The Bauble - Chapter 6
"To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue."
The knight climbed the hill to the very large longhouse. As he walked nearer, he noticed that the lodge had a lot of doors within its walls. And from the distance, he noted that those same doors had to be very wide. Curious, he thought.
Even more startling was the huge tree that the structure seemed to encompass. The Longhouse roof was very odd, it looked like it was tiled in gold, round shingles. There was another large tree, in front of what he assumed was the front door, which was also golden in appearance. It was a huge building and he wondered how far away it actually was from him.
He walked uphill for a period of time that he could not identify, but yet felt the "day" go into "evening." He still had no recollection regarding himself, or how he had gotten into the grayed hall outside of this universe. He looked behind him and the stable still looked large to him. Obviously, distance here was also an illusion.
He continued his hike up the hill to the lodge before him.
Diesel continued down the hallways of the Arcadia, following the personal locator he had given to Harry. He travelled up a back series of laddered steps to the next level, and then up one more level. There had been an elevator nearby, but he did not use it. He was too afraid that when the door reopened, he would face Harlock's crew, and that was not his plan at all. Diesel knew that the crew of the Arcadia were each, in their own right, warriors of the first water. No, as a single hunter, he needed a more stealthy approach, and backup. He would rescue Harry, if he could, and then go after his prize.
It occurred to him that there were all manner of great monetary people prizes aboard this ship, and that he could have quite the life of ease, were he to cash in on all of them. He grinned to himself. If he could jut disable Harlock, then the others would be easier to handle, being in disarray. Cut off the head of the serpent, and the rest would flail around without his guidance, at least until they elected a new Captain. Diesel liked that thought, and it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. He was skilled at what he did, but like any other person, didn't want to work harder than what was needed.
He was now very close, the locator showed that Harry was straight ahead in the side room. Odd place for a Brig, he mused to himself. When the locator said that Harry was behind the door on the left, Diesel had a moment of unease. The door label stated simply: "LABORATORY." A smaller sign read: "Cryo-chamber." He had a now queasy feeling in his stomach; Harry might be dead. Impossible, he thought, perhaps they had put Harry in some sort of containment field to protect themselves from the Bug's poisoned digits. He was hopeful, but in the pit of his stomach, he was uneasy, he might have to do this task without the excellent backup that Harry would provide.
Diesel put his hand to the door and it smoothly slid open for him. Before him were laboratory benches with all sorts of equipment set out, much of which had obviously been recently used, and then left untended. He walked slowly through the place, ever deeper into the area. It was silent except for his footsteps. He found a cul-de-sac in the far rear of the area. To the right, was a door that said "Cryo-chamber." Since there was no other place to go, other than to the storeroom listed on the left, he put his hand to the Cryo-chamber door. It also opened smoothly to his touch. Once inside, he adjusted his eyes as the lights came up around him. His eyes fixed straight ahead to the chamber within the chamber.
"Harry!" He cried out, hoping that the reclining Bug on the table in front of him, behind the glass frame, was merely asleep.
He knew better, of course, for the rime of frost covered the alien's carapace. He placed his hands on the side wall of the glass chamber. "Harry..." His voice was saddened, for the pair had worked well together, despite their obvious species differences. His partner was now well beyond hearing Diesel's voice. He also noted that the digits on Harry's hands were shorter than usual, and he saw that the talons and the poison sacs were gone. He immediately deduced that someone had killed Harry, and that after death, someone had probably used the poison sacs to make anti-venom serum.
He raised his head, staring ahead blindly, thinking furiously. Harlock most likely had killed Harry, he reasoned. Both the Gravity Saber and Cosmo Dragoon were incredibly effective weapons, and must have pierced Harry's body chitin to have killed him. There was no way that Harry had boarded this ship on his own, without taking most of the other lives on it down with him.
The question was, why did they need to make new serum? Was it to replace what was in their stores, most unlikely as the Bugs were not indigenous to this galaxy? Or, did they need to use the serum on someone poisoned by the alien...
Harlock. He had been in a furious fight with the Ciarriahqian when Diesel had been knocked out. So, did Harry get the drop on Harlock, or vice versa? Not a single person had challenged him since coming aboard. That meant that they were in disarray, with lesser or no leadership. Ergo, Harlock was either dead himself, or badly injured in the fight.
Diesel smiled grimly. There was no way that Harlock, if poisoned by Harry's talons, would have survived without major damage. Nor would he survive at all without the anti-venom, and that was even doubtful. Harlock was equally valuable dead, or alive. The only ones who cared if Harlock lived at all, were the crew aboard this ship, and they were obviously not effective guardians without the Master and Commander of the vessel. After all, he had merely walked aboard the open ship without a single hail, and he hadn't run into a single soul since.
He was in that moment, a bit maudlin regarding Harry - they were not a plentiful species outside of their home world. The few who managed to escape were hunted down swiftly, and if possible, returned to their home world, or killed in desperate battle. The reason that Ciarriahqia was under interdict by all of the sentient races, was their poisoned, deadly talons, and highly martial nature. They had no thought in their insectoid heads regarding either peace, or co-existence. It was all or nothing with them.
The Council of Worlds had all agreed on that one thing, after the war that had ensued at the Bugs first achieving interstellar flight. Once the race had been contained, with the loss of many lives and much effort, it was found that they would not see any sort of civilized reason, they were placed under interdict, and all the races took turns ensuring that they never left their world again. That planet was closely watched, and all attempts for that species to leave their home world were met with deadly consequences for the escapees. Harry was among the very few who were at large.
He had found Harry years earlier, as a smaller, juvenile Bug, and developed a relationship with him, at first based on food, and then later, a measured trust. Diesel had seen the potential of having Harry as a partner for his chosen line of work. Having Harry was an advantage that no one else would have, or be able to effectively counter. They had built their own method for communication, as Harry had not the physical capacity to utter words. In all, they had been together over ten years.
He had not had to train Harry much, his own nature was certainly apparent as he matured. The years of flight had been a trial for both of them, as Harry was following his nature, and Diesel was trying to keep him safe. He had taught Harry to be a Bounty Hunter, and they had worked well together. He didn't advertise Harry, for that would get the Bug sent back to a home world he didn't remember. Most of the times that he brought Harry in, was for cases where the prey didn't need to be alive. Otherwise, Harry ran their ship. The arrangement had suited both of them.
He said a quiet goodbye to Harry, and idly wondered if the Bug had family on Ciarriahqia, or if family was a nonsensical concept for the peoples of that world. He wondered what they did for their dead. He shrugged. It didn't really matter, for Harry would never know if his passing would have been honored, or ignored. Right now, Diesel had other priorities, and those priorities didn't include mourning his erstwhile partner.
Diesel straightened up and then left the cryo-chamber where Harry laid in cryo. On his way out, he consulted a rather convenient open computer terminal for a map of the ship. He searched for a bit under Tochiro's open notes, and non-locked link. Amazing how trusting these pirates are, he thought. Satisfied, he left the lab area, thinking on a new target for his search.
Mimee held the strand in her psychic hands. She held it hard and fast, as if her life depended on holding this thread until the end of time. Another beside her also held this strand, and then an amazing, crazily heroic, and surprising thing happened.
The Golden One beside her looked at her, and said to her, "Hold Fast." With that, the young goddess passed beyond Mimee to hold the strand beyond her, and steadily began walking ahead, along the path of the thread.
Mimee cried out to her, "Don't! You can only go to here. Beyond here, you will also pass beyond!"
The young woman looked back at her, smiled, and handed Mimee a second strand to hold; her own. Mimee gasped as the Golden One looked back at her, and almost lost hold of both strands in her keeping. The young woman now was golden-haired, bore white and gold wings upon her back, and wore gold-washed armor, complete with a golden winged helmet. Her countenance was blindingly bright.
She smiled sadly at Mimee. "Someone has to go to him," she said to Mimee. "He is lost, and cannot find his way back without help. This universe is a tube, and bears a center, core sphere, where we don't want for him to go. If he goes there, none can return until the Last Day. He can also get lost in the other worlds along the outer rim of the tube, and build another life there, while we need him here. It is up to me, now. Hold our lines; I will bring him back, if I can."
Mimee held the two life lines she had as if there was no one behind her. Of course, she felt the presence of the grieving Golden Ones behind her, but they also doubled their efforts to hold both the line they all held, and to hold Mimee, too, for she held one who was dear to them; their beloved sister Princess Arashenda, or as she preferred to be called, Ar'Shenda.
Mimee's normal softly golden light had surrounded her before, and now approached a white, hotter light, that bathed the walls of the room she was in. In fact, if anyone had looked in her quarters, they would have not seen anything but a white, brilliant, and searing light. Mimee was totally encompassed in the light. No one could have seen the tears flowing from her tilted, golden eyes.
Bob unwrapped his arms from around his person. Time to move. He had heard Diesel move down the corridor to the ladder stairs up to the next level. Bob had been wrapped in his own grief. He knew he had to give himself that series of moments to resolve some of the swirling emotions in his Octodian soul. Once he had them more firmly under control, he could move, and be effective in his plan. Tochiro was coming to him from sickbay. Diesel, was likely headed to sickbay to collect an unresisting, and possibly dead Harlock, for bounty.
Bob intended to get to sickbay before Diesel, or catch the bounty hunter in a crossfire, with Tochiro on the other side. He winced at that, for Tochiro's aim was less than accurate, but if that aim kept Diesel off balance, then Bob could make his move. He ground his teeth. He highly doubted Diesel had any idea at all of what an aroused, determined, and angry, Octodian could do. He doubted that even the Kid had any idea of it, for Bob had never shown that side of himself to Harlock.
It had frightened Bob, the one time that he had let that part of himself loose. It was the main reason he polished bar glassware, for this calmed his inner demons.
The three engineers finally had the right sided panel loose in the elevator, the control panel exposed, and were poised to disable the doors on the elevator, when all of the sudden, the doors opened wide. Stunned, they didn't move for a moment, and then all three of them piled out into the corridor without even a glance sideways, all but tripping over one another in their haste to leave that boxed in space. Once outside, they turned to look behind them. The doors quietly closed without a sound.
They looked at each other, then back at the doors.
"No more elevators," they all said in unison. They looked around for the nearest stairway up, and cautiously moved down the corridor. They opened doors, but stayed in the corridor while they looked in each opening for the way up to the bridge, where they assumed that the Captain would be stationed.
The Ship's AI was watching the progress of both the Crew, and the interlopers, of the Arcadian Territory that it guarded, and protected. It was coming together like a chess game. The AI was still "young," and thus was a bit more capricious in nature than what it's developers knew, or would be comfortable with, had they known. It knew it needed to protect itself from the others, and not play too hard of a hand, but it could certainly guide the coming confrontation.
In order to do that, the AI quietly began closing some of the blast doors within the ship, and making certain stairwells inoperable. Mice in a maze, it thought, come find the cheese.
Inside of Sickbay, the struggle to contain the poison in Harlock's body was coming to a head. The Nanobots were working as quickly as they were able, according to their programming, to deliver life preserving antidote to the cells of the host body. The tide was finally beginning to turn, but there was much work to do. They mindlessly, but efficiently, did their duty.
"Reversible damage now at sixty-four percent. Irreversible damage at fifteen percent. New cell growth coming back on line within organism at a forty percent increase. Mitochondrial stasis reversing and now at eighty percent of normal. Organ function returning to kidneys and liver, up from ten percent to forty percent and climbing. Cellular waste is still sluggish in lymph system. Nanobot programming changed to compensate metabolism of dead cells. Cardiac stimulus is suspended, organism is providing own rhythm and volume displacement at eighty percent of normal capacity. Neural activity still suspended, no higher function brain waves detected. Basal, Cortical, and corpus collosum neural cells are perfusing normally. Vital Signs stabilizing ten points variance from normal baseline. Core perfusion improving by ten percent per minute." The AutoDoc droned on.
Doc Zero and Thea took a moment to pause from their work. They heard the AutoDoc, looked at the current data, and were cheered by what they saw. The cellular death rate was declining. The good cell population was climbing. And the cells affected by the poison were being absorbed. The skin appearance hadn't changed as of yet, but it was certainly not worsening. That was encouraging. He still wasn't breathing at all on his own, but the heart rhythm was more regular, and the core body temperature was rising. It wasn't normal yet, but was showing signs of coming back to Harlock's baseline. They had done what they could, it was up to the nanobots, now.
Zero went to a desk and called the bridge.
"Kei, I think that we might have some progress here." He said.
"Kei?" He asked when he didn't hear any response.
"Yattaran?" "Harley?" "Anybody?"
"Where are they?" He said, looking at Thea with a perplexed expression on his face.
She shrugged at him. "I don't know," she said. She rubbed a tired hand across her face.
"Didn't Tochiro say something about an intruder before he left? She asked thoughtfully.
Zero cocked his head at her. "Maybe," he said.
They looked at each other.
"We're supposed to lock the door!" they both said in alarmed unison.
Thea ran to the door to lock the front of sickbay, and Zero was a step behind her.
Tochiro was fuming. He had been going on a straight path to get to Bob, but the ship was misbehaving. It was actively locking down areas, and locking stairways away from where he and the other pirates wanted to go. If he didn't know better, the AI appeared to be herding them all somewhere. He wished that he knew if this was a good or bad thing; right now, he didn't have a clue. And, he had been locked outside of the command structure of its matrix, so he couldn't shut it down. He swore that he could hear it laughing at him. But that had to be in his imagination.
He grimaced. After they got all of this under better control, and both Bob and Harlock safe, he was going to ensure some ground rules were set for the young AI. Early on, AI's had to be carefully monitored and taught right actions from wrong ones; just like children had need of discipline, so did the AI.
Of course, he probably shouldn't have been surprised by this maneuver, after all, look at whose brain cells he had used as a base.
Also, without the conscience of the original pattern, the AI could create much havoc, not realizing or caring that it did so. The development of its matrix still needed much refinement, and this was a very bad time for it to be choosing to exercise some independent function. If the stabilization period wasn't done right, the ship could wind up being very temperamental, immature, and childishly surly.
Tochiro sighed. Good point - it was becoming aware, bad point - timing is everything. And in this case, not so good. The AI was earlier in its maturation process than he had calculated.
Kei was with Yattaran, and they were attempting to get to Sickbay to see the Captain. For some very weird reason, they weren't being allowed by the ship to get there. She had tried to use the command override sequences in order to get there but, no joy. Frustrated, she hit the wall of the corridor with her fist. "Arrrgh!" She said, and then kicked the wall for good measure, twice. It didn't help, but it did make her feel better. She looked over at Alfred, to see his response to her temper tantrum.
Yattaran didn't say anything, he just pushed his glasses back up on his nose. He had felt the same way, but rather enjoyed watching her reaction. When she had kicked the wall, her entire female person jiggled, and he had to admit he had enjoyed watching that happen. Knowing to NOT let on about this enjoyment was another matter. He wisely kept his face blank. They reviewed other possibilities in their minds to circumvent the blast door issue, and travelled on.
One corridor she passed led to one of the elevators to the bridge. As she passed it by, the doors opened; she and Alfred looked at one another as they saw the dismantled panels. Someone had done that, but who - it looked like they had worked hard to escape the lift? They continued on, tracking the persons who had left the elevator.
This was getting stranger, and stranger, with each passing minute.
He finally reached the lodge itself and was in awe of its grandeur. It looked like the doors of the place were wide enough, that when opened, one could move an entire army through them, all at once. Both an Eagle and a Wolf, who were both huge, guarded the main hall doors. He passed beneath them, as they were above the monstrous doorway. He wasn't at all certain what to make of the scale of the place. He knew that this was the biggest edifice he had ever laid an eye upon. He looked above him, and all about him. The place was absolutely bigger than huge, and oddly constructed. There were, he saw, golden shields making up the roof of the lodge. Spears were the rafters, and all was built on a scale he knew he had never seen.
The knight stood in the football-field-sized foyer for a bit, feeling both smallish, and foolish for standing there, gawking at everything around him. There in front of him was the entrance to the huge hall. The sounds of laughter came from there, so he started to move towards it. He stopped dead in his tracks with the next sight.
A beautiful blonde-haired, winged woman in golden washed armor passed him by, carrying a flagon of some sort of mead. It smelled heavenly. Come to think of it, he was also hungry.
The woman stopped, smiled at him, and said, " You had best hurry along, ser. The rest of the warriors are seated at the table and the feast is about to begin. You don't want to be late, the roasted boar will get cold. "
He looked at her, and attempted his own smile, but the attempt only gave him a half smile. He bowed his head slightly before her in acknowledgement. "I'm a Traveler, and do not know this place. Would you please guide me?"
She smiled again, and said, "Surely. You are obviously newly arrived Einherjar. Welcome. It can be strange to be fighting a stalwart battle in your erstwhile life, and then suddenly find yourself in Odin's Hall. You will find other doughty warriors herein, and your daily battles will hone your skills for the Final Battle."
Seeing his look of confusion, she continued on in her explanation. "Each day, the warriors fight one-on-one out in the courtyards. As each one perishes on the field of battle, there is, at the end of the day, but one warrior standing, still living. Then, as dusk approaches, all arise, living again, to feast in the evening in this grand hall. The next day, it begins anew, each day's skills building on the last."
He didn't move for a moment. This isn't quite how it should be, should it? How can one die, to live again each, and every day? He turned this odd concept around in his mind. He looked up at her, and blushed when he saw her face soften with pity.
"It will be aright, you will see," she said softly. "You aren't the first, nor the last who come here confused with what you see." She beckoned him to follow her. "I will set you with one who can guide you in knowing the pattern of doing things here. He will help you."
"Does this person have a name that I can call them by?" He asked, as he followed her lead, and keeping out of the way of her folded wings.
"Surely," she said. "His name is Thor." She led him into the hall, and wove her way with him between the tables, to the trestle table at the front of the hall.
The knight couldn't even begin to count the numbers of men and women here, all bearing the signs of warriors, scars and other patterns declaring them all as those who fight, and were good at it. He marveled at the manner of their dress, some wore animal skins, some had armor, and some were in what looked like some uniform type, that bespoke military history. He scanned the area around him to see if there were any others dressed like him. He didn't see any, but that didn't mean that they might not be there in the crowd. There were just so many!
She finally stopped in front of him, and addressed a man at the table.
"Thor, This ser has just now come to Valhalla, and I am presenting him to you, this anointed Knight and Protector of Worlds. He carries with him a stalwart heart, cunning skill with the blade, and is a skilled Leader of Men."
She bowed to the very large man with blonde hair, beard, and great mustaches, who looked over the Knight from head to toe. The knight straightened his spine and met the gaze of the other. The large man called Thor, started to grin, and then leapt up from the table and came down off of the dais, clapping the Knight on the back.
"Welcome, then, ser. Come, sit up here on the high table with me, and feast on the best Boar meat, like a true man! We will talk of important things like battle, and how you can help us draw strength for our daily exercises. The Valkyries never lie, so you must be a doughty warrior indeed, with that introduction."
The god Thor led the Knight up to the table to sit on the trestle bench with him. Within minutes, they were talking and laughing together as if they had known each other all of their lives. Farther up on the same table, a large man with a flowing white beard, and who also wore an eye patch over one eye, looked at the Knight and smiled. He hadn't realized that the time had come for this Knight in particular to come. Very well, he'd test his mettle in the morning.
Ar'Shenda followed the strand that lay on the hallway floor before her. She was able to move more swiftly than what the Knight had been able to do. Wings and urgency gave her speed, and she had to admit that flying was fun. It had been a very long time since she had had the pleasure of flight. She took a moment or two to get accustomed to moving with her wings, but then she had shot ahead in a streak of light.
Had she known it, she was a glorious sight to behold. Her countenance was white light, her wings flashed golden and white, sparkling in the lower lit hallway, with her long golden hair streaming out behind her. She followed the gleaming strand on the floor, and barely noticed the pillars, or the closed and locked doorways, until she came upon the two across from one another.
She landed there, softly upon the floor. She saw the beauty of the door on the left, its rainbow brilliance calling her. She started towards it, and then shook her head. It was not time for her to go there, no matter how sweetly it was calling her. She turned her attention to the door on the right. She smiled as she saw the thread she was following pass under the door. The door was slightly ajar, and she walked over to it, opened the door fully, and stepped onto the threshold of a world she knew well.
Home, but not Home.
Now, to go and rescue a wandering Pirate Knight, she thought.