around. Should have guessed.

A few of the other tubes could be seen to have opened as well, but most of them were staying intact. Steve's first concern was that the attacks from the enemy would in fact release more of them, but that didn't seem to be the case. Still, he was getting knocked around a lot, and needed to do something about that.

Running along the wall of computer panels, he brushed against one and fell right through it. Feeling around like a man in the dark, he could see his hand vanish into what was no doubt a holographic projection of a computer panel, and not the real thing. Only this one panel, which looked identical to the rest, seemed to be a fake. It didn't take long to identify this as a really neat hiding place, since the attacks seemed to stop as soon as he stepped through the panel. He also found that from the small hidden room, he could see out as if there was nothing there, allowing him to pelt rocks at the shimmering shapes that gathered outside.

Math wasn't Steve's strong suit, but it was pretty obvious that he would need more ammo than the few remaining rocks if he was going to handle this problem. Looking around inside the room, he found that the shelves held several vials of something orange and glowing. Taking little time to think about side effects, he tossed one of the vials out through the hologram.

It broke open as it hit one of the enemy, and a cloud of orange gas enveloped the creature. A hiss of air could be heard as the gas ate into the nebulous enemy, and it vanished. This might be a handy thing to use as a weapon after all. More vials followed the first, and one by one the creatures disappeared with a whoosh.

One was quite close to the holographic wall at the time of impact, and whether an effect of the gas or of the disappearance of the enemy, Steve was knocked back on his heels a bit by the shock wave. Another mental note, thought Steve, as he picked up a carrying case of the orange vials and stepped out of the room.

The current crop of invisible enemies dealt with, and any urges that Steve had earlier to type on keyboards well satiated, he turned to examine the broken tubes a bit more closely. Within each of the vacated capsules, there was a small panel in the floor that reminded Steve of something he had seen before. Of course--it was an image of the Shrimps of Death, embossed into solid stainless steel. This made a connection, but an uncomfortable one, in Steve's mind. The bugs couldn't have done this, and weren't even particularly intelligent as far as he could tell, so why the emblem.

Finally Steve just had to decide that it was like things of his day, when animals and insects were used as logos for commercial companies--this was just coincidental. But it did say that whoever made all this modern junk had been in this area long enough to have met, or created, he thought briefly, the Shrimps of Death and probably the other creatures he had encountered. What more there was ahead might just be the results of the minds of an enemy he hadn't experienced yet. Maybe this was what he was sent to find...

Further examination of the tubes showed little, and Steve was beginning to get hungry and thirsty. Four of his Coffee Berries were all that was left, and he tossed them down quickly. He needed more, and was suddenly feeling very much like the outside was a better place to be than inside this building, cave, lab, whatever it was. So, stepping out of the futuristic lab and back into the period-correct hallway, he launched off in the direction of the green glow and humming sound.

o o o

"Professor, we're ready for that message now, and our transfer window is running out," came the voice over the intercom. Professor Hendrickson grumbled something to himself about deadlines, grabbed a piece of paper from among the hundreds on his desk, and headed toward the transmission lab. Wording this message had been difficult, because it was very limited in total size, but had to relay a wealth of information in that short span.

The big thing that PDARC needed to tell Steve was where to go to get his next drop of weaponry and such goodies. Of course they didn't have a clue that his first batch missed the target, so they weren't likely to know to factor in any variances in their further instructions. A two-way method of communication was everyone's dream.

Not much progress had been made on sending inorganics through, but a rather clever group of folks had designed a crossbow out of wood and leather. Admittedly it didn't seem that clever to make something that had been around for centuries, but the tricky bit was avoidance of any traces of inorganics. So many things now were hybrid materials, and with something like wood as a base ingredient, it would flare up into a plasma ball if it wasn't kept pure.

The best similar weapons of the day were made of fiberglass and other manufactured materials, and from experience, silicon wasn't going to make the trip in that bulk. The message units and other electronics they had sent down to Steve so far were tiny little things, and so they were able to protect them well in dozens of layers of Croytex, the material Steve's robe was made of. For some reason they weren't really sure of, that stuff was resistant to almost anything. Fortunately the time-space transmission process was one of the almost anything's.

The door to the transmission lab opened as Professor Hendrickson neared it, and he stepped through into the strangely lit room. Most of the room beyond the doorway was dark. There was a lit area in the center, holding a device similar to the one that Steve had been strapped into... was that only yesterday? Surrounding the room were terminals glowing softly over their keyboards, highlighting the intense faces of the translab staff. Off to the right, there was another lit area, and that's where Dr. Todson stood, waiting impatiently.

"You're holding things up, Martin," admonished Dr. Todson.

"Had to get it right. You're only giving me a K of characters to say a lot."

"Well, what do you have, then?" she said, as she moved out of the light and toward Hendrickson. All he could see was her silhouette against the glow of the screens, and for some reason he felt suddenly unnerved.

"I-I-I have told him about the Egyptian anomalies," he stammered, somewhat flustered, "as well as an attempt to explain what to do with the weapon we're sending. I wish I could tell him more, but there just isn't space in the message."

"It'll have to do," replied the dark form, now stopping short of the lighted doorway where Hendrickson was standing. Her silhouette was imposing, almost as if she were larger than life when lit from behind. "What about the timeline? Did you explain that too?"

"Oh, yes. I forgot. It's all in there." Hendrickson held out the piece of paper in Todson's direction, hoping she would come forward into the light.

"I'll leave it to your judgement," she said uncharacteristically, and kept her ground. "Take it to Henry and get him to transmit as soon as possible." She skirted past him quickly, and was out in the hall before his eyes could register any difference in her between the well lit doorway and her previously unsettling silhouetted appearance.

Hendrickson shook his head to clear it of the strange thoughts that were busily trying to drive him insane, and went over to one of the desks, where Brad Forrest was seated.

"Here's the text of the first transmission, Henry," announced the professor, sounding more in control than he had felt since he walked into the room.

"I'm Brad," explained the young man as if he'd answered a wrong number. "Henry's over there."

Hendrickson mumbled something apologetic and went over two desks away, repeating his statement to Henry.

"Got it. I sure hope this goes through ok. We still don't really know well this is going to work for Steve." Henry rambled on in a complaining tone, "the message pod should be obvious, but I'm not sure if the reader units will be noticeable. It's not like they're red flashing lights. That Croytex is pretty dull stuff and it's as likely as not to look like a pile of cloth."

"I know you're not fond of it if it's not shiny and electronic, Henry," commiserated Hendrickson, "but it'll be fine. Steve just has to keep his eyes peeled."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," smiled Henry, "I just think this is being done a bit too soon. We should have waited until we could test things more."

"Every hour that passes, the anomalies get worse. I can't even rely on my own eyesight. I had Dr. Todson pegged as a monster in the dark a minute ago."

"Don't get me started on if Todson's a monster or not," called Brad from his desk, and Hendrickson had to smile at that. Probably no one in the building thought of Dr. Todson any differently than they did, but she did get stuff done. Had to hand it to her for that.

"Anything else you need from me, Brad?  Henry?" asked Hendrickson. "I'd like to get back to my office."

"That should do it," responded the young men simultaneously. Henry looked up from the message text for a moment. "I'll notify you when the transmission has been sent."

"Sounds good," replied Hendrickson, turning on his heel to leave. "Oh, one other thing," he said as he turned back. Getting up close to Henry and dropping his voice, he asked, "Have you heard anything about a guy named Han Solo?"

"Character in Star Wars wasn't he?" guessed Henry, confused by the question.

"Yes, but there's supposed to be someone on PDARC payroll by that name too, and he hasn't been seen by anyone. Todson says she doesn't know, and usually she knows everyone. Let me know if you run across him."

"Will do. Seems like we'd have noticed someone with a name like that before, if only to tease him about it."

"Heh... Yes, it's probably someone padding the payroll with a fake name, but all the details check out against National Records, so who knows. Thanks anyway."

This time, Professor Hendrickson really turned and left the lab, and couldn't see Brad as he looked over at Henry, nodded, then reached for the phone and urgently spoke a few words into it. Henry turned back to the message as if not acknowledging that he knew what was going on..

o o o

Green glows, throbbing hums, long underground corridors. Steve thought briefly about it and decided that these were not, in fact, a few of his favorite things. But he proceeded down the corridor, inspecting the walls carefully as he progressed. Certainly he would have missed that holographic wall back in the lab if he hadn't just stumbled upon it, so maybe there was more like that around. The corridor walls were stone, though, and less likely to be fake.

The hum got louder as he got near the end of the hallway, and it quickly became evident that the glow and hum were related. There hadn't been any apparent source of power for the lab, so it was possible that this area was going to solve that puzzle, but so far it just looked like a normal hallway, widening at the end to a slightly larger circular room. There was a definite green glow to the walls of the room, not unlike the glow of the first hallway he had encountered. There was a circular pad in the center with a green light over it, spotlighting another panel like the ones at the bottom of the tubes in the lab. This Shrimp of Death icon was apparently important to someone.

Feeling his way around the walls, Steve found nothing at all to indicate that it was anything but a normal room with a Thing in the middle, and again fearing everything but willing to try anything, he stepped forward toward the pad in the center. He set down his case of vials, knelt down and felt the pad. There was a bit of a feeling of heat from it, and perhaps a tingling, but nothing particularly dangerous. He moved forward onto the pad and sat there for a moment, enjoying the warmth. This was rather nice, actually, but without some sort of evidence of why this was here, it just added to the now growing stack of confusing things. He took a step off the pad to go back into the room, and found himself in an open garden. Just like that.

Looking back, there was no pad behind him, but he was definitely in an open outdoor area, standing on grass, looking at trees and vines against a wall that seemed to go all around the garden. There was a fountain in the center, and he could hear birds. This was a really pretty place, and Steve found himself wondering less about how he got here than whether or not there was some food around. Coffee berries, perhaps?

In response to his mental question, a low grumble met his ears. It seemed to be coming from the far side of the garden, where there was a curve in the wall. Whatever it was was out of sight, a relief for the moment. Unfortunately both hands were free now, having set down the vial case inside. Easy come, easy go, mused Steve.

Moving away from the sound, he did in fact find one of his bushes of berries, and snacked a bit. Pockets would have been a nice thing to have, but lacking any, he had to stuff a branch of berries into his cloak. No thorns, but itchy. Still, much refreshed with berries and a few handsful of water from the fountain, Steve was almost ready for another encounter. A stick was still a good idea though, and while mindful of the rumbling at the other end of the garden, he did have time to take his remaining sharp stone and hack a limb off one of the nearby trees. Sharpening the end to a rather vicious point made him feel better too.

The sound was a bit more obvious now, but it sounded more like an electrical spark than a grumble. Nothing noticeable around though, and Steve walked toward the far corner. Suddenly a bolt of lightning blasted through the air right in front of him, and he lost his balance trying to back up. Another shot rang out as lightning again hit, even closer this time, and he scrambled backwards to get away. Twice more the lightning bolts came too close for comfort, as he got back over to the fountain. Probably not a good idea to be near water when playing with electricity, Steve thought numbly, so finally standing up again, he ran as fast as he could toward the far end of the garden.

The lightning wasn't hitting near him any more, so that was good, but the 8-foot tall bear-like creature directly in front of him as he rounded the bend was definitely not how Steve spelled relief. A massive roar greeted him as the creature lumbered slowly toward him. This thing had dark brown fur, red eyes, huge arms with long claws, and a yellow glowing area around the chest and stomach. Its arms swung back and forth as it came forward, and Steve decided that he'd rather take his chances with lightning.

Moving quickly, Steve ran backwards and hit the wall behind him. Good move, idiot, he mumbled to himself as the glow on the front of this bear got brighter. A spot in its abdomen opened up in the midst of the brightness, and a glowing yellow lump was ejected, moving as if it had a mind of its own toward Steve. A quick jog to the left and the lump hit the wall behind him, but a searing heat enveloped Steve as it hit. Not so much of an explosion as a combustion, as if the lump had been a Molotov cocktail. The robe again offered more protection than anyone would have expected, so Steve lived through it, but it hurt and scared him.

Continuing to slide sideways, he avoided another fireball completely, and heard the crash of thunder as the lightning struck next to him. With no weapons except a stick, this was an unfair fight, and that's all there was to it. He didn't dare get close enough to the beast to stab at it, and the lightning didn't look like anything that would be defeatable. It was a pretty garden.

As Steve backed off a bit, a sparkling on the ground caught his eye. It was a circle a couple of feet wide, and looked like electrical sparks. And it was moving toward him. So maybe this was an evidence of an impending lighting strike, thought Steve as it got close and lightning hit right on the spot. "Why must I always be right?" he mused, as he took off in the only other direction, that of the bear-beast.

The two enemies were pretty well equal in speed, but the static circle came straight at him and the beast seemed to lumber erratically back and forth. The net result was that the lightning was faster. Steve decided that with no weapons, he had no choice but to try to get the lightning to take out the beast. Maneuvering around and avoiding claws, lightning and fireballs with fair success, Steve got the beast between him and the lightning, in a direct line.

The static circle, barely visible anyway from where Steve was, flashed in and out of view between the beast's huge feet. Then finally it struck, evidence of a purely natural and not Steve-specific problem. The beast roared in pain and threw its head back, then scratched wildly at the air. Another shot from the lightning, and another scream. More flailing. One last lightning bolt and the creature simply melted to the ground, with a horrifying echoing roar of death, almost more unnerving than the living beast.

The lightning wasn't done with Steve yet, and continued to patrol its territory. Steve was not feeling all that chipper, what with a firebomb in the ear and several close lightning strikes, so he jumped into the fountain to snag some of that cool healing water. But halfway through the jump, he knew he wasn't going to end up in the fountain after all.

Chapters: Previous Next Contents