Chapter 2: A New Home
Having left the pier Aliya followed the path of the other passengers and by the time she got to the village it was already mid-morning. The the sun high in the sky and the day getting warmer. Aliya arrived in the village and saw everyone going about their business. She recognized some of the passengers from her boat, the man seated across from her who had snored throughout the night. He was starting a fire and wiping down an anvil — it turns out he'd quickly jumped one of the blacksmiths and become his apprentice.
The lady who'd sat beside her on the boat was already in talks with one of the farmers to start working in the barn, milking cows and brushing donkeys.
Everyone seemed to know where they were supposed to go. But as Aliya looked around the village she felt no such inkling. What about family? She knew she had a grandmother from the embroidered pouch and gifts. But that told her nothing as to where she'd really come from or where she's going.
"Why am I even here?" "What even is this place?!" She could feel another panic attack coming. "What is Bridgeworld supposed to be?! What's bridging anyway?" Desperately she began focusing on her breathing and soon calmed down. As she stood there in center of the village, out of breath and confused she caught sight of something out of the corner of her eye.
It was a strangely innocuous cottage hidden behind some well-trimmed hedges and immediately she felt drawn to it. She remembered Nat's suggestion to look for Anton but she didn't know where he could be so why not check out the Cottage she thought to herself.
Aliya found herself staring at the door of a quaint, unassuming little house.
“The Huntress’ Den”
It was a two story building with a roof of bright red tiles which stood out against the green backdrop that characterized the rest of the landscape.
Aliya looked at the letters etched onto the shiny bronze plaque situated by the door of the stone cottage.
It was an old building, moss crept up the outside walls and had almost reached the roof by now. Wind and rain had smoothed over any and every edge in the blueish-gray stones which comprised the building. But despite it's age it was well-kept cottage, the vines were pruned and trimmed so as not to obstruct the view from the windows. The windows themselves were clear as crystal, not a speck of dust or grime to be found.
Curiosity brought her to one of the windows and she peered inside. What she saw was, disappointing. Everything seemed normal, the fireplace in the living room was burning, the bookshelves lining the walls were stacked with books, a basket of fruit sat idle on one of the tables.
It certainly didn’t look like a “den”, but then again what’s a name have to do with its interior? Was she drawn here like the others were drawn to their respective homes and occupations? Well lucky her then, she thought, because this cottage looked pretty comfortable.
Aliya made her way back towards the main entrance and at the front door she had another look at the bronze plaque. Something about it was out of place. The engraving was tiny and incredibly precise, almost too precise. The tools in the smithy could never achieve this. It was almost as if…
“STATE YOUR IDENTITY.”
Aliya jumped back in shock as a woman’s voice called out. Did it come from behind the door? The door remained completely shut and there wasn’t even a mailbox or a sliding window for anyone to speak through.
“STATE YOUR IDENTITY.” repeated the voice.
Aliya realised it was coming from behind the bronze plate. Could bronze plates talk?
“Hi... uhm.. my name’s Aliya. I just came off the boat and I…”
“What? Processing? What in the world is going on?” She thought.
“PROVIDE YOUR ACCESS KEY.”
“What access key? I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t even know what I’m doing here!” Aliya exclaimed in confusion.
Another pile of confusion to add to her ever growing mountain of frustrated ignorance. She threw her arms in the air and as she did so the pouch with her grandmother’s trinkets came loose and fell to the ground, spilling its contents.
Aliya bent to pick them up, undoing the drawstring of the pouch in the process, and began putting back the handful of gold coins and gems that had fallen out.
“ACCESS KEYS ACCEPTED. PLEASE ENTER.”, stated the voice.
“What keys?”, thought Aliya as she looked up at the door. “These aren't keys, just coins and fragments of something ruby-looking."
Then she noticed the embroidery on her grandmother’s message to her. On the outside of the pouch, it read: “For my dearest Aliya, a safe journey to a better world.”
But on the inside it was something completely different, a seemingly random string of characters and numbers that made no sense:
The door slid open. Upwards.
“This is one strange door,” she thought to herself. “May as well enter, it’s not like I have anywhere else to go.”
She picked up her pouch and stepped through the doorway.
As if perfectly cut talking bronze plates and sliding doors that open upwards didn’t already seem sufficiently out of place, the sight that greeted Aliya inside the cottage could only be described as otherworldly.
As she stepped past the entrance corridor another set of doors slid open to reveal an enormous piazza. Aliya found herself atop a second story balcony with two sets of staircases leading to the ground floor. The balconies surrounding the open air center of the piazza was bustling with activity, hundreds of people milling about. On the ground, in the center of everything, was a fountain sporting a statue of a woman adorned in flowing robes. In one hand she held a crossbow and in the other a handgun. Her ostensibly grand and authoritative posture was belied only by the fact that her gaze and her weapons were pointing in different directions. Her gaze was inland, toward the “star”; while her weapons were pointing toward the shore. She was both predator and prey, and vigilance was the only route to survival.
Around the central fountain Aliya spotted enormous panels flashing with moving images and figures. Holograms. Yes, holograms. How did that word just appear in her mind? Behind the piazza an avenue stretched for a mile or so before eventually reaching some sort of amphitheater carved out of the same blueish-grey rock that the cottage walls were made of.
The cottage walls. As the sight before her began to sink in Aliya made another realisation. The “cottage”, which from the outside was no bigger than 40 feet by 20 feet, maybe a little more, was bigger on the inside. MUCH bigger.
“Handgun”, “Hologram”, “Animations”, how did she spontaneously know these words and what they represented? Was this not just a village from the middle ages? What year was it? What kind of technology was before her eyes? How did she know it was technology? Before the panic could set in again someone interrupted her spiraling thoughts.
“Aliya?”, said a gentle female voice behind her.
She turned around finding herself face to face with a tall, slim, female figure who appeared to be partially robotic. One of her arms was partially metallic and mechanical, though her slim, lanky fingers seemed human enough. On her head she wore a helmet of sorts, circuitry and flashing lights adorning the helmet. At least it looked like a helmet, Aliya thought, as she could see some dark red hair and ears poking out from behind it. The rows of lights and sensors on the helmet made this android-figure look a bit like a spider, although at the rate things were going Aliya was convinced things were going to get far stranger than spiderwomen.
“Yes, that’s me,” Aliya replied warily. “And let me guess, this is when I ask if someone could explain things to me, and you tell me that things will become clear in time?” She continued sarcastically.
“You are correct. Recording high levels of sarcasm and a moderate intellect, perhaps.” The android replied with a cool even voice but the snark in her reply didn't escape Aliya.
“Welcome, to the Huntress’ Den” The android continued. “Shall I show you to your quarters?" As the pair began walking the android continued. "We weren't expecting you so soon, arrangements will be made so you may explore the village once you've settled in."
“So, what’s your name? And what's with that helmet?”. Aliya asked the android curiously.
“I am a Numeraire of Bridgeworld. We have numbers, no names, and I am but one of many and many are of me. Here however they call me Pi, so I suppose that is what you may call me as well.” She replied somewhat stiffly.
“Well, I suppose I should say nice to meet you, Pi,” Aliya said smiling as she offered a handshake.
“Nice to meet you too, Aliya.” replied Pi mechanically as they shook hands.