Chapter 11: Mother Goddess
Hurried, echoing footsteps alerted everyone to Solon’s and Rynah’s return. They all leapt to their feet.
“What’s the verdict?’ inquired Tom with excitement.
“There is a way out,” said Rynah, “but it will require a bit of climbing.”
“Who cares, so long as we can get out of here?” said Tom.
“I suggest we leave now,” said Rynah. “Follow Solon, since he is the one who found it, and stay close together.”
One by one, they trekked through the cavernous tunnel as Solon led them to the hole. Brie brushed her fingers against the wall, amazed at its smoothness and ripples that were only an eighth of an inch wide. Afterward, she stole a quick glance at Alfric, who merely smiled at her wonderment.
“There it is,” said Solon.
Each of them paused before the stream of daylight that spilled into the underground chamber; particles of dust hovered in the rays, disappearing only for a moment, as they passed into the slivered shadows created by the few sticklike roots that partially covered the opening.
“All right, I’ll go fir—” began Rynah. She stopped as Alfric trudged over to the hole in the ceiling. He climbed the rock wall below the hole and pulled himself through, despite his bulky size.
“Right,” muttered Rynah. “Brie, you’re next.”
Unsure of how to rock climb, Brie reached for Alfric’s outstretched hand. Tom walked over to her. With his help, she grasped Alfric’s meaty hand and gasped as he heaved her through, setting her gently on her feet. Glad to be on solid ground again, Brie backed away from the hole she had just come out of. Solon and Tom came out next, followed by Rynah.
“We should get back to Solaris,” said Rynah.
“That may not be so easy,” muttered Tom.
“Why?” Rynah whirled around, only to find a spear in her face.
Surrounded by people with gray skin and tattooed markings across their bodies, none of them moved.
“Solaris,” whispered Rynah into her earpiece.
The point of a spear pricked her heliotrope skin. “Okay,” said Rynah, throwing up her hands.
Alfric reached for his sword, but Brie put her hand over his, shaking her head.
“Sometimes,” said Solon, “it is best to bide your time. This is not a fight we can win at the moment.”
Reluctant, as he preferred fighting over surrender, Alfric released his grip on the hilt.
One of the natives motioned for them to walk, speaking in a language none of them understood. With little choice, they obeyed.
They followed their captors through the forest of humongous, tropical plants; their subdued demeanor surprised them. Rynah observed the alien humanoids’ silent movements as they walked through the jungle expanse. No wonder they caught us. She watched as one man shot a dart at a moving plant. The thing stilled and went limp. Smiling, Rynah realized that these people had a better way of dealing with the man-eating plants.
What she saw next took her breath away. Massive pyramids stood before her, stretching 13 stories in height. Vines of ivory crept up the stone walls, wrapping around the crevices and adding distinctive characteristics.
“It’s like we entered the Mayan world,” breathed Brie, who had watched something on television about the Mayan civilization the week before being transported to Solaris.
Rynah didn’t know who the Mayan were, but these people resembled drawings she had seen as a child. Those drawings referred to an ancient race that lived thousands of years ago. She had never dreamed that there might have been some truth to it.
Rynah glanced at the villagers who gathered around as they strode, under guard, into their home. Many of the women had large beads dangling from their ears, while the men each had a ring in their nose. As she scrutinized them, she noticed that the rings differed in color, ranging from sage, indigo, and white, and wondered if they signified the person’s status in this society.
Incoherent muttering pulled her from her curiosity. The men with spears motioned for them to climb the stone steps of one of the pyramids.
“They’re bringing us into their temple,” said Solon.
“How do you know?” asked Tom.
“I have read tales of men in the south who built great pyramids of sand. The soldiers say that these pyramids are their temples. I assume it is the same here,” replied Solon.
“He is correct.”
“Solaris!” Rynah hissed into her earpiece. “Where have you been?”
“I temporarily lost communications,” replied Solaris. “The problem is fixed now.”
“Can you get us out of here?” asked Rynah as one of their captors poked her with the sharp end of his spear.
“You know full well that my transporter systems are limited. I burnt out most of the systems when I brought our guests here.”
Cursing, Rynah wished Solaris would quit countering all of her ideas.
“You will have to get here the old-fashioned way. Walk.”
“That is going to be a bit difficult,” whispered Rynah.
“I noticed you have been whispering,” said Solaris. “Is something wrong?”
“You could say that,” replied Rynah. She stopped talking when one of their captors looked in her direction. “We have been captured by some natives.”
“But all of my scans indicated… uh, oh.”
“Uh, oh?” said Rynah.
“Do they smell like tar?” asked Solaris.
“What?” Rynah hushed her voice as the others glanced at her outburst. “You want me to smell them?”
“That is the general idea.”
“What is going on?” asked Brie.
“I finally got communications back with Solaris,” said Rynah, “and she wants me to sniff our captors.”
“I’ll do it,” said Tom. He inched his way closer to one of the natives, leaned in, and took a big whiff. Choking coughs escaped his mouth as he tried to get the awful smell from his nose.
The man glared at him.
“I thought I saw something on you.”
The man shoved Tom back in line with the others.
“Are you done smelling him?” teased Brie.
“Only if you go out with me,” said Tom, sarcastically.
“Hey,” interrupted Rynah.
“Tar,” answered Tom. “Definitely tar.”
“Solaris, they smell like tar.”
“Well, that explains it,” said Solaris. “The tar masks their life signs from my scanners and allows them to blend in with the vegetation.”
“Can you get to us?” asked Rynah in a low voice.
“Yes, but it will take time,” replied Solaris.
“We don’t have much time,” said Rynah.
They had reached the top of the stairs. Their captors lined them up before an altar where a man with white hair stood with an elderly woman and a young girl who could be no more than five years old. None of them understood the old man’s rapid words, except for the irate tone of his voice.
“This isn’t good,” said Solon.
“Do you know what he is saying?” asked Alfric.
“No, but this is a place of sacrifice—human sacrifice.”
“We’re not it, are we?” asked Brie.
“I don’t think so,” said Solon, “but it appears as though we interrupted an important celebration for them. The man’s movements indicate that he is explaining the story of their existence.”
“You can tell all of that from his body language?” asked Tom.
“Yes,” replied Solon. “Great story tellers always use the same movements for similar tales.”
The man stopped speaking. He pointed at the five of them and rambled on in his native tongue. No one moved. The village elder reached out for the timid girl, pulling her towards the stone table. She obeyed. He placed her on the table, forcing her to lie down. More words escaped his mouth as he explained the ritual and how it would bring life to their civilization.
Brie watched horrified. She remembered reading about how some ancient cultures, such as the Aztecs, conducted human sacrifice, but those were always distant stories to her. Now she stood before a real sacrificial offering.
“Why the girl?” she asked.
“Young girls are innocent and virgins,” replied Solon. “Their blood is believed to purify the earth.”
“He’s going to kill her,” shrieked Brie.
“Do nothing,” said Rynah.
“I mean it!”
Brie watched in terror as the old man raised his jeweled dagger. She glanced around as the emotionless crowd watched the ritual. No, she was not going to just stand there and let it happen. Brie charged the stone table and the man with the dagger. With a fury she had never known to exist in herself, she grasped the man’s wrist and wrenched the knife from him, tossing it aside. It clattered as it rolled down the stone steps of the temple.
“This is barbaric!” yelled Brie.
The man and the woman stared at her. An eruption happened. The male elder cursed and screamed at Brie in his native tongue. She slapped him. Stunned, the man stepped back. A group of men with spears charged Brie. With a great cry, Alfric unsheathed his blade and knocked them off their feet, but did not kill them. He took a protective stance in front of Brie. Another charged. The Viking picked him up and tossed him over the side of the temple wall.
Tom snatched the spear of one and thrust him into the gathered crowd. “I think we’ve overstayed our welcome.”
Another charged them. Rynah pulled out her laser pistol and shot him in the leg. She fired at two more. “Solaris, now would be a good time to show up!”
“ETA 30 seconds,” said Solaris.
Arrows pelted them from above, stabbing the stone beneath their feet and missing them by inches. When the girl shrieked, Brie wrapped a protective arm around her. More charged them. Stepping forward, Alfric released a chilling battle cry while beating his chest with his fists, thus stopping the charge. They shrank back in fright, having never seen such a wild looking man.
The strange sight continued with Brie hugging the girl and Tom, Rynah, Solon, and Alfric forming a protective barrier between them and the natives. Such a scene greeted Solaris when she arrived. The roar of her engines filled the area as she hovered low, above them with the back hatch open. The people of the village dropped to their knees and bowed before the strange newcomers, muttering praises of worship.
“Solaris, it’s about time you arrived,” barked Rynah.
“I would say that my timing is perfect,” replied Solaris.
“Let’s go,” said Rynah.
“Wait,” Brie stopped them. “What about her?”
Rynah eyed the girl. “We can’t take her.”
“But if we leave her, they will kill her.”
“I don’t think so,” said Solon. “They think we are gods. I believe they will leave her be.”
Brie’s reluctance showed as she untangled herself from the girl, but she knew Rynah was right. The child clutched her wrist in fear. A spot of red caught Brie’s eye. She looked closer and realized it was a cut. Brie pulled a Dora the Explorer Band-Aid out of her pocket, something she usually kept there for her little sister, and placed it over the child’s open wound.
The girl seemed to have understood and nodded her tear-stained face, glancing at the drawing sticking out of Rynah’s pocket. The child jumped off the table, taking Brie’s hand and pulled her inside the temple. The others chased after them.
Carved statues lined the wall with lit torches in between each. Up ahead was a domed structure with a pedestal, but that wasn’t what caught their attention.
“The crystal!” said Rynah. “It is here. But how do we get to it?”
A giant gap loomed before them, cutting them off from their goal.
The girl placed a slender rod in Brie’s hand and pointed at the stalactites hanging from the ceiling.
“I don’t understand,” said Brie, but Tom did.
He looked around at the pile of gigantic stones. “I know what to do. You have to use sound to move these stones and form a bridge.”
“What?” Everyone stared at him.
“I actually know something you don’t?” Tom said to Rynah. “Okay, look, a friend of mine back at the academy has been experimenting with using sound to move large objects. He has even managed to have some success with moving rocks, but nothing as big as these boulders. But the theory is just the same. I bet each of these stalactites produce a different tone that will move each of the stones.”
“But that is like something out of science fiction,” said Brie.
“You are on an alien planet, with an alien race on the far side of the galaxy, and with a ship with an attitude,” Tom reminded her.
“I do not have an attitude,” Solaris said into Rynah’s ear, “but the weasel is right. She must produce the proper sounds to levitate the stones.”
“Solaris says to give it a try,” Rynah told them.
When Brie hesitated, Tom moved to take the rod from her and demonstrate what he meant; the girl stepped between them, snatching the rod with her tiny hand.
“I think she means for you to do it,” Tom said, backing away.
“But I don’t know how,” said Brie.
“Music is known to produce different tones, each with mathematical properties,” said Solon, who had been studying the entire interior of the temple. “Do you play the lute?”
“Uh, no,” said Brie, “but I do play the guitar.”
For the last six years, she had taught herself to play the guitar her father had left her before he died. She tapped each of the stalactites with the rod, each producing a different note. Brie decided to play her parent’s favorite song, one they had played at their wedding.
Concentrating on the task at hand, Brie touched each of the stalactites in rhythmic order, pretending that they were actually her guitar. Soft melody filled the chamber, echoing off the walls. While Brie played the instrument, the others watched in anticipation. One of the boulders vibrated.
“Look!” said Tom.
“Shh,” Solon quieted him.
Covering his mouth with his hand so he wouldn’t squeal with delight, Tom danced from foot to foot as his friend’s theory was proven correct before his very eyes. Each watched mesmerized as one rock lifted into the air, a bit rocky at first—no pun intended—and settled over the gaping hole in the floor. As it hovered, Brie continued playing her song, not paying any attention to what happened around her. Another boulder levitated. It floated through the air and nestled beside the first. One by one, each of the stones filled the space before them, forming a floating bridge.
“Keep playing,” said Rynah.
Tom moved for the bridge, but Solon stopped him.
“Perhaps the lightest person should go.”
Taking one look at his scrawny structure, Tom agreed.
Solon approached the hovering bridge. He placed his sandaled foot atop it. Nothing happened. Summoning his courage, the young scholar hopped on the stone. Though it dipped a bit under his weight, it remained in the air. With music filling his ears, Solon jumped from stone to stone until he reached the other side.
The crystal lay directly in front of him. Glancing back at the others, he noticed that some of the natives had filed into the room. Solon reached for the crystal. Marveling at its smooth structure, he cupped it in his hands and dashed back across the floating bridge. The moment he reached the other side, Brie stopped playing, allowing the boulders to fall into the abyss below.
“I can’t believe it,” said Brie.
“Give it to me,” Rynah reached for the crystal. Solon handed it to her and she put it in her pack. “We need to leave. Solaris, are you ready?”
“I was ready 10 minutes ago,” said Solaris.
“Let’s go, before unexpected guests arrive.”
“I have to go now,” said Brie to the girl. She gave the child one last hug and the rod, and followed the others into the open hatch of the ship; Rynah was the last to board.
What Brie couldn’t have known was how they all would be remembered through the ages on that planet. The people dubbed her Megula (meaning “honored mother”) and erected a temple in her honor. The girl she saved later became the high priestess of the temple. When the ruins of that civilization were unearthed several millennia later, they discovered drawings depicting the story of how the Megula descended from the stars with her guards, saved a child, thus condemning human sacrifice, and reclaimed her precious gem.
Once aboard the ship, Solaris fired her booster rockets and left the atmosphere.
“Well,” said Rynah as she weighed the crystal in her hands, “I guess we should count ourselves lucky to get out of there in one piece.” She glanced at Brie, who tugged on strands of her brown hair, “And you. Your screeching nearly got us killed.”
“But she gained us a crystal.”
“The first useful thing she’s done since she was brought on board. Solaris, take us out of here.” Rynah marched out of the cargo area of the ship, heading straight for her quarters.
“You need to get better control of your emotions and learn to appreciate the other members of your crew,” scolded Solaris, her voice following Rynah throughout the ship as she tried to get away and hide in her room.
“Leave me alone,” she snapped.
“I will not.”
“I said go away!” Rynah stopped and shouted at the speakers within the corridor of the ship. She stomped into her room, sealing the door behind her. She pulled back a loose panel of the wall, revealing a safe, opened it, and secured the crystal inside.
“You’ll not be rid of me so easily.”
“Oh, Great Ancients, save me from this impertinent pest!”
“I am no—”
“Why won’t you leave me alone?”
“Your grandfather charged me with the task of helping you during this time.”
“Oh, who cares? He’s dead.”
“Why?” demanded Rynah. “What did my grandfather ever do for me? He scolded me each time I became curious about his work. He chased me away the one time he caught me reading that ancient book. Then he goes on a damn fool mission to steal the crystal from the geo-lab, the same one that Klanor has managed to snatch, and I am supposed to care about what he wants? He’s been dead for years now. I don’t give a da—”
“You should!” Solaris’ rage filled her voice, silencing Rynah and startling her. “And you should quit being so harsh on Brie.”
“That girl is a nuisance,” Rynah said. “Why did you ever bring her aboard?”
“I have my reasons—reasons you are not to question! There are things in this universe that you know nothing about, but will learn in time if you have a mind, and the patience, to do so.”
“What was so important that my grandfather chose to curse me with you and that cowardly girl?”
“Is that what you think of me?” Brie stood in the doorway. She had come to Rynah’s room to apologize for her behavior on the planet, her natural quietness having gone unnoticed.
“I-I didn’t mean,” began Rynah, startled, “I ju—”
“No, I get it,” said Brie, holding back tears. “I know I have screwed up one too many times on this ship. I guess not everyone can have your courage.”
Brie ran off, stomping up the steps to an upper, and more secluded, level of the ship.
Rynah rushed to the doors to apologize, but they sealed just as she reached them. “Let me out!”
“No,” said Solaris.
“How am I to apologize if you keep me locked in here?”
“Have your opinions of her changed?”
“Then why should I believe that you are truly sorry for what you have said about her?”
“You know, I am really sick and tired of you chastising me all of the time. You are no better than me, or anyone else on this ship.”
“Perhaps not, but I happen to be the only one who fully understands the magnitude of our situation. You, Rynah, must learn to calm yourself before you are able to understand it as well.”
“How can I? How can you remain so calm? Does the destruction of Lanyr mean nothing to you? Why should it mean anything? You are nothing more than a few electrical components and memory chips put together. You have no feelings.”
Rynah shut her mouth the moment she made that last statement, wishing she could take it back, but spoken words are not easily retracted. Silence reigned around her. She did not know about the hours Solaris spent replaying the video feed of the destruction of Lanyr. Rynah wondered if Solaris had abandoned her, nestling deep within her memory banks.
“The only reason you are still standing is because Marlow made me promise to look after you. He gave me life, and his was taken shortly after.”
“Solaris, I’m sorry.” Rynah’s tone conveyed the truthfulness of her words.
“I am furious,” said Solaris in a controlled tone, ignoring Rynah’s words. “Each time I think about Lanyr’s fate and the one who brought it about, I seethe with anger and loathing. I, more than anyone, want revenge, but revenge won’t bring Lanyr, or the lives lost, back. You asked me how I can be so calm, so cold. Maybe you should ask yourself what my calmness will achieve. Running off half-cocked solves nothing and only gets you killed in the end. Unlike you, Rynah, I have thought about Klanor’s plans and what he hopes to achieve. In doing so, I hope to be able to outsmart him. Maybe you should do the same.”
As Rynah listened to Solaris’ words, she heard her grandfather in them. She hung her head in shame. “Solaris, I never meant—”
“You never do,” said Solaris, “but that is what comes from never thinking.”
Still no answer.
Ashamed, Rynah kicked her bunk before plopping down on the thin, feather mattress, wishing she could take back everything she had just said. She thought about her grandfather and of all the hours he had spent repairing the ship or studying the ancient text. She thought about Klanor and his marriage proposal, and the happiness she felt upon receiving it. Exhausted, and emotionally drained, Rynah cupped her head in her hands and wept.
Solaris heard her crying, but chose to remain invisible. Best leave her to think on it, she thought.