Part 3 – Sea
Hodges had called this watercraft a boat. When the boat finally moved, it woke Yutiko up. He looked at Hodges and found him still asleep. Let him rest, he needed it. Yutiko, on the other hand, needed food. The paltry breakfast of broth and rock biscuits did mostly nothing to satisfy his hunger. Nowhere was there a sign of food or any of the helmeted humans. They must place their prisoners into obscure corners of their boat.
Swells in the sea caused the boat to pitch, and the motion unsettled Yutiko’s stomach. He felt the queasiness shifting and lifting inside himself. Maybe sitting down would help. He wandered to the corner of the room opposite Hodges. The last thing he wanted to do was loose his meager breakfast near his friend.
How could a boat this large be moved around so easily? Yutiko dry-heaved, and tasted bile at the back of his throat. He hoped to whatever deity was in charge on this planet that this boat ride would end, and soon. Up and down, up and down, like a pump trying to prime his stomach. Yutiko never understood how primitive Voprets could sail an ocean, living for years at a time on rickety watercraft. Did humans experience this kind of motion sickness? One human slept in peace. At least, he had been.
Hodges stirred, then forced himself to his feet. He looked at Yutiko and a look of concern came over his face. “What’s the matter?”
“The motion is making me ill.”
Hodges tried to suppress a laugh, but even Yutiko could tell it was not very effective. “Seasick?”
“It happens to humans, also?”
“Usually it takes more than the little ripples we’re sailing over.” Hodges took several steps across the room as he said that, but stopped short when Yutiko held up his hand.
“Stop, I’m going to be–” And Yutiko lost it, all over the deck. Fortunately, the mess was small because he didn’t eat much. Still, it settled his stomach a little.
“Just in time,” Hodges said.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because the bobbing has stopped.”
Yutiko felt his surroundings and realized Hodges was right. The pitching that upset his stomach was gone. In its place was a low and steady vibration. “Do you hear that baritone rumble?”
“No, I don’t…” Hodges paused to listen, then continued. “…I hear it. What do you suppose it could be?”
Not being much of a nautical sort, Yutiko didn’t know where to begin even guessing. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good. Hodges approached Yutiko and placed his left hand on the Vopret’s shoulder. They walked to the far side of the room where Hodges slept.
Yutiko couldn’t figure it out. “That vibration makes me think the boat is still moving, but how does a boat move in water without moving with the water?”
“Only one way I can think of,” Hodges said. “Underwater.”
In retrospect, the answer was obvious. The difference between the internal and external dimensions of the boat made sense if this were a submarine.
“Where do you suppose we’re going?” Yutiko asked.
Hodges just shook his head. “I don’t know.”
The prisoners had no idea how much time had passed when the boat finally slowed. It seemed not to have surfaced, if it were indeed a submarine. When the motion stopped and the vibrations disappeared, the boat still did not bob. Instead, other strange sounds resonated through the hull.
“What do you think is happening?” Yutiko asked.
“I hope getting ready to let us out of this room,” Hodges said. “Your little mess is beginning to stink.”
Yutiko vibrated his wings in response to the irony. He wondered if Hodges realized he had been surgically altered to remove part of his olfactory organ so he could tolerate the stench of humans, and particularly their perspiration. Nasty smell, that stuff. “I’d clean it if I could.”
Hodges never had a chance to respond. Just then, two helmets unlocked the door and entered the room. One of them said something while waving his hand in front of his helmet where his nose would be. The other seemed not to notice anything unusual. He just aimed his carbine at the prisoners.
They were led out the way they came onto the boat, through the hatch. Once outside the boat, Yutiko stared in disbelief at his surroundings. He stood inside a cavernous hollow in the rock. The boat rested in a pool in front of the largest set of doors he had ever seen. Helmets patrolled the cavern two-by-two, passing by other clusters of helmets in varying states of readiness. The prisoners might be able to capture some initiative and implement a plan, if they had a plan.
Still, Yutiko couldn’t help but wonder about their fate. His stomach was back to normal, but he still didn’t feel well. He still felt the way he had when he walked past the dead tribesmen. He turned to look at Hodges and said, “Nice planet you have.”
One of the helmets scolded him in gibberish, but he thought he understood a word. Perhaps this helmet-head language was an evolved English? Perhaps he could learn it in time. He set his mind to pay more attention to the gibberish. After all, that was how he learned to speak to the crew of Explorer.
They were led by the two helmet-heads to a small room with a control panel near the door. An elevator? That’s exactly what it turned out to be, and they went up for several minutes before the elevator stopped and the doors opened, it was obvious the chamber in which they emerged had been hewn from rock, large enough to be a hollowed mountain.
It was as if an entire village had been relocated underground. The humans living here wore no helmets. The dress was not all that different from the tribe. They wore tanned hides instead of furs, but for all appearances, these humans were just as primitive as the others.
The helmets marched them along what appeared to be a main road. It was vacant of vehicles except for an occasional two-wheeled cart. Surely they had not been brought here to view a primitive town, not when the helmets could have shot their prisoners at the clearing and left them with the tribe. No, there had to be plans in place, and these helmets wanted something from Yutiko and Hodges.
“You hanging in there, Yutiko?” Hodges asked.
Yutiko did not answer immediately. Instead, he continued to think about his new home, planet Earth, planet of primitive slaughter and mayhem. “I’m enjoying myself. So glad I came.”
Hodges looked away, and didn’t look back when he said, “No need to be surly.”
“Your planet is backwards. Your descendents are savages who take what they want and don’t care who gets hurt.”
For whatever reason, the helmets behind them and carrying carbines did not stop the obvious disagreement. Hodges snapped his head back toward Yutiko. “Are you through with your rant?” Hodges asked, “because if you are, then it’s time to help me think of a plan.”
“I already have a plan,” Yutiko said. “Once we get back to Explorer, and all the humans are on Earth, I’m going home.”
Hodges’s eyes went wide, and he opened his mouth to speak, but nothing emerged.
“I mean it,” Yutiko said. “Anything I find on Ganspag will be better than this. My race was never this barbaric.”
“Times change,” Hodges said. “It’s almost impossible to extrapolate with any hope of accuracy.”
“Regardless, I’m going home. You humans no longer need Explorer.”
“You gave your word to be a representative between civilizations.”
That line caught Yutiko off-guard. It was true as much as he said, but not comforting in the least. “There is no civilization on Earth. The planet is swarming with barbarians.”
Hodges did not come back with an answer for that. Instead, he turned to watch where he was going. He must have recognized the truth in what was said.
Yutiko decided that if anything were to come of this trip, he was going to have to take matters into his own hands. The snippet of understanding he had with the helmet-head gave him hope. Perhaps these heathens could be understood. There certainly was enough chatter in the air. His own language skills were formidable. It was part of the reason he was on the Explorer mission back to Earth. All told, there were supposed to be hundreds of languages, and thousands of dialects at the time Explorer left for Ganspag. If anything, the language problem had degraded over the 20,000 years they were gone.
Perhaps, if he listened carefully, Yutiko might be able to piece together a rudimentary vocabulary in a few days. If this language derived from old American English as he suspected, it might be possible.
Yutiko and Hodges were lead to an official looking building near one end of the excavation. The building was ornate, but in decrepit condition. The intricate facade over the entrance of the building had crumbled to obscurity. Statues at the doorway were unrecognizable as anything but lumps of stone. It was as if these people inherited the wealth of technology from the past, but did not know how to use it, or to take care of it.
The interior was no better. Trusses supported the ceilings, and lighting was by lantern. The helmets marched them into an antechamber fronting what looked like a suite of offices. One helmet pounded three times on the doorframe with the butt of his carbine. A puff of dust dropped from the ceiling with each impact. A young-looking human male emerged from the office area and spoke at length with the helmet. Just as quickly, he dashed back inside. After a short wait, a middle-aged woman dressed in fine clothing emerged. She spoke to the helmet, then she approached Hodges.
The stately woman inspected the insignia on Hodges’s shirt, and the flag on his sleeve. She said something in her gibberish, yet Yutiko understood some of what she said. She wanted to know where Hodges got something. Hodges did not understand, and so he did not answer. The woman did not get upset, instead, she turned to Yutiko.
For him, the inspection was something more of a study of anatomy. She tugged at his wings, hard enough to hurt. She left the wings alone once convinced they were real.
The woman spoke mostly to Hodges, but within earshot of Yutiko. Some of what she said, Yutiko understood, but he didn’t know enough of this bastardized English to answer. She wanted to know who he was, and she had particular interest in the flag on his sleeve, though Yutiko didn’t understand why she had such interest. Could she possibly have recognized it?
Her interest in Yutiko was a question of what he was, rather than who. Without even a rudimentary command of speaking this language, the interrogation led nowhere for either side. Yutiko and Hodges were led to an open cell that had been brought to the antechamber. Hodges sat on the floor with his back against the corner. Yutiko stood near the door, trying to hear every snippet of conversation that passed by. Every little bit would help him learn this tongue. The only way back to the launch would be through negotiation. That couldn’t happen until he could speak with these helmet-heads.
Hodges spoke in a slow and resigned voice from his corner. “Why don’t you get some rest?”
Yutiko turned to face Hodges. “The sooner I can learn this language, the sooner we can get out of here.”
“You still planning to run back to Ganspag if we get out?”
Yutiko didn’t like the tone of voice that Hodges used. “This is not my planet. I did not come here to deal with savages. Whatever I find at home will be better than this.”
Hodges rose to his feet and walked across the cage to Yutiko. “What makes you think that? Twenty-thousand years is a long time on any planet. Change is inevitable. Global climate changes, civilizations rise and fall, and nobody knows what you’ll find back on Ganspag after all that time.”
Wings fluttered in anger as Yutiko answered. “My planet had enjoyed five thousand earth years of peace and progress when I departed. There is no reason to believe that ended.”
“Neither is there reason to believe it continued.” Hodges placed his hand on Yutiko’s shoulder. It was the gesture the human used when expressing friendship. “You’re better off here, trying to help us get humanity back on the road to recovery.”
Yutiko turned his back on Hodges and returned to listening for the discussions of passers-by. “I don’t want to discuss this any further today,” he said. “The crew of the Explorer haven’t come looking for us, have they, Barney?”
Hodges received treatment for his shoulder that same afternoon, and was back in the cage by night. The day-night cycle underground was simulated by the dimming and brightening of the artificial lighting. Yutiko counted twelve such cycles since being placed into the cage. Food and restroom breaks were provided, but nothing more. Still, Yutiko continued studying the local language. This was the day he felt confident enough to speak to someone in that language.
When the next meal arrived, Yutiko accepted the food, and then said, “Thank-you.”
The helmeted human gasped. Yutiko could hear it even through the helmet. Then, the human said, “It speaks.”
The helmet-head hurried out the door of the cage and raced inside the office area in the direction from which the women appeared those many days ago. Moments later, an entire contingent of humans, some helmeted, others not, emerged from the offices. They crowded around the cage and stared, parting only when the stately woman herself finally appeared.
The crowd hushed. Hodges and Yutiko stood side-by-side in the cage, waiting for the woman to say something. Finally, she did.
“Which of you can speak?” she asked. She said it in her own tongue, and she said it while looking at Hodges.
Yutiko spread his wings and said, “I speak.”
The woman raised an eyebrow, and turned slowly to face him. “You?”
“I am a fast study with language,” he said.
The woman looked back at Hodges. Perhaps she thought he threw his voice, or perhaps it was a look of contempt. Either way, it made Yutiko uncomfortable. Finally, she turned to Yutiko and said, “Who are you?”
“The human is Barney Hodges,” he said. “My name is Yutiko.”
The answer appeared to make the woman cross. “I don’t care about your names,” she said. “I want to know who you really are. Where do you come from? Why are you here? Why does Hodges wear an emblem from the ancients?”
Hodges looked at Yutiko and whispered under his breath. “What did she say?”
Yutiko shushed him with an irritated expression, then turned his attention back to the woman. “You will find the truth difficult to believe.”
“Tell me,” she said.
Yutiko fluttered his wings almost imperceptibly. “Hodges wears the emblem of the ancients because Hodges is an ancient.”
A community gasp escaped from the crowd, then somebody shouted, “Liar!”
The woman seemed unfazed. She retained complete composure as she asked, “The ancients are dead. If Hodges is an ancient, how did he get here?”
“Twenty-thousand years ago, the ancients, as you call them, launched a mission into space toward the star Tau Ceti.” Yutiko could feel the tension in the crowd. They did not want to believe him. “The spacecraft called Explorer traveled near the speed of light, and as a result, the crew experienced a different passage of time.”
The crowd murmured, and asked for the prisoners to be flogged.
“When Explorer arrived at Tau Ceti, they discovered the planet Ganspag. Ganspag is my home.”
The crowd chanted louder until the woman raised her arms. “No.” That abated the crowd noise. She continued. “Legend exists of a time when men walked on the moon and traveled to the stars.” She reached through the bars with both arms, taking Yutiko’s hand in one, and the hand of Hodges in her other.
If you are, indeed, who you say you are, then we need your help.”
He wondered, could it have anything to do with the slaughter of the tribe? “Help in what way?” Yutiko asked.
The woman turned to one of the helmet-heads. “Release them. Escort them to my office.” With that, she walked away. The helmet did as he was told, and escorted Hodges and Yutiko into the office area. As they walked, Yutiko briefed Hodges on the conversation.
They entered another antechamber at the far end of the room. It lead into a large and proper office, not at all run down like the rest of the place. On the door was written ‘Ofrc f Mar.’
Office of Mayor?
Inside, the woman sat behind an over-large desk. She directed the two prisoners to sit in chairs on the opposite side of the desk. The chairs looked like they would be comfortable for a human. Yutiko sat at the front of the chair to allow room for his folded wings.
The woman looked at the helmet and said, “Leave us.” She turned her attention back to Yutiko. “What kind of help, you ask?”
“Our machines are old. If you are truly ancients, repair them for us.”
This was where negotiations could get ugly. Time to call her on the killing. What would be her answer? “Where will you get the material for replacement parts?” Yutiko asked.
“Plenty of metal waits on the mainland,” she said. “When we need more, we just go get it.”
It was the answer Yutiko expected. Callous and self-serving, that was what the human race had become over the past two hundred centuries. He decided to learn more. “What happens if the tribal humans refuse to let you have the metal?”
She stood to walk around the desk, stopping once she had circled behind them. She stood between Yutiko and Hodges and placed one hand on each of their shoulders. “The tribes are just an irritant. They don’t matter, or they would be on Catalina.”
“Catalina?” That came from Hodges. He seemed to recognize the name.
“Yes, Catalina. This complex was built long before the Ice Wars.” She walked back to her side of the desk, but instead of sitting, she placed her hands against the desktop and leaned into them. “The best were sent here, everyone else stayed behind.”
Yutiko was incensed. He stood and started around the desk toward the woman. “These tribes are your brothers. You are all descended from Californians, don’t you see that?”
She stood face to face with Yutiko and said, “So what? They are savages.”
Hodges had followed Yutiko around the desk, and they now stood side-by-side facing the woman. “So are you,” Yutiko said. “You are primitive barbarians living on the sweat of the ancients. This is what you welcome Barney Hodges home to. Disgraceful.” Yutiko turned his back on the woman, and Hodges copied the move.
The woman was apparently not used to being ignored. She threw a pen across the room, and it skittered across the floor. “Are you trying to tell me the tribes are equal to Catalinans?”
Yutiko snapped around to face her one last time. “I am trying to tell you that if you want our help, you will trade for the materials the tribe owns.”
“Trade?” She laughed, and it was a genuine laugh. “The tribes will not trade with us. What do we have that they could possibly want?”
“Medicine, for one thing.” Yutiko flapped his wings in a frenzy. He had to get through to this woman. “Don’t you see the opportunity you are being presented?”
The woman’s expression changed from stoic to perplexed.
“The earth has suffered since Explorer launched. You kill with cavalier indifference, and no longer understand your own machines.” Yutiko got control of his wings and stowed them against his back. “Standing in front of you is an ancient, one who is willing to help heal the earth and her people. Give him that chance.”
The woman’s stoic expression returned, and she paced the room for several minutes before she spoke. “What do you have in mind?”
Yutiko unfolded his wings and wiggled them with excitement. This plan had a long way to go, but this was encouraging. “I will act as a diplomat, and negotiate a peace between your people and the tribes. I am trained as a diplomat, that is why I am here with your ancients.”
The woman smiled, ever so slightly. “We will try your way. Our people do not relish the killing. We knew no other way. When do you want to meet with the tribes?”
Yutiko wanted to meet today, but he was not yet ready. There was one thing missing that he needed for this diplomatic mission. “We leave as soon as I have learned their language.”