Reliving the Dream: PoP 0191 - 0195
Ziggurat #99 - #103
The queen of the universe, trapped behind a cracked and dusty glass, so close and yet just out of reach. Trapped, but by what? By whom?
Lamont glanced over his shoulder to get his bearings. Some three hundred feet away he could see the simple ivory column of the lift shaft in the center of the tower, but without that consistent point of reference, he felt that he would soon be hopelessly lost. The combination of winding paths, sloping artificial hills and valleys, and the staggering variety of strange and exotic features created an effect that was both sublime and disorienting.
“We’re nearly there,” Constance said. She was leading them toward a feature that had the appearance of a grove, where a ring of columns that were silvery in color but organic in shape concealed whatever was inside them. The branches of the tree-like objects merged to form a single canopy, almost like a natural gazebo, about twenty feet high and the same diameter. There was a slight elevation in the iridescent tiles of the path that they had been following where a tiny stream trickled beneath it. The stream wound its way into the arched space between two of the silver columns, and it was here that Constance stepped off the path and beckoned them into the grove. The canopy over their heads had a glass-like quality through which all the colors of the rainbow seemed to sparkle kaleidoscopically as they moved. This formed one subtle source of light in the partially enclosed space. The other source of light came unexpectedly from the water, which took on a luminescent quality in the center, where it formed a small circular pool. This created an eerie, bluish uplight that reminded Lamont of the deep azure clouds in the gas giant around which they were orbiting. The association, however, was drowned out by the startling object rising from the center of the pool.
It was carved out of a marble-like stone in such a way that it seemed to emerge organically from the living rock, as if it had grown as a natural formation rather than being expertly carved by intelligent hands—as indeed it must have been.
It, or rather, she. To Lamont, the form was unmistakably feminine. Slender, shrouded, featureless, as if draped in a cloak, with no discernable legs and only a hint of two hands clasped in an attitude of supplication. There was a strange battle taking place inside his mind, he realized, as he tried to reconcile the physical shape he was seeing to the image that he was absolutely certain it represented. The shape was four-sided and symmetrical, so that the suggestion of arms appeared on all sides, with what he saw as an uplifted head being a simple cowled dome at the top. Practically abstract. And yet. And yet…
The whisper stumbled unbidden from his lips.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…”
Fragmented pieces of Lamont’s dream were coming back to him as if rubble and shards of multicolored glass were lifting themselves from the dust and returning themselves to the places from which they had fallen; a video reel run backward. The final piece to settle into place was her eye, so small and so far away from where he stood among the ruins of the pews, and yet so deep in its speckled purple darkness that he felt as if it was drawing him in. She seemed to look directly at him, her softly glowing features a chalice of infinite things. Infinite grace, infinite patience, infinite sadness. She was trapped there, Lamont realized. The queen of the universe, trapped behind a cracked and dusty glass, so close and yet just out of reach. Trapped, but by what? By whom?
By me! he realized. It was as if the answer had been whispered in his ear by the floating dust. I’m keeping her there.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou…”
“Blessed art thou…”
He began to babble, his vision blurring with tears. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I can’t remember.”
And then the ground began to shake. As if the tape had been reset, debris shook loose from the vaulted skeleton of the ceiling, its bony columns creaking ominously.
“Oy! Monty! Snap out of it, man!”
The journalist was being shaken forcefully. Rosemary’s small hands had a vice-like grip on his shoulders. He was suddenly looking into her round, green eyes, The depths of longing that had been drawing him in were replaced by an expression of concern and consternation.
“Wh-what?” He asked, confused. “What happened?”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Rosemary countered, loosening her grip, but not letting go. “What were you seeing just now?”
“Yeah,” Constance chimed in, peering over Rosemary’s head and folding her arms. “And who’s Mary?”
Rosemary glanced at the young colonist incredulously. “Mary, as in Mother of God. I thought you lot were religious.”
“Religious enough to know that God ain’t got no mother,” Constance scoffed, folding her arms.
“I’m not,” Lamont muttered, rubbing his eyes.
“What?” Both women asked, returning their attention to him.
“I’m not religious,” Lamont explained. “Never have been.”
“Maybe you weren’t,” Rosemary said, “but the way you reacted to this—erm—sculpture looked as if you had suddenly stumbled on God himself.”
“Herself,” Lamont corrected. Noticing Rosemary’s quizzical expression, he gestured weakly toward the structure in the center of the grove. “The representation is clearly female.”
Constance looked at the sculpture with a skeptical expression, while Rosemary regarded the newspaperman with something approximating pity.
“I’d better see you back to the asteroid pod,” the medic offered.
“Wait,” Lamont said, shaking his head as if to clear away cobwebs. “Why did you want me to see this, Miss Beckett?”
“I thought you’d be interested, is all,” Constance explained. “This garden, or whatever you’d call it, is full of peculiar flora, fancy structures, and who knows what kind of contraptions. But this here is the lone object we’ve seen that looks like it represents something. I reckon maybe it has significance—like it can tell us something about the folks who built this place.”
“Perhaps you’re onto more than you realize,” Lamont said quietly, stepping closer to the object until he could lay a hand tentatively on its cold, smooth surface.
“What do you mean?” Rosemary asked.
“I don’t know…yet,” Lamont admitted. “But I intend to find out.”
He glanced down at his wristwatch and started. “Bugger, I’m late. This will have to wait for another time.”
Rosemary took his arm. “I’m coming with you,” she said.
“Don’t you have something to do here?” Lamont asked.
“I do,” Rosemary agreed, “But there’s no harm in seeing you to the asteroid pod first. I’ll be here for at least a day.”
Lamont acquiesced, shifting his arm so that he and the medic looked like friends on an afternoon stroll. As they started out of the strange grove, he looked over his shoulder, first at the sculpture, and then at Constance. “Be seeing you,” he muttered.
“I’ll be back shortly, Ji-Ji,” Rosemary said to the dark-haired astrophysicist who was still stationed at the lift column in the center of the garden. “I’m just going to see Mr. Townsend here back to the asteroid pod.”
“Don’t get lost,” Miss Lee said mildly, stepping aside.
“I’ll see that he doesn’t,” Rosemary nodded, turning to the side so that she could step into the lift without letting go of Lamont’s arm.
“I’m perfectly all right, Miss Wells,” the newspaperman assured her moodily. “And capable of making my way back without help.”
As if to prove his point, he pulled his arm away from Rosemary’s and, with now practiced familiarity, summoned the navigational orb from its nest in the ceiling. They watched as their distorted reflections gazed back at them from the chrome surface of the sphere before suddenly splintering into countless shimmering particles.
“May I?” Rosemary asked.
Lamont glanced at her with hooded brows, then shrugged and stepped back against the wall. He fished his cigarette case out of his pocket.
The ghostly three-dimensional cross-section of the tower seemed to sense Rosemary’s intention and drifted several inches in her direction, even lowering itself to her eye level. She waved a hand across its smoky surface, watching as it panned and rotated in response to her gestures.
“It’s difficult to believe,” Rosemary whispered, “that this goes all the way down to the surface of the moon.”
“And we’ve only seen three of its levels,” Lamont observed, lighting his cigarette.
“Are you hoping to see more of it?” The medic asked, pulling herself from her momentary reverie to locate the familiar hollow section of the tower facsimile that represented the landing bay. She tapped it with a fingertip and pressed herself to the thinly padded wall as the particles returned to coat the orb, and the orb returned to its place in the ceiling. A moment later they felt the car begin its descent.
“If the present crisis affords me time to do so, certainly,” Lamont answered. “I’d like to know who built this place and why. And what became of them. More now than ever.”
“What happened to you up there?” Rosemary nodded toward the ceiling. “I haven’t seen you that unsettled since—since, well, I suppose a week ago, actually.”
“That long, eh?” Lamont quipped. He took a long drag from his cigarette, allowing his head to be pulled back against the wall by the mysterious attractive force.
“You know, after the Escherspace jump,” Rosemary explained. “When I found you, you were disoriented, hysterical.”
The newspaperman coughed a cloud of smoke. He was beginning to notice that the gravity field which held them against the curved wall of the shuttle was by no means ignoring the smoke from his cigarette. Whenever he exhaled, it would immediately return to envelope his face, stinging his eyes. This had the effect of making them red and watery at exactly the wrong moment, when he glowered at the medic and said: “I’ll accept ‘disoriented.’”
Rosemary regarded him with an expression of combined concern and amusement. “What were you experiencing when you saw the sculpture?” she asked. “Did it feel like what happened after the jump?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Lamont answered with a note of uncertainty. “I’ve been having this dream. Just, you know, a normal nighttime dream, but recurring. What happened up there felt like someone suddenly picked me up and put me back in the dream while I was awake.”
“What’s the dream?” Rosemary asked.
“I’m in the ruins of a cathedral, like the kind that you’d find on the outskirts of London. I’m looking up at a stained glass window, at a picture of the Virgin. I’m trying to remember a prayer I heard somewhere, get the words right. But I can’t remember it, and something bad happens.”
“What happens?” The younger woman urged.
Lamont shrugged. “Something nasty comes through the window, or the roof caves in. That’s when I wake up.”
“And what you saw up in the garden was exactly the same?”
“For the most part, except that it started in reverse. The image in the window assembled itself from shards of glass in the rubble. And then, when I couldn’t get the prayer right, it all started falling apart again.”
“That explains one thing, at least,” Rosemary nodded thoughtfully.
Lamont looked at her expectantly, tugging his arm away from the wall to take the cigarette from his mouth.
“When I shook you out of your trance, it sounded like you were trying to recite the Rosary prayer. That’s why I was surprised when you said you’d never been religious.”