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

Chapter Eight - Interiors

The dawn sky began its feeble glow ahead of Steve, as he trudged through the darkness and sand.  He had tried several times to start counting his footsteps, hoping that it might stave off the insanity that he was struggling to avoid.  Each time he had become so bored at about a thousand paces that he would find his mind wandering back home.  Even PDARC was sounding good to him at this point, and he'd be willing to be around the coldhearted Dr. Todman if he could just be where she was now.   In fact, he mused, it would be nice to be once again where people were.  The ex-residents of that Norwegian town were hardly people any more, and certainly nothing humanoid had been around of late.

In the now brighter glow, Steve could make out some sort of difference in the horizon from the never ending undulation of the sand around him, and he had a moment of hope that perhaps he was coming to civilization of some sort.   What time period this was eluded him, and the timeless sands held no clue.  He figured that this must be some part of Egypt since that was on the itinerary, so to speak, and he certainly wasn't in Norway.  Great expanses of Norwegian deserts were hard to come by, to Steve's recollection, so he was satisfied with this being Egypt.  A fat lot of good it did him, of course, wandering along in the middle of nowhere with a sack of sand, a crossbow with no arrows and a message pod with no reader.

But there definitely was something ahead, and though it was going to take a while to get there, there didn't seem to be anything to keep him from making it other than absolute fatigue.  Steve fumbled around in his robe and managed to come up with two last coffee berries.  As an emergency jolt it worked for a few minutes, but he was going to have to do something else before long.  Water was scarcer than coffee berries, and his lips were cracked in spite of the cool night he'd been through. 

Trudging along seemed to work, and he had hardly counted steps into the seven hundred range before he was able to see by the light of the promising new day's sun an oasis of sorts ahead.  Gleaming in the center seemed to be a pool of water, and something even brighter shone off to the right a bit in the shade of a palm tree.  That was a bit strange in itself, since if it was in the shade it shouldn't reflect more light than the surroundings, but Steve at this point just didn't give a rusty crap.  If that was water ahead he was interested, and he'd eat the whole damn tree if necessary for food.

As he approached the water, he saw that in fact it was a fairly good sized pond, just too small to call a lake.  It looked clear and he just hoped it wouldn't be alkaline, as often happened in this sort of environment.  Still, green things grew here, and that was a good sign.  Stepping closer, he knelt down to the edge and cupped some of the surprisingly cool water in his hands.  The taste was exquisite, a bit sweet like some of the magical water he had encountered before, and certainly refreshing. 

Steve happily splashed water onto his face and neck, and pulled his robe sleeve around to wipe his eyes.  As he reopened his eyes, he found that he was not alone.   There in front of him, no more than ten feet away, was an odd pillar of water that almost seemed intelligent.  If he hadn't known better, Steve would have sworn that it was one of the sand worms from the night before, but let's face it, this wasn't sand, it was water.  OK, he thought, it's a water worm.

Steve had never been particularly good at taxonomy, but classifying something that shimmered and quivered as if made of water as being the same species as a worm that seemed to be made of sand was strange even for him.  Still, the actions seemed the same, and except for what they were made of, they really did seem to be the same creature.   When a spray of water shot up as the water worm reared up and tried to knock him around with its (head? butt?  Who could tell?), Steve decided that retreat was a better idea and ran to the side of the palm tree that was opposite the worm. 

It wouldn't come out of the water to follow him, so it needed its own environment (was the sand worm restricted to a sand environment too, he wondered?)   Well, this was easy--he just wouldn't go into the water any more.  Leaving the water worm to its own devices, Steve stared up for a while at the tree, trying to figure out if there was something to eat up there, but he didn't see coconuts, and it wasn't a date palm.  So that was going to mean either an alternative plan, or he was really going to have to eat the tree.  Alternative plan it was, then.  Trouble was, Steve didn't have one.

In the excitement of playing with the water worm, Steve had forgotten about the shiny object in the shade, and now as he circled the tree he noticed it again.  Well, well.  It was the message reader he'd been hoping for, and he had a message pod in his robe, and the worm was stuck in the water.  Life was good.

The message reader was a cone-shaped device about three feet high, with a hole about three inches in diameter up near the top.  There was a ring of something glowing about halfway up, and that must have been what he had seen from a distance.  Steve took the tiny sphere and placed it into the hole.  A humming sound began, gradually rising to a throbbing tone, and the message began to form in the air above the device.   Great, thought Steve, it's illegible.  Something must have.. Oh, that.   Steve went around to the other side of the cone, the direction the message was facing, and began to read.


Well, how nice, thought Steve as he tried to decipher something more cryptic than he'd seen in years.  First of all, it was message number 002, which means that he had missed a message already, probably back in Norway.  Damn.  Second part of first of all was that they'd now expect him to know what that message had said, and be able to figure this one out from that context.  Well, he thought again, time to start up the brain.

HNDRKSN was Hendrickson, who had apparently been the one to code the message, or at least someone had put his name on it.  Having Problems with Recon because of a bad Psychic Communications Connection, was the next bit, easy to decipher.  Then it starts into what Todman wants, because she always wants something, and in this case she was Requesting an Egypt Scan for Underground Entity Sending 24... Huh?  Trouble is, you have to add your own punctuation with these things, complained Steve to himself.   OK, assume Sending 24 Hours is a new sentence, she wants a Scan in Egypt for an Underground Entity.  What entity?

Moving right along, no less confused, we have Need Confirmation that Mining Operations are Active in the Area.  That would be simple if there were mineshafts around, or anything but a tree and a pond in the middle of nowhere.  Contact ASAP with a Psycomm unit.  I don't have one and they don't work right, thought Steve, again uselessly.   Next interval in 2 days.  Good luck.  Hah.

"OK," said Steve to the tree, "we're going to have to get something straight."  He couldn't lift the message reader, but that was ok because it was intended for a single use and would disintegrate on its own.  Meanwhile, there was that mining operation to find, and he needed to get away from that incessant splashing of the water worm behind him.  Leaning on the tree with one arm, and turning sideways to look over one shoulder, Steve got knocked for a loop by a bluish flash of light and a blast of heat.

Nobody said there would be fireballs, thought Steve as he tried to duck behind the tree.  Looking out across the water, he could see that his friend the water worm had been joined by the Loch Ness monster.  OK, maybe not the Loch Ness monster, but something long and slithering with fins along its back (nice color of teal, actually).   And when it reared its head it didn't just sound wet--it fired serious fireballs.   Another one was coming Steve's way, and even though it hit the opposite side of the tree from where he was standing, it wasn't enough to keep the full blast effect away.   Hood up, Steve decided he'd need to run away now.

When he turned back toward the desert and ran into a sand worm, it just didn't seem that surprising to Steve, but he certainly had run out of options.  Sand was bad.   Water was bad anyway and with two different creatures out there it was worse.   The message pod was sitting there looking stupid, and so the only thing left was the tree.  Steve worried a lot less about if this was logical than if this was the only remaining answer, and since it was, he began to climb.

Steve was a good athlete, but he hadn't tried to climb a palm tree in a Croytex robe with a sand worm nagging at his heels and a water serpent firing its blue balls at him.   So he was struggling a bit and very relieved when he got to the top of the tree and vanished into thin air.  Real thin air.  Like he found himself falling for quite a while in complete and utter darkness, only knowing he was falling because of seeing lights, maybe torches, going by as he fell past them.  This was not normal, and though it might have been fine for Alice and the White Rabbit, we were talking Steve Riker, Task Runner, and this was probably reality and not a fairy tale.

Steve wasn't worried about falling, just about stopping.  If there wasn't something softer than a pile of leaves at the bottom of this, he was going to be one hurt puppy when he got there.  Even water would hurt.  Let's see, 32 feet per second squared, I've been falling for about 10 seconds, that would make my...  Sploosh.   Water.  Hurt---was right about that.  Not dead though, so that's good for something.  Still pretty dark down at the bottom, but Steve could make out a bit of light in one direction and tried to swim toward it.  The bottom of this pit seemed to be fairly wide, though certainly if the shaft he had fallen down was any indication, Steve had fallen a long way into the earth to get here.

A bit closer to the light, Steve found the water getting sharply shallower and before he knew it he was on dry land, wet but generally undamaged, and wondering what the little railroad tracks in front of him were for.  He had literally stumbled upon the mining operation he had been told to go find, and the only issue at this point was that he seemed to recall the Egyptian anomalies being around the time of Tutankhamen, during which there weren't so many railroads.  Something was much more serious than had been planned, and that sound of a rockslide was the last thing Steve wanted to hear. The main thing that he had found lately was that not all sounds were a problem but most of them were. This was way underneath desert as far as he could figure, though how he went up a tree and down a hole in one swift move he had no idea. But the main thing was that a rockslide sound could also be a cave in that would possibly be about to fill the cavern with sand. You could drown in sand too, basically, and Steve wasn't interested in drowning in anything. He jumped back in the water and began to swim away, but the sound stopped. Listening for a moment, Steve determined that there wasn't anything going on any more, so he paddled back to shore. A couple of steps up the tunnel and the sound began again.

"This is crazy," thought Steve briefly as he turned back to the water. This time, though, he paused as he got to the water edge and the sound stopped again. There was some sort of trigger here, and he was making a rockslide start and stop every time he crossed it. But that didn't make sense--you could start a rockslide but you weren't even vaguely likely to stop one arbitrarily. Steve found himself less concerned and more curious, and walked forward despite the rewarding sound of rocks headed his way.

Nothing was there to meet him at first, and so he followed the narrow-gauge rails down a tunnel. There was light from somewhere ahead, but that wasn't what was lighting up the area. That seemed to be coming from the walls themselves, which glowed rather like the walls inside the big building in the little Norwegian village where…

"That couldn't have been yesterday," mused Steve as he made his way around a bend in the tunnel. The tracks turned here too, but there was a switch here that allowed a spur to continue straight ahead as well. This one was the one that went somewhere though, because the other one went straight into a solid wall. Steve considered this for a moment, touched the wall in front of the tracks as if he was going to be able to go through it like the one back in the lab. He couldn't.

So anyway, back at the tracks and around the bend, the slope suddenly became sharply uphill. The tracks were still there, but now joined by a center ladder-like track that Steve assumed must be like the cog rail that mountainous trains would use. He remembered seeing pictures of the impossibly steep tracks in Switzerland with what looked like little toy trains climbing slowly to the snowy overlooks. But that was Switzerland, present day. This was (probably still) Egypt, one really long time before that. It just didn't make sense, but the feeling of foreboding was there again, realizing that he was not dealing with normal things of the time, but someone or something that had come here from another time, planet or universe.

The rockslide sound was continuing, and was getting louder, but Steve didn't feel any vibration in the ground. The sound was there, but it was like a special effect with no substance. Still climbing, Steve was getting a bit winded, but feeling little if any fear now.

As he came around yet another bend and the tunnel leveled out again, the cog rail disappeared again and he found himself in a widened area. The tunnel was more obviously man-made and finished now, and the rockslide sound was deafening. Steve saw an alcove on the right, glowing slightly in the still rather dark surroundings. Walking up to it, he found a computer panel embedded in the rock wall, absolutely out of place but lighted. He saw lots of display panels, but simply found himself unable to make out any of the words. He didn't know any, but he'd have recognized hieroglyphics, and that's not what this was. It was like a normal computer panel with words on it, but the letters just weren't anything like what Steve was familiar with. Close, but just not.

There was one panel with a throbbing red light on it, and an obvious push button to the right of it. Why not, thought Steve as he pressed the button. The light went out, the rockslide stopped (hmm…) and he was in a nearly silent tunnel. The only thing he heard was a soft dripping somewhere up the tunnel, but otherwise it was deafeningly quiet, in sharp contrast to the horrible and continuous sound of a rockslide.

"So, someone's trying to scare away visitors," said Steve to the computer panel, which ignored him. The good thing, maybe, was that there was a someone who was doing this, and it was always possible that they wouldn't see Steve as an enemy. Maybe they had hamburgers.

Steve turned and faced toward the tunnel again, determined to continue to the interior until he found some sign of life, or understood more than he did now, or found outdoors again. He took a few steps ahead, and a display on the computer panel glowed with a word in that strange language. Just one word, sitting there glowing.

Steve probably was going to wish he had noticed that.

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