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FIRST PLACE WINNER — Submission by Hans Grohmann   [ PART 5 of 5 ]

Before Jenoon could answer, the corporal leading the forward squad shouted, "Form up! Semicircle formation around the door!" He turned around and called back to Jenoon, "Captain, we've found a door. First one we've seen yet. There is a button on the side- perhaps an elevator summons. Hold back while we check it out."

"Proceed, Corporal Orrin. Use utmost caution here."

The armored troops spread out in a crescent pattern facing the door and aimed their weapons.

"Position secured. Hit it." The soldier closest to the button pressed it, and a moment later, the door opened with a soft hiss, revealing an empty elevator car. "Point, advance," Orrin ordered, and the two soldiers at the ends of the crescent slowly stepped into the car, checking the walls and ceiling for anything unusual.

"All clear, Corporal."

"Squad, advance. Hold position outside the elevator. Captain, we've secured the elevator car. Any instructions?"

"We're coming in. Rear flank, maintain position here. Set up a comm relay in front of the elevator. We'll set up another one wherever we end up. Wait for our signal. Commander Irain will contact you if we lose communications. Do not follow us unless instructed to do so. Understood?"

"Yes, sir!"

"Corporal, we're ready to go."

"Sir, our team should secure the next level before you come down. We are entering an unknown situation."

"Objections noted, Corporal. We're all going down."

"Yes, sir. Recommend you stay to the sides while we cover the front, sir." Jenoon nodded, and the group filed into the elevator as Orrin studied the elevator's inner control panel. "Only two choices, sir. Here, orů down."

"That makes things easy. Let's go down." He touched the lower button, and the elevator descended into the vault. Three seconds later, it stopped, and the door hissed open again. The squad darted forward, weapons moving quickly along narrow arcs as the soldiers again took up a semicircle formation outside the elevator door.

"The... area is secure, sir," Orrin declared a moment later, his voice oddly subdued. Jenoon, Irain, and Alkyne stepped out into the room and quickly understood why.

The lab was enormous. The five meters that the construction crew had excavated was nothing next to the floor thirty meters below them and the multi-tiered area at least fifty meters above. The walls were lined with ancient computers, some still flashing unreadable data on their screens. The room was fully lit by the same translucent tubing they had seen earlier in the hallway above. Tiers and walkways lined the walls and provided access to some of the lower and higher sections of the lab. A variety of scanners and similar devices hovered in the air, some stationary, some circling the colossal object in the very center of the room. It was that object that held everyone's attention.

The base of the device rested on the floor far below. It was linked to a dozen humming machines that resembled power generators. Four long spindly arms rose up from the base to form two half-ellipses about thirty meters high. At the end of each arm was a knobbed protrusion, and each protrusion was emitting a black amorphous stream of energy. The four streams merged in the center of the arms and formed a pulsating spheroid of that same energy, hovering just above the arms and expanding to perhaps ten meters in radius at its largest.

"What on High is that?" Alkyne whispered, awestruck.

Absolution. Justification.

"What do you mean?"

"What she means, Mr. Alkyne, is that this is the answer to my... to all our prayers." Jenoon did not turn away from the device. "I saw something like this before. When I was with the Fourth Battle Fleet at Proctor III, the Antarans jumped in through what we thought was an artificial rift in space. It looked exactly like this... thing." He indicated the energy sphere. "If this is a working model, and this lab has the data on how to build and operate it, then maybe we can build another one. A larger one, one big enough to send ships through."

"One that leads directly to the Antaran homeworld," Alkyne concluded. "One that would let us take the fight to them."



[ THE END...   Back to the Beginning of the Story ]

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