Here is the conclusion to the novella Winter.
Part 4 – Ancients
With special attention from several bilingual humans, Yutiko was ready to depart on his mission in under a week. The humans gave him some pills to keep his stomach in-line while on the boat. The first stop was Redondo Beach. Yutiko and Hodges wanted to radio Explorer. They never expected what they found saw on the beach.
The launch was gone, and so was Lumstrum’s body. Yutiko and Hodges looked at each other, but neither could say a word. Deep impressions in the sand where the launch once stood were all that remained. Yutiko looked up at the sky. He had wanted to take Explorer back to Ganspag after he got the humans settled. Now, even that wasn’t an option. He was stuck on this planet, whether he liked it or not.
Hodges nudged Yutiko on the shoulder. “There’s nothing to see here. Let’s get moving. We have a job to do.”
Yutiko nodded, and followed Hodges to the broken path and along the trail they had followed with rusty swords at their backs just a few weeks earlier. When they came to the large paths, they did nothing to conceal themselves. They wanted to be seen. Still, they met no one along the path through the pine forest.
When they finally reached the junkyard, it appeared at first that nobody was there. They moved past the building where they were first kept prisoner, and into the clearing where they were served breakfast. There, several tribal women worked at grinding a plant that Hodges called corn.
As they approached, one of the women jumped in a panic. She ran into the pines and returned with several men. When the men arrived, they stopped short and stared at Yutiko and Hodges. One of the men approached, holding his rusty sword in front of his body, as if hiding behind it.
“Why have you come back?” the man asked.
Yutiko had been worried that this tribe might not speak the language that he learned, but he understood the man perfectly. The real question was, how would these tribal humans react to the message. Everything depended on their acceptance of trade talks.
“I come in peace, bearing a message from the faceless ones.” That was the tribal name for the helmeted humans. They had never seen one without the helmet, so they truly did appear faceless to the tribe.
The man spit upon the ground, then said, “We have no interest in anything the faceless ones have to say.” The man lifted his sword a bit higher. “Leave us.”
Yutiko had to think fast. Why would these humans want to talk with the others? All the helmets ever brought was death. Would they believe anything else? It was worth a try, and this time, it was even the truth. “The faceless ones want to discuss peaceful trade. They grow tired of killing.”
The man shifted his weight from foot to foot. It was a gesture humans used when nervous. He said, “Why do they not bring the message themselves? Instead, they send a human who does not speak, and a creature from a dream.”
Progress? Perhaps the truth was the best path. “The human is an ancient, returned from a long journey to the stars. They discovered my home among the stars, and I returned home with them.”
The tribal human sheathed his sword and stepped forward. “Our history books tell of ancient men who traveled to the stars on a vessel named Explorer. The books say these men would return in the distant future, long after the reader died. The books are very old.”
Yutiko fluttered his wings. “Explorer was gone a very long time.” He extended his hand in the human gesture to shake. The tribesman understood, and shook hands with both Yutiko and Hodges.
Yutiko spent the next several hours filling in the details of the plan for trade, and to help lift the human race back to its feet. In the process, he learned that the tribe retained a vast library of ancient texts, but very few could read the ancient tongue called English.
The tribal leader’s name was Jolo, and he agreed to accompany Yutiko and Hodges back to Catalina for talks with the mayor.
Yutiko held Jolo’s hand as he escorted the tribal leader to the office of the mayor. For all his bravery in the face of the unknown, Yutiko could feel an occasional tremble in the man’s hand. Jolo looked at everything in this excavated world with mouth open and eyes wide.
“How can they live without seeing the sun?” he asked.
Yutiko understood his question. It was not a normal way to live, as far as he was concerned. “It is what they know,” he said.
Upon arrival at the antechamber, the helmets bowed to the tribal leader. One helmet stepped forward and spoke.
“Please wait here. The mayor wishes to hold the discussions on the steps of the building, so all can witness the proceedings. She would like to walk together with you.”
The mayor emerged from the offices dressed in the finest clothes Yutiko had seen on Earth, and better than most aboard Explorer. She approached Jolo and curtsied. Jolo bowed in response, and the two walked side-by-side, with Yutiko and Hodges following a few steps behind.
Hodges leaned into Yutiko and said, “This is going well, so far. I just wish I could understand what they say.”
Yutiko fluttered his wings. “I’ll explain it to you after the trade talks, while you are building a radio transmitter to contact Explorer.
Although the mayor had bilingual staff, Jolo did not trust them, and so Yutiko acted as translator for all discussions. Negotiations were going well. They were going so well that Yutiko thought they might finish before the nighttime dimming of the lights. That was when a section of the outer wall exploded.
Screams filled the air. Women shrieked. Children cried. People ran in a panic away from the blast. The mayor and Jolo exchanged accusatory glances, while Hodges and Yutiko exchanged curious glances.
There could be only one explanation for the blast. Neither the Catalinans nor the tribe had demonstrated any capabilities to suggest they could have caused the explosion. Somebody from the Explorer had to be responsible. A rescue party? If so, they had terrible timing. Just as the trade negotiations were making headway, this had to happen. The four principles turned to watch the chaos.
The mayor turned to Jolo. “Is this your doing?”
That question made Jolo visibly angry. “How dare you accuse me of this treachery.”
As the exchange went back and forth between Jolo and the mayor, Yutiko and Hodges watched the mouth of the newly created cave to see what would happen next. The wait was short. A loud rumble resonated the chamber, then through the smoke appeared an armored vehicle. It was one of six armored vehicles Explorer kept in her cargo hold. After the vehicle passed into the chamber, about twenty crewmen in full battle armor stormed through the hole.
Yutiko turned to Hodges. “Go stop them. This negotiation must continue without interference from your trigger-happy crew-mates.”
Hodges understood, and sprinted toward the armored vehicle. Yutiko trusted Hodges to take care of the problem, so he turned his attention back to the still-arguing leaders. Yutiko placed a hand on a shoulder of each, and said, “This was not caused by either of your people, it was caused by the ancients.”
The mayor dropped her anger and her face went blank, as if she had not the capacity to understand. “But, why?” she asked.
Yutiko dropped his arms to his sides. “Hodges and I have not reported in for over three of your weeks. This is no doubt a rescue team.”
By this time, wisps of acrid smoke wafted to the area where Jolo, the mayor, and Yutiko stood. A haze filled the air, making visibility difficult. To Yutiko, it smelled the way he imagined a battlefield might smell.
“The ancients are angry,” Jolo said. “We must flee.”
Yutiko grabbed Jolo’s arm as he tried to run. “You won’t be harmed. Hodges will stop them.”
Jolo turned back to Yutiko, but his eyes went wide. “If they mean no harm, why is the death machine coming toward us?”
Sure enough, the armored vehicle was making its way directly toward them. The mayor screamed. “They’re coming to kill us!”
“No, no, they won’t harm you,” Yutiko said. Where was Hodges? Why didn’t he stop them? All the work over the past three weeks wasted. How could Yutiko convince the Catalinans and the tribe to live peacefully if the ancients continued to show force?
The armored vehicle rolled to within a stone’s throw of the meeting, then stopped. Out of the drivers door stepped Hodges, and out of the passenger door stepped Lumstrum. She was in obvious pain, but very much alive.
“Yutiko, translate,” Hodges said. He turned to the two leaders and said, “My people did not know of this settlement. They thought Yutiko and I were being held against our will, and they came to extract us.” He paused to let Yutiko relay the message to both leaders before continuing. “Our people, those you call the ancients, offer assistance to both of your peoples. We will educate you and help to rebuild your societies, separately, or together. There is one condition, and that is that you must use commerce instead of violence to procure what you need. No more killing.”
Yutiko translated the rest of the message, then helped the two leaders discuss the offer. While they discussed, the Explorer crew members in combat armor crowded behind Hodges and Lumstrum, and villagers gathered around the commotion. After a long discussion, Yutiko turned back to Hodges.
“Both parties agree in principle,” Yutiko said, “but both want to know where the ancients will live. After the pyrotechnics show, they don’t exactly trust you.”
Hodges looked at Lumstrum, and she fielded the question. “Over the past three weeks, Explorer left three launches to search for you while they went to the moon. Do you remember the base we saw before we entered Earth orbit?”
Yutiko nodded. He had forgotten about the moon base, but now that Lumstrum brought it up, it did seem to be out of place for a planet that has regressed as far as this one.
“It turns out that the entire base had been mothballed many thousands of years ago,” Lumstrum said. “Even the artificial atmosphere had been recaptured and stored in canisters. With nothing to disturb the base, almost everything is still completely functional. Most of the crew from Explorer have decided to live on the moon, where they can remain civilized.”
Civilized indeed. Yutiko wondered whether any humans truly understood the word. Still, when the two leaders learned that the ancients intended to live on the moon, it substantially mollify their fears. Yutiko turned back to Hodges and Lumstrum.
“They agree.” The Explorer crew members cheered, and it was infectious. Soon, the entire crowd was cheering.
Hodges walked to Yutiko and put his arm around his shoulders, just above the wings. “What about you, my friend?” he asked. “The launches can handle earth to moon shuttle duty. Are you still planning to take Explorer back to Ganspag?”
The past few days had been so busy, he hadn’t even thought about it. Part of him still wanted to go, but his adventurous part, the part that allowed him to come on this voyage in the first place, protested. “No,” he said. “They begged me to remain here, to act as an escrow broker. I am needed on Earth.”
The part about being asked to stay was a lie, but Hodges didn’t need to know that. These regressed and primitive humans still had a long way to go before they would trust each other. They would need a middleman that both could trust, and Yutiko had already proven himself in that role. It was heart-warming to be needed. He put his own arm over Hodges shoulders and said, “What about you?”
Hodges smiled. “I plan to spend some time at the base, but then I’ll settle near here. I want to visit the moon, but I don’t want to live there.” He looked around the chamber. Smoke still lingered in the air. “Where do you plan to set up your escrow business?” he asked.
Yutiko already knew the answer to that question. “Redondo beach. It’s the perfect location for a halfway house.”
“I’ve always wanted beach-front property,” Hodges said.