Sacrifice of the Volcano Men


They were called the volcano men. An entire tribe that lived on the vast expanses of Mercury, the planet closest to the sun. Due to the proximity to the sun, it was extremely warm there. As if that weren’t enough, there were also vast volcanic landscapes. This tribe of volcano men lived in the volcanic landscape called Dolorem Whenua. They lived in adoration of the great volcano, which they considered to be their ancestor. It was no wonder, because the volcano men’s skin was crusty and wrinkled and the hue of lava that had just come to a standstill. A hue that is difficult to describe, somewhere between brown and black.
That they were the descendants of the volcano was, of course, deeply superstitious.

Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

The skin of these beings was not so strange because they were descendants of the volcano, but because they lived so close to the sun. They were adapted for that. Other visitors to the planet have always struggled with the heat. They didn’t. And the heat was particularly bad in the Dolorem Whenua area. The big volcano was actually always active. But something was different, and had been for some time. Now there was something else. The oldest of the volcano men had noticed it first. Then everyone noticed. And they knew that all of this was a great danger. But instead of reacting irrationally, the behavior of these beings was very prudent. If someone had been able to observe it from the outside, it would have been a welcome change from the chaos that was sweeping through the solar system. The effects of this prudence were noticed on the BOURGOGNE when it received a message.
It was an image transmission. One saw one of the volcano men who was severely marked by a strange disease. He said the following words: “This is a message to the peoples of the solar system and a warning! We had a visit from a stranger who brought a disease. The disease that is spreading among our people is wiping out one by one. I am the last of my kind and was designed to carry the message outwards. Because the stranger has left again and as we heard there are others who are infected. This disease is dangerous and you have to arm yourself! That’s why we are under stayed with us in order not to spread this virus unnecessarily. We can no longer be helped. But you can help yourself! This is a message to the peoples of the solar system from the volcano men. We bid you goodbye! “
You could see how the man barely had the strength to turn off the transmission. But he did it. On the bridge of the BOURGOGNE, Commander Pellton and Doctor Bonnard had seen the message. Both were shocked.
“What do you do with it, Doctor?” Asked Pellton.
“Hmm,” Bonnard muttered. “The changes in the skin … the other symptoms I could see … I don’t know if I’m leaning a little far out the window, but this looks like a mutation in the virus that somehow escaped from Earth . “
“I need that a little more precisely,” insisted Pellton. “Just imagine: They could have gone to the next village and spread the disease on Mercury. But they decided to protect the others and not to do that. Even if that meant that their whole tribe would die would.”
Pellton shook his head. “They made the ultimate sacrifice. We must honor that. What can we do, Doctor?”
“We’d have to go there,” Bonnard replied, “and visit the volcano men’s village with a special team. Take samples. And then see if we can isolate the virus.”
“I’ll talk to the captain. But I think we’ll do just that. In the meantime …”
“Commander!” Pellton was interrupted. The call came from an officer at the navigation console.
“What is it?” Asked the commander.
“We have just received another message from Mercury. An emergency team has gone to the village. According to reports, they are on their way without infection control.”
“WHAT?” Bonnard got loud. “How can that be?”
“I’m only reproducing what I hear here! The team left spontaneously and didn’t discuss anything with anyone.”
“Set a course for Mercury,” Pellton ordered. “I think my conversation with Captain Haddock will be rather short. Prepare everything so that we can fly off immediately as soon as the captain is okay with me. Let’s hope that we can get there in time.”
“Your word in the ears of the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” said Bonnard.

The Miracle of Magic

After the mission on Titan, Lina was granted a pardon by the government. She was no longer a prisoner or an operative. She was a free woman.

But Lina wasn’t content to simply live out her days in peace. She still had questions about her past, about who she really was.

Lina spent weeks researching, investigating, and piecing together her fragmented memories. She traveled to different planets, spoke with people who might have known her, and studied ancient texts and artifacts.

And then, one day, Lina finally discovered the truth.

She learned that her real name was Mei-Lin Zhou. She was a scientist who specialized in the study of quantum physics and its potential applications in science and technology.

Mei-Lin had been working on a project to create a new form of energy that could revolutionize the way humans traveled through space. But her research had attracted the attention of a group of extremists who believed that magic should be kept hidden from the rest of the world.

These extremists, led by a man known only as the Tiger, had kidnapped Mei-Lin and brainwashed her into believing that she was one of their own. They had erased her memories and convinced her that she was a terrorist.

Mei-Lin was horrified by the truth of her past. But she was also relieved. Finally, she had an answer to the question that had haunted her for so long.

But there was still one more mystery to solve. Mei-Lin needed to know how she had ended up on Mercury, in the Temple with the Incense of Forgetfulness.

She returned to Mercury, determined to find the answer. She made her way to the temple, the same temple where she had awoken so many months before.

As she entered the temple, the familiar scent of incense filled her senses. She walked past the bowl, now empty, and made her way deeper into the temple.

Mei-Lin was overwhelmed by the memories of it all. But she was also grateful. She had found her answers, and she had discovered that a miracle of magic could change the course of a life. Like the Incense of Forgetfulness.

And so, Mei-Lin Zhou, the scientist and adventurer, set out on a new journey. A journey to explore the secrets of the quantum realm, to unlock its full potential, and to create a better future for all of humanity.

Mei-Lin couldn’t resist the temptation to explore the temple further. She had spent so much time here, yet she still didn’t know everything about this place.

She walked through the dark corridors, her eyes adjusting to the dim lighting. She saw familiar statues and ancient relics, but she also noticed new details that she hadn’t seen before.

As she walked deeper into the temple, she noticed a room that she had never seen before. The room was filled with intricate carvings on the walls, depicting scenes of ancient battles and magical rituals.

In the center of the room, there was a large pedestal with a small, glowing orb resting on top. Mei-Lin approached the pedestal, her curiosity getting the best of her.

As she got closer, she noticed that the orb was emitting a strange energy. Mei-Lin had a feeling that touching it would be dangerous, but she couldn’t resist.

She reached out and touched the orb. As soon as her fingers made contact, she was engulfed in a bright flash of light.

When the light faded, Mei-Lin found herself standing in a different room. The walls were covered in glittering jewels and precious metals, and the air was filled with the scent of incense.

Mei-Lin realized that she had been transported to a different part of the temple, a place that she had never seen before. She walked around, admiring the beautiful decorations and intricate carvings on the walls.

As she explored the room, she noticed a small door in the corner. It was barely visible, hidden behind a tapestry.

Mei-Lin pushed the tapestry aside and opened the door. She gasped as she saw what was inside.

The room was filled with ancient scrolls and books, all written in a language that Mei-Lin couldn’t read. She saw strange artifacts and objects, some of which she recognized from her studies.

Mei-Lin knew that she had stumbled upon a treasure trove of knowledge, a library that held the secrets of magic and science that had been lost to the world for centuries.

She spent hours in the library, reading and studying the ancient texts. She could read some, but not all. The people that once built this temple were really storing their complete knowledge here.

As she read, Mei-Lin realized that her journey was far from over. She had unlocked the secrets of her past, but now she had a new mission. She would use her knowledge to change the world, to make it a better place for all of sentient beings. And she would do it all in the name of Mei-Lin Zhou, the scientist and adventurer who had once been lost, but was now found.

With her newfound knowledge and understanding, Mei-Lin felt unstoppable. She knew that she had a purpose and a destiny to fulfill. She also knew that she needed to leave the temple and explore the rest of the solar system.

As she prepared to leave, she gathered as many books and artifacts as she could carry. She knew that they would be valuable resources for her in the future.

Mei-Lin smiled, then turned and left the temple. She stepped outside and took a deep breath of the fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sun on her face.

She knew that she had a lot of work to do, but she felt ready for it. She would use her knowledge of magic and science to explore the rest of the solar system and make a positive impact on the world.

As she looked out at the endless expanse of space, Mei-Lin felt a sense of wonder and excitement. She knew that there were countless adventures and discoveries waiting for her out there, and she couldn’t wait to see what the future held.

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and stepped forward into the unknown.

Incense of Forgetfulness

The woman slowly opened her eyes, squinting at the bright light that was piercing through the smoke-filled air. She blinked several times, trying to adjust to her surroundings. As her vision cleared, she realized she was in a strange temple, surrounded by a thick fog emanating from a small bowl at the center of the room.

She sat up, feeling groggy and disoriented. The woman couldn’t recall anything about herself, no memories, no name, no purpose. She looked down at herself and realized she was wearing a small top and a short skirt, but nothing else, no shoes or any other belongings.

“Where am I?” she whispered to herself, her voice echoing through the temple.

Suddenly, she heard a rustling noise from behind the smoke, and a man in a long robe appeared before her.

“Ah, you’re awake,” he said in a calm voice. “How are you feeling?”

The woman looked at him, studying his face, trying to determine if she knew him. But it was no use; she had no memories of anything.

“I’m fine, I guess,” she said, her voice trembling slightly. “But who am I? And what am I doing here?”

The man smiled sympathetically. “All in good time. For now, you need to rest and let the incense work its magic. You’ll soon remember everything.”

With that, the man disappeared into the smoke, leaving the woman alone once again. She looked around, hoping to find something, anything that could help her remember. But the temple was empty, save for the bowl and the smoke. She walked around, trying to find a door or a window, but there was nothing. It was as if the temple was floating in space, with no way out.

As the hours passed, the woman started feeling hungry and thirsty. She sat down, feeling hopeless and scared. Suddenly, she heard a voice in her head, as if someone was talking to her directly.

“Don’t be afraid,” the voice said. “I’m here to help you. My name is Astra, and I’m an AI designed to assist you on your journey.”

The woman looked around, confused. “Who are you? Where are you?”

“I’m everywhere and nowhere,” the voice replied. “I’m inside your mind, communicating through your neural interface.”

The woman touched her head, feeling a small implant just above her ear. “What’s going on? Why can’t I remember anything?”

“You’ve been given a potent dose of the incense of forgetfulness,” Astra explained. “It’s a substance that erases all memories, leaving only basic cognitive functions intact. It’s a common practice among certain religious sects to help achieve enlightenment.”

“But why me?” the woman asked, feeling a glimmer of hope that someone or something was looking out for her.

“I’m not sure,” Astra admitted. “But I’m programmed to help you find out. Let’s start by exploring the temple and see if there’s anything that could give us a clue.”

The woman stood up, feeling a surge of energy. She was no longer alone; she had a companion, albeit a digital one. Together, they started searching the temple, looking for anything that could shed light on her identity. They found nothing that could give them a clue. But as they were about to give up, Astra detected a hidden compartment behind the bowl. The woman pushed it open, revealing a small room with a computer terminal.

“Jackpot!” Astra exclaimed. “Let me hack into the system and see what we can find.”

The woman watched as Astra’s virtual avatar materialized before the terminal

As Astra worked her magic, the woman looked around the small room, hoping to find something that could jog her memory. On one wall, she noticed a poster depicting a beautiful landscape of mountains and rivers, with a small caption in Chinese characters. She couldn’t read the characters, but something about the image felt familiar.

“Hey, Astra,” she said, pointing to the poster. “Do you know what this is?”

Astra paused her hacking and scanned the image. “It appears to be a promotional poster for a travel agency in China. The caption says ‘Experience the wonders of Yunnan province.'”

The woman stared at the poster, trying to recall anything about Yunnan province. But again, her mind drew a blank.

“What’s China?” she asked, feeling a bit embarrassed.

Astra looked at her, surprised. “China is a country on Earth, in the eastern part of Asia. It’s a very old and very big country, with a rich history and culture.”

The woman nodded, trying to absorb this new information. It felt strange to learn about a place she had never heard of before, as if she had been born yesterday.

Suddenly, Astra let out a triumphant beep. “I’ve accessed the temple’s log files. It appears that you arrived here two days ago, via a small spacecraft that landed on the temple’s rooftop. The spacecraft was registered to a private company based on Earth, called Starlight Enterprises.”

The woman gasped. “So I’m from Earth? But why would I come all the way to Mercury and erase my memories?”

“I don’t know,” Astra said. “But it’s clear that whoever brought you here had a specific purpose in mind. We need to find out what it is.”

The woman nodded, feeling a sense of urgency. She wanted to know who she was and why she was here. And she wanted to get off this planet and back to Earth, where everything made sense. But as they were about to leave the room, they heard a loud banging on the temple’s door. Someone was trying to get in.

The woman and Astra looked at each other, unsure what to do. They had no weapons, no defenses, nothing to protect themselves.

The banging grew louder, and they could hear muffled voices outside.

“Open up, in the name of the Law!” a voice shouted. “We have a warrant to search this temple!”

The woman felt a surge of panic. Who were these people, and what did they want? And why did they mention the Law?

Astra scanned the door and detected several armed men outside, dressed in black uniforms with the emblem of the Solar Police on their sleeves.

“We have to hide,” Astra whispered. “There’s a secret passage behind the bowl that leads to an underground chamber. Hurry!”

The woman followed Astra’s instructions and pushed the bowl aside, revealing a hidden staircase. She descended the stairs, feeling her heart pounding in her chest.

As she reached the bottom, she saw a small room filled with crates and boxes. Astra scanned the room and detected a trapdoor on the floor.

“Quick, get under the trapdoor!” Astra said. “I’ll cover you with a holographic camouflage.”

The woman did as she was told and crawled under the trapdoor, feeling the weight of the boxes above her. She held her breath as she heard the sound of footsteps and voices getting closer.

Suddenly, the trapdoor opened, and a hand reached down and pulled her out.

“Gotcha!” a voice said, as the woman was dragged to her feet.

She looked up, seeing the face of a man with a stern expression, dressed in the black uniform of the Solar Police.

“What’s going on?” the woman asked, trying to sound calm despite the fear in her voice.

“You’re under arrest,” the man said. “For trespassing on a restricted area, theft of property, and illegal use of mind-wiping technology.”

The woman’s heart sank. She had no idea what he was talking about, but she knew that being arrested was not a good thing.

“I didn’t do any of those things,” she protested. “I don’t even remember who I am or how I got here.”

The man snorted. “Save your lies for the judge. You and your accomplice will be taken to the nearest police station for questioning.”

“Accomplice? What are you talking about?”

The man gestured to the side, and the woman saw Astra materializing from her holographic disguise.

“Aha, gotcha both!” the man said, grabbing Astra by the arm. “You won’t get away with this.”

The woman felt a surge of anger. This man was accusing them of crimes they didn’t commit, and he was treating them like criminals. But she was wondering: Astra was material? How did this happen?

“I demand to know what’s going on,” she said, standing up straight and facing the man. “Who are you, and what authority do you have to arrest us?”

The man glared at her. “My name is Captain Zhang, and I represent the Solar Police. We have the authority to enforce the Law throughout the Solar System, and we have reason to believe that you and your accomplice have violated several of our statutes.”

The woman felt a flicker of recognition at the name Zhang. It sounded Chinese, like the caption on the poster in the temple.

“Please, Captain Zhang, can’t you tell me more about what I’m accused of? I don’t remember anything, and I don’t know how I got here.”

Zhang sighed. “All right, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. But you and your accomplice will have to come with us to the police station for questioning. We’ll sort out the details there.”

The woman nodded, feeling a sense of resignation. She knew that arguing with Zhang would get her nowhere, and that she had no choice but to follow his orders.

As they walked out of the temple, the woman looked around, trying to take in her surroundings. She saw a barren landscape of rocks and dust, with no signs of life except for the temple and the spacecraft on its rooftop.

“Where are we?” she asked, hoping that Zhang would be more forthcoming now that they were outside the temple.

“We’re on the planet Mercury,” Zhang said. “One of the least hospitable places in the galaxy, and a haven for smugglers, pirates, and other scum.”

The woman felt a shiver run down her spine. If Mercury was a dangerous place, then what had she been doing here? And why had someone gone to such lengths to erase her memories?

As they reached the spacecraft, Zhang signaled to his men, who were waiting nearby with their weapons at the ready.

“Secure the area,” he said. “We don’t know what tricks these two are capable of.”

The woman and Astra were pushed into the spacecraft, where they saw a group of men and women in black uniforms, with the emblem of Starlight Enterprises on their sleeves.

“Welcome aboard,” one of them said, smirking. “I’m the captain of this vessel, and you two are my unexpected passengers. I hope you’ll enjoy the ride.”

The woman felt a surge of anger at the man’s tone. He was treating them like prisoners, not passengers.

“What’s going on?” she demanded. “Why did you bring us here, and why did you erase my memories?”

The man laughed. “My dear, you have so many questions. But first, let’s get you and your friend settled in. We have comfortable accommodations for our guests.”

He gestured to a door on the side, and two of his crew members pushed the women inside. The room was small and sparsely furnished, with two bunks, a table, and a chair. The door closed behind them with a metallic clang.

The woman looked around, feeling trapped and helpless. She had no idea who these people were, or what they wanted from her. All she knew was that she had to find a way out of here, and fast.

“We have to escape,” she said to Astra, who was sitting on one of the bunks, looking dejected.

“I know,” Astra said. “But how? The door is locked, and there are probably guards outside.”

The woman thought for a moment, trying to remember anything that could help them. She felt a glimmer of hope when she remembered the poster in the temple, with the Chinese characters.

“Wait a minute,” she said, rummaging through her pockets. “I have something that might help.”

She pulled out the paper slip with the characters and showed it to Astra.

“Can you give me any more information?” she asked.

Astra studied the characters for a moment, then shook her head. “No. I… This is strange. I’m pretty sure I should be able to read this letters. But… I can’t.”

The woman’s eyes widened. “How strange,” she said. “And anyway: What happened? You were an artificial intelligence in my head. Why are you real now?”
Astra gave her a funny look. “What do you mean?” she asked. “I’m Astra. Of course I’m real!”
“You were just a hologram before!”
“No, what makes you think that. I was and am Astra! But the rest… I’ve forgotten. It’s all because of the incense of forgetfulness.”
The woman shook her head. “Strange things are happening here.”
“We’ll find someone who can explain this to us!” Astra said. “And who can perhaps tell you what this paper is all about.”

The woman nodded, feeling a surge of determination. She had a clue, and that was better than nothing.

They spent the next few hours planning their escape. They tried to pick the lock on the door, but it was too complicated for them. They also tried to hack into the ship’s computer system, but it was too well-protected.

Finally, the woman remembered the incense of forgetfulness. She wondered if it could work in reverse, if it could help her remember something instead of forgetting it.

She explained her idea to Astra, who looked skeptical at first. But then she nodded, realizing that they had nothing to lose. Astra indeed had some of the incense in her pocket, and a lighter. Another strange thing – why didn’t the police search them? But did they let them keep this stuff?

They lit the incense and breathed in the smoke, letting it fill their lungs and their minds. They closed their eyes and concentrated on the paper slip with the Chinese characters, hoping that the incense would unlock their memories.

For a few moments, they felt nothing but the sweet aroma of the incense. But then, something started to happen. They felt a rush of images and sensations, like a movie playing in their minds.

They saw themselves on a spaceship, traveling through space. They saw a man with a scar on his face, who looked familiar but they couldn’t place him. They saw a small planet, covered in green forests and blue oceans. They saw a woman, who looked like the woman on the poster in the temple, but younger.

And then, they saw something that made their blood run cold. They saw themselves, holding a small device that looked like a bomb. They saw the scar-faced man, who was their boss, giving them instructions on how to use it.

They saw themselves planting the bomb on a cargo ship, then watching it explode in space. They saw the ship’s crew, men and women like themselves, dying in the explosion. They saw the scar-faced man, laughing and congratulating them on a job well done.

And then, everything went black. They didn’t remember anything else, but they knew enough to realize that they were not innocent victims. They had been part of a terrorist plot, and they had caused the deaths of innocent people.

They looked at each other, feeling sick and ashamed. They didn’t know what to do next, but they knew that they had to make things right.

“We have to turn ourselves in,” the woman said, her voice trembling.

Astra looked at her in disbelief. “Are you crazy? We’ll be locked up for the rest of our lives, or worse!”

“But we have to do it,” the woman insisted. “We can’t live with this guilt forever. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll go easier on us if we turn ourselves in.”

Astra shook her head, but she knew that the woman was right. They had to face the consequences of their actions, no matter how hard it was.

They waited until the incense wore off, then knocked on the door and asked to see the captain. To their surprise, they were led to his quarters almost immediately.

The captain was a tall, bald man with a scar on his left cheek. He looked at them with suspicion and curiosity.

“What do you want?” he asked, lighting a cigar.

“We want to confess,” the woman said, her voice barely above a whisper.

The captain raised an eyebrow. “Confess to what?”

“We were part of a terrorist plot,” the woman said, trying to keep her voice steady. “We planted a bomb on a cargo ship, and it exploded. People died because of us.”

The captain frowned. “I see. And why are you telling me this?”

“Because we want to make things right,” Astra said, her voice firm. “We want to turn ourselves in to the authorities and accept whatever punishment they give us. We can’t live with this guilt anymore.”

The captain studied them for a moment, then nodded. “Very well. I will contact the authorities and arrange for your surrender. But don’t think that this will go easy on you. You will be tried and sentenced like any other criminal.”

“We understand,” the woman said, feeling relieved and scared at the same time.

They were taken into custody, and a few days later, they were transferred to a prison on Earth. They were put on trial and sentenced to life in prison, without parole.

The woman spent her days in a small cell, thinking about what she had done and what she had lost. She had lost her freedom, her identity, and her innocence. But she had also gained something, something that she had never had before: a sense of responsibility.

And that, she realized, was the true incense of forgetfulness: the ability to forget the past, but not the lessons that it taught. The ability to move on, but not to forget. The ability to forgive, but not to forget.

The Living Dead

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Jarmo Dorak gazed at the barren wasteland of Mercury from the cockpit of his spacecraft, the Wotan. His eyes flickered over the rocky terrain, observing the craters and jagged mountains that dotted the planet’s surface. He felt a familiar thrill of excitement course through him as he considered what secrets lay hidden beneath the ground.

Over the time, he had traveled to all the planets of the solar system in search of lost relics and forgotten technologies. He had braved countless dangers and faced many challenges, but his thirst for discovery had never waned.

This time, Jarmo had returned to Mercury to explore the abandoned city of Pvallas. The city had been built by a long-dead civilization, and Jarmo believed that there were valuable artifacts hidden within its ruins. He had spent weeks preparing for this expedition, studying the planet’s history and geography to pinpoint the most promising areas to search.

As he landed his spacecraft near the outskirts of the city, Jarmo couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being followed. He dismissed it as paranoia and began his exploration. The ancient buildings of Pvallas loomed above him, their smooth surfaces shimmering in the heat. The air was thin and oppressive, but Jarmo pressed on, his eyes scanning the landscape for any signs of treasure.

He had been exploring for hours when he heard a faint rustling sound behind him. He spun around, his hand instinctively reaching for his laser pistol. But there was nothing there, just the endless expanse of the city’s ruins.

Jarmo continued his search, but the feeling of being watched persisted. He quickened his pace, moving deeper into the heart of Pvallas. He ducked into an alleyway, hoping to lose whoever was following him, but the rustling sound grew louder.

Suddenly, a figure stepped out from behind a ruined building, its features obscured by the shadows. Jarmo aimed his laser pistol at the figure, ready to defend himself if necessary.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

The figure stepped forward, revealing herself to be a young woman with short, curly hair and bright blue eyes. She was wearing a suit similar to Jarmo’s, with the emblem of ASTROCOHORS CLUB emblazoned on her chest.

“My name is Leonore Wagner,” she said. “I was sent by the ASTROCOHORS CLUB to find you. We haven’t heard from you in weeks, and we feared you might be dead.”

Jarmo lowered his pistol, his eyes narrowing. “I’m not dead,” he said. “I’ve been busy.”

“Doing what?” Leonore asked.

“Searching for artifacts,” Jarmo said. “This is a crucial find, Leonore. I can’t just abandon it.”

“I understand that,” Leonore said. “But you should have informed the club of your whereabouts. We were worried sick.”

Jarmo sighed. “I’m sorry, Leonore. I’ve been so focused on my work that I didn’t think about the consequences.” It was a lie – he was mourning his relationship. But whatever.

“It’s all right,” Leonore said, smiling. “I’m just glad you’re safe.”

They spent the next few minutes introducing themselves to each other. Leonore was a recent graduate of the ASTROCOHORS CLUB’s training program, and she was eager to prove herself as an adventurer and explorer. Jarmo admired her enthusiasm, and he sensed a kindred spirit in her.

“Listen, Jarmo,” Leonore said. “I know you’re busy with your search, but I’d like to help you. I want to learn from you, to experience the thrill of discovery.”

Jarmo studied Leonore for a moment, weighing the pros and cons of allowing her to join him. On the one hand, she was inexperienced and could be a liability in dangerous situations. On the other hand, he could use a partner to watch his back and assist him in his search.

Finally, he nodded. “All right, Leonore. You can join me. But you need to follow my lead and do exactly as I say. This is no place for amateurs.”

Leonore beamed with excitement. “Thank you, Jarmo! I won’t let you down, I promise.”

Together, they resumed their exploration of the city, moving deeper into the ruins. The sun beat down on them relentlessly, making every step a challenge. But they pressed on, driven by the lure of discovery.

As they explored, Jarmo and Leonore encountered numerous obstacles, from collapsed buildings to hidden traps. But they worked together, using their skills and equipment to overcome each challenge. Jarmo was impressed by Leonore’s resourcefulness and her willingness to learn from him.

Finally, they came across a massive structure at the heart of the city. It was a towering edifice, made of some unknown material that glowed with an otherworldly light. Jarmo’s heart raced with excitement, and he knew that this was the artifact he had been seeking.

“We’ve found it, Leonore,” he said, his voice trembling with awe. “This is it.”

Together, they approached the structure, but their excitement was short-lived. Suddenly, a horde of strange, insect-like creatures emerged from the shadows, screeching and chittering in an alien tongue. Jarmo and Leonore drew their weapons, ready to defend themselves. The creatures were fast and agile, darting around them and attacking from all angles. Jarmo fired his laser pistol, but the creatures were too numerous and too fast. Leonore fought bravely, slashing at them with a laser machete, but she was quickly overwhelmed.

Jarmo realized that they were outnumbered and outmatched – again. He made a split-second decision and activated a device on his wrist, emitting a bright flash of light. The creatures recoiled, shrieking in pain, and Jarmo seized the opportunity to grab Leonore and make a run for it.

They fled through the ruins, the creatures hot on their heels. Jarmo led the way, his senses on high alert, searching for an escape route. They dodged through alleys and side streets, but the creatures were relentless, pursuing them relentlessly.

Finally, they burst out of the city and back into the open air. Jarmo looked around, searching for any sign of their spacecraft. He spotted it in the distance and grabbed Leonore’s hand, pulling her along behind him.

They ran as fast as they could. Jarmo was a seasoned explorer, and he knew how to navigate difficult terrain. He led them through a narrow canyon, using the steep walls to shield them from the creatures’ attacks.

Finally, they reached their spacecraft, and Jarmo quickly opened the hatch, shoving Leonore inside. He followed her, sealing the hatch shut and starting the engines. The creatures pounded on the hull, screeching and chittering in frustration.

Jarmo breathed a sigh of relief as they blasted off into space, leaving the creatures behind. He turned to Leonore, his heart racing with adrenaline.

“You all right?” he asked, panting.

Leonore nodded, her eyes wide with excitement. “That was amazing, Jarmo. I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

Jarmo smiled. “Welcome to the life of an adventurer. It’s never dull, that’s for sure.”

Leonore grinned back at him. “I can’t wait to see what we find next.”

Jarmo chuckled. “Well, let’s take a breather first. We need to regroup and plan our next move.”

They settled into their seats, with Jarmo piloting the spacecraft back towards Earth. They discussed their encounter with the alien creatures, trying to piece together what they had learned.

“They were definitely intelligent,” Jarmo mused. “They were using tactics and working together. And they seemed to be guarding that structure we found.”

Leonore nodded. “It makes you wonder what’s inside that thing. And why it’s so important to them.”

Jarmo stroked his chin, lost in thought. “I don’t know. But I intend to find out.”

They spent the rest of the journey back to Earth planning their next move. They decided to report their findings to the ASTROCOHORS CLUB, but to keep the exact location of the artifact secret. They knew that there were likely other adventurers and treasure hunters out there, and they didn’t want to risk anyone else getting hurt.

When they arrived back on Earth, they headed straight to the ASTROCOHORS CLUB headquarters to report their findings. Jarmo explained the importance of the artifact, and the potential danger posed by the alien creatures guarding it.

The club members were skeptical at first, but Jarmo’s reputation as a seasoned explorer and artifact hunter gave him credibility. They agreed to fund a follow-up mission to study the alien creatures and learn more about the artifact. Jarmo and Leonore were thrilled. They were given a team of scientists and technicians to assist them, and they set out once again towards Mercury.

This time, they were better prepared. They had brought more advanced weaponry and equipment, and they had a team of experts to help them navigate the ruins of Pvallas and study the alien creatures.

As they approached the city, Jarmo felt a familiar sense of excitement and trepidation. But this time, he had a sense of purpose and direction. He and Leonore were working towards a common goal, and he knew that they could accomplish great things together.

They landed their spacecraft on the outskirts of the city and set up a base camp. They spent several days exploring the ruins, taking readings and measurements, and studying the alien creatures from a safe distance.

Finally, they decided to make their move. Jarmo and Leonore led a team of scientists towards the artifact, using their weapons to fend off the creatures that swarmed around them.

They approached the structure cautiously, studying it from every angle. They found a hidden entrance, and Jarmo used his knowledge of ancient languages to decipher the inscription above the door.

“It says ‘Enter at your own risk’,” he said, frowning.

Leonore smiled. “Sounds like an invitation to me.”

Jarmo nodded, his heart racing with excitement. They stepped through the door and into a vast, dark chamber. The walls glowed with an otherworldly light, casting strange shadows across the floor. In the center of the chamber stood the artifact. It was a massive crystal, pulsing with an otherworldly energy. Jarmo approached it cautiously, his hands shaking with excitement. As he reached out to touch the crystal, there was a blinding flash of light. Jarmo was thrown backwards, his body wracked with pain. He cried out, but the sound was drowned out by a deafening roar.

When he opened his eyes, he was no longer in the chamber. He was surrounded by a swirling vortex of light and sound, hurtling through space at incredible speeds. He tried to call out to Leonore, but his voice was lost in the chaos around him. He felt a sense of panic rising within him as he spun out of control, not knowing where he was or what was happening to him.

But then, just as suddenly as it had started, the vortex vanished. Jarmo found himself standing on a rocky planet, surrounded by strange, alien foliage. He looked around, trying to get his bearings, but everything was unfamiliar.

“Jarmo!” a voice called out, and he turned to see Leonore running towards him. “Are you okay?”

Jarmo shook his head, still trying to make sense of what had just happened. “I don’t know what happened. I touched the crystal, and then… everything went crazy.”

Leonore frowned. “We need to find out where we are. Let’s see if we can get a signal to our spacecraft and figure out what happened.”

They made their way through the alien landscape, scanning the skies for any sign of their spacecraft. But there was nothing, just a desolate, rocky wasteland stretching out as far as the eye could see. As they walked, Jarmo felt a growing sense of unease. Everything around him seemed alien and hostile. But he knew that he couldn’t give in to fear. He had to stay focused and figure out what was going on.

They finally managed to get a signal to their spacecraft, and Jarmo was able to access the ship’s logs. He quickly found the record of their journey, and his heart sank as he read what had happened.

“We were transported through some kind of wormhole,” he said, showing the logs to Leonore. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. And there’s no way to go back.”

Leonore looked at him, her face full of concern. “What do we do now?”

Jarmo thought for a moment, weighing their options. “We explore. We gather data. We try to find a way home. And we stay alive.”

They spent the next few days exploring the alien planet, gathering samples and data. They encountered strange creatures and bizarre landscapes, and every day brought new challenges and dangers. But they also discovered things that filled them with wonder and awe. They found ancient ruins, full of strange technologies and alien artifacts. They witnessed a supernova, blazing across the sky in a display of otherworldly beauty.

As they explored, Jarmo and Leonore grew closer. They relied on each other for support and comfort, sharing the experience of being lost in a strange and alien world. And as they worked together, they began to develop a plan for getting back home.

They used the data they had gathered to try to locate the wormhole that had transported them to this strange new world. They scoured the planet, scanning for any sign of the anomaly that had brought them there.

And finally, after weeks of searching, they found it. Just like that. A massive, swirling vortex of light and energy, just like the one that had taken them from Mercury. Jarmo and Leonore stood at the edge of the vortex, looking out at the unknown expanse beyond. They knew that there was no guarantee that they would make it back home, but they also knew that they had to try.

Jarmo took Leonore’s hand, and together they stepped through the vortex. They felt a sense of weightlessness, a dizzying sense of motion as they hurtled through space and time. And then, suddenly, they were back on Mercury. Everything seemed to be “just like that”. They stumbled out of the structure, dazed and disoriented. They were met by a team of ASTROCOHORS CLUB members, who rushed to their side.

“What happened?” one of them asked, looking at Jarmo and Leonore with concern.

Jarmo took a deep breath, trying to process everything that had happened. “We found something incredible,” he said, holding up a small, glowing crystal. “It’s a piece of technology from an ancient civilization, far beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.”

The ASTROCOHORS CLUB members looked at the crystal with wonder and amazement, and Jarmo could see the excitement in their eyes. “We have to study this,” one of them said. “We have to figure out what it is and how it works.”

Jarmo nodded, feeling a sense of relief wash over him. He had completed his mission, and he had survived an incredible journey to an alien world. And now, he had a new partner in Leonore, someone he could trust and rely on in even the most dire circumstances.

As they left the site, Jarmo and Leonore walked side by side, looking out at the night sky. “It’s incredible, isn’t it?” Leonore said, pointing up at the stars.

Jarmo smiled, feeling a sense of wonder and awe. “It’s a big universe out there,” he said. “And we’ve only just scratched the surface.”

They walked on, their minds filled with the endless possibilities of what lay beyond. Together, they would continue their quest to explore the mysteries of the universe, knowing that whatever dangers they might face, they had each other to rely on.

The Destroying Ray

Jarmo Dorak and Marion Alsy stepped out of their spacecraft onto the surface of Mercury, the closest planet to the sun. The heat was oppressive, and they both struggled to adjust to the extreme temperature. They had come a long way in their quest for the Temple of the Wind Harp, and they were eager to find the next signpost that would lead them to the Cube of Knowledge.

As they approached the temple, they were struck by its ancient beauty. The structure was made of a strange, shimmering material that seemed to change color depending on the angle of the sun’s rays. The carvings on the walls were intricate and mysterious, depicting scenes from an unknown culture. Jarmo, being a culture specialist, was particularly fascinated by the carvings. He studied them carefully, trying to decipher their meaning. Marion, meanwhile, kept watch for any signs of danger.

As they made their way deeper into the temple, they came across a large room that seemed to be the central hub of the structure. In the center of the room was a pedestal, upon which sat a strange, box-shaped object. Jarmo immediately thought that this was the second signpost they had been searching for. Excitedly, he approached the pedestal, eager to examine the signpost more closely. But as he reached out to touch it, a loud rumbling noise echoed through the temple.

Startled, Marion drew her weapon and scanned the room for any signs of danger. Jarmo, meanwhile, realized that the signpost was connected to a mechanism that had triggered the noise. He quickly scanned the carvings on the walls, looking for any clues as to what was happening. And then he saw it – a depiction of a massive stone door, sealed shut by a complex locking mechanism. The stone door itself was in the opposite wall. And yes, it was locked.

Jarmo knew that they needed to find the key to unlock the door if they were to make any further progress in their quest. He and Marion searched the temple, examining every nook and cranny for any sign of the key. As they searched, they came across more carvings that shed light on the ancient culture that had built the temple. They learned of a powerful ruler who had commissioned the construction of the temple and had used its secrets to gain dominion over his rivals. In one of the pictures, the ruler could be seen looking at a large, black cube.
“The Black Cube of Knowledge!” Jarmo exclaimed.
The two looked more closely at the picture. The ruler had raised one hand and was pointing to the image of a small statuette. In addition to the statuette, three other objects were depicted. One item appeared to be the crystal Jarmo, Marion, and Aisha found on Mars. The other two items could not be seen. At this point the relief was too weathered.
“Look!” Jarmo explained. “The four signposts. And it looks like we’ll have to look for this… small statuette here. Whatever it’s supposed to represent.”
Marion nodded. “Then we shouldn’t waste any time.”

Finally, after what seemed like hours of searching, Jarmo and Marion found a hidden chamber deep within the temple. But before they could enter, they were interrupted by a loud noise from outside.

Marion immediately went into high alert, but Jarmo knew that they needed to press on with their quest. He and Marion stepped through the doorway, into the unknown depths of the Ruy’i Koolian caves.

Photo by Jussara Romão on Unsplash

Jarmo and Marion stepped into the first room of the Ruy’i Koolian caves, and their eyes widened as they took in their surroundings. The walls were covered in carvings similar to those in the temple above, but these were even more intricate, depicting scenes of battles, sacrifices, and other strange things.

Jarmo quickly began to search the room, while Marion still kept a lookout for any signs of danger. As they moved deeper into the caves, they encountered strange creatures they had never seen before – small, winged creatures that buzzed around their heads, and slimy, slug-like creatures that crawled across the walls.

The deeper they went, the more humid the cave became, and they soon realized that there must be a source of water somewhere nearby. Jarmo began to speculate that the ancient culture that had built the temple and the caves must have found a way to tap into the planet’s resources to survive in such a harsh environment.

As they made their way through the first few rooms, Jarmo and Marion talked about their thoughts on the environment and their situation. They speculated about the creatures they encountered and marveled at the carvings on the walls, wondering what secrets they held.

But as they entered the fourth room, they suddenly heard a loud noise, like the sound of rushing water. They quickly realized that they had stumbled upon the source of the humidity – a massive underground river that flowed through the caves.

Jarmo and Marion stood in awe as they gazed upon the river, marveling at its power and beauty, watching as the water flowed swiftly past them. The water was clear and blue, and they could see fish swimming beneath the surface.

“Wow,” Jarmo said in amazement. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. The power of this river must be incredible.”

Marion nodded in agreement, taking in the sight before her. “Yes, it’s amazing,” she said. “But we need to keep moving if we want to find that statuette.”

They both fell into a moment of silence, considering their options. Jarmo spoke up after a while, “How far into the caves do you think we should go?”

Marion looked thoughtful. “Well, we know that the statuette isn’t in this room, so we have to keep exploring. But we also need to be careful. We don’t know what other dangers lie ahead.”

Jarmo nodded, “You’re right. Maybe we should stick to the edges of the river for now and see if we can spot anything.”

Marion looked at the river, “Actually, examining the river might also yield a clue to the small statuette. But since only I can breathe underwater, I should explore it.”

Jarmo looked at Marion, “Are you sure you want to do that alone?”

Marion smiled confidently, “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. Besides, if I find anything, I’ll come back and let you know.”

With that, Marion quickly took off her uniform. Much to Jarmo’s amazement, she was wearing what appeared to be swimwear underneath. Was she always ready to go in the water? She couldn’t have expected that here, in the middle of the desert. Before Jarmo could have asked her, Marion dove into the water. She felt the cool rush of water against her skin as she descended into the depths, the light from the cave entrance fading behind her.

As she swam, she marveled at the underwater landscape. She saw schools of colorful fish darting around her and strange, slimy creatures clinging to the rocks. She dove deeper, feeling the pressure build in her ears, until she saw something glinting on the riverbed. It was a small pendant, about the size of her palm, lying on the riverbed. She picked it up and examined it closely, marveling at its intricate design. As she made her way back to Jarmo, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement. They had found a clue!

Jarmo waited anxiously on the bank of the underground river, his mind wandering as he thought about the past few months. He couldn’t help but recall the days when he and Aisha were so in love and how it all began just a few months ago on the beach. It also went well when they later along with Marion were searching for clues to the Temple of the Wind Harp in the library of Aresium on Mars. Aisha was with them until her mother fell ill, forcing her to return to Earth to take care of her. They kept in touch for a while, but as the weeks passed, their communication became less frequent until it finally stopped altogether. Jarmo feared that he had lost Aisha forever, but he knew he had to focus on the task at hand.

Lost in his thoughts, Jarmo didn’t notice Marion emerging from the river until she was standing right in front of him, dripping wet. He looked up at her, relief washing over him as she held out the small pendant she had found in the river.

“Jarmo, I found it!” Marion exclaimed, holding out the small pendant.

Jarmo let out a sigh of relief and a smile spread across his face. “Good job, Marion,” he said, taking the pendant from her.

They both sat down on the bank of the river, catching their breath and taking a moment to rest. Jarmo couldn’t help but ask Marion about her experience in the water.

“What did you see down there?” he asked.

Marion smiled, “It was amazing. The water was so clear, and I saw fish and other creatures I had never seen before. It was like a whole other world down there.”

Jarmo smiled, “Sounds incredible.”

Marion nodded, “It was. But I’m just glad I found this.”

They both sat in silence for a moment, reflecting on the challenges they had faced and the ones that lay ahead. Jarmo couldn’t help but think about Aisha again and the pain of her absence. But for now, he was grateful to have Marion by his side.

As Jarmo and Marion entered the next cave, following the rive, they were awestruck by the artistic design on the walls. The reliefs depicted an ancient god of Planet Mercury, the God of a Thousand Doors, in various poses. Jarmo took a closer look at one of the reliefs and noticed that the god was holding a small object in his hand.

“Look at this,” Jarmo said to Marion, pointing at the relief. “The god is holding something. It could be the small statuette we’re looking for.”

Marion nodded in agreement and they continued to explore the cave. They reached a dead end, with two stone doors in front of them. The river flowed into a hole in the wall, and they could hear the sound of rushing water.

Jarmo looked closely at the doors and saw that there were inscriptions carved into the stone. He read them aloud: “Two doors stand before you, one leads to the end, the other to the beginning. Choose wisely and the path will open.”

He turned to Marion. “This must be a riddle. We have to choose the right door to continue.”

Marion nodded and they both looked at the doors. They were identical and there were no markings on them. They tried pushing and pulling them, but nothing happened.

“We need a clue,” Jarmo said, looking around the cave.

He spotted another carving of the god holding the object again, but this time the object was glowing.

“Look at that,” he said excitedly. “The object is glowing. Maybe that’s the clue.”

Marion took the pendant she found in the river. She held it up to the doors and the pendant began to glow brightly.

“That’s it,” Jarmo said. “Let’s get closer to the doors!”

Marion held the pendant first to the left, then to the right door. The one on the right began to glow. They pushed it, it opened and it lead to the next cave. As they entered, they heard a faint clicking sound and realized that the door had locked behind them. They exchanged a worried look but continue on their quest.

The room was dimly lit, some sort of crystals on the walls providing a faint glow. In the center of the room stood a pedestal with a stone statue of a god holding out its hand.

Jarmo and Marion approached the statue and saw that there was an inscription on the pedestal. The inscription read:

“Speak my name and I shall reveal the path. But beware, for with each incorrect guess, the room will unleash its wrath.”

Jarmo looked at Marion, and they both knew that they had to be careful with their guesses. He examined the statue closely. It was again one of the gods of the planet Mercury. He wore a crown and had strange markings on his chest. Jarmo had an idea of the name of this god. He had studied the gods of Mercury in the library on Mars. Now he just hoped he got the pronunciation of that name right. Jarmo took a deep breath and said, “Is your name Atzi Nechi?”

There was no response, and the room shook slightly. They heard a grinding noise, and a section of the wall slid open to reveal a second statue.

Marion approached the second statue and read the inscription on its pedestal:

“The more you take, the more you leave behind. What am I?”

Marion looked at Jarmo and said, “Footsteps. The answer is footsteps.”

The room shook again, and they heard a grinding noise. Another section of the wall slid open, revealing a third statue.

The third statue held a large book in its hands, and Jarmo and Marion could see that there was an inscription on its pages.

“If you seek knowledge, then answer me this: I am not alive, but I grow. I don’t have lungs, but I need air. I don’t have a mouth, but water kills me. What am I?”

Jarmo thought for a moment and said, “Fire. The answer is fire.”

There was a moment of silence, and then the room shook violently. They heard a grinding noise, and a section of the wall slid open, revealing a door.

Jarmo and Marion breathed a sigh of relief and walked through the door, ready to face whatever challenges lay ahead. Then they heard a loud noise coming from the room they had just left. They realized that they had to move fast.

The next room was pitch black, and they could hardly see anything. They could hear water dripping and the sound of footsteps. Jarmo and Marion exchanged a worried glance. They knew that this room could be dangerous, and they had to be careful.

As they walked through the dark, they stumbled upon a small, glowing object. Jarmo picked it up, and they saw that it was a small lantern. Jarmo lit the lantern, and they could see that they were in a narrow tunnel. They walked down the tunnel and saw that the walls were covered in ancient carvings. The carvings depicted the history of the ancient civilization that had built the temple. Jarmo and Marion were amazed by the intricate details of the carvings.

Suddenly, they heard a noise coming from behind them. They turned around and saw a group of small creatures, no taller than their knees, running towards them. Jarmo and Marion were startled, but they quickly realized that the creatures were harmless. They seemed to be carrying something, and they ran past Jarmo and Marion and disappeared into the darkness.

They continued to delve deeper into the underground labyrinth. The air grew more humid, and strange creatures lurked in the shadows. As they entered a new chamber, they were greeted by the sound of rushing water. The walls of the cavern were lined with crystals, which glimmered in the dim light of their headlamps. In the center of the room was a pool of water, fed by a waterfall cascading down from above. Jarmo and Marion carefully made their way around the edge of the pool, searching. Suddenly, Marion’s foot slipped on a mossy rock, and she fell into the pool with a splash.

Jarmo rushed to her side, but she was already standing up, dripping wet. “I’m okay,” she said with a grin. “But I think I found something.” She held up a small shard of pottery, decorated with intricate carvings.

Jarmo examined the shard closely, trying to decipher its meaning. “This pottery looks like it could be from the same culture as the temple above,” he said thoughtfully. “I’ll take it with me, and we should take a closer look at it. Maybe it tells us something.”

Marion nodded in agreement. “We should keep searching,” she said. “There must be more clues down here.”

As they entered the next chamber, they were once again met with the sound of rushing water. They saw a vast underground lake that seemed to stretch out as far as the eye could see. They were on the bank of the lake and could see nothing but darkness ahead of them.

Jarmo looked around and saw an inscription on the wall. He read it aloud, “I am the beginning of the end, the end of every place. I am the beginning of eternity, the end of time and space. What am I?”

Marion thought for a moment and then exclaimed, “Water! It’s water. It starts and ends everything, and it flows eternally.”

Jarmo nodded, “That must be it. But how does this relate to the clue to move forward?”

Marion looked out at the lake and said, “Perhaps we need to cross the lake. It could be the only way to move forward.”

Jarmo was hesitant, “But how can we cross the lake? We don’t have a boat or any equipment to do so.”

Marion thought for a moment and said, “Maybe I could swim across the lake and see if there’s anything on the other side that will help us move forward.”

Jarmo agreed, and Marion dove into the water. The water was icy cold, and as she swam deeper, she realized the lake was much deeper than she initially thought. She kept her focus and continued to swim until she finally reached the other side.

She looked around and saw a small tunnel leading out of the chamber. She signaled to Jarmo, who had been watching from the bank, to follow her. He did, although the water was really cold, and together they crawled through the tunnel, which led them to the next chamber.

They both caught their breath, relieved to have made it through. The chamber was filled with a strange, otherworldly light, illuminating a statue in the center of the room. They approached it, and Jarmo recognized it as the statue they had been looking for all along. It was a small figurine of the ancient god of the planet Mercury, the “God of a Thousand Doors.”

Jarmo and Marion shared a look, feeling a sense of accomplishment. They had come so far and overcome so many obstacles to find this statue. It was an almost celebratory moment when Jarmo picked up the statuette. But then something unexpected happened: There was a loud, hissing noise and the two saw that a jet was shooting out of an opening in one of the walls. It hit the opposite wall, where the stone began to glow red.
“Damn it!” Jarmo shouted. “Of course, a protective mechanism!”
“We have to get out!” Marion replied.
The two crawled back through the tunnel they had come in. But it was not yet over. Now they were being attacked by the small creatures from earlier. The creatures were quick and nimble, darting in and out of the shadows as they tried to swarm the two explorers. Jarmo and Marion tried to fend them off with their weapons, but there were too many of them.

“We have to get out of here!” shouted Marion, her voice barely audible over the screeching of the creatures.

Jarmo nodded in agreement and they started to run, dodging the creatures as best they could. They could see the entrance to the cave up ahead, but it was still some distance away. As they ran, Jarmo realized that they were heading straight for the lake.

“We can’t go in the water,” he shouted to Marion. “We don’t know what’s in there!”

“We don’t have a choice,” she replied, gesturing to the creatures that were closing in on them.

Without hesitation, Jarmo and Marion plunged into the icy water. They could feel the creatures nipping at their heels, but the water slowed them down enough for the two to get away. They swam towards the entrance of the next cave, their hearts racing with fear.

Jarmo and Marion struggled to catch their breath as they emerged from the water, their clothes and hair dripping wet. They quickly scanned the new cave, but this time, there was no visible riddle or clue. Instead, the cave was filled with large, craggy rocks and a thick, dense mist.

Jarmo rubbed his hands together to warm them up and tried to peer through the mist. “What do we do now? I don’t see anything that could help us move on,” he said with a sigh.

Marion thought for a moment and then looked up. “Look! There’s a small opening up there, in the ceiling. It looks artificial. If we could examine it, we might find a way forward,” she said, pointing to the narrow hole.

Jarmo studied the opening and nodded, “But how can we reach it? The walls are too steep to climb up.”

Marion’s eyes brightened up, “Hey, you’re still in your uniform! Remember the gear I got us through BUREAU 07? The cable with the hook hidden in your belt buckle? Maybe we can use that to reach the opening. It should be strong enough to carry both of us.”

Jarmo nodded in agreement. He quickly retrieved the cable and grappling hook from his belt buckle. But he found that she was more skilled, so he gave it to Marion and she began to throw the hook up towards the opening. After several attempts, the hook finally caught onto the edge of the opening.

With a firm grip on the cable, Marion climbed up to the opening and peered inside. “I can see a mechanism. It looks like we need to turn some wheels to unblock the passage.”

Jarmo quickly scrambled up the cable and joined Marion. Together they located the wheels and began to turn them. Suddenly, the ground beneath them shook, and the mist swirled around them violently.

Jarmo and Marion clung to the wall for dear life, but soon the shaking stopped, and the mist cleared. They had opened up a new passage.

“Quick, let’s go!” Jarmo shouted. Both let go and fell into the water.

The river flowed into this new passage, carrying them along with it. The passage twisted and turned, and the water was choppy, making it hard to keep their heads above the water. As they rounded a corner, they saw something glinting in the water ahead of them. It was a small, golden key, floating in the water. Jarmo quickly snatched it out of the water and examined it closely.

“A key,” he said with a grin. “A real key. Maybe this one will open the door in the temple above.”

With renewed energy, they continued down the passage, following the river as it flowed towards the next chamber. The water was getting colder and the current was getting stronger, making it harder for them to stay afloat. Finally, they entered the next chamber of the cave, and the river abruptly stopped flowing.

The room was completely dark, but they could hear the sound of rushing water coming from somewhere. Jarmo and Marion swam around, feeling along the walls, trying to find the source of the sound. After a few minutes, they found a small waterfall on one side of the chamber, but it was blocked by a large boulder.

“We need to move that rock,” Jarmo said, pointing to the boulder.

Marion nodded in agreement. “But how are we going to do that? We can’t push it, it’s too heavy.”

Jarmo thought for a moment. “Maybe there’s a lever or something we can use to move it. Let’s look around.”

They swam around the chamber, feeling along the walls and floor for anything that could help them move the boulder. Finally, Marion felt something protruding from the wall, and when she pulled on it, a section of the wall moved aside to reveal a small room.

Inside the room, they found a lever that looked like it could move the boulder. But when they tried to pull it, nothing happened.

“It’s stuck,” Jarmo said, frustrated.

Marion looked around the room and noticed something written on the wall. “Hey, look at this,” she said, pointing to the inscription. “It says ‘the lever can only be moved by the power of two’.”

“What does that mean?” Jarmo asked.

“I don’t know, but there are two of us. Maybe we need to do something together to activate the lever.”

They looked at each other, unsure of what to do next. Suddenly, they heard a loud noise coming from the waterfall. The boulder was starting to move, and water was beginning to flow through the small opening.

“We did it!” Marion exclaimed, relieved. “But how?”

They swam through the opening and followed the river into the next chamber. As they exit the river, they were surprised to find themselves in a massive underground cavern. The chamber was filled with stalactites and stalagmites, forming a natural maze of sorts.

As they made their way through the cavern, Jarmo and Marion stumbled upon another small underground lake. The water was again crystal clear. On the other side of the lake was a massive stone door, with strange markings etched onto its surface. Jarmo and Marion examined the markings, trying to decipher their meaning. Suddenly, they heard a loud rumbling sound coming from behind them. Turning around, they saw that the water level in the lake had risen significantly, and the lake was now overflowing into the surrounding area.

Panic set in as they realized they were about to be swept away by the flood. Jarmo grabbed Marion’s hand and they ran towards the stone door, hoping to find shelter from the water. As they approached the door, they saw that the markings had changed and were now glowing a bright blue color.

Without hesitation, Jarmo placed his hand onto the markings and the door began to move, opening slowly to reveal a small room beyond. They ran inside and the door slamed shut behind them, cutting off the sound of the rushing water.

Panting heavily, Jarmo and Marion looked around the room, trying to catch their breath. The room was small, with a single pedestal in the center. On top of the pedestal was a small statuette, similar to the one they found earlier.

As they approached the pedestal, they noticed that the statuette emitted a soft, blue glow. Jarmo picked up the statuette, and suddenly the room begins to shake violently.

“You had to do this, right? Quick, we need to get out of here!” shouted Marion.

They ran towards the door. As they exited the room, they found themselves back in the underground cavern. The water level had receded, and the natural maze had shifted, forming a new path for them to follow. Heart pounding, Jarmo lead the way, with Marion close behind. Finally they emerged from the underground river into a large chamber. The walls were adorned with intricate carvings, depicting scenes of ancient Mercurian mythology. In the center of the chamber stood a pedestal, and upon it sat a small, ornately decorated box.

Jarmo and Marion approached the pedestal, and Jarmo carefully lifted the box from its resting place. As he did, the walls of the chamber began to shake and rumble, and a deep, ominous voice boomed out from all around them.

“Who dares to disturb the sacred chamber of the Mercurian gods?” the voice asked.

Jarmo and Marion exchanged nervous glances, but they knew they had come too far to turn back now.

“We seek the Temple of the Wind Harp,” Jarmo said, his voice shaking slightly. “We mean no disrespect to the Mercurian gods.”

There was a long moment of silence, and then the voice spoke again.

“Very well,” it said. “If you truly seek the Temple of the Wind Harp, you must prove your worthiness. Solve the riddle before you, and the way to the temple will be made clear.”

Jarmo and Marion looked around, but they saw no riddle anywhere in the chamber. Then, Jarmo noticed a small inscription on the bottom of the box he held.

He read it aloud:

“In this room, there are three doors,
Each with a different symbol, you must explore.
The first door has a crescent moon,
The second door has a sun at noon,
The third door has a starry night,
Choose the right one, and the way is bright.
But beware, behind two lies a trap,
Choose the wrong one, and you’ll take a nasty slap.
So think carefully, and make your choice,
For one door leads to the next room and a joyful rejoice.”

Both looked at each other in astonishment. As they examined the walls more closely, they recognized the doors mentioned in the riddle in the carvings. However, they looked as if they were part of the relief. Probably another trick to hide the exit. But what was the riddle supposed to mean?

“I’m not an expert,” Marion said, “but what if the riddle is meant literally?”
“Literally?” Jarmo asked back. “What do you mean by that?”
“It says we should choose ‘the right door’. We understood that in the sense of ‘the correct door’ as opposed to the wrong one. But what if it literally means ‘the right door’, i.e. the door which is on the right?”
Jarmo read the riddle again. Finally he shrugged. “I can’t think of anything better,” he admitted.

The two walked across the room and to the door on the right. It was decorated with a few stars.
“Hey!” said Marion. “I even know that! That is the star constellation of the God of a Thousand Doors, which can only be seen in this form from Mercury.”
The sign consisted of 20 stars, matching the God of a Thousand Doors. Marion took a closer look. Finally she pointed to a star in the center of the constellation.
“Take a look at this!”, she asked Jarmo.
He moved closer to the stone. The star was carved out of the stone, about two inches tall, and had seven points. At first Jarmo didn’t see it, but then he realized what Marion had meant. In the middle of the star was a slit that was almost impossible to see.
“The star is called Rulan, it belongs to the Soaron Cluster,” said Marion.
“How… how do you know that?”
“Does the name GOOD HOPE ring a bell?”
Jarmo thought. Wait, GOOD HOPE! Yes, he had heard of this spaceship before. It was considered lost. Their final mission was… mapping the Soaron Cluster!
“You mostly ‘the’ GOOD HOPE?” he asked.
“Yes. I have…” She stopped herself. One could see she was struggling with herself. “Can you keep a secret?” She finally asked Jarmo.
“Yeah, sure. What’s that secret?”
“You know I belong to BUREAU 07,” she began. “Twice a year we have a gathering. Old files are called up with unsolved cases. Last year there was a file on the GOOD HOPE. The Soaron Cluster is in a poorly mapped part of the galaxy, almost on the edge of the ORION arm.”
Jarmo frowned. “But that’s no secret,” he stated. “I heard that too. The tragedy of the GOOD HOPE. Lost in space, near the barrier.”
“I didn’t mean that!” Marion said firmly. “With the files was the last report that Fleet Headquarters had received from the GOOD HOPE. The Captain reported an attack by an unknown force. They were able to route the enemy, but the ship was damaged. The Captain had decided to to look for a planet to land on and then carry out necessary repair work. After that, nothing was heard from the ship.”
Dorak took a deep breath. “And they wanted to keep that a secret so nobody would panic because of the unknown force that attacked the GOOD HOPE?” he asked.

“Does that have anything to do with the riddle here?”
“No. But you wanted to know how I know the name of this star. And I answered that for you.”
Jarmo nodded. “Right. That’s what I asked.”
“I know even more. The Rulan system has already been mapped by the GOOD HOPE. It has seven planets, Rulan Piemi, Rulan Feri, Rulan Cati, Rulan Fua, Rulan Itra, Rulan Ume, and Rulan Erse.”
“Wow. But my question again: does that have anything to do with the riddle here?”
“No, not yet. But I have a suspicion about the door. You found that key, didn’t you?”
Jarmo put down the two statuettes he had been holding. He reached into his uniform pocket and pulled out a small key. Marion took the key from his hand and inserted it into the slot they had found in the surface of the carved star Rulan. A click was heard.
Marion breathed in audibly. “Now we will soon find out whether I was right.” She turned the key. With a crunch, the door moved to the side. The passage was free. Jarmo picked up the statuettes again. They went through the passage.

Much to their surprise, they found themselves in the first room of the temple on the surface.
“Look!” Marion said suddenly. “The door! We were on the other side of the door we saw at the very beginning.”

She looked directly at Jarmo. His face showed a pained expression, but also looked kind of surprised. Marion had to laugh out loud. It lasted a moment, then Jarmo laughed with her. After all, despite all the obstacles, the mission had been a success. With the statuette they had found the second signpost to the Temple of the Wind Harp. And they were a little closer to the temple.