In the hall, Renci sets down the BoulderBot and plugs the sprocket back in. “Boulder, you there?”
“Must’ve been a solar flare of some kind,” the distant tech specialist responds once the device powers back up.
“Yeah… right… Listen, I need you to try some scans for me. You seem able to pick up things that my general purpose scanner can’t right now.”
“Did you consider pouch 2?”
“Fire fire burn?”
“What? No, that’s not it at all.”
While Renci and Boulder continue to argue about experimental gear and technological approaches to the current situation, Renn feels along the walls for a change in texture or a hard-to-see edge. He finds a faux stone panel that, when pressed, pops open and slides aside to reveal the maintenance access ways. They are practically hallways in their own right, with enough space in them to walk comfortably. They even have track lighting.
“Renci,” he tries to break into the heated conversation. “Renci, lass.” She looks up from the little droid, and Renn tilts his head toward the opening. “Same question as before, though, forward or back?”
“Let’s head back the way we came. We at least know something about that direction. Who knows how extensive this complex is, after all. And maybe we could get some useful information about the other party.”
“Based on what Mira’s seein’, there’s a dozen of them, and the woman in charge, she’s maybe an archaeologist.”
“Does she have a hat?” Renci asks.
“I don’ know,” Renn says, baffled by the question. Renci looks at him expectantly, and he switches his sight back over to Mira’s. The group is now in the entry hallway, and the Bothan is examining the lightning sentry he sabotaged. “Oh, aye, it’s on her back, held by a string around her neck, so I didna notice it before. Is it important?”
“Anything else distinctive? Bags? Tools?”
“She’s got a satchel.”
“Is there a little hammer? No? Archaeologist then, not a geologist. Oh, a small brush? That would be a paleontologist.” Renci rambles on about different -ologists and their particular tools. Renn lets this play out for a while, then inquires if she wants to know about the incoming party. She apologizes, saying that she was just blowing off steam. He cannot fault her for that; some levity is probably a good idea in this place.
“Most of her assistants seem a little nervous, no surprise, but one of the workers—ach, hired guns?— whatever they are, seems ta be takin’ everything in stride. If’n we come across them, he’s the green Twi’lek. Yer archaeologist, aside from havin’ the hat, ya can recognize her as the only Bothan in the group.”
“I would like to know why they are here,” Renci declares.
Renn nods. “If’n they know what kind of temple this is, and they’re investigatin’ it, then yer task force would want ta know. They should’ve been the ones ta come here in the first place.”
“I’ll mark it for them to check out. They don’t have time to go everywhere. Someone’s got to do the initial survey, and that someone is me.”
Renn tilts his head toward the BB unit. “Is that goin’ ta keep rollin’ around with us or are ya goin’ ta put it in the bag? We’ll want ta move quietly alongside those other rooms.”
Renci looks over the device but cannot find anything resembling a volume control. Boulder confirms that there is none on the BoulderBot. “Well, can you be quiet if I leave it on?” Renci asks.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll just listen and take notes.” Renci stuffs the BB unit back into her bag, and the muffled voice continues, “I’ll whistle in binary if anything important comes up.”
* * *
Renci leads the way through the maintenance tunnel. The floor is sloping down now as they travel back along the rooms they visited. Occasionally, they pass a side tunnel, or an access ladder going up and down from this level. As Renn approaches one such junction that Renci has already passed, a cluster of tall, pale shapes lurches out of it. They startle him, and he backs up, heart leaping to his throat, eyes drawn to the snapping mandibles. They surge toward him, spider-like creatures on long, spindly legs nearly his height.
Renci hears the clacking and turns to see what is happening behind her. Far from being frightened by their sudden appearance, she is excited. She has read the report from Atollon. When preparing a site for a new Rebel base, it is important to know about the previous ones that failed. “Oh, wow! I can’t believe those are kryknas. Real kryknas!”
“Their pincers look really sharp!” Renn says, continuing to back up, not sure if he should start shooting.
“It’s fine!” Renci insists cheerfully. “They’re attracted to fear or aggression. Just relax, and it’ll be fine,” she reiterates. “They’re super cool! In the report, they talk about just clearing your mind. I don’t know if that’ll work for you, so just think of the jungle, I guess.”
Renn lays his hand on his chest, where his talisman is concealed under his shirt, intermingled with the tooth-and-claw necklace that reflects a decade and more of wilderness survival. Usually, he would be just as fascinated by these creatures as Renci, but this place has him wound so tight…. Just be calm. They’re just creatures, same as yerself. The kryknas pause their advance, shuffling around uncertainly.
“They really don’t like certain frequencies, so we should be able to use that to contain them. We’ll trade roles this time. You keep them occupied, and I’ll see to the tech,” Renci orders.
Renn begins ushering the kryknas back the way they came, to their side hallway. “C’mon, let’s move along,” he encourages them. “Nothing ta see here. Nothing ta eat here.”
Renci butchers one of the emergency comms from the survival kit, rigging it to emit a frequency annoying to kryknas. She sets it transmitting in a tight beam across the junction and happily takes a sip of water to refresh herself. The kryknas amble back down their corridor, dissuaded by the bothersome signals.
Not much farther on, they reach another side door. Given how many they have seen along the way, they believe this one grants access into the antechamber where the lights went out. The shape is consistent with the mirrored doorways, and their passageway veers off further west here, lending further support to their theory. Renn listens at the door but does not hear anything. He raises an eyebrow at Renci, and she nods, so he pulls the two halves toward them, revealing the large chamber.
The entire archaeological party is in the room, which is brightly lit by the floodlights that came on earlier. The doors, though, appear to have reset for testing the next group of supplicants. Renn and Renci hear the archaeologist spouting theories on the significance of the optical illusions.
“But, Dr. Pramine, why are the walls so plain?” a Rybet asks.
“We don’t know enough to speculate on that yet, but I like that you’re asking those kinds of questions, Gruth. Okay, I need everyone to spread out. You’re all going to go to a mirrored doorway, and we’ll knock on them all at the same time. Does everyone understand? Torthal! Torthal, are you even listening to me?”
The green Twi’lek, who was slowly looking around during the Bothan’s speech, turns and stares straight at Renn and Renci.