On the other side of the archway is a large, plain room. Renci and Renn enter slowly, cautiously looking around. Renci pulls out her general purpose scanner and begins a sweep for Quep’s emanations. Renn stands in the center of the room, slowly turning in place, taking in each door-filled wall while Mira circles above. The walls are plain gray with no carvings. Other than the archway through which they entered, the doorways all appear identical with dark corridors beyond them. This room is still getting a trickle of daylight from the ziggurat’s entrance, but it looks like they will be relying on just the glowrod beyond this antechamber.
The appearance of this room does not make any sense to Renn. If this structure was some sort of place of worship once upon a time, there should be a well-trodden route to… somewhere. He starts to head over to one set of doorways for closer examination but pauses at Renci’s muttering. “Are ya pickin’ up anything?” he asks her. “Because these all look the same ta me.”
Renci continues fiddling with her device. “The readings are strange.”
“What kind of strange? The bad kind?”
“No, but not the good kind of strange, either: the interesting kind. Something strong, and it’s increasing.”
Renci is picking up a lot of what Quep talked to her about, but she is hesitant to tell Renn about that. “No, not radiation.” She gives a little huff. “Look, I’m not a scientist. I don’t understand the full sensor suite of this thing.”
Renn is not sure what he said to aggravate Renci; they were simply clarifying questions. Maybe she is just still irritated from her sticky, itchy jungle experience. He backs off. “Okay, sorry, I didna mean ta question yer credentials.”
She reins herself in. “Let’s just concentrate on finding what we’re looking for.” She starts rotating, doing a sweep of each wall. “Maybe the north wall…. But be careful.” Once all the data is collected, she begins going through it, trying to piece together what it points to, knowing that it is correlated to Dark Force users somehow.
Renn approaches the doorway at the center of the north wall, intending to inspect its frame for traps. What he first notices, though, is that it is not actually empty. Mirrors are arranged in the doorway in such a way as to create the illusion of an unlit hallway, and once he gets up close, he can see himself reflected in them. This place is getting stranger, he thinks and a shiver goes down his spine. He proceeds to examine the jambs and lintel. He finds a switch just on the other side of the lintel, and each door that he checks turns out to have one in the same location. As he moves from door to door, he wonders about the archway they entered through. Does it also have a switch? “Mira, could ya take a look back through the way we came in?” he asks of the kiros bird, who has been lazily flying around the room’s vaulted ceiling. She heads out that way. To Renci, he says, “These are no’ open doors, they’re optical illusions, and I think they’re trapped in some way.”
The readings on Renci’s sensor start spiking, maxing out all the charts. She curses under her breath and complains, “I’m not getting anything from this…. It’s like I’m being jammed.”
“Can ya try fixin’ it? Ya fix the ship’s sensors all the time.”
“The sensors are working fine,” she insists, walking over to join him near the north wall. She flips the device around toward Renn. “Look at the screen. Everything is jammed. Too much energy is coming in, and it’s overloading it. It’s…. it’s like it’s really windy so I can’t hear you talking.”
“Okay, already,” Renn says, stopping the flow of explanation. “I live in a technological society; I spent the last decade on ships and such. I get ya’.” Ach, we’re arguin’ again. Why are we arguin’ again? He takes a breath, turns back to the doors, wonders what to try next. He briefly closes his eyes to assess what Mira sees from the entry hall. That door has no switch.
“Do you feel lucky?” Renci asks. Renn opens his eyes and looks at her, wondering if she means anything Force-y by that, but she continues, “You’ve already examined these doors. Did any of them jump out at you?” She puts away the scanner and draws her vibrosword, holding it in one hand, the glowrod in the other. “I’m going to smash one.”
“No, I don’ have a preference which one ya hit. But I think I’ll back up, if’n ya don’ mind.” Renn steps away, towards the middle of the room.
Renci brings the sword down hard, chopping at one of the glass panels of the middle door. There is a resounding clang as her sword bounces off and then scrapes along the ground. She shakes out her arm. “Those might look like mirrors, but it feels like hitting a starship.”
“Dammit, I wish I’d brought m’ Czerka. That might stand a chance of punchin’ through.”
They hear a distant faint sound begin to grow. Fwomp. Fwomp. Fwomp. FWOMP. When it reaches its loudest, the room goes completely dark. “Did Boulder make this glowrod?” Renci asks, annoyed that it seems to have stopped working. Renn reminds her that it is from his survival kit.
In the pitch darkness, Renci shakes the glowrod. Then she hears Renn, sounding overwhelmed, “What am I seein’? What am I lookin’ at?”
“Can you see?” Renci asks him. “Am I blind?”
“No,” he reassures her, “I canna see, either. Mira sees something, though…. This doesna make sense.” The kiros bird was in the entrance corridor when the lights went out. He recognized that when he switched to perceiving through her eyes. The lightning sentry was there, disassembled as he left it, but the archway was sealed with a solid stone door. He communicated to Mira that he and Renci might have sprung a trap trying to get through one of the doors, and then what he was seeing just started going haywire. His vision is full of small, dead-end, closet-sized rooms, one after another, all slightly different, many with some insane, elaborate trap. Blades, rocks, darts, wires. It is like swiping rapidly through a crazed engineer’s datapad, the views changing almost too quickly for him to process. Among them he notes one long, slightly inclined hallway. “But which door is that?” he wonders aloud. “There are switches at every door….” It is dizzying, whatever Mira is doing, and even though his room is in complete darkness, he withdraws his senses back to himself.
Renci places her hand over the end of the glowrod. It still feels slightly warm, like the device is on. “All those spectra were being jammed…” she says, thinking out loud.
“What, the visible spectrum, too?” Renn asks.
“Possibly…. Do you have something?”
“Maybe… I didna know she could do this.” It seems like Mira is able to see either beyond things or through things. He has wondered before if she is Force-sensitive, like he is, and this seems to confirm that. It isna something ta be proud of nor ashamed of, Eloii said, he reminds himself. It just is. But in the few months he has had access to Mira’s senses, he has never observed this behavior from her before, and it makes him nervous that it is happening for the first time here, in this strange place. Something here might be affecting her. Maybe it is a good thing she is on the other side of the door. She can wait for them outside.
“Hold on,” he tells Renci. “Let me think fer a bit.” He steps closer to where he believes the center of the room is and tries to get Mira to understand what he wants. If she can do some sort of organized sweep, maybe using his location as a pivot point, maybe he can figure out which of the doorways is the one with the corridor on the other side. The flood that comes at him suggests this is too much to ask. The doors, yes, but bugs, jungle, a rat, the vine-covered exterior, grass, a ship. A ship! So many images and too fast. It’s making him dizzy. “Ach…” he groans, “I canna get her ta do what I want!”
“Relax,” Renci advises. “Take it easy. We’ll figure this out.”
“Well, we better do this fast because there’s something incomin’.”
Renci starts riffling around in her bag, muttering to herself, no longer listening to Renn, missing his follow-up comment that there is a ship approaching. She feels something with potential, some sort of goggles. She puts them across the bridge of her nose, and the form-fitting device clings to her face. “All right, Boulder, let’s see how this does.” The system slowly boots up and then she sees in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Not jamming everything, after all. There are the doors, and then she notices her pack and her own clothes. “Oh, gosh, we were in the jungle for days; this is disgusting!” But aside from all the germs and general contamination she sees around her, she perceives one of the doors to be quite different from the others. She walks over to Renn and catches his arm, muttering about how gross they both are right now.
“D’ya have a door, then?”
“Yes, I’m pulling you toward it.”
“T’other door is shut, so Mira’ll just wait for us out there, keepin’ watch.”
Renci stops them in front of the proper door and flips the switch. The door opens, and the lights that they had not known existed come on. All the lights. It is now so bright in here that it overloads Renci’s goggles. She closes her eyes just in time to avoid damaging them. “Always gotta watch out for the solar glare,” she reminds herself.
“And ya were complainin’ about us,” she hears Renn say. When she opens her eyes, she sees him stepping up to examine a dark pink mucous-covered membrane stretched across the width of the new corridor.
Renci sticks the goggles back in her bag and fishes out the specs. UV goggles effective but need quick-dimming function, she mentally drafts for her report. She looks up the entry for pouch 9. “Dream job. Works hard.” Rolling her eyes, she edits it to read, “UV goggles.”
Renn steps back away from the membrane, gagging. “It’s disgustin’,” he coughs.
“You didn’t see what I saw,” Renci replies, sucking in a lungful of air before holding her breath and taking the place he has vacated. The substance looks spongy, not very tough at all. She judges that they can cut an opening and just step through it. She digs out the rebreathers and hands one to Renn. “This should help with the smell,” she says, and they put them on. Then with two quick slashes, she cuts an upside-down V in the membrane, and a triangle of flesh falls back.
Renn experiences another strong wave of nausea as he is hit by a blast of the stench. He realizes he can still smell it even with the rebreather and pulls his off to warn Renci. “Hold yer breath as ya go; this isna stoppin’ it.” But she has already stepped through, and she seems all right as she waits on the other side. Renn maneuvers through the opening she made, and they continue up the corridor, putting distance between themselves and the membrane. A coughing fit stops him. “I feel like m’ lungs are burnin’,” he wheezes.
“I’ve read about similar things. I’m sure it will clear up in fresh air,” Renci reassures him. “But since we aren’t likely to have any of that soon—” She unclips the medical pack from Renn’s back and searches through it. “—looks like it’s your turn for this.” She hands him the inhaler, and it neutralizes the caustic gases inflaming his lungs.