Chapter Eighteen – Shu
Misakk brought the Bentu gently down to rest in front of the community lodge. Nefer took Apis to have his hand fully repaired. Iset hugged Seti to her bosom, tenderly kissed him. Then grabbing him by his ear, she took him back to the home she had made for them both much to the amusement of everyone.
Orz and Mdjat returned to the village to be replaced by Kapinski and Besal. Khan and Akhen deliberated all night over what they had done by releasing the pyramid. It would not let them remove Hoetep. So reluctantly, they left him there while the rest returned home. Nefer volunteered to take over as medic and researcher. From what Misakk said about the pyramid, and its apparent protection of Hoetep, her services were needed back there more than in the community. The expedition was down to five people—six if Hoetep was included. The next morning the reduced team climbed aboard the Bentu for the return journey.
As they entered the area of the camp, all was quiet. Even the insects were silent. Everything was exactly as they had left it days before except for one thing. Hoetep and the pyramid had gone. The team searched the ruins from end to end for the rest of the day, reluctantly returning to camp with the encroaching darkness. Besal and Kapinski organized a perimeter alarm around the encampment. The whole team was spooked by what was going on. In the light of the camp-fire, they ate their meals in silence. The only sound came from the exploding sap as the fire consumed its meal of green wood. Nefer looked at the opened reference books spread across the crawler’s deck in the moonlight. There had to be a clue on those pages. Covering them where they lay she turned in for the night. The others soon followed her example. The next morning, long before everyone awoke, Nefer was hard at work studying Hoetep’s books. Not only the information contained on the open pages, but also the way in which the books were arranged on the crawler deck, intrigued her. While Nefer pondered over the books, Khan and Besal went hunting for food in the surrounding jungle. It was considered that another night of emergency rations and there would be trouble in the ranks.
Kapinski and Misakk stood guard by the escarpment smoking one of Llokk’s cigars, enjoying the early morning sunlight.
“What are you doing here?”
Kapinski dropped, rolled, and aimed his already cocked quad – barrelled plasma grenade launcher, courtesy of Tosar’s inventive genius, at the voice. Llokk dropped flat in the dew-covered grass with his fusion pistol at the ready. The voice sounded familiar but there was something different about it.
“Come out where we can see you!” Kapinski shouted.
“Go easy—it’s only me,” said the voice, as a figure emerged from the undergrowth.
“Hoetep, what the hell happened to you?” Kapinski asked, punching his shoulder.
“You had us all worried you big idiot,” Llokk smiled, wiping the dew from his clothes.
When everyone gathered together, Hoetep recounted his experience while the rest of the expedition was away. “When I woke up I couldn’t move! I wasn’t hurt or anything. The pyramid had me trapped, or so I thought. You had all gone, and the place was deserted. It lifted me up and took me back to the ruins and into the enclosure where we found it. It did something – I’m not sure exactly what, but anyway a trapdoor of some kind opened and we descended below the enclosure floor. It took me into a big room and lowered me onto a kind of bench in the room’s centre, directly in front of a raised dais. Then it released me and positioned itself over the dais, spinning slowly just like it had before. Then things really started to happen! The pyramid rose up to the ceiling and started spinning fast until it was a blur. That same green light that protects it descended to the dais and—and there she was…” Hoetep smiled, as he sighed and drifted off into a daydream.
“Who?” Nefer said, “Hoetep, who was she—is she?”
Coming back to reality for a moment, Hoetep whispered, “Her name is Shu.” His face took on a serenity, which somehow cast a spell over the rest of the team.
They all followed Hoetep down the escarpment and into the ruins. As they approached the enclosure, a stone slab in its floor quietly opened, letting Hoetep descend stone steps, followed by the others. When they reached the bottom, the slab closed behind them. Ahead, through a short passage, they could see the room he had described, illuminated by the flickering flames of torches hung around glyph covered walls. Motioning them to follow he sat on the bench. Khan and Nefer joined him while Kapinski and Llokk stood guard, weapons at the ready. Misakk studied the glyphs, while Besal marvelled at the quality of a magnificent triple curve bow and quiver full of arrows, hung above the entrance to the room.
The pyramid appeared and began spinning rapidly in a green blur, spreading its protective shield over the dais. From the shield’s interior stepped the most beautiful woman any of them had ever seen. No wonder Hoetep was under her spell. Shu greeted them and then proceeded to tell them about the civilization which had occupied Kallorn eons ago, before her people spread across the vastness of space waging war on her descendants and other sentient species. She explained how Hoetep had unwittingly discovered the pyramid’s secret. She revealed that the pyramid was ‘the key’ to unlock all her people’s knowledge, stored in vast hidden libraries somewhere on the planet since a great catastrophic event had changed the planet forever, ending their existence on Kallorn.
Hours later, back at the camp, they analysed the completely wonderful event they had all shared. Each one of them, no matter where they came from, no matter what racial origin, had heard Shu speak in their own native tongue. To each member of the team she appeared dressed in his or her native costume. “Shu is an avatar,” Nefer said.
“An avo-what,” Kapinski interrupted questioningly, spitting a wad of tobacco into the fire.
“An avatar, a descendant of a deity, an incarnation. A manifestation if you like. In this instance, a projection of the real Shu who lived eons ago in that library she spoke of,” Nefer concluded, sadly closing the reference books. “Sorry Hoetep, we only saw a projected image of her. In any case, considering how long ago she lived, it’s inconceivable she would still be alive,” Nefer said as gently as she could. Hoetep’s head bowed and his shoulders slumped. The mood of the whole group changed with Nefer’s explanation. Every one of them, Nefer included, had fallen completely in love with their individual vision of Shu. Hoetep gently picked up the small pyramid and held it close to his chest, while a tear slowly ran down his cheek. Shu had released it into their care to help them find the library and Hoetep had appointed himself guardian of Shu and the key.
Next time – Chapter Nineteen