“Our first job is to program our helmets,” Mike said. “Once we do that, we can communicate with the people in this city – if we ever find any. I don’t see anyone.”
“Let’s fly toward the dome,” Jen suggested to Patrick. “Chaz said it was an important place. I would expect to find people there.” The two time craft banked into a curve and flew off toward the yellow dome. Jen was right. There was a crowd at the dome, but they were not acting like people going about their daily business. Some inhabitants did appear to be working. A small group was involved in moving a large granite block that looked like a piece to a huge, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. However, there was no heavy equipment to do the moving. Other people were working on three huge statues that stood in a row. All the rest were standing still, doing nothing. That is precisely what they were doing – nothing, nothing at all. In fact, they were not even moving. They were frozen in place.
As Jen and Patrick landed the craft the crews donned their head covers and gloves. Allie got on her knees in front of Menlo and dressed him in his uniform. The dog liked the attention. As Allie worked he kissed her repeatedly, returning her attention. When Allie was done she pressed a switch on Menlo’s chest, and he disappeared. “Bashir put a switch in Jen’s remote, so she can turn Menlo’s cloak on and off at a distance,” Allie told the others. Then, she used her hand to wipe her cheek and chin where she had been kissed repeatedly.
The cloaked crews exited the craft. As they approached the people in the square they found lots of things to amaze them. Nick and Lenore were fascinated by the work that was being done. The huge block of granite was being moved by people standing at its corners holding some sort of rod. The block was defying gravity. It floated slowly along, apparently controlled by the rods. “This technology is way beyond anything we have,” Nick said in awe. “In my time, we would use a crane to move that block. In the future, they use reverse gravity polarizers, like in our time craft. That’s not what these people are doing. I wish we could take one of those rods into the Time Institute lab,” he said to Lenore. “We would have fun taking that apart.” Lenore nodded as she admired the technology and thought the same thoughts as Nick.
“Can you imagine the mathematics they used to figure out that block’s shape?” Jen asked Patrick as she stared at the complicated piece of polished granite. That’s exactly what Patrick was thinking. “We would have to use computers to create that shape,” Jen added. “Wouldn’t you love to sit down with one of their text books?”
Allie examined the people and noticed they were all about her size. She was used to being with people her height. All the time crews and many of the Institute’s teachers were small, but there were also larger people there, and at UNH too. Here, everyone was about five feet tall. The tops of their heads only came up to Nick’s shoulders.
Mike looked at the buildings around the plaza and thinking aloud said, “This shouldn’t be here. The rest of the world is still in the Stone Age and living in caves. This shouldn’t be here. Who are these people? Where did they come from?”
Continuing to examine the men and women in the plaza, Allie elbowed Mike. “Look at their faces,” she said. The others heard her and turned to see what Allie had noticed. The people had no expression. The workers watched the block as it moved. However, their faces were blank. All the other people in the square stood perfectly still. They were not watching the work. They stared straight ahead. Their arms hung at their sides and there was no expression on their faces.
“Are they robots?” Nick asked
“I’ll check it out,” Patrick said. He approached a man, and more closely than anyone would find comfortable, examined the man’s face. The man could not see the invisible time traveler just inches from his nose, and did not react. Patrick watched a while longer and observed the man blink. He looked at the man’s chest and could tell he was breathing. Otherwise, the man, and all the others stood as still as statues. “He’s human, not a robot,” Patrick told the others after examining the man. “But it’s like no one’s home.”
Nick and Lenore turned their attention to the three enormous statues that were being carved, and tugged the others to follow them in that direction. They were amazed as they watched the carvers use their rods to slice away chucks of granite. To do so, they pointed the rod at the huge block of stone. Without any blade, without any beam, the rock was sliced off, leaving a surface as smooth as glass. No polishing was required. The carvers lowered the cut-away granite with the same rods. He or she pointed the rod at the sliced stone and it slowly lowered to the plaza, under complete control. “Amazing,” Nick muttered to Lenore. “I have to take apart one of those rods. I just have to.”
“Guys,” Patrick announced. “This all very interesting, but there is a big problem. We need to program our helmets. To do that, we have to leave them some place where people are talking. There are lots of people here, but is no one is saying anything. We have to find another location.”
The crews climbed back into the Auckland and the two craft took off. “Any ideas,” Jen asked the others. “Where do we find people who are not doing a robot imitation?”
“Let’s do the outward spiral,” Patrick suggested. “We’ll cover most of the city that way. If there is any place where people gather and act normal, we’ll spot them.”
“I can’t believe how big this city is,” Lenore noted after the craft had been flying for a while. “It goes on forever.” It did extend a long way, but not quite forever. Eventually, the Auckland and CT 9225 reached the edge. Outside the city, the craft began to fly over farmland. “We have even less chance of finding people gathering and talking out here,” Lenore said.
Eventually, the two craft reached the ocean. “This land is a lot bigger than most islands,” Mike noted. “It’s like a small country. Let’s fly along the shore and see if we can find a harbor and some boats. Where there are sailors, there are taverns. Where there are taverns, people gather and talk.”
The time travelers did not come to a harbor, but they did find a large building standing in the middle of nowhere, all by itself. It was all by itself in the sense there were no other buildings. However, there were lots of people, and they were moving, not standing like statues. They had set up tents and small shelters. This told the crews that they were camping in this place, not passing through. “I think we just found what we’re looking for,” Jen announced. She and Patrick set the craft down behind some trees.
“Mike, you and Allie are the best ones for this job,” Patrick told the two S/Os. “Find a place to leave our helmets, and then put to use your astounding powers of observation,” he added jokingly. “Find out what you can. Anything that will help us.”
“Menlo, stay with Lenore,” Mike told his dog. Menlo jumped up on the bench seat and sat next to Lenore. She put her arm around him and he lapped her cheek. The two S/Os cloaked, stepped out of the craft, and walked toward the building. People were standing or sitting in groups talking. Others dozed on the grass. There were so many people the cloaked S/Os had to work at avoiding them. “What do you make of this?” Mike asked Allie through their head cover communicators.
“They’re camping. It’s a picnic, or maybe a meeting of some sort,” Allie answered. “They don’t seem to be doing any work.” As the two invisible time travelers entered the building Allie said immediately, “We know what this is. We saw lots of them when we were cadets and taking our Methods of Observation class.”
“Yeah, Mike answered. “There’s no doubt. It’s a temple. In fact, there’s the altar. It’s in front of two statues of gods.” The statues were huge and carved from the same yellow granite as the domed building. They represented a man and a woman standing side by side, holding hands like they were in love. The statues stared out to sea, out to the east where the sun would rise every morning. Gifts and sacrifices were piled in front of the statues. “These people are pilgrims,” Mike said. “They’ve come here on a pilgrimage to worship.”
Inside the temple was not a good place to leave the helmets for programming. There were lots of people in the building, but they were all praying silently. “We have to find a place outside where people are talking,” Allie told Mike, jerking his thumb toward the campground. Outside, they spotted a ledge over a window. Plenty of people were sitting on the porch under the window and the helmets could hear them clearly.
Mike put his hands together and Allie placed her foot in them. Then, he boosted her high enough to place the helmets on the ledge. Allie covered them with a craft cloak cover so they would not be seen. Then, she tapped Mike on the head to tell him she was done. He slowly lowered her.
Back in the craft, Nick announced, “I can’t want to wait in this cabin for three days. It’s too cramped. I’ll go nuts. I vote we do some exploring while the helmets are being programmed.” The others all nodded in agreement. This huge island was in the tropics. Even though the earth was beginning to come out of an ice age, and the glaciers were melting, it was warm and pleasant here.
“These people are camping, so it must be safe to sleep outside at night,” Patrick observed. “I guess that means there are no wild animals in the area. It should be safe for us too. We have Menlo just in case. He’ll warn us if there’s any danger.”
The crews followed a footpath away from the temple and came to a road. They followed the road to the west, away from the ocean, and found themselves in farmland. Crops grew in small, neat fields on both sides of the road. There were no farm animals. In fact, birds were the only animals the crews saw on their tour. Nick made the group wait while he watched a farmer working. The farmer was holding a rod parallel to the ground. As he slowly walked along his field, the grain in front of the rod fell like it was being mowed. Another farmer followed behind the first, holding another rod. As he walked along, the grass swept itself up into long rows. “They are using those rods to harvest the grain,” Nick told the others in awe. “I have to get my hands on one of those things.”
Three days later, after making a long loop through the countryside, the crews ended up back at their craft. The others watched while Mike and Allie found the helmets and returned them to their friends. “We need information,” Mike said. “This mission is one big mystery, both now and in our time. One option is to cloak and just listen to these people talk. Maybe we will learn some things. But we can’t be sure they will answer our questions. There is no point in going back to the city. No one there is talking. I suggest the second option. We uncloak and introduce ourselves to these people. They seem friendly.”
“That’s too risky,” Patrick said. “They look friendly, but what if they’re not? This is my idea. The girls are the same size as these people. They will fit in better than we will. Nick, you’re so tall you’ll give them heart attacks. We’ll stay cloaked, but we’ll stand right beside the girls. If there are any problems, we jump in and rescue them. We’re so much bigger than these people; we can fight our way back to the craft. I don’t think we’ll have any trouble here, but if we do, that’s our fall back plan.”
“You do the talking, Allie,” Jen said. “With your bubbly personality you can start a conversation with a statue.” Jen was right. Allie could chat with strangers and make them feel comfortable. When they were cadets at the Institute, there was always a crowd around Allie. She was the best one to approach these people.
All six donned their programmed helmets and the boys cloaked. The three girls approached two men who were sitting on the porch talking. “Hello,” Allie said. “It is a very nice day.”
Continued next Saturday.
This book and the previous four in the series are available at: castletonseries.com
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