Give Me the Man Pt. 06byAlex De Kok©
An hour later, they reached the top, carefully coiling the rope and stowing the equipment in their backsacks. Not as flat as it had seemed to be from the plain below, the top of the Grey Tower presented a bleak, rocky outlook. Towards the eastern end of the summit plain there was a depression out of which rose a craggy outcrop. Ardan and Leara looked around, but could see no immediate sign of any cache.
"You have the key, don't you?" said Leara.
"Yes, but I thought I'd need it to open something when we'd found it. I see nothing here." Ardan was despondent. Had they climbed up here for nothing?
"We haven't even looked properly yet," said Leara, taking his hand. "Come on, let's have a look at the crag over there. There's something about it that doesn't look quite right."
About to follow Leara's suggestion, a suggestion of movement seen from the corner of his eye made Ardan dive forward and knock Leara flying into the shelter of a pile of rocks, covering her with his body. Apart from a squeal when he knocked her flying she said nothing as he wriggled round to see what had caught his eye. One of the alien flying machines had just lifted over the rim and they watched, hoping, as it settled into the basin.
"It's Jandol," said Leara, "he got it working!"
"Sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you," said Ardan as he helped Leara to her feet.
She squeezed his fingers. "No harm done. What if it had been invaders? We've seen what their weapons can do. I'd rather be thrown into the rocks by you, and get a few bruises, than shot by one of those tube things."
"Grandfather called them 'guns'. He also said the Terran guns were better." Ardan waved to Jandol as his friend picked his way through the rocks. "Well done, Jandol! You scared us there."
Jandol laughed. "I saw you jump," he said. "I'd have been here earlier, but I was trying to figure out how to get the thing to rise. You saw last night I managed to get it to go back and forward. I found out how to turn left and right, too. Down I found by accident." Jandol laughed. "I almost hit the ground very hard indeed, but there must be some sort of device that stops that, because it slowed up and then just settled very lightly. I was very pleased about that," he said.
"How did you get it to lift?" Ardan said.
"There was another lever. A horizontal one, this time. Whoever is controlling the thing sits at a sort of desk, with the direction control in one hand and the height control in the other. It takes some co-ordination, but I think I've got the hang of it now." He grinned. "Speed depends on how far you push the direction lever."
"That is wonderful news," said Ardan. "But for the moment, we're still trying to find the cache. The greatest problem is that we have absolutely no idea what we're looking for."
"Okay," said Jandol, still pleased with himself, "let's split up and look."
They did, and it was Ardan himself who found the cache. There was a slab of rock facing him. Smooth, it covered an area about twelve feet high and fifteen feet across. Fragments of fallen rock, shattered by winter frosts, lay in profusion nearby, but almost none in front of the slab. He moved closer. The rock was smooth, few flaws and he shrugged his shoulders. 'Just coincidence', he thought, and slapped the rock as he turned to move away. The hollow boom that rang from the rock stopped him in his tracks. He made a fist and rapped the rock with his knuckles. Again that hollow sound. Excited now, he tried to find the edge, wondering if he could lever it up, find out what was behind. The others had heard the boom and were making their way through the rocks, excited.
"Have you found it?" Leara said.
"I don't know. It's hollow, listen - ," he said as he tapped the rock and the hollow boom left little doubt, " - but I can't find how to get behind it."
"Have you tried the key?" said Leara.
"No, not yet."
"Why don't you?"
"I - "
Ardan raised his hands. "Okay, but I don't know what good it will do." He pulled at the thong around his neck and retrieved the key from his pouch. Jandol and Leara leaned closer to look.
"I looks like no key I ever saw before," said Jandol. "What are those buttons for?"
"They have to be pressed in a particular sequence," said Ardan, "the same order that the initial letters occur in the Grandmother's name."
"The Grandmother? The Temple Grandmother? No one knows her name. Everyone calls her 'Grandmother'," said Jandol, frowning.
"Birga. Her name is Birga. She told me. B, R, G; blue, red, green," said Ardan, pressing the buttons. Startled, they felt more than heard a hum, then a creak and crash as the slab of rock beside them began to lift away from the rocks on either side. The three watchers hurriedly moved back out of its way as it lifted, revealing a simple pair of doors behind. Large, dull, black metal. Closed. A large metal wheel was mounted at one side. Ardan and Jandol looked at each other, then at Leara.
Leara shrugged. "There's a wheel. We turn it." She stepped forward, grabbed the wheel in two hands and tried to turn it. Nothing.
"Try the other way," said Jandol. Leara did, and after a moments hesitation, the wheel began to turn. As it did, the doors began silently to open. As they did, a blast of stale air came out, but fell away to nothing as the gap widened. A few more turns and the gap was wider than a man's shoulders. Ardan raised his hand.
"Stop there, Lea. I'll just peep in. We may need torches, for light, and I don't think there's much up here to burn."
"Blankets," said Leara promptly.
Ardan chuckled. "Blankets," he agreed. "Wait a moment, I'll just look in." He stepped forward into the gap and as he did a light began to gleam deep inside the cave, followed by others, until the inside of the cave was brightly lit.
The others joined him in the entrance and the three of them stood there, awed by the sight revealed. Jandol reached over and patted his shoulder and Leara squeezed his hand.
"Guns," said Ardan, "lots of guns. Lots and lots of guns. We can fight back," he said, barely able to control the excitement in his voice. "At last, we have a chance of hurting these invaders. Unless I'm having hallucinations, I think we have our own flying machine, too," he said, pointing to the rear of the cave, where a half-familiar shape rested on tripod skids. "I wonder how that one works?"
"We'll find out, Ardan, but even if we don't, we have the means to arm our people, and we have the means to get those arms to them."
Ardan nodded. "Look around, see if there are any instruction books of any kind. We might not be able to read them, but if they have pictures we might be able to work out how things work. Apart from instruction books, bring one example of everything you pick to the front and then we'll take it outside into the daylight and examine it where we can see what we're looking at. Okay?"
"Okay," said Jandol.
"Yes, indeed. One of each?"
"Yes, but try to pick weapons that can be used by one person."
"Let's get started, then," said Leara, reaching to the nearest rack and selecting one of each of two different guns. She carried them out into the sunlight.
An hour later, they had identified five different guns which they thought might be for use as individual weapons, another two, larger, which they thought might be intended to mount on some kind of support. There was also a hollow tube designed to rest on a man's shoulder, and what seemed to be some form of projectile which seemed designed to fit the tube. They also found some spherical objects in three different colours, each with a device whereby a lever was held by a locking pin. For some reason these made Leara uneasy and she took only one of each and placed them away from their other finds. There were other things they couldn't identify at first, but Ardan decided to leave them for another time.
"We were sent to find weapons that could be used by an individual," he said. "I'm fairly certain some of those other things are weapons, but I think we should concentrate on what are obviously designed for use by one man."
"Or woman," said Leara.
Ardan grinned. "Yes, or woman."
They also found what they thought was ammunition to use with the weapons, but were puzzled as to how the two would be mated. It was Leara, however, who made the most significant find. In a sealed box near the back of the cache were instruction books. Ardan was overjoyed when he realised the significance of what they had found.
"Look," he said, pushing a booklet under Jandol's nose, "all of the instructions are in pictures and diagrams. We don't need to know the language."
"I think this was deliberate," said Leara in a thoughtful tone. "I think the designers of this cache knew that one day someone who knew the location and had the key would come looking. I think they also knew that the language spoken might not be the same as the one used by whoever made the cache. They used pictures because they would be understood, even if the words weren't."
"I think you're right, Lea," said Jandol. He smiled at the others, holding up the instructions he was examining. "We even have one for the flying machine."
By late afternoon, after a break for refreshment, they had managed to identify and load with the relevant ammunition one example of each weapon. These they took to a natural arena in the rocks at the other end of the plateau, well away from the cave. They also took one example of each of the spherical objects.
"We seem to have three distinct types of weapon," said Ardan. "These, two large, and one small, use these cased projectiles as ammunition. If I've read the instructions right, the ammunition contains both the projectile and the means to propel it. The large weapons seem to be designed to shoot at a distance. The small one seems to be a hand weapon, perhaps for close work. The instructions say to hold the weapon tight, so here goes."
He picked the weapon up, glanced at the instruction book and picked up a metal container with ammunition and clicked it firmly into place. Another glance at the instructions and he flicked off a switch and pulled back a lever. Holding the weapon tight against him, he pulled gently at the operating lever, a small one set in a finger guard below the barrel.
The noise was deafening and he let the operating lever loose, shocked. The noise stopped immediately and the three friends looked at each other, then at the rocks, where bright splash marks showed where the missiles had hit. A wry grin touched Ardan's face. "I think I know what the book meant when it seemed to indicate I should caress the operating lever," he said. "I pulled at it too hard. I'll try again."
This time Ardan managed to get the weapon to fire short bursts of only three or four rounds. He put the weapon aside, nodding. "Much better. We'd better make sure that whoever uses these isn't too excitable. What's next?"
By experiment they found that the other, long, projectile weapon and the small hand one, each fired only a single round for each press of the operating lever. "Much more controllable," said Jandol. "If we can get people who can hit what they're aiming at, these longer ones will be marvellous. The hand gun might not be too accurate at a distance."
"That's what the instruction book suggests," agreed Ardan, "for close work and personal protection."
"What's next?" said Leara.
"These other guns. They don't seem to fire projectiles, but some form of energy beam. Let's see." Ardan pressed the operating lever, and as hurriedly released it. Where the weapon had been pointing was a smoking crater in the rock. A small crater, yes, but the energy required to melt rock to a depth of two inches, on a width of three, in about two seconds, scared the three friends. There was a long silence.
"Trained and trusted operatives only, I think," said Ardan at last.
Jandol and Leara looked at each other and nodded. They turned to Ardan. "You're right," said Jandol. "Too easy to hit a friend by mistake with that."
"There are still the big guns, but I think they're just bigger versions of the hand guns. Those and those shoulder tubes. We can leave those for the moment. I have a bad feeling about the tubes; I think those projectiles, whatever they are, carry explosives. Testing them here might alert invaders, so we'll leave them for the moment. Then there's these round things. I have no idea what they are. Look, one type is plain green, one red, with a single grey stripe, and one blue, with two stripes."
"I have a bad feeling about those, Ardan," Leara said, frowning. "Can we test them without being anywhere near them?"
"I think we can," said Jandol. "We'll jam one in a gap in the rocks, tie a cord to the ring on the locking pin, and pull it from behind a nice big rock."
"Good thinking. Let's do that," said Ardan, taking the first sphere, a green one, and reaching for some cord.
At first they thought the device was a dummy because when the cord was pulled and the pin came loose, nothing happened. Jandol was just starting to rise, his mouth opening, when the sudden explosion almost knocked him off his feet.
"Why the delay?" Jandol said when he regained his dignity.
"I think it's designed to be thrown," said Leara. "Pull out the pin, wait a moment, throw it at your enemy and bang, an explosion that will either kill or maim. They could be used to set traps, too," she said, shaking her head. "Why are we so inventive when it comes to weapons?" she said plaintively.
Ardan shrugged. "I have no idea. We still have two more of these sphere things to test. Which one first?"
"The red, then the blue."
The red turned out to be an intensive flame, burning for several minutes with a clear white light, the blue a smoke producing device, filling their little test hollow with dense brown smoke from which they emerged coughing.
"I hope none of the invaders see that," said Ardan, looking out at the billows of dense smoke rolling off the plateau. He glanced up. "It'll be dark in an hour or so. We still haven't tried the Terran flying machine."
"I don't think we've time tonight," said Jandol. "I suggest we get something to eat and a good night's sleep. First thing tomorrow, we try the flying machine. If we can get that to work, we load them both and go and look for our own people, give them something to fight back with."
"That makes a lot of sense. Did anyone notice if there was any food of any kind in the cache?"
"It will have spoiled, surely?" said Leara.
"I don't know," said Ardan. "If the Terrans can make equipment that still functions after all this time, perhaps they can make food last, too."
"I'm sticking to what I know," said Leara in a no-nonsense tone. Ardan glanced at Jandol, who grinned and shrugged, reaching for the knapsack at his side.
An hour later, they had fed and drunk, and the sun was just dipping below the horizon. They had closed the cache for the night and Ardan and Leara laid out their blankets near the door. Jandol picked up his blankets and knapsack and turned away.
"Where are you going?" said Ardan.
"Along to the flying machine. I'll leave you two your privacy. Try and get some sleep." He grinned and was gone.
Ardan turned to Leara. She smiled and held out her arms. "We can't do anything about weapons or flying machines until morning," she said. "You were to be honoured by my people, 'table and bed'. We were just getting to the bed bit when those damned attacks started." She looked away for a moment, then back at him. "I want you to take my virginity, Ardan m'Gerlan, house Tearo."
"If not now, very soon," she whispered, moving into his arms for his kiss.
The kiss was long, warm, and Ardan could feel himself hardening. He pulled Leara closer and she pressed against him, a sighing moan deep in her throat as she felt him against her. A chuckle built in her throat as she moved against him and he relished the feel of her pressing against him, knowing that she wanted him as much as he wanted her. She slid her hands up under his tunic, stroking the skin of his back as the kiss went on, burning them.
He was reaching for the fastenings on her tunic when a piercing whistle came from Jandol's end of the plateau. Ardan sprang away from Leara reaching for the energy gun they had decided to use as personal weapons. Beside him, Leara hurriedly grabbed for her own.
"What is it?" she asked, peering all around.
"Jan used a code we learned in Guide training. It means 'enemy sighted'."
"I don't see them," said Leara, still trying to see every way at once.
"Nor do I," said Ardan. "Oh! Now I do."
"About fifty feet up, coming in from the South."
"Yes, now I see it. One of their damned flying machines." Leara eased her energy gun to a more convenient position.
"Can you see how many of them are on it?"
"Not yet. It needs to be closer. Ardan! I think it's landing."
"I hope Jandol's well hidden," Ardan muttered.
"I can't see him."
"At least with both moons, we can see fairly well, so we can see what those things are doing, assuming they get out when they land."
"It's down. Can you see how many there are?"
Ardan peered into the gloom around the landed flying machine. "Can't tell. I think there are only two of them."
"Ardan, if we could kill them, we would have another flying machine. With the one in the cave, if we can get it working, we'd have three. That means we could get weapons to three destinations." Leara's voice was low and urgent, excited.
"We need to be closer. I don't know how well those things see in the dark, but until we know how many there are, we need to be very careful. Stay here, I'll try to get closer."
"No." Leara's tone was abrupt. "We'll try to get closer."
Ardan stared at her for a moment, then there was a gleam in the night as he grinned. He nodded. "We'll try to get closer. Careful, Lea, please."
She reached out and squeezed his hand. "Don't worry. We have unfinished business to attend to." She rose, crouching to keep herself as well concealed as possible. "I'll try to get to that cluster of rocks, there. You stay here and be ready to fire. Once I get there, I'll wait and keep watch while you move forward. Okay?"
Leara moved forward in a low crouch, placing her feet carefully in the darkness. Ardan watched her for a moment then returned his attention to the invaders. They were examining the captured flying machine. As far as he could see, there were only two of them. As he watched, one of them raised an object it was carrying to its mouth. Ardan guessed it was some form of communication device. After a moment, it returned the device to its belt and turned to its colleague. They appeared to be in some form of discussion.
Leara had reached the cluster of rocks now and he could just make out her 'come on' wave in the darkness. He crouched and moved forward carefully. As soon as he reached her she rose, ready to move again, but he pulled her down, pointing. The two invaders were separating, one climbing onto the captured flyer, the other returning to the new arrival.
"We have to stop them," said Ardan, "you take the one on the left, I'll take the other one." He raised his energy rifle. "Now!"
Two beams of light lanced the darkness. The figure Ardan had fired at toppled but Leara's shot had merely grazed the other invader's arm. It dropped to a kneeling position, its tube weapon swinging up ready to fire. Just as Ardan was about to fire again, a third weapon joined the combat. Jandol's shot was from almost directly behind the invader, which never knew what killed it. Cautiously, Ardan and Leara moved forward.
Both of the invaders were motionless on the ground, and Ardan was reasonably confident that they were dead, but his Guide training had repeatedly warned him not to make assumptions. That training paid off as the figure that Ardan had shot suddenly reared up, tube weapon ready. Jandol's second shot finished the fight.