Drevan looked up from Science One. "Ive finished scanning the planet, Captain. The results are, to put it mildly, interesting."
The captain turned the conn so she faced the Andorian. "Fill me in."
"As near as I can tell, there about a million and a half beings on Verassing Two, all of them living in subsistence level communities of not more than about a thousand individuals. In contrast to that, there are at least two dozen immense cities any one of them could house two million of them. Whats even more incredible, the cities are totally abandoned despite their being built by an immensely advanced technology, one that dwarfs ours. It just doesnt make sense." Drevan shook his head, setting his antennae oscillating absurdly as he did. "The one bit of bad news is that Ive located a cloaked, two-man Klingon ketch on the surface. No Klingons, yetjust their craft."
"Wheres the craft?" There was no mistaking Uhuras concern.
"Not far from where well put our away team down, Im afraid. That may make some sense out of what happened to them, any how." He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "But without evidence of live Klingons, it leaves us with some explaining to do. Theres a lot here that fails to make sense."
"What puzzles me is the cities and the natives being so far apart technologically." The tone of Uhuras voice communicated her puzzlement clearly.
"That there are multiple cities of large size, and abandoned, speaks against a star-faring race colonizing and then abandoning the planet, although the argument is not a telling one," TSoral offered. "The most logical suggestion is that for some reason, the natives built the cities, but reverted to barbarism and abandoned them. Equally logical is that the current natives were a species that were domesticated and bred to intelligence by whomever it was that built the cities and then left behind when the builders moved on."
"Either theory makes some degree of sense, TSoral, but the reversion to barbarism seems the likelier, dont you think? I can see that happening much more easily than a species abandoning a planet." Uhura shook her head. "Although I have to confess, a reversion to barbarism seems pretty unlikely, too."
"Captain, were not going to solve this until we talk to the natives." The chief science officer nodded to himself. "First hand data, thats what we need. I suggest that you and I and TSoral and Greggson go down and see what we can learn from the locals."
Uhura nodded agreement, swiveling to where she could see TSoral. "Are the translators able to handle the language?"
"Then lets go. Marsden, take the conn."
Drevan, Uhura, Greggson and TSoral materialized on the surface of Verassing II, not far from a group of natives who were hoeing the ground between rows of plants. The creatures were thin, almost to the point of looking like animated stick figures, and were a little over two and a half meters tall. Their skin was deep brown, highlighted with an almost reticular pattern of almost black lines. One of them stood, facing the foursome. The beings face was surprisingly smooth: two small, slightly hooded holes seemed to serve as nostrils; two huge, spider-like eyes lay just above and to either side of the nose. Below the nasal area was a thin line, clearly the mouth. If the being had ears, they were not visible. Uhura noticed that the creature wore a light colored loincloth, with a pouch of the same material hanging from the thin rope around its waist.
Nodding, the being stepped forward, arms extended before it, palms up and empty. "I come in peace, strange ones. If you come in peace, welcome, otherwise be gone."
Uhura mimicked the beings gesture. "I am Uhura. We come in peace to all who will receive us in peace. We wish to speak."
"Speak, then; I will listen."
Drevan, tricorder trained on the being in front of him, looked the being in the eye. "Who built the city? Do you know?"
"The Ones Before. They are gone; we remain."
Uhura decided to take control of the situation again. "How are you called?"
"You may call me Leeideilagh. It will do well enough. How are your friends called, Uhura?"
"The blue one is Drevan; the greenish one, TSoral. The pink one is Greggson. I am their leader. Will you take us to the city?"
"Ah, I see." Leeideilagh pondered for a moment. "It is a long walk to the city. I have much to do before I can take you there; the crops need tended. Each must contribute to the good of all, just as each receives benefit from all others good labor."
Uhura looked at her companions. Before she responded, TSoral did. "Then let us give you assistance as we may to help you finish the sooner. Will that be acceptable?"
Clearly it was. The being gestured at the foursome, indicating that they should follow. He pointed at a large pile of bags of what appeared to be produce of some sort. "You look like you are stronger than we are. It takes two of us to pick up one of those bags and move it. Perhaps you can move them for us?"
The world, Uhura realized, had lower gravity than she was used to, perhaps only seventy percent of what the Hyperion maintained. Carrying the bags would, she was sure, take little effort. "Show us where to take them, and we will."
"Take what you can; I will lead." Leeideilagh moved toward the bags. The Human, Vulcan and Andorian followed. Uhura hefted a bag; it felt like it weighed less than five kilos to her. She stuffed two under each arm. TSoral and Drevan, both considerably stronger, took double the load, Greggson staying with two per arm, leaving only a few bags behind. Clearly pleased at the prowess of his new-found partners, Leeideilagh led them toward a cluster of small buildings.
"This woodwork is amazing," Drevan said, clearly impressed. "It looks like its even done without nails. Who did this?"
"We did; it only requires sufficient time and patience to achieve the results." Leeideilagh opened a door. "The door is my own work; I am quite pleased with it."
"Impressive." Drevan led the way. Inside the dome, assorted foodstuffs were piled, in many places almost to the roof. Finding a small open area of ground, he deposited his load, his companions doing likewise. "Come on, lets get the rest."
Swiftly, they retraced their steps, moving the remaining bags to the same spot. Uhura looked at Leeideilagh. "Is there more to be done?"
"You have done much. Come, let us go to the City of the Ones Before." Confidently, Leeideilagh moved off, the other three following him.
Reaching the city took a little less than an hour, thanks to the lesser gravitation and Leeideilaghs brisk pace. The being led them to what was clearly an entrance cut through the wall surrounding the city. Greggsons voice barked out. "Hold it, folks. I think I see something I need to investigate."
Swiftly, Greggson moved forward, scanning the ground. In a moment, he nodded to himself and came back. "A pair of Klingons, Captain, both stone cold dead. No telling what killed them, as far as I can see. Drevan, would you use your tricorder? Maybe you can figure out what came off here."
"That will not be needed. It is clear that the city killed them," Leeideilagh asserted. "The city does not let in those who are not clearly welcome."
"I see." The captain looked at Drevan, pointedly.
The Andorian deployed his tricorder. "Force field over ita pretty light one, actually. No signs of weaponry at the entrance. As sophisticated as that city is, though, they could easily have a weapons technology wed never spot." He turned to face Leeideilagh. "I assume theres no way we can enter the city."
"The city will allow me to enter, and will allow any who comes with me to enter it." The thin, brown being turned to face the door, staring at it briefly. "It will be helpful if we stay closer together. I will not harm any of you."
Clustering near Leeideilagh, the away team followed the being through the door without harm. On the other side of the wall, they were confronted by the city. Small machines bustled from one place to another, keeping the spacious streets clean. Others seemed to be transporting things from one place to another.
Drevans tricorder was deployed, rapidly gathering information. Drevan turned to the native. "How much do you know about this city, Leeideilagh?"
"I have been in it a few times. It has been here a very, very long time. My grandfather said that it was old when his grandfather was young, but that it cleans and repairs itself so it always looks new, and that it maintains stores of good things to eat and wear, for those who built it. I would not know about such things." Leeideilagh shook his nearly featureless head. "They built too well, I fear. It is still here, long after the Ones Before have gone."
Drevan studied his tricorder. "I think the equivalent of a library is not far from here. Would it be safe for us to enter it?"
"Of course, Drevan." It almost sounded like the planetary native was disappointed at the question. "Once you have entered the city, you can go into anything but the homes that wait for the Ones Before. You will not need me further. May I return to my people?"
"Of course." The voice was Uhuras. "Will we be able to re-enter the city without you?"
"No. I will escort you again, if the need arises. For now, I must go."
"Thank you, Leeideilagh." The captain bowed slightly as she said it. "We will visit again, hoping to learn a little more from you, if you will teach us."
"You are welcome. I will teach, if you would learn." The being turned and strode out of the door.
Greggson looked at the machinery moving around the city. "Still doesnt make a lick of sense to me, Captain. Why keep things up after the citys abandoned?"
TSoral, who had been silent to this point, looked at Greggson. "It appears quite probable that the makers never anticipated abandoning the city, Lieutenant Commander, or else they left expecting to return after a period of time."
"Id guess the latter," Drevan offered. "It makes the most sense. If they wanted to go star hopping, but didnt have warp drive, this is exactly how Id expect them to build their city. The question, of course, is why the whole population would want to go, rather than a selected few." He consulted his tricorder again. "Looks to me like the library is this way. Shall we?"
"Lets. Maybe we can find a pictorial record of who inhabited the place." Uhura moved in the direction the Andorian pointed. "Lead on, Drevan!"
The science officer moved swiftly to a large building. As he approached the door, it slid open, admitting him without trouble. The others followed. Off what was clearly the foyer, several large rooms opened, each one filled with chairs and a large, wall-mounted display.
"It would appear," TSoral suggested, "that the data is stored in the equivalent of computer memory. If we are fortunate, the files will be voice accessed and will respond to the output of our translators." Without waiting for confirmation, she stepped into one of the rooms. "Display pictures of species inhabiting city."
Before her, the screen burst into life. Several beings, looking very much like the ones they had seen in the fields earlier in the day, stood on the screen, wearing loosely-fit clothing. There were several variations in skin tone and mottling, and the multifaceted compound eyes varied in color, but on the whole there was no question that they appeared to be the same creatures that were tending the field.
"Good work, TSoral." Uhura moved toward another room. "See what else you can find out about the inhabitants. Ill see what I can learn about their society. Drevan, check out their science and technology. Greggson, see if you can dig anything up about what happened to the people who used to live here, and why theyre outside living off subsistence farming. Two hours, then we meet and transport up. You get an hour to digest what youve learned, then we debrief to each other."
The team split up, each taking a room. It almost seemed that this was too easy.
Uhura, Drevan, TSoral and Greggson took their places around the table in the Ready Room. The captain nodded. "TSoral, what did you learn about the inhabitants?"
"Little more than I did in the first moments, actually, Captain. I found some high resolution holovids of their anatomy that I recorded and had Medical compare to the scans; the match is good enough that its almost certain the city builders and the beings we met are the same species. The only other thing that I learned was that they are not native to this planet; they were an offshoot of a star-faring race that arrived here on the order of a millennium ago, building all of the cities at once. Other than details of their biochemistry and anatomy, that is all that I was able to learn."
The Bantu nodded. "I didnt do a whole lot better, TSoral. From what I can tell, their society was pretty simple: the structure was roughly a communal one, where everyone felt responsible to do whatever needed done, or to assist in doing it. That matches with what we saw on the surface. They were quite concerned about something they called nibwaakaa, but neither I nor the translator could make heads or tails out of the word. As a whole, they were looking forward going toward aanikeshkaw, which is another one we couldnt get a decent meaning for. Nibwaakaa and anticipating aanikeshkaw dominated everything they did; I think that it was primarily to get nibwaakaa and achieve aanikeshkaw that they founded this colony. My guess would be, based on that observation, that the colony was started as a religious enclave. But thats just a guess; other than getting nibwaakaa and achieving aanikeshkaw, I couldnt find anything about their religious practices. They clearly had such; I just couldnt find out much about them. How about you, Drevan?"
The Andorian shrugged. "You think you had trouble with untranslatable terms? You should have tried their science. About every third word was gibberish to the translator. Before you suggest my going to simpler texts, allow me to inform you that these were science texts aimed at young children. The adult texts, well, about every fifth word made sense. This group was so far beyond us that their children knew stuff weve not yet discovered. The only thing I really can claim to have learned is that the cities are essentially indestructiblehow they managed that, Id love to know!and not even a photon torpedo or a deluge of antimatter could hurt it. Could you imagine what thatd do for a starship entering combat, if we could figure it out?"
Uhura nodded. "Basically, none of us seem to have learned much, so far. Wills, what about you? What did you learn about why the cities are abandoned?"
"They simply drifted away from them. The children chose to move out, I suppose to be close to nature or something; either way, they thought that there was more nibwaakaa to be found that way, and that could more rapidly achieve aanikeshkaw there. Since their parents were apparently in agreement, no one seems to have raised a ruckus; they just left. The last entry in the records indicates that the sole surviving parent was impressed that the children had managed to achieve being nawaatin, whatever that is. At least weve learned that there was no violence or any disease or such that drove them from the cities."
"Well, thats more than the rest of us learned, Wills. I..." Her remarks were interrupted by the chime of the communicator. She tapped a contact. "Uhura here. Whats happening?"
"Marsden here, Captain. There has been a new development. A small Klingon bird-of-prey has landed. Its on the surface, cloaked, near the people you all visited. Apparently, the two scouts from the Klingon ketch managed to get a message to the Empire."
"Thank you, Mister Marsden. Uhura out." She turned to the group before her. "Transporter Room One, ten minutes, armed. Lets hustle!"
In less than the indicated length of time, the four were clustered on the surface of Verassing II again, looking for the natives. Not seeing any, Uhura led them toward the village they had visited earlier. In a clearing in the center of the community, a group of them sat, talking intently. When the foursome came in sight, Leeideilagh stood, coming toward them. "I come in peace. If you come in peace, welcome; if not, be gone."
"We come in peace, Leeideilagh, though there are others here who may not be coming in peace." Uhura took a deep breath. "Im concerned about your welfare, frankly; I dont want to see any of you harmed. Ones like the two the city killed are in the area are near; they are not always friendly."
"I see." Leeideilagh turned, speaking rapidly to the gathering. "Múinteoir will see to our people. Come with me. We will see about the new visitors. Do not fear; you will be safe."
Leeideilagh moved forward with a swift and certain pace, the foursome from the Hyperion rapidly following. Without warning, Leeideilagh stopped, drawing a small bit of jewelry out of the pouch at his waist, holding it just above shoulder height. To Uhura, it looked like a small pendant, with a clear, yellowish stone held in place by gold filigree; on closer inspection, it showed internal highlights, reminiscent of the colors in a diamond or an opal. Before she could comment, Leeidilagh spoke again. "The others come. Do not fear."
At the announcement of the impending arrival of an unknown number of Klingons, Uhura, Drevan and TSoral retrieved their phasers from their belts; conspicuously, Greggson did nothing. Uhura looked at him. "Wills, youre supposed to be Security Chief, protecting the rest of us."
"Leeideilagh said hed see to it we arent harmed. I trust him." Greggson stood, his arms loosely crossed. "Watch!"
Over a small crest in the land, five Klingons came, disruptors drawn. As soon as they saw Leeideilagh and the folks from the Hyperion, their disruptors were out and firing. The five beings were surrounded by a brilliantly colored hemisphere.
Leeideilagh nodded. "Enough. You do not come in peace. You must go, now." Uhura noticed the pendant in Leeideilaghs hand flashed briefly. She looked back to where the Klingons were, surprised to see them gone. Before she could ask what happened Leeideilagh turned to her. "As usual, Múinteoir was right. You are delightful to watch, but you interfere with us reaching our goals far more than the enjoyment of watching you is worth. It is time to go." The small, yellow stone flashed again.
Suddenly, Uhura found herself, her away team and Leeideilagh on the bridge of the Hyperion. Leeideilagh looked around himself. "Utterly incredible." The being sighed, turning to Uhura.
"How did you get us here? What did you do with the Klingons, and how did you manage it?" It was the captain asking the questions.
"Im afraid I am unable to explain how I did it. Is it not enough for you that I did?" The expression on Leeideilaghs face registered what the others assumed was surprise.
"Perhaps for some, but I want to understand how you did it." Drevans voice took the floor.
"I used my little amulet, Drevan. Before you ask how it works, I am unable to explain it." Leeideilagh shook his head. "It is time for me to go. Múinteoir will have taken care of everyone else; she had long since prepared a new home near a distant star. If you wish, the cities will now admit anyone of your three kinds, and all who come with you. Good fortune to you all." With the end of his sentence, Leeideilagh was gone.
Drevan scurried to Science One, furiously tapping on the console. He straightened up. "No sign of how he left, or where hes gone, Captain."
TSoral looked at Uhura. "It would appear that they have still some skill in the tools their ancestors created, despite having otherwise slid back to a primitive state."
"Not quite, Lieutenant. In fact, not by a long shot." Everyone, including the bridge crew, turned to face Greggson.
"Care to explain yourself, Wills?"
"They havent slid backwards at all, Captain. Dont you see it?"
"Cmon, man, he had no idea how those cities work, and couldnt explain that little gizmo he used. If thats not sliding backward, Id like to know what it is." Drevan was clearly convinced that Greggson had lost whatever mind he had.
"Your assertion is most illogical, given the evidence before us." TSorals head tilted slightly. "An explanation of your logic would be appreciated."
"TSoral, youre a good communications officer. Mind telling me how to make and use a log drum for communications? In simple terms, please."
"I am not familiar with log drums, or their uses in communication."
Greggson nodded, turning to face Drevan. "I guess TSoral has slid back to being a primitive. Drevan, how about it? Would you be so kind as to explain the working of a warp drive without using any words like field or warp impeller and without referring to more than the three spatial dimensions we see around us?"
"Dont be absurd, Wills," Drevan sputtered. "You know those concepts are pivotal to explaining..." The Andorians voice trailed off into silence for a moment. "Do you mean that..." He was unable to finish framing his question.
"If youre asking if I mean they were so far ahead of the people who built that city that theyd forgotten what were to them and the primitive technologies used to build it, youre right on the money. And he said that he couldnt explain how the thing workedhe didnt say he didnt understand it. Leeideilagh probably needed to explain using concepts we just dont have." He turned to Uhura. "Do you remember what he said about us?"
Comprehension washed across the captains face. "He all but said we were so cute to watchlike I would say of toddlers at play."
"Or of monkeys, or gerbils, Captain." Greggson turned to Drevan again. "Im willing to bet a months pay that there isnt one of them left on the planet. Want to take that bet?"
The Andorians eyes widened briefly. "No way, Wills. I heard what Leeideilagh said about a new home at a distant star, and Múinteoir having moved the others. I bet youre right." He turned to the captain. "Their villages are gone, too. All thats left are the automated cities."
Quietly, Uhura returned the phaser she realized she was still holding to her belt. "And they no more wanted to live in those cities than I would want to live in a mud hut or a cave." She looked around the bridge. "Let this be a lesson in humility for us all. I guess were not a great as we think we are."
She took her seat as the others moved to theirs. "This will be one interesting report... Helm, take us out of orbit. Warp Factor Four."
Free counters provided by Andale.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES --
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction.
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website