When the walls stopped moving, light came from behind several bookcases, a different kind of light than the moss on the ceiling emitted. Nehma’s curiosity caused him to slip through a gap in the bookcases into a strange, large, smooth room.
“It’s a perfect rectangle,” he breathed, afraid to let his voice rise. He instinctively knew this was what he wasn’t supposed to find, and he also knew he didn’t want to be prevented from examining every inch of the smooth room.
Jorn followed him in. “This might not be safe.”
Nehma grinned. “Sure it is.” But then he saw the walls moving again. From inside the room it wasn’t stone moving, but smooth panels closing them inside.
Jorn grabbed at Nehma and started to jerk them toward the closing wall, but then he hesitated. Nehma was glad he did. He didn’t want to be chopped in two by a wall. But now they were stuck.
“You said it wasn’t dangerous,” Jorn accused. “If you die.”
“If nothing else the elders will figure out we found it, and open it again,” Nehma reasoned. “But why were they hiding it? There’s nothing here.”
“Except those markings.” Jorn pointed to a panel on the wall that had moved. Or maybe that part hadn’t moved. On this side he could see lines where the wall had parted.
“Maybe if I touch one of these markings, it’ll open the door. Actually, look, they’re numbers. And letters. G, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.” Nehma touched the five, applying pressure like he had before. “Nothing.”
Jorn groaned. “Not nothing. The room is descending.”
Now that Jorn mentioned it, he could feel the slight movement. And then they stopped and the wall parted again.
Jorn pushed Nehma out and followed right after him. Then Jorn glanced around frantically. “Where are we?”
Well, they were not in the library. “We must be below ground.” Nehma glanced down the long hallway. “Come on.”
He glanced back. Jorn almost trembled as he clutched the wall. Nehma walked back to face him. “Hey, Jorn,” he said softly. “You’re never afraid. What’s wrong?”
“This is unnatural.”
“Of course it is. It’s exactly what we’ve been looking for. I bet the geneticists created us here and not on the Full homeland. This is where the real information and tools are.”
“But Nehma, you need water. If we’re trapped down here, you’ll die. You can’t die on me.”
“I don’t think we’re trapped. I’m pretty sure we can get out.”
“How? That door is closed.”
Nehma walked to the wall and touched the green light beside it. The wall slid open. He walked them back into the room. “Look. I bet that every number or letter is a level. I touched the bottom one, so we went down that many levels. If I touch the top one . . . .” He touched the button. “We should end up back in the library.”
The room ascended, and as predicted the wall opened again. Jorn rushed them out between the bookcases, and then they watched as the walls closed. Nehma grabbed Jorn’s arm to get his complete attention. “We come back tomorrow and explore during our full time here. Feforn rarely checks on us anymore. But it’s almost dinner time.”
“Shouldn’t we tell them we found it?”
“Not today. We barely had a chance to look. Besides, maybe we can find something to help Rayli.”
“If the doctors know it’s here and they haven’t figured it out . . . .”
Nehma gave Jorn’s arm a light punch. “Don’t discourage me yet. Let me figure out for myself it’s useless.”
“Well, for sure we can’t tell Dr. Ryans and Zander. I know the elders don’t want that.”
“No. I’d never do that. We can’t tell anyone but Thenorn and Belna, and not even them until I’ve had a chance to see what’s there.”
Jorn finally chuckled. “Don’t ever scare me like that again.”
“Scare you? Really Jorn, what was bothering you down there?”
Jorn shrugged. “Not sure. I just felt trapped. No exits, no way to the surface. It just wasn’t natural.”
Nehma gave his arm a squeeze, and then they headed home for an early dinner.
The next day they ate their lunch quickly and rushed back to the library. Rather Nehma rushed, and Jorn reluctantly followed to make sure he wasn’t hurt. He brought his crossbow. “Jorn, you won’t need that.”
“You don’t know that.”
Nehma rolled his eyes. “Feforn will get suspicious.”
Jorn shrugged but wouldn’t leave it behind.
“Well, then at least keep it down and hopefully he won’t notice it.”
At the library they greeted Feforn casually and then slipped into the restricted section. Nehma quickly pressed the button. The wall moved, and they slipped into the moving room. When the doors closed, Nehma pressed the one this time. “I figure we should probably start at the top and work our way down.”
“Whatever. Just keep track of where we are.”
The door opened on another hallway. This one went both ways from the elevator. “I wonder if this runs the whole length of the west side of the island.”
“Do you think this is why the waters are warmer in the west than on the east side? Do you think they purposely made a way to heat those waters?”
“I thought it was the fires and the population.”
“Yeah, that’s what they tell us, but look at this. If they could build this, why not make the waters good year round for us? We’d have never survived in those few cold eastern caves. And all the western caves have smoke ventilation crevices. Haven’t seen any of that in the east. I bet this whole thing was designed for us.”
Jorn shrugged. “All that speculation, and we’ve just stepped out of the moving room.”
Nehma grinned. “I couldn’t sleep last night for thinking about these things. Let’s try that doorway.”
“What if all the rooms move?”
“Not likely. That’d be a waste of space.”
But that doorway didn’t open. Instead a small voice said, “Access denied.” The next doorway told them the same thing. “Well, how do I get access?” Nehma asked the doorway.
“You must go to the Archive Facilities Room and register.”
Jorn glanced around the hallway, his crossbow ready.
Nehma thought talking doors and now talking walls were strange, but at least he was getting some answers. “How do I get to the Archive Facilities Room?”
A panel on the wall across from them lit up. “Level Five, Room 5182.” A layout of level five showed that the structure was far bigger than they’d thought. Nehma read the tiny writing on the map. “Compacting and recycling,” “Building maintenance,” “Power regulation and modulation,” “Housekeeping,” “Mechanical Unit maintenance.”
Jorn pointed to the section the wall had highlighted with a white path leading from the moving room, labeled “elevator.” Nehma had seen it immediately, but was curious about what else was there.
“Where’s the geneticists’ labs?” Nehma asked.
“Level Two.” The map changed and now the rooms held names like “Dr. Elwin Suenorn’s Lab,” “Dr. Rajvi Venma’s Lab,” “Dr. Sarah Robbins,” “Dr. Sevilen Prin.” Each area contained multiple rooms.
Nehma grinned. “Elwin Suenorn? He named the Elsue after himself. And look how we got the naming conventions. This is so incredible. Do we have access to the labs?”
“You must be registered,” the wall insisted.
“Okay, then level five it is. Hey, Wall, will you talk to us down there, too?”
“I am referred to as the Archive, and there are panels every 50 feet along the corridors and in each room.”
“Great. We can’t get lost then, right? You’ll always show us back to this elevator so we can get out.”
“That is correct.”
“I wonder what those other two doctors worked on? Archive, do you know?”
“Which doctors are you referring to?”
“Dr. Robbins and Dr. Prin.”
“Dr. Robbins studied aquatic life.”
“Like Dr. Venma.”
“Similar. Dr. Prin studied human longevity.”
Jorn and Nehma exchanged a glance. “He didn’t lengthen human life, did he?”
Nehma stifled a laugh. So the wall didn’t know everything. Nehma nudged Jorn back to the elevator, and they went down to the fifth floor. The Archive Facilities Unit was easy to find, but they were only allowed access to a small room. The right wall appeared to have another closed door, and the back wall was filled with viewing panels and protruding areas that Nehma could make no sense of. The other two walls were lined with what appeared to be seating units.
“Place your hand on the pad, and your eye against the eye cup.” The Archive voice instructed.
Nehma glanced at Jorn, and then took a step toward the unit on the far side of the room. Jorn pulled him back. “It could be a trap. It could hurt you.”
“No harm will come to you by following my instructions,” Archive said. “This is merely to register your retina, palm patterns, and DNA.”
But Jorn continued to hold Nehma back.
Nehma rolled his eyes. “Then you do it first.”
Jorn hesitated until Nehma again urged him on before he clenched his jaw and stepped up to the unit and did as instructed.
“State your full name.”
Jorn stepped back from the wall. “Jorn.”
Jorn shook his head.
“I think he means like Zander Terrani and Owen Ryans. They have two names. Archive, the Elsue and the Merree only have one name.” But then he thought of something. “But we have a cluster name.”
“What is your cluster name?”
“The Flying Elk Cluster,” Jorn stated a bit proudly.
“Jorn of the Flying Elk Cluster, you are recognized.
Nehma rushed forward and placed his palm and eye where required. “I’m Nehma of the Flying Elk Cluster.”
“Nehma of the Flying Elk Cluster is now recognized also.”
Nehma stepped back grinning. “So now we can look at the labs?”
“You now have complete access. Which restrictions do you wish to place on visitors?”
Nehma looked at Jorn, puzzled. Something was strange here. “Whatever restrictions the elders had.”
“Who are the elders?” Archive asked. “They are not registered.”
Nehma’s stomach twisted. “They aren’t? Don’t they come down here? Other Elsue and Merree like us?”
“Sometimes a group of Elsue and Merree will walk the halls, but they have never made an inquiry. The last registered users were Dr. Suenorn, Dr. Venma, and Dr. Prin along with several of their assistants.”
“What about that other doctor, Dr. Robbins,” Jorn asked.
“Her Archive access was revoked per Dr. Prin’s orders. Although the overriding orders are that all restrictions are rescinded 50 years after the last alpha access user has ceased to use the facility. You now have alpha access, and you may set restrictions on which access level others are allowed.”
“Wait a minute,” Jorn said, glaring at the almost blank wall. “You mean the elders never talked to you? We’re the first ones to figure this out?”
“The others would talk among themselves, but a direct question to the archive was never discerned. They always appeared to be asking and answering each other.”
There were a few seating structures in the room. Nehma sat in one. Jorn pulled one around and rested his arms against the raised side, letting his wings hang free. Nehma guessed he should turn his seat around to use the arm rest also, but it was too much trouble. He wondered why the seating was arranged with all the armrests against the wall. But he had other things to think about. “So we’re the top users?”
“And we say who can and cannot use this facility?”
“Us? and not the Elders? Really?”
The look Jorn gave him seemed as incredulous as Nehma felt. All this was theirs to control. But Jorn shook his head. “We can’t. We have to tell the elders.”
Nehma nodded. “Yeah. But hey, Archive, what are the access levels? When we have all the elders get access, can they restrict us like Dr. Prin restricted Dr. Robbins?”
“Dr. Prin was alpha level. All others were delta level. They had access to various sections but not every section.”
“We have to let the elders have full access. If they were alpha, too, they could order us out.”
“It is true that a majority of the alpha users could withdraw another’s privilege. You may wish to grant them beta or gamma status.”
Nehma shook his head at Jorn’s look. “No. They’d not like us to have a higher access than them. If we could only give them a lower level without them knowing it’s a lower level.”
“If by elders you are referring to are the ones who periodically walk these halls, then it is apparent they know nothing of access levels. You could choose the level now, and when they are recognized, they will be assigned that level without anything said of the matter.”
Jorn and Nehma stared at each other. Did they dare? Jorn glanced at the wall unit. “Beta is the next level down?”
“They’d basically be able to do anything we can, except restrict us?”
“If that is your desire.”
Jorn gave a slight smile. “It won’t really hurt anything, will it?”
“I don’t see how it can,” Nehma acknowledged.
Nehma and Jorn both stood. “We’ll do what you said, Archive. Give them a lower access level, but let them get to anything we can. We’ll bring them back within the next couple days.”
Jorn studied Nehma. “You’re a bit dry. We’ve probably been down here a while. Wish there was some way to know what time it is.”
Nehma grinned. “Archive, do you know if it is close to dinner time?”
“Which time standard do you wish?”
“There’s more than one?”
“We just need to know if it is dinner time yet?” Jorn said, rolling his eyes. “Where is the sun?”
“Dinner time is subjective. From the surface of the planet at this spot, the sun would now appear at 47 degrees in the west-southwestern sky.”
Jorn laughed. “Okay. That doesn’t tell us anything. What do we have to learn to understand what you’re saying? Can you recommend some books for us to study about degrees?”
“You wish a printed explanation?”
Suddenly a ruffling noise sounded, and then something slid from a slot in the far wall to the bin in front of it.
Nehma jumped up. “A book! Oh, this is great. Can you get us books on more stuff than what’s in the library?”
“The archive contains many texts, elementary and advance.”
“What do we need to learn to understand genetics?”
Several pages came from the slot. “This is the course of study recommended by Centauri University. Have you learned your basic sciences and math?”
Jorn winced. “Probably not. I think we probably need very beginning stuff at first. A lot of those books up in the library didn’t make much sense.”
“Maybe we should start with mathematics,” Nehma suggested. “Dr. Owens was trying to teach us some. Do you have a text on that?”
“Where do you wish to begin?”
Jorn took a deep breath. How did they know what they needed to learn? “We know numbers, adding, subtracting, mixing, parts. Ah . . . Dr. Owens said we needed work on multiplying and dividing and fractions. I think.”
Archive quietly compiled and spit out another book.
Nehma grabbed the book. “Thanks. Guess we should get up before we’re missed.”
As they walked back to the elevator, Nehma glanced back. “It’s weird just leaving him down here.”
“The Archive cannot be removed,” the wall said.
“Oh. Well . . . we’ll see you soon.”
As the elevator ascended Nehma asked, “Do you think he gets lonely down there?”
Jorn shrugged. “He’s a wall.”
“Yeah. That’s weird.”
“You just noticed that?” Jorn said, shooting him a slight grin.
Nehma laughed as the doors opened. They slipped into the library. Fortunately it didn’t appear that they’d been missed. As they started to walk out, Nehma stopped and held up the new books. “He’s not going to let us take these out,” he whispered.
Jorn thought a minute and then grabbed the books and pages and stuffed them under his tunic.
Feforn barely raised his head from his table and the book he was transcribing.
They didn’t breathe easy until they were home. And it was almost dinner. They hadn’t been gone too long. Jorn hid the books high on a nook in their work room before they grabbed a few chunks of dried fish and some greens. Then they headed back to work.
Go to Chapter 21
© 2013, 2006 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.