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Episode 6 Part 3

By:  Lenady

The crowd that had surrounded Tilly and her captors as they came in through the passage was small in comparison to the one that was forming in the center of the town. The cave echoed with raised voices. They practically had to push their way through the swarm of people in order to get to the rocket. The thought of escape once more entered her thoughts; with so many people around she didn’t know if it would be easier or more difficult. She would certainly stand out among the crowd, and she was unaware of how many people in the crowd would be armed. She wasn’t certain, however, that whatever was planned for her at the rocket would be any worse than being attacked by an armed crowd. Tilly tried to stop walking, but as soon as she stopped moving she was pushed from behind. It was as if she was being folded into the crowd, pulled from the front and pushed from the back. In moments she was at in the center of the town, standing at the base of the rocket and looking up. A platform was built directly above the legs which held it upright, just wide enough for someone to precariously stand on.

Tilly was once again led forward, this time toward a small ladder that was pushed up against the platform. It was somewhat rickety, as if no one had actually expected for it to be used, or at least used more than once. She hesitated for a moment, considering the sturdiness of the ladder, and was shoved towards it by Grump. He yelled at her and forced her up the ladder, following behind. When she reached the top she was turned around to face the audience. She couldn’t have been more than six feet off the ground, but she instinctively backed against the rocket as much as she could. Fear clutched at her as she tried not to look down. It struck her as rather odd that she was reacting so badly to a mere six feet when she had already walked down the stairway into the cave city, which had a much steeper drop off by far. ‘Fear normally isn’t rational’ she thought while trying to look at the crowd instead of at the ground.

 More people were streaming out of the buildings, a mass of green against the blue walls. Their faces held a mixture of expressions, some worry and some excitement, others simple curiosity. Seeing a flash of red Tilly realized that as much as she stood out there was someone there that stood out more than she did. The group was once again parting for more guards, plus one rather calm Norian. Despite her calm there were more guards escorting her than brought in Tilly, and several of them were a good few feet away from her, every now and then looking at her as if she were made of acid or fire. By this point Grump had stepped down off of the platform and Sanrook was being led up the ladder. Tilly stepped to the right slightly to allow her room, wincing when she felt the boards give ever so slightly. 

      “What’s going on here?” Tilly whispered, turning her head.

      “I think we’re being offered to the missile”, she said and smiled wryly. “Just phallic enough to be sacrificed to”.

      “Easy enough to deduce I guess” Tilly replied. The crowd was growing less nervous and more rambunctious by the minute. She wasn’t certain but she thought they might be bringing out drums and other instruments. She could hear the thumps and toots over the din of the crowd.

      “Well, yeah. Plus the translator comes in handy too.” Sanrook said. She looked at Tilly and motioned with one shoulder. “I’ve got a couple more in my vest pocket as soon as I can get to them.”

      Tilly mentally filed away the fact that Sanrook had failed to mention the translators before in her imaginary list of reasons to beat Sanrook with something heavy.  The list had gotten suspiciously long recently. 

She heard a familiar bellow coming from Grump, the words she assumed were meant to silence them, as he and another guy climbed up the ladder towards them. The platform must have extended all the way around the rocket, as soon one of the men came around from her right side and caught two ropes that were thrown at him by Grump.

      Tilly’s arms were already trapped behind her back, pressed against the metal shell of the rocket.  They were forced back even further as the aliens wrapped ropes around her and Sanrook, securing them side by side.  Horror suddenly hit Tilly like a bucket of water.  She turned as much as she could to look at Sanrook, “Are they going to blow us up with the rocket?” The thought seemed odd, since likely if that were the case then everyone that surrounded the rocket would be killed too. But maybe that was their intent. Why else would you strap someone to a rocket?

      “Rocket?” asked the Norian looking truly puzzled.

      Tilly narrowed her eyes, feeling both confused and exasperated at the same time, “The thing we’re tied to”.

      “Oh this, yeah, I was thinking of it as more of a missile or something.  Still working on my English, you know. Naw, I doubt it.  The thing is probably a dud anyway, and there were heat stains on the metal so we probably aren’t the first guests to get this sort of welcome.”

      It stuck Tilly that one fiery death probably was not better than another.

      She was about to say something else to Sanrook when the musical instruments brought by the aliens were suddenly employed in full.  It shocked Tilly quiet, giving her a moment to reflect in awe on the powerful reverberations inside the cavern.  After just a few moments however she started to realize how repetitive and discordant that song was. Despite this, it at least had a decent beat. It was unfortunate though that the thumps echoed off the cave walls so loudly. She could practically feel them echoing within her own chest cavity. A few of the aliens came forward with torches and set them into poles that circled the rocket. Meanwhile Sanrook was shuffling slightly beside her.  Tilly turned her attention to the Norian and gave her the what-are-you-up-to look.

      Sanrook’s eyebrows replied that she was working on something.

      Finally the seemingly endless song stopped.  An old looking alien stepped in front of the mob with hands raised and proceeded to give what Tilly could only compare to a sermon. After a few moments the crowd began to respond with eyes closed, repeating back words and phrases after him. The reverent and solemn atmosphere of the crowd only drove home the fact that she was on the wrong side of a religious sacrifice.

      “Lean a little closer,” whispered Sanrook.

      They were already shoulder to shoulder, but Tilly did her best.  She twisted as close as she could.

      “I’m having some trouble getting my hands undone but I bet I can get yours.” Sanrook said out of the side of her mouth.  With that Tilly felt razor sharp nails scratching against first her arm and then her wrist finding the ropes and cutting through them easily. 

      Sanrook smiled, “I’ll get myself out in a minute.”

      Tilly stood there measuring her options an inch at a time and concluding that things seemed pretty grim.  No matter where she looked there was a mass of aliens who wanted to sacrifice her to a piece of junk.  “We can’t just rush out of here.  We’ve gotta have a plan.”

      “Eh?  Well, while I’m doing this, you can try to make a distraction.”

      Tilly put this on her mental list too.  “A distraction, huh? Anything in mind, hot shot?” hissed Tilly.

      “I say we try to set this sucker off.  This thing is old as hell.  I’m betting it’s a relay loader.  All you gotta do is get one of those torches, crawl under there and find a little triangular panel with a bunch of wires going into it, and hold the torch on it till it starts ticking.  Then you’ll need to run like crazy.”

      Tilly stared, dumbfounded, at Sanrook.

      Sanrook did not notice, but continued “The torch should trigger the heat sensors and start up the second part of the relay.  Hopefully it won’t just blow up.  And I had better have myself out of this by then or I’ll be in a bit of trouble.” 

            Tilly knew that at times Sanrook could be a little odd, but it wasn’t until then that the thought fully struck her that her friend might just be insane. Tilly looked out at the crowd, noting that their eyes were still closed. It was a good thing, she realized, as otherwise they would have probably already noticed the fact that she was no longer tied up. Tilly turned to Sanrook once again and was met with a look that implied ‘what are you waiting for?’

            Tilly walked around the rocket so that she wouldn’t have to try to climb over Sanrook, hoping that the boards of the platform wouldn’t creak enough to give her away. The speaker was loud, but she didn’t know if the noise from the sermon and congregants would be enough to mask her moving around. Thankfully, everyone had crowded around on one side of the rocket so she wouldn’t have to worry about running into anyone as long as she was behind the speaker. She climbed down the ladder carefully, praying that the rungs would hold her up long enough to allow her to reach the bottom. When she touched the sandy floor of the cave she moved quickly around to the back of the rocket, grabbing a torch on the way. She was nervous that he difference in light would alert the aliens to her motion, but she refused to look back. As long as she didn’t hear a ruckus she could rest assure that they were still distracted. She just hoped that they were all devout enough to keep their eyes closed until she was finished. It would just take one back pew alien to set off the whole crowd.

            Tilly crawled under the bottom of the rocket slightly, careful about where she aimed her torch. She settled her knees into the sand and looked up. The bottom was as deteriorated as the rest of the piece, but the triangle Sanrook had mentioned was easy enough to spot. She was relieved that there was only one, and not a variety to choose from. She glanced at the torch in her hand, her nerves starting to get the best of her. Her heartbeat seemed louder to her than all the voices in the cave combined. ‘One fiery death is about the same as another’ she thought. She took a deep breath and held the torch to the triangle. Her hand shook slightly as she held it there about a minute. The volume of the voices were raised somewhat compared to what they had been when she had climbed down from the platform and she worried that perhaps she wouldn’t be able to hear the ticking over the noise. The ticking came however, loud and clear, and she scrambled to get out from under the rocket.

She found that she wasn’t the only one who had heard the ticking. She was met with the images of Sanrook yelling at some guy, interchangeably swinging at him, and the crowd running towards the walls of the city. The patterns raked in the sand had all but disintegrated and the sound of the ceremony had nothing on the cacophony that was now erupting. They probably had the right idea. She started running in the direction of the cave entrance, still holding the torch. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Sanrook making her way also, now holding her gun. Tilly didn’t know if ultimately that was good or not. Considering what Sanrook had said about it, if the rocket didn’t take the cave out that weapon could.

She turned her head back around in time to see two aliens standing in front of her with their feet planted and arms out, like a couple of linebackers. Tilly gritted her teeth and kept running, swinging the torch as she got close enough. Their eyes widened in fear and they too started to run, Tilly realized, probably not from her torch. Still running, she looked back to see sparks of light at the rocket. The roar behind her, putting the sound of the audience to shame, made her drop the torch. She could see Sanrook sprinting up to her from the right. The roar increased, accompanied by a cloud of smoke and sand almost too thick to see through. Then a loud crash and crumbling could be heard as the rocket tore through the roof, shaking the entire cave and sending grains of sand flowing down into the town like a bright blue, sandy waterfall.

 

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