Horus stopped on Ephos, the Las Vegas-like planet at the edge of the
Daglon solar system. The crew parked the warship in a hangar and rented
a smaller and less striking ship to fly to Daglon. They landed in Amun,
the amusement park, that was built in the style of the old days. Many
buildings were sky-scraping towers that were made of steel and glass,
others resembled Egyptian pyramids.
The crew got off the ship and departed. The men went to pursue their own activities for a while. Le’Ton left with Chen, the young Titan. Doctor Midad, Corr, Forrit and Galven left each on their own. Lest and Jeff left in an air taxi. The cab followed a major airway from Amun to Sothis, the capital of Daglon.
The airway was busy and many crafts hovered in both directions. They crossed an area, an agricultural district that was devoid of towns. Vast fields stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see.
“What is being cultivated here?” Jeff asked. “The fields look like soy plantations.”
“The plant is called Kamut, a cereal, a basic food on Daglon,” Lest said.
“You grow cereals?” Jeff wondered. “I would have thought that everything is artificially produced.”
Lest gave a laugh. “How? Like the food processor on board of our ship? Well, actually, plant growing is relatively new on Daglon. Maybe I should say it was re-discovered.”
Jeff gave him a questioning look.
“You saw Amun, high towers and vast pyramids, one next to the other,” Lest explained. “This is how Daglon looked 10,000 years ago. The entire land mass was one huge city. Agriculture, farming and land growing had become redundant as everything was produced artificially. The population exploded and living conditions worsened as a result. The political situation became instable also. Various political parties pressed for migrating to other planets, others wanted an internal solution. The latter won. Daglon was re-structured. It took a couple of centuries and it wasn’t easy, but it was finally done. Agriculture was still not a dominant factor for a long time but became increasingly popular when people decided they preferred fresh food.”
Jeff gave a laugh. “I understand. The processor meals are not bad, but the food lacks the smell and taste of fresh ingredients,” he said.
Lest nodded. He pointed ahead. “We’re joining the major airway to Daglon. Eight lines and six levels of airways. The hover pilots must concentrate.”
Jeff was impressed. “I thought you cut down infrastructure,” he said.
“The airways were three to five times the size in the old days,” Lest said.
“Don’t you have a pollution problem?” Jeff asked.
“Why? Because of the hovercrafts? No, they’re hydrogen powered. And we developed other means of propulsion that are environmentally friendly,” Lest said.
“Daglon could teach Earth a lot,” Jeff said.
“Well, Daglon made the same mistakes in the past,” Lest replied.
The air taxi hovered north for a couple of hours and finally reached Sothis. It moved into town and halted at a vast air taxi station. The men got off the cab. Night had fallen. Jeff looked at the avenues and the high buildings around the station.
“These buildings have at least sixty floors. This is cut-down infrastructure?” he asked.
“Most buildings had 150 floors and more in the old days. The land was practically one large mass of skyscrapers. We have pictures. You can have a look at them in Amun’s museums,” Lest said.
They went down the avenue and turned into a side street. Lest pointed at the building at the far end.
“The hotel. I booked a suite. We can explore Sothis as long as we want and either stay here the entire three weeks or move elsewhere before we return to Amun,” he said.
The hotel was smaller than the surrounding buildings. Their suite was on the thirty-first floor.
They set out to explore Sothis the following morning. The men were glad to see a city after months in space. The sun was shining instead of artificial lights, and the air was fresh and smelled of snow. Sothis was located in the northern hemisphere. It was autumn time. The temperature was low, a cool northern wind was blowing and a white frost covered the sidewalk.
Lest inhaled deeply. “I’ve almost forgotten how good it feels,” he said.
Jeff looked at the sun in the sky, the bright natural light. It was an entire different experience than the infinite and impermeable blackness of space.
“I’ve been too long in space,” he said.
They stayed in Sothis for ten days, exploring the city, walking the streets and visiting places of interest. Finally, they left the town and made a tour through the countryside. Harvesting had begun in some areas, winter crops were sown and planted in others. They stayed for five days in a recreational centre that was located in a rural area. Life in space seemed a surreal thought and they didn’t talk about it. They explored the woods and walked long through the autumn fields until their stay on Daglon came to an end. They travelled back to Amun.
The Horus crew gathered and spent the final evening in a restaurant. They were sad to leave, but also ready to go. It was an odd combination of feelings. However, once they had boarded the Ephos ship the following day, the crew was back in space mode.
The ship took off and flew back to Ephos. Chen departed. The Titan actor planned to look for an engagement on Ephos. The men got on the Horus and settled in their seats.
“All right,” Lest said. “Corr, contact space traffic control and ask for clearance for take-off. Le’Ton set course on Cyrus.”
“Course set on Cyrus,” Le’Ton confirmed.
“Take-off in ten minutes,” Corr said.
The men strapped in and focused on the displays. The ship’s engines came on.
“Countdown three seconds,” Corr said.
The Daglon warship rolled down the runway, accelerated and took off. The ship climbed to orbit and entered space. The Horus took up speed and finally reached the space jump point that Le’Ton had pre-programmed. The sound of the engines changed and the ship dropped out of real space.
“How long until arrival at Cyrus?” Lest asked.
“Thirty-two hours, forty-two minutes,” Le’Ton replied.
“The ship is on autopilot,” Corr said, leaning back in his chair. “The trip should be uneventful.”
The Horus was approaching Cyrus.
“Okay,” Lest said. “I’m going to brush through the offered deals on the space net. I’m reluctant to contact Perez again.”
“Quite understandable,” Hulton said. “I can also look if I find a profitable deal, captain. I’ll look through the announcements that are not yet published.”
“What?” Lest asked. “Are you able to hack into their system?”
“I had a good time on Daglon, but I got bored after a while and I thought of an activity to fill my days,” Hulton said. “I came up with the idea to establish a connection to the broker service computer. It took me two days to make it work. Not all announcements go live at once, it depends on what the vendor wants.”
“Interesting,” Lest said. He rose from his seat and joined Hulton by the console.
Hulton typed a few commands. His screen activated and showed a long list.
Lest leaned forward. “Excellent work, Hulton,” he said.
They brushed through the list.
“The usual crap,” Lest said. “Stop. What’s this?” he asked, pointing at an offer.
Hulton opened it. The full text showed on the screen.
“A private institution?” Lest asked. “The Society of Yanara Archives?”
“Never heard of,” Hulton said. “They offer a research contract. Price on negotiation. Shall I go back to the list?”
“No,” Lest said. “They won’t get a lot of requests on their offer. Crews looking for a freight contract will skip it at once. Contact them, Hulton. I want to know more about this offer.”
Hulton activated the space intercom. He got through and a stern male voice responded.
“Put the man on the screen,” Lest said.
A haggard man in a long red velvet robe showed on the screen. “You sent a contact request. I’m Okpara, chief archivist of the Society of Yanara Archives on Yanara,” he said.
Lest straightened. “Greetings to you, Okpara. I’m Captain Lest, speaking from the Horus. We’re on our way to Cyrus and we’re looking for a job. I learned of your offer regarding a research contract. Can you tell me more, please,” he said.
The man raised an eyebrow. “How did you learn of it? It was supposed to be published tomorrow when all Yanara archivists will gather,” he said.
“A glitch maybe,” Lest replied. “Anyway, I read your offer. Would you like to elaborate or shall we get back to you tomorrow?”
Okpara pondered. “No, we can sort it out right away, captain. We don’t look for a transport vessel. We look for a craft and a crew capable of following subtle traces in space.”
“What kind of traces? Are you missing a ship?” Lest asked.
“Sort of,” Okpara replied. “A ship landed and we don’t know where it came from. The crew is long gone. We’re not exactly a space-faring nation, although we have a spaceport on the planet. We don’t have the means to go after the traces and find the ship’s place of origin.”
“The job sounds interesting enough. Can we talk about the price?” Lest asked.
“I’m not entitled to negotiate on the price on my own,” Okpara replied. “It certainly depends on duration and efforts for the search trip, but minimum would be 50,000 credits.”
Lest muted the channel and turned to Le’Ton. “How long is the flight to the planet?” he asked.
“Ten hours in space jump mode,” the navigator said after checking a display.
Lest opened the channel. “Okpara, I’m definitely interested in the deal. Can I get more information, please?”
“I’m not entitled to tell you more,” Okpara replied. “Why don’t you come to Yanara and we’ll talk it over in person? The archivists will gather tomorrow. We would be glad if you joined our meeting, captain.”
Lest thought it over and then agreed. He ended the communication and turned to his crew.
“Set course on Yanara,” he said.
The Daglon warship changed course.
The sun was just rising when they touched down in the Yanara spaceport. Okpara waited for them in the hangar. He was dressed in a long robe and carried a wooden walking cane. The Horus crew looked at him curiously. The old man mustered the Daglon warship, then bowed to Lest and the crew.
“Welcome on Yanara, Captain Lest,” he said. “Follow me, please. I’ll take you to the society’s assembly hall. The other archivists await you there. We are glad you took up on our offer.”
The man pointed at the exit and led the way. Lest and the others followed him. They crossed the spaceport hall, looking around curiously. Typical spaceport staff in spaceport suits were mingling with people, flight passengers probably, who were dressed in long robes and were wearing sandals.
“A stark contrast,” Jeff said to Doctor Midad.
“Yes,” Midad replied. “There are a lot of these worlds in space. The Alliance classifies species and makes contact only with those who have progressed to a certain technological level. Once contact is established, the planets usually change. Some adapt quickly to the developments, whereas others go through a long transition process. A split of society is often observed. While some parties adapt quickly to interstellar contact, others turn back to the traditions of the past. I think Okpara belongs to the latter party, concluding from the way he’s dressed.”
They left the spaceport. Okpara led them to a bus-like vehicle that was parked in front of the entrance. They climbed into it and as soon as they had sat down in the worn seats, the driver started the bus. The trip wasn’t long. The vehicle halted in front of a light brown painted mansion. The house was surrounded by a garden where oversized tulips and lilies grew.
Okpara led them into the house and showed them to an assembly hall where elaborately carved wooden chairs were arranged in rows. A speaker’s desk stood in front of the chairs. Okpara asked them to sit down and then left the room. The men looked around. The windows were high. Heavy green velvet curtains hung at their sides. The green and blue carpet in the room was old and worn. The air in the assembly hall smelled of cinnamon.
The door opened and Okpara and six other men stepped in. They were all haggard and tall, their hair was gray and their skin was yellowish. Okpara stood behind the speaker’s desk and three men stood left and three right of him.
“Welcome again, Captain Lest,” Okpara said. “The Yanara archivists represent the Society of Yanara Archives. The Yanara Archives are very old documents, dated back roughly 12,000 years. They tell of the beginning of our civilization. The documents were studied again and again over the centuries, but they remained mysterious to us. We understood they told of our origin, but we were not able to fully understand the words until eleven years ago.”
“Our civilization progressed over the centuries. We discovered electricity and it simplified our lives. We invented vehicles and machines and ultimately developed a satellite that was brought to orbit for collecting weather data. We developed a craft that carried people around the planet. That was when the Alliance contacted us. They contacted us eleven years ago. You can imagine the stir it caused. They contacted us too early in our opinion,” Okpara said.
The other archivists nodded gravely.
“The contact was welcomed by certain parties and they adapted quickly to the change. However, the premature contact stirred mostly fear in the people and caused upheavals and riots all over the planet,” Okpara carried on. “Yanara culture was destroyed and people were left with nothing to base their lives on. They turned back to traditions, back to the beliefs of the past. In short, they turned back to their roots. We remembered our origin and turned to read the Yanara Archives again.”
“The Yanara Archives suddenly made sense to us. There was no mystery any longer. The archives tell of our origin. As we see it now, our ancestors came from a different planet and settled on Yanara 12,000 years ago,” he said.
“I’m beginning to understand, Okpara,” Lest said. “You spoke of subtle traces.”
“Yes,” Okpara replied. “Traces only. We don’t know where the settlers came from. We assume that the spaceship was programmed to fly on autopilot while the people slept in cryotanks all the way through space until the ship reached Yanara and entered orbit. The computer woke up crew and passengers, 5,000 people, concluding from the manuscripts. The ship landed on Yanara and the settlers built up a colony. The documents end here.”
“You don’t have more historical records of the time?” Lest asked in surprise.
“Unfortunately not, captain,” Okpara replied. “Our historical records start 3,352 years ago with the foundation of the kingdom Zalaki. We know that farmers cultivated the land many centuries before this event. We found remains of old monasteries. Monasteries have a long tradition on Yanara. The Yanara Archives were detected in a monastery 2,945 year ago by Suthek II, then king of Zalaki. The documents were passed on for centuries. The Society of Yanara Archives was founded 823 years ago and has kept the documents since. The society is a monastic community.”
“I see,” Lest said thoughtfully. “Do the documents mention the place of origin?”
“Unfortunately not,” Okpara said. “The documents are numbered. They start with number thirteen and end with number twenty-seven. The first twelve documents and any possible later documents are lost. The archives describe the first settlement, the built-up of the civilization. They refer to events that happened before this time, however, and from these paragraphs we conclude that the settlers arrived in a spaceship.
“Can you be sure the date is correct and the colony was established 12,000 years ago?” Lest asked.
“Three independent tests dated the paper. The results were roughly the same: 12,000 years, 11,600, and 11,900 years,” Okpara said. “Since the documents allude to an older culture, we can truthfully say that Yanara culture is 12,000 years old or older.”
“This doesn’t necessarily prove that the spaceship arrived 12,000 years ago,” Lest said. “It just says the documents were written 11,000 to 12,000 years ago.”
“The documents are written in present tense,” Okpara replied. “The descriptions are vivid. They aren’t a recollection of things, but a description of the present. Also, a passage describes in detail the stellar constellation that marks the beginning of seedtime in spring. We asked an astronomer to analyze the stellar constellation. His analysis suggested the text describes the constellation as it was 11,500 to 11,800 years ago.”
“I see,” Lest said. “Why are you so interested in uncovering this mystery? You don’t belong to the pro-space party. Don’t you fear the past will collide with the future that lies in space? Don’t you fear more trouble on Yanara?”
“We hope to reconcile the past and the future,” Okpara said. “We want to show that fear is unfounded. Our future lies in space where the elders came from. Yanara isn’t a planet doomed to ruin. Yanara’s roots are in space and its branches stretch to space. Yanara is like a tree and this tree can flourish and blossom.”
The archivists looked seriously at the Horus crew. The Horus crew smiled politely.
Lest straightened. “Well put words and a beautiful image. I trust you can reconcile the past and the future. As to the documents, could we have a look at them?”
The archivists exchanged concerned looks and talked quietly. Finally, Okpara turned back to Lest.
“You may have a look at the documents, captain. Under supervision, of course,” he said.
“Of course,” Lest said, rising to his feet.
The others stood also. Okpara raised his hand.
“Not all of you. Only two of you may follow me to the holy room,” he said.
“Jeff, will you come, please,” Lest said. He turned to Okpara. “All right, please take us to the holy room.”
Okpara led Lest and Jeff down a corridor. He stopped in front of a wooden door and pulled an iron key from a pocket of his robe. He unlocked the door and they stepped into a small chamber that smelled heavily of cinnamon. Lest and Jeff suppressed a sneeze.
The walls were clad with violet wall-hangings. An ancient violet carpet covered the floor. Wooden sideboards stood against the walls. Six candles were arranged on each. Another wooden sideboard on the wall opposite the door was covered with a white silken cloth. An elaborately carved shrine was placed on it. Opkara produced another key and opened the doors of the shrine. Inside was a modern preservation box. Okpara stepped to a wall and hit a button. Electric lights came on. Lest and Jeff exchanged a look.
Okpara made a sign with his hand. Jeff and Lest stepped forward and saw a stack of paper behind the pane. Black hand-writing covered the uppermost paper. The writing looked ancient and the letters unknown.
“What language is this?” Lest asked.
“Pre-Zalaki,” Okpara replied. “Ancient Zalaki was spoken in the kingdom of Zalaki. The language developed over the centuries into modern Zalaki. We still speak Zalaki on Yanara. And this is Pre-Zalaki. It’s even older than Ancient Zalaki. Linguists proved that Ancient Zalaki developed from this language.”
“You know how to read it?” Jeff asked.
Okpara gave him a surprised look. “Of course. How should I be able to tell you of the contents of the texts if I didn’t know how to read them?” he said.
“You could have deciphered the language,” Jeff said.
“Oh, no,” Okpara replied. “Ancient Zalaki developed into modern Zalaki, but the language in the monasteries is still Ancient Zalaki. Pre-Zalaki is very similar. Any friar can read it. With a little effort, that is.”
“Much like on Earth,” Jeff said.
Okpara gave him a questioning look.
“My home planet,” Jeff explained. “Latin is a dead language on Earth but still used in church ceremonies and for scientific terms.”
Okpara nodded and smiled. “The traditions of the past must not be given up abruptly. It is very unsettling for people,” he said. “Is your planet also in a transition stage?”
“My planet isn’t exactly a space-faring nation. We have a few spacecrafts, but can’t get far,” Jeff said.
“Oh,” Okpara said with an interested look. “Did Alliance approach your planet also?”
“They have not yet approached my home world. We’re still considered a class C species. I’m a test subject, so to speak,” Jeff said.
“It’s getting worse and worse. I heard of these kidnapping cases,” Okpara said, shaking his head.
“You did?” Jeff asked.
“Oh, yes,” Okpara replied. “Several persons on Yanara claim they were kidnapped by aliens. Taking an unprepared individual on board of a spaceship can be very unsettling to this person. I very much condemn these practices. I’m not without reservations towards the Alliance.”
“I’m not exactly a friend of them either,” Lest said.
“Really?” Okpara asked. “This kidnapped man is on board of your ship.”
“I rescued him from a sinking ship, so to speak,” Lest replied.
Okpara nodded thoughtfully. “You ought to take this kidnapped man home,” he said.
“I promised him we’d fly to Earth some day,” Lest said. “The opportunity has not yet arisen, though. Anyway, back to these documents. Could we get copies of the manuscripts?”
“Sure,” Okpara replied, closing the shrine. “We have plenty of copies.”
“Translated texts would be good also,” Jeff said.
“Yes. Can we translate them into Daglon?” Lest asked.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you with this,” Okpara said. “I don’t know the Daglon language. I can only communicate with you due to this clip,” he said, pointing at his ear. “I must admit this technical innovation is helpful. The clip connects to the Alliance database. I see you don’t wear clips.”
“We use the neural implants,” Lest said.
“I heard of them,” Okpara replied. “But I can’t get myself to having my head cut open.”
“It’s a minor surgery,” Jeff said. “I recovered quickly from it.”
Okpara gave him a doubtful look.
“How about you read the texts to us on my ship? The ship’s computer will translate them. It will connect to the Alliance database,” Lest said.
“I don’t think Pre-Zalaki is saved to the database,” Jeff said.
Okpara looked between them. “Ancient Zalaki, the language of the monasteries, and modern Zalaki are saved to the database. I could read the texts in the modern language to you.”
“Perfect,” Lest said. “I suggest you come on board of my ship for the purpose.”
Okpara nodded, then smiled at them. “So you will sign the research contract, Captain Lest?”
“Yes,” Lest replied. “I’m in. The mission intrigues me.”
“We have not yet talked about the subtle traces that might lead us to the planet of Yanara origin,” Jeff said.
“Like I said, the ancient manuscripts refer to the world of Yanara origin,” Okpara said. “Page 14 of the documents describes the stellar constellation at the time when the spaceship left the planet of origin. Page 16 refers to the long journey of the elders that they spent sleeping in their cold cots. It says the length of the journey was ten times the average lifespan of a man. Page 19 mentions the lifespan of a man was fifty years. Hence, the journey must have taken 500 years. There may be more clues that we don’t understand. And we have the seal impression, of course. I’ll show it to you in the assembly room.”
They went back to the meeting room. The archivists and the Horus crew looked at them expectantly. Lest and Jeff sat down. Okpara talked to his colleagues. A man left the room and returned with a stack of papers. He handed one paper to Okpara and the others to Lest.
“These are copies of the texts,” Okpara said. “And this is a copy of the seal impression. It can be found on the page that describes the stellar constellation.” He held up the paper.
“A serpent,” Jeff said.
“Unfortunately, we don’t know what to make of it,” Okpara said, placing the paper on his desk.
“We don’t have much to base our search on,” Lest said.
“I know,” Okpara replied. “I told you we had only subtle traces.”
“Why did you publish your offer on Cyrus?” Lest asked.
“We didn’t want an Alliance ship getting involved in the search,” Okpara replied. “We don’t know what happened on the planet of origin. Maybe the civilization died out, maybe they dropped back to a more primitive stage, maybe they are still a space-faring nation and even more advanced than 12,000 years ago. Maybe they are an Alliance member already. We just don’t know. We don’t want the Alliance to find out about our activities and spoil the planet’s culture,” Okpara said. “A young novice pointed me to the Cyrus board.”
“I see,” Lest said with a smile. “I think it was a good choice, Okpara. Okay, let’s talk about the price.”
“50,000 credits. 10,000 as an advance payment, 10,000 at the end of each week,” Okpara said. “This should suffice for a while to cover your costs. We’ll expect a report every two days. If the search turns out to be fruitless after three weeks, we’ll stop the search and pay you the rest of the credits. Further payments would depend on the developments of the search. If we want to proceed, we would have to renegotiate.”
“It sounds like a fair deal,” Lest replied. “I’d like to have the texts analyzed on board of my ship. If we can’t get nowhere with them, we’ll stop the whole operation. It doesn’t make sense to jump at random in space in search of a lost planet.”
Okpara nodded. “I don’t object,” he said.
He waved to an archivist. The man went and came back with a pen and a piece of paper. Okpara wrote down the contract in Zalaki and then read the text to Lest.
“Okay,” Lest said. “Let’s record and translate this on my ship, too. I cannot read Zalaki.”
“Very well,” Okpara said.
The Horus crew and the Yanara archivists boarded a bus that took them to the spaceport. The group entered the Daglon warship and went on the bridge. Contract and texts were recorded and Okpara and his colleagues left the ship. The advance payment came in half an hour later. It was noon on Yanara, but the crew was jet-lagged and tired. Lest ordered the men to rest for a couple of hours. They set to work again later that day.
“Doctor Midad,” Lest said. “I want you to check on the genetic profile of the Yanara. Since they are an Alliance member, the profile should be documented in the database. Check if you can find any genetic relations to other species.”
Doctor Midad reported back an hour later. “Negative,” he said. “The computer didn’t find any species even remotely related to the Yanara.”
“A pity. A positive result would have solved this mystery in an hour,” Lest said. “Okay. What do we know? It was a vast spaceship, 5,000 people. They travelled 500 years. They travelled in cryo-tanks.”
“Cryo-technique supports the idea that the ship travelled through real space conventionally and didn’t jump. Cryo-technology isn’t used anymore,” Hulton said.
“We must find out more about conventional crafts’ specifics,” Le’Ton said. “We know they travelled 500 years. We must define the most probable speeds. Then we can derive the minimum and maximum distance from the planet Yanara.”
Lest hit the intercom button. “Galven, Forrit, on the bridge, please. We need engine expertise here,” he said. He looked at Le’Ton. “Calculate the minimum and maximum average speed of a conventional ship and derive the distances from the planet Yanara. Map two circles around the planet. This will be our search corridor.”
“The ancient Yanara were capable of building a spaceship that actually arrived at Yanara, but the settlers didn’t build up an advanced civilization after their arrival. They didn’t leave technical records, but described stellar constellations instead. I don’t think the species brought a lot of advanced technology. They were not able to maintain their technological level. I think their spaceship wasn’t very advanced and travelled slowly. They didn’t travel that far, it just took them a very long time. I think their planet of origin is located closer to the inner circle.”
“The area would still be vast,” Corr said. “A complete circle around Yanara.”
“Yes,” Lest said. “We’re lucky, though. The sector is documented well. We should find all possible planets in the Alliance database. We can exclude all planets that joined the Alliance in the previous 11,000 years. We would have detected the genetic profile of the species.”
“The Alliance formed only 8,000 years ago,” Doctor Midad said.
Lest shrugged. “Class A and B species would have joined the Alliance in the meantime. We must look for a planet with a class C species or a planet with an extinct species.”
“True,” Doctor Midad said. “We can then cut the search results down . The living conditions on Yanara are documented and we know the biological system of the inhabitants. The planet of origin must have resembled Yanara closely when the settlers left it. However, if there was a major catastrophe, the planet might have changed or was even destroyed.”
Lest nodded. “Le’Ton, after defining the search corridor, look for planets in the sector that are not Alliance members. Hulton, look for any major catastrophes that occured in the search sector 11,000 to, say, 20,000 years ago. Any such disaster should be registered in the database. Doctor Midad, define the biological system of the Yanara in order to sort out the search results. Corr and Jeff, scan the Yanara manuscripts again for further information regarding the Yanara and their origin.”
Lest leaned back in his seat. “We must define a near perfect search corridor and narrow down the search results quickly, else we won’t get anywhere with this project. I’m searching the database for Alliance reports on the Yanara species. The Alliance might have documented additional facts that the Yanara themselves are not aware of.”
The Horus crew, now an investigation team, set to work on the project.
Two hours passed by.
“Okay, status updates, please,” Lest said. “I’ve looked into Alliance reports on the Yanara species. The reports reveal nothing new. Le’Ton, please.”
“Galven and Forrit identified conventional spaceships used in the past,” Le’Ton reported. “They used the Alliance database. We identified the specifics of the hardware and, based upon the results, determined the probable minimum and maximum speeds of the ship. From this we derived two distance circles around Yanara, the search corridor. It’s fraught with uncertainty, of course, but it’s the best result we came up with. The computer is currently running a search for planets in the search corridor.”
“Good,” Lest said. “Hulton?”
“I looked for any catastrophic events in the determined time period. I’m not yet done with the search. It proves difficult. Since the Alliance formed only 8,000 years ago, it’s difficult to find reports of catastrophic events before that time. I have access to a few national databases that are linked to the Alliance database, the Daglon archive, for instance. I’m currently looking into these,” Hulton reported.
Lest nodded. “Okay. Corr and Jeff, what about you?”
“I read the translations of the texts. I found nothing new,” Corr said. “In my opinion, the person who wrote the texts had no actual knowledge of space technology. No specific terms and expressions are used. It’s written in a descriptive and roundabout way. They wrote down what they were told but had no actual knowledge of the matter. I think the texts were written in later times and not soon after the arrival of the spaceship.”
“I agree,” Jeff said. “The texts remind me of ancient Earth texts. A few passages might refer to a journey through space but could also be interpreted as religious texts about the Yanara gods. I also think the texts were written some time after the arrival of the spaceship.”
“The stellar constellation is described in detail,” Corr said. “If we were able to identify the planet of origin, we could run a simulation of the stellar constellation and its change over time.”
“The seal impression might be a key to what they saw in the sky,” Jeff said. “Although I doubt we would see what the ancient Yanara saw in the constellation.”
Lest nodded. “I’m not confident we’ll come up with a result, but we’ll carry on the research and then decide on how to proceed. I’ll write a report on our first findings and send it to Okpara.”
The men resumed their work and reported back to Lest four hours later.
“We have 107 candidates,” Le’Ton said. “All planets are catalogued in the database. Among them are two with a Class C species dating back 11,000 years. The biological system of the species, as described in the database, doesn’t match the Yanara. Five planets are inhabited by species that immigrated there between 5,000 and 800 years ago. Twenty-two planets are used for mining and exo-agriculture. The rest, 78 planets, are not suited for settlement and mining because of the planetary conditions.”
“I found no major catastrophic event in the area,” Hulton said. “No gamma-ray burst, supernova explosion, major collisions of celestial bodies or the forming of a black hole. I can’t rule out a catastrophic event entirely, of course. I simply don’t have enough data. But I tend to say that the event that caused the Yanara to leave their planet is intrinsic to their planet of origin.”
“We must cut the search results down,” Lest said. “Exclude the mining and class C planets and look into the rest. Check against Doctor Midad’s list of Yanara specifics.”
“The planet’s conditions may have changed drastically,” Doctor Midad said. “We must not quickly rule out a planet.”
“Sure,” Lest replied. “But you can rule out gas giants and planets with inappropriate mass and gravity.”
“A rough cut-down of the search results won’t take long,” Le’Ton said.
“Fifty-six planets left,” he said twenty minutes later. “We must check them against Doctor Midad’s list in detail.”
“We must run a contingency analysis,” Hulton said. “I can write a code. It will take some time, however.”
Lest nodded. “Good idea, Hulton. We’ll carry on tomorrow.”
Hulton worked on his analysis the following day. The others were left with little to do. Finally, Hulton said he was ready to present his results.
“I based my analysis on the conditions of the planet Yanara. I assumed that Yanara resembles the planet of origin closely. I assumed mass, gravity, rotation, length of day and so on are similar,” Hulton said. “Based on these assumption I can rule out thirty-two planets. It’s highly improbable that the conditions changed from a Yanara-like state to the current state other than due to a major cosmic event. We didn’t detect a major cosmic event in the relevant time period. This leaves us with twenty-four planets. I refined my analysis and incorporated atmospheric data. Another sixteen planets can be ruled out. This leaves us with eight planets with a high probability of being the planet of origin.”
“Excellent,” Lest said. “We should be able to check out eight planets. What are the characteristics of those?”
“Mass, gravity, rotation and so on fit very well,” Hulton said. “The composition of the atmosphere is different, however. The levels of oxygen, nitrogen, argon, carbon dioxide, neon, helium and methane vary slightly. The change might be the result of planetary developments like volcanic eruptions and so on.”
“Are any of these planets inhabited?” Lest asked.
“No,” Hulton replied. “They are catalogued as uninhabited planets.”
“Why were these planets not chosen for terraforming?” Doctor Midad asked. “Changing the atmosphere isn’t a big thing in these days.”
“Yes,” Lest said. “We must look into why the Alliance discarded them. Thanks, Hulton, very good work. Send Le’Ton the coordinates of the planets, please.”
Le’Ton mapped the planets into his chart and sent the chart to the main screen.
“They’re scattered all over the search zone,” Lest said. “Jeff and Corr, look into these planets and find out why the Alliance found them inappropriate for settlement.”
Corr and Jeff reported back a short time later.
“I looked into four planets,” Corr said. “Two are waterworlds, one has extreme reptile wildlife, the fourth has very small land masses on the poles, the land masses covered with ice sheets.”
“Similar,” Jeff said. “Three waterworlds and one planet in the grips of an ice age.”
“What about the land masses of the last one?” Lest asked.
“Two continents, one in the northern, one in the southern hemisphere, both are almost entirely covered with ice. Only parts of the continents close to the equator are ice-free,” Jeff said.
“Our search is based on assumptions and we don’t know if we’re even remotely close,” Doctor Midad said. “The planet of Yanara origin might long be destroyed. However, if we plan to continue, I would investigate the planet that is in the grips of an ice age.”
“It’s the only one of the eight that could have been inhabited in the past. I rule out the waterworlds and I can’t imagine that extreme reptile wildlife replaced the Yanara people or developed after they left 11,000 years ago,” Jeff said.
Lest nodded. “The drawing of the serpent might point to the planet with reptile wildlife, but the ice age planet deems me the most probable candidate, too. I’ll report our findings to Okpara and speak with him on how to proceed. Meanwhile check the database for any information regarding this planet,” he said.
Lest contacted the archivist. The man’s face appeared on the screen.
“Greetings to you, Okpara,” Lest said. “We’re making progress. Let me report to you on our findings.”
Okpara nodded. “Please, captain,” he said.
“Based on the descriptions in the old texts and actual hardware data of Alliance ships, we determined the probable range of a vast conventional passenger ship with cryo-techniqe on board. We searched the Alliance database for planets in the resulting search area, a corridor around the planet Yanara,” Lest said. “All planets in the search corridor are catalogued in the Alliance database. We performed a contingency analysis and ran the model on the Horus computer. I spare you the details. We found that eight planets were highly probable to be the planet of Yanara origin. A closer look into the planets ruled out three waterworlds and a planet with minor land masses on the poles. There’s a planet with intensive reptile wildlife. The planet might be a possible candidate. Another planet is in the grips of an ice age, vast land masses are covered with ice, but the coast lines of the two continents, one in the northern and one in the southern hemisphere, are ice-free in the equatorial zones,” he said. “We’re currently focusing on this planet and attempt to gather more information.”
“Very well,” Okpara replied. “I’ll inform the other archivists on your findings. Please let me know if you find out any more.”
“Certainly,” Lest replied.
They ended the conversation.
Hulton turned to the captain in excitement. “I had the computer run a deep search on the ice-age planet and the computer came up with something interesting. I found a clue in the Alliance database,” he said. “An old report states that a spaceship passed by the planet 1,018 years ago and received a scrambled transmission. It had lasted only two minutes and could not be deciphered. A following up investigation had come up with nothing. The planet is listed in the Alliance catalogue of planets as not suitable for settlement, mining and exo-agriculture No reason and further explanation was given.”
“A transmission from the planet? I’d suggest we’ll check this planet out,” Lest said.
The crew completed their research and Lest contacted Okpara again. The archivist supported Lest’s idea.
The Horus left the following day.
They arrived at the planet seven days later. The Horus went into orbit and the computer scanned the planet thoroughly. The sensors detected no life forms were, but discovered the remains of an old town. Lest decided to land on the planet and set out and investigate the old city. The Daglon warship landed in a plain, half an hour flight away from the town. Lest, Jeff and Corr took a shuttle and set out to explore the ancient city.
The men were stunned at the sight of monumental buildings that were erected along streets and avenues. Freeze-thaw had broken the rock of the walls and chemical erosion had damaged the surface. The painting on the walls was gone and the naked rock was primeval. Stone serpents seemed creeping down the walls. Their heads, twice as big as the Horus shuttle, rested on the pavement. The serpents’ mouths were open and showed two long and sharp obsidian teeth that reflected the light of the sun.
“No signs of biological activities,” Lest said. “I think this place was left long ago.”
They moved down the wide avenue that was dusted with white sand and was torn open in a few places. The men were suited up, although the air was breathable. The suits were combat suits and the men were glad they had picked them. They carried plasma guns and they seized them tighter the farther they proceeded into the town.
“This place is creepy,” Jeff said. “Decay has settled in, but peace has not come with the ages. I feel as if an age-old threat lingers in the streets and tries to grasp my mind.”
Lest gave a grunt of approval.
“I can barely believe the rest of the planet is covered with ice sheets,” Corr said.
“The northern mountain ridge stops the warm southern air,” Lest said.
“Yes,” Corr replied. “These mountains are high. 7,000 meters on average.”
They entered the large and square place that was the center of the city. The sight was shocking. The pavement of the place looked glazed, molten in some areas, and the buildings were vastly destroyed.
“An atom bomb,” Lest said. “A nuclear war ended life on Yanara.”
The men looked across the place. It seemed the agony of a long gone past had frozen in an instant and had left the destroyed buildings and the glazed streets as a witness to eternity.
“Let’s go back,” Lest said.
The men went back to the shuttle that was parked at the edge of the city and flew back to the main ship. The shuttle entered the Horus and the men got off and went to the armory where they took off their combat suits and stowed away their weapons. They went on the bridge. Lest sat down in his seat and looked at his crew.
“The planet faced a nuclear war. The recorded transmission roughly 1,000 years ago is a mystery. Maybe it came from a stranded ship,” he said.
“I felt as if someone or something was out there, watching us, lurking in the streets like a shadow,” Jeff said.
“It cannot be,” Lest said. “The Horus computer didn’t detect any life forms. We had a look at the city. The city is dead. Our mission is accomplished. I’ll contact Okpara.”
Corr established a connection with the chief archivist. The man’s face showed on the screen.
“Greetings to you, Okpara,” Lest said. “We had a look at the city. The city is dead. No biological life forms exist on the planet. The planet of origin of the Yanara people, if this is the planet anyway, faced a nuclear war. The computer detected no lethal nuclear contamination. It reclined over the ages, but a nuclear war would explain the ice age. It could be the result of a nuclear winter.”
“We always considered us refugees with a forgotten past. Thanks to your endeavors we were able to identify our home planet. I have no doubt you found it, Captain Lest. The stone serpents strongly indicate you did, ” Okpara said.
“I can’t explain the signal that the passing ship received 1,000 years ago,” Lest continued. “It an error signal perhaps or maybe it came from a stranded ship that the subsequent investigation unfortunately didn’t detect. The signal came from the ancient city, according to the stated coordinates in the report. We didn’t see a stranded or crashed ship there, but our search was only a short scouting expedition. Since the Horus computer didn’t detect any biological forms on the planet, we must conclude that all life died out as a result of the nuclear war and that there were no survivors on the planet. Hence, the refugees on the spaceship were the only Yanara survivors.”
The old archivist nodded thoughtfully. “Captain Lest, your mission is well accomplished. Could you send us video material as a documentation, please, pictures on the walls and inscriptions preferably. Thus we could approach the Alliance and launch an official investigation mission. I speak on behalf of the Society of Yanara Archives. We’d pay another 10,000 credits in addition to the 50,000 credits we already agreed on.”
“Let me think about it, Okpara,” Lest replied. “I would have to set up a proper expedition. It must be carefully planned.”
“Of course, captain,” Okpara replied. “Contact me in the course of the day.”
They ended the conversation. Lest leaned back in his chair.
“I don’t look forward to visiting this place of decay again,” he said. “Corr and Le’Ton, scan the planet again for any life forms and check out the radiation. A deep scan of the city, please.”
Lest rose to his feet and nodded at Midad. The two men left the bridge and went to the galley. Lest hit a button of the food processor and ordered two cups of coffee. He placed them on the counter.
“What do you think, Midad?” he asked.
“We are able to set up an expedition without difficulties,” the doctor replied. “It wouldn’t take long to document the remains of the city. What bothers you, Lest?”
“A feeling that something is wrong there,” Lest said. “The scrambled transmission and the subsequent fruitless investigation give me some thought.”
“This was way back in the past,” Midad said.
“Why did the Alliance discard the planet and catalogue it as not suitable for settlement, mining and exo-culture?” Lest asked.
“The contamination with radiation and the ice age are convincing explanations,” Midad replied.
“The contamination has declined to tolerable levels and an ice-age can be ended by terraforming. The planet is rich in iridium, a paradise for miners, one must think,” Lest said.
Midad shrugged and took a sip of his coffee. “I don’t know, Lest,” he said. “You don’t have to do what Okpara wants. He can send another team here. It seems to me his society is awash in money.”
Lest nodded. “Yanara is an odd planet. It’s an odd mixture of old and new. A strange place,” he said, seizing his cup of coffee.
“Yes,” Midad replied. “The Alliance probably approached them prematurely. The Alliance is always eager to find new allies. The Mohic Empire and the Empire of Titania are strong independent nations. The Alliance would face difficulties in the case of a war.”
“I don’t see how the Yanara people could support the Alliance in the case of a war,” Lest said.
“The Yanara people can’t,” Midad said, “but the planet is a strategically significant point in space. It’s an Alliance outpost, much like the planet Cleus that the Alliance has sacked.”
“Do they plan to attack the Mohics or the Empire of Titania? Have they gone insane?” Lest asked. “In all honesty, Midad, the Alliance wouldn’t stand a chance against the Titan warriors.”
Lest placed his cup forcefully on the counter.
“I don’t think the Alliance will attack the Empire of Titania,” Midad said. “It’s more defensive measures or balancing means and forces, for a better term.”
“I didn’t get the whole sum from Perez for our trip to Rho 59,” Lest said. “I feel cheated, but I won’t argue with Perez. Anyway, Okpara’s offer came in handy.”
“You could have organized a transport to the Mohic Empire instead,” Midad said.
“The Yanara job intrigued me, another contract with the Mohics did not,” Lest said. “We’ll get another 10,000 for an expedition trip. I think the deal is profitable.”
“Acquisitive frenzy often enough results in financial ruin,” Midad said.
“I have to cover the costs,” Lest replied. “We have two more on board, Jeff and Hulton.”
“I won’t argue with your personnel decisions,” Midad said. “Although I think we’re a bit overstaffed.”
Lest raised an eyebrow. “And who do you think should I throw out?”
Midad made a dismissive gesture with his hand.” Let’s stop it, Lest. We’ve been too long on this ship to now start arguing with each other,” he said with a smile.
“You’re right,” Lest said, smiling back. “I apologize. Let’s plan this expedition instead.”
The expedition team was made up of Corr, Jeff, and Lest. They were suited up in combat suits. Their helmets were equipped with cameras. The men moved down the avenue and entered the glazed square place.
“The monumental architecture is totally unlike Yanara architecture,” Jeff said. “Is this really the same culture?”
“This place looks very unlike the planet Yanara, but it could well be their place of origin. Bear in mind that only 5,000 refugees reached Yanara,” Lest said. “They lost their technological knowledge and started anew as farmers on an unknown planet. Okpara’s ancient manuscripts tell of a spaceship, but the descriptions lack precision. The author of the texts had no idea of space travel. He only put down what he had heard, what had been passed on to him.”
The men crossed the glazed area and moved toward a building that dominated the place and was only partly destroyed. Wide steps led up to the entrance.
“A townhall, a guildhall, or the hall of the king,” Corr said. “It’s the most prominent building in the place, despite the damage.”
“I didn’t see any images or inscriptions on the walls of the buildings. The serpents sculptures are the only art work” Lest said. He looked around. “Hell, these serpent heads really give me the creeps.”
The entire place was seamed by huge serpent heads. The serpents’ mouths were open and showed two long obsidian teeth. Many serpents were damaged, many were also glazed, but what remained of them gave an impression of how the place had looked like in the past.
“I think the culture that built them was murderous and blood-thirsty,” Jeff said.
“You’re absolutely right,” Lest replied. “They killed each other in a nuclear war.”
“Which leaves a question,” Jeff said. “Who was the aggressor and who did they attack?”
“Two Yanara parties fighting over something,” Lest said.
He climbed the staircase to the entrance. Jeff and Corr followed him.
“I didn’t see the remains of any life forms,” Corr said. “Did they all get vaporized or are there just none to be found in the city?”
The others just shrugged. They reached the entrance. The opening was wide and high. The door wings were missing. A vast dark hole awaited them.
“An elephant would look dwarfed in this doorway,” Jeff said.
“What’s an elephant?” Corr asked from behind Jeff.
“A terrestrial animal,” Jeff said.
“Ah,” Corr replied. “I’m glad I can’t smell the stench that sweeps out of this pit.”
“Stench? How do you know? Is your imagination going wild?” Lest asked.
“Why? Don’t you look at the display that the neural implant provides? It shows the data that the helmet sensors get,” Corr said.
“Hydrogen sulfide. The smell of rotten eggs,” Jeff said. “The stench fits the scary look and feel of the place.”
The men moved on and entered the building. The hall was large and the light was dim despite of the light from the entrance. The floor and the walls were tessellated. The mosaics showed white and red serpents, entwined and entangled. The walls had no windows.
“No images and inscriptions in here, I think,” Lest said. “But let’s walk along the walls to make sure we don’t miss anything. Corr, Jeff, examine the side walls. I’m going to have a have a look at the rear wall.”
The men crossed the hall and checked on the walls.
“Gross!” Lest cried out. “I’ve found the source of the stench.”
The others joined him. Lest pointed at the rear wall where a vast carcass lay on the floor. The serpent-like body stretched from one wall to the other, a length of approximately forty meters. The body’s diameter was roughly two meters.
“A giant snake,” Corr said. “Where is the head?”
“Up there,” Jeff said, pointing up the wall. “God, it makes me want to puke.”
Lest and Corr looked up. The serpent’s head was placed on a platform on the wall. The mouth was torn open and showed two long and sharp teeth.
“A serpent cult. Disgusting at least,” Lest said.
“Those stone serpents are based on a real giant snake,” Jeff said. “Incredible. Why did the computer not detect this nasty thing?”
“It’s dead,” Corr said. “The body is rotting and producing the stench. The head looks preserved. This would mean that someone preserved it. This would mean that somebody is alive here.”
“Correct,” a male voice said.
The three men spun around. A figure stood in the doorway, wrapped in a tattered aluminum blanket.
“So much for no life forms on the planet,” Jeff said. “Why didn’t the Horus computer detect him?”
“Too subtle a sign probably,” Corr said.
Lest made a gesture with his hand. “Muted communication, encrypted channel,” he said. He focused on his neural implant and contacted the Horus.
The man came closer. His head and face was covered by a shawl. The cloth had two small holes where the eyes were not covered. Corr raised his plasma gun and Jeff made a step back.
“The Quetzal announced your coming,” the man said, waving one hand at the carcass of the serpent behind them. “We thought our wait had an end when the vehicle arrived so long ago, but we were mistaken. It was not yet the time. The era of the Quetzal had not yet come to an end.”
He stepped closer.
“The men who came with the vehicle gave us clips for our ears, so that we could talk with them. They hoped we could help them leave the planet, but it was a false hope. The clips didn’t work and the vehicle didn’t fly anymore. We wanted to leave with the vehicle, but it was seriously damaged. The clips still work and your vehicle will fly and take us away. This is the death-bed will of the Quetzal,” the man said.
He made another step towards them. Corr pointed his gun at him and Jeff watched the man warily while Lest communicated with the men on the main ship.
“The men worked on what they called a communication module. They tried to speak with it like we spoke with the Quetzal, but their god didn’t reply. Or maybe it did, because a while later another vehicle arrived, but it fled at the sight of the Quetzal and the army of fearless warriors that was led by Aucaman, the leader of my people back then,” the man carried on. He pointed at the carcass. “This Quetzal was the last of his kind. They can go long without food and water. Food and water ran short after the Ki Tsin. The Ki Tsin didn’t kill the Quetzal. They even got bigger and stronger by the Ki Tsin. The Quetzals were gods in the old days and only the gods did survive.” The man paused. “And the spared ones, of course,” he added.
“Why do we understand him?” Corr asked on the muted channel.
The translation that came in via the neural transplants was odd at times, but they got most of what the man said.
“He speaks Ancient Zalaki,” Lest said. “His ear clips connect to the Alliance database. The clips run on a battery. A wonder the battery has not yet died. The ship stranded 1,000 years ago. The manufacturers of these clips promote them as working for a lifetime. They work even longer, I see.”
“What can we do? Shall I blast him down?” Corr asked.
“Wait,” Lest said. “He has no weapon. I’m certain there are others and I want to hear more from him before I take a decision. I’ve contacted the Horus. They’re coming.” Lest opened the external channel. “The Ki Tsin?” he asked, making a step towards the man.
“The Ki Tsin killed the life on the planet. Only the Quetzals survived. And the people that Nanco, the first leader of the spared people, led into the room that is devoid of the sun,” the man said.
“A nuclear fallout shelter, I suspect,” Lest said on the muted channel. He opened the channel again. “Where is this room and what is your name?” he asked.
“This room is right beneath your feet and my name is Lakaman,” the man replied. He wrapped the aluminum blanket tighter around his body.
“Why the aluminum blanket?” Jeff asked. “It can’t really protect him from radiation.”
“The radiation has declined to a tolerable level,” Corr said.
“He doesn’t know,” Lest replied. He turned to Lakaman. “What happened with the men who came in a spaceship long ago?”
“They died,” Lakaman said. “Ki Tsin killed them. Not right away, though. It is said they lived forty days before Ki Tsin killed them.”
“I rather think they starved,” Jeff said.
“And the other ship that arrived a while later? Did they find the first ship and the dead men?” Lest asked.
Lakaman didn’t reply instantly. He stepped closer. “I don’t know. It is said they fled when they saw the Quetzal and Aucaman’s army,” he said. “The Quetzal announced your coming. His death announced the end of the wait, the end of an era. Where is your vehicle?”
“Parked outside town,” Lest said.
Lakaman nodded. “We’ll go there now,” he said. “I’m calling the Yanara people.”
“How many are there?” Lest asked.
“One hundred and four,” Lakaman said. “Food and water ran out after the Ki Tsin. The first of the spared people took a lot of food to the room that is devoid of the sun. It lasted long, but not long enough. We cultivate cabyum in the hallways that lead to the room that is devoid of the sun.”
“What’s this?” Jeff asked. “Mushrooms?”
“I have no idea,” Lest replied.
Lakaman made another step forward until he stood in front of them. His shawl covered his face and although the cloth had holes for his eyes, the men were not able to see Lakaman’s eyes.
“I feel as if a mummy returned to life and is speaking to me,” Jeff said. “It’s downright creepy. His sight sends shivers down my spine. Can we leave the hall, please.”
“We’ll leave as soon as the Horus has arrived,” Lest said. He addressed Lakaman. “You ran out of food, but yet you survived?” he asked to keep the man talking and gain them time.
“Among the spared people a few are chosen. They hear the call of the Quetzal. It is very rare, but when they hear the call, they offer their bodies and their blood to the people,” Lacaman said. “Thus we survive. It is the will of the serpent.”
“Cannibalism,” Corr said. “What’s it got to do with the serpent?”
“God, it makes me want to puke,” Jeff blurted out.
Lest raised his hand. “Quiet,” he said on the muted channel. He focused on his neural implant.
“The Horus is over the city. They took in the shuttle. The computer picked up Lakaman’s body signature, but doesn’t detect other people. I think the people are underground and the room is perfectly shielded. Let’s move to the entrance slowly,” Lest said. He turned to Lakaman. “You want to get on my ship? Where do you want to go with it?”
“We will go where the others went before the Ki Tsin killed the life on the planet,” Lakaman said.
“How do you know where this place is? Do you know where they went?” Lest asked.
“It is written down in the Yanara Archives where the other Yanara went,” Lakaman said. “It is said they had a vehicle like the ones that came in the times of Aucaman. We don’t know how to read anymore, but we’ve learned the words all by heart. It is said that the vehicle must be fed with the holy words. We’ll speak to the communication module like the men did so long ago. Our words will awaken the god and it will answer with a mighty roar. We will pledge the mighty serpent to take us to the place without Ki Tsin. The last Quetzal died and with it the era of Ki Tsin. The vehicle will take us to the place. I’ll feed it the holy words and it will swallow them. Thus it will know.”
“He has no idea of how a spaceship works,” Corr said.
“He has no idea of a spaceship at all. He confounds it with a flying serpent,” Jeff said.
“How should he know?” Lest asked. “His talk is all based on what was passed on to him through the ages.” He focused on his implant. “The Horus has landed in the glazed place and is in standby mode. Hulton and Le’Ton are on the bridge. They’ll open the rear hatch. Galven and Forrit will secure it. They’re suited up in the cargo bay. Once we’ve left the hall, we’ll run.”
Lest moved slowly through the hall. Lakaman walked by his side and continued talking. Jeff and Corr followed them. They stepped outside. Lakaman winced under the bright sun and pressed his shawl against his face with both hands.
“The light hurts. The spared people are used to the darkness in the room that is devoid of the sun, but we will bear the pain of the light as we walk to your vehicle. I’m calling my people now,” he said.
Lakaman took one hand from his face and spotted the Horus. The huge Daglon warship rested in the glazed place, surrounded by the rock serpent heads. The sight was absurd and surreal.
“A Quetzal,” Lakaman stammered.
“What?” Lest asked. He was descending the stairs.
“This hall is the hall of the Quetzal. The building is the head of the Quetzal. The entrance is the opening of its mouth. Two white pillars stood in the doorway in ancient times. They were the teeth of the Quetzal,” Lakaman explained as he followed Lest down the stairs.
Corr and Jeff followed the men.
The rear hatch of the Horus opened and the ramp descended. Galven and Forrit appeared in the opening, suited up in white combat suits.
“The holy Quetzal has returned,” Lakaman said with awe. “He opens his mouth and sticks out his tongue and shows his two white teeth.” He reached out a hand towards the spaceship. The time has come. The time has finally come,” he said in a quivering voice.
Jeff and Corr went past the man.
Lest looked back and waved his hand. “Run,” he said through the intercom.
The three men were running and dashing up the ramp. The men looked out as the rear hatch was closing. Lakaman pulled down his shawl.
“Oh my god,” Jeff said in shock.
The man had no nose and no lips. His head was a skull that was covered with thin rust-brown skin with black dots.
“Mutants,” Corr said.
“Do you think they all look like him?” Jeff asked.
“Could well be,” Lest said. “The Alliance detected them one thousand years ago and decided to ignore them. A scandal.”
The hatch closed. Lakaman had not moved, probably stunned by the arrival of spaceship.
The men went on the bridge and sat down in their seats. The ship took off and climbed to orbit. Lest contacted Okpara and reported to the archivist what they had found on the planet. Okpara was shocked. He asked for the video material. The men’s helmet cameras had recorded the events and the Horus computer had received the transmission of the talk between Lest and Lakaman. Lest sent the material to the Yanara archivist.
Okpara contacted them again the following day.
“Thank you for the material, Captain Lest,” he said. “The rest of the sum has been sent to your ship account. Our society will take legal steps against the Alliance for negligence and obfuscation of their discovery. Our lawyer is dedicated to the case. The Yanara elite, our scientists and technicians, will launch a rescue mission. No matter how degenerated our Yanara brothers may be, we must not leave them to themselves. Lakaman clearly stated that they want to leave the planet. They waited 11,000 years for a ship to pick them up and have never given up hope. They deserve a helping hand from their brothers. Thank you again, Captain Lest, for taking up on our job offer and accepting this mission.”
“I’m glad I could help you,” Lest said. “Greetings to you, Okpara.”
The transmission ended and Lest leaned back in his seat. He looked out of the front window. It showed the blackness of real space.
“On to Cyrus,” he said. “What about an uneventful trip to the Mohic Empire for a change?”
The others nodded their agreement.
The Daglon warship dropped out of real space.
© 2015 Dolores Esteban
First published at GA Gay Authors - Gay Quality Fiction