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Archive for April, 2015

Grandmother

Fire Demon

Major Yuki Chen’s team trickled into the locker room and began donning their armor. Sung and Akuma were nearly dressed when Lieutenant Albert Wallace wandered in. The scientist put his sensor pad down next to the powermod and unlocked his locker.

“Anyone know what the techs found?” Wallace asked, his voice coming out muffled as his head was buried inside his protective undershirt, the first layer of many when putting on armor.

“Same signal as the one they said was under that ruined city on Delta Alpha Six.” Chen said, checking the slide on his blaster.

Jai In Sung frowned. “But that turned out to be a ghost echo. We found nothing there.”

“The ruins were not Ascerian,” Akuma said. “This is pointless if it is the same thing. We will find no useful tech to scavenge.”

“No,” Wallace corrected him. “The city was Ascerian. They built it on top of another city built by a race that predated the Ascerian culture by ninety thousand years.”

Major Chen considered this. “I don’t remember that part.”

“That is because you hate reading the post-mission reports,” Sung said with an amused snort.

“It hardly qualified as a mission. We were down there for less than ten minutes,” Chen said in his own defense.

“As long as there are no robotic defense arrays or booby-trapped control panels, I will be happy,” Akuma said with a disconsolate grunt.

“Ever the doom and gloom,” Sung said, laughing.

Chen smiled. Akuma went on these forays expecting the worst. The Galatian was invaluable for just that reason. Nothing ever surprised him.

He slapped his blaster into the clips on his thigh and headed for the door. “Wrap it up,” the Major ordered. “We go dirtside in ten.”

****

Five pillars of light materialized on the edge of a great stone plaza perched on the top of a small mountain, its top shaved off and leveled with inhuman precision. Five soldiers stepped out of those columns of light and spread out cautiously, weapons in hand as they turned to survey the ruins.

Chen turned his head to check on Wallace and Lieutenant Kavanagh as they set up the sensor array. For a moment he could not remember her first name. Kavanagh looked up and met his eyes. Ena. Ena, that was her name. Ena, with the sun bright eyes and the golden curls. Chen frowned. Where was his mind? He needed to focus. Shit like that could get them all killed. He turned and began his circuit of the outer plaza, blaster up, tense. He hated this place already. There were too many blind spots among the standing stones.

Akuma and Sung stepped carefully over the stone slabs, guns at ready, easing carefully through the circles of stone pillars that had once held a roof. The roof and any stones that might have been walls had long since disappeared, prey, perhaps, to ten thousand years of scavengers and grave robbers.

Inside the last circle of stone, Sung turned and studied the way she had come.

“Akuma,” Sung said softly, pointing with her chin at the runes carved in the inner most stone columns. “You recognize that symbol?”

Akuma shook his head. “Not Ascerian. A local variation, perhaps?”

“You think it weird that they are carved only on the sides of the column facing the center of the circle instead of facing outward?”

“Powerful magic is done in this way,” Akuma said with a shrug.

“Good thing we don’t believe in magic,” Sung grunted.

Akuma said nothing. He was neutral on the subject of magic, having seen too many things that had no explanation.

Sung found her way to the great circular cap stone in the middle of the plaza. A series of runes had been carved there. Akuma joined her. “Maybe we should ask Lieutenant Kavanagh. She is the linguistics expert, after all,” he said.

Sung turned. The young lieutenant had her head close to Wallace’s, the two deep in conversation about something the sensor array was telling them. As if sensing her gaze, Ena looked up. Sung gestured her over. Ena rose to her feet and said something to Wallace. Wallace waved her away, not even bothering to look up.

Lieutenant Kavanagh had been a good choice as the fifth member of their team. She worked well with Wallace which was no easy feat, Akuma liked her, and Chen tolerated her, which was by and far the greatest feat of all.

Ena studied the pillars as she passed them, her fingers trailing along the surface of the rotten stone. It was just as she passed the inner circle of pillars when it happened. Wallace shouted a warning, looking up from his readings, alarm in every nuance of his body, as Lieutentant Kavanagh let out a surprised squeak and leapt away from the pillars. A force field formed between the stones and rose up to close over their heads. Ena backed towards Sung and Akuma, trying to shake the feeling back into her fingers.

“Major Chen!” Sung said urgently into her throat mic. “We have a problem.”

“It’s a trap of some kind,” Akuma added, his weapon out as he drew near to the energy field.

Chen came running up, grabbing Wallace just in time, as the scientist tried to enter the forest of stone. “Stay here and stay away from the inner plaza. Set up the powermod and see if you can hack into whatever is running the force field,” Chen ordered. Turning, the Major thrust the muzzle of his blaster in front of his body and began easing cautiously towards the other members of his team.

He stopped at the curtain of turquoise energy that hung between the inner pillars.

Sung grimaced. “Sorry, sir.”

“What happened?” Chen asked.

“Lieutenant Kavanagh triggered something when she touched the stone,” Akuma observed.

Chen let the tip of his muzzle touch the field. Nothing happened. The blaster passed with ease through the veil of light. “What the hell?” he breathed. He took off his glove and touched the light with a bare finger. Again, nothing happened.

“One of you want to volunteer? Walk through the light and see what happens,” Chen said.

Akuma put out a hand and touched the light. “I feel nothing. Perhaps a slight breeze.” The giant Galatian walked through the field. Chen and Sung watched him anxiously.

“Anything?” Chen asked.

“I am fine,” Akuma said.

Sung stepped forward and closed her eyes as she walked through the veil. She opened them and turned around, looking up at the turquoise field. “I don’t get it.”

“I don’t either but until Wallace can turn this off, we stay out of the plaza from now on, hear?” Chen growled. He looked around. “Where did Ena get off to?”

Akuma peered through the light. “I believe she is standing on the capstone, talking to it.”

“Great. Lieutenant Kavanagh! ”Chen roared. “Get your sorry ass over here!”

Ena either ignore him or could not hear him. “Akuma, go get her.”

Akuma grunted and eased through the veil. Lieutenant Kavanagh seemed engrossed in whatever was written on the capstone. He could hear her muttering as he approached.

“I know you are there,” Ena said crossly. She stamped her foot on the stone. “Wake up!” she shouted.

“Major Chen wants us outside the plaza until the field is off,” he said.

She ignored him, pacing around the runes, scowling in frustration.

“Turn off the field, grandmother,” Ena said. “I need to talk to you.”

“Who are you talking to?” Akuma asked.

“She is down there. I can hear her.” Ena stamped her foot on the stone again. “You cannot hide from me. There is no use in trying.”

“Come away from here, Ena,” Akuma said.

“No,” she said. “There is a living, breathing being under this stone and I mean to talk to her.”

“What is the hold up?” roared Chen from beyond the shield.

“This grandmother you talk about. She has been here for a very long time. She is will still be there in a day or a week or a month. Come out of the plaza and help Wallace get the shield down.

“No,” Ena said stubbornly.

“Now, Akuma!” roared Chen.

Akuma grabbed her. “You have no say in this. We are leaving.”

“No!” Ena said, resisting him.

Akuma pulled her towards the stone columns. She screamed in fury and dug her heels into the stone but Akuma ignored her resistance, lifting her bodily, carrying her across the stones, and tossing her towards Chen’s arms.

Ena hit the field and it reacted violently, flaring hot and hard, tossing her back at Akuma with such force that they both were slammed to the ground halfway across the plaza.

Akuma groaned and then swore. He looked down at the girl. She had stopped breathing.

“Ena?” he shouted, grabbing her by the arms and shaking her roughly. “Breathe!”

Ena sucked in a lungful of air and then gasped in pain.

“Are you hurt?”

“What a stupid question,” Ena said as she rolled on her side and hit him in the chest with her fist. There was no force behind it. “Fool man,” she growled. He tried to help her up but she pushed him away. Rolling over, she manage to get her knees under her and push herself into a wobbling crawl.

Sung put her hand through the field, testing it. It let her pass with ease.

“What the hell … ?” Chen said.

“Wow, that is a really specific field. How did it get keyed it to her biometrics?” Wallace asked, now standing at his elbow.

Chen grabbed Wallace, pulled him back to his sensor array, and shoved him down to the stones. “Get this thing turned off.”

Ena crawled over to central stone of the plaza, the one with a runes carved in it, runes that matched the ones carved in the stone columns. Once again she knocked, beating her fist against it. ”Come out. I know you can hear me. Do not play games with me, grandmother, I beg of you.” She was close to tears.

Perhaps all it took was the touch of her unprotected skin against the stone.

A white light flickered in the grooves of the runes. The runes on the pillars began to glow with the same light. A transparent shape flickered and coalesced over the central paver. It was a woman made of red hot metal. Flames rose from her skin and heat waves flickered around the image. Ena crouched on the stones, threw her head back, and stared up at the apparition.

Wallace looked up from his laptop and stared at the image. “What the hell is that?”

“Do we have this alien form in our records anywhere?” Chen asked.

“Not that I know of. Let me send an image up to Olympus and have them check the database.”

“Do it quick. I need this field turned off,” Chen growled.

Wallace looked at the readings. “It’s a hologram.”

“Really?” Sung said, her voice heavy with sarcasm. “It is being generated by something under that capstone. A computer of some sort? A stored message?”

The image of the woman looked down at Ena. “Little fool. This is a trap. It will not be long before they realize their machine has caught something at last.”

Alarmed at that implication, Akuma tried to pull her away but Ena shook his hand off.

“Grandmother, is there a boy in there with you?” Ena asked.

“All who went into this prison have faded. Only I am left.”

“No,” Ena said, her voice strangled. “Are you sure? A being like me, grandmother, but male? Did he go into this prison with you?” Ena asked desperately.

“You should not be here,” the fire demon repeated. “They will come.”

“Ena,” hissed Akuma, “Something powerful enough to catch fire demons for fun is about to show up. Here. Now. We need to go!”

“A boy, grandmother,” Ena insisted.

“No, there was no boy. It is good to see you, granddaughter though I would have wished under better circumstances. How fare our people?”

“I am the last, grandmother,” Ena said in a strangled voice. “I have searched high and low and you are the only one I have found.”

“Achh,” breathed the fire demon, a sad look on her molten face. “Have we come to this then? Is it the end times? Live long my child, for even now I fade and the world will un-make itself when you pass beyond the veil.”

“I will not go into another box, grandmother.” Ena said. “I have been too long in one already. Better that the world pass away.”

The fire demon nodded solemnly. “Just so. Then I will meet you on the other side of oblivion, granddaughter. We will build the new world together.” She bent down and held out her hand

Ena blinked back the tears and reached for the hand. It passed through hers.

“You are not human, are you?” Akuma said. A memory of a dream nagged at the back of his mind, a dream about a room that had contained one small stone child.

Ena scrubbed the tears from her face. “I am going to get you out of there, grandmother,” she said, putting a single finger on the rune.

“They are coming,” said the fire demon as she faded.

The light from the runes on the columns, once white, turned bright blue.

Ena threw her hands up as if to block the radiation, screaming in agony as her skin began to smoke. Then she curled over in pain and grew still.

Akuma leapt to her side and crouched over her.

“Akuma, goddammit, get out of there. It might be hard radiation!” Chen shouted.

The Galatean put a finger to her throat. “She is still alive,” he shouted.

He held up his hand in the blue light. Nothing happened. Whatever it was, it was like the force field, keyed to her biometrics. He crouched over her body and tried to shield her from most of the light.

Chen grabbed Wallace by the arm.

“What is the light?”

“I don’t know,” Wallace shouted, staring at the readings on his handheld. “A form of radiation. Specific to her species, if I were to guess, just like the force field.”

“Do something. Turn off the power, turn off the force field, fuck, turn off that gods-cursed blue light.” Chen shouted.

****

A team of soldiers folded space at the edge of the plaza inside the last circle of stone pillars and walked through from another dimension. They were tall and lithe, like Ena. They wore armor made of the flesh of the fire demon. It was almost as if they had skinned one of her kind and beaten the metal skin into armor shapes. The implications were horrifying. Akuma shuddered, his rage barely contained. Chen was shouting something but the roaring of warrior-lust in his ears kept him from hearing it clearly.

He put a warning shot over their heads. “Stay back!”

They milled about and then one called out. “We have no quarrel with you. Give us the demon.”

“No,” roared Akuma.

“Come, now. See reason. She is ours, now. You cannot remove her from this place. She does you no good. We will pay you for her.”

“We don’t sell people,” Akuma shouted, outraged.

“It is not people. It is barely an animal. Leave her to us.”

“She is the last of her kind,” Akuma shouted. “Do you need to kill her just for your pleasure?”

“Oh, she will not die. She will go into the reactors and give us another ten thousand years of power,” the spokesman said. “Be reasonable. A thousand planets and a hundred billion people depend upon this.”

“Fuck that shit,” muttered Wallace from the sidelines. Looking down at his laptop, he began to type madly. The blue lights went out. “Hey,” he said, looking up, surprise in his voice.

The soldiers did not seem to like that. They raised their fists and pointed them at Wallace.

Chen aimed for the leader’s heart and fired. It should have blown a hole though him the size of a fist but instead the demon armor took his bolt of energy and disperse it. The alien soldier touched something on his wrist. The fabric of the world tore, that tear, like black lightning, was aimed at Wallace. Chen grabbed him and jerked him out of the way of the bolt.

“Hey! What do you think you’re doing? You cant just open up rifts in our dimension.” Wallace shouted. “That is suicide for everyone.”

They shot again. The rift consumed the sensor array and the powermod.

Akuma, no longer needing to shield Ena from the blue light, sent shot after shot at the group of soldiers. Their rift weapon turned his way. He danced out of its path and took refuge behind the stone pillars. It was a deadly game of cat and mouse as one pillar after crumbled. He was almost certain he would not survive if one of those bolts of black lightning should hit him.

****

She dreamed that she was small again, cradled in her mother’s arms, only her mother was dead and her older brother was dragging her away from the body. “Come on, wee one. She cannot hurt anymore. She is the lucky one. The war is over for her,” he said.

Ena opened her eyes. White light bled from the burns on her skin.

A battle was being waged just above her head, and bit by bit the world was being destroyed. She needed to do something about that but the memory of her mother, once lost in the dim recesses of her mind, now bled anew, ripping holes in her heart. Tears drip down her nose and fell upon the stone. They left dark spots on the stone, those tears.

Ena put all her concentration on getting her arm to work. She pulled her hand up to her face and then put her finger on one of the teardrops. White light ignited the stone. A golden line formed under her touch. With great care and total concentration she drew a stick figure woman, changing the stone into gold at the subatomic level. She drew the figure with a skirt and dancing legs. As the final touch, instead of a face, she drew a spiral inside the circle head. The figure began to vibrate.

A bolt of black lighting hit a column and the ground shook under her. She moaned in pain.

“Grandmother,” Ena whispered desperately into the stick figure. The figure began to dance.

A lick of flame rose out of the heart of the tiny spiral. It grew, reaching up to the sky. Ena rolled away as the heat began to build. Akuma grabbed her and pulled her to the edge of the plaza, just on the verge of the turquoise shield as the demon grew hard and substantial. The bolts of black lightning were now all aimed at the fire demon. Ena’s grandmother stretched and then looked down at Akuma with its inhuman golden eyes.

“Run,” she said.

The shield collapsed. Akuma did not need a second invitation. He scooped up Ena and began to run, hoping like hell that Chen and Sung were not far behind. When he thought Ena could run on her own he set her on her feet and grabbed her hand.

The earth shook. Ena stopped. “They are killing her,” she cried.

“Run. You cannot save her.” Akuma roared. She fought him but he was stronger. He jerked her into motion and began to run in earnest. Something terrible was happening in the plaza behind them. The ruins began to collapse around them.

“Go back!” screamed Ena. “We have to help her!”

“No!” roared Akuma as he dodged a rockfall and kept running.

A jagged bit of black lighting arced just overhead, consuming a block of stone that was just about to crush them. Akuma cursed and kept running.

Wallace, shaking the rock dust from his eyes, rounded a corner, followed by Chen and Sung.

“We need to call Olympus or we are all going to be dead in a few minutes!” Sung shouted tensely. They turned a corner, stumbling as the earth shook, and took refuge behind a stone wall.

Chen was listening to his earcom. He shook his head. “Too much interference from the weapon they are using. Nothing is holding stable long enough to get a lock on us and transport us up. Space-time is growing unstable, here. They are getting ready to jump to light speed.”

Akuma shook Ena’s shoulder roughly, getting her attention. She pulled her ears out of the roar in the ambient long enough to look around. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. “We are all going to die here, including you, if you cannot get us out of here,” Akuma pleaded.

Ena nodded in resignation. She reached out with her mind and turned them into white light.

Five balls of white light appeared on the bridge of the starship Olympus. Four soldiers and a small golden haired little girl walked out of them.

Chen looked around. “Get us the hell out of here,” he shouted at the bridge crew. The admiral nodded, eying the child, and gave the order.

The admiral spoke and a group of marines with guns aimed at Ena appeared out of the shadows.

“Your team has gained a fifth, Major Chen.” the admiral said softly.

Wallace looked down at the kid by his side. “I don’t want to freak the rest of you out, but I am fairly certain I know who she is.”

“No shit,” breathed Akuma, putting his body between Ena and the weapons.

Ena crouched where she stood, covered her eyes with her hands, and said nothing.

Sung squatted down by her side and stroked her unruly mop of hair. It felt like silken metal.

The child looked up with eyes that burned bright and gold like small suns. “I am a monster,” she whispered. “I have just killed the only relative I had left.”

“No,” Sung said. “You set her free. She was happy. You gave her a chance to die in battle instead of fading away, prisoner to those blood sucking bastards.”

“If I had left her there, she would still be alive,” Ena said, wiping the tears from her cheeks.

“And then you both would be captive,” Akuma said. “No. You did the right thing. The brave thing. The fierce thing.”

Wallace stared down at the child.

“Wallace?” Chen asked.

“What?”

“What just happened?”

“Oh. Well, for starters? The bad news is that planet, maybe the entire solar system is gone. I could feel the fabric of the universe destabilizing just as we … left.. The good news is that grandma thing was nearly dead to begin with so I think that simple fact alone might contain the damage to one solar system.”

“Grandma?” the admiral asked.

“Yeah, well. The good news is that there are not a lot of her species left, so this episode will not repeat itself. The bad news is that the rest of her species has been enslaved and converted into sentient power generators for a race of beings that we have not met before and hopefully never will again. If they try to cross into this dimension again, Akuma will do his level best to kill them all. Anyway. She freed granny somehow and granny covered our retreat, destroying the planet in the process.”

“Lieutenant Wallace,” the admiral said, “you are not making a lot of sense.”

“No? I … That ancient site. Yeah. It was a trap. A very elaborate and sophisticated trap and it was meant just for her. She was caught and Akuma refused to leave her.”

“We do not leave our people behind,” Chen said evenly.

Wallace looked around. “I have to find the techs who were ghosting us and get a copy of their data. Maybe if I write it down, it will all make more sense.’

“Just answer me this. How did you get back here? The transporters were down,” the admiral asked.

Wallace looked at him. “We had to leave. Fast. She … folded space/time, I think.”

“Who is she?”

Wallace looked down at the child. “Oh, I thought that part was obvious. She is the stone child from Delta Alpha Six.”

The admiral threw his hands up in the air. Nothing was obvious. He would get no coherent sense out of them until the mission reports showed up on his desk. He waved them off his bridge. Sung gathered Ena up and, arm in arm, they headed down-ship to the crew quarters.

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Veiled Gaze

Stone Child

Four pillars of light materialized  in the center of the room. Four soldiers stepped into the subterranean room far below the ruined city on the surface of this airless planet. It had been a leap of faith, that first step. The techs on the starship had assured them they would be safe but the machines were not designed to send a human body so far through hard matter.

Major Chen brought his weapon up and stepped away from his group, spinning about to assess the situation, the light mounted on the underbelly of the gun’s muzzle illuminating the darkness. Captain Sung mimicked his movements but on the opposite side of the room, her weapon up and ready in case something stepped out of the shadows to challenge them for possession of this room.

“You got five minutes to tell me what this place is, Wallace,” Chen said, “and disarm whatever fail-safes are in place.”

Lieutenant Wallace nodded, his backpack already open, his scanner open and running. Akuma took the powermod out of his own pack and set it on the console near the Lieutenant before standing back, his laser pistols in his fists, his eyes scanning the room, a silent snarl on his lips. Too many times, they had done this. Too many times the missions had ended disastrously. The Galatian had learned to distrust the techs assurances of safety.

Wallace’s fingers were a blur on the keypad.

Sung eased cautiously over to a window gone milky with time. She tried to peer through the haze but could see nothing in the darkness.

“Well?” Chen asked coming back to his starting place after making a circuit of the room. The room’s walls were lined with bank after bank of machines, all of them inactive.

“We underestimated the age of this place,” Wallace said tensely. “I put it at 100,000 years or more.”

“Not Ascerian, then,” Chen asked, relaxing a little.

“No. That could be a good thing or a really bad thing. We knew the Ascerians stole the core of their technology from an older race of people. This maybe the source.”

Wallace put down his scanner and pulled a set of leads out of his backpack. He hooked one end to the powermod and the other to the place on the console that seemed to resonate the most with the field generated by his scanner. “Turning mod on in three, two, one.”

Akuma tightened his grip on his pistols and half raised them as he took a step back to give himself more room to maneuver.

Lights flared on the console. The powermod hummed, responding to the increased demand. Lights began to flare into life all over the room as bank after bank asked for power and the mod accommodated them.

Wallace plugged the sensor into the mod and let his programs run. Info steamed down the screen. He took a smaller machine from under his chest armor and turned it on, spinning around slowly. He raised a finger and pointed blindly at the hazed window. “The original energy anomaly is there, behind that wall.” He looked up and realized where his finger indicated. “I don’t suppose anyone brought a couple of blocks of gelignite?”

Chen studied the wall beside the window. He ran his fingers over a ridge. 100,000 years of dust fell away revealing what looked to be the edges of a door. He ran his palm down the wall around the door. Multicolored lights flared under his touch.

Wallace pushed him aside. “I got it. I got it. Give me a second,” he said, his fingers touching the colored squares.

Sung pulled her sleeve down over her fist and used it to scrub the window clean. Putting her nose against the glass she put her hands around her face to block the glare of the lights behind her. Something stood in the center of the large room behind. She pulled her light off her weapon and pressed it against the glass, trying to see better but the glass was too old. “There is something in there,” she said.

Chen came over and peered over her shoulder. “What?”

Sung shook her head. “Can’t tell.”

The scanner hooked up to the powermod beeped. Chen crossed to it and studied the analysis. The muscles in Chen’s face tightened. “Wallace.”

“What?” the lieutenant asked, distracted by the puzzle of the door lock.

“Wallace!” Chen snapped. “Get over here and tell me that I am mistaken. Why does this look suspiciously like the Ascerian quantum paradox bridge that we found in Sector LR2087.”

The lock pinged and the door popped, the crack around the door now a definite lip. Wallace backed away. “Oh, shit,” he breathed.

Akuma flinched and holstered his pistols. He had no good memories of LR2087. They had turned that cursed machine on and wiped out a solar system, barely escaping with their lives.

“Tell me this is not another one of the Ascerian’s failed experiments?” Chen begged.

Wallace stared at the report. “Yes, no. It seems that this one was functional.”

“How the hell did they manage that?” Chen asked. “You said yourself the reaction was too unstable to control.”

“It is. Everything we tried could not keep the field from ripping apart the space/time continuum,” Wallace said, puzzled. His fingers were busy on the keypad, refining his queries. “I don’t understand these readings. This was a functional power station. How did they … ?”

Opening the door had triggered something inside the room. Lights flared. Sung peered into the window.

“What is this room?” she asked.

Wallace did not look up. “It is the reactor room. The containment vessel for the event horizon.”

“There is someone inside it,” Sung said.

“What?” Chen said, looking up in alarm. He and Wallace moved to the glass observation window.

“Oh, god,” Wallace whispered in horror. “That’s how they solved their instability problem.”

“Its a kid,” Chen said in disbelief. “They used a living being and installed it into a quantum field? I don’t believe it. The Ascerians were not that ruthless.”

“I don’t think this was a Ascerian facility,” Wallace repeated. He turned and put his fingers under the edge of the door, trying to yank it open.

“Do you think that wise to open the reactor room?” Sung asked, not too keen on inspecting the body of a tortured child.

“This site has not worked for well over ten thousand years. I doubt there is anything left that can harm us. Help me get this open,” Wallace said.

Akuma, against his better judgement, took the long knife from its sheath on his back and jammed the hilt into the crack.  He heaved. The door grated open and then stuck half way.

The air inside the room tasted wrong. Akuma coughed and backed away. “Breathers!” the tall Galatian shouted, reaching for his mask where it hung on his belt.

None of them needed a second warning. Wallace held his mask to his face and stared at the readings in his hand-held.

“Are we going to die?” Chen asked, a smile in his voice and a glare in his eyes, always a bad sign.

Wallace looked at his readings. “Xenon gas. Insert. Heavy air. Enough to suffocate anyone in the room.”

Somewhere behind the walls, fans woke, sucking the air in the room out through the vents in the baseboards.

“Wait for the air to clear,” Chen said.

Wallace turned to glare at him.

“This thing is one hundred thousand years old and we just removed the only thing that was keeping it preserved. If I am going to get any readings off of it, it has to be now.” he said, pushing the door wider and squeezing into the room. He held up his hand-held scanner and began recording.

Sung eased in behind him. She could not take her eyes away from the figure in the center of the room.

The child’s face is oddly serene, even for one whose flesh was pierced by the cables that tied her to the dias upon which she stood. “Do you think she knew what was being done to her?” Sung asked, looking down into the blank eyes.

Perhaps it was the absence of the preserving gas. Perhaps it was the vibrations of Sung’s voice. Fine lines appeared on the child’s skin and on all the wires attached to her. The lines became cracks and small chunks of ancient child flesh began to flake off. Sung backed away, choking on the dust. The decay accelerated.

“Get out,” Chen yelled. Wallace did not hear him. The skin of the child fell away revealing a form that might have been translucent stone or transparent metal. It was oddly beautiful, like the sculptures one saw in museums. Wallace reached out to touch the perfect cheek. Something electric jumped across the small gap between stone and flesh. A light, like a tiny star, ignited inside the head of the glass child. It began grow.

Akuma grabbed Wallace in his great arms and pulled him out of the room. It was just in time. The light flared, bright as a sun before blinking out, sucking all the energy out of the control room.

Blackness, total and complete, consumed both rooms. The powermod groaned at the abuse. The lights on the console flickered. Then, one by one, the systems returned to life.

“Everyone OK?” Chen asked.

“What was that?” Akuma asked.

“I don’t … ,” Wallace said.

“Shhh!” Sung said. “Listen. What is that?”

The sound of a child softly crying came from the reactor room. “Oh, god,” Sung breathed, jumping to her feet. “What have we done?” She slid around the half ajar door and went back into the room. A real child, naked, made of flesh and blood, sat crouched upon the metal dais that had once housed the stone child. It started, looking up in terror at the sight of Sung and the armed men behind her. It disappeared, reappearing against the far wall.

“What the …?” Chen breathed out.

The girl disappeared again, only to be brought up hard against the opposite wall of the reactor. She did it again and again, but each time bouncing off the impervious walls. A small moaning sound escaped her lips.

“Its a containment field,” Wallace said in wonder. “She cannot pass through shielded walls.”

“There is no species alive that can pass through walls,” Chen said.

“The myths, the old stories … ,” Wallace flinched as the child hit the wall once again.

“Don’t be afraid. We mean you no harm,” Sung said, holding out her arms, palms wide. It was like watching a bird caught inside a house, trying to escape but beating itself to death on the glass of the windows that held a view of the sky.

“Oh, gawd, please stop,” Sung whispered. “You are breaking my heart.”

The child turned and looked into Sung’s eyes. Sung’s brain shut down, her mind full of eyes the color and brightness of a golden sun.

The child said nothing but her panicked breath began to calm and sanity returned to her eyes. She looked over Sung’s shoulder at the far wall.

“She sees the door,” Akuma said, moving to block her escape. “The next jump will take her out.”

***

The door was open. She was free. The long nightmare was over. She had these strange people to thank for it. One by one she plucked them out of time and touched their minds. Chen, leader and moral watchdog. Wallace, with his greedy, insatiable mind. Sung, warrior mother. Akuma, his wounded heart bleeding for a planet whose sun had turned into a red giant and consumed all its children.

She patted Sung’s hand as if to comfort her. Tears glittered in the woman’s eyes, emphatic grief over a stone child’s plight. She touched Akuma and tugged him down to her height, touching his face in wonder at his strangeness. She touched her own face and for a brief moment she was a child with amber eyes, golden stippled skin, fantastic eyebrows, and a mane instead of hair. Akuma smiled at her. She let him have control of that much of his mind, giving him a promise of future generations and burying it deep in his subconscious.

The stone child shook her head and let her looks return to her tousled golden curls and sun-bright eyes. She laughed and turned the room and all its contents into white light.

******

Four pillars of light materialized  in the center of the room. Four soldiers stepped into the subterranean room far below the ruined city on the surface of this airless planet.

Major Chen brought his weapon up and stepped away from his group, spinning about to assess the situation. Captain Sung mimicked his movements but on the opposite side of the room, her weapon up and ready.

“You got five minutes to tell me what this place is, Wallace,” Chen said, “and disarm whatever fail-safes are in place.”

The reactor room door stood ajar, the banks of machines destroyed in some cataclysmic explosion.

Wallace pulled out his hand-held and stared at the readings, shaking his head. “I told you that energy reading was an anomaly. I got nothing. This was just another wild goose chase.”

“Fine,” Chen said. “Let’s leave it for the anthropologists, then.” He touched the com in his ear. “Olympus, its a no go down here. Bring us home.”

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