V&A Shipping 2: Hollow – Chapter 15
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The beings made up a massive dead zone. June couldn’t be sure if they had too simplistic a brain or too complicated. Perhaps they just had the ability to not allow another’s thoughts to penetrate their own. She just kept trying to reach out and could only feel her friends. Only Dexter didn’t have any thoughts. Argmon was angrier than scared. Joey had passed out, but had come to and seemed to be a little better with the situation.
She just needed to try to keep her head about herself. Watch her surroundings. Turn on her guard mode and remember where they’d been taken. How far they’d walked away from the ship. How many creatures they’d seen that were either guards, the ones with spears, or citizens, the ones without spears. None of them had clothing or even identifying marks on their bodies. Not a word had been spoken.
Because of the size of the rooms, some seemed to span several city blocks, June felt exhausted. The others just kept plodding along. Even though she had worked out often enough, it hadn’t been enough to give her the endurance for this long walk. Even though they remained silent, the guards appeared to at least understand their prisoners didn’t have the speed to go much faster.
Each guard had the same yellowish skin and undulating underside that provided their locomotion, but June couldn’t help but feel there was something different about each. Perhaps it was the eyes or slightly different shading of the skin. She couldn’t be sure, but each certainly felt different. She just wanted to know where they were being taken. For all this walking to stop. Everything appearing oversized, from the rooms, to the statues, to their captors, to the simple floor tiles, made her feel tiny and almost insignificant.
She couldn’t help but think about Vic. Without knowing exactly what was wrong with him, she couldn’t be sure how long he would spend in the medical pod. Judging on how he was reacting, it almost seemed like he was having a heart attack and just denying it. Hopefully, nothing serious had gone wrong and he had been finally patched up and would now be able to look for them. By now he would have figured out they were no longer on the ship and didn’t have any means of communication. If he were smart, he’d just surrender and he’d be taken to where ever they all were being taken. Either way, he’d show up mad as ever.
The crew finally emerged into a massive chamber. She had thought the rooms before were large, this one dwarfed them all. The ceiling was so high she thought she might see cloud formations, but instead only slits allowed light from the planet’s center star to shine. This gave her a moment of vertigo to realize they were standing on the inside of the planet and looking toward the center. Not seeing the sky had prevented her from thinking about that. This room forced her to remember and she reached out for Joey’s hand. He also stared up through the slits at the sky.
“It’s so big. If we fell would we pass all the way to the other side of the planet?”
Joey’s fear was beyond hers. He could barely walk, yet continued to put one foot in front of the other, making his way along. Dexter and Argmon exchanged a few words, but they both appeared more upset about being here than frightened. She wanted to ask how common a planet like this might be but knew no one would have an answer for that.
The two rear guards stopped just inside the door and slammed the butts of their spears on the tile floor. The deep clang was followed by a tone that she felt, not heard. It was almost as if all the bones in her vibrated. The tone from behind them was followed by a similar tone from in front of them. The two guards in front continued to lead them along until they arrived at what June could only describe as a throne.
The white pillars that had lined the room were as large as redwoods and nearly as tall. White stairs rose to a platform with smaller pillars holding up a lattice pergola. She thought they should be seeing someone up there, but she couldn’t make anything out.
Putting their spears on the ground and turning to the side, the final two guards turned to the side. One pointed with an appendage up the stairs.
“This isn’t going to be easy,” Joey said as he looked up the mountain of stairs.
“Eep. Eep. Eep.” Dexter started hopping up the stairs with Argmon close behind using his arms to help ascend the stairs. The two were racing to see who could get to the top first. She hated both of them.
“We’re not going to get to the top of these if we don’t start.” Joey squeezed her hand. She hated it when he tried to be supportive. She’d gotten used to being the one to keep him reassured. She was just glad it was his real hand she held.
“Come on. Let’s see what’s up there. Dexter and Argmon aren’t the only ones that can run up there.”
It was June’s turn to take the lead. One step at a time and the mountain started to fall away. She started to count them, but when the burn in her legs became too much, she stopped. The stairs were bigger then normal stairs and based on the physiology of their captors, decorative. Joey felt as if he were having similar thoughts and he pulled her to a stop.
“What if we’re being brought here as a sacrifice?” His face turned white. She couldn’t have him pass out on her now.
“That’s not likely. These aren’t primitive people back on earth performing sacrifices to their sun god.”
“How do you know that? Are you able to detect what they’re thinking? Are they going to let us go? What’s going on?”
This was a fine time for him to start to freak out and she didn’t have any answers for him. She tried to pull him along, but he resisted.
“June, what’s going to happen? After all I’ve been through, we’ve been through, I don’t want to die. I’d like to think we still have a lot of time ahead of us.”
“Look, Dexter and Argmon are almost at the top. They’ve seen a lot of things we haven’t. I’m sure they wouldn’t lead us astray. Let’s just keep going. It’s better than heading back down there with them.”
Joey looked down at the guards standing at the base of the stairs. Even though they were turned to face each other, their eyes roamed and continued to keep an account of their progress. Were they getting upset they hadn’t gone further? June gave Joey’s hand another tug and he started once again.
The burn in her legs didn’t go away. It was like being on the Stairmaster from hell; the steps too big for a regular human to take in normal stride and they just kept going and going.
“I need to catch my breath.” Joey stopped again.
June looked up the stairs. They were better than halfway and Dexter and Argmon had finally reached the top. It took June and Joey far longer to struggle their way to reach the top of the platform and as soon as they did she lay on her back and thought for sure her legs were going to fall off. Joey fell beside her.
“Can I just die now? Did you have to pull me up? Now my legs and my arm hurt.”
“Don’t be such a baby about it. If we get out of this mess, we need to start doing more exercise. What would happen if we had a shipment that was under threat and we needed to do something like this?”
“June, I hate to break this to you, but we do have a shipment under a threat and we just did something like this to try to protect it.”
She punched him, but it was a half-hearted attempt. Even rolling onto her side hurt. He kept his forehead to the floor and grunted as if it hurt.
June knew they had to keep moving. They were here for some reason and they needed to figure out why sooner rather than later. “We need to get up and find Dexter and Argmon. Did you see them when we got to the top?”
Joey lifted his head and rested his chin on the floor. “This thing is huge.”
“I didn’t ask how big it was, I asked if you saw our shipmates.” June struggled to roll over and put her arm around Joey’s waist.
The platform spread out before them. Looking at this level it appeared perfectly flat and could have gone on for miles. She sighed and looked back and forth across its length. It was flat, but where were Dexter and Argmon? The two didn’t appear to be anywhere in sight. She tried to shake off the rubbery feeling in her legs and got up.
“Joey, I don’t see them. Get up. Quit rolling around like a baby. This is serious.”
There was a slight depression in the platform that started about a hundred feet in. Not a depression, but a section that was lower than the rest. The surface wasn’t white like everything else they’d seen inside the building, but it was a pale yellow. Judging by the ripples running across its surface, it appeared to be a massive pool of water. It was larger than any lake she had ever seen.
“Where are they?” Joey asked as he scratched his head.
June had an idea where they might be and she didn’t want to be right. Not this time.
Other than the pillars holding up the pergola, nothing else sat on the platform. It appeared to have been cleaned spotless and not even a speck of dust marred its perfection. She looked down at their reflection on the surface. She shook her head when the distant ‘eep eep eep’ came from the pool.
“I know where they are. Let’s go. Hopefully, we’re not in more trouble than we were a few minutes ago.”
“Where are they?”
The question answered itself when they got to the edge of the pool. Dexter, with his three little arms, and Argmon, with his four arms, splashed in the liquid. The pool didn’t have a smell and the water did look inviting. She wasn’t naked like Argmon and Dexter and wasn’t about to strip down to jump in.
“You two need to get out of there. You don’t know what’s in there.”
A low rumble came from all around.
“Did you feel that?” she asked Joey.
Joey put his hand on her shoulder more for support. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Just don’t do it in the water. We don’t know what’s in there. Speaking of not knowing what’s in there, Argmon, Dexter, get out of the pool.”
Argmon barked like a puppy. She’d never seen him so happy. Dexter made a noise she had never heard him make that sounded almost like laughter. She hated to ruin their fun, but they had to get out of there. They’d been sent up here for a reason and swimming wasn’t it.
“Hey! Come on.”
The two looked like scolded children as they swam to the edge. Two dark shadows appeared beneath them. They hadn’t seen the shadows. They couldn’t have. She didn’t want to make them panic, but she had to say something.
“Hurry up! Get out of there!”
“What’s that?” Joey pointed into the water.