The Structure, Part VI (S3E9)
Part I can be found here. Part II can be found here. Part III can be found here. Part IV can be found here. Part V can be found here. Part VI can be found below. Part VII can be found next week.
Celestograph by August Strindberg
The Structure, Part VI
They walked for most of the day, watching Razin fade into the distance as he tried to establish his colony of one. They eventually agreed, however, that he had the right idea in eating the fruits of the Farm, as they began to call the area — they had already used up most of the rations. They would eat apples as they went, storing a few in the nooks and crannies of the crate for when the bountiful landscape stopped.
That wouldn’t happen for another few days. They stopped only to drink from the small streams that flowed lazily, camping overnight in the tents, the spark of the divine giving no indication whatsoever which way to go. Just as they began to suspect they would never find their way out — that the rest of their life would be bright light, apple tree, stream, waving wheat in the distance — they saw a shimmer in the distance. As they drew closer, it became apparent the shimmer was due to the way, looping around miles out of the way to meet them back here. Suddenly, the spark urgently told them to go towards the wall.
As they crept closer, they suddenly passed some incomprehensible border, and all was cloaked in darkness. They looked behind them, where the bright lights could still be seen, but dimmer now; they looked beneath their feet, and instead of soft, loamy grass they found the black, glassy substance they had been walking along days before. They barely stopped for a second, instead continuing towards the wall, which now contained what appeared to be a massive door, maybe a mile in height. They stopped before it.
Father Pedra consulted the spark of the divine. “He says it’s a ‘puter.”
“That doesn’t look like any ‘puter I’ve ever seen. That looks like a door,” Raxton said, voicing what they all were thinking.
“Nevertheless,” Father Pedra continued, “He says it is a ‘puter, contained within the door, and if we are to continue — which He suggests — then we must consult the ‘puter.”
Tamblyn pointed at what appeared to be a vent — made of a slightly shinier version of the glassy substance — on the side of the door. “A maintenance hatch, I suppose. It’s only a few feet wide, but you could climb inside, Raxton — and, luckily, you know ‘puters the best.”
“That I do,” Raxton nodded. “Well, wish me luck.” They all did so as he sauntered over to the hatch, took out a multitool, and cut away the grate. He slid inside and disappeared.
They waited for a minute, then another. Thoman began to pace around. Alia kept her weapon raised, which she hadn’t done since they arrived in the Farm. Father Pedra sat on one of the crates and prayed, occasionally peeping at the spark to see if it had any more insight; it didn’t.
Finally, they heard some banging and scraping from inside the vent. Raxton popped out again and dusted himself off, though it was hard to imagine any dust inside the ‘puter. He looked anxious, in a way Tamblyn had never seen before, but he walked back to them quickly. “It’ll let us through now,” he said, to ragged cheers. Sure enough, they heard some kind of humming coming from the door, and the mile-high barrier slowly split open to let them through to another featureless hallway.
As they started down the hallway, Tamblyn hung back with Raxton. “What else did it tell you? You’re not the kind to get freaked out easily.”
Raxton shook his head. “Nothing else. It doesn’t matter.” He marched off to catch up with the others, leaving Tamblyn there to think.
The hallways continued as they had before reaching the Farm, the gloom settling heavily on their souls. They walked for a few hours, though they could tell only by the ticking of the watch on Tamblyn’s wrist, as it felt much longer. They had long since stopped talking, but now Raxton and Father Pedra were talking quietly, barely audible even to their comrades standing close to them.
They came to an intersection. To left and right they could see similar hallways, running off into the distance, but immediately in front of them the hallway took a sharp turn.
“Which way, Father?”
“I… don’t know.” He held the spark up, shook it, trying to divine what the divine intended. He swallowed hard. “All it says is ‘you shouldn’t have come.’”
A chill ran through the assembled group, besides Raxton, who looked on knowingly.
“Still, we have to decide… which way to go,” Tamblyn said, trying to keep up the charade of leadership. “Forward looks different. Any objections?”
They all shook their heads — they didn’t have any better ideas, after all. So the group continued straight ahead.
The hall turned sharply right, then sharply left, then left again. It twisted and turned, suddenly sprouting subhalls, occasionally opening into small chambers that reminded one of sitting rooms. One would get the feeling that they were lost in a maze, but being lost requires one to know where they want to be, and these travellers did not.
All the while Father Pedra became more agitated, even starting to mutter beneath his breath, when he wasn’t talking to Raxton. “You shouldn’t have come,” they heard him say. “One of my peers would have read it better,” he said, apparently while explaining the function of the spark to Raxton.
Finally, they arrived in another small chamber, and Tamblyn had to put a stop to it. “What’s going on, Father?”
He looked up at her, then shook his head. “Like I said, we shouldn’t have come. Raxton agrees.” Raxton nodded his head, his little snout bouncing up and down.
“And yet we’re here, Father, and we have to continue on.” She looked around at the ragged faces around her. “But perhaps we can take a break. This is as good a place as any.” She and Alia set up the little tent while Thoman handed out apples. They sat there and ate the apples as Father Pedra began to pace around. “You should join us,” Tamblyn said. Alia and Thoman looked at Tamblyn when he didn’t respond, but she merely shook her head. “We’re all under a lot of stress right now. He’ll be better after a good night’s sleep.”
They were busy setting up the tent when they heard a click. They scrambled out of the tent to find the priest standing there with one of Alia’s explosives. “We shouldn’t have come,” he said. “We weren’t meant to be here. I wasn’t meant to be here. You should have chosen someone else, Tamblyn.”
“It’s all going to be okay.” Tamblyn reached out her hands, beckoning to him. “Just put the explosive down.”
“No, we weren’t meant to be here, I’m sure of it, and there’s only one way out.”
“Put it down!” Tamblyn tried ordering it instead.
“No, I’m going to push this button here and—“
A single shot rang out. Father Pedra fell to the ground. Tamblyn turned to Alia, who held the rifle up. She had a pained look on her face, but then she spoke. “We couldn’t jeopardize the mission.” Tamblyn nodded.
“Erm, not to undercut the sanctity of the moment…” Thoman said, hesitating, “but has anybody seen Raxton since we had dinner?”
They heard an explosion, which sounded both distant and also like it could have been coming from the next bend in the labyrinth. They all looked at each other.
“Let’s pack as fast as possible and get going,” Tamblyn said tersely. They all fell silent — there was no point discussing any of it.
They packed in barely a minute, noticing a humming sound coming from the same direction as the explosion, which was the way they had come from. Tamblyn pointed towards the other exit. “Back into the labyrinth we go…”
They began to walk, Thoman now also holding a pistol that Alia had handed him. “The shooty part points that way,” she muttered. Thoman dragged the only remaining crate, containing the tent and an apple or two — they would have to leave the others. Tamblyn had the main light, in addition to the one slotted onto Alia’s rifle. They wandered back into the maze of featureless, gray tunnels they had spent the better part of the day wandering.
After fifteen minutes, Alia spoke up. “There’s something following us.” They stopped and turned behind them, flashing the light behind them. A three-foot-tall oval was hovering along maybe thirty feet behind them, apparently made of the same black, glass-like material as the walls. As soon as they shined a light on it, it stopped. Alia lifted the rifle but Tamblyn gently put at hand on it. “Let’s just keep going.”
“You sure?” Alia looked, for the first time Tamblyn could remember, scared.
“It might not be aggressive.”
Alia shrugged. They kept walking, Alia checking behind them again and again. After another 15 minutes, she stopped. “There’s more of them now.”
They turned again. Now there were three of the ovals, all identical, all stopping. They were maybe twenty feet away now.
“They creep me out,” Alia said.
They turned and kept walking, Alia looking more and more uncomfortable, until finally stopping and turning. “Please, sir, permission to shoot?”
Tamblyn stared at the ovals. They were getting closer. She thought it over. “Permission granted.”
Alia opened fire, the sound strangely muffled, as if the walls had absorbed it. The ovals, too, absorbed the fire, the bullets simply disappearing into the black glassy surface, as if a leaf disturbing a pool. Still, when they looked closer, the ovals were farther away than they had been. They turned and kept walking.
They saw a different light at the far end of the current tunnel. Perhaps the maze was finally over? Tamblyn looked over her shoulder. Now there were seven ovals, floating only ten feet away.
“I’ll hold them off,” Alia said.
“That’s not necessary.”
“They’ll reach us before we reach the door.”
“They still haven’t done anything.”
“But what happens once they reach us?”
“You’re running with us, and that’s an order.”
They looked at Thoman, who had taken pictures while they were talking but now looked like he wanted nothing more than to get through the door. He nodded at them.
Tamblyn broke into a sprint, followed by the other two. Suddenly, they heard a high-pitched ringing from behind them. She didn’t stop to look.
But Alia did.
She opened fire, emptying a full clip into the ovals. Tamblyn and Thoman, now halfway between the door and Alia, skidded around.
“Alia! You can still make it if you run!”
She didn’t respond. The ovals were not being pushed back by the bullets anymore, and they were now less than five feet from her. Tamblyn felt a tug — Thoman knew, even if she didn’t, that Alia wanted a heroic sacrifice no matter what. They turned and sprinted.
As they reached the opening, Tamblyn turned and looked back behind them. The ovals had surrounded Alia and, though she tried to run, she was being absorbed into them. With her one free arm, she gave a salute.
Tamblyn saluted back, and she and Thoman stepped into the new chamber, the hallway disappearing behind them as if that maze had never existed.