|Eric Olafson, Fleet Cadet|
|Previous||Chapter 17 - The Huffh|
|Current||Cave of Things|
|Next||Chapter 19: Security Clearance|
CHAPTER 18: Cave of ThingsEdit
Even taking it slow the big Huffh covered more ground with each step it took than we did with ten. In order to keep up Brenda suggested we use our flight belts. The units had an Arti Grav Lifter and two little turbines for movement. Caram stopped and watched us as we took off and floated next to him." You are so little and yet you can do so many wondrous things!"
"It is just easier this way to keep up with you." Said Brenda," but rest assured we are not gods or anything like that."
"What are gods?"
"Do the Huffh worship something?"
"Oh you mean like beings and such you can only see when you sleep? No we do not believe they are real and we do not worship them."
Brenda said to me." Fascinating they have a very old civilization and have been exposed to a high technology species and yet they have no religion."
"Maybe if you are the biggest thing around you do not need to invent a religion."
I looked around and said to Caram." I can no longer see your mate. She was following us but now she has disappeared."
"She is foraging for food for herself and me and she is very much afraid of you two."
We had been on the move for the better part of the day and the Sun was now at the zenith and the weather was warm. The landscape had changed from the alpine meadow character around the cave to a more dense forested nature. There was a clear path between the trees, stomped compacted dirt by the movement of many Huffh.
Brenda pointed at a clearing that was opening before us and said," I think we should rest here, so Caram can take a break and receive the food of his mate and maybe he can tell her we are not dangerous."
Caram agreed readily." I will go and forage and catch up with Balmi and tell her about you. I will come back to this gathering spot. It was here where the old Utnalai told me the story about the Uni."
While the Huffh crashed into the thicket Brenda landed on the forest meadow next to a little creek and I noticed how pale she looked and the thick sweat on her face and I said." You don't look very good, do you feel ill?"
"I am just so tired and I feel so cold."
I pressed the Auto Doc on her arm and the read out told me that she had a bacterial infection, and that the initial broadband treatment was not successful. The Auto Doc recommended professional Medical attention.
"Immediate medical help is unavailable, prognosis and recommendation."
"Continued treatment with antibiotics. Recommend isolating the bacteria and uploading results to GalNet and receive Nanite Instructions to counteract infection."
Brenda of course had heard the Auto Doc as well and said." I think the bats infected me with microbes the Auto Doc can't deal with on its own, we need to draw some saliva from the bat and scan it and then send the results to Medical Central. The Auto Doc might then be able to generate the correct Antibody."
"Then we better make camp right here and do that, I still have a little Energy left on the PDD for maybe one or two short transmissions."
While I set up camp, I felt as if someone was watching us, so I used the Science Scanner and scanned the surroundings. Brenda was sitting on the ground next to a tree, her arms wrapped around her knees and she was shaking."If it wouldn't be so cold I could help."
She had a fever no doubt and I had to hurry. The scan revealed many Neuro impulses around us; these forests were full of life.
The tent went up in no time and I put Brenda on the hammock inside and turned up the heating module of the tent. She didn't look good at all and the Auto Doc put her in a deep sleep. I killed the Bat in the Specimen container, scanned its mouth and send the scan results to Medical Central. I now had less than fifteen percent energy. Med Central confirmed the reception of the data and the Auto Docs detailed diagnosis and just as the treatment recommendation was about to transmitted, the transmission cut off, the PDD energy was depleted!
Something hard hit the tent. I grabbed the TKU and opened the flap; long hairy arms grabbed after the Muzzle and tried to pull the weapon out of my hand. Instinctively I pressed the trigger and the discharge burned something. There was a chorus of angry screeching voices and I glanced through the flap. Hundreds of primate looking creatures, covered in dark brown fur, with piercing yellow eyes and bright red colored snouts covered the entire clearing. Eight of them had been caught in the blast cone and their remains lie smoldering on the ground. The brown things were about as tall as a twelve year old, had long arms that reached to the ground and they carried rocks and sticks! As soon as they saw me, they pelted the tent with a shower of fist size rocks!
While I was confident the Memory material could withstand some abuse as it was made to provide shelter in nearly any environment, it would not last forever. My energy magazine still held 14 bolts and with Brenda's I still had two spare energy packs. I dialed it down, took careful aim and killed ten of them in a fast pace. Those Primates fled into the tree, but did not scatter like the big Huffh had done. Still stones and sticks came raining down from the tree tops. One look at the bio scanner confirmed my fear, there were not hundreds, but thousands of them and it appeared their number increased by the moment.
I set the force field muzzle to wide cone and set a few tree tops on fire, draining my first energy pack, but the rock pelting stopped the screaming however increased and it sounded like a war cry.
Then a new shower of rocks and a tearing sound. One of the rocks had torn a big hole in the fabric of the tent.
They had crossed the shallow seas and were closer to the Cave of things now. As urgent as they wanted to reach the Cave of things, they needed to forage and since they were so many they could coral the swimming flicks and feast on them. The Huffh would form a semi circle and slowly wade through the shallow waters and drive the flicker before them into a bay at the shore. There was no escape for the flickers as they trashed in panic in the water. No longer able to dive so near to the beach, their finned backs were exposed to the air. The Huffh, now shoulder to shoulder lowered their huge maws into the water and each time nabbed six or seven of the flickers and it was good forage. They all were filled with the delicious fresh tasting flesh of the flickers.
Some Huffh found this way of foraging very unfair and cruel towards the flickers and hoped they too had a cave of life they could return, but the joy of the commune hunt and the abundance of food was enough to silence these moral objections.
Well fed and in the community with all the other Huffh, the horrors of the last day already faded. They usually did this kind of foraging only once every season and one of the male Huffh said to all of them." If we can gather flicks this way in communion, then we can stand against the Uni in communion. Maybe they can use the Burn light on a few of us, but then the rest will crush them, just as we gather the Flicks or crush the Hanglers! This is a new thought a new way! The Anali always want to run away!"
The Old Anali felt the crescendo of approving feelings to this and wondered if that male was maybe right. The Hanglers did it that way! Even a small group of Hanglers could not stand against a Huffh, but whenever they gathered with many families they were able to wound a Huffh. Had not a large group of Hanglers wounded Galpin so bad he had to go into the Cave only one season ago? The Hanglers did not let up, even if many Hanglers perished.
Then she felt the joy of Caram! He was not dead! He felt euphoric and free of pain! That she could feel him so far away meant his feelings were very strong!
The others felt it too and the question and challenge of the male was forgotten for now and someone said." Caram walks! Caram walks again! He is not dead!"
"The Uni have confused his thoughts!" The Old one said." He could not possibly walk again! You all know what happens to a Huffh that has the Bone fire! It is a rouse and they try to confuse us!"
The same voice responded."But why would they need to confuse us if they can burn us!"
The male spoke." Because they are afraid of us if we unite and crush them and do it like the Hanglers do!"
"But the Hanglers don't mind dying here. We cannot die like them!"
The male Huffh had no immediate answer to that and fell silent again.
But the idea was there and to the shock of the Old Utnalai it was her best friend the one who would take her place that answered." Uglam has died and we felt it, and it was a great shock but he did die and we are still here. Maybe a few of us must die here to gain our freedom from the Uni. Even after so many seasons we are still not home here and we are still in fear of the Uni and they do things to us we do not want. I say we go and crush them and if Huffh die then we will carry them to the Cave and let the Cave take them to the Valley."
The Old Utnalai felt the wish and desire of power in her old friend and it was the same wish she tried to defend and even made her lie to the Huffh. Seeing it in someone else made her angry, her friend betraying her! Not willing to wait her time, she wanted to be Utnalai now!
What had happened to the Huffh? Had the death of Uglam brought in more than death? The Huffh had not known fear, not lie and deception among each other and now it was there! Did the Uni bring new thoughts with them? The Old Utnalai could not explain why she suddenly wished to harm her best friend and punish her for speaking out of line!
"We are almost at the Cave of Things. Let us finished the journey and the Voice of the Cave will tell us what the Uni want and I will tell you the secret story!"
The Herd agreed, but not anymore with complete trust that this was the only solution. There were many new feelings among the Huffh and many were new and dark!
Interlude : LunaEdit
The Commander came into the office of the Admiral and said." I am unable to raise the Commander or the Midshipman. The local police found the Laboratory empty, but found the flyer of the Xenobiologist 3 miles away near the mountains. No sign of the two. There is a piece of ground burned by TKU before a cave entrance."
The Admiral leaned back and pointed at the file he was reading." I was reading up on the Big Bone Mystery and I wonder why we never put more efforts in this to solve it. There is a valley filled with bones of an animal that is not native to that planet. They had to come from somewhere and now we get a distress call from the Midshipman 90,000 light years away. There has to be a connection to this."
The Commander opened the file on his PDD and said." It was never considered a priority and classed as a Level 32 research project. It looks like the research reports of the commander have not been looked at either, just filed for further analysis."
"At once, Sir!"
McElligott got up, tugged at his Sporran and made his way to the next Inter Building transport. He was almost at the IBT when his aide caught up with him, a little out of breath. "The Shetland will be ready for lift off, by the time you come aboard, Sir. The Ultras have been alerted and are boarding as we speak.
McElligott grinned as he stepped into the IBT car. "Would you like to come along? I have a feeling we are about to discover something quite unusual. Or to be more precise, we will find out that this Midshipman turned a standard simple assignment into something quite different."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world, Sir." The Commander also entered the Car and while the Vac Tube transport shot through the network of pipes he said." I think your friend is in more trouble and I wish I had done something earlier. I was just informed he called Med Central and transmitted data about a serious eukaryotic protist type infection and requested treatment suggestions for his Auto Doc. Analysis is complex and the Auto doc he carries is most likely not able to produce the correct response without the additional data."
"You are saying the Midshipman is suffering from some sort of Malaria?"
"Yes and the specialists think it is an early form of that disease and is very similar to those once known on Earth. Of course this disease is extinct on Earth for a very long time."
The Admirals old face showed genuine concern." I would hate to have this resourceful man die of a disease."
"As you say Sir, he is very resourceful. There is not much we could do if he is indeed so far away!"
Chapter 18 Continued:Edit
I was down to five pulses on my second Charge pack and the forest clearing looked like the war zone it was. I had burned down most of the trees around us. The burnt remains of hundreds of the primates strewn all over, the tent was in shreds and Brenda was still in deep sleep. The Auto Doc unable to come up with the right strategy to combat whatever disease she had. I was worried as I had been bitten too, I did not feel any ill effect yet, but it still could come and I did not have the luxury to go into deep sleep for sure. It would doom us both.
Caram and his mate suddenly burst on the scene and waltzed right through a mass of the Hanglers. Both scoped dozens of them into their maws and I could hear the screaming and the bone crunching chewing. The Hanglers still did not flee but began to pelt the Huffh with rocks. Now that they concentrated on the Huffh I had time to take Brenda's TKU set it to wide cone dispersal and high output and strafed the tree crowns above the Huffh. Now the Hanglers retreated with high pitched screams and it turned quiet enough to hear the crackling of the many fires around us and now I had time to use my Auto Doc to treat myself. Several of the rocks had hit me, but thanks to my Caver helmet I still wore none hit me hard enough to knock me out.
Caram said." Your mate is sleeping while you fight the Hanglers?"
"My mate is sick, she must sleep to become well again."
"You can become sick and you can be wounded!" He said looking at me in a way that made me grab the TKU tighter.
"This is knowledge the other Huffh should not know right now! There are those who have new feelings about the Uni and these are shadow feelings of darkness and hurt and not friendly! Much has happened to the Huffh since you appeared."
"If I understand you right, they want to fight us?"
"Yes fight you! This is a new word. Huffh never wanted to fight before. I will protect you as much as I can."
"It is important we reach that Cave of things! So we can learn how to trigger the gate and return to our place."
"I will carry your mate. She is small and of no weight. If she is upon me the other Huffh cannot reach her and I am strong!"
"Let's hope you do not have to fight your kind at all and we can come to some sort of agreement."
I hovered next to them as the two big beasts moved on, while I kept an eye on the trees." Yes it will be so, Bondi will become Anali and maybe it is through her Uglam will return!"
Brenda looked pale, and I had to use her PDD as mine was completely drained. The Auto Doc confirmed that the deep sleep would keep her stable for the moment and she was not in imminent danger.
After three hours we reached the edge of the forest and Caram said." We do not have to worry about the Hanglers now. They do not leave the forest."
Before us stretched a huge lake or ocean now, the light of day was fading and it would soon be night. Caram said." It might be good we cross the shallow waters before we rest, unless you are tired of flying."
"No I am good and I agree. The more ground we can cover the better. I am not sure how much time Brenda has, so I need to find the answers at that Cave of things as soon as possible, but I also don't want to over-stress your legs. So we will rest if you feel tired."
"I would not want to stop walking for many Light ball rises. I have been unable to do so for too long. We will take rest on the other side of Shallow Waters."
The water was only perhaps 3 meters deep and reached them just above the shoulders as they waded, the sun went down and I noticed this world had two small but bright moons. According to the local magnetic field we were moving steadily north now.
"Once every season we come here to coral the flicks and eat them, but Balmi and I have foraged in the woods and we are not hungry. Are you hungry?"
"I am fine. I carry food with me."
Balmi then said."Is Brenda your mate? Will you follow her to the Valley if she dies?"
"No Brenda is not my mate, and we do not go to a specific place when we die. But I will try to prevent her from dying in the first place."
"You come from the Valley are you not?"
"Well one could say so, yes."
"How is it there?"
"It is a big meadow valley surrounded by mountains."
To the east of us something disturbed the waters. I could clearly see a dark wet form that broke the waves for a moment. "Caram are there any creatures in these waters that could harm you?"
"There are flickers and we eat them, but some say there are Quoms to the east that can bite a Huffh. But I have never seen one here in the shallow waters."
"I think there is a Quom coming towards us, whatever that is."
"One Quom will not try to bite a Huffh. We will eat it!"
Just as he said that, something like a huge eel reared out of the water, less than 10 meters before Balmi. She roared at it. The Quom reminded me of the Cliff Eels of Nilfeheim, only this one was at least twenty meters long and had a narrow cone shaped maw with sharp teeth. It backed away from the roaring Huffh. I aimed the TKU, Balmi virtually exploded as she catapulted her massive body out of the water and moved faster than I thought possible for such a big creature. Her jaws clamped around the neck of the Eel. The thing was not much smaller than Balmi and its snake like body wound around the female Huffh, I did not want to hit the Huffh and waited for a good moment to shoot, but it was not necessary. Bone crunched and a torrent of blood gushed from the eel's maw as it became limp.
Caram said and I was almost certain I recognized pride in his voice." Balmi is not the strongest Huffh, but she is fast. The Quom will be a welcome food for us when we reach the shore."
Balmi dragged the now dead thing along and two hours later we came on a beach. The two Huffh tore the snake like creature apart like feral Nubhir wolfs and made a gory lunch of it. Seeing them doing it I was wondered what would happen if the idea of fighting really settled. While I had one more Charge pack, the spare of Brenda. It would not be enough to defeat them all. While I could fly to safety, Brenda had no such option at the moment. The next time someone invited me to a little cave expedition I would make sure I took along a Destroyer Suit and lots of spare E Packs.
The Huffh decided to take a break and I checked on Brenda. The infection had slowed down, but was still spreading according to the Auto Doc and the system estimated she had about 36 hours before the condition would become life threatening.
I didn't bother to set up the other tent, even though I felt tired and wished I had slept some last night. I had the system inject me with a stimulant and that helped.
Caram said." Will you not make a fire now? Balmi wanted to see how you do that."
"Well a fire could draw attention to us and I am not so sure we should advertise our presence."
"There is no danger here on this side of the Shallow Waters. There are no Hanglers and the other Huffh are almost at the Cave of Things now and we will be there when the Sky Ball settles."
"Huffh know fire. It occurs sometimes when the Light crack comes from the sky and makes a tree burn and there are mountains far from here that sometimes speak fire into the air but what is fire?"
I tried to explain fire in the most basic terms and the two Huffh listened to me as if I told them about the meaning of life. Balmi left and came back with a tree roots and all in her maw. "This is the fuel you are talking about, the wood of trees."
"Well yes this is wood and it will burn too, but it is better to find dry wood from dead trees. The more moisture present, the harder it is to make it burn."
Caram thought for a moment."Then fire will not burn in water!"
"That's right you can use water to extinguish fire."
"Then your fire stick will not be good on water?"
"This is a different kind of fire and it burns even water. It is similar to the fire that is in the Sky ball of yours."
"The sky ball is on fire?"
The discussion went on for another hour and the curiosity of the two Huffh only found and end after I had made perhaps the biggest camp fire in the history of camp fires, fueled by a dozen or more full size trees Balmi kept throwing on the fire. The two of them stared into the flames and Balmi said."It is warm and when close it is very hot. I like fire!"
"You should try to utilize the fire then." I suggested," Man utilized fire for the first time just like that I assume and used it to cook food."
Caram did not look away from the fire." What is cooking and who is man?"
Balmi however got up and threw a piece of the Quom into the fire." Balmi knows what the Little Uni means! The little one is not Uni, the Little one is man!"
I smiled." You are very smart Balmi. That is exactly what I meant!"
The female Huffh watched with awe as the meat of the Quom sizzled and she said." The Quom smells good now!"
She was right, the air filled with the smell of grilled meat.
I used a big stick to take the chunk of meat of the fire and said."Wait till it cools down a bit and then try to eat it."
It was actually a joy to see the two Huffh eat cooked meat for the first time in their species history.
Notugh and Beglo had not followed the other Huffh to the Cave of Things. The two male Huffh were curious about Caram and his new feelings and now they both hunkered down at a Hill less than 500 Huffh length away from the Beach where they feasted on the Flicks and they watched as Caram and Balmi came ashore with a little flying Uni along with them and both felt fear as the fire started, but to their surprise they saw Balmi throwing trees into the fire and they felt her feelings of warmth and knowledge. Notugh said." Caram is walking! He has yellow skin on his legs and now he is walking like before and they foraged for Quom."
"Balmi and Caram know fire! The Uni has told them! They are not afraid!"
"Not even the Old Utnalai knows fire. She is wrong about the Uni."
"Then so is Akram, who wants to crush the Uni."
"Let us observe some more and then we ask Caram to show us fire! With this we will have new thoughts and new words and the Uni will give us power over the other Huffh!"
"You observe alone! I must tell all this to the Huffh!"
Interlude : LunaEdit
There was no space port on Earth anymore. The old Space port in the Sahara had been closed for almost 2000 years now, only one of the Space Elevators still operated but it was only used as a tourist attraction. The closest space port was on Luna and connected to Earth via Transmatter Tunnels. It took less than a second to pass through the tunnel; McElligott had left his office in San Francisco only ten minutes ago, when he stepped on the Slide Belt that carried him to the USS Shetland sitting on the Landing field inside the famous Tycho Crater.
While the slide belt carried him underneath the invisible membrane force field, he remembered when he had first come to the moon and marveled at the Lunar lander left behind by the Apollo Missions and the first pressure dome colony. So much had happened since then. His own grandfather saw the first moon landing live on television. In a few moments he would be aboard a huge space ship that could load all Saturn 5 rockets ever made in its cargo holds and still have room for hundred more. He was an Immortal and had seen it all grow and develop. No human on Earth would marvel for even a moment to step through a matter tunnel and arrive on Mars or Venus or take an Inter System Taxi to Pluto and he himself had crossed the Galaxy more than once, yet it was still a source of secret awe to him to be on the moon.
He turned to his Aid and said."Do you ever wonder about all this?"
"About what Sir?"
"About us being on the moon just moments after we left San Francisco."
Mc Elligott sighed." Never mind. I am just an old man thinking about how it all started. It often hits me when I am here on the Moon. I am sure you have no idea who Armstrong was, they named the City after."
Mc Elligott sighed again as they reached the boarding ramp." Never mind that, but I suggest you read up on the History of Luna in your spare time."
"Sir I am not complaining, but being your aide does not leave me with all that much spare time."
The Captain of the Shetland greeted them right at the airlock and Mc Elligott asked the traditional question. "Request to come aboard."
She responded same traditional way and saluted him." Permission Granted Sir."
She then said." Can I ask where we going Sir?"
"Planet Wichita as fast as possible."
"That is not too far Sir. We should be there in eight hours. Anything I am allowed to know?"
"I think a mutual friend of ours ran into trouble there, Midshipman Olafson."
"That young man just can't stay out of trouble, can he?"
"In all my time, I have not met anyone like him except perhaps my old friend Richard who turns up trouble no matter where he goes."
Chapter 18 Continued:Edit
Brenda's skin had an unhealthy wax like color and I was worried about her. Even thought the Auto Doc had not changed its prognosis. We had only two of these little marvels along and both were taxed to the max of their design ever since we started on this mission.
We continued our trek and Caram said." There is a Huffh nearby watching us. I can feel his curiosity."
"As long as he has no aggressive thoughts I guess it be alright. We will meet the rest of your kind soon enough and I surly hope I can convince them that fighting me is not necessary."
Balmi said." All Huffh will learn about cooking and fire and they will sing of you!"
My throat felt dry and I knew my body was fighting the same infection now as Brenda. The Auto Doc had injected me with the same treatments and for now it seemed to work. I pushed the thoughts of the looming disease into the background and wondered if I had the right to teach the Huffh these things. They had no hands or appendixes that would allow them to utilize even the most primitive tool and yet they seemed eager to learn and it was evident that they were quite intelligent and especially Balmi understood even complex explanations. They told me about the complex interaction and how they shared the feelings of the entire species and what impact the death of Uglam had on them all. I learned that the Huffh lived very long lives and that the Utnalai was over 1000 Cold wet seasons old and would soon take the journey. Only when a Huffh died a young one would be born and a female Huffh that delivered a baby became Anali. It was not the word for mother, as all Huffh in a family raised the young. The word or concept of father was equally unknown to them. Anali meant Gate and a female that became Anali rose to prominent status among the Huffh.
According to Caram there were 100,000 Huffh and never many more or less. Death occurred maybe once every five or six seasons which I figured was a local year. That explained the sporadic appearance of fresh bones in the Valley, but I wondered why nothing else was found but clean bones and why the Uni made this gate in the first place. Why would the Huffh not try to use it to return to the Old Place? No matter how sacred and special a place was, you put a cave like this near humans they would explore it and try to figure it out. Yet the Huffh lived with that Cave for millennia and none of them ever had the idea to explore it and go to the Valley before they were near dead. It seemed the Cave worked both ways as it was evident with Brenda and my presence here.
"Has any Huffh ever tried to go into the cave and to the Valley just to see what is there and come back?"
Caram answered." I asked this question myself only when I got hurt. I never thought of the Cave at all while I was healthy. Balmi had planned to follow me, but not to return. Even the Old Utnalai has not given me a real answer to my question how we knew there is a Valley; it is only her who enters the Cave of Things to get these Instructions."
Balmi also added to the conversation." Only Anali are allowed to think these questions. Huffh that are not Anali must do what the Anali say. There are many now who question this, but only since you have arrived."
Interlude : The HuffhEdit
The Cave of Things had been reached and the multitudes had gathered around the plateau before the mountain. In all the confusion and all the uncertainty of the last days, the Huffh all knew that one female among them was now Anali and a new Huffh was making its way into the world through her belly. They all could feel it approaching. This was seen as a good omen. Uglam died in the cave and not in the Valley and yet he managed to return. The number of Huffh would be maintained and Uglam was not destined to be dead forever. Since none of the present females claimed to be the one, it could only be Balmi.
The news of Caram really walking had reached the Huffh with Notugh who was running the entire night entire way to tell what he had seen. He told them about Balmi knowing about fire and how they seared Quom meat and he put words and thoughts to the feelings they could all feel from Balmi and Caram. The news and wondrous report spread like wildfire throughout the gathered families and reached the Old One in no time. She was already thinking about ways to punish her old friend for being so disrespectful and now it seemed a new rival was growing. If Balmi became Anali and knew all the new secrets from the Uni, it would not be her old friend or her who led the Huffh in all things, but young Balmi. The Old one felt anger and she no longer even wondered why she felt such strange new feelings. She wanted Balmi dead! She should have followed Caram into the cave! What right did the Uni have to show up and change all things? She was the Utnalai, she was the voice and the way of the Huffh and it was she alone who picked her successor. The Uni so she heard of the report were friendly with Balmi and teaching her new thoughts and words, but she also learned that there were only two Uni and one of them was sick or wounded. It was the Hanglers who wounded them she was certain and if the Hanglers could do that, so could the Huffh! But how to go by it? She would not want to face the burning light herself and die so far away from the Cave and the Valley, and maybe too far to be reborn. Also she must remain in the background, just in case the Uni were able to defeat all attacks after all so she could be friendly to them and blame others.
Chapter 18 Continued:Edit
The surroundings slowly changed from a light coastal forest into a landscape of rolling hills, hip deep grass and sporadic trees and bushes. I was floating about eight meters of the ground and could see the herds of the Huffh. In the distance I could see the cone shaped form of a volcano and there was the greatest concentration of Huffh. The big animals slowly moved closer forming something that reminded me of a funnel that narrowed towards the mountain. I could now see a cave entrance on its side and two old Huffh sitting before it. Even from this distance I could see they were old and I was almost certain I had seen them before as they guided Caram.
There was a great silence and I would have needed a small cannon and a landing tank to make a dent here if I had to fight!
I had no plan of action and not many choices; Brenda was sick and was getting sicker by the hour. That little Auto doc could fix the bones of a walking whale but was unable to come up with a treatment for a simple bacterial infection, something I was fighting as well. There was not even a guarantee I had done the right thing. Maybe we should have stayed by the cave. One of the Old ones made a series of sounds the Translator of Brenda's PDD did not understand and Caram suddenly bolted forward with the same speed Balmi had shown fighting that Eel creature. He disappeared behind a wall of Huffh who closed before him and the old Huffh spoke loud." Uni if you follow we will crush your mate! If you use your light burn stick we will crush your mate. You think you can make wondrous things and no one remembers what you did, but you can bleed and you can be sick and the Huffh are strong and can make you bleed much!"
Balmi screamed." This is not the Huffh way! We do not say things that are not true. The little ones are not Uni. They have helped us!"
"Be silent. You are Anali now and you soon will gain the wisdom!"
I was still hovering there and aimed the TKU at the old one speaking and said." I do not have to burn all Huffh. I burn you now and if my partner is not returned unharmed I will burn the other old one. I fired a bolt into the ground right before the one that had spoken; the bright bolt liquefied a good section of rock close enough for her to fee the intense heat."I want to see my partner now and safe or I will drill you and ask the next. I am sure I get her back after I killed the fourth!"
I saw Caram emerging from the Herd but on the other side climbing up to the two old ones. He still carried sleeping Brenda on his back.
The Old one screamed again and several Huffh leaped after me and I managed to fly out of the way only in the last second, one of them almost managed to snap after my legs. I flew towards Caram. I had to safe Brenda. The two old Huffh struggled down the short rock path to find safety among the numbers. I was angry and at the end of my patience, not that I had much energy left to teach them a lesson, but I yelled." This is how I deal with traitors!" I brushed the weapon beam across Caram's side and in doing so cut the ropes that held Brenda, of course I also burned Caram's side and I was certain he was mortal, if not seriously hurt. He screamed and instinctively rolled of the ledge of rock before the Cave entrance. I was glad he did not crush Brenda, even though he took all of Brenda's gear along. I landed dragged her into the cave entrance and fired three four blasts into the Huffh just to keep them a little longer at bay until I could find a position I could defend better. I let her limp body down to the floor next to a few boulders and hastily checked the Charge pack. I had five bolts left at this intensity and I didn't want to dial it down as this was the setting able to kill a Huffh. No one followed me at the moment, only one Huffh at a time would have followed me and they were smart enough to realize that. The cave behind me was dark and I didn't want to turn on my helmet light just yet.
I carefully went forward and peaked out, I saw the grizzled head of the Old Huffh raised the PDD's amplifier to the max and said." I came in peace but if you want war, then you came to the right address!" the Old one was the leader and I hoped to cut off the snakes head and confuse them so I fired a well aimed shot and the energy bolt hammered right through the old Huffh skull, she dropped.
There was a terribly wailing and screaming sounding like the worst thunder storm form all the Huffh outside, but then a single voice calmed the others down and I recognized Balmi." The Utnalai is no longer speaking for the Huffh, Little One Freya please come and heal Caram. He is dying and I am becoming Anali! "
"I fell for your tricks and lies before. I can defend this cave all day long but when I come out the Huffh will try other tricks."
"This is not the Huffh way, Caram was could not do any different he received the Anali. He did not want to betray you. I speak the truth and no Huffh will come near you or harm you. Please Caram is dying! He not has much left in spirit!"
It was against common sense, but she pleaded again and I somehow believed her grabbed the other Auto Doc and the last tube of Emergency Foam and stepped out the caves entrance.
The Huffh retreated and only Caram, the old Huffh and Balmi were there. The old one was dead, most of her head molecular ashes, but Caram was still breathing. My strafing shot had burnt his side, but cauterized the wound at the same time. I was certain he had internal organ damage and wound shock.
The Huffh stepped further back and it was a wall of silence. I put the Auto Doc on Caram and sprayed the last emergency foam over his side. The yellow Nanite foam was meant to seal a breach in a star ship's hull, but could be used to make an emergency shelter or seal of a Cave corridor to seal of explosive gases or water, the reason we had taken it along in the first place.
The Auto Doc signaled that it was at its limits and all it could do is produce a few thousand more nanites to stabilize and synthesize a deep sleep agent for Caram. It would not be able to do more and it was the last the little thing could do. I was thankful for how much the little machine had done so far. The other unit had to remain with Brenda. I would not want to take it off of her.
Balmi managed to whisper despite her size and said." Will he heal?"
"I am not sure. My means are almost at the end; the Auto Doc will stabilize him and put him in a deep sleep so he can heal. I must return to my place so I can bring real help to Brenda and to you as well."
Among the herd that was standing in about 100 meters distance forming a tight half moon circle was the other Old Huffh."You bring death to us and with death come the dark thoughts and the ways that the Huffh do not want. The Huffh do not lie or fight or feel evil thoughts about other Huffh and yet we have and I have! Another one has died among us and not alone in the Valley. Yet you come out and trust the words of a Huffh to help. We do not understand all this."
"I don't understand it myself! But I can take the dead to the Valley maybe that will help, but I first must find a way how to trigger the way to the Valley."
"Go inside the Cave of things, Uni! There are your voices and they will tell you!"
I returned to the cave and checked on Brenda, she was still breathing but her life signs were weak.
I made a pillow for her out of my jacket and tried to make her as comfortable as possible and then turned on my helmet lamp.
The cave was not natural about ten meters after the natural rock; it became a smooth dark gray half sphere made of a metal like material. The metal cave was completely empty and about 100 meters in diameter. I felt disappointed as I walked more inside and only realized I had stepped across a ring of a different colored metal as it started to glow dark red. A pedestal formed in the center and a human sounding voice was speaking to me. I did not understand a word, suddenly a bright spot light caught me and the PDD began to chirp and blink on its own. "You carry the strength of Narth, yet you are not Narth! You appear like the Cova and yet you are male. You have the form of Uni yet you are not Uni. You have eyes yet you can see in the darkness."
On the pedestal in the middle a strange object appeared. It glowed bright purple and was about as tall as me. It looked as if two snakes tried to mimic the DNA helix. Each of the snake like things had a head with a single bright blue glowing eye. I was certain it was a life form of some kind but it was the most alien thing I had ever seen. It slowly wavered back and forth and those blue almost galaxy shaped eyes stared me down. My finger crept near the trigger of my TKU and the hair on my neck was standing up.
The thing was speaking again and it was speaking with an acoustic voice and not in my head I was certain." This is the Dualix! It is from the beginning and waits for the coming."
"It has been done; the One has chosen a vessel."
"Excuse me Mr. Dualix. I do not understand. Could you tell me how to trigger that spatial gate the Huffh use?"
"The Uni have failed as the Narth said they would. What way will be chosen? From a sudden opening in the ground a column rose right before me, it was perhaps twenty centimeters thick and perfectly round and it stopped as it was about belt high. On the smooth round top was a ring of bright silver and inside the outline of a human hand. I placed my right on it and the ring started glowing.
The Dualix thing spoke." The gateway is active now!"
I felt a sigh of relief and said."Thank you Mr. Dualix! I have to go and get my comrade to safety now!"
The thing did not say anything but as I turned to go to Brenda I noticed a that the walls of the cave had changed and there were hundreds of alcoves and underneath red shining lights there were weapons displayed. Alien things of strange shapes and various sizes but I knew those were weapons. Even though I was desperate for a weapon as the TKU was near empty, I had no idea what these weapons would do or how to use them. Maybe they blasted half the planet away or they had no energy. Nothing I could rely on, but there on the side not even in an alcove but leaning against the wall was a simple battle axe. It was a beautiful weapon gleaming in a dark metal it had a crescent moon shaped blade on one side and a sharp pointed blade on the other. It was a two handed weapon. It was just an axe, but it would not run out of energy and by Thor I knew how to use one of these.
So I racked the TKU in the shoulder harness and took the Axe. It was an ancient weapon made by a great weapon smith I was sure. Where the Axe head met the long handle there was small fanged skull symbol on each side, I had the feeling I had seen it before but could not remember where. But then weapons like this were often adorned with such symbols and I wondered just how long it was sitting here in this cave.
The glowing snakes spoke with a vibrating voice." United once again!"
Then the Snake thing faded away and the dark red lights dimmed until they were out.
The Auto Doc said that Brenda had less than eight hours and I could feel the fever rising in me. So I shouldered the poor girl. Lucky for me she still had her flight belt on. While I could not operate two at the same time, I was able to use her Arti Grav to reduce her weight. I hoped my Belt would be able to take us fast enough back to the other cave.
As I stepped out the Cave mouth the Huffh were there as I left them. Balmi said."You will leave us now?"
"I must! You know my mate is sick and she needs help but if I can I will be back to see if I can help Caram better and get the dead one to the Valley!"
The Old Huffh said." He is Uni! He will leave and then take us to another place we do not want to go! We can't let you leave!"
She made her strange sound and two males attacked!
Balmi who had sat near Caram roared and came from the back, but she did not attack me, but faced the two males!" No Huffh has ever harmed another Huffh, but I will harm you. The Little one has always kept his words to Balmi and Balmi will keep hers!"
I could not fly away fast enough holding Brenda with one arm and using the flight controls with the other hand. I knew how fast those beasts could jump and I had enough of their deceptive ways. Balmi was alright but the old ones kept pushing and as Balmi had said these old Cows had some controlling Balmi's words caused as much uproar as the death of a Huffh. The Old one screamed." She had threatened harm to another Huffh! She is not Huffh her mind has been twisted too much by the Uni Littles!"
Then Hell broke loose!
Two Huffh moved in from the side trying to subdue Balmi. I had to lower Brenda to the ground, these beasts moved fast. The TKU had one or two bolts left, so I stood before Brenda holding the Axe ready to strike.
Just then my PDD beeped! I almost dropped Brenda out of surprise. My PDD had less than 1 percent energy left and I had used hers the entire time." This is Admiral Mc Elligott calling Commander Brown and Midshipman Olafson!"
I triggered the Comm. Link verbally open because one of the males attacked." Midshipman Olafson here, Sir. Commander Brown is very sick and unable to respond. I am sorry for the casual response Sir, but I have my hands full here!"
The voice of the Admiral and the wonderful simple axe gave me new energy. The axe swiped across the lowered maw of the male and it sliced through it as if it was air. With even less effort than a vibro boarding axe. The Huffh backed away hurt and bleeding and it seemed that took the fight out of it.
The Admiral responded through the still open channel." The Spatial gate is active and we are here, Midshipman. We have a fix on you!"
Just as if to underline his words arm thick plasma bolts rendered the other Huffh male to molecular ashes and Marines in heavy destroyer suits and screaming turbines came roaring form the sky.
I said as loud as the PDD let me." Huffh stay down and do nothing until we can sort things out! Stay aggressive and there will be no more Huffh!"
The Marines landed and secured the area. In their Destroyer suits augmented Super strength they had no problem pushing Huffh aside with ease, the walking Whales were afraid but they heeded my warning and stayed where they were.
A dark Red colored Quasimodo appeared last, it had a blue rectangle with a white Cross on its left shoulder Armor plate and I wondered what Unit it represented. The wearer of the suit stomped over to me and opened the helmet. "Saint Mary of Scott, I need to make a visual of this!" It was Mc Elligott the Immortal Admiral himself.
While a Corpsman took care of Brenda I briefed the Old Admiral and basically told him everything that happened. He had me take him to the Cave. The alcoves with the weapons were still there and so was the column with the glowing ring. Mc Elligott went straight to the alcove opposite the entrance. On the pedestal inside that alcove was a red glass ball the size of a human head and it glowed faintly. He said to me without turning."That is Pree Record Sphere." He touched it but instead of the snake like Dualix thing a humanoid appeared at the same spot, he looked very much like an X101, except it had greenish gray skin instead of chrome mirror metal.
It spoke in a language the PDD of the Admiral immediately translated." There are those in the Galaxy known as the Uni and they feel very important and want to change and influence development and history for millennia to come. We are the Pree, while we don't want to interfere in this foolish seeding plan of the Uni we do not like their way of sterilizing worlds of other potential intelligent development and so we have set this world and three others aside and tasked the Uni to bring those potential life forms here instead of exterminating them. The Uni were reluctant but did as we asked them to do. I am the Keeper and I have guarded this place for a long time. The Uni are gone and so are the Pree, but I have remained."
Mc Elligott said."What is the purpose of the Spatial Gate and is it stable?"
"The Gate has been made by the Pree so that the guests of this world could return to their worlds once they gained the necessary knowledge, the Gate can be turned on or off using the control device active here."
"Do you have a special directive regarding visitors?"
"I am to turn over control to any sentient being that activates me and freely share all knowledge."
The Admiral turned to me and said." We let the eggheads of Xeno Research talk to this projection and figure out the rest of these things. Finding a genuine Pree Installation, perhaps finding an answer to the Human mystery, making contact to walking Whales and solving the Bone Mystery of Kansas system and all while you were supposed to be on vacation, Midshipman Olafson, you certainly know how to stir up things." "I am sorry Sir."
"Well it is all good, but you know of course all this has to remain secret until we can answer all the questions."
"I have a question Sir! How did you make it here so fast? When we used the Gate there was a seven day travel delay."
"Because your disappearance made friends of yours worried and so we hitched a ride. Narth Supreme sent a Sphere when they heard you were stranded almost 94,000 light years away from the closest Union post."
"What about the Huffh?"
"I don't know yet, Midshipman. I guess it is basically their decision what they want to do. We have Specialists for that and the Corpsmen are taking care of the wounded, no worries."
"I promised them to take the dead one to the Valley."
"I will make sure this is done."
"I think I need to sit down a moment Sir. I feel a tad dizzy."
"Have you been bitten too?"
It all felt like a strange dream as I sat with Brenda in her Lab at the hollowed rocks. We both stood by the door and she looked over to the construction site, by the Cave entrance. Hundreds of robots and workers were building a high security Research and Access station to the Spatial Gate, it was all done under the direct control of taskforce CLOAK, a special unit within the Fleet I never knew existed until now.
I sipped at the coffee cup and said."I think that ends your peaceful and quiet assignment."
I sighed."I hope it works out for them. I somehow think I am partially responsible for destroying their way of life. I think they had everything they needed before we came."
"In a way they did but Caram's wounds and their eagerness to learn showed they were stagnant now they can grow if they want. I will make sure they will have lots of time to think about everything and take it very slow."
"Well I am on my way then. The Admiral said I still need to be at Ross and pick up that ship. Frankly I can't wait to get some Vacuum under my feet."
"I owe you my life and I wanted you to know that Place is only a GalNet Call away and you are one of the few individuals cleared by CLOAK to visit Place anytime you want. So don't be a stranger and do let Freya out a little more often."
"Take care, Eric."
Next Chapter: Security Clearance