Friday, June 24, 2022

WoAF - Game Session 33

At this time, about a mile south of Panguitch, Good Captain Samwise was pointing his machinegun down the hole of the turret into the darkness waiting for the bellowing and infuriated Lizardman to pop his head into view.  Down the cliff behind and below him were Fred and Guns, hair and clothes singed and smoking.  They were suffering from the shockwave after-effects of multiple hits on their Armored Ground Vehicle, but were still alive, if barely.  Fortunately, Gun's entirely sensible application of the M32-A Flamethrower had ignited a forest fire on the top of the ridge where the enemy tanks had been firing from, causing them to retreat, and so they were safe inside the AGV for the moment.  Not terribly far away to the north of Panguitch, Captain Bruin Hilda had made it past the worm mounds with the refugees and so the convoy was able to make its way north on Route 89.  Slowly the band of refugees walked northward beneath the desert sun.  As this was taking place, Pita and Linda had taken up residence in the secret underground city of Lemuria at the invitation of the Queen of that astonishing realm.  Lastly, very far away on the moon, Princess Ling (Linda's twin sister) had made it to Eisenhelm on her Rocket Bike and managed to find Vallnam, Jacob and the technicians on Level C3, just below Guard Post C3-PB-A1 as all hell was breaking lose in that dreadful Nazi fortress.  

* * *

Bruin Hilda wiped the gritty sweat from her forehead.  It was hot and the dust from the jeeps rose behind them in a dirty brown cloud.  They'd been traveling for a few hours at this point. The caravan was composed of seven jeeps, a variety of small buses, carts, and a large number of refugees walking north along Route 89.  To the south they could see dark clouds of smoke rising from the town of Panguitch, and occasionally they could hear the explosions of heavy artillery.  They were about five miles north of the besieged township.  Something caught Bruin Hilda's eye.  A bright gleam of light out in the desert to the north west, about a quarter mile away.  Bruin Hilda asked Lieutenant Kerrington to take a look with the binoculars.  They were at the intersection of 3600 N, and 89.  Kerrington focused in on the source of the light and said "hmmmm".

"Hmmm?" asked Bruin Hilda.

"Well, it looks like there's a pillar out there reflecting a beam of sunlight from the top.  I think you better take a look at this Ma'am."

Bruin Hilda stopped the jeep, accepted the binoculars from Kerrington, and took a  long and careful look. She followed the line of sight up the pillar.  The measurements that showed up as amber characters in the binoculars' HUD indicated the pillar was about 2000 feet north west, and was 120 feet tall, and 6,624 feet above sea level.  The top of the pillar had a perfect diamond shape and appeared to be a highly polished slightly parabolic surface that was focusing  a beam of sunlight on the caravan.  She scanned around the mound, and saw no indication of buildings or structures, nor did she see any roads or paths that led to the pillar.  Just ordinary looking desert with cactus, brambles and dirt.  

"Let's keep going north.  I want to get out of the line of the sunbeam," she said.  And so they continued north.  After a hundred yards the sunbeam from the pillar was no longer aimed at them, and Kerrington, who was still looking it over with the binoculars, commented that the pillar appeared to be an artificial construct of some sort. 

"Doesn't look natural to me," she replied as she slowed the jeep down to allow Kerrington another detailed look.  "Unless we find a secure place to hold up, I don't want to leave the refugees alone while we explore a mysterious pillar out in the desert."

"Understood, Ma'am," replied Kerrington, as he scanned the horizon.  "Ma'am, I see a number of pillars out there.  They are at regular intervals in a semicircle around the road, as far as I can tell."

As Kerrington was speaking the beam of light from the original pillar began to shine on them again.  And in addition another one of the pillars was also beaming onto their location.

"They're tracking us?" asked Bruin Hilda.  

"Yes, that seems to be case," answered Kerrington.  "I'm not absolutely sure, but it seems the top of the pillars are on some sort of pivot, and they are slowly turning towards us as we move.  Now that we have slowed down they are able to synchronize on our position."

"I do not like the looks of this," said Bruin Hilda, as she shielded her eyes with her hand to gaze out towards the pillar.  She wanted to see if there was any cover that would shield them from the beams, but the desert in this area was rather flat and she saw nothing that would provide the kind of cover she was hoping for.  A third beam of light focused on their position, and now she could feel the heat of the combined beams on her skin. 

"Lieutenant, radio back to the caravan and apprise them of the situation and tell them to stop while we investigate," she ordered.   As she did so she sped up and roared down 89 at 70 mph.  The jeep quickly escaped the sunbeams.  After five hundred feet or so she slowed down.  By the dust in the air, at the angle at which the jeep had stopped, she could see the beams of light from several of the pillars.  Some of them were aligning with the jeep.  Others were aligning onto the road where the caravan had stopped.  Bruin Hilda turned the jeep towards the closest pillar and told Kerrington to warn the caravan of the attack.

As the jeep rode roughshod over the desert towards the closest pillar she began to see the others as she now knew what to look for.  There were a large number of them, and they appeared to form a large semicircle of three rings around the road.  She estimated there were probably around fifty of them, with a circumference of a mile or so.  Slowly but surely all of the beams of light were now centering on the caravan. 

She had Kerrington radio an order to the caravan telling them to retreat back down Route 89.  The caravan began a slow march south.  But as they did so the fifty sunbeams inexorably concentrated on the retreating crowd.  Meanwhile, Bruin Hilda drove the jeep to within 1000 feet of the first pillar.  On the ground surrounding the pillar they could see what looked like a softly undulating brown sheet.  It might have been muddy water, but it moved too slowly for that.  Bruin Hilda stopped the jeep so Kerrington could get a good look with the binoculars.  

"You better take a look at this," he said.  She took the binoculars.  They were set at 50x optical zoom so they required a steady hand. At first she couldn't tell what she was looking at, but after a few moments she realized that there was a river of brown ants out there.  Millions of them.  Perhaps hundreds of millions.  The carpet of ants extended around the base of the pillar for about two hundred feet.

Bruin Hilda reviewed her inventory of weapons in the jeep.  A plasma rifle, fully charged.  A machine gun with 4000 rounds.  A Wasp-58 rocket launcher, with three rockets.

"Alright Kerrington, how good a shot are you with the Rocket Launcher?"

"Not too bad, Ma'am," he replied coolly.  

"How close do you need to be to hit the reflector up there?" she asked.

"Hmm... with a target that size?  I'd say about 300 feet ought to do." answered Kerrington.

"Ok we're going to drive past the ants at fifty feet and see how they react.  Then we'll decide."

She drove to the right of the pillar careful to keep a 50 foot gap between the jeep and the carpet of ants.  As she approached she could see the ants mounting up into what looked like a wave about three feet high to her left that formed a low wall, the highest point of which was where the jeep happened to be closest; thus, the wall undulated along with them as they drove.  As her focus was actually on the utterly bizarre sight, she hit a bump.  The jeep had hit a trench in the desert floor.  When the jeep hit the trench the sand that had been covering it gave way due to the impact and so the trench line was unveiled.  It was one foot wide and one foot deep, and vanished into the carpet of ants in the direction of the pillar.  The jeep gave an enormous jolt and the front left tire was knocked out of alignment.  Out from the trench began pouring waves of ants.  

Bruin Hilda reached to the jeep's dashboard and flipped a small green switch, which turned on the Jeep-Mounted Acoustic Anti-Insect Shell.  The shell formed a high intensity sonic sphere around the jeep extending about 10 feet.  Meanwhile ants on the inside of the shell began climbing up the tires.  Bruin Hilda then reached down to her belt and flipped the switch on her Personal Anti Insect Shell.  She advised Kerrington to do the same, which he immediately did.  So there were now three sonic shells.  A large one surrounding the jeep, and two smaller ones inside of it.  The effect of the shells upon the ants was utterly lethal.  They shattered as soon as they came in contact with the sonic wall.  By moving around carefully inside the jeep the two of them eliminated all the ants that had been on the inside of the outer shell.  This took about five minutes in total.  

On the outside of the outer shell the ants had surrounded the jeep entirely, forming an undulating three foot tall circular carpet.  Some 250 feet to the west the pillar stood starkly against the bright blue sky, the reflector gleaming its powerful sunbeam towards the refugees on the road.

"Kerrington, can we repair the jeep?"

"I'm a pretty good mechanic, and I got my tools in the back.  Might be able to repair it.  If so it might take 15 minutes or so."

"Ok," said Bruin Hilda, "but before you start, I want you to take a shot at the top of the pillar."

"Yes, Ma'am," he said as he picked up the Wasp 58, loaded the rocket, stood up in the rear of the jeep, and with Bruin Hilda safely to his left side, he launched the rocket.


The top of the pillar was obliterated completely.  Pellets of dirt and sand came raining down from the cloud of smoke that hung in the air.  As the smoke cleared they could see the pillar was now reduced to seventy feet, and the reflective surface had been destroyed.  Lieutenant Kerrington began working on fixing the jeep.  Bruin Hilda took a look at the other pillars with the binoculars.  To her dismay their attack did not cause them to alter the trajectory of their beams, which were still focused on the caravan.  Even from a distance the brightness of the concentrated sunbeams was considerable.  The jeeps had been backing down the road as the refugees fled in front of them to the south down 89.  As the last set of reflector beams aligned on the crowd she could see that the situation there had become desparate.

"Lieutenant Radford, come in. Lieutenant Radford, come in.  Over," barked Bruin Hilda.

"Lieutenant Radford here, Ma'am!"

"What's going on down there?"

"Those sunbeams are getting mighty bright, Ma'am... and it's getting a bit hot over here.  A number of refugees have been blinded and we're carrying them as best we can.  There's nowhere to hide," reported Radford, sounding beleaguered and exhausted.

"Any sign of insects down there?"

"I'm not even looking for insects!  Let me see!" said Radford excitedly.  "I don't see any!  Do you think insects are coming?  Insects from the mound, Ma'am??"

"No, I don't see any indication of that.  I think what might be best is for the caravan to disperse and spread out so that they can't focus on the group as a whole.  Get off the road and don't bunch up in one spot."

"Yes, Ma'am!" responded Radford, and he began barking orders for the people to disperse off the road.  And so the refugees began dashing off in different directions into the desert.

Bruin Hilda wondered if she could move unnoticed by the ants if she used her Mentarian Powers, one of which being a power named "Blending" (which she learned from the Modroni, but had completely forgotten its source by that time).  She wondered if Blending would actually conceal her movements from the ants, or if they would still detect her movements by their chemical senses.  Something told her she wouldn't find out unless she tried it.

* * *

Meanwhile, 24,000 feet below the surface of the Earth in the secret city of Lemuria, Pita and Linda overlooked the beauty of the city from their balcony.  They'd been there for over a month at this point, living a life of luxurious indolence.  At the moment, Linda was practicing her Lemurian by inscribing Lemurian letters (not our English alphabet, but glyphs that looked more Egyptian than anything) and the few words she had learned thus far on a small silver rimmed chalk board which she held in her lap.  She was puzzling over the complexity of the Lemurian alphabet, which was named Mon'Tang.  

Each letter Mon'Tang had a meaning, but the meaning depended entirely on the  context of the letters surrounding it.  So the Lemurian "A", meant "Animal" or "Animated", or "Animal Ferocity", but only if it was before a specific set other letters.  If it was before "Z", for example, it meant "Dying Spirit", or if it was before "C" it might mean either "Cold Spirit" or "Unhappy".  And so on.  Thus each word had a plethora of meanings that composed it.  In addition, they had found out, each letter was not only a number, but also a mathematical principal,  accompanied by a set of "Proofs", as well as a mathematical function.  

And so, they were informed by their elderly and long suffering teacher, Sir Ratheror, but did not comprehend very well at all, that each word in Lemurian was a mathematical formula, as well as a composite of many meanings that could only be truly understood in context to the totality of the sentence, paragraph, chapter and book in which it was written.  

Thus the word "Alahu", for example, could mean "Bird of Prey who fills the sky", or "Brilliant hero who discovers Earth" or "Pure science that saves the Gods", or "Ferocious Warrior-Priest-King who brings destruction in the third generation".  One word, many possible meanings, depending entirely on the position of the world in the sentence and the letter-meanings of the words surrounding it.  In addition "Alahu" represented a specific number, but more importantly was also used as a mathematical function to help plot the movement of magnetic forces within the earth's core, or the electromagnetic interactions with super heated ion-plasma fields.  Most of this was lost on both Linda and Pita, try as Sir Ratheror might to get them to understand the intricacies of the Mon'Tang language.  

As a consequence, they could only pick up isolated factual meanings of sentences in the most primitive sense, and so could only understand statements of plain obtuse fact, such as "This is a chair", and "We will dine after the 9th Bell".  Which after one month, frankly, was quite an achievement, actually.  Mon'Tang is far from easy to learn!  

That said, there was something about Mon'Tang that neither she nor Pita could explain, but allowed them to pick it up more quickly than they felt should have been possible.  Whenever she looked at a Mon'Tang word, she somehow "knew" at some deep level, and very generally, but essentially, what the world meant.  If the word was a food like "potato", she had the impression of potato when she looked at it.  If it was an animal, somehow she knew which one.  For many words it wasn't necessarily easy to catch these glimmers of instant comprehension, but for quite a few it was immediate and visceral.  They "knew" what the words meant without being told. This, she later came to understand, was because Mon'Tang was the root language of all human languages, dating back to an age far earlier Sumeria.  Far earlier than Arrata even.  As such, it's roots were deep in the subconscious of every person alive, and encountering it brought forth reflections from the deepest parts of the mind where thoughts themselves originate. Hence, although one might never have encountered it before, upon see it the words would convey an impression of their meaning. They would give one a feeling that they "got the gist" of the thing, even though consciously they had no idea what they were looking at.

Pita was staring absently down into the dark chasm at the frothing cascade of waterfalls a thousand feet below the balcony. He was thinking about the vision he had witnessed before they had entered Lemuria when he had joined Linda in "the sacred space".  There, he recalled, he had seen the hawthorn tree whose branches rose far up into the heavens and roots encompassed the depths of the earth, both enormous and microscopic in scale at the same time.  He remembered the great black raven descending from the stars, and then the strange teardrop shaped jet-black spaceship that had vanished but was now hovering over the luridly bright desert floor.  This brought to mind the stranger from the spaceship they'd met in the desert before the Thunder Riders had arrived.  Zord'Iak, he had called himself.  Tall, lean, with long platinum colored hair, and the strange dark-glowing gem in his forehead.  Pita was particularly interested in the spaceship.  He hoped to find out, somehow, if it had been of Lemurian design, or was something from the ancient past, or the distant future, or something else entirely.  Its design was so peculiar he was sure it was not anything that could have been produced by his own civilization, even with the help of Alt-X.  Of that he was quite certain.  It may have been the only thing he felt absolutely certain about.  He was trying to figure out how he could find out more about the spaceship, and so he planned to ask the Queen about this at the evening dinner, if he could manage it.

There was a knock on the door.  Linda put down her writing board with a sigh and went to answer it.  In shuffled the elderly professor, Sir Ratheror, wearing his dark blue scholar's robe, with his long white hair and beard neatly trimmed and tied in fashionable Lemurian Braids.  He was in a slightly cantankerous mood, but otherwise polite as always, and even projected a slight sense of warmth towards the two Upper Worlders as he gave them their morning lessons.  Linda, having been quite determined to learn Lemurian to the best of her ability, had spent more time studying than Pita, and so she had become the apple of Ratheror's eye, so to say.  Towards Pita he displayed a polite, but slightly less friendly disposition.

The lessons consisted of learning Mon'Tang, as well as Lemurian customs, laws, history, and traditions, along with a smattering of basic Lemurian Mathematics and Science, most of which was quite over their heads.  

As for Lemurian culture, it was fairly simple.  The Queen was above all the Absolute and sole Monarch of the realm, to whom everyone owed allegiance, and whose word was Law.  Beneath her were a handful of high ranking nobles, the chief of which was the Prime Minister, Lord Argo. In summary, the laws, customs and traditions all tended to align on the Divine Right of her Suzerainty, and served as guidelines for all of Lemurian conduct and artistry.  The Queen of Lemuria was often referred to as "the Golden Orb of All Good, Truth and Beauty", and so she was in the eyes of the Lemurian people.  

As for the laws, they could be summarized as "Obey your superiors, vandalize nothing, be truthful and productive, and willingly recompense anyone whom you might harm accidentally in full, plus one half.  Willful harm is punishable by fines, loss of status, or even death at the Queen's or the Prime Minister's discretion."  Of course the legal code itself, written in stone on the walls of the Great Hall of Queens, was quite long and filled with details, but this summary should suffice as a general guideline towards the law's overall meaning and effect.  But to give some sense of the particulars, a few of the laws read as follows:  "The Avenue of Lazuli may be traversed by the Priests of Vrilmana Northward only when the Light of the Silver Temple points to the North Node and Southward only when the Light of the Silver Temple points to the South Node", "The Penalty for breaking a Vase or Statuary on the Causeway of the Upper Golden Jade Pavilion is 1000 Penkara", "The Penalty for Disobedience to the Queen in any form is Death at the Queen's sole discretion".  And so on.  The laws are as ornate and particular as the entire beautiful maze-like city of Lemuria. 

Pita's overall impression of the legal system was that it acted as a kind of logistical and social traffic system, by which the different classes of the Lemurian hierarchy were guided, and the deviation from which was penalized by loss of wealth, status, or in the worst case, one's life.  It seemed highly technical in nature, and he was informed by Sir Ratheror that there were no incongruities of conflicting laws in their system of governance, "... unlike those of your own, late, civilization," he added with a slight twist of triumphalism and wry smile.  

It would be a long time before the young couple could master Lemurian scholarship!

The lesson lasted a few hours, and by the end, Pita and Linda both felt mentally exhausted.  They even broke a sweat as the endeavor of learning was so arduous.  Afterwards, Sir Ratheror left them to their ruminations, leaving behind a pile of homework, as usual.  

Pita and Linda napped for a while, until it was time to get dressed for dinner.  After dressing suitably in their luxuriant robes and jewelry, they left their apartment and were guided by two guards up to the Queen's Hall where the dinners were held.  Different groups of Nobles, according to their clans and status, had been invited to each of the sumptuous affairs, and over the course of several weeks, Pita and Linda had been introduced to a great number of the most powerful people in Lemuria.  As they were the Queen's apparent favorites, being invited every night to sit at her own table, no one dared but speak as politely as possible to the two Upper Worlders.  That said, it was not entirely possible for every one of them to hide their surprise and sometimes shock at the fact that the Queen appeared to dote on Linda so openly.  Even Pita, no expert on Lemurian Social Customs, noticed these expressions several times, usually when the Queen had expressed some particular amusement at something that Linda had said.  Was the Queen slighting the Nobility in this fashion?  What was behind her interest in this pair of Upper Worlders?  None could say. Least of all Pita.

As Pita sipped blue mushroom wine from his crystal goblet he observed the nobles in all their finery.  What a splendid sight it all was.  The refinement of Lemurians had no equal, and one had the impression that theirs was the most stable, cultured, and civilized society that might have ever existed on Earth.  Quite possibly it was.  He turned to gaze on the beautiful queen.  He did not know her personal name as she was referred to always as "Your Majesty" by everyone, including the Prime Minister.  She had an amazing range of expressions, and sometimes he felt that she had warmed up to him, and perhaps even liked him.  At other times she seemed to distain him with a mockery of such withering proportion that he'd have rather crawled into some dark recess below the caverns and starved himself than endure another moment of it.  She was most certainly a very remarkable woman.  Up until this evening the Queen had asked the two of them hundreds of questions about the surface world.  What cities remained, what food supplies were available, and how it was being produced, what armies existed, and in what numbers, what mutations had arisen, what the weather was like, whether or not the atmosphere had been polluted with radiation, and how strong, who the leaders were, their names and personalities, and many questions of a purely tactical, technical and clinical nature.  This was the first night that Pita noticed a change in the tone of the questioning.

"Tell me of your family," she was asking Linda.  "I am curious to hear about your life in the upper world."

"I grew up in a single parent home as an army brat," she replied.

"An army brat?  What is this?" asked the Queen, with an expression of deep curiosity.

"My father is a Lieutenant in the military, and so we travelled a lot.  My sister and I spent most of our childhood on military bases.  I never knew my mother," she finished with a faint disappointment in her voice.

"What of your father? Tell me about him," said the Queen with her keen blue eyes engaged the young woman with a peculiar intensity.  "What is he like?"

Linda answered her questions sincerely and honestly, but without a great amount of detail.  And so the Queen pursued this line of questioning with a series of follow ups.  "What does he do?"  "How does he like his life in the military?"  "Was he a good father to you?"

To this last question, Linda answered emphatically.  "I can't imagine anyone being a better father to me and my sister than he.  He was always so kind to us, so thoughtful, and protective, and encouraging.  He made us believe that we can be whatever in this world we wish, so long as we are willing to work hard, be honest, and pursue our goals with all of our might.  Which is what we've done, and I feel my sister and I have been very blessed, your Majesty."

The Queen seemed sincerely touched by this, and in fact, Pita almost thought for a moment that the Queen was nearly on the verge of shedding a tear when she heard these words.  But the moment past swiftly, and she was then on to her next line of questions.  

The Queen then turned her attention to Pita.

"What is your relationship with Linda?" the Queen asked, and then stared at him with her cool blue eyes intently watching his every movement.  There was a silence as his mind furiously considered what the meaning of this question could imply.  He laughed awkwardly for a moment as he tried to gage her expression.  He could see her intensity, but the underlying intent was completely concealed. 

He glanced over at Linda, who was looking at him with a bemused expression.

"At the moment we are colleagues, but I have always... hoped for more," he said.

There was a short pause.  The Queen stroked her chin.  "Hoped for more, is it?"

"In my heart of hearts," he replied.  He noticed the Queen's sense of mockery had arisen once again.  "Unless your highness has other plans," he added.

"Other plans?" she asked, one eyebrow raised by this comment.  "What kind of 'other plans' would I have?" she pursued.

"It would not be my place to speak for you, the Queen," replied Pita coolly.  "Your plans are your own.  I'm just saying that if you have them, I don't know what else to think."

She wrinkled her eyebrows and looked disatisfied.

"What can I do to make your highness happy?" Pita asked.

"Tell me the truth," she said.

"I did tell you the truth," he replied. 

"It wasn't entirely satisfactory.  I feel you are holding out on me," she said leaning in towards him and pushing her index finger to the table.

"Well as I've said, I've always wanted to have more of a relationship with Linda," he answered hesitantly.  "To be intimate with her," he added.

They had just crossed some pretty personal lines, and Pita had no idea where this line of questioning was leading or why, or what Linda's reaction to this might be.  Not to mention that there was a room full of nobles who were listening in on the conversation, though in fact, he knew that very few of them spoke English.  Nevertheless, he also was well aware that by later in the evening all of them would have heard an exact translation of all that was said.  He was trying to thread the needle of being forthright without causing anyone one embarrassment, and most of all Linda.  After all, he really didn't know how she felt about him in this sense at all.  They'd never discussed it.

"I want to be a part of her life, beyond just our military association. I feel connected, and attracted to her," he said as he glanced over to see Linda's reaction. He noted that her bemused expression had not changed, and he didn't think any of this was coming as a surprise to her.  She seemed to be enjoying herself. 

"Do you have a sense of loyalty to her?" 

"Of course I do," said Pita sincerely,

"Good.  I believe you," replied the Queen with a bright smile.  "As well you should.  She's a fine young lady," she said enthusiastically.  "... for an Upper Worlder," she added at the end after a pause, and with a certain bravado that Pita felt was more a play to the audience than from the Queen's heart.

"How would I test this loyalty of yours," she asked of Pita while looking at Linda. 

"Um... I couldn't even begin to imagine how such a test could be conducted, short of you threating her life and me having to protect her," he replied, "Which I don't think you would do."

"No, I wouldn't," she agreed. "But what if I told you that your stay here in Lemuria was dependent on that Loyalty?  What would you say?"

"On the loyalty I have for Linda?"

"Yes," said the Queen.

"And how true it is?"

"Yes", said the Queen.

"Then I would say there is no issue, as it is as true as can be," he said.

"If I let you leave Lemuria would you come back?"

"If we leave on good terms, then yes, so long as I'm welcome," he answered.

"I mean would you come back for Linda?" asked the Queen.

"Of course," he said.  "I wouldn't leave without her."

"What if I asked you to leave without her?" queried the Queen, her eyes narrowing ever so slightly.

"I, I... eh...," the young hero stammered briefly. "I'd have to ask her if she'd be ok with that," he concluded.

"I see," said the Queen.  "Well, as it happens, I do want to ask you to leave the city without her.  But I want you to return when you are finished."

"Ok," said Pita, puzzled as could be.

"You see, we are having some trouble on the surface... which we are unclear about. And because of the nature of this disturbance, I think you would be the ideal person to investigate," she said.  "I should then like you to return and tell us the results."

"Ok, I willing to do that," he said.

"But I do not want Linda to leave," said the Queen, looking over at the girl.

"Well, I mean as long as she is not being held prisoner,"

"No, far be it from me to make Linda a prisoner," said the Queen emphatically.  "But I want her to stay here with me," she said with a great deal of warmth and affection.  Linda, who was honored and appreciative, was nonetheless puzzled by this.  She never assumed that she was so special as to merit this kind of affection from a foreign Queen whom she scarcely had known for a month.  And yet, somehow, it seemed all so natural to her.  She returned the queen's smile.

"I don't sense there is any objection from Linda, and so as a hero, I am ready to step up to the challenge," stated Pita with his chest out.

"I want you to go to the south.  To the desert.  We have been receiving ... vibrations - "

"Are they good vibrations?" quipped Pita.

"I don't know," the Queen replied. "That's what I want you to find out.  And then I want you to return.  Will you do that?"

"I will," said Pita.

"Good.  If you do not return -"

"If I do not return it is because I am dead," said Pita with finality.

"What about your Federation?" asked the Queen.

"What about my Federation?" 

"Wouldn't you wish to seek them out?  To return to them?" asked the Queen, her eyes scanning him carefully.  "It is your duty, after all, is it not?"

"It is my duty," he answered, "but my heart overrules my duty when Linda is involved," he said.  "And being the fact that the head of the Federation is Linda's father, I don't think there would be any problem with that."

"Her father is the head of the Federation, you say?", asked the Queen, now quite surprised.

"Yes," replied Pita.

"I thought he was a mere Lieutenant," responded the Queen.

"Well speaking metaphysically," he answered.  As it happened, there was a good deal of mystery around Linda's father, Lieutenant Roger Brisbane, that they had discovered along the way.  For one thing, there was the photograph they'd seen of him as a Lieutenant during World War II.  One that made him roughly 125 years old.  And yet Lieutenant Brisbane appeared to be no older than 35, or 40 at the oldest.  He was spry, athletic, capable, sharp as a whip, and altogether youthful in every way.  It was seemingly impossible for him to be that old.  And yet the photograph had the same scar, and the same mole on the upper left cheek, and this was a photograph that had been found by Ling and Linda when they had been exploring some of their father's old boxes which he had hidden away among this things.  While the twins thought it could have been their grandfather, perhaps, but there was no family record of that, and the scar and mole would have to have been ... exactly the same on both.  And that didn't make sense.  In fact, when the twins had asked their father how that was possible he reprimanded them in the harshest terms for disobeying his orders never to go through his private papers, and he never did answer their question. It was one of the several mysteries of the Brisbanes' that had never been resolved.  

"So is he the head of the Federation, or not?" asked the Queen.

Pita thought about this. In all of his interactions with the Federation it seemed to him that Lieutenant Brisbane acted in the capacity of Commander in Chief.  He never seemed to confer with any higher authority, and every decision that was made was done so at his behest, and upon no other input than what those in the room had provided him.  It suddenly struck Pita as a bit odd.  Where, in fact, was Command and Control?  Where was the Federation hierarchy in all of this.  Now granted, the Federation was far away from Tuscon to the East, and radio communications had been more or less destroyed by the radiation effects in the atmosphere that had been caused by the Ultra-War.  So communications was in fact rather difficult.  But even so... why was Tuscon, and Kitt Peak, under the command of a Lieutenant, and not a General?  And yet, no one questioned this at all, and everyone treated Lt. Brisbane as if he had every right and authority to lead, and make executive decisions on his own.  Pita now wondered why he had never noticed this before, nor anyone else for that matter.

As Pita seemed unable to answer, the Queen posed the question, "Is your loyalty to Linda greater than your loyalty to the head of the Federation?"

There was a pause.

"I would have to say yes.  Not only am I loyal to her as a fellow soldier and colleague of the Federation, but I am also loyal to her because my heart makes me feel so," he answered.

The Queen nodded approvingly at these words.

"I will give you a horse, provisions, and a guide... and five days."

She drew an X on a map, and said "This is where I want you to go.  Please do not disappoint us."

"I will endeavor not to," said Pita.

"You will leave in the morning.  I will see that a guide shall meet you then," she said.

Pita bowed, and said, "Thank you, my Queen."

Now it should be noted that Pita used this phrase, "my Queen", on impulse, automatically.  It represented a sharp departure from what he would have hitherto considered his normal frame of mind.  Now that Linda was "with the Queen", and his emotional ties to the Federation slackened, his sense of loyalty had shifted.  He told himself that this was simply a matter of expediency on his part... but was it really?

As he and Linda left the hall, the nobles at various tables gave him nods of approval, and spoke a simple Lemurian phrase which can be translated as "Good luck on your journey".

Pita bid them "Thank you", in his best Lemurian.  There were smiles and more nods of approval.  

In the morning the guide, a short wiry man with hawkish facial features, arrived at the apartment and introduced himself as Vilar.  He led Pita up the long elevator to the surface.   Halfway to the surface Pita removed his helmet (after quite a long time, during with the helmet has become hardly noticeable to him) while the Guide put his on.  Once at the surface they obtained two horses from the underground stables, and rode through the dark tunnel until suddenly, and inexplicably, they were in the desert once again.  It was bright, and the sun was terribly hot on the salt flat when they surfaced.  A hot wind was blowing, but to Pita the sense of fresh air was wonderful.  Any breeze was now a remarkable thing.  He relished his sense of the open air, and nearly beat his chest he was so happy to be above ground again.

Not far away he saw the stone plaza, next to which there was the hawthorn tree, still covered with yellow flower blossoms.  He had his helmet with him, and a cape, and other accoutrements that the guide had provided for him, including a radio broach.  The helmet he noted, was well worth wearing even if he didn't need the breathing apparatus.  The helmet controlled the cloak, and provided different kinds of optical effects through the vizor. The cloak had interesting properties as well, as it could muffle sound, or increase its volume, make them nearly invisible, or be made highly reflective. The helmet also provided protection for his head, and Pita, as a military hero, had no objections to that.

The guide didn't speak English very well at all.  Just a few key words.  Meanwhile Pita's Lemurian was good enough so that between the two of them they managed to make each other understood.

The guide pointed to the south and said "This is the way."  And with that the two men spurred their horses and began heading south over the hard white sands of the salt flat.  They passed the plaza, and Pita gazed at the hawthorn tree.   Suddenly he remembered that he had wanted to ask the Queen about the teardrop shaped spaceship, but his conversation with her was so distracting he had completely forgotten.  But now he remembered it as if he saw it in a dream just a moment before.

"Vilar," said Pita as he stopped by the hawthorn tree. "Do you know anything about the black teardrop shaped spaceship?"

"I know nothing of such things.  Perhaps it is in the sacred book.  Perhaps I saw an image of a teardrop shape in one of the temples, but I know not which one."

Pita rode to the hawthorn tree. He recalled that he was told to never touch the sacred tree.  He was careful not to do so.  But he sat on the horse's back, and concentrated his mind.  He focused his mystic energy on the tree.  Within a few moments he felt a strange sensation, and then he slid back into the bizarre realm of the Sacred World.  The hawthorn tree once again seemed to spread out across the universe, or farther.  Above it, or below, or around, perhaps, was hovering the great raven.  Out over the desert he spotted the teardrop shaped ebony spaceship. He focused on the ship.  He felt suddenly very close to it, and it landed next to him, and the door opened.  Out stepped Zord'iak,  his long platinum colored hair flowing down over his shoulders, and the black gem in his forehead pulsating dimly with a dark light.  He looked down at Pita with a deep calm, and unearthly serenity.  

"So we meet again," said Zord'Iak.

"So we do," said Pita.  "What is this place?"

"The borderlands of Ain Sof", said Zord'Iak.

"Is this an alternate dimension, or an alternate reality of some kind?"

"You can look at it that way.  Or you can look at it like this is the ultimate reality, and the one you normally occupy is merely a diminution of this," answered Zord'Iak gesturing with one arm towards the entirety of the whole.  "It all depends on your point of view."

"True, true."

"How are you faring?  Things in the underworld went well for you?"

"I'm doing well.  We were welcomed into their arms and the Queen has sent me on a quest of which I'm not sure what it's about... but when we get there I will find out.  The underworld was not as terrible as we originally imagined."

"She sent you on a question, did she?"

"Yes.  To an 'X' on the map."

"If you need my help..."

"What type of help could you offer?"

"That depends.  Here.  Take this gem with you", he said passing Pita a small black gem.  "If you need my help, you may call my name into the gem, and I will do what I can."

"Well thank you," said Pita. "I hope I don't need your help but if I do it's good to know I can call on you."

And with that the vision faded and Pita found himself standing in the desert next to the hawthorn tree.  Vilar was next to him looking at him with a concerned expression.

"Well?" asked Vilar.

"I made it to the other side, and I got a few answers."

He tried to explain to Vilar, but the man's mind was not attuned to the mystical realm, and he could not begin to understand.  At this point Pita felt compelled to get moving.  He did not wish to disappoint the queen.

* * * 

Having successfully split the party even further, this is where we left things that game.