Week 6, At the Station
When we left our heroes, they had worked up to the year 2750. We find them coming out of hyperdrive near Starbase 10 (also known as "Portobello"), in orbit around Cheapside. As we approach, we are told to stand off from the base. Tom not only stops the approach, he starts to back off, but is told to hold position. Uneasily, we hold position.
Da╬wen now spots another ship standing off from the base. Most of the starships we've seen have been roughly spherical or tear-drop-shaped hulls with drive columns and/or pods attached in some cases. This one looks rougher, cruder, and rather bottle-shaped. It's a good deal further out.
Our ship itself now remarks that this strange ship is talking to the base. We listen in and hear an oddly-accented voice demanding docking privileges in accordance with the "Treaty of Weber's World." The voice identifies its ship as "The City of Arken." On consideration, we decide that the voice is non-human. Could these be the hellcows?
Starbase tells "The City of Arken" to please stand by while they relay their request. "The City of Arken" makes impatient noises. Then there is dead air.
Sophie and Cantrel recall having heard of the Treaty of Weber's World in their business inquiries. It was a treaty with a race called the Kendorini, whoever they are. Weber's World is a human-colonized world but not a member of the Federation, rather a neutral power like Switzerland.
Da╬wen then remarks that the Kendorini are also called the "Fon Sai Ching" and may in fact be the "hellcows." It just now occurs to her that the Fon Sai Ching may be the same as the "Tse Xen" or "Ti Hen"" of our own time line.
Tom offers to help her dredge her memory with combined Telepathy and Total Recall. This lets her bring up all the fragmentary bits she ever heard about the Ti Hen / Kendorini. In our time line, they became starfaring many years before human history began. Like the Mota Banu of more recent history (22rd century), they were herbivorous, with strong herd-instincts and few violence inhibitions. But they were much more successful than the Mota Banu, who only waged war on five other races. The Ti Hen exterminated several intelligent species and wracked the civilizations of several more, until they encountered the Talak Alto.
The Talak Alto had been a peaceful, isolationist race, but felt that the Ti Hen were a public menace and, reluctantly, exterminated them. However, the act of genocide required and produced a profound distortion of their own culture and, after the Ti Hen were gone, they fell to warring among themselves. By the time humanity arrived on the galactic scene, the Ti Hen were long gone and the noble Talak Alto were reduced to a few uncivilized enclaves scattered on alien worlds, their home world lifeless.
All this galactic history was mostly un-illustrated, but the one picture she recalls looks like the newspaper photo of a hellcow seen a year ago.
We reflect on this gloomy news for a while, then call up the Starbase again. This time, they allow us to approach, but slowly. Tom goes in at quarter speed. Even this provokes agitated and paranoid inquiries from "The City of Arken." "It's only a small commercial vessel," the Starbase tells them. "Don't be ridiculous. You couldn't use such a small ship for trade."
We offer to land on Cheapside, if it would make "The City of Arken" happier. The Starbase opines that nothing unusual would make the Kendorini happy and we should just dock as usual. Yes, sir. (So these ARE the Kendorini.)
We dock and see behind us the Kendorini ship and a Starbase gang-tube trying to match incompatible hardwares. We see a Kendorini shuttle disembark and dock at a bay near to us. Lorelei, Sophie, Chris, and Tom try to go to the Kendorini's bay to watch the arrival, but encounter several star marshals who recommend they go to the observation deck instead.
>From there, we watch the Kendorini disembark and the last shred of doubt vanishes -- Kendorini = Ti Hen = hellcows. They have somewhat ostrich -like bodies and legs, two arms, and longish necks bearing heads with goat-like faces, low foreheads, and skulls that bulge out in back to hold their brains. The whole affair is covered with fur in shades of green.
Nine individuals come out of the shuttle. Three remain to guard it, three escort the final trio, who appear to be officers, two wearing sashes and one wearing a cord, in addition to the cloaks they all wear. No humans come out to greet them, although we see a couple of humans and a Kishaer watching from the facing observation deck.
Curiosity satisfied, we head through customs. The place is unusually crowded with middling-high management types, all being elaborately polite to the Kendorini. We are ushered through by an Officer Bulgakov, known to us from previous runs. He tells us the Kendorini want to re-outfit and take shore leave here; the human authorities are willing to help with the outfitting but not the shore leave. We arrange to meet with Bulgakov in a nearby bar when he comes off shift in half an hour.
We get our berths and, in the bar, learn from Bulgakov that the Kendorini got shore leave, but strictly limited to public places. Sophie tells him that we have to kill some time here and would like to make some money doing so. Would the scientists down on Cheapside like us to make any shuttle runs? Bulgakov says he'll look into it.
Tom goes to the duty-free mall and gets print-outs of the Portobello Isvestia, the station's newspaper, for the last few months. They contain nothing interesting concerning the scientists, except that they believe the ruins on Cheapside to be remains from a previous colonization, not native.
In the course of our first day on the Starbase, we see a very few Kendorini wandering the malls and corridors and learn that their leader is a Commander Fark. Also, Tom spots a man who looks vaguely familiar. But he disappears into the crowds before Tom can get enough of a view to make any judgments.
The next day, Bulgakov contacts the scientists for us and Sophie settles down to dicker with their project head. They would like us to run some reports back to Earth, since we'd be faster than the usual supply ship and more secure than the tachyphore channels. We settle on ór.1300 as the price for this service. They'll have the stuff ready for us in four days.
Later that day, Tom suggests that he take a "practice run" down to Cheapside, ostensibly to practice a safe landing at the science base, really to start scouting the place. Sophie, Chris, and Alag come along for the ride.
We come down near the science base and spot the archaeological dig a kilometer or so away from it, an outlier. Chris spots something more -- a tracked vehicle like a gunless tank where he hadn't thought there was anything a moment before. By now we are use to the technical styles of several human worlds, and this thing looks unlike any of them. Also, its tracks just begin in the dust a few meters back. Of course, they could have just been sitting there while the wind erased their previous tracks...
We take a telescopic close-up of them, however. There are windows in the vehicle. And through them we see Kendorini. They are headed roughly in the direction of the science base, but only roughly and not very fast. We intend to tell the authorities about this, but we have a little covert business of our own to attend to.
Tom makes six landings at discreet distances from the base, the dig, and the Kendorini, taking readings on the diadem tracer as he goes. In every case, he gets a directionless glow of fluctuating brightness. The readings are consistent with the idea that the segment is at the dig, but they are also consistent with the idea that it is in our glove compartment.
We go back to the Starbase and tell the authorities about sighting Kendorini on Cheapside. Very interesting. They thumb through their weather photos and, although cloud cover prevents them from getting good shots of the vehicle itself, they do find glimpses and an odd set of tracks which just begin in one place and end in another.
The next day Bulgakov shows up and tells us about the weather satellite photos, and that the scientists have asked for paramilitary protection. He asks that we keep all this quiet. Certainly.
While we're talking with Bulgakov in the bar, that half-familiar guy appears briefly in the crowds swirling outside on the concourse. Tom tries for a look, considers pursuit, abandons the idea, and instead thumbs on his psi-opener. He telepathically contacts the other folk at the table (minus Bulgakov) and relays to them his memory of his glimpse. People agree the glimpse is familiar, but maybe that is just empathic coloring picked up from Tom. Back to the Kendorini problem.
Ending abruptly is a little harder to explain away than beginning abruptly. When we tell Da╬wen about this, she remarks that the local technical level is just on the borderline of teleportation that needs just a sender or just a receiver, but not both. We haven't seen or heard of such devices, but then we haven't been looking, and perhaps the Kendorini are a little ahead of the Terrans in this.
Tom suggests that maybe the Kendorini have a cloaking device of some sort, a kind of mechanical Glamour, and asks if the psi storm that rages perpetually around Cheapside wouldn't screw up a prototype teleporter. Da╬wen says both of those are possibilities.
In view of this skullduggery, Sophie asks the scientists if they could speed things up and tells them why. Also, we cut our price to ór.800. Alarmed, they agree and get their data together in just two more days. Even given the circumstances, they seem particularly secretive and territorial.
The next day Da╬wen approaches Tom and tells him she feels certain she is being followed. Nothing psychic, just 500 years of warrior's intuition. Later in the day, Alag thinks he spots our footpad in the crowd, but loses him.
Meanwhile, Tom goes back to the ship and tells it to keep a sensor peeled for teleport activity. Da╬wen remarks that the psi-storm doesn't interfere with the teleport itself so much as with the telemetry needed to aim it correctly. Given a momentary lull, you could take aim, then fire with a few milliseconds' leisure.
Finally, the scientists on Cheapside are ready to give us their findings for delivery to Earth. We go down and pick up an elaborately sealed box containing a two-foot-thick stack of papers and machine-readable copy. We then take off, clear the atmosphere, and flit into hyperdrive. (It occurs to Tom that we flit into and out of hyperdrive much closer to planets than anyone else we've observed. Perhaps this explains our reputation as hot-shot pilots and the Kendorini's nervous reaction to our appearance.)
Once in hyperstate, we take the box of papers into the pantope and set the lab robots to work circumventing the seals. They manage to scan the sealed package and produce copies of the paperwork.
Reading through it, we skip over the xenobiology, meteorology, geology, etc., and find the archaeology papers. The scientists suspect the ruins of being left by an Elder Race, much more advanced than themselves, and they wouldn't be surprised to find psionic artifacts in the ruins. However, they're having trouble breaking into the ruins to do any investigating. (This rings a faint bell with Da╬wen, but only a faint one.) There are six buildings at the dig. The one they can't break into, the one probably containing the psychic artifact (probably our segment), appears to be carved from a single stone. They are temporarily stalled, but feel they are on the edge of a breakthrough. But then scientists always feel that way.
A week in hyperdrive gets us to Earth. We drop off the parcel, load up some supplies for the scientists, and head back. Another week. When we get back to Starbase 10, we find the Kendorini are gone. They left two days after we did.
We drop off the scientists' academic supplies and Tom notices their psilencer is flickering as a result of the psi-storm. He tries to ingratiate himself to them by offering to look it over with an eye to fixing it. Instead, he gets raised eyebrows; apparently even the modest psychic sensitivity needed to feel flickering psilence is unusual here.
They let him look over the base's psilencer, but they send one of their own technicians to "assist" him. Tom brings Chris along. The two can think of nothing useful to do with the psilencer. (I.e. no easy way to sabotage it.) As they leave, they feel the psilence get a little steadier. Apparently the base technician is nervous around any kind of psychics and turned up the power, hoping he won't burn out anything.
Sophie asks the scientists if they would like Cantrel to help them beef up their security systems, in return for archaeology lessons for interested members of our group. They accept happily. Not only do they get a willing audience, they were really uneasy about the Kendorini.
Two days later, all this is set up. Cantrel and Pfusand do most of the security work, sometimes aided by Lorelei and Da╬wen, who run mock assaults and sneak penetrations for them to practice against.
A week later, a new scientist shows up, a physicist plus archaeologist with a whizzy gadget of his own for breaking into the sealed Mystery Building. Cantrel and Pfusand act as security escorts, and also keep an eye on them. We could have set a door into that building any time in the past week, but we preferred to let the scientists act as our scouts. We will let them continue to do so, but under our observation.
Rather to our surprise, the gadgetry works. The building is opened. Cantrel quietly contacts the folk up on the Starbase and tells them.
But they have news of their own. Tom just got a good look at that semi- familiar fellow who's been floating around for at least a fortnight. We HAVE seen him before. (Though he doesn't seem to have recognized us yet. Maybe.) Cantrel and Wu once got him drunk and hastily ransacked his memory for information. He trailed the party for a few days thereafter, though we never met him again. His name is Henderson, and we last saw him on Earth, in Hong Kong, in 1872.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.