Prince Toreus Rhann Rhann and the Thuvian Rangers

Chapter 21: Down

It was a long long walk down. Toreus noted that these stairs went down much farther than the ones from MacKean’s Den. They were going deep into the plate.

Bits and pieces of the history of Terra Prime that he had studied under his tutor as a young prince crossed his mind as he went.

Long ago a meteor hit the Great Sphere and penetrated its outer skin. The automated repair mechanism put in place by the Sidairians mended the penetration but they could do nothing about a side affect of the meteor. For the meteor had been hollow and artificial and it had carried a non-terran life form.

Toreus had never seen an actual Trongoroth but anyone who grew up on the Sphere knew what the creatures were like. They were biological machines really, ruled over by a queen who designed all the other Trongs to be here tools. The drifted through space in asteroids, the queen hatching when the meteor entered a suitable environment. And suitable environment could be almost any environment where there were the right chemicals to build living organism. The queen could adapt to any environment and build children who could make that environment more to her liking.

Soon after arriving on the Sphere the Trongoroth queen had hatched and begun to burrow into the material of the plates, because, above all else, the Trongoroths were burrowing beings. One never saw them in the open air on the surface—a fact that had made them possible to contain.

Back in those days, before the Sphere War, the Sidarairians and most of the Houses of Atlantis had joined together in a League to fight the Trongoroth threat.

The battle had gone on for thirty years and ended only when the Sidairians managed to capture a Trong Queen and turn her to their side.

After that things changed on Terra Prime. People, many of them ex-soldiers, began to live in the underground and work with the enslaved Trongoroths. And when the war came many people fled underground to avoid the fighting. And when the war ended with the Guild Treaty that forbade the Sidairians from finishing the Sphere, and the Sidairians effused to maintain it because they were angered by that part of the treaty, it was the plate dwellers and their Trongoroth slaves who maintained the plates from underground.

And years later when another insectoid life form, the Metrons, invaded it was the plate dwellers and the Trongs who fought them off—with very little help from the surface dwellers.

Two alien incursions, thought Toreus. It made one wonder if someone had not sent both alien invasions their way.

We’re coming to the bottom, thought transmitted Shakorja, who was leading the way as they descended.

Smell any people? Toreus asked.

I smell a lot of stuff I don’t much like, Junior—but no people. And there is a smell I can’t identify that is all over—like popcorn and mushrooms.

Well keep your nose open for people and anything that smells like a Trongoroth.

And what exactly does a Trongoroth smell like?

I don’t know. Insects, grubs, worms.

Everything smells like that down here. We’re in the plate.

Good point.

They were now at the foot of the stairs and in darkness. No one had troubled to put bioloom globes here. That could be a good sing or a bad one.

Toreus commanded the goggles to slide down from his headpiece. The goggles automatically searched for a night sight setting. The light at the base of the stairs was greenish in color but it still slid off into the inky blackness beyond.

“There could be Cthulu hiding in there,” said Colin looking through his own night vision spex.

“Cuh—what?” Toreus squinted at him.

“mythical elder gods from a bunch of stories by an Earthman named Loverfeld or something like that.”

“It’s Lovecraft,” said young Nathan.

“Yeah,” shrugged Colin. “It’s a question on the Quizzi in the net a lot. I’m not much of a reader but I like to do the Quizzi.”

I bet, thought transited Shakorja. I bet he’s read every book that Earther wrote.

Be nice, brother.

This guy rubs me backwards, boss.

He has his uses.

But who the hells is he, really?

A Thuvian Ranger who works for Kothar Khonn.

A mercenary who sells his sword for money.

That doesn’t mean he has no principles.

Have the Guider check him.

No. I trust him. I will not invade his privacy.

“So where do we go now, Your Grace?” asked Lois.

“I have ship,” said Colin. “I also have a portable jumper. I couldn’t use it before to get us out because it only had enough power to take out me and my men. But I lost four of those men and we can use it to get to my ship—the Scarlet Shadow.”

Toreus knew of that ship but didn’t associate it with Colin O’Brien. He knew that it was owned by Zachariah Sarkhon, his wife and a consortium. Could Colin be part of that consortium?

“Let’s try it,” said Lois.

“There’s a problem,” said Colin. “Jumpers can’t penetrate the Sphere material without a guideway. We’d have to find one of the guideways that guide jumpers through the plate to the Outer plate Fountains and spaceports—link out jump connection to that and then we can go.”

“Can you do that?” asked Toreus. “It sounds pretty tricky.”

Colin looked down. “One of the men who got killed was a Quantum Engineer—he could have done it.”

“Then we can’t use the jumper,” said Toreus.

“Unless we find a QE,” said Leo.

“Well, kid,” Colin shook his head. “There aren’t too many of those hanging around down here.”

The kid gave Colin the angriest look that Toreus had ever seen.

“The plate dwellers fix things down here, right?” said Leo.

“That’s right,” said Toreus.

“Then they must know something about Quantum Engineering. Well, then we need to find some plate dwellers and ask them for their help.”

“He has a good point.”

“Yes he does,” said Nathan before the mercenary could say something sarcastic.

Colin still made a sarcastic expression with his face getting an even angrier version of that angry look from Nathan.

“Sirs,” said Timmy the robot bear. “If you wish to find some of the local inhabitants I detect a group of them watching us from the dark just down that corridor.”

Toreus looked in the direction the machine had pointed. The Rangers fell into defensive positions. Shakorja moved forward in half crawl and sniffed.

That smell I couldn’t ID was plate dwellers.

“I guess that decided that,” said Toreus.

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