There were no smiling attendants handing out treats. Nothing in the way of decoration, or at least nothing which looked decorative to me. There was comfortable seating of the same design as what I’d seen aboard the train, but besides that, the observation deck was fairly austere.
Just interlocking geometric metal panels both above and below, and huge floor to ceiling windows all around the circular outer wall of the structure. An overhanging shade blocked out the obnoxiously bright light, and I could hear coolant pumps working overtime to keep the interior tolerably cool.
There were a few structurally integral columns with what looked like access panels in them, but none which I could get close to as yet. Instead, Shkinta marched solemnly with the rest from the boarding platform to the outer rim of the observatory.
The view was predictably spectacular. Hard to wrap my head around even, as it was like studying an inside out Earth from the center. Just more continents and oceans wherever I looked. There were no frozen polar regions though, as the black sun illuminated the Earth’s interior surface very evenly.
With the guard that saw us off the train now busy with other duties, the children were free to slowly make their way around the windowed outer edge of the observatory, occasionally capturing images using hand held devices I assumed were something like a camera.
The tedium of it began to frustrate me. How could I escape the confines of this stomping metal sarcophagus with so many surrounding it on all sides? Would I not get the opportunity I hoped for? I began to entertain the possibility that I’d have to wait weeks or months to get this close to the black sun again.
However I soon noticed that individual children would occasionally leave the rest, disappearing through a doorway into a round room at the center of the observatory. Someplace to call their parents from? In fact, it turned out to be a bathroom as I discovered when Shkinta availed herself of it.
The servitor was left just outside. I saw my chance and took it. With the other children’s attention devoted to the landscape outside, I was able to emerge from an opening I created in the servitor’s back and crawl out. But not before using the staff to clothe myself identically to the girl I saw Shkinta talking to on the way up.
I hoped that if the guards didn’t look closely, they might not notice. I crept around the other side of the circular room, waiting for Shkinta to finish. Once I heard the door open and close, then the clanking of the servitor stomping off, I ducked into the bathroom.
There was no toilet, just a reflective surface with a small desk jutting out from beneath it, various tools sitting there meant for uses I could not guess at. Not that I cared to, instead expanding my staff from its collapsed state and creating a hole in the ceiling.
The metal did not melt exactly but was progressively subtracted, wiring and tubing just above the ceiling panel being eaten away along with it as the hole widened. The sound of the nearest coolant pump ceased, and it began to grow noticeably warmer as I climbed up through the opening.
There was nothing like a utility space. Nobody was ever meant to be here, just a tangled jumble of pipes, tubing and wiring, as well as mechanisms I did not recognize. I continued to burrow upwards, struggling to ignore how sweltering it had become.
When it occurred to me that I should close up the hole in the ceiling panel below me, I looked down only to see the startled face of one of the children staring back. As I’d been trained to, I reflexively neutralized his staff. Before I could do anything else, he dashed out the door.
Soon afterwards, alarms sounded. Now muffled since I’d begun to close up the holes beneath me as I continued upwards, but still impossible to ignore. Sweat now trickled down every inch of exposed skin, as much from anxiety as the heat.
I cautiously willed the staff to create shielding around me which would act as a barrier only to heat. I did not want it to inhibit my ability to move around as it would if it were an absolute barrier to all forms of matter and energy, nor would I even be able to see if it blocked light.
It worked out surprisingly well except that I once again had to consciously reprocess CO2 into oxygen as for whatever reason, the staff interpreted my desire to exclude warm air as the desire to exclude all air except what was already inside of the barrier.
I was already practiced at this however, having done it for the past several hours that I spent concealed within the servitor. Balancing it with maintaining the heat shield was taxing but not unmanageable as I climbed ever higher, through the tunnel of my own making.
When I arrived in a maintenance room recognizably intended for Nordic access, I heard their panicked voices wafting through a grate in the far end of the cramped little chamber. “No, that’s what I’m saying! They can’t track her anymore. We had her briefly but she must’ve destroyed critical systems that the security computer relies on.”
The other balked. “How would she know to do that? She’s just an animal.” The other guessed I might’ve just tunneled through it by accident, which in fact I had. “They’re smarter than they look. My son’s human escaped its cage six times in the first month that we had it, a different way each time.”
The other rubbed his chin. “Can’t we just extrapolate from the direction it was last headed in, and its rate of movement, to determine its current location?” The other shook his head. “You’re underestimating them again. They’re not that stupid, there’s no telling where it is by this point.”
I cringed. In fact I had been moving straight upwards this entire time, sealing the successive openings below me. I had no idea how their wiring was laid out though, so I must’ve filled in those layers incorrectly. The distant wailing alarm cut out and distorted intermittently.
Beyond them I saw single file Nordics floating along as if on an invisible moving walkway. Some were sideways or upside down relative to them. It looked very much like one of M.C. Escher’s fever dreams.
Just endless streams of figures pouring out from openings in the wall. From passages I assumed led to guard barracks. Figures and passages, passages and figures, flowing onward without end. It was dizzying to look at. They were like the blood cells of this vast machine, coursing through its golden veins.
More Escher geometry awaited me on the next level. It seemed to be par for the course in the black sun’s interior, presumably because there wasn’t a uniform direction for gravity to pull here as there was on the Earth’s inner surface.
Nevertheless, whatever technology they used to contrive the workings of gravity such that they adhered to the inner surface of the planet also allowed them to move in whichever way they pleased, here in the black sun.
Beyond the walkway just outside the grating was a gigantic honeycombed sphere. Pulsating with the golden light I knew to be characteristic of Vril, like the very heart of this structure. As I silently watched, waiting for an opportunity, I recognized Tlalo.
He’d changed his skin, hair, eyes and outfit to blend in, but he still had his scar. Who else would be sneaking around like that? I gambled on it, changing my own outfit to the typical black military uniform as well before knocking out the grate and climbing through.
Startled and wide eyed, he drew his laser pistol. I held my hands up defensively as if that would make any difference, but I was in luck. He recognized me, and became visibly overjoyed. “You made it! The more the merrier.” I glumly asked what the two of us could possibly hope to achieve.
“If you didn’t believe in the possibility of victory, why did you come here?” I answered that however remote and impossible my goal seems, I just take whatever small, near term steps will move me closer to it. He laughed and slapped me on the back.
We both tensed up as a uniformed Nordic arn ran past us. More concerned with the ailing siren than closely examining us, much to our relief. Tlalo led me into some sort of control room overlooking the core of the black sun.
Stay Tuned for Part 48!