Chapter 21: The Well of Tegus
Brannoc soon recovered from meeting Chinua. Curling up with Rowan in her big soft bed had him feeling much better by the next morning. When he woke up Niurgun was sitting in one of the big chairs beside the bed with his feet on the table.
“Feeling better?’ he whispered and pointed to Rowan who was sound asleep. “She stayed up most of the night making sure you were breathing so I think she needs some rest.”
Brannoc slid out of bed.
“I’ve never felt better,” he whispered back.
Niurgun stood up and so did Batu. Brannoc eyed the huge creature. Niurgun grinned.
“Good, let’s go get some breakfast. Rowan wants us to get to know each other so we might as well start now. Batu stay with Rowan.”
The beast lay down on the floor on Rowans side of the bed and Brannoc and Niurgun headed up the steps and out into the corridor. The crew’s mess hall was one deck down. There was a very fancy dining room on the upper deck but Niurgun preferred to eat in the mess.
The two of them sat down at one of the tables. Even the crew’s mess hall was very nice. There was a window the entire length of the hall with tables all along it. The furniture was minimalistic in contrast to the very ornate nature of the rest of the ship but the craftsmanship was of the same quality. One wall of the room was a water feature that cascaded from the ceiling to the floor. The room had been designed to calm the mind, to refresh the crew as they relaxed and ate.
Niurgun and Brannoc sat down and a yeoman brought over a pot of coffee and two cups. Niurgun poured them each a cup and then he looked up at Brannoc.
“Did you know that Rowan is responsible for coffee spreading across the universe?”
Brannoc looked up from his cup, “no I did not.”
“It’s a great story you will love it.” Niurgun said with real enthusiasm, “Back on earth when you and Rowan were being held captive on my cousin’s ship, well you were being held captive...”
“Actually I was being tortured but let’s not split hairs,” Brannoc said between sips.
“Sorry about that but there is a war going on. Anyway, Rowan had this splitting headache and Unegen, that’s my cousin; she brought in a tray of tea while we were deciding how to get you off the ship…”
The six weeks in hyperspace passed by so quickly. Rowan thought that no matter how long she lived this time would always be remembered as one of her happiest. They were safe in the belly of Chinua shielded from the forces that wanted them dead or worse. Niurgun was alive and well so for the moment all was right with the universe as far as Rowan was concerned. She spent many hours in Chinua’s chamber discussing possible futures and Chinua showed her the Universe through her many eyes.
Niurgun and Brannoc had developed some sort of relationship. Rowan wasn’t sure if she would call them friends but they certainly seemed to be trying. They got great joy out of beating the stuffing out of each other in the sparring room. Niurgun, a master fighter in numerous forms had taken a real interest in the Fadian discipline of Luag. Apparently the shots to the face that Brannoc got in on him on the bridge had impressed him greatly. The two spent hours of every day whaling on each other and usually came to dinner with black and blue faces that gradually healed before the night was over. Farris found it all very exciting and he too was learning to be quite the little warrior.
Niurgun also had Rowan practicing her abilities. He had told her that when his grandmother was Rowan’s age she was barely able to lift a spoon with her mind but over time her powers grew. Rowan’s power already matched that of his grandmother so he assumed she would become immensely powerful with age. He helped her learn to focus the telekinetic energy much like a thought sent out from her body. She found that her power was greatest when she was threatened; it worked almost like a reflex.
Finally when Niurgun thought she was ready he had her spar against him and Brannoc. At first it was no contest but day by day Rowan learned more; her control increased as did her accuracy. If she was being attacked by Thracians there was no problem she could drop them with a thought but the odds of that happening were slim.
She had long been a student of martial arts on earth and the training was finally paying off. Many of the katas were similar to the Thracian forms so she learned quickly. Rowan found she could use her telekinetic ability to not only manipulate people but objects as well although her control was much less developed. Personal shield devices would present some problems since they deflected energy but the shields only dampened the effect they did not stop it. By week five she could put up a real fight.
Too soon the time to drop out of hyperspace arrived; they had twelve more hours. The whole crew had dinner in the elegant banquet room. The ceiling was clear and the rippling colors danced across every reflective surface in the room. The crew had come to know each other pretty well and they all knew the dangers that lay ahead were probably worse than the dangers behind them. Niurgun thanked them again for volunteering to make the treacherous journey to retrieve Rowan. Brannoc thanked them for accepting him or at least for not trying to kill him and Rowan gave each one Bayar. It was a wonderful intimate evening among friends and Rowan was sorry when it was over.
She, Brannoc and Niurgun walked back to her stateroom; she held each ones hand. Rowan cleared her throat as if she was about to say something very difficult or very important.
“I am not ready for the three of us,” Rowan could feel herself blushing, “if you know what I mean but I want you both with me tonight.”
Niurgun squeezed her hand, “I think we can just cuddle. Don’t you think so Fancyboy?”
Brannoc cut a sideways glance at Niurgun and then he took Rowans hand up to his mouth and kissed it. “I will hold you all night but he stays on other side of the bed.”
Niurgun started to laugh and soon they were all laughing; Rowan let go of their hands and put her arm around their waists as they walked through the state room doors.
“I must be the luckiest girl in the universe,” she said as the doors closed behind them.
They emerged out of hyperspace in the Veda system. It was sparsely populated with only one moon of the systems gas giant even remotely habitable. The two inner planets had collided at some point in time and an enormous asteroid belt was all that remained. The mining stations on the moon were mining the asteroids; two planets worth of raw materials already broken up and just waiting to be taken.
Chinua came out of hyperspace and abruptly stopped. Around her were six mindships. She had nowhere to go; they immediately received a hail.
“Commander Ciaran of the Oberon II hailing the Belstar, you will respond immediately.”
Rowan and Brannoc were standing behind Niurgun on the bridge. There was no way to fight six mindships. They would be disintegrated before they had a chance to fire the first shot.
Keep him talking as long as you can. I am going to be with Chinua.
Rowan thought to Niurgun. Don’t do anything and don’t let anyone board us. Rowan squeezed Brannoc’s hand and then she was gone in blue flash.
Niurgun’s second Gan answered the hail.
“This is acting Commander Gan of the Belstar Chinua how may we be of service to the Divine Mother?”
“Don’t waste my time pretending you don’t know what we want.” The commander of the mindship replied. “You will hand over the terrorist Niurgun Nasan and the two persons he kidnapped, Lord Brannoc Tong Durai and the Royal Consort Rowan Ross.”
Gan looked at Niurgun. Keep stalling, Niurgun thought to him.
“I am sorry Commander Ciaran but I don’t have any idea of what you are referring to. We are a private pleasure craft carrying one of the mine owners. This interference will be reported to the Trade Council and a formal complaint will be filed.”
Suddenly the Oberon II fired laser weapons. Chinua’s shield prevented any damage but the fire from all six ships would drain her shields quickly; the message was clear.
“No more talk, turn over the terrorist.” Ciaran was obviously not in the negotiating mood.
Niurgun answered him.
“I am Niurgun Nasan. The crew of this ship was unaware of the identity of their cargo; they were simply paid to carry us. I will give myself up as well as my two captives if you agree not to harm this ship or its crew.”
“You are in no position to make any deals.” Ciaran responded.
Niurgun tried a bluff.
“I can kill my captives before you can retrieve Cali’s prize and you would not want to tell her that you failed to get what she sent you for now would you?”
There were a few seconds of silence, finally the Oberon II answered.
“We have no interest in the ship or crew so I have decided to allow the ship to leave once you and the two captives are aboard my ship. You have one minute to comply.”
Niurgun looked at Brannoc.
“Whatever she is going to do she better do it soon.”
Rowan jumped from the bridge to shipsmind room startling the attendants.
“Tolui we were not expecting you, is there a problem?” Banyan asked.
“Yes there is a big problem,” Rowan said, “six of them in fact. What I am going to do now will seem strange but you must trust me. Do not interfere in any way.”
The three bowed their heads and said “yes Tolui,” in unison. Rowan removed her nanoleathers in one fluid motion and she sat down on the edge of Chinua’s pool. She gently pushed off into the water making sure not to touch the fragile nerve bundles that covered the bottom. Rowan glided across the surface until she reached the huge brain. She took as many deep breaths as she could to saturate her blood with oxygen and then she dived down about three feet and touched the top of the brain. It was too hard to stay under with the air in her lungs so Rowan let most of it out. She touched Chinua’s mind literally and figuratively.
Chinua now is the time. Make your mind like the smooth water. Show me the place where we should go. Show me the path Chinua.
Red sands and black cliffs flashed before her; endless wastelands under a brutal relentless sun. Rowan felt the unfolding began. She was pulling them all through the void; stepping outside of space and time. For an instant she and Chinua were one.
Back on the bridge the Oberon was hailing.
“Your minute is up…”
But before he could finish the Belstar Chinua disappeared instantly in a soft blue glow and the Commander of the Oberon II knew he was a dead man.
Suddenly the view from the bridge changed; there were no mindships only the red planet Tegus.
Gan turned to Niurgun, “what just happened? How…”
Niurgun couldn’t look away from the viewing screen. The giant red planet below them orbiting slowly around its dying star was his race’s ancestral home. They had moved half way across the galaxy. He turned to Brannoc.
“She did it,” he almost shouted, “she jumped the whole ship and she took us to the other side of the galaxy. Take the helm Gan,” Niurgun commanded as he reached out and put his hand on Brannoc’s arm. The two of them disappeared from the bridge and reappeared in the shipsmind room.
The attendants were helping Rowan out of the pool. She was wet, naked and coughing up water but she still managed to smile. One of the attendants wrapped her in a white robe and she sat down on the nearest bench.
“It worked didn’t it,” she said between coughs.
“Damn straight it worked,” Niurgun said way too loud for the mind room; the attendants glared at him. He lowered his voice several notches, “I would have given anything to have seen that commanders face.”
Brannoc nodded, “Without a doubt they were more than shocked, ship jump technology is the Fadian Collectives most prized accomplishment and Rowan one upped them. Now I am certain that Cali will stop at nothing to retrieve her.”
Rowan looked up at the both of them, “we need to figure out how they knew where we were dropping out of hyperspace.”
Slowly Rowan reached up to the collar she was wearing. Brannoc had obtained a nanocyte upload that had deactivated the kill function and was supposed to erase the jump signature but perhaps there was another tracking program. Rowan began to trace the nanocytes teaming through the collar. Yes she could feel them; there was a part of the collar separated from the rest, sealed away in a magnetic field.
“It is the collar,” she said softly. “We have to get it off and destroy it.”
“What a shame it is to destroy such a thing of beauty,” the tech said as he finally got the collar to release.
“We don’t have time to try and remove the tracking implant.” Niurgun replied. “Give it to me.”
Niurgun held the collar up at arm’s length like it was a poisonous snake as he walked across the room and placed the device on a circular platform. He waved his hand near the base and a column of blue light shot up from the pedestal much like the device Nagas had used to make his creations. Green and red holographic symbols coursed around the column of light as Niurgun began to move them with his fingertips.
The collar began to disintegrate. The device could work both ways Rowan realized; it could disassemble matter just as well as it could assemble it. The collar disappeared one molecule at a time. Niurgun turned to Rowan when it was done.
“They still may have traced us before it was destroyed. We should leave this system.”
“We have to go down to the surface,” she said as she reached out and took Niurgun’s hand. “You know that. Everything that has happened to us since the day we meet has led us to this point, to the dream. It is time to face it.”
Niurgun nodded. His mother had always told him to face the darkness and he would find it was only shadows but somehow he knew this darkness was going to be different.
Red sand stretched out to the south as far as the eye could see. The angry bloated sun boiled in the yellow sky. To the north black cliffs rose up from the sand. Rowan could make out some ruins in the distance but the heat rising from the desert obscured any details. The three of them wore small breathing assistors to compensate for the low levels of oxygen. The Fadian attack which decimated the planet over ten thousand years earlier had ripped away much of the upper atmosphere leaving the planet unprotected from solar radiation.
In addition to the attack on the planet the sun had been destabilized making the terraforming and recolonization of Tegus impossible; she was a dying world. Very few life forms remained, mostly microscopic or subterranean. The only water left on the planet was in deep underground deposits but even those were rapidly depleting.
“We have to get to the cliffs!” Niurgun yelled over the howling wind.
They had jumped to the surface about one kilometer from the ruins because the black cliffs caused magnetic anomalies that had been known to interfere with jumps and magbeams. As they walked across the lifeless sands their personal shields shimmered as radiation, sand, and heat bombarded them.
Niurgun had ordered Chinua to leave the system and wait at a prearranged coordinate. If the Collective had gotten a fix on them before Rowan’s collar was destroyed he didn’t want Chinua to be left defenseless in orbit. If they did not contact her in three days Gan was to take the ship to Erdene.
Brannoc, Rowan, and Niurgun walked in silence until they finally reached the outer edge of the ruins. Niurgun yelled again over the wind.
“These are the remains of the Temple of the Galax; the Well of Tegus is deep inside of the mountain. The entrance should be directly west of these ruins.” He pointed to the east. “The vast sands there were once the great city of Qadandai now under ten thousand feet of sand. This Temple was once on the top of a mountain.”
Rowan could tell that the temple here once looked very similar to the one on Availon. She guessed both structures predated the cultures on Tegus and Availon; these temples were built by the Annunaki. Suddenly a memory surfaced. Rowan remembered a structure like this on earth and she was standing on the grand steps looking out over a crowd; they were on their knees. Niurgun’s voice brought her back to the present.
“We have to get inside; solar activity is increasing and radiation levels are climbing rapidly. There….”
He pointed to an arch in the black cliff wall. The three of them made their way over the rubble and into the archway. Just to be out of the light was a relief but beyond the entrance the darkness deepened so quickly Rowan actually looked wistfully back at the opening that lead out into the blazing heat. She took a deep breath, turned and continued into the temple.
The massive entrance had collapsed on one side but the entrance hall had once been glorious. Rowan could make out remnants of murals across the vaulted ceiling; images of great star ships and many worlds but most of the ceiling lay in shattered pieces on the black floor.
Walls that had not collapsed were covered with countless small compartments; some were cracked open and Rowan saw in them vessels of various shapes.
“Are these the ashes?” Rowan asked Niurgun.
“Yes, these are the ashes of so many of my people. One of these vaults contains the remains of my father and my brothers. If at all possible Thracians want their last remains to come here, to eventually return to the heart of the star, to begin again, and from the looks of it that might not be much longer.”
As if in response to his prediction the ground rumbled under their feet and several pieces of the ceiling crashed to the floor.
“The well is about a mile down inside the mountain so we had better get moving,” Nuirgun pointed to a smaller arch at the very back of the great hall.
They picked their way through fallen pieces of the once great temple until they reached the door to the well. Niurgun pressed on his comp and three glowing orbs materialized and hovered above them. He moved into the opening.
“The great hall goes down from here in a gently sloping spiral ending at the well chamber,” he explained. “I have never been down it in person but I have done it many times in holographic projections. The temperature and radiation should improve as we descend but keep your shields up anyway.”
Remind me again why we are here,” Brannoc whispered as he glanced up at the cracked ceiling.”
They had discussed at length whether he should come or not. Neither one of them saw Brannoc in their shared memory of the dream but in the end his stubbornness had been the deciding factor.
“If I remember correctly you insisted on coming so no complaining now,” Rowan chided him.
The hall spiraled downward like the shell of a nautilus. Beyond the luminous orbs there was no light only pitch black. In some places the floor had shifted and dropped. They had to negotiate several large fissures and at one point the ceiling had caved in leaving only a small opening to get through the rubble. Even though the going was rough the temperature and radiation had dropped significantly. Suddenly Rowan stopped.
“Can you hear them?” she whispered.
“Hear who?” Niurgun reached for his nanoblades.
“The Galax….” Rowan said as if half dreaming.
Niurgun turned to Brannoc, “what is she talking about?”
“She hears the voices from the well. They call her and they are very dangerous. I don’t trust them.” Brannoc replied.
They both turned and Rowan was gone, she had disappeared around the turn in the spiral. Suddenly a comp blast hit the wall behind Brannoc. They turned back from the direction they had come to see Cali, ten Fadian guards and several carliff.
“Well if it isn’t my two favorite men in the whole universe.” Cali said with a brilliant smile. “Do not kill them,” she said to her men, “not yet.”
Niurgun looked at Brannoc and nodded. They had spent most of the last six weeks training to fight as one. They both realized that whatever Rowan had to do or find at the bottom of this tunnel was only going to happen if they held the line long enough for her to do it. Cali’s orders for them not to be killed put them at a distinct advantage over her troops since they did not have to be so careful.
Brannoc and Niurgun stood side by side blocking the passage. The first two Fadians rushed them; Niurgun’s nanoblades cut so cleanly that the Fadians eyes blinked before their heads rolled off their shoulders and down the inclined floor. Cali laughed out loud and motioned four more forward. Brannoc and Niurgun moved into a back to back position and fought as one. One Fadian went down after the other until the two again stood facing Cali; she ordered six more to attack. Soon the hall was littered with body parts and the floor was slick with blood.
When the six were dead Niurgun and Brannoc turned to face Cali again. She and the three carliffs moved aside and more Fadian troops flooded the hall. The two men killed Fadians until you had to climb up the dead just to reach them but still they came.
Both Brannoc and Niurgun were bleeding from numerous wounds but so far none that wouldn’t heal, but they knew they couldn’t hold out forever.
“Go to Rowan,” Brannoc yelled. “Protect her; between the two of you maybe you can manage to jump out of here. This is why you didn’t see me in the dream; I don’t go any farther than right here.”
“I am not leaving you!” Niurgun shouted as another Fadian head rolled down the pile of bodies.
“You have to; now go before it is too late.” Brannoc ducked as he sliced a royal guard in half.
“She was right when she picked you.” Niurgun yelled.
“You’re damn right and you make sure you tell her so,” Brannoc said as he jumped over the pile of bodies. As Niurgun turned to run down the spiral hall he saw Brannoc fighting his way towards Cali.
Rowan, Rowan, Rowan, they called her and she could hear nothing else as she descended down the spiral into the Chamber of the Well, completely oblivious to the battle that raged behind her. The voices at the Pool of the Galax had been whispers in the wind compared to the cacophony of voices that echoed up through the winding hall. She could see her breath now and icy patterns spread out like webs across the jet black floor.
She rounded the last turn and the hall opened out into a vast cavern. Unlike the small Pool of the Galax on Availon this was an enormous fissure, forty feet long; a gaping hole in time and space; a slit in the universe filled with nothing and everything, a glowing silver wound in a dying planet. Air in the entire cavern was twisted and distorted. The hair on Rowan’s body stood on end and her long red hair rose into the air floating about her head as if gravity was losing its hold. Breathing in the frigid air hurt her lungs.
The Well of Tegus was beauty beyond compare; it pulled at Rowan like an ancient siren. She walked across the crackling ice crystals as the moisture from her breath caused a fog of white to rise up around her head. Contained by her shield it kept swirling and sparkling around the hovering light globe that followed her. Her shield was keeping her from freezing but just barely. She felt as if the white breath was her soul leaving her body to seek asylum in the splendor of the Galax.
Tears fell from her eyes only to freeze upon her cheeks and fall to the icy floor. When she reached the edge of the fissure she stopped. The voices were like the sound of howling winds rising from an angry sea. Rowan knelt by the gate to heaven and reached out her nearly frozen hand to touch the face of her own soul.