General Godfrey stopped in front of the door to the interrogation bunker to smooth over the front of her utility dress blouse. She glanced at her boots, which reflected the Shoahn’tu sun in their black sheen. A beige beret sat perched on top of jet black hair cut to length just below her jaw line. The Terran Guard sergeant standing next to her was just as immaculate, right down to the fresh oil he had used to clean the action of the weapon slung over his shoulder. He carried a thin black briefcase in his right hand.
“Alright,” she said. “Let’s go.” The sergeant leaned forward and tapped a code into the numeric keypad next to the door. He stepped back and General Godfrey placed her hand on the small screen next to the pad. After a moment, the pad chimed, indicating that the code was correct and that it recognized her palm print. Steel latches flipped back and the door, made from a full inch of steel plating, eased back automatically on well-oiled hinges.
The room was lit just enough that she could see everyone clearly, but just dim enough to give anybody brought in for questioning a vague sense of uncertainty. The floor was shined to a high gloss and the walls, sloping outward towards the ceiling, were painted in a flat gray. A stainless steel table took up the center of the room, with two armed soldiers standing against the wall behind it. A man dressed in black field utility dress and wearing a side arm stood up when she entered.
“Ten ‘hut” he hollered, stiffening his stance.
General Godfrey stopped mid-stride, staring at the Shoahn’ sitting in a metal chair at the far end of the table. He was slumped over, staring at the brushed steel case sitting on the table in front of him. His snout was curled out as he purred softly with a submissive cooing.
“Shoak’tra ‘Val,” she said in the Shoahn’ language.
He looked up at her and returned the greeting. “Shoak’tra ‘Venal.”
She stepped up to the table and studied his face, noticing a faint dark blush on one side.
She looked at the man still standing at attention. “What’s that?,” she asked, pointing at Shoahn’Fal’s face.
“He wouldn’t answer any of our questions, General.”
She stepped sideways to stand just inches from the man. He was taller than she was and she had to look up into his face as she spoke. “The first Shoahn’ we’ve seen in twenty years, and you felt the need to interrogate him?”
“We didn’t think there were any left -“
“Nobody thought there were any left,” she interjected, raising her voice.
“We had to make sure he wasn’t -“
“Oh my God, are you all six kinds of stupid?” she blurted.
“General, we were following procedure. He’s not injured.”
“We’re supposed to protect these people, not beat them!” she said, raising her voice even further.
“I was following procedure, General.”
A look of shock flashed across her face and she stepped back. “Get the hell out of my briefing room, Captain,” she demanded.
“General, I think it would be better -“
General Godfrey whipped her sidearm from its holster and pointed it at the man. “Oh wow, you’ve invented a whole new kind of stupid. Get the fuck out of my briefing room!” The man opened his mouth to say something, but stopped short and bolted for the door when she pulled the hammer back on her pistol.
“You, there in the back,” she said. “I want a full report on what happened here from the moment this Shoahn’ walked in the door.”
“Yes ma’am”, the guards said in unison.
“Dismissed.” The guards strode stiffly towards the door without another word.
Godfrey and her sergeant stood alone, watching Shoahn’fal as he continued to coo. She cocked an ear, listening for the nuances in his voice. She detected a pattern, straining to recognize it. Her eyes flew open when she realized who he was.
Speaking in his language, she said, “You are a priest.”
“Have you had service?”
Looking up from the table, he said, “Not in a very long time.”
“We have a temple.”
“You are too kind.”
“Would you like to take a meal? I can have something brought for you.”
She hadn’t spoken to a Shoahn’ since she was a buck lieutenant and had forgotten how excruciatingly polite they could be. Despite his words, she could tell he was tired, hungry, thirsty and in great pain.
“We are honored by your presence and I must ask that you forgive me, but we have to be sure.”
“Go ahead Sergeant.” He placed the case he was carrying on the table and opened the lid to expose a clear fragment of oblong crystal with a myriad of haphazard facets. She walked along the table, sliding the case along with her. She slid the crystal in front of him and said, “Please.”
Shoahn’Fal nodded and wrapped his leathery fingers around the crystal, his claws scraping the surface as he did so. He closed his eyes and unfurled his snout to its full length and began with a low droning coo that immediately caused a soothing sensation to wash through her. She had forgotten about this as well and realized she greatly missed the Shoahn’. As he filled the room with the ancient voice of the priesthood, the crystal began to glow. At first, a few specks of blue light fluttered inside and then started to swirl. As his cooing grew louder, the flecks coalesced and came together until a dull haze of blue light formed a perfect sphere inside the crystal.
Godfrey stared at the light, unable to look away. Slowly, the room around her began to fade and she felt herself falling into the light until she was surrounded by a universe that went on forever. Time stopped and her mind became one with a great expanse of nothingness that was beyond everything. Her mind settled into it and she felt herself swimming in a pure state of peace.
Shoahn’Fal stopped his drone and the light faded. The room around her shuddered back into place and she heard herself gasp. The place her mind had been retreated into a thin point on edge of her consciousness, and then was gone, like a forgotten dream.
Godfrey squinted and shook her head, shaking off the effects of the crystal. “Are there any more like you?” she asked.
“No,” he lied.
She carefully closed the lid and slid the case towards the sergeant, who stepped next to her and removed it from the table.
She eyed the case Shoahn’Fal had brought with him. “What have you brought?” she asked. When she reached for his case, Shoahn’Fal quickly placed his hand on it and slid it to the side.
He gently scratched it with a claw and then pulled it towards him and flipped it open. He turned the case around so she could see the contents. “These are the Old Scrolls,” he said.
“I’ve heard of them.” She studied Shoahn’Fal’s face more closely now. He had to be old, even by Shoahn’ standards, and she couldn’t help wonder if sanity abandoned the mind of old men for the Shoahn’ just as it did for humans. She studied the contents of the case, which looked like an old MFD display replacement for one of the older jumpjets. She looked at the sergeant, who simply shrugged. She decided the kindest thing was to humor the old priest. It wouldn’t bring any harm and if it made him feel important, she could call an old piece of forgotten avionics the Old Scrolls.
“May I show you?” he asked.
“But of course,” she said with mock enthusiasm. “What do they say?” The boredom that was starting to set in halted abruptly when he touched the screen and it lit up showing the blue triangle. Her first thought was to wonder how the thing could possibly still have power. When he touched one of the buttons on the bezel, the page changed to something written in a language that looked vaguely familiar but that she could not recognize. He touched another button and the device revealed another page showing a graphic of the Pyramid. Godfrey’s boredom vanished entirely and she felt a new sensation clutching at her chest as adrenalin surged through her. He touched another button to reveal a line drawn from a section of the Pyramid to a list written with the symbols that were tantalizingly familiar, but still inscrutable. He touched another button to reveal a list accompanied by simple graphics depicting several different objects: oblong, short, long, square, boxy, round. Each had a label underneath depicting what it was. When he touched another button, her heart stopped. The page showed a topographical map with a red circle in the center. A series of concentric circles expanded out from the first: orange, red, white and finally a black circle that was too large to fit on the page.
“What is this?” she hissed.
“These, General, are the Old Scrolls. They are a catalog of what’s inside the Pyramid.”
Godfrey’s eyes widened in disbelief. “And what’s that?” she asked, pointing to the black card nestled next to the tablet.
Shoahn’Fal tapped lightly on its surface and said, “This, General, is the key to rule the world.”
Her voice was barely a whisper. “It unlocks the portal.“
“That is correct.”
“Why are you bringing this to me?” she asked.
“Your Terran Guard is sworn to protect the Shoahn’,” he said. “And even though you have failed, you have come to understand us. In you, my people are preserved by the observance of their culture, a respect for who they were. You are now as close to being Shoahn’ as anybody could be without being one of us.”
“I’m afraid we’re a little less polite than your people.”
He tapped the rim of the case. “It seems we were once a little less polite, as well. This is the Ancient Technology from the Time Before. Reading the Old Scrolls, I have come to understand who we once were. We did not adopt the way of the Shoahn’ as you know it because of our kind nature.” He leaned forward and gazed into her eyes. She felt something touch her consciousness, something that seethed with anger, and then it was gone. “We became who we are in order to survive.”
“Show me,” she said.
Shoahn’Fal nodded and the mouth beneath his snout widened into a leathery grin. “Of course. But there is one more thing you need to understand. Your human friends with the walking war machines have set up guard around the Pyramid.”
Godfrey leaned back and let out a sigh. “Do they know about this?”
Shoahn’Fal thought back to his first tantrum and how his initial indulgence of Dren’vil must have touched the priestesses he had left behind. “They might know it’s important, but they can’t know what’s inside. Only the Old Scrolls tell us that.”
“How long do you need to open this portal?” she asked.
Godfrey stood up and started pacing. “It’s not enough to just seize the Pyramid; we have to hold it. And then we have to figure out how to use whatever’s inside without the Colonial Marines getting wind of what we’re up to.” She sat back down and pointed at the tablet. “I need to understand everything that’s in there if we’re going to figure out how to make this work.” She kept her hand suspended in the air, pointing, waiting for him to respond. “I need you to trust me.”
She saw the antennae on his head ripple for just an instant and then settle back down as a grin once again enveloped his face. “Of course, General. Let me show you.”
©2016 Michael J Lawrence