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"I want all the spotlights turned on. Light it up, Ran Pleasing."
"Aye aye, captain."
"What am I seeing here, Rita Pearl? And by that I mean, I'm not seeing anything. What gives?"
"Well, captain, looks like there's nothing to see."
"The lights are turned on, but there's nothing out there to see. The walls must be far enough away in all directions, and the light from our floods is so diffuse... wait! Look there, a moth!"
"There! Kind of bobbing around. It must be attracted to our lights."
"Ah, ok, yes, I see it. Wow, it's kind of big for a moth, isn't it? I mean, the perspective's funny..."
"Captain..." said Rita Pearl.
"I mean, just how far away is it? Because it's super detailed. I can see its fur... and those antennae... so detailed..."
"Captain we need to turn off the floods," Rita said again.
"But I'm just getting a good look at this moth. It's so white, and fluffy... it's..."
"It's bigger than the Metataxi, captain! Shut down the floods now or--"
It's always a great sign when they bring in the doctor of pseudoscience and stop talking to the science officer.
I'd been taking readings across the EM bands since the electrical event, and spectral analysis of the statues as we approached. They were definitely solid, and made of natural stone. And inconceivably huge. No human figures should be so large.
Have you ever been in a warm calm ocean and looked down to see little tiny skinny minnows floating there, pointing their noses at you? It was a little like that. But we were the fish.
We’d been heading towards what looked like an ornamental box being held between the hands of one of the largest figures. As we drew closer and closer, the truly enormous size of the statues became even more clear. And our ship more small. Eventually the terrain became abstract, and we were enfolded by the cliffs and ridges.
“There,” said Runa Secret Tradition. “That dark area. It’s cave.”
“It’s an entrance,” she said.
The whole point of taking this assignment was that I'd be left alone. Who would ever need an anthropologist specializing in pseudoscientific and purely fictional impossibility on a simple trade route? The only reason I was hired was to fill the mandatory "research" position at the absolute lowest rate they could find. Which was fine with me! What could be better than paid berth on a safe and predictable route that allowed me to read and sleep as much as I liked? The pay was crap, but with nowhere to spend it it still added up.
The statues (likely not alabaster but impossible to confirm until we get a sample) were, yes, unexplainable.
"Because who could carve them so high?" asks Captain Reema. "This is completely beyond what any known past civilization could have possibly achieved!"
Captain Reema obviously has a limited understanding of history. The Floating Barons of Chyon 9. The Dream Expenditure Committee of pre-historical Rottweiler. Pim, the Wonder King. I could go on. But there certainly was an atmosphere of incredulity around these statues, glowing white in the moonlight. A whole royal family of them -- a king, and queen (impossible to judge gender assignation through their stylized forms), four lesser attendants, and two more smaller, twisted forms on the outer wings.
Together they formed a mountain range taller than the Hamdurian Ridge. The shoulders of the smallest of them existed well outside the atmosphere.
"Can you take us closer, captain?" I asked.
"Wow. I really don't remember those being there before."
Alabaster statues, bigger than skyscrapers, loomed above us, taller than the thunder clouds.
"We're outside the lightning, Captain, but--oh! What's this?"
"Hold us in place, Ran Pleasing. And get Anthropology on the line."
Ran Pleasing pulls some levers. The speaking tube lowers down.
"Runa Secret Tradition, report to the bridge."
"Runa Secret Tradition, REPORT!"
"... uh, oh... what? Is that the speaking tube? I've never gotten a speaking tube announcement before. How does it work?"
"Speak into the tube? It's got a funnel on the end."
"Keep talking! I'm sure it's around here somewhere..."
"Runa Secret Tradition we have a situation here. We have need of your expertise."
"That's right. It's the reason you're here. It's a Däniken event."
"Ran Pleasing! Report!"
"Readings are all over the board, Captain. The lightning might have scrambled everything up--"
Leftover sparks fire intermittently across the bridge.
"Altitude?! Any thing we're about to hit?"
Storm clouds still fill the windows. Which is a better sign than mountains.
"Mountains captain!" says Ran Pleasing. "Registering three nine five niner. Taking us up and around."
The Metataxi jerks to an abrupt incline. Paper and coffee cups fall.
"Take us out of this storm while you're at it, Ran Pleasing."
"Aye aye, captain."
"See? I told you the new doping would be great in lightning!"
Even on the bridge, I had to shout over the storm for Rita Pearl to hear.
She looked at me nervously, face lit up by the blue spark lightning just outside the windows.
Nope, the lightning was no problem at all. If anything, it liked the Metataxi. It was almost as if we were generating the electricity ourselves.
"Captain," Rita said. "Your hair."
"What? Is it funny? Whoah! YOUR hair! It's standing on end! And, there's a little drip of blue light at the end of your nose."
I reached out to touch it.
"Don't touch it!" Rita screamed.