Cat Rosha entered one end of the docking bay, where the Starfuries of Storm Squadron were berthed. Brenda Mawarra looked up from checking over her own fighter and grinned. “Hi, Cat!” she called. “Looks like it’s you and me on escort duty today.”
She gestured toward the other end of the docking bay, where a group of Rangers were loading up one of the Phoenix’s shuttles.
Cat started to check over her fighter, gave Brenda a smile, and replied, “Sounds good to me.” Picking up a hammer to tighten something, she asked, “How long do you think this is gonna go for?”
“Good question! I didn’t even think to ask,” Brenda said. “I suppose if we find something really interesting, they have the gear to camp out. Which would be fun. I haven’t had the chance to sleep under the stars — any stars — in a long time.”
“Last time I slept under the stars was when I was little, before my parents were killed. It would be fun to go again someday,” Cat said.
Cat’s link chirped. “Anla’shok Rosha, the shuttle is loaded and ready to go,” the voice on the other end said. “Are the fighters ready?”
Cat looked over at Brenda and she gave a nod. “We’re ready to launch.”
“Copy that,” said the voice.
Then, Cat and Brenda hopped in their fighters and got ready to go. Settled into her fighter, Cat waited a moment, until the comm chirped again with another Ranger’s voice. “ShuttleWillerth, Storm One, Storm Four,” she said. “You are cleared for launch. Good luck.”
The Earth-type shuttle, followed by the two fighters, left the Phoenix’s docking bay, making a long sweep around Rolui’s moon. As they cleared the moon, the planet came into view, a luminous sphere against the darkness of space. Thick white clouds covered much of its surface, but here and there Cat could see green, brown and blue.
It’s so beautiful, she thought to herself. Cat had not seen a planet like that for almost a year or two now. She was looking at the planet so much she almost went out of formation.
“You okay?” Brenda’s voice said over the comm-system.
“Sorry — was daydreaming,” Cat responded.
“It’s all right. Just remember to stick close,” Brenda replied.
“I will,” Cat said.
They continued on, passing through the thick cloud cover and making their landing in a small valley surrounded by rocky bluffs. The only sign of sentient habitation was a pair of large tents, pitched close to the slope of the nearest hillside.
Once Cat and Brenda climbed out of their fighters, they joined the three Rangers from the shuttle, who were already speaking with the Huka from the tents. The Huka, natives of this planet, looked very catlike — except for the shell that covered their back.
One of the Rangers from the Science team, a human named Elanor Parry, turned to Cat. “We’re going up there -” she pointed out a narrow cave mouth about halfway up the hill — “and check out what looks like remnants of the first sentient race on this planet.” Then she added, “We need one of you to join us on the dig site, and one to stay here and help Syntell get the camp settled.”
Cat turned to Brenda. “Where would you like to be?” she asked.
“I’ll stay and watch the camp. You go on ahead to the site,” Brenda said kindly.
“Thank you,” Cat replied. “I’ll keep in radio contact and tell you what we find.”
“Are we ready to go?” Parry asked.
“Yes,” Cat replied. “Brenda will be on lookout and I will be going with you.”
“Great,” said Parry, shouldering a small satchel. “Let’s do this.”
The party set off up a narrow path, one of the Huka leading the way, the Ranger science team in the middle, and the second Huka with Cat bringing up the rear. Cat was doing her best to keep an eye out for any trouble, as she scaled the bluff.
“This is a very strange place,” the Huka climbing with Cat said. “We discovered it less than half a full-sun cycle ago, when an earthquake opened a passage to the deep caves.”
“Interesting,” Cat replied to the Huka as she was still busily scanning the bluff. “Has anything strange happened since it opened?”
“The only thing we have noticed is that there are strange noises coming from it during the night.”
“Very strange,” said Cat.
The other two Rangers had reached the cave opening, and entered. One, a Minbari named Kanavonn, came back quickly. “A short distance inside the cave, there’s a door,” he said. “It has been warped by the earthquakes, but I think we can open it enough to get to whatever’s on the other side.”
Parry spoke from over Kanavonn’s shoulder. “I’ve been able to do some very basic scans on it, and there are two things I can say. One, it’s nearly two million years old; and two, it’s almost entirely made of lead.”
“I wonder why it’s there,” Cat asked herself.
“We have no idea Ma’am,” replied Parry. “What are we going to do about it?”
“Do a few more scans on it and see if that turns up anything. I’m going to link in to Brenda and tell her what we’ve found.”
The Minbari and the Human ran back inside. Cat then tried to call Brenda. “Brenda? You there?”
“I’m here, Cat. Everything’s quiet out here. What have you got?”
“We’ve found a door out here that the Science team has said is over a million years old. They said it looks unmovable and an earthquake was the trigger that made it visible after a few thousand years, just thought I would fill you in. The science team is still working on a deeper analysis, I’ll give you a holler when I find out more. Over.”
“Got it,” Brenda said. “I’ll give you a shout if anything happens down here. So far it’s all nice and peaceful.”
The Minbari Ranger from the science team was trying to get Cat’s attention. “All right,” she told Brenda. “Over and out.” She turned off her link and looked to Kanavonn. “Yes?”
“We found something I think you should see, Ma’am,” he said.
Kanavonn led Cat back to the doorway, where she saw Elanor, the human Ranger, standing in it. “We were able to get it open a little,” she said. “The three of us should be able to get through, if you would like to have a look.”
The Minbari’s expression was somber. “We have a guess about what this might be, and it is not a happy one,” he said.
“I’d like to have a look inside, but what is your unhappy idea of the contents behind the door?” Cat asked.
“We know,” Kanavonn said, “that the first race that lived on this planet was wiped out two million years ago, during a nuclear war. Given that this area is deep underground, and sealed with a door made of lead, it seems very likely that it was some sort of bunker. A last refuge for a species that killed itself.”
Parry handed Cat a small recorder. “When we go in, try to cover everything you can,” she said. “We don’t know how long whatever’s inside will hold up. After having been sealed away for so many millennia, it could all just disintegrate when it comes in contact with the outside air.”
Kanavonn made a gesture in the air in front of him with both hands. It reminded Cat of how humans make a sign against the evil eye. Then he set his shoulder to the door. “Are you ready to go inside?”
Copyright (c) 2004 Catie Dwinal and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.