Old, tired air rushed at me, then cleared. I stepped inside. Behind me I heard sounds of a commotion, but I was drawn into the bowels of the mountain. Footsteps sounded behind me and Russell's voice echoed to me, "Captain!".
My eyes adjusted to the dim lighting - there was lighting in here, but this entrance was mainly lit up by the light coming through the door. Two, no three figures were silhouetted against the light behind me. The tall thin one stepped inside the door.
"Captain, are you all right?"
I was in a wide corridor. Ahead was heavy door. Just before the door was a small one set into the side of the corridor. Some sort of guard's room I surmised.
I had to go further in. Russell followed me as I opened the guard's room and stepped in. Whatever was pulling me onwards still wanted me to go through the big door, but some part of me whispered caution, and for once in my life I listened. Inside the room were banks of monitors and computer systems, all fully functional. A camera system was switching through shots of various areas presumably further within the installation.
"Oh wow," whispered Russell behind me.
All of it was useless. I couldn't read a thing of what it was telling me. I could understand schematics, such as those shown on some of the screens easily enough, but I could not read Markab.
"Djikiden! Get down here and read this stuff for me!"
The Pak'ma'ra shuffled and huffed his way along the corridor. "Are you sure this is wise, Captain? You shouldn't have come in here without us."
"Well, we're all here now," I replied as Nar'Bon stepped in to the room.
The Pak'ma'ra asked the question that all of them wanted answered. How had I opened the door? Embedded in that was why had I opened the door?
I looked at them and sighed (rotten Human habit I have picked up). "I just had to get in here. I put in the number that my hand knew was right. I just knew it. It sounds mad, I know, but I needed to get in here. I need to get in there," I waved at the inner door, "but the door looks locked. So I came in here."
Nar'Bon and Russell were making small hand signals saying that I am mad. I was actually starting to doubt my own sanity, but that prodding in my mind kept pushing me towards the inner part of the installation.
Russell and the Pak'ma'ra sat down at the consoles and started fiddling with the controls. Russell inserted his interpreter key into a data crystal reader, but the local system couldn't connect to the Markab web to get "updated language files". What appeared on the screen was a strange mix of Earther and Markab writing.
The camera system was easy to figure out, and they quickly learnt how to interpret the schematics.
"These cameras show A level, the one that we are on. This is directly inside the door there."
It showed a corridor with a number of doors leading off it. "A level is sleeping quarters, administration and mess areas."
"Go to the bottom level."
"Ah, that would be this one, C level." The Pak'ma'ra moved to a different console. "It is the plant area - it contains all the equipment needed to keep this place running." The cameras showed machinery, most of which was of totally unfamiliar design. Not all the cameras worked.
Then we looked at the B deck. "This is the laboratory area. The engine room, the - hmm, my translation has no word for that. They are all work areas." Quite a few of the cameras on that level did not work, and for a good reason. We had seen no signs of life, past or present, until we examined B level. There we found abundant evidence of past life.
A number of bodies were sprawled around the level. When we zoomed the one remaining working camera in to examine the damage more closely, we could see that the bodies were mummified Markabs. Ten or more bodies lay around a wrecked room containing more unidentifiable equipment. The Narn government would pay well to know what these Markab had been experimenting with, although we would also prefer to know what went wrong so that we did not duplicate the Markab's mistake.
"Looks like there was a disaster here?" The Human was looking worried.
No matter what, I had to get in there. "Well, there's nothing alive in there to harm us, and those bodies aren't going to get in our way. I have to go in. Who is going with me?"
"I ain't" said the Human. Unusual - he was normally amenable to my suggestions as long as there was no suggestion of danger. He played with the controls at his console and brought up a few different overlays on the screen. "Look at this." He pointed at one display that showed a solid line. "Radiation's through the roof, almost literally." He rapidly changed the camera view until it showed us. The Pak'ma'ra leaned across to examine the readings and commented, "Radiation is nominally higher than background in here. We are in no danger here."
"Yeah, but she," and I could hear the fear and disdain in the Human's voice, "wants to go in *there*."
Radiation levels on A deck were high enough that we would only last a couple of hours in there before risking serious contamination. Normally I would not even dream of entering such a high risk area, but I was compelled to.
The Pak'ma'ra and Russell could not find a way to open the door into the installation anyway. I wanted to go in, but one thing was preying on my mind even more than this compulsion. The Pak'ma'ra also had the same idea - he pulled a can and a tin opener out of his robes, carefully opened the tin and started eating. He didn't have one for me - most inconsiderate of him, I thought - and refused to share. Probably just as well - never know what I could catch off a Pak'ma'ra. I wandered back to the messhall and filled someone's water sling with cans. I even collected a few spoons.
In the time it took for Russell and the Pak'ma'ra to discover that they could not get into the installation, I ate three cans and started on the fourth. I had also had a long drink from the tank. The others decided to go and investigate the rest of the compound, see if there was power out there. Nar'Bon decided to go with them. They left me behind. Russell told me in all seriousness to cover my face if I did manage to get inside the installation. Even a bit of material would filter some of the particulate radioactive matter, if there was any particulate matter that is.
With one need satisfied - I was bloated with food - my need to get inside that door was intense. I went out into the corridor and examined the door closely. There was a keypad on one side, but whatever intuition I had had abandoned me. No combination I tried could open the door. However, on the other side of the corridor was an access panel. I pulled at it and popped it open. Inside was a massive, heavy wheel. An emergency door release. Excellent.
My strength was sadly lacking, and it took some effort and time to wind the wheel far enough to release the door. Remembering what Russell said, I wrapped a bit of my ragged sleeve around my nose and mouth. I pulled the door ajar slightly and stepped back. The rag was no obstacle to the terrible smell that erupted from inside. Where was my perfume when I needed it so?
The sound of the door opening called my companions back to the installation.
"Captain - what do you think you're doing? You're exposing us all to radiation." Russell seemed to have a phobia about radiation. Then he noticed something else and turned up his nose. "What is that stink?"
I pulled my rag off my face. "I think that I'll just let the air settle for a while." I stepped further back and waited until the stench began to dissipate. Yes I had to get in there, but I couldn't face that smell. Another five minutes would not matter. Russell scurried past me and pushed the door further shut.
The Pak'ma'ra scurried in to the guard's room and checked the levels of radioactivity in the corridor. "No, it's not bad in here. Not much seems to be in the air. Smells bad though."
If the Pak'ma'ra thought that it smelt bad, it had to be abominable.
We all stepped in to the guard's room. The Human was showing signs of standing up for himself. He was quite aggressive as he said, "Look, why do you have to go in there, anyway? It's dangerous."
Even Nar'Bon was doubting me. I had to explain myself.
"She appeared to me in a vision. She made me come here. I have to do this. How do you think that we met together here?"
They looked at me as if I was mad. To be honest, I wasn't sure that they weren't right. "Who's she?" asked the Pak'ma'ra.
"Haven't you seen her? Hasn't she talked to you?"
They looked at each other and at me. Clearly they did not understand what I was talking about.
"Her! Kimmini! She appeared to me in a vision."
Nar'Bon or Russell, I don't remember now, said "Kimmini's dead. You've had visions of the dead?" They were so incredulous I had to do something to show I wasn't mad.
I tried again, "I know she is dead, but she was talking to me -"
Surprisingly the Pak'ma'ra interjected "Well, that is perfectly normal..."
" - She showed me this mountain, and when I saw it, I had to come here. Yes, I've been talking to a dead Seer. Maybe telepaths can survive death. I don't know!!!"
The Pak'ma'ra admitted that he hadn't realised that Kimmini was a telepath. He hadn't made the essential connection between Tamorein and telepathy, but he seemed to have come on side with me. Bizarre.
"Don't you remember seeing her for the first time? I dreamt of her before we had even met."
The Pak'ma'ra twisted his tentacles for a moment. "Aah, yes, I do remember dreaming whilst I was in the tank. And Kimmini was there."
Russell was not convinced, and nor, more upsettingly, was Nar'Bon. Instead I had the Pak'ma'ra's support which I neither wanted or needed. Under normal circumstances, anyway. But these weren't normal times, and I was grateful. I really thought that I was starting to lose my mind. Having the support of the Pak'ma'ra didn't prove my sanity, but at least I was not so alone in my madness.
"I experienced a vision after the sandstorm. In it I saw this mountain. I had to come here, and I have to get into that place and I cannot wait any longer! Radiation or not. I want more pouchlings, but I must go in there. Are you with me or not?"
Russell started to demur, but the Pak'ma'ra was louder. "If Kimmini appeared to you, then this is something we must do. I will go with you. I see that Nar'Bon will too."
(Just as an aside, I have never revealed any of my personal life or my past to my companions, not even Nar'Bon, past the fact that I once had a brother who died not that long ago. I did not see that my personal life had anything to do with them.)
The Human grumbled and muttered, then started to examine the cabinets around the guard room. "Wonder if there are breathers or fire fighting equipment in here?" Most of the cabinets were locked and we could not gain access. Russell guessed that it would take some hours to break through the electronic locks on them - there must be interesting stuff in there for them to be locked. Nar'Bon fetched one of the tarpaulin poles and I tried to force the door.
I was terribly weak and took some time breaking through the door of a cupboard. I laid into it with my boots and then levered it open. It was much harder than it should have been. In the meantime, the others searched the open cabinets, finding little of interest except for six breather units.
With one last wrench at the lever, I pulled the door open. Inside were eight lovely PPGs of Markab design (at least I presumed they were Markab) along with spare caps. Nar'Bon exclaimed with joy and grabbed two. Russell took one, as did the Pak'ma'ra. That left three for me and an extra one for Nar'Bon. G'Quan knows what we expected to use them on - there were certainly no Markab. Maybe the rodents around here were of unusual size.
We put the breathers on and I pulled the door open. At least it didn't smell so bad now with the full face masks on. Nor would we be breathing contaminated air. I noticed in passing that the Pak'ma'ra's tentacles were squished out to where his ears would be if he had any. He wouldn't be talking too much with that restriction - could be an advantage.
Inside was the corridor we had seen on the monitors. We quickly checked the rooms on either side. They were sleeping quarters, as the schematics had shown. They were nearly stripped of personal belongings, but they showed signs of being abandoned quickly. Beds were unmade and a few nicknacks were left behind. Most unmilitary.
The Pak'ma'ra stopped before a sign. It had two different forms of writing on it. One was Markab - I knew enough to recognise it, but the other was totally unfamiliar. He gestured to Nar'Bon and muttered at him. Nar'Bon shook his head. "No, I still don't remember what it is. It is familiar, however."
We continued on. All the signs were in both Markab and the other language that none of us could identify. It seemed that the Markab had been collaborating with another race, one much more advanced than they. That would explain their rapid advancement in technology in recent years.
We found nothing until we reached the administration area. There, again most of the essential equipment had been stripped. Data storage was mostly empty, but we found a few hardcopy printouts in one office. As the Pak'ma'ra picked one up, something bounced off the page and skittered away.
He and I dropped to the floor to see where it had gone. The Pak'ma'ra grunted as he pushed his arm under a cabinet and pulled out a data crystal.
My compulsion to be in this place abruptly vanished. We were out of time anyway - the breathers would only last for half a standard hour, and that was nearly up. I was suddenly very aware of being surrounded by radiation that could affect any more pouchlings I may have (despite all that has happened, I still have this apparent belief that I will get back to So'Kath and give Na'Kath some pouch sibs). "Let's get out of here."
The Pak'ma'ra looked at me with some surprise.
"We've got what we were here for. We've got no air left, so let's go."
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