Chapter 25: Another Artefact
In stark contrast to the dull exterior of the building, the interior was considerably better decorated. Leading from the door up to a wooden reception desk at the back of the room was a long red velvet carpet with gold lining, laid on a white marble floor. On each and every one of the walls were paintings of a great variety of things, each painting in a golden frame, carved in floral motif. One such painting displayed some creature with twelve red eyes and a snout sitting upon a different creature that mostly resembled a horse, if you ignored the dripping fangs sticking out from its mouth. Carl caught himself thinking he wouldn't go near a horse like that, and realized shortly afterwards that he wouldn't go near any horse due to an irrational fear of getting kicked. He hoped there would never come a time when he had to actually ride a horse. He was almost certain he would faint in the saddle, fall of and then get trampled by the horse.
"Your friend looks– uncomfortable." the president said, having noticed Carl staring at the painting.
"You'll have to excuse him," Druhm began, placing one his hands on Carl's shoulder. "His people had a terrible run in with the Nobroxians twelve years ago. He will never forget it."
"Ah, I see." the President shrugged, and carried on forward. Carl did not know whether a Nobroxian was the being that was riding the horse like creature, or the horse like creature itself, not that it really mattered as he didn't think he would actually ever have to know any of this stuff later.
The unlikely trio carried on forward, entering an elevator specifically designated for the President. They had to enter one at a time as the door closed behind each person stepping in, and the only way to let more people on was for the President to let them through. So, inputting everything required from the security system, the President first let Druhm on. The door closed behind him, and for a brief moment, Druhm was shut away from Carl and the President. The President opened the door once more to let Carl through. Just before he could step inside, a strange shadow like creature crawled up to him, and made a sniffing sound, as if he was smelling him. For an instant, the shadow wobbled and then turned shapeless. Carl didn't understand anything. Then it wheezed something out that only barely resembled words. Whatever language it spoke, it wasn't one that his translation device had taught him. But the President's reaction told him everything he needed to know. His eyes widened, and he backed away, that is, until Carl decided it was time to head into the elevator. The president lunged forward in an attempt to catch Carl, but missed, and slammed his head into the elevator door that had just closed behind Carl. The ringing of the President's crash still echoed inside the elevator, as Druhm pushed the button for the President's office floor.
"Won't we need the President any more?" Carl asked and looked into Druhm's dark eyes.
"Fortunately for us, they didn't really think that they would need any security measures inside the President's own office. And thankfully, we don't need the President to operate the elevator either. In either case, we're now free to explore. That is, until they get the core swarming with guards."
"Is that likely to happen any time soon?"
"Well, with the way security works, probably not. The President would have to shut down all security measures from his office. And it's unlikely that will happen just to catch one guy. Unless they're really desperate that is."
Carl rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"What if they are really desperate?"
Druhm peered at Carl, as if trying to figure out just what he was up to.
"I mean," Carl continued, "What if the President is desperate enough to come up to his office just to turn all security off. Couldn't we– I don't know, maybe kidnap him? I mean, before he turns everything off. That would lock out all guards from the office." Carl wasn't sure if he meant that last part as a question or not.
"It would." Druhm said, though he didn't look very convinced.
"But the President will most likely bring along a guard for safety."
Carl considered something for a moment. Then the elevator door slid open and revealed the President's office. A large, sparsely decorated room. There was a large wooden desk, an office chair and a few shelves, and the floor was covered with one large soft carpet. One big window let in light from outside, but despite this, it was hard to deny it wasn't a very homelike place.
"I have an idea" Carl blurted out and ran into the office. He dashed to the left and pressed himself against the wall.
"Can you see me if I stand here. From the elevator I mean." he asked.
"No. Just what are you up to?"
Druhm stepped out and scratched his chin.
"We're going to hide, and ambush what ever, or who ever comes out of that elevator. Hopefully, it'll just be the President. If not, we take out who ever comes out."
Druhm shrugged and then proceeded to hide on the other side of the elevator doors. Shortly afterwards, the elevator departed and started moving downwards again.
"I must say, you are getting rather unpredictable." Druhm said as they stood there waiting. Carl didn't know quite what to respond, so he simply nodded quietly.
"Well, I'd just like to tell you to keep it up. If there's anything that will see us through to the end, it's probably that."
Carl nodded again. He drew a deep breath to get his nerves in order, and looked at Druhm who was preoccupied with humming quietly to himself. Then came the a different humming noise. The noise of the elevator arriving. The doors slid open once more and out stepped a guard, which Druhm promptly shot with a blaster he had managed to sneak in. The guard fell over forward with a thud silenced by the soft carpet. A shriek came from inside the elevator. Druhm stepped over the guard and peeked inside.
"Hello mister President." he said and grinned. "I'm afraid we're taking you with us."
The President stood with his back pressed against the elevator wall, eyes wide open and mouth ajar. He looked as if he couldn't decide whether he was terrified or confused. Though, he quickly regained his composure and approached Druhm.
"Very well then. But know this. The punishment for kidnapping the President is death."
Druhm ignored him and simply pushed him out of the elevator.
After briefly searching the office for the entrance to the core of the building they were soon on their way down a long and spiralling staircase that circled around a massive stone pillar, which was most likely the ancient core itself. Carl could tell they were on the right track by just looking at the carvings in the stone. These carvings depicted a great battle on a giant field between two very similar groups of people. Both sides were– humanoids? Carl shivered without really knowing why. The stairs kept going further and further down, and the further they got, the darker it became. Druhm eventually pulled out a flash light from a pocket and pointed the light straight ahead of them.
"How much further is it?" Carl asked, requiring a lot of effort not to stutter as he spoke.
"The tower to our right here is a completely different building built long before the current government built their headquarters around it. So, it has its own entrance, and naturally, it is at the very bottom of these stairs. So, we've still got some way to go."
It made sense, Carl realized. It was very unusual for buildings to have their main entrances halfway up the wall, and he was sure the people who built this tower were no different. So, the descent down the stairs continued. The stairs went on and on, seemingly without end, spiralling around the massive pillar. Carl tried not to look at the carvings in the wall, but there was something very mesmerising about them. It was as if the simple round eyes of the people drawn were watching him, observing as he carried on down the stairs. If he didn't know better, he would have said they looked happy to have visitors. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it from these silly thoughts. He was more than a little relieved when they finally reached the end of the staircase, something that had seemed like a very distant goal at first. But here they were now. Now remained just the simple matter of finding a door to get inside. Or rather, it would have been simple if they could actually find one. No matter how closely they looked, there was nothing to indicate the existence of a door. Not even a single visible crevice, just flat wall all around the tower. As if by instinct, Carl reached his hand out towards the wall and touched it lightly. The lines of the carvings lit up instantly and the entire tower was now shining. Then came a loud rumbling. The wall in front of Carl suddenly came down, revealing a big round room on the inside. In the middle of the room was a small pedestal that would have been easily missed anywhere else. Since it was the only thing in the room, it was quite visible here. Placed on top of it was a fairly small but thick disc with a hole in it. Carl did not wait for Druhm to move first and promptly rushed in towards what he knew must be the next artefact. Just like the first artefact it was made of brass, and it was very simple. And, if his eyes didn't completely deceive him, it appeared the sides of the disc were slanted. He picked up the disc and was promptly launched upward by the floor which appeared to work as a very fast moving elevator.
"Artemis!" Druhm yelled and rushed forward, but it was too late. Carl was already at the top. He couldn't really see why he was up here. There was nothing to see, the walls surrounding him were completely blank, so was the floor just like the podium before him. Carl was utterly confused.
"There's nothing up here!" he yelled back.
"Maybe it's a trap?" Druhm asked.
Carl looked around some more. It didn't seem like a trap, ignoring that he was sort of stuck up here, with no discernible way to get down, but if he had had a lengthy piece of rope, he wouldn't have been stuck there for very long. So if it was a trap, it wasn't a very good one. Then he saw it, a slowly forming simple image drawn with light, on the wall right in front of him. It was an image depicting several ships leaving a planet in many different directions. Then very suddenly the image changed showing what Carl assumed was an altar. On top of it stood one man who seemed to pull ships back towards him. And finally the image changed to a massive army that covered the walls around him entirely. And then it was all gone. Once the last light had faded away, the platform Carl was standing on began its descent, turning as it did so. Carl could swear that eyes lit up momentarily on the wall as he passed them. It was as if he was being watched by ghosts. Ghosts that were begging for his help. There was a great sadness here that he couldn't explain. He was almost happy when he was back on the ground floor again.
"So, what happened up there?" Druhm asked and ran up to Carl.
"I'll explain along the way. We need to get out of here. Here, take the artefact."
Druhm grabbed the disc from Carl's hands and held it up in front of him, looking at it in amazement. Carl did not know why, to him it was just a brass disc with a hole in it. And, essentially that was exactly what it was. Carl shrugged and followed Druhm. The President who had been with them through all of this appeared completely indifferent to what was going on and likely just wanted to get out of there. He would have probably remained quiet for a long while yet if it weren't for Druhm's next suggestion.
"What?! No way. You are not blowing yourself out of here. You can't just come in here and destroy my workplace like this!"
Druhm got really close up to the President, towering at least a foot above him. It was clear he was trying to intimidate him.
"You have no power over us. We are not taking the stairs again. And blowing the wall up is, in a word, efficient. Now shut up and let us get to work."
The President opened his mouth to speak but changed his mind when it occurred to him that Druhm would not listen.
The next couple of minutes were spent trying to find a weak spot in the wall which they could use to most efficiently blow them selves out of the core. Druhm moved around at random, knocking in some spots, listening intently to the sound of the knock, nodding knowingly before moving on. Then he finally stopped in front of a part of the wall that didn't really look any different to any other part of the wall.
"We blow this part up." he said, and stepped back a few steps.
"And how exactly are we going to do that?" Carl asked, being fairly certain that they did not bring explosives.
"I always come prepared." Druhm replied, and produced a small cube shaped piece of what looked most like clay from a pouch he had with him. "This little thing is going to get us out of here in a matter of seconds."
Without waiting for anyone's approval, Druhm slapped the piece of clay-like material onto the wall and then moved away from the wall, gesturing for Carl and the President to move away as well.
"I don't have a wire, so I will have to shoot the explosive from a distance. I recommend covering your ears."
Not really looking to see if either one of them was prepared, Druhm detached his blaster from his belt and pointed it straight ahead. With amazing precision he fired it once, and the wall blew open into the main reception area where people scattered in panic, everyone screaming at the top of their lungs.
"Come on!" Druhm yelled to Carl, who leaped forward to follow Druhm out of the core. It did not take long before the place was swarming with guards, and it would take nothing short of a miracle to get out. Having taken cover behind the reception desk conveniently placed immediately in front of them, Druhm did his best to take out as many of the guards as he could possibly manage. Meanwhile Carl sat pressed against the desk, with his heart beating so fast that he assumed it must be enough to power a jet plane.
"Maybe you could help me out?" Druhm said as he fired his blaster without looking at what. Carl had for a moment forgotten he had a blaster of his own, that no one had bothered to check, and he reached down to his belt and felt the cool metal it was built with. The thought of actually killing someone else still terrified him, but it was starting to dawn upon him that he might not have much of a choice, and that this probably wasn't the last time they were in a shoot out. So, without much more thought to it, he finally grabbed hold of the blaster and pointed it over the desk.
"Here goes nothing." he said, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. Just as he did, a guard had leaped forward in an attempt to catch them off guard, but he was hit by the blast fired by Carl, and crashed head first into the desk and then finally fell to the floor.
"Good job. Now just keep it up!"
And he did. Though, they could not stay behind cover for too long before they would have to move. They had to get out, and it was not made easier by the guards trying to flank them. If they did not move soon, they would be killed.
"Any ideas?" Carl yelled in an attempt to drown out the racket caused by the blaster fire.
"We need that blasted bounty hunter. Where is he?!"
Standing right outside the front entrance of the governmental building, No'wok was fighting an internal battle. Was it at all reasonable to risk his own life to help people he did not know at all? Did it really matter that he had promised them? But, it wasn't only them that he had given a promise to. Iris had approached him just as he had left, and had insisted that he do this for her. He had given his word that he would. And now it seemed silly to even consider it. But, he could not deny that there was something about that woman that had affected him. She reminded him of his distant past, of times when he had considered himself a better man. He had changed so much since then. He had become a cold hearted killer. So, he had come to the realization that he had to do this, whether he liked it or not. He carefully removed his blaster rifle from his back, placed his hands on the finely crafted weapon, and took aim for the door he had been watching for the last twenty minutes. He could hear a shoot out going on inside, so he knew he was not too late. He slowly squeezed the trigger, firing a short burst of blasts that shattered the glass of the door, causing a cloud of glass shards to rain into the building. No'wok ran forward to take cover behind the wall beside the door. He could see the guards struggling with where to focus their attention. They suddenly had one more target to take care of, and all three of them carried weaponry. The short moment of hesitation was all it took for No'wok to mow down four or five of them, at which point the remaining guards scattered to take cover wherever they could. One of them yelled orders to the others, demanding that the trespassers be taken care of immediately, which was easier said than done. Taking out a skilled bounty hunter was certainly no simple task, and Carl and Druhm weren't doing terribly either. Swearing could be heard over the noise of the blasters and a handful of guards looked like they were trying to flee the scene. Those guards where quickly dealt with by No'wok who took them down quickly with his blaster rifle.
"Artemis. We need to make a run for it soon. When I tell you, leg it."
Carl nodded as he fired his blaster straight into a guard who had been careless enough to peek too far out of his own cover. A blast zoomed past Druhm's head just as he looked up to see where everyone was and he quickly ducked back down. In what little time he was given to look, he could see that the guards had lined the walls on the sides of the room, leaving a huge opening in the middle.
"Now!" yelled Druhm and leaped over the desk. Just as he did so, the President moved out of the giant hole in the wall.
"What the hell are you doing!?" he shouted and ran out, "Get them!"
Just before Carl too leaped over the desk, he fired his blaster in the direction of the President, hitting the wall next to him. Then he ran as fast as his legs allowed, trying to keep up with Druhm who was already at the door when he had only gotten halfway through the room. He realized he would not make it when one of the guards flew out of his cover and tackled him, causing him to fly through the air for one brief moment, before he was suddenly surrounded by a dozen guards, all pointing their weapons at him. He could still hear some guards trying to fight Druhm and No'wok, who he assumed would not be able to get back in. Shortly the President appeared above him. His lizard like appearance seemed almost too fitting now.
"I'm afraid this is the end of the road for you. And I know exactly how to deal with you. Public execution."
Carl swallowed hard.