The long, slimy chute dumps Renn out onto a shakily stacked pile of junk that topples when he hits it, sending refuse in all directions and him down into the filthy liquid below. That turns out not to be too deep, fortunately. He shoves aside floating detritus and pushes himself up to sitting so that his head breaks the water line. There is not much light here, but it is really not so different from a moonlit swamp, and as he focuses, his vision sharpens. He can hear Dr. Pramine talking and sees that her glowrod is the source of what little light they have. The Gamorrean has fallen down here as well. They both landed on the flattened island of rubbish that his impact produced. Renn struggles the rest of the way to his feet, muttering to himself, “This had better not infect anything,” as he wipes sludge off his scratched-up arms.
The archaeologist seems to have calmed down. With a satisfied smile, she holds aloft some twisted piece of metal. “Museums are full of knick-knacks and gewgaws,” she lectures, “but they should really be focused on pieces like this. Social science is still science, after all. We need to ask the right questions. How did such ancient cultures have such advanced technology? Like this broken fusion cutter,” she holds it out toward Renn, showing it off. “What an excellent piece. You’ve been in this room before, right?”
Renn sloshes over to her. “No,” he admits, “this isna where we were supposed ta go.” He takes a quick glance around the… he hesitates to even call this a room. This box has a bunch of chutes in the ceiling but no apparent doors. “Are ya’ sure that’s a fusion cutter? Does it work? We could maybe try cuttin’ a hole through one of these—”
“You can’t use this!” Dr. Pramine interrupts him, appalled. “It’s a relic of a long-gone culture. We should restore it. This belongs in a museum… with my name alongside it.” She looks around at the other pieces of material near where she found it, picks up a few choice items, and sets about fitting them all back together.
“If’n it’s a matter of gettin’ outta here alive, ya should use it,” he advises her, but for now, he is willing to consider other exit strategies. Looking back up at the ceiling, he judges it to be about two stories high, and he feels like he slid at least that far. Renci would not be able to hear him shout from here. He half-heartedly tries his wrist-comm and is not surprised at all to find that it cannot get a signal. Wearily, he shakes his head and unclips his backpack, leaving it in the driest spot nearby. Then he begins carefully navigating the highest hill of rubbish he can find, in the hopes that one of the chutes will be climbable.
“Oh, here, Gomarr, take this, too.”
Renn glances down to see Dr. Pramine loading the Gamorrean with all sorts of what she is calling historically valuable artifacts. “So,” he calls down to her, “what brings ya here, anyway?” Renci will want this information. “Surely, it canna be ta sift through rubbish.”
“This is not simple trash. The fusion cutter helps build the whole story of the people who built this temple. It is all valuable context that will go in the exhibit on Eriadu. But mainly, I’m looking for the fabled Pendant of Ka’thazar. Surely you’ve heard of it. There are ancient stories of its reputed powers, all nonsense of course. Myths claiming that it could control the weather. Fanciful notions of primitive people.” Despite what that fool Ashur Sungazer at the Phelar campus thinks.
“Ya call them primitive, but there’s all this technology here,” Renn counters. He balances carefully at the top of a heap of rubbish from which he is able to inspect the end of one of the ceiling chutes. But just like the one they came down, it is slick with algae. Even if it were not, he cannot get high enough to reach its lip, and he is certainly not going to try jumping from here. Renn slides back down to the water level as the doctor rambles on.
“We don’t know who installed all those things, whether they were part of the original construction or later additions. And even if it was the builders, they could be primitive people in some ways and advanced in others. The Pendent of Ka’thazar will complete the collection on primitive people at Eriadu University…. Now how is it that you and your guard got lost walking through the jungle? Or is she more like a pack mule?”
Renn starts making his way up another stack to verify that the chutes are all equally hopeless, giving Dr. Pramine the same explanation as before. “We came ta this planet ta learn about the local wild animals and found this temple by accident. M’ companion was curious, and so we came in, but we’ve only found trouble here.”
The wild animals? Really? Dr. Pramine has heard more convincing stories in plagiarized freshmen essays. “Come now. What university are you really from? Trying to scoop us on this temple… College of Corellia? Tier three at best, that university.”
Renn had intended to found his lies on his actual real interests, but if the archaeologist wants to supply her own fictions, he is content to run with them. “All right, there’s no point in hidin’ it. Clearly we are no’ as well equipped as ya, and given all we’ve been through, I’d be happy now just ta leave and let ya experience the pleasure of this place yerself.” Dr. Pramine offers no rebuttal to that, too busy with whatever else of profound academic value she has just uncovered. As for what Renn has learned… this is just another rubbish mountain below another algae-covered chute too high to access unaided. He gives up on this approach and scrambles down to join his erstwhile companions. “Maybe ya could pause yer collectin’ long enough ta help find a way outta here, and then ya can go back ta lookin’ fer yer necklace.”
“Pendant,” Dr. Pramine corrects. “Pendant of Ka’thazar. It doesn’t look anything like yours… Did you make that out of junk?”
Renn realizes his necklace has slipped out from under his shirt collar. “I wasna lyin’ that I’ve an interest in animals,” he says as he casually tucks the ensemble away. With the way she phrased her question, his talisman, made of crystal and wood and glass, was probably visible to her through all the claws and teeth of the main necklace. He would rather have her remember the latter than think any more about the former.
“You’re not going to scoop us,” Dr. Pramine warns her competitor. She offers, “I could write you a letter of recommendation. C of C is no place to make a career.” He is being helpful, and it looks like his expedition cleared some of the dangers for her in a very upfront and personal way. “Or possibly add you onto the paper as a third, maybe fourth author. You look like you could use a break.”
“Third or fourth?!” Renn remembers well the ambitiousness of Kash’s mother, Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Shili. He channels some of that, feigning incredulity to sell his role as a grasping academic. “Who’d be the second?”
“Well, my grad student… if he survives. Look, just getting your name on one of the papers of Dr. Pramine, University of Eriadu, Tenured Professor of the Archaeology Department, is a major accomplishment. We have one of the finest collections in the galaxy. When the Pendant of Ka’thazar is on display, I’ll be nominated for the Imperial Endowment of Archaeology, no question. I’ll probably have to present on Coruscant itself. The Emperor is said to take a great interest in history, you know.”
What a different world of problems this woman has, Renn thinks. “These plans all sound great, but we’re still trapped in a giant rubbish bin, we are.”
“Oh, yes. I was hoping you would arrange a way out of here.”
“I’m workin’ on it.” Renn grabs his backpack and starts going through it, seeing if there is anything he can use. He has the microfiber rope from the survival kit, but Renci and her jumpboots are still in the mirror room, so there is no way to get the rope up anywhere useful. Ah, but this is her medical backpack, and it has a collapsible repulsor stretcher…. Renn pulls out the stretcher poles, which are interlocking units each about half a meter long. Maybe he can fashion these into some sort of anchor that can get lodged in a chute so that they can climb up. Maybe the repulsor component can help? He looks it over and sets it aside, unsure of how it works, then begins setting the poles together near their centers, fastening them into the shape of a jack, like some of the kids used to play with in school. He dubiously looks over his work and attaches the rope to its center. Holding part of the rope with each hand, he experimentally twirls his left to get the anchor spinning. It quickly falls apart. “Ach, kriff.”
Dr. Pramine leaves Gomarr to continue carefully wrapping and packing items and steps up to see what the human is doing, “Are you trying to fix together some kind of grapnel?”
Renn begins picking up the poles, wiping them off. “Aye.”
“May I?” she offers, stretching out a hand.
Renn unloads all the pipes into her arms. “Aye.” It’s about time ya helped in some way. As she sets to work, he sloshes around, visiting each of the walls and confirming that there are no doors visible, nor even any lower chutes. He spends some extra time examining what he believes to be the north wall, since the bulk of the complex should be in that direction, but it is just as filthy and indistinctive as the other three.
“I’m afraid this simply won’t work. Everything here is too slippery,” Dr. Pramine says apologetically.
Renn makes his way back to her and slides all the pieces of medical gear back into their assigned slots. “There’s no way we can climb out with how slimy those chutes are.” He looks down at the water around him, dreading vocalizing his next plan. “Maybe… maybe there’s a way out under the water.” He has not felt actual floor under his boots, just another uneven layer of rubbish. He really does not feel up to an under-sludge excavation, not with the still-searing gash across his midriff and all the more recent aches and pains of plummeting into this marvelous place.
“Do you really think there’s a room on the other side of that?” Dr. Pramine asks, pointing to the north wall.
So she has been payin’ attention. “Are ya willin’ ta use yer precious fusion cutter ta find out?”
“That is an artifact. No, Gomarr here has some charges he could plant.”
“Ah, well that’s a different story, that is. Two meters in from the northwest corner, a meter above the waterline, is where I’d place a charge. We’d be protected from any blowback if’n it goes off there.”
“Gomarr? Would you see to that, then?” Following her orders, her assistant carefully places the explosives where the human suggested, and then they all take cover behind a giant pile of garbage, just in case there is any shrapnel. Gomarr knows his craft, which is why she brought him, and the blast goes off without a hitch. Dust fills the air, visible as glowing motes lit by whatever is beyond the wall.
Renn wades through the filthy water to the opening, where he is stopped by a wave of nausea. He pauses, hand on the wall, dizzy. There is some sharp new smell, some cloying incense in the next room, and it triggers a throbbing stab in his left temple that just builds and builds. He forces himself to climb through the hole, stepping aside to let the others into the room. He leans against the silky wall-hanging there, shielding his eyes against the painful brightness of the chamber, trying to collect himself. The vague sense of unease that he felt earlier in the rooms above returns, and he wonders what will happen to them here.
Gomarr helps Dr. Pramine through the hole, and she sees the human slumped against the wall, staining a beautiful silken print. She tsks at that, then looks around the opulent room. It is a soothing environment, from the trickling of the fountain in the middle to the gentle almost-natural light of the chandelier above it, from the relaxing scent of exotic perfume to the soft pile of the plush green carpet underfoot. The ceiling is sky blue, and brilliant white wrought-iron benches are spaced around the fountain, as if this were an outdoor garden. She steps further into the room, motioning Gomarr to attend to her, and pulls out a datapad for taking notes on the decor of this… conservatory. Then she cringes as she hears a ripping sound near the hole in the wall. She turns to see that the human has wrenched down a curtain of beautifully embroidered silk. He scrunches it up in a ball and steps up to the fountain. “Wh-what are you doing?!” she demands.
Renn holds the cloth under a fountain spout, soaking it. “I’m cleaning m’self up, and frankly, ya should, too.” He begins wiping down his arms, checking over the earlier wounds that Renci had sealed, to make sure they have not reopened. “D’ya have any idea how far we fell in there? Yer both covered in that filth, but yer also probably covered in bruises. Maybe yer still high on yer discoveries, but before long, yer gonna feel it. We’ve got light here and water; we should take advantage of that.” He looks up from his ministrations to see that Dr. Pramine is staring at the material in his hands, appalled. Trying to ignore the pounding in his head, he softens his tone. “Please, let me check ya over. Ya saw the medical supplies in m’ backpack; I know how ta use them, I do.”
Dr. Pramine agrees to an examination but insists that no more decorations be sacrificed for medical purposes. “This is no primitive field hospital, where every available scrap of cloth must be torn up for bandages. Some painkillers will be sufficient.” This fellow does actually seem cross-trained in medical arts. Yet another reason for him to leave this temple to her. Only a true specialist can properly appreciate the finds here. But what can you expect from a third-tier school? The College of Corellia takes who it can get.
After he has looked over the Bothan and the Gamorrean and given them antibiotic and anti-inflammatory shots to help with the bruising and abrasions from their fall, Renn turns his attention to the room at large. Dr. Pramine is doing the same, but from her ramblings to Gomarr, her focus is more on how nice everything looks and whether it can be considered all one aesthetic, or if it represents a layering of multiple contributing cultures over a period of centuries… and who gives a kriff about that? Something in this room is going to try to kill them when they attempt to leave, and he would like to know where the trigger device or the off-switch is before that happens. The gauzy drapes on the walls have nothing behind them, and the benches are all affixed to the floor. The chandelier… he cannot look straight at it, no matter how much he tries to shade his eyes. From the behavior of Dr. Pramine and Gomarr, he can tell that the lighting in here is not unusually bright; he is just too sensitive to it right now.
Renn drops his gaze down below the chandelier to the fountain and notices that the water coming out of the spouts is brownish now, discolored just like the water in the basin. That water was all clear when they first arrived, and then it grew murky when they were cleaning off the sludge from the rubbish pit. It seems the fountain is simply recycling the water in it, not getting fresh water from somewhere else. Why is it recycling the water? Does it matter that they have added something to it? The drains have rings around them, and upon closer examination, Renn concludes they are sensors of some kind. What are they lookin’ fer? he wonders. What were we supposed ta bring?
“Dr. Pramine,” Renn calls, “ya were talkin’ about completin’ a collection… have ya been in temples like this with traps in them?
“I’ve done field work in some sites with challenges. They are often trivial to bypass when you are properly informed and bring along appropriate help.” Under her breath she adds, “It does mean I always need new graduate students….”
A fancy way of saying ‘aye’. “Can I get yer opinion on this?” The archaeologist paces around the fountain, spouting information about eras and architecture until Renn reins her in. “About this, specifically,” he says, pointing to the ring around one of the drains. “It looks like some sorta sensor ta me, but that isna really m’ area of expertise.”
“No, I imagine not,” she idly says, as she leans in to examine it more closely. “It looks like it monitors the liquid flowing through. Probably a low grade chemical sensor… It resembles ones I have seen that sense colbaglobin compounds… And that one there, by the other drain, that’s for argenoglobin… and that one is for cupriglobin. And the one on this side is for hemoglobin compounds. So that would be blood. Watch out for traps!” On the other side of the room, Gomarr dives under a bench, arms flung protectively over his head, as though expecting something to happen.
This place’s gotten enough blood from me already, Renn thinks. He motions Dr. Pramine to step back, then slips out of his backpack and shucks off his vest. He strips off his T-shirt and quickly pulls his vest back on without it. Then he sloshes the shirt around in the fountain near the hemoglobin sensor, hoping the amount of blood it holds is sufficient to trigger the release for this room. Everything shakes, and he hears a grinding noise. A section of wall slides open a hands-breadth on the east wall at the same moment that the chandelier crashes down on the fountain. One branching arm clips the side of Renn’s head, and he staggers back, swearing, “Kriffin’ bloody temple!”
Across the room, Gomarr snorts, “Traps!” He remains under the bench. “This is why I’m still alive,” he mutters.
Dr. Pramine puts out a hand to steady the woozy human. “Are you all right? One must be careful. You’ve got to watch out for, well, things that might happen.”
Renn steps back up to the fountain and shoves the chandelier off it so he can extract his backpack. When he leans down to pick it up, he feels something trickling down the left side of his face. He slings the bag over his right shoulder and wipes his left hand up. It comes away bloody. “Fine,” Renn growls. He gives his left hand a sharp shake, sprinkling blood into the pool of water. “Satisfied?”
The door opens the rest of the way. Renn steps out into the hall.