The three of them walked for what seemed like miles circling around the structure trying to find a way down to it. “We might have to climb down,” Cat said, still looking forward trying to search out a way. Then she spotted a set of steps, built against the steep slope that surrounded the giant artifact. “Actually, I think we just found our ticket down there!”
When the three of them reached the steps, their hopes dropped when they found that their ‘ticket’ down was a little older and more rickety than they thought it was. “Strange,” Elanor said. “Everything else about this artifact suggests someone has been taking care of it — not letting it get overgrown, keeping it clean, all that sort of thing. Yet these steps seem to have been left to decay.”
“Yeah,” Brenda agreed. “Although they can’t have been left since the thing was built. Twenty thousand years, a set of wooden steps would have been long gone.” She looked again at the stairs. “I brought some line with me,” she said, “I could rig us a safety line, in case –” Her voice failed midsentence.
A moment of completely stunned silence passed, then Brenda pointed to the plants around the set of steps. “They … they’re moving,” she said.
And indeed they were. The majority of the growth on the slope, including around the steps, was some kind of long, thorny vine, like blackberry. As they looked at it, the vines were beginning to move, weaving themselves under the old wooden steps, steadying and reinforcing the staircase.
Behind them, the tops of the giant trees were beginning to rustle and gently sway. Yet there was no wind. “If I didn’t know any better I would think these plants and trees intelligent,” Cat said as she kicked a vine coming dangerously close to wrapping around her ankle away with the heel of her boot. She walked towards the first step and cautiously put her weight on it. It held and she demonstrated its strength to Brenda and Elanor by jumping up and down on it. “I think we’re safe!” she said.
Brenda and Elanor followed Cat down the steps, which remained solid. Ahead of them, the crystals that covered the tips of the huge arched pillars began glowing. A faint humming came from the structure, barely audible at first, then growing slowly and steadily louder.
Cat reached the structure first, walking over to one of the pillars. “I wonder where that humming sound is coming from.” She inspected the pillar before putting her hand on it. Her hand had been on the pillar no more than a few seconds before a loud CRACK rang out through the area and she found herself on the ground. Cat looked at Elanor and Brenda with the look of shock burned into her face. “N..NOT a good idea!” she stammered.
The two women hurried over to Cat, Brenda reaching her first and offering her a hand up. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah I think I’ll be fine, just a little sore.” She held her head with one hand as Brenda helped her up.
Elanor looked at her porta-comp. “There’s energy building up inside this structure,” she said. “Almost like a huge electrical charge — Cat, you probably got a discharge of it, like being struck by lightning.”
“That’s what it looked like,” Brenda agreed. “Sure you’re all right?”
“Wow my head hurts. I’ll be fine, just a little dizzy and warm.” She was bent over with her hands on her knees, palms facing outwards and head facing the ground, looking at the burns etched into her hands.
“My God, look!” Elanor cried suddenly, pointing toward the center of the structure.
What had appeared to be dust and dirt lying on the surface of the platform was suddenly rising and swirling through the air, forming a column in the middle. It swirled faster and faster, as beams of light sprang from the crystals in the tips of the pillars around the structure, pouring energy into it as the humming continued to get louder, rising to a deafening shriek. A form began to coalesce out of the column of debris.
And then, all was silent. The last few bits of dust floated away, and a figure stood at the center of the platform.
The three of them stood in awe of the new figure in their midst until Cat got the strength to stand fully erect and gently pulled Brenda and Elanor out of the figure’s view. “I don’t like this,” she whispered to them.
“Me neither,” Brenda murmured, “but what should we do?”
The alien called out something, but the language was completely unintelligible.
Elanor peeked around the side of the pillar they were hiding behind. “It’s showing empty hands,” she said softly. Then, struck by a thought, she furiously worked the controls of her porta-comp, and then showed Cat and Brenda the screen. “I stored a copy of the book you found back on Rolui, Cat,” she said. “This is one of the pages. The translation suggested it was a sketch of one of the author’s relatives.”
The alien called out again. The words sounded about the same as before. Brenda risked a peek around the side of the pillar, then back at the porta-comp screen. “Same species, betcha anything,” she said.
“It seems to be calling to us.” Cat peeked around the corner to look and her eyes met those of the creature that stood in the middle of the structure.
The being was humanoid, about six feet tall, with long, powerful-looking legs and shorter arms with long hands and fingers. She — Cat instinctively felt it was a female — had a large head with an almost feline muzzle and exceptionally large eyes. Thick, dark hair grew on her head and in a strip down her back. She looked at Cat, then walked toward the edge of the structure, reaching out with her hands toward a cluster of vines that were starting to grow and blossom at a fantastic pace.
Cat looked at Elanor and Brenda. “I think she’s trying to catch us.” She had a look of terror on her face which Elanor and Brenda could not help but mimic. Cat looked around and tried to find a way out. The only entrance to the structure was too far away from them. They tried to run away from the quickly growing vines. One wrapped around Cat’s leg and she tried to shoot it off with her pistol but when she shot it off, two grew in its place. The vines were quickly wrapping around all of them. They couldn’t get away.