The Ziggurat Interior.
1st December 2151.
Archer's communicator whistled for attention. He flipped it open. "Archer."
"Reed here. We've secured the chamber, if you want to come on through."
The Captain stood. "Will do. What's in there?"
There was a short pause. "I think you should see this for yourself."
"Very well, we're on our way. Out." He flipped the communicator shut. "Isn't he supposed to actually tell me stuff when I ask? I'm sure I read that some where."
"We've all been on the ship with Polly too long." said Tucker, climbing to his feet. "Her sense o' melodrama is contagious."
It was now just bright enough to see without the flash lights, though they kept them on, just in case. Archer led them towards the doorway. Steiger, one of the marines, was waiting by the open door. He saluted as they approached. "Major Reed says you're to go right in."
Archer felt his jaw drop as they passed through. Although still quite dark, the chamber beyond was clearly huge, and looked to be hexagonal in shape. It was, he estimated, about the size of a football field, at least. It was also some three stories high. A wide stair case, again without handrails, led down to the floor. From his vantage point he could see other doorways, like the one he'd just come through, one to each wall.
Curiously, the chamber was filled with a series of concentric walls, coming up to about head height. They looked to be made of the same grey stone overlaid with polymer as the rest of the structure. The walls were not continuous, wide gaps allowed passage between them. It looked like a very simple maze. Something about their placement reminded him of Stonehenge, the same sense of ancient purpose. He could see the marines moving around the walls, looking very small from here.
"Whoah." Tucker said softly, besides him.
"Yeah." Archer replied, unable to think of anything more useful. He kept a firm grip on Porthos' leash, the little dog straining in an attempt to rush down the stairs. Carefully, he descended.
"Great, more stairs with no hand rail." Partridge moaned. "Who designed this place, the Galactic Empire?"
Locke rubbed his forehead wearily. "I can't believe you are still
scared! What's wrong with you?"
"Yeah." added Trooper Tipping. "I thought you scientist types were all supposed to get caught up in scientific curiosity, and not even notice any thing else. Well, that's what I read."
"Where did you read that?" Partridge asked shrilly, shuffling carefully from step to step.
"Errr...'The Lost World' by H.G. Wells."
"Ah, you suprise me Mr Tipping, you are far more literate than I gave you credit for. But to address your statement, I must point out that both Challenger and Summerlee possessed two advantages over myself. First, they were fictional, and as such only afraid when it suited the purposes of the narrative. And secondly, they were both male, and thus could only contemplate one thing at a time. I'm a woman. I can multi-task
. Scientific curiosity and abject terror, simultaneously? Easy."
By this time they had reached the lower level, where Reed approached them. "Captain, the room is secured, but I recommend no one goes any where without one of my people with them."
"I think some of us can look after ourselves." Phlane said, patting her carbine.
"Yes ma'am." Reed said diplomatically, and rapidly changed the subject. "Commander Tucker. I wonder if you could help us with a little problem? That door---" he gestured back up the stairs, "---shuts itself if there's no one nearby. I've got Steiger up there as a sort of door stop. Foolish really, I should have got Tipping to do that. He'd be useful for once. Anyway, the problem is, if it shuts, we lose our line of sight communications with the outside, and I'd rather avoid that."
"Yep, I can have a look at that."
As Tucker trotted back up the stairs, Reed turned to Sato. "Ma'am, there's some thing you really should see. If you examine this...structure..."
"Hieroglyphs!" Sato exclaimed. The picture-words covered the nearest of the free standing walls. They seemed to be on the others, at least as far as could be seen. "Oh, I wish Carl were here, He'd love this."
For a split second Archer wondered who Carl was, before remembering the missing Dr Halliwell. He was ashamed to admit that he'd rather forgotten about him with everything else that was happening. Fortunately Sato didn't seem to pick up on his mood. "Can you read them?" he asked.
"Parts of it, certainly." She tapped her pad. "I've got the beginnings of a translation matrix here, we just need a bit more raw data and then we can make some real pro---"
"Everybody down!" Reed hissed suddenly, dropping to one knee and bringing his rifle to his shoulder. He cocked his head slightly, in a manner Archer recognised as listening to his tactical communications net. Around the chamber, the other marines adopted similar poses, weapons at the ready, alert for any danger. Archer knelt, putting his hand to his side arm but not drawing it. Sato had no such reservations, readying her gun in the approved manner, as did Doctor Locke. Phlane and the other two Denobulans not only raised their carbines, they positioned themselves so they could look around with no blind spots.
After several long seconds Reed visibly relaxed. "Right, understood. Carry on" he said into the communications net. He stood and turned to Archer. "Sorry about that sir. M'boto thought he saw movement, but there's nothing there. Bit of a false alarm. Still, no harm done."
"No harm done? No harm done!" exclaimed Partridge, who emerged from her hiding place behind Sato and under Porthos. "It's bad enough down here as it is without you messing about! Oh, I'm sure you think it a jolly jape to scare the civilians, but that sort of thing really isn't on. Here we are, on an important scientific expedition, with vital work to carry out---"
"Contact left!" This time the speaker was close enough to be heard without the comms system, nearby within the maze like walls. Reed didn't need to tell them to get down, they did that automatically.
Again, there came a long pause. "Ah, negative contact. Negative."
"Are you sure, Dent?" Reed asked.
"Ah, yes sir. I just saw...I thought
I saw, movement out of the corner of my eye. But when I turned, nothing."
Locke checked the safety on his pistol. "Could it have been something moving past you?"
Dent, accompanied by Tharpa, appeared at the nearest gap between walls. "Not really sir. I was on the other side of this wall. There's not that much room in there. Anything going past me, we'd have seen it coming or going. And it would have been close enough to touch."
Archer approached the gap and looked back the way Dent had came. The area between the walls formed a curved corridor, festooned with hieroglyphs, perhaps wide enough for three people to walk abreast. There were no protuberances or other obstructions that could act as a hiding place. The floor seemed solid, no obvious trapdoors. He looked up. The ceiling was now quite bright with no gaps to mar it's surface. Besides, if something had been rising or descending, it would easily have been seen by the others around the chamber.
He rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "Is it possible we're seeing some sort of perception altering effect? Like at the doorways?"
Partridge examined her scanner. "I'm not picking up the same energy signature. It's possible, but seems unlikely."
Reed slapped his hand to the side of his helmet as another signal came through. "Stay there, don't move! We're on our way." He looked at the captain. "Another contact. James spotted movement at the centre of this structure."
Archer glanced down at Porthos. Whatever was going on certainly didn't seem to upset the dog. "Tell me, major, have you ever heard the story of the marine that cried wolf?"
"I'm sorry sir, but we have to take these reports seriously."
"Scientific curiosity, abject terror, and now the beginnings of some serious annoyance." Partridge grumbled. "Multitasking."
The centre of the structure was a wide circle about the size of a tennis court. There were six of the walls surrounding it, the gaps between them aligning with the six stairways and doors leading into this chamber. Like all of the other walls, these were covered in hieroglyphs. Corporal James stood nearby, directing the beam of her rifle mounted flashlight onto a specific section of the wall. Tharpa stood behind her, keeping an eye out in the opposite direction.
"What have you got, Corporal?" Reed demanded. "Well, spit it out!"
She spoke hesitantly."It's....I...I'm not really sure sir. We were patrolling, like you ordered, and...I just spotted something
out of the corner of my eye. Right there."
Archer asked. "What sort of something?"
"Couldn't rightly say sir. It was just movement, a sense of movement, like a blur. And when I turned, it was gone." She shrugged, the motion partially obscured by the bulky body armour.
"Where about were you when this happened, Autumn?" Partridge asked softly.
"About a metre, maybe two, from that wall. That's where I saw it."
Partridge went "Hmmm." She absently twirled a strand of hair round a finger, and went "Hmmm." again.
"You have an idea, Professor?" Archer asked.
"Hmmm. Yes. Nothing I'm certain of, not yet. Fortunately we have the opportunity for empirical testing. Could everybody please move to the centre, please? As far away from the walls as you can, thank you. And Mr Reed, could you kindly tell your chaps still patrolling about, and what have you, to get out of this structure and move away from it? To the foot of the staircase should do. It probably won't make a difference, but we should always eliminate any confounding variables, yes indeed. Come along now, come along."
As soon as Reed confirmed that the structure was cleared, apart from those at the centre, Partridge approached the wall James had pointed out. "Right. Everyone keep you eyes peeled. And for once, don't look at me. One-two, ah one-two-three-four." With that she commenced a fast, high stepping, bouncing march around the circumference of the central clearing.
"She's doin' that and we ain't allowed to look at her?" moaned Tipping. "This is torture
She'd just started her third circuit when Sato called out "There! Did you see that?"
"Yes!" Phlane exclaimed.
Trooper Cross confirmed that she, too, had seen it.
"Ha! All women!" Partridge said with an enormous grin. "I knew the boys would be looking elsewhere."
"I didn't see anything." James said.
Partridge wrinkled her nose at her. "I think we all know what you were looking at."
"Ah. It's true, I can't lie." James conceded.
"Well I saw nothing, so could we please get an explanation?" Archer said.
Doctor Locke lit a cigarette and took a long drag. "The hieroglyphs. They changed, shifted somehow."
Partridge looked deflated. "Oh. You spotted that?"
"No. Wasn't looking. You are exceptionally clever, Professor, and like a lot of clever people you often think other people are stupid. I had access to the same information as you. I'll admit, I hadn't come to the conclusion as fast as you did, but once you started trying to trigger motion sensors in the wall the solution was obvious."
"Not to me it isn't" Reed admitted.
"Would you care to explain Doctor?" Partridge asked acidly. He declined with a wave of his cigarette so she continued. "I suspect that this structure is some sort of command centre. These walls fulfil the role of screens. Some form of display matrix embedded in the polymer coating, I should imagine. And designed to activate whenever someone is nearby. There's no point showing something if there is no one there to see it, after all. Now we know that whoever built this place...I'm sorry, it's no good. We can't go round saying 'whoever built this place'. We need a name for them, even if it's only a place holder until we find out what they were really called."
Archer shrugged. "OK, if you feel it's important. What do you suggest?
"Well, it can be something simple and to the the point. Let's see...OK. What do we know about them. We know they built
the ziggurat, yes? And they built
cities and roadways, long ago. And they built
this structure here. They did an awful lot of building
. So I suggest, the perfect name for these builders is...the Quagaars."
"The Quagars." Archer repeated.
"Quagaars. Not one 'a', two."
Archer chuckled. "How about...the Builders?"
"The Builders? The Builders
? Well, I suppose
so. But it doesn't really mean
anything, does it? OK. What I was saying was that we know that the Quagaar...alright then, the Builders, have some sort of motion sensor technology. We've seen it opening doors for us. I'd say the same thing activates these displays. When there is no one around, the display matrix freezes into it's last known configuration. These aren't carefully laid out images, selected for posterity. They are just whatever was being shown the last time anyone was here."
"What about the hieroglyphs at the main site?" Sato asked. "There's no record of them ever changing."
"If this place is, indeed, 'waking up'," Archer suggested, "then those ones may have been frozen too. I'm guessing that, in the same way the lights are still getting brighter, this system isn't at full capability yet."
"Right." Partridge nodded. "It's not entirely functional, occasionally sensing someone nearby, partially updating the display. If it continues to improve though, we should see something very interesting soon."
"Hoshi, get to work." Archer said. "Something tells me these symbols are the key to what's going on here. Of course we---"
He broke of at a shout from the entrance, followed the schhuuunk!
of plasma weapons fire.