Chapter 16

Traci was momentarily disoriented. One moment she was standing outside of the temple entrance, and the next, the walls had swallowed her whole. She turned to find her exit completely barred by curved metal doors. Seeing no controls that would allow her to escape, she turned and looked down the solitary hallway that stood open before her. It was lit by tiny lamps along both sides for about twenty meters, at which point it made a sharp turn to the left. Her options were clear: remain where she was or follow the corridor.

She listened for a moment but heard no other sound besides the air being circulated through vents somewhere high above. The air had a musty smell to it, but was getting better.

Seeing no other choice, she drew herself up and marched down the corridor. Her fur-covered boots seemed loud to her own ears. Whoever had sprung the trap obviously knew she was here, so she decided she was going to meet them head on.

The corridor walls were smooth and metallic. This was an advanced construction. One thing was certain: this temple was not built by a primitive people, and it didn’t serve any gods. This was built by engineers and craftsmen.

She reached the end of the corridor, where it made a sharp left turn. Cautiously, she peered around the corner, but she was not at all prepared for what she saw.

The corridor opened into a spacious, circular room, easily fifteen meters wide. The room was broken up by tall view screens, seemingly scattered randomly, a lime green carpet making an odd sort of maze between them.

She looked around for a few more seconds before she decided to venture out into the room. As she stepped close to the nearest view screens, they each came to life, displaying a life-sized video feed of a real person. She stepped in front of one and stared intently at the young crewman cleaning a floor in a ship’s weapons bay. The screen beside it showed a woman in uniform servicing a sensor array. There was something familiar and surreal about these two people. They both wore Terran cruiser uniforms.

“Afternoon, skipper,” a voice behind her said warmly.

Traci spun and was greeted by a smile from a young ensign in a Terran uniform. He had paused in his work to offer a crisp salute and then returned to his job.

She watched all three of them work and then heard two men arguing nearby. She followed the sound to where two life-sized monitors faced each other.

“No, Mike. I’m telling you that the displacer goes end up, not the way you have it.”

“Sam, I’ve been rebuilding displacers for months. I think I would know which end goes back into the housing.”

Traci walked to where she could see both men. She knew these men. Ensign Mike Thompson was a communications specialist. Petty Officer Third Class Sam Reynolds also worked in the communications shack, but his job was to keep the deck officer informed of any incoming message traffic that needed to come to the conn. As she neared the screens, both men stopped arguing and came to attention.

“Sorry, skipper,” Mike said. “We didn’t see you standing there, ma’am.”

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