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Kalia
By RD Rivero


“Kalia”
By RD Rivero
May 24, 2000

The new ship was not the sort to use to traverse the galaxy.  It was a
prototype and at the time it was meant for recreational purposes only.
It was as large as three or four Thunder Tanks, flat and circular.  The
top half was segmented into eight, radial sections and was gray except
for the front two panels where a red-black insignia was painted onto the
rough metal surface.  The very tip was domed in clear but distorting
glass.  The bottom half was for the most part featureless except for
several red, blinking lights and the exhaust port.
An iron-rung ladder came down from an oval hole in the underside.  I
stood next to it, shook it my hands -- it was sturdy but loose in some
way, it was not permanently attached to the ship.  I looked up its
length, within the ship there was a faint glow of light but the rest was
murky and shadowy.
Tygra and Panthro appeared.
"So what do you call this new marvel of yours?"
"We haven't come up with a name, yet," Panthro said.
I looked at him suddenly, perhaps unexpectedly.  My eyes may have even
started from their sockets.  “That's not good, you know, every ship must
have a name."
"I was thinking of calling it 'Gaia' but I thought that the name might
be too obscure."
"Or Terra," I smiled amused at the connection I had uncovered.  "Ironic,
isn't it, that a ship of the air would be named for Third Earth."
"Shall we go in?"
"Have you tried it yet?"  I asked.
"No, this will be its maiden voyage."
"Should I go?" I asked again, to myself actually but involuntarily aloud
that time.
The panther answered me:  "Only if you think it's safe, Cue."
"I trust your handiwork.  What was it that you said once?  ‘When I build
them they don't dare brake down.’  That's it, yes, I trust it."
The two Thundercats headed up the iron-rung ladder.  I stood still for a
moment to watch and I saw that the ship did not shake or wobble or even
groan at any moment during the ascent.  That was when I noticed for the
first time that there was no tether attached to the ground, there was no
support at all and yet the ship was suspended in the air, above the
ground, three feet above the ground at the exhaust port, at the most
extreme point.
"What keeps the ship afloat?"  I climbed steadily and looked up, I saw
Panthro’s face, or the outlines of his face at the least in the darkness
above.  When I had my head and shoulders completely in the hole he
grabbed me, helped me further into the ship.
"Antigravity," he said, "it's been something we've been working on for a
while now."
"Excellent!  I always knew such a thing was possible."
"Oh?"
"There have been legends and stories from the past -- the long, distant
past -- about ships floating, hovering above the earth effortlessly,
without sounds, without disturbances, dotting in to and out of view at
will."
"Sounds frightening."
"Stories, just stories, that's all."
The ladder was retracted manually and laid to rest on the inner, metal
floor of the crawl space the three of us were in.  The hatch was brought
down and slid shut with the turn of a few knobs.  Around us there was a
faint, blue glow that came off, emanated off from the very walls -- I
could see no definite fixtures though I searched for them frantically.
My shock may have amused my friends at my expense.
The passage was cramped and short and ended in a large, open room, lit
from the glass dome over our heads.  In the center was a large, yellow
object.  It seemed to want to be spherical but its surface was a tile
work of pentagons and squares.  Pipes lined the walls in sandwiched
layers, none of which spanned across the vast room.  The walls, too,
were covered in a thin membrane, a netting of lead threads woven into
hexagonal patterns.
I ascended a spiral staircase to the upper chamber whose basic form and
contents I had deduced from below.  The floor up there was not solid
exactly but was marked or marred by long, thin gaps in parallel,
separated by only inches of lead-coated steel.  That room, the control
room, was small and yet had an air of infinite spaciousness to it that
was hard to explain -- I suppose that it was caused by the glass dome of
the ceiling but there was more, much more to it.
Two seats were opposite a square table upon which was a levitated,
glowing orb -- it was an exact map of Third Earth.  Other chairs, too,
were scattered around the place and I was given the liberty of choosing
which ever one I wanted.  The Thundercats sat at the table.  Tygra
picked up a pen and pressed its tip onto a spot on the orb where I
noticed that there was a bright, red cross-hairs.  The image changed
into a three dimensional projection of the local landscape.  The ship
was represented by a red block -- the tiger attached another pen to that
new object and began to move it around.  The map's view changed
continuously with the motion.
I looked out of the dome -- the ship was moving in unison to Tygra's
direction but I felt nothing, there was no force, there was no effort at
all.
"Absolute genius," I muttered under my breath.
"Liono, this is Panthro," he spoke into the transmitter of a comlink.
"Come in Panthro, come in," the lion said.
"We're ready -- we're coming in now."
"We'll be watching, waiting."
"This is incredible!" I said in an awkward moment of silence.  "Einstein
was right."
"Einstein?" Tygra asked.
"He was a god, I think, his name appears a lot in the literature.”  I
shook my head.  “I will never be believed."
The ship rose and fell past mountain chains, cliffs, basins -- over the
swayed tops of green forestry so dense that the sensors could not detect
the earth beneath.  We passed flowered canyons and deserts, we crossed
over rivers and a large bay that emptied into the ocean in misty, cloudy
cataracts.  I saw in amazement that the ship traveled a distance of five
hundred miles in under five minutes.
We landed on a vast plane of soft grass.  Tall, gray mountains loomed in
the horizon, distant and imposing.  Before them was a sparse jungle
colored in the temperament of autumn.  Liono and Cheetara were there,
waiting, standing around with baskets full of exotic foods and spices.
"Cue," Cheetara said while she hugged me.  I shook Liono's hand.  Once
again I heard Tygra's mini-lecture about the ship.  Afterward I was
ready to hike back home but I was convinced otherwise.  Panthro and
Tygra wanted to take the ship once around the planet for a test drive.
I should have left, I should not have gone with them but curiosity got
the better of me.
All five of us went into the ship and in the control room Liono radioed
Cat's Lair and the Tower to tell the others what was going to or what
was about to happen.  He then continued to hover around, over the
square, map-adorned table where Tygra and Panthro navigated the ship.
Cheetara and I conversed freely together while the ship was in motion.
"Right now I suppose we're maneuvering over rough and uneven terrain
with absolute ease."
"That's not true, I bet we haven't even left the grasslands."
"Not true my dear -- I admit I could not believe it myself at first, but
see out of the dome, see for yourself."
She was amazed and indeed had to see for herself.  The ship was moving
even faster than before, so fast that the landscape beneath blurred in
obscurity.  We could still make out some details here and there, we
could see -- Ah, nothing.  There, right there we had passed the beach
and were over the ocean.
After an hour the sky darkened and went black and yet we were so fast
still that the stars were deformed and distorted into long, dull
streaks.  Beneath the waters were flat and featureless although every so
often there came foaming, breaking waves, illuminated ethereally by the
ship's red, blinking lights.  But that was it, but there was no more.
In the ensuing tedium I was given the taste of a wild fruit that was the
natural cross of cherries and strawberries.  It was a rare item and
highly prized.  I had refused at first to consume something so perfect
but I gave in to temptation when Cheetara agreed to share it with me.
The trip was smooth, I was ready to nod off and that was exactly when it
happened.  From no where, literally from no where and without warning
the ship rocked violently left and right in a screeching din that
pierced our ears.  The glass dome cracked spirally from the outer edges
to the tiptop before our eyes.  Everyone was shocked and panicked and
irrational.
"Something's hit us -- a blaster!"
"Hold on, here comes another!"
The ship had slowed down in the attack, we were able to see the
approaching, green plasma singe the air, advancing in our direction.
When it hit at last the dome shattered, it was knocked clearly out of
place and though we covered our heads few, if any shards of glass came
down upon us.  We were then open and exposed to the furry of the
elements -- and defenseless.
"I see where it's coming from -- that large island!"
I saw on the projected map, in that light, browning haze that tinted the
cartography, that there was an archipelago in the middle of the vast
ocean. It was an arching chain of islands composed of innumerable tiny
specks of land, all that remained of a continent torn apart by the
omnipotent forces of nature.  I did not know just which island Panthro
had pointed to but he seemed sure of himself.
The ship vibrated and I was afraid that it would come apart at the
rivets before the final blow would come to strike  I heard a loud crash
and I looked down to that large room below -- the yellow orb had fallen
off of its base and rolled around on the floor at the tyrannical whim of
the violent forces that controlled of our motions.  The power failed and
the last that we saw was another great, green plume of smoke gashing in
the air coming closer and closer and closer.

Of what happened next I can say little.  The impact of the green plasma
blast was considerable and I was knocked from the control room to the
level beneath.  I hit my head on one of the pipes after I broke through
the lead netting.
I was out cold and my mind was blank.
Gradually and by degrees, however, I began to come to.  Cheetara was
over me, rubbed my temples.  She whispered something to me in a soft
voice and that I regret that her words were lost to the air.
The ship was stable but at an odd angle to what I sensed was the normal
ground.  That meant one thing, that we had landed on an island, one of
the islands.
I sat up abruptly, perhaps too impulsively.
“No, wait, you shouldn’t,” she said.
“I have nothing broken, do I?”  She nodded.  “But you have a wound
behind your ear.”
“It’s stopped bleeding now.”
“It doesn’t hurt you?”
She smiled.  “No, I’m all right, you’re the one I’m worried about.”
Some of the Thundercats returned from the small passage that was then
several feet above what was effectively the new orientation of the
floor.  Apparently and not surprisingly that exit was blocked by the
ground upon which we had crashed.  The ship was totaled and without
power there was no way to communicate with Cat’s Lair or the Tower of
Omens directly -- there was also no way to locate our position.
Liono used the sword to call for the others to come but, from the last
known position, we were so far away that we could not be sure to expect
help for at a day or two.
“But we have a bigger problem,” I said.  I was on my feet, tired, deadly
tired.
“Yes,” Tygra spoke, his eyes widened just then, “after all, someone shot
us down.”
“Well, we can’t stay here, that’s for sure, if who ever clobbered us
from the sky comes around --” Liono began but then stopped himself.
“Panthro, tell me that there’s another exit.”
No, it was a prototype and a very early design.  There was only one exit
and it was blocked.  There was one option, though and it was unavoidable
at that point.  We walked up the stairs -- or to be frank we crawled
across the spiral stairs -- to the control room.  The metal floor of
what was once the upper had come undone from several support columns and
was loose, wobbly.  The chairs and the table had slid out of the way
into the darkness that we had left below.
We climbed out of the hole where the glass dome had been.  The ordeal
was not hard at all and would have taken less time had we all not been
injured and sore from the crash.  Outside the world was perpetually
black and the gloom was breathtaking.  I could not tell where the sky
ended and the ocean began.  The stars above were covered and obscured in
a dense overcast of massive clouds oddly tinged purple by some
malevolent effect of the nature on that side of Third Earth.  The ground
was rocky and the soil was loose -- there were no plants as far as we
could see, there were no animals either.
Before us the land broke into large boulders -- Tygra and I climbed to
the top.  On the other side, sprawled under us, a hundred feet under us,
was a large beach a quater of a mile wide.  The spray of the crashing
waves was fresh and pleasantly scented, one of the few aspects of that
island that were or that could actually pass for normal.  From that
local peak we saw that behind the ship the earth had been scorched
violently in the crash and that in front of the ship the terrain
continued flat and dull, devoid of even a blade of grass.  The island
itself was large and continued for many, many miles inward.
“Look, that’s a tall mountain, isn’t it?” he asked me while he pointed
to the distance.
“You’re right it’s tall but I’d say it’s a volcano -- see how the lands
slopes upwards to it.”
“A volcano might explain why this place is so desolate.”
“A recent eruption -- but it couldn’t have been spewed lava that hit us
in the air.”
We crawled our way down to the others.  Panthro and Cheetara carried
with them what was left of the exotic foods -- it seemed we would have a
lot of time to spend in that place that from the first sight alone we
knew would afford us little nutrients of its own.  Liono was busy with
the sword, he must have been looking at what the other Thundercats were
doing for he said:
“Bengali and WileyKat are busy converting the Thunder Tank for
amphibious mode.”
“They know where we are?”
“I hope so.”  He rehilted the sword.  “When I see them on the ocean I’ll
signal again just to make sure.”
“I don’t want to intrude but --”
Panthro waved us into silence.  He heard something, I could see it in
his face.  Immediately he killed the lanterns that we had salvaged from
the ship.  For the first seconds we heard nothing over the distant
crashing of the ocean but then, but then it became unquestionably
evident.  In the air there was a new and unheard of disturbance.  A
sound that reminded me of a machine -- or an exaggerated caricature of a
machine.  A sound clunky and obtuse, woefully out of shape.
The sounds came from all over, from all around us.  Then, when the din
echoed louder than the ocean, then we saw them by the green of their
glowing eyes.  The things were cylinders as tall as man but featureless,
formless.  I could see no legs, no arms.  I was about ready to laugh
until I remembered that those things or the masters of those things had
shot us down from the sky.
“What do you make of it?” Tygra asked me.
“I’m not sure, it doesn’t look good though.”
“This is crazy, we have to do something, we can’t just stay here.”
Panthro had his weapon in hand while he walked steadily, slowly behind.
The green eyes came from the beach -- from the waters -- from the left,
the right, from behind.  There was no where to go, there was nothing we
could do.  I was dragged from the pile of boulders upon which I was
leaned against onto the flat ground next to the ship.  The Thundercats
surrounded me, their backs to me.
Liono was the first to try to fight.  He lunged one of the cylinders
that appeared clear in our sight, the sword was in his hands.  The
machine resonated a loud blast from a hole only then perceptible below
the eyes, a hole that could have passed for a mouth.  Liono fell to the
ground -- the rest of us reacted about the same way and for a few
moments we were deafened.
But that was not the point -- the shock wave of the sound blasted the
Sword of Omens from Liono’s grip and sent it flying through the air to
land unseen in the darkness no one knew how far away.  He tried to call
for it but then that same cylinder machine formed an arm-like appendage,
a long but thin antenna and aimed it where the sword had indeed landed.
A pulsating orb of light, a bubble hovered shakily from the tip of the
antenna then separated, floated silently to the sword to capture it and
to hold it in itself.
Angered, Liono went to attack anyway.  He snarled and he roared but such
a display had no use on an the inanimate, reactionless contraption.
Where a man might back away, a machine, programed to fight and to
destroy would not even bother.  What happened next was hard to believe,
even for me and I saw it.  The cylinder machine ran toward Liono and
jumped on him.  It was then no longer a cylinder but a blob of clear,
see-through liquid metal that glowed green eerily.  It had the Lord of
the Thundercats completely in its substance and then it began to reform
into a solid once again.
Liono, who was struggling on the ground, straightened and stiffened.  He
was lifted though by an invisible hand to stand upright.  We could see
that he was surrounded him, encased in a material that had the
consistency of water.
I was afraid because I could see well enough that he could not breath.
The liquid continued to shift and to reform until at last he was caught
in the grip of its trap.  His hands and his feet were tightly bound in
metal shackles.  Bands came across his chest and neck.  His head was
free to move and he could speak but he continued to struggle in vain.
Meanwhile more of the cylindrical machine stood around us.  Panthro
punched one and his arm, his whole arm to the shoulder went right
through the liquid metal body.  He was entangled in a similar hold to
Liono’s only that it took that machine more time to ensnare him.
Tygra, Cheetara and I were captured with far less effort.  The cylinders
stood before us, wrapped around us and turned for a time from a silvery
metal to that clear liquid.  Our bodies were covered in it and we could
not breath for a while until the mass of the object lowered around our
chests and limbs to return to the harder solid substance.
We began to move involuntarily, all five of us were moved from the site
of the crash into the main body of the island.  Around us were more of
those cylinder machines but they remained passive.  I did not know why I
was not terrified, I did not know how anyone else would have reacted in
the same situation but because -- I can only suppose because -- of the
rapidity in which the events transpired I was numb and senseless.
Perhaps I was still suffering the effects of that hit to the head.
Perhaps I was in denial.  I could not say for sure.

What ever was responsible for what had happened wanted us alive.  I was
sure of that at least of that one, simple, little thing.  It could have
destroyed the ship easily and those cylinders, if they had wanted to,
could have crushed us in the might of their holds.
We traveled across a sloped countryside barren and devoid of nature.  To
be sure there were trees -- burnt crisp, decayed, knurled in eerie,
phantasmic shapes.  Rocks of various sizes and shapes littered the
scene.
I saw from a distant cliff that a large object slowly emerged from the
shadows.  It was a building, it was a large, rectangular construction
most of which remained submerged in the ground.  Sand and dirt swept and
marred the outer walls.  There were no windows, there was nothing that
marked or dignified a door of any kind.
The machines moved us closer -- the structure was not featureless, I
just had to look at it again.  I could see the individual bricks
clearly.  In the light of day the stone masonry would have had a dark
yellow color.  At the top, at the very top the roof overhung several
feet out from the walls and was made of a lighter-colored material, a
marble no doubt.
The machines walked us around to the far side where the ground dipped
violently to expose a small section of those parts of the building that
I knew were below, deep below the earth.  Stone steps arranged in a
certain pattern led to an enshadowed alcove set apart from the walls by
tall, round pillars again composed of that same roof marble.
There I was afraid for there we crossed into the building, into the
darkness itself.  The corridor was tall, exceedingly tall and I could
see, from the soft light of torches that lined the walls, the framework
of iron chains, a netting of some monstrous quality that thankfully
remained unseen or else I was sure that the mere horror alone would have
overpowered me.
The walls were not really walls.  The torches were placed on what were
columns which meant that there was more along our sides.  Just thinking
about what else could have been there made my hair stand on end.  Then
the corridors terminated in a small chamber and I was so thankful.
The chamber was lit in the recess by a large fire pit that was
surrounded by a ring of marble.  On the walls were drawings and designs,
mosaics along with glimmering and shining paintings.  The central
portion of that room contained a throne of carved wood elevated from the
floor by a platform of onyx.  The floor, too, was composed of a rich and
meticulous tile work but whose overall design was lost to me.
The machines unfixed themselves from us and retreated in liquid from out
of the many doors of the chamber that were only then shut tight with
riveted slabs of iron.  Panthro ran to one of them immediately and
banged on it -- the sound over powered the crackling of the fire pit.
“It’s no use,” Liono said.
“There’s a power here,” Cheetara spoke, “ancient, timeless.”
“Mumm-Ra?” Panthro shouted.
“No, it’s different, I can sense only power there’s nothing else here
physical.”
“Not physical and I suppose this door’s just air,” the panther retorted.

“The sword,” I spoke, “did any one see what happened to the sword?”
“I’ll call it again.”  Liono proceeded to do that.  Nothing happened for
a while and we were discouraged until we heard from one of the metal
doors a loud and persistent tapping.  “It’s there,” he said, his body
pressed up against the cold hard barrier.  “It’s there but it can’t come
in.”  The tapping became a pounding that then grew so strong it made the
very chamber tremble.
“Enough,” cried a voice and we all turned around, we all looked back.
Upon the wooden throne, standing on the onyx steps was a new figure.
The sword -- what we presumed to be the sword -- stopped and we heard no
more of it.
“Where did he come from?” Tygra asked.
“Where did he come from?” the figure replied.
“There was no one else in here unless there’s a secret way in or out,”
Liono replied.
“There is no one else in here, there’s a secret way in or out,” the
figure replied.
“What’s he doing?” Tygra asked me under his breath.
“What’s he doing?” The figure could hear us, our whispers.
“Our thoughts, too?” I wondered but did not speak it.  I looked to the
tiger:  “Hr could be trying to learn our language.”
“Mark him though, ‘there is no one else in here’?  Then he’s not here or
he’s not real.”
“Enough,” he said.  I had thought that by then he would have had a
larger vocabulary.  The figure had mimicked our dialogue through out
until then.  “You have trespassed.”  He spoke to no one in particular.
“We didn’t know -- did you try to warn us?”  Liono responded.
“You were given warning.”
“Those green fireballs?”  Tygra asked.
The figure nodded.
“And what about my sword?”
“Your sword is safe.  We,” and he accented ‘we,’ “do not steal
property.  Your sword will be returned in due time.”
“We are not thieves,” said Tygra.
I stepped closer to the throne and from the flickering flames of the
fire pit I saw exactly what we were dealing with.  The figure was tall,
ten feet tall and large and could hardly fit onto the throne.  His legs
were spread across the onyx steps, his arms were outstretched over the
wooden rests of the chair to support his body, to keep himself from
sliding off onto the floor.
The head was horned.  The right eye was covered in a slab of metal that
continued down, cross the side of the face were it appeared to meld
itself into a part of the jaw.  The skin of the cheek on that side of
his mouth was missing in noticeable gaps and I could see the teeth
inside.  Tubes and small hydraulic pipes formed the hinges of the
mandibles.
The rest of the body was at the first glance normal until the waist
where all the flesh was gone, replaced by wires and thick metal
supports.  I could see gadgetry working, I could hear motors turning
within.  The left leg from the outside seemed to be made of flesh but
the truth was that beneath were more metal parts that were exposed in
long, bloody gashes.
I wondered if the figure was not just another machine, an older design,
covered in a layer of flesh.  I wondered if there was not some higher
authority somewhere else in that vast building.
“Who are you?” I asked.
The figure arose and towered above us.  I stepped back to the others.
It did not matter what he was, for the moment he was power, he was
absolute power.
“You want your sword, you want your freedom, don’t you?  I want my
daughter back. I want my daughter back but I am an old man and cannot do
for myself anymore.  I will send you to retrieve her from evil clutches
of Kalia.  Kalia, the sorceress, jealous of her beauty -- she’ll take
her soul!”
“We’ll help you if you give me the sword --”
“No, not until you have brought her back!  I must have her back.  I will
not bear to stand a world without her and I’ll destroy this, this
existence of yours if you fail.”
Obviously we were not in any position even to beg.
“Kalia will send beasts and foes against you, hideously horrid.  Your
very nightmares will she bring to life, infused with her will and aimed
to destroy you at every level.”
I wanted to say something just then but I held back -- there would be a
time and place later.
“You will have to be quick and fast on your feet.  You will have to out
think her, out fox her.  She’s a crafty one, that witch.”  The figure
shook his finger in the air.  Cylindrical machines appeared from behind
the columns in the far recesses of the chamber.  The machines held
weaponry and we each were given them.  The guns were not metal but
plastic and light.  I found a trigger but when I squeezed it I heard not
a click -- in fact I heard nothing at all -- rather I felt a slight
bounce from an internal spring mechanism.  I then turned the barrel over
to inspect it further but -- “The five of you will be sent in now.”
“But,” I protested, “surely you see that this isn’t enough.  You have
given us weapons of some sort, but we need to be armed knowledge.”
The figure stepped close to me.  His mouth opened, his block-shaped
teeth, blunt and raw red dripped saliva in a steady trickle onto the
floor loudly.  I saw the tongue for the first time.  It was a smile and
he said nothing after that.  he returned to the throne and sat in place
once again in that awkward manner.
The cylindrical machines that had not left or dematerialized or whatever
grabbed us by the arms and walked us out of the room through a door that
had without our attention opened.  We were taken down a narrow, cramped
opening.  The only light came from the distance -- it seemed, or I hoped
that the passage had no end.
“I didn’t want to say this back there,” I said barely over a whisper,
“but did any of you notice something funny about what that figure said?”

“Don’t you think there are more important things to consider right about
now.  I mean, we weren’t even given ammunition,” Panthro said.
“That’s precisely the point -- this makes sense to me.  Sort of.  Well I
can’t quite say if I’m right or wrong now but there’s a way to prove
it.  I just can’t believe you guys didn’t notice.”
“All I got from him --” Cheetara began but did not finish.
The hall ended at last in a dark room.  A bright light shone in from a
square hole in the ceiling above.  We looked up, we saw a clear day, a
blue sky and some white, vaporous clouds.  Beneath it was a pool of
water.
We were put in large tubes that stood upright on the brick walls.  The
tubes were covered -- the parts before our eyes had a glass fixtures.
The voice, the voice of the figure spoke to us -- I had expected it, it
was one of the clues that hinted of the correctness of my theory.
“These tubes will transport you to the Realm of Kalia.  Be prepared for
she surely knows already that you are coming.”

The tube I was confined in filled with a gray smoke almost instantly.
Of course I feared the worst and I was not the only one.  I know one of
the Thundercats -- I could only imagine that it was Panthro -- began to
try to kick the lid open.  I, for one, held my breath for as long as I
could but that did not last.  I inhaled the vapor, the metallic vapor.
I did not feel dizzy or light headed.  I think my mind did not wander or
fail me.  Somehow, though, I blacked out.
Before I awoke I felt disembodied.  I could sense things, all sorts of
things but the information was jambled and convoluted -- at one point
even entirely random and chaotic.  Hard, solid objects passed my hands,
my fingers and I suddenly remembered the plastic weapon we had been
given -- I still held it.  Coldness and a strong current past my body
from the top down.  I was aware of lights, bright lights and various
periods of intermittent darkness.
When I did awake I was entirely disoriented.
I was on the floor, face down on a cold, metal floor.  The room -- what
I took to be a room at first -- was dark and damp.  I sat up.  Next to
me was the weapon -- it had transformed, though, it was now quite heavy
and made of steel.  It was a real gun already loaded and in my pocket I
found about twelve bullets.
I looked up, left and right.  I was in a hall, not a room.  I stood and
walked to the dark end where I was met by a wall, by a dead end wall.
There was no door, there was no opening so I had no choice but to look
to the other side.  The light there was brighter but in that place
‘brighter’ was a relative term.
I did not want to go but I was alone.  In the dark I remained silent and
from the distance I heard the sound of water gently trickling.  A chain
was dragged across the floor and for the first time I realized that
there was indeed someone else with me.
“Who’s there?” I asked in a shaky voice but there was no answer.  No
audible answer -- only the rustling of the chain.  I aimed the weapon
sure of where the sound had come from.  “I’m armed, don’t you understand
that?”  Silence again.  I took a few steps closer to the light and
stopped abruptly -- I heard the unseen lurker move and stop.
Where could it be hiding?
“Cheetara!  Tygra!  Liono!  Panthro!”
What ever it was certainly was not any of my friends.  The chain sound
returned and I looked to the left.  That particular wall was dotted by
alcoves that were not deep but still able to hold and hide an adequately
sized intruder.  Realizing then that I was in the light I stepped back
into the shadows.
I could not stay there forever.  If what that horned figure had said was
true then sooner or later that stalker -- Kalia’s goon no doubt -- would
attack.  I took the initiative.  First, I noticed that the right wall
was smooth and that more light touched it than the left wall.  Second, I
advanced, assured that my would-be attacker would be on that left in one
of its alcoves.  Still, I kept my eye open just in case there was one
alcove on the right that I had missed.
I crept closer, I heard its breathing.  Heavy and course, it seemed to
suffer from asthma.  It growled like an animal would grown if under
duress.  When I saw the green, glowing eyes my hands, my fingers reacted
by reflex.  I pulled the trigger and in the onrush of the adrenaline of
fear -- for I had stumbled upon the intruder quite by accident -- I did
not hear the sound of gun fire.
The thing that I had shot between the eyes fell apparently lifeless onto
the ground.  I remained over it silent and alert.  I feared that the
sudden sound of that ruckus might call other of those things to the
scene or that perhaps they were already there hidden in slumber in the
alcoves.  I waited I did not know how many minutes before I was
satisfied that I was alone.
The corpse I kicked forward repeatedly until it was basked in the light
that came from the opening at the far end of the hall.  The thing was
dead and I searched it for it was wearing the oddest uniform -- green
and brown splatters on a field of black and the most frightening part of
all was that I, too, wore the same outfit.  I found no weapons and no
more ammunition.  The lurker itself was humanoid, perhaps even human but
so badly decomposed I could tell nothing else about it.
And the smell -- I was only then aware of the smell.  I kicked it back
all the way back into the darkness.  Alone once more I sat down and
began to think.  Why had my clothes changed and when did it happen?  Did
that have anything to do with what I felt when I had gone unconscious?
What about the weapon?  Why had we been given those toys earlier only to
have these pistols now?  Or was it made from that same liquid metal
substance that could transform itself one form to another?
I had already a makeshift theory but I could not yet prove it to my
satisfaction.  I sat absolutely still for a moment, for a moment of
sudden insight.  Yes, I heard in my mind, in my head other voices and I
recognized them.  They were the Thundercats but they spoke incoherently
almost to themselves.  It was as if I had tapped into the monologues of
their minds directly.
Resigned, I continued on.  The lit opening led to a set of stairs that
themselves led up to a windowed chamber.  The room was brick and stone
mortar, the floor was the same, only the ceiling was wooden.  The
windows began two feet above the ground and were blocked my a thick
mesh.  Outside the sky was that bright blue that I had seen in the
chamber with the tubes.
The tubes.  What where they?  Had they sent us somewhere?  Yes, the
Realm of Kalia and we were there to rescue the beautiful maiden
daughter.  That was when it struck me -- supposing that we did get the
girl, as it were, how were we to we get back?  I was sure that the
figure was watching us, I was sure it would know what to do.
There I was, trusting that the horned beast would keep its word.
Next to the window was a door and it took me almost forever to figure
out how to open it.  Not that I wanted to go out side for all to see but
I thought it would be nice to know what was there.  I slid my hand
across one of the edges and it rose up in a quick motion.  I looked out
and down.  Large steps led down to an avenue of black stones.  On one
side there was a wall of brick, on the other was a lake of perfectly
clear water.
I had to find someone and I turned back.  There was one last window I
had overlooked.  I showed me an interior scene, a central courtyard
where more of those things that I shot walked in large, armed groups.
Grass covered the ground down there but that was not all.  On a tall
platform before tower that was covered in green vines was something that
looked almost exactly alike to the figure -- except that it was even
taller, twenty feet and its arms were not arms but rocket launchers.
My eyes started from their sockets and I ran to the side where the room
emptied into a hall.  My heart raced -- I hoped that it had not seen me,
that none had seen me.
Down the hall that was featureless I took a right turn and stumbled upon
another room.  I was already getting tired of it.  In the left forward
corner were two doors.  In the right there was a well lit side opening.
Of course I went over there -- the window displayed another view of that
central courtyard.  But that time I was almost face to face with that
thing.
It shouted and the whole world shook under my feet.  It aimed one of its
arms in my direction I got down onto my stomach on the floor.  A rocket
soared into the room once it broke through the mesh of the window.  A
second and then yet a third rocket followed.  All exploded in the area
of the doors.  I kept my ears and my head covered with my arms not only
for the sounds but for the debris that were sent flying in the air.
I looked behind -- I was in that alcove under the window safe for the
moment -- I saw that most of what ever was behind those doors had been
destroyed.  Suddenly, though, a figure in the bizarre uniform appeared
-- that new figure reminded me of a dog with an overly exaggerated
muzzle.  It had a weapon in its hands and it aimed at the open hole that
was left of the window.  Before it had even fired the thing on the
platform outside released yet another three rockets.  The dog figure
evaporated in a cloud of blood and mangled flesh.  Other similar
intruders who appeared from the smashed room behind the collapsed doors
were also destroyed only not as violently as the first.
When everything returned to some level of quietude I crawled on the
floor over the blood and carnage -- inhaling the death literally -- to
get the rifles and the arms that had so fortunately remained intact.  I
tiptoed back to the alcove.  To the right a stairwell led up, to where I
did not know.  To the left were stairs that led down, to the courtyard
no doubt.  Another dog figure appeared from down there.  I shot it with
the pistol -- I had to use two shots.  Because its weapon was fresh and
hopefully undamaged I decided to go down and fetch it.
Along the wall next to the stairs there was another ill-placed window.
I ran part it quickly but I had alerted that thing of my presence and it
responded by firing yet more rockets.  I was knocked senseless and
tumulted down past the body to the foot of the sitars exposed to the
elements of the courtyard.  I got up to my feet immediately and darted
back into the safety of the stairwell.  I grabbed the riffle and found
that it was adequately loaded.  I then tried to go back up the steps but
I stopped when I realized that the blasts had enlarged the window to a
significant degree and also knocked a couple of steps off.  I also
remembered that the thing had used only one or two rockets -- it knew I
had survived and was ready on the instant for the next fatal blow.
At the same time to my horror more of those dog figures began to come up
the stairwell from below.  I began to fire with the rifle and I knocked
them down one at a time.  I did not know how many bullets were in the
weapon so as I was killing them I was also heading back down the steps
to collect the weapons of those that had fallen.
I must have killed twenty before they stopped coming -- at least from
the courtyard.  A shot was fired and I looked up -- from the head of the
stairwell was a small group of shadowed figures.  I fired at them and
they seemed to go away only, I did not kill them.
I had to get out of there but obviously I had a problem and only one
chance to find the solution.  From the very foot I ran up the length of
the stairwell and when I came to the area of the window, where the steps
had been loosened or were missing, I jumped and reached out but I did
not get far enough.  I only got as far as the first stable step which
meant that the lower half of my body was exposed to the open gash where
the window had been, exposed to that one last blast from the thing.  I
struggled to find footing and at the same time I saw that more of those
shadows stood at the head of the stairs.
The thing fired its rocket and I was sure then that it was all over but
instead that rocket passed into the alcove above there the shadow
figures stood.  I could have almost laughed -- it gave me enough time to
stand and to make my way up to safety.
In the alcove that was then even more open I again got onto my stomach.
On the floor everywhere floating on the blood where shards of flesh with
the texture and consistency of leather.  The shadow creatures remained
formless and there was even less left of their weapons.
I decided then to go up those other stairs.  I did not see any windows
along the sides of the walls up there so I judged that it was safe.
When I had cleared the danger of the open window I was again on my feet,
again confident to some extent.
And then the situation hit me once more.  In spite of all that had just
happened I came to the most illogical and irrational conclusion yet.
Still, I had to find the others -- I knew then that we were in a large
complex and that the Thundercats would be scattered about in the oddest,
strangest places.
If my theory was true, though, then the person I had to locate first was
none other than Cheetara.
While I headed up the stairs I began to think.  If I was a cheetah where
would I hide?  I knew that their natures would prevent them from using
their weapons.  They would try to fight them but at the same time avoid
them for they were also without the Sword of Omens.  I, on the other
hand, appeared to be trigger happy but then that was exactly what the
place required -- provided, of course, that my theory was correct.
At the head of the stairs I found two halls, one that was a continuation
of the passage I was already in, the other led to the right.  I chose
the one that was the darkest for windows had proven rather dangerous to
me already and I was not about to tempt fate.  Along the walls I found
doors none of which opened.  The hall continued forever it until I was
met by a door that unlike all the others looked like a normal door --
mangled and hung from one hinge.
I pried it open and the sound of its rusty motion I knew would be
deadly.  The heavy metal frame collapse on the ground in a loud din but
at least the creaky sounds of the hinges had ended.  I was outside.
Yes, the complex was huge and surrounded by a wall of brick miles high.
To my left the ground was flat and even until it reached a large lake
that for some reason I felt ended in a waterfall but it was so far and
so distant that I could not say for sure.  To my right there was a deep,
rectangular ditch in the ground -- the courtyard.
I paused, my heart raced in my chest but I could not see that thing only
the tall tower.  It was made from a brick that was dark and old and
withered.  On that side the vines that covered it were flowered.  I saw
then that some of the greenery parted to reveal an iron gate.  A figure
appeared from the shadows within.  Her hands held the vegetation out of
place.
Because of the lighting I could discern very few details of her form.
Her hair was short.  Her eyes were soft and looked not at me, not at
anything in particular but to the distance, to the faraway distance in
mournful anguish.  Sadness.  The face turned down to see the world below
-- her lips quivered though in speech and then she disappeared back into
the recesses of her prison.  The vines that she had held back spread
down and across to further conceal my view of her, the abducted
daughter, the princess, no doubt.
I knew then I was right, that the main thrust of my theory was right but
I still had no idea what to do about it or how it could be used to
rescue ourselves from that place.

“I must find Cheetara,” I said aloud.
I went back into the dark hall to try the doors once more.  One of them
would open.  One of them would open for me.  I ran down the hall banging
on them.  I called, I yelled out their names over and over again but the
only sounds that responded were those of that thing firing rockets.
I had no choice then, did I?  I went to that branch of the hall that was
brightly lit.  There were windows that overlooked yet another open-aired
courtyard but it was larger and deeper than the other.  It was so deep
in fact that I had to stand on the window sill to even glance at the
ground -- that was not ground at all but a body of deep, clear water.
It rushed and it circulated violently, the sound that was produced came
to my ears in a wild drone.
The passage ended in one room that was even brighter if such a thing was
possible for it was lit from large holes and gaps in the decrepit roof.
The walls, like the rest of the walls I had seen, were made from dark,
yellow bricks.  The floor was a stone, tile work -- I perceived a
definite pattern but I could not make heads or tales of it.
I walked to one of the better-lit areas of the floor where I found a
pool of water with a gentle cascade formed from smooth-faced stones.
Wild plants grew around the pool and some, some that were large
overflowed onto the rippled and violent, glassy surface.  Multicolored
fish swam within -- they noticed my presence and they swam in small
groups away under the safety and shade of the greenery.
The walls of that large chamber were lined with door and with unmeshed
windows and indicated to me from their orientation and their placement,
that there were three floors or level yet to be explored.  I sighed and
I turned around dejected but I noticed then that there were other pools
and that a hunched figure sat at the edge, legs in the water, arms
astride, supporting the body.
The body -- a hand pushed hair aside to reveal an ear and a bloodied
scar behind it -- it was Cheetara.
“I’ve found you at last,” I said -- I had run to her but my heart had
already raced before I had set myself in motion.  “Cheetara.”
She turned her head around, I sat beside her but not in the water.
“Cue.”
“We have to find the others, I know what’s going on around here.”
“The others, Cue?”
“Yes, the others, the other Thundercats.”
Her eyes had that faraway look in them just then.  She let her hand rest
gently, almost gingerly upon me thought it was normal for her to do such
a thing.  I equally tenderly removed her hold.
“Do you think that’s appropriate?”
She did not respond -- at least not verbally.  She giggled and once
again petted me with her hand.  I found it very difficult to resist but
I did.  I would not have taken advantage of her like that, obviously
what we had gone through must have effected her in some way.
“This is not the time or the place, Cheetara.”
“Oh, loosen up, Cue, what good is all that logic of yours if you can’t
take the time to enjoy --”
She leaned closer to me, her lips touched mine and I darted back.
That was not Cheetara -- I couldn’t explain it then at the time but I
knew that was not her.  She would not have been so forward but beyond
that -- she was dressed in her regular clothes and not in the uniform
that I was.  It was a hunch, it was a stretch of reason to assume
without cause that all of us had had our clothing switched but I took it
none the less.  I decided  that it had to have been a given of the
process that had brought us to that place.
I put the shotgun to her forehead and squeezed the trigger without a
thought.  The head shattered and the body fell back.  There was no
blood, there was no gore.  Immediately a dense mist bust out from the
open gash in the head.  The smoke formed itself into the shape of a
woman.  A woman with dark hair and dark eyes, sunk into the head deeply,
so deeply that they were invisible in the shadows cast by the protruding
frontal brow.  The rest of the face gave the impression of the imperfect
progression of a vast age but it would have been unjust to have
dismissed her as ugly for there was imbued in those features the
undeniable trace of past beauty.
She laughed hideously while she rose higher and higher into the air
until at last she disappeared, diffused into nothing.
Kalia.
I looked down on the ground and there was nothing, no corpse, no
remains.  What ever I had seen, what ever I had killed was gone.  Oddly,
strangely I knew I was right, I had been right about everything except
for one thing that I had said.  The Thundercats were not in that place
with me, I was alone, yes, I was alone.
My theory made sense but what was to come from that mental discovery?
In my head I had tied together my assumption and my hypothesis into a
nice, neat statement.  I had one of two choices.  Or I could go on with
the charade, defeat Kalia, rescue the princess and hope that it would
end without any other kind of complication.  Or, I could end it right
then and there and see.
The shotgun?  No, too messy, I wanted the pistol and I hoped that it
worked -- not too well, just well enough to do what I wanted it to.  I
put the barrel into my mouth and pulled the trigger.

The sense of disorientation returned along with the terrible feeling
that I was not in my body anymore -- I feared that I might have been
wrong.  What was it?  What had happened to me?
Time had no meaning to me -- the being of me.  I had no sensation of a
body only consciousness.  I floated somehow, somewhere.  I remembered a
hand and that created a hand.  I remembered a foot and I had a foot once
more.  Little by little and then rushed into an onslaught, an avalanche
the rest of my form recreated itself and I was whole once again.
I remained motionless while I discussed and debated in my head.  The
facts, the observed facts.  I began at the beginning, about those funny
things that the figure had said.
“I want my daughter back,” he had said but I saw what his daughter was
and there was no way that the figure could have been her father, after
all, he was a machine -- an it.  “I am an old man.”  Once again false,
false, false and then there was the business of Kalia.  An evil
sorceress, a captive princes.  How many times have I read that same
story in the literature, over and over again?  “Kalia will send beasts
and foes against you, to destroy you at every level.”  At every level --
it was a game divided into a logical progression of levels.  Obviously
I, armed even with that shotgun, was no match against that thing.
Somewhere along the line I was supposed to find the ‘super weapon,’ if
such was the word, capable of destroying that beast.
I paused for a moment painfully aware of one looming gap in my theory.
Something else came to mind, something else that the figure had said.
“You will have to be quick and fast on your feet.  You will have to out
think her, out fox her.  She’s a crafty one, that witch.”  What did that
sound like?  He did not say it threateningly, nor did it seemed that he
tried to scare us.  Rather, the words were spoken so matter-of-factly,
so coldly -- Ah, it was read from a scrip, an advertisement, the blurbs
found on the backs of old books.  A description of the game and as far
as those tubes were concerned I realized then what they were.
“These tubes will transport you to the Realm of Kalia.”
Yes -- but I was still in the tube, I and the Thundercats, each in our
own tube, each in our own separate level.  Perhaps it was the same
level, perhaps it was not.  When I had looked around and saw creatures,
that thing, the princess, Kalia -- and not merely with the sensation
from my eyes either but with textures, with sounds, with scents as well
-- all of that and more were illusions.
So much so good but there was that one thing more, that one loophole.
Even if that was all a game -- say, that the island was once, long ago a
resort where people were sent into virtual worlds to experience virtual
adventures -- how to explain our being attacked?  How to explain those
cylindrical machines?  The  figure?  No, but if that virtual world could
go awry why not take it to its logical extreme -- that Kalia became
‘real’ and took over the internal computational substance of the
workings of the island.
The horned creature was obviously nothing more than a watered down
version of that thing.  The cylindrical machines -- of liquid metal --
were the random creation of a logical, computative mind.  Of course it
would seem to be made of that fluid substance, of course it would be
able to transform into what ever shape and form its operator desires.
What about our being attacked?  Why, Kalia was evil, no?
So she went crazy, so she took over the island but she was still a
machine, no, less, a program.  A program that consists of instructions
and that like all programs could do only what those instructions
dictated.  Demented, she encounters new visitors and without their
permission, without their knowledge she puts them into the game because
that’s all that she knows.
“Be prepared for she surely knows already that you are coming.”
I was on a roll.  Suppose that in the ensuing millennia of idleness --
or perhaps not so, perhaps the island has had its share of activity but
none the less -- Kalia acquired an intelligence.  To know that the sword
-- that any weapon -- would be a threat to the game and to know to keep
it away.

That was it, that was all -- my mind was empty, resolved and at peace at
last.  Enough philosophizing, enough theorizing, the time for that
recreation had passed.  I had to get back to the pressing business at
hand.
I was in the tube again -- rather, I had never left it.  I had ‘left’
that ‘Realm of Kalia’ but how was I to escape from that confinement?
My eyes were open but I could see nothing.  Around my face, around my
head down to the neck was a heavyset helmet.  A current of cold air
circulated from the rubbery mask portion along with a fine mist.
I had quite a problem.  My hands -- I could not believe that I still
clutched the fake weapon -- I tried to move my hands but my writs were
bound along with my elbows.  I was about ready to give up until, quite
by accident, I noticed that I could move my arms out, I could raise them
just a little.  It was not much at all but it was enough to loosen the
vise hold of the metal binding.  After a short struggle that consisted
of me twirling my shoulders -- not a graceful movement by any definition
but certainly functional -- the thin strips of the bindings acame and
fell to the bottom of the tube along with the plastic gun.
My legs were also bounded in an analogous manner but freeing them was a
tad more complicated.  I found that if lifted my legs though I was
walking that my feet could slide off of the constraining bolts.  With
the leverage that afforded me I twisted my legs and my knees came undone
too.
I had stumbled upon very useful internal mechanisms and could then move
with more ease but with far, far less comfort.  Further, my head was
remained bound and there were also several leather straps across my
upper chest.  I resolved to bust open the long, lateral lid of the tube
-- I kicked it, I pounded it but in vain.
If there was a was to free my limbs with only adequate effort then
perhaps there was a way to open the door again without resorting to
violence.  In what was effective darkness I searched with my hands
around the edges of the riveted door -- I remembered from my short stay
in that place how I opened the doors there.  On one side I stumbled upon
what where hinges, on the other side was something that I will call a
latch.
It was a set of bars that crossed the crack perpendicularly.  On the
body of the door itself the bars were secured in a cast iron molding, on
the frame of the tube the bars were attached to a spring-hook
contraption.  I pressed a small button and the bars began to retract,
the door then swung open so easily that I thought and I feared for a
moment that it did so on its own accord.
I had all the room I needed to maneuver.  The attachments across my
chest I removed easily -- they were held in place by both Velcro and by
metal fasteners.  All that remained was the helmet and with the greatest
sense of joy and of relief I lifted that device off from my body and
threw it down to the floor were it bounced around on the stones until it
hit the side of a wall somewhere in the shadows.
Alone and silent I walked around the chamber, around the central pool.
Along the walls were twenty tubes and some were in better condition than
most.  The best kept one were the ones that were empty.  I found that
aside from the Thundercats that there were others in there too.  It was
irrational and impulsive but I opened a very old and decrepit tube -- a
skeleton, a body in an extreme degree of decay flopped out onto the
ground.
I darted back and held my impulse to scream.
Lord only knew how many more, how many other such tube-filled rooms
there were in that building, how many other such victims had been
snatched since the place had gone awry.  I decided then that Panthro was
the Thundercat who could help me do what I knew had to be done.  The
glass partitions even though clear showed me only the mask-helmets and
no trace of feature by which I could discern who was who.  I had to open
the tubes one by one until at last I found him.
His muscular limbs were stiff and incredibly difficult to move but with
persistence I maneuvered him out of the restraints.  Once again the
chest bands were trivial to remove.  I was nervous about the helmet -- I
did not know what effect removing it might have on him without the game
first ending.
I heard him speak and I noticed that his body responded to the
environment of that virtual simulation.  The shock might kill him and I
thought to myself for a long, long time.  I came to realize that of all
of the Thundercats he would be the best one, the strongest one to
survive.  I pulled off the helmet -- immediately he shut his eyes and
covered them his hands.  He screamed, he stumbled disoriented onto the
floor where he shook and quivered.  His limbs flailed in the air
violently.
“What have I done, Panthro, what have I done?”
He calmed and I felt his heart.  It beat ferociously and I was afraid,
so afraid.  I thought for sure I had killed him but then I heard him
moan softly and then that moan began to form fragments of words, of
sentences.
“Panthro,” I said, “it’ll pass, it’ll pass.”
I hovered over him still afraid that I had irrevocably damaged him.  I
whispered into his ear:  “It was not real.  What you experienced was not
real.  We never left the tubes.”
He responded groggily and then past a few more tense minutes he sat up.
“What happened?  What was all that?  Cue?  Cue?”
“We were put into a game.  The others are in there, too.”
“I saw you and Tygra.  Liono --”
“Those weren’t us -- each of us were alone in a different ‘level.’”
“If that’s true then who’s in control here?”
He was back on his feet, he had regained his faculties although at first
he did need my help to get around.  I hoped he was not angry at me at
what I had done, I was sure he understood.  But he said nothing about
that, he was determined as well as I to get to the bottom of the
situation.
“The game went wrong and took over the building  if we can find the
central computer and shut it off all this will go away and we’ll be
free, the others will be free.  The cylinder machines, the figure are
nothing more than computer simulations brought horribly to life.  I hope
that doesn’t sound crazy.”
“Well, my friend, right now we have nothing else to work with.  The
truth, what ever it is will come out, surely, simply.”  We paused.
“Should we wake the others?”
I shook my head:  “I was afraid that stopping the game so quickly would
kill you -- there’s no telling what might happen to them if we did the
same.  Let’s just shut this machine down -- that’ll bring them out of
that game, I’m sure.”
“What are we waiting for, then, let’s go.”

The door of that tube chamber was not locked, it was ajar.  Apparently
our not being in the game anymore had alarmed no one yet.  Being able to
leave, say for a break, was perfectly allowable in the original program
and was no doubt left intact, forgotten perhaps since no one else ever
before might have been able to escape.  I did not know what Kalia might
think about that rule just then -- certainly she could have overheard
us, certainly she knew what our intent was.
The trek through the long, cramped hall was arduous and horrifying.  I
was afraid that those cylindrical machines would come at us from the
corners, from the nooks, from everywhere.  Suddenly and unexpectedly I
noticed that there was more than a casual, coincidental similarity
between the architecture of the building and of the layout of the game I
was in.
That was why I was nervous about reentering the throne room where the
figure, the watered-down version of that thing would be.  I feared that
Kalia would have reverted it back into the rocket-launching original
monster.
The fire remained and cast moving shadows across the decorated walls in
which we were cloaked.  It crackled over the progress of our footsteps
while we treaded in the recesses of the chamber.  We stepped through the
circle of carved columns at the center of which was the wooden throne --
empty.
I pointed Panthro over to that part of the room behind the throne from
where the cylinder machines had appeared.  We found  a darkened
stairwell and proceeded to ascend.  At the head, at the end we
encountered a corridor that branched into two separate hallways.  One
was well lit, one was not -- what a dilemma.  Panthro wanted to go to
the bright passage.  I had no opinion.
The passage had windows along only one of the walls -- once again the
patterns were identical to what I had seen in the game.  The difference,
of course, was in what I found when I looked out.  It was a vast chamber
of immense proportion -- indeed, the great bulk of the building
consisted of just that one room.  The ceiling was a metal meshwork that
allowed ambient light to seep through but not the elements.  The floor
was flat and at first glance appeared smooth only because it was so far
down beneath us.
In reality the floor was composed of trillions upon trillions of
processors, interconnected in a mind-boggling array.  It was a singular
machine, it was a brain of near infinite ability -- but because the
others were still trapped in the game and Lord only knew if the games
that the corpses had been stuck in were still running, that brain,
Kalia, was utterly distracted.
Over the floor, hung from the walls and from the ceiling were large orbs
that pulsated with blasts of lightning and energy.  Green plasma. A
quivering cackle of lightning began to form from one of the orbs.  It
then jumped to another where yet more blasts had so concentrated aimed
in our direction.
I ducked and Panthro followed my lead.  The force of the green plasma
shot into the air and hit the brick wall.  Nothing happened at first but
then we heard the sounds, the mechanical sounds of the cylinders.
“We cannot fight them, our only hope is to get to the control room.”
We crawled on our stomachs down the rest of the length of the hall while
more blasts of energy shot in the distance to be followed by what must
have been a legion of those liquid metal cylindrical machines.  I stood
briefly to open the door -- the only door at the very end of that
corridor.  Inside the chamber was dark expect for the light that came
from blinking control panels.
We jammed ourselves in and barricaded the door the best we could with
the spare items and loose furniture that adorned the small room.  The
blasts stopped -- it would not fire, it would not take the risk to fire
while he were within that place.
“We’re in quite an important place if it won’t shoot us,” the panther
said.
“This must be the control room,” I started, “why else would it stop.”
“Those machines are still on our trail -- I’ll stand guard at the door,
you try to figure out how to shut this off.”
I nodded in compliance.  While still on my stomach I crawled on the
floor across to what I had mistaken for a table.  It was nothing more
than a collection of monitors.  In the black and white screens I could
see the other Thundercats in those bizarre uniforms, each stuck in their
own level.  Why had Kalia shown me that?  I did not want to be
distracted.
I found a bewildering assortments of buttons that I could not make heads
or tails of.  I could have rung my head against the walls -- speaking of
which I found an access door to a smaller chamber.  I opened it -- a
light came on inside just then and large, winged roaches darted out from
sight, crazed into the cracks behind the shiny inner walls.  The air was
stale and hot.
To my utter delight I found exposed circuitry.  I looked back around to
Panthro before I entered but what I noticed most of all was that the
monitors were then blank.  The games that my friends were in were
apparently being put to an end so that Kalia could have all her
resources free to stop us.
I had to work fast.  I ran into the room and looked around in panic.
What was I to do?  I tried to grab one of the boards but it seemed to be
nailed or secured tight.
“They’re coming closer,” Panthro said.  I heard a terrible pound from
the riveted, iron door.
I kicked one of the boards and my foot smashed right through.  I felt a
rush of electricity and jolted back.  Sparks flew into the air and
landed on adjacent circuitry but caused no more damage.  I kicked some
more and bashed some more.  A great sound -- a scream -- came from
everywhere at once.  I felt something -- I spun around behind.
Kalia was in the chamber with me -- her hands were outstretched toward
my neck.  I felt her substance, she was there, physically there in the
room with me, coming to kill me.  She smiled or snarled, she spoke in a
voice that I realized was the normal tongue backwards.  Had I already
caused permanent damage or was that part of her pre-programed persona?
I had little time to discuss that for she had her hands squarely around
my neck -- I had already been too distracted by that lost beauty painted
on her face.
“They’re coming in, they’re coming in!”
There was one last circuit board in that small chamber that I had yet to
destroy and I knew it was my only chance.  I kicked it as best as I
could with my leg -- I was too far away from it perhaps.  I managed to
knock it somewhat out of place.
“The cylinder machines are in the room!”  I heard Panthro run back to
the table with the monitors but at the same time  Kalia began to fade.
Her image was jumpy and her physical form was not as strong as it had
been before.  I freed myself from her grip and destroyed what was left
of that square board -- it shattered like glass against the wall.
Kalia’s mouth opened to scream but no sound came forth for she
disappeared as suddenly and as silently as she had materialized.
The power failed.
“Panthro!  Panthro!”  I yelled.  I was in the dark on my knees.  Some of
the sparks had apparently formed small fires in the room that were
quickly spending my oxygen.
I heard the panther scramble to the direction of my voice.
“I can’t get out, the door is stuck.”
The opening and closing of the door was controlled by computers and was
left as it was when I had destroyed the central control units.  Panthro
smashed the thin metal barrier down and plucked me out from sheer doom.
Back in the larger chamber lights came from the windows -- the green
lightning blasts were still there but without a control unit to regulate
the brain there was little it could do.
“The cylinders vanished,” he spoke.
“They were never there, they were illusions only.”
“I can’t believe it.  What power and technology wasted on a game.”
“I don’t doubt that some good might come of it but for now we should get
the others.”

Tygra, Cheetara and Liono were already awake -- they had begun to free
their limbs but we had to open the tubes for them and take care of the
rest.  Disorientation followed them too for a while but it was mild, it
was not what Panthro had experienced.  When at last we were back on our
feet we walked into the throne room.
It had remained intact and the way we had left it.  The fire continued,
the wooden throne was empty.  More importantly, however, the riveted
doors that had formed themselves to trap us in had vanished.  We walked
out of there safely, unmolested.
The Sword of Omens was on display atop a pearly-while marble column
four-feet high with a flat, square top.  A red, silky cloth adorned the
lengths upon which was embossed monograms in golden threads, in a long,
lost forgotten alphabet.  Liono took the weapon but in removing it he
caused a whole series of unfortunate events to unfold.
The building began to shake violently.
Had Kalia or the computer repaired itself, rewired or reworked the
damage I had inflicted.  Green lightning resonated from deep within the
building and we ran out of there like there was no tomorrow.  Down the
slope, down the side of the mountain.  It took me a while but I realized
that it was day -- there was daylight -- and we saw the whole thing.
The building was exactly the colors I knew it would be and, oddly
enough, it was beautiful.  It had been part of a resort, a vacation
spot, one of many littered across the face of Third Earth and all around
us we saw the remains of forests, grassy plains and gardens that had
decayed and deformed, rutted under the crushing weight of millennia,
transfigured into ash when the computer, when Kalia took over.
I had said that the building shook but then before us it rocked
violently.  Large sections of the outer facade collapsed to reveal an
internal, iron skeletal frame what was itself deformed by the wild
detonations of that green plasmatic lightning.  The mountain, upon whose
sides the events transpired, shook too and rocks and boulders came
tumbling down from its height in a miniature avalanche.  The building
imploded and fell into the ground destroyed.  The island stopped quaking
soon after the sound of one, great crash.
We hiked our way back to the crash site.  The Gaia was still in place
for sure, still in pieces.  The fruits and the exotic foods remained
untainted and so we breakfasted.
Liono used the sword once more -- our rescue party was well on its way
and he let out another signal flair just to make sure that Bengali would
get the Thunder Tank to the right island.  In any event we would have
the whole day to ourselves.
While we ate we talked about what had happened.  I began, I told them
about my theory and what I did to escape the game and then the tube.  It
turned out that we had all been placed in identical levels, we had all
seen the same things, somewhat.  The biggest difference was that I used
the weapons while the Thundercats preferred to fight their way though
the labyrinth.
They had also seen other parts of the layout that I had overlooked.
Cheetara, being so fast, was able to run to that lake that I had only
supposed was there.  She saw for herself that it did terminate in a
waterfall, deep and beautiful.
“I heard the water rush and my face was sprayed with the cool mist.
There was a scent in the air and when I looked down I saw birds flying
below, next to a tall pillar of rock covered with moss and wet, flowered
plants.  It was so real, so real I could have sworn by it.”
Panthro and I had been very violent in our adventures.
“I didn’t know you had it in you,” Tygra teased me.
“Well, I didn’t want to but at the time I had no idea it was a game, I
thought it was real.  I had no choice, you see, it was a matter of
survival.  I don’t think that I’m a violent man but if I was in that
situation I wouldn’t have acted any different.”
“Cue was right and about a whole bunch of things, too.”  She looked at
me funny -- I had not, nor I think ever will tell her what exactly
happened between me and Kalia-Cheetara in the game before I ‘shot’
myself.
“You are right, Cheetara, we do have much to thank you for.  If you
hadn’t figured out what was going on we might have died in there,” Liono
said while he smiled at me.  The others came around and rubbed my hair
-- or what was left of my hair anyways -- while they showered my with
little gratitudes.
“I had sensed that there was something wrong.  You asked if we thought
there was something funny about the what the figure had said.  I admit I
didn’t pay as much attention as you but what I noticed was that there
was no emotion, no feeling -- and for a man who wanted his daughter
back.”
“But why did the place destroy itself?”
“There was something he said, that if he did not get his daughter back
then he’d destroy the world or something,” I began.  “We were his last
chance I suppose and we failed, didn’t we?”
A small, pensive silence followed then Liono asked:  “I wonder what the
lesson of this story is?”
“Perhaps,” Tygra began in that professor's voice, “perhaps this little
tale should serve as a warning about the dangers of an out-of-control
technology.  It destroyed the first civilization of this planet and it’s
shown it can inflict damage even now.”
I agreed and how those images lingered.  I never forgot her, the
enchantress, the sorceress.  I can still see that withered, wilted image
from itself from the void, I can still feel Kalia’s hands around my neck
and at night when I cannot sleep I hear, echoed in my head, the roar and
the screaming of that thing.







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