Chapter Twenty-Four – The Brotherhood is Born
In the awful silence after the crash, my cousin Tuluk, who had hidden in the crawler’s engine compartment, heard faint moaning come from the wreckage, as he scurried off into the darkness. The crawler lay on its side. Its lights flickered as they stared into the darkness of its tomb. Inside the cab, the bodies of the men lay piled on top of each other in a tangled heap. Slowly and painfully, they began to stir. Seti was trapped under the weight of both Besal and Apis. His left arm was broken above and below the elbow. With his right arm, he managed to feel around in the semi-darkness of the cab until his fingers found the handle to the door, which was now above him. Turning the handle Seti used all the strength he had left to push the door up. It smashed back against the side of the cab. The effort of opening the door sent a vicious spasm of pain through Seti’s left arm. He screamed in agony then passed out. When he came to a short while later, Besal was putting the final touches to a tightly bound splint on his arm.
Apis was badly bruised but otherwise unharmed. Besal had a broken nose and a badly sprained right ankle. Nusaan was slowly bleeding to death from internal injuries. Akhen’s six broken ribs made even shallow breathing, agonizingly painful. They were a sorry bunch of invalids, trapped deep beneath the permafrost. None of them with the strength to try and find a way out, if indeed there was one.
Apis searched through the wreckage and found some phosphor lights. Striking one against the crawler tracks, he investigated the area. The crawler had bounced off a large stalagmite, toppling it from its place on the cave floor to where it now lay across the cave’s only exit. Peering past it into the small crawlspace beyond, he tried to see where it led. Two hundred meters above his head he could just make out the hole through which they had fallen. Walking round the cave Apis saw crude painted animals looking back at him from the rough walls. “If we want to get out of here we’ll have to move the stalagmite. It’s blocking the only exit,” he said to the others.
Besal hobbled over to look for himself. “See if the recovery cable winch on the crawler still works Apis, we might be able to move it with that,” he suggested.
“What are we going to do about Nusaan? He’s really in a bad way.” Akhen asked.
“We’re not leaving him, he’s coming with us,” Seti declared. “At the moment we’re all we’ve got. We stick together, no matter what!”
Apis climbed back onto the crawler to stand with his head out of the cab door. He reached down and tried to start the crawler’s engine. Clouds of smoke signalled its final death throw. Shaking his head, he pressed the control to operate the cable winch. “The winch works, but it’s only on battery backup. Better pull the cable over to the stalagmite and I’ll try moving it, Besal.”
Putting the winch into neutral, he watched as Besal limped across with the cable hook slung over his shoulder to the large roughly cylindrical rock lying across the crawl space. Between them, Besal and Seti eventually managed to pass the cable around the stalagmite and hook it back onto itself. Seti gave Apis the thumbs up signal and the pair retreated behind the crawler with the rest of the men. Apis climbed out onto the cab’s side once again, and reached back inside to the winch control. Putting the gear lever into reverse, he pushed the power button and leapt off the side of the cab. The winch drum slowly turned as it began reeling in the cable. The crawler slid forward on its side as the cable tightened, then stopped when it jammed itself against the broken base of the stalagmite on the cave floor. The cable began to sing under the strain. “Hit the deck!” Apis shouted, flattening himself. The strands of the cable began parting in rapid succession, producing a terrifying musical scale that echoed around the cave. The last few strands gave up their tenuous hold and the cable flew across the cave like a whip.
Apis, Seti, Akhen, and Besal made their way over to see if the idea had worked. In the glow of a phosphor light, they saw a narrow gap had opened up between the stalagmite and the crawlspace entrance, large enough for one man to squeeze through in its tight confines. The decision on who would go through was delayed while they ate a makeshift meal from the unspoiled meagre rations they had left. Besal drew the short straw, mainly because he was the least injured apart from Apis, who if the space narrowed, might just get stuck. With a rope tied around his good ankle and several phosphor lights jammed inside his clothing, he started crawling into the darkness of the small opening. Inching his way along the narrow tunnel, he stopped from time to time to rest his sprained ankle. In here, his warm breath produced clouds of vapour, which hung around his head like fog. For what seemed like hours, he painfully crawled on his hands and knees over the smooth hard floor of the tunnel. Gradually he was able to crouch as the tunnel opened up, until eventually he could stand properly. The rope in Seti’s hands jerked twice. “He’s through!” he exclaimed. Tying the rope around Nusaan’s shoulders, Apis gave the rope a single tug and watched as the nearly unconscious man was slowly pulled into the tunnel. The rest of the team followed behind.
Over the next day or so, the salvageable items from the crash were dragged through. The tunnel had opened out into a wide avenue of stalagmites like trees in a forest. At their centre ran a shallow slow moving stream. With Apis and Besal carrying Nusaan on a makeshift stretcher made from a cab panel the team waded along the stream’s path for days, with Tuluk following in the shadows. Eventually the stream disappeared over a ledge into the darkness below. They were all exhausted from their efforts and weakened by the inadequate food supply they carried. If they did not find a way out of the tunnel back to the surface, they would all starve to death. Apis and Seti sat back to back nibbling on one of the few remaining food bars. Akhen watched Nusaan’s chest rise and fall, as the young man fought the unseen enemy deep inside his body draining his life away. Besal wandered about searching for a way out. He found more of the rock paintings. This time instead of animals, these depicted stick figure men armed with weapons fighting each other in a battle long forgotten. Slowly making his way along the painted story, he came upon a curious shape carved into the rock, surrounded by the stick figure representations of men who were lying prone in front of it as if paying homage. Besal was sure that it was a floating pyramid. Absent-mindedly he brushed his hand across the painting as if to subconsciously become part of the depicted scene. As his hand encountered the carved shape, a large section of the wall silently slid away revealing a corridor made from stone slabs. The wall slid silently back into position behind him after he entered the corridor. Using a phosphor light he followed the corridor’s path until it came to an intersection. The path to the left ended twenty meters further on in a wall of stone. The path to the right opened out into another library.
Apis and Besal gently lay Nusaan on a table in the library while Seti lit torches on the walls. Akhen looked at the shelves of scrolls lining the library. At one end of the room was a door with an inscription in Shu’s tongue carved into its surface. The door had no visible opening mechanism that he could see. “Nusaan’s breathing is getting worse – he’s dying,” Seti reported. “Soon we’ll all join him unless we can get out of here.” Completely overcome, the weary men sank into a merciful slumber unaware that they were not alone.
When Akhen woke Nusaan was sitting up, almost back to his old self once more. Besal’s ankle was healed and Apis’ bruises were gone. Akhen turned around and looked at the door that had been closed before he fell asleep. From where he sat, he could see Seti bathed in a green glow in the chamber beyond the door. Shu was repairing his broken arm. She turned and beckoned Akhen to enter. As the healing power of the green protective shield repaired his broken ribs, Akhen felt revitalized by the process. His hunger and all the pain disappeared by the time the protective shield retreated into the pyramid. They had many questions for Shu but she silenced the barrage with a gentle wave of her hand. “You have to stop Hoetep,” she said. “He is heading towards your settlement. I fear he will either kill everyone there or turn them into slaves, or worse, into berserkers like himself!”
“How can we? We’re trapped in here with no way out,” Besal said.
“There is one path from here but it has many dangers. I will guide you to its end. First, you need to arm yourselves with the knowledge necessary to defeat Hoetep. You need to become as powerful as he is,” she said grimly.
“We can’t,” Nusaan said. “We’ll end up like him, just as evil if we go through the Pimaar!”
“There is another like the Pimaar which does not have the same affect,” Shu replied. Looking at Seti she quietly continued. “You must translate the scrolls necessary to gain this knowledge, sweet Seti. Then all of you must follow the scrolls’ instructions to the letter, leaving out none of the steps in the Krattu – the ceremony of rebirth.” With Shu’s help, Seti began work translating only the scrolls necessary to complete the Krattu. It was more than a rebirth. It was a complete reconstruction of their genetic makeup. During the five days it took to complete the process, each of them in turn were torn apart, molecule by molecule, and reassembled within the comforting cocoon of Shu’s protective shield, like a newly formed embryo in its mother’s womb. Compared to the simple cerebral changes made to Akhen’s human ancestor Tom, over eight hundred years earlier in the hidden valley on Earth, when his DNA had been altered forever to create a new species of Human-Nephile, the Krattu achieved much, much more.
As they stood ready for the challenges ahead, the warriors prepared to leave the confines of the library. My brother Tuluk watched from a safe distance. He could not believe the transformation that had occurred!
Equipped with ancient weapons provided by Shu, they followed her as she navigated the dangerous path through the myriad of underground tunnels and passageways, over chasms bridged by fallen stone pillars and past rivers of lava, toward the surface of the tundra. The light in the tunnel gradually improved as the warriors approached the end of their underground journey. They emerged into an ice cave beneath the retreating ice sheet. Akhen looked about the cave. High above their heads he saw the sky through the narrow crack of a crevasse. Following Shu they climbed up the side of the crevasse until eventually, they stood on the slippery surface of a glacier. In the distance, the dun coloured tundra spread before them reaching toward the mountains to the south and home. They contemplated the horrors that awaited them when they returned to New Cydon.
Tuluk’s latest report deeply troubled our High Council. Pashtek, on the other hand, saw a way to make use of the knowledge in the future.
Next time – Chapter Twenty-Five