Hey friends and fictional folk! I really should stop cutting it so close with my writing deadlines, but with everything going on, it can sometimes be hard to find the time and energy to sit down write. I know, needing energy to sit down. Bit of an oxymoron until you experience it. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this next chapter of the story!
There really was nothing else they could do except get in the elevator. So they did.
Natalie thought she might panic as the dome closed above them like a giant eyelid but, right before darkness could swallow them, a network of circular lights on the ceiling flickered to life. A few sputtered and died but the ones that lived glowed with a strong white light illuminating the whole elevator.
It was a surprisingly smooth ride down. If not for her tremor sense, she might not have even known they were descending. Thanks to her snake DNA however, she could feel the faint hum beneath their feet as long dormant machinery ran smoother than she thought it should.
Apprehensive would have been an understatement. This was beyond anything she had expected and there was no telling what they were going into.
Daniel at least seemed to be enjoying himself. His face was somewhere between awe and giddiness. It was like someone had gotten his favorite celebrity to show up to his birthday party. The smile on his face would have been infectious if they all weren’t sinking who knew how deep below the surface of the Earth into who knew what.
“Do you think aliens built this?” he said, though it was hard to tell who he was asking since his gaze was more focused on a spot on the wall where the dome had closed. Where there should have been a seam between two plates was just smooth metal. It made Natalie’s skin crawl thinking about how they might be trapped in here with no way out.
“I guess,” she answered quietly. She was still trying to wrap her head around that possibility. And the idea that the thing inside her might be some weird alien tech. Did that make her part alien? Then a scarier thought rose in her mind. If she could sense where the elevator was, did that mean the aliens could control her through the shard?
“It certainly seems likely,” Mr. Ross said, also answering Daniel’s question. “Either that or some greatly advanced civilization from the past.”
Natalie snorted despite her trepidation. “Like Atlantis or something?”
“No. Atlantis was merely an allegory crafted by Plato for one of his philosophies that he based off the Minoan eruption on the islands of Santorini. However, you are on the correct line of thinking. Many lost continent stories feature advanced ancient civilizations disappearing in the sands of time.”
She had to think about that for a moment. As much as she appreciated Mr. Ross, he could be really difficult to understand sometimes. Didn’t help that her whole worldview was getting rocked again. She thought she’d be over that by now, but the universe kept throwing her curveballs.
“So,” she said, once she’d managed to puzzle out his words, “you think someone thousands of years ago buried whatever this is in the middle of America, scattered the ark shards all over the world, and then vanished.”
“It’s certainly a possibility. Though, perhaps, an unlikely one?”
“Why?” Daniel asked, finally turning to look at them.
“Primarily the lack of any evidence beyond the shards and this structure. Omphalos has never found anything even remotely similar to this, and we stretch back centuries too. If there used to be some hyper-advanced civilization on pre-historic Earth, they would have left more than this. We are not even certain what this is. If it is a stationary object, then that is a point towards an Earthly civilization. But if it is a vehicle, then we have a fairly solid case for it being of extraterrestrial origin.”
And there they went again. Talking without her about things that involved her. Sure, she knew they didn’t mean to leave her out. They were just caught up in nerding out with each other. Still, she felt like a background character in her own life. Like she was just the muscle of the team or a container for the super science gizmo everyone was trying to get their hands on. It was uncomfortably close to home.
Thankfully, she could feel the elevator slowing and soon the dome split open again, ending the conversation. Or rather solving the topic of conversation.
Natalie blinked and slowly turned around in a full circle. No doubt about it. This was an alien ship.
She knew enough from science fiction to recognize the bridge of a spaceship and the room she found herself in now couldn’t be anything else. The elevator had deposited them in the back of the room, in front of a sealed door that probably lead to the rest of the ship. Dim lights on the floor cast long shadows, but they were still bright enough to see the entire space.
The bridge—she assumed this was the bridge—was roughly circular in shape. She, Daniel, and Mr. Ross were standing on a raised platform at one end of the circle leading from the door to a desk full of buttons in the center overlooking the rest of the room below. To either side of their platform were stairs that descended into a space filled with desks similar to the first. Some had more buttons, some had fewer. She couldn’t see a single screen or window in the entire place. Maybe they hadn’t needed them.
Of course, all that might have worked for humans as well, if it weren’t for a few major differences. For one, this room and everything in it were huge. It looked like every desk, stair, button, and walkway was designed for professional basketball players riding Clydesdales. There was no sign of the dome-elevator anymore, but even it would have fit in here without a problem. She felt like a baby on the set of some space-opera.
Another major clue that this wasn’t made for humans were the chairs, or at least what looked like chairs. In front of each desk was a long, padded section of floor that looked like if someone had laid one of those adjustable dentist chairs completely flat and set it into the ground. A few of these had been raised out of the ground, but none of them were angled in a way where a human would be comfortable sitting on them.
It looked like aliens were real. And they were big.
A terrible silence held the room prisoner. Nothing moved. Nothing stirred. Any ambient noise there had been with the elevator-dome was gone, replaced with a lack of sound so complete that Natalie was left with nothing to listen to but her heartbeat, her breathing, and the breathing of her team. Neither Daniel nor Mr. Ross seemed willing to move. They looked as intimidated as she felt.
Well somebody needs to make the first move.
Cautiously, she stepped toward the captain’s chair in the center of the room. What else could it be but the captain’s chair. She couldn’t think of any other job that would require someone to look over the bridge of a ship like that.
Each step, slow and careful, on the metal floor echoed in the emptiness of the room. The whole place had the feeling of some giant family crypt. A crypt with no bodies.
Or dust for that matter. She had been in old, abandoned houses before, usually on a dare. In those places, everything had been covered in dust and even walking had sent little clouds of the stuff rising to tickle her nose. But here, there was nothing. Even when she reached the captain’s desk and ran a hand over its surface. Nothing. Not a speck.
A chill ran down her spine despite the stagnant air.
She wanted to leave. She wanted to run from this too quiet place and let someone else face whatever was clearly waiting here.
But there was that pull again. It was drawing her to the door leading out of the bridge. It wanted to be found. It wanted her to find it.
Turning, she walked back to Daniel and Mr. Ross. The door just beyond them.
“This place,” Mr. Ross whispered as she drew near. Perhaps he too was afraid of shattering the grim silence hanging over the room. “This place shatters so much of what we know. Confirms so many hypotheses. And that is just for the regular scientists. Omphalos researchers would kill for this.”
“They probably have,” Natalie couldn’t help but mutter as she drew level with them.
“You may be right,” he acknowledged. Then he turned, confused as she walked past him toward the door. “Where are you going?”
She could feel both their gazes on her as she stepped up to the door. It was monolithic. Easily as tall and wide as the elevator-dome. She wondered briefly why she could see the seam here when the elevator-dome had sealed smooth.
Taking a deep breath, heart pounding in her ears, she reached forward and touched her palm to the smooth metal. It was neither cold nor hot. It was so lacking in temperature one way or the other that she briefly forgot where her arm ended and the ship began.
She almost jumped out of her skin when the doors slid open with barely a whisper, disappearing into the walls of the ship.
Before her, lit by more of those floor lights that only just illuminated the space, was a long tunnel. At the end was another pair of doors.
Natalie realized with a start that this tunnel must be as long as the distance between where the elevator-dome had risen and the supposed burial mounds began. Almost fifty feet in all.
She swallowed her heart—which had tried to leap out of her throat when the doors opened—and turned back to her team. Daniel was staring at her as if she had just summoned a unicorn and Mr. Ross was analyzing her again. Though even he looked amazed.
“Sh-shall we?” she said, hoping the smile looked more natural than it felt.
They both nodded and together they ventured into the tunnel.
Much to Natalie’s relief, the bridge doors remained open. She probably would have screamed and started crying if they had closed. However, the same oppressive silence which had claimed that room lurked here. Goosebumps rose on her skin and she had the distinct feeling of being watched. Though from where and by what she couldn’t be certain.
The three of them had made it halfway down the hall when Natalie felt a faint rumble of machinery beneath her feet. She hadn’t even realized she’d kept up her tremor sense. Spinning, she was relieved to see that the doors hadn’t closed. That relief vanished when she saw the elevator-dome rise through the ceiling of the bridge and disappear.
She swore and dropped into one of the fighting stances Mr. Ross had taught her. For his part, the teacher readied his super taser, aiming for where the elevator-dome had dropped them off. Daniel, having no weapon to ready, stepped back and held the tongs as far from the bridge as possible.
Natalie’s heartbeat quickened, blood beating against her eardrums. They had been followed. Someone had tracked their departure from the city and tailed them all the way here.
And if the elevator-dome was rising to meet them, that meant they were probably a hybrid. But who?
A heavy dread settled in Natalie’s chest. There was only one hybrid who knew that they would be leaving town. One person who knew they would head for the burial mounds. One person who had been here before and given them the clue to finding this place.
The elevator-dome returned to the bridge and opened to reveal the hybrid Natalie had known would be there. Rage, instinctual and personal, coursed through her veins and she felt her body begin to transform in response.
Green scales to contrast her opponent’s dark fur. Forked tongue and venomous fangs to counter razor-sharp claws and jaws. Their matching yellow eyes met, and that monster had the gall to smirk.
“Hello again, you three,” Ahuizotl purred. “Glad to see you followed my clue.”