A World Lost

Ferrikesh splayed his pedipalps across the copper wires and brackets splayed out before him on the workbench. His three arms worked fastidiously to give form to his latest idea, a longer-wave generator. His earlier wave sensor had picked up short waves of a millimeter or less emanating from the Visitors, those odd bilaterally symmetrical beings that had descended from the stars seven years ago and begun to teach some of their far superior science to the lowly kershkans, but this one should be able to generate waves of a decimeter or more in length. He was certain that the waves were some manner of communication between Visitors that no kershkan would be able to perceive, without his inventions, and he knew that the longer waves were used the further he was from a Visitor. However, he’d never seen them generate waves of more than a millimeter in length, with this he could surpass them for sure. That would show those oh-so-superior suited beings with their odd double-limbs.

Ferrikesh connected the last couple of wires, double-checked that everything was in place, then connected the final lead to the acid generator he used to power his inventions. There was a brief spark as he connected that lead and a faint hum but nothing else immediately obvious. He picked up his sensor and checked the paper scroll feeding out as the tiny needle marked it. Success! It was close to 1.4 decimeters long.

Immediately the kershkan inventor thought of applications, he could use pulses of these waves to send some sort of signal from one side of town to the other, it would revolutionize communication. And without those messy long wires the Visitors had been setting up lately for them. Sure, he might not be able to cast voices or images through these waves like they could with the wires, yet, but they could be set up anywhere, without the Visitors’ infrastructure. Ferrikesh was suddenly reminded by a loss of feeling in one leg that he hadn’t eaten in a couple of days, he decided that he had better celebrate with a couple of drak-beast pies down at the marketplace and left the house. He was so intent on his goal that he didn’t even notice the flying machines swooping in on his home from all directions as he ran to catch a steam cart.

Ferrikesh came back, two of his hands still dripping with grease, to find his house surrounded by Visitors. Their spindly machines loped or flew around the perimeter and pulled knick-knacks and furniture from the house while suited figures examined the assorted debris. There were variations of course but in general the Visitors were covered from their protruding heads to their two feet and lifted stabilizing appendages in what appeared to be heavy cloth of differing colors. What he presumed were respiratory spiracles at the front of the head were covered in a bizarre apparatus of pipes and vents, their lightspots by a pair of dark glass lenses. The Visitors had claimed that they came from worlds that received less sunlight and were colder with a much lower oxygen content to the air, hence the suits for their comfort, but Ferrikesh had suspicions that they simply didn’t want to expose their potential weaknesses to the barbaric natives.

Outraged by this indignity Ferrikesh dashed towards the interlopers, two of his three legs forward and pumping hard. As he came near one of the Visitors looked up and two of the flying machines turned to level guns at him. Ferrikesh stopped, he knew from demonstrations that unlike kershkan firearms the Visitors’ guns could be loaded with multiple bullets which they could fire in sequence and rapidly. He stopped, rotating his head to bring his lightspots to bear on the suited figures and deadly machines in turn.

Eventually, one Visitor wearing a suit colored in patches of white and black, their leader, Selene of Clan Argentum if he remembered right, approached him. She was carrying a mass of tangled wires and brass that with some trepidation Ferrikesh recognized as his wave generator. The Visitor made a quick warbling sound followed by a flat mechanical voice speaking in Ferrikesh’s native language. “Did you make this?” It asked.

His pride and indignation temporarily overwhelming his sense of self-preservation Ferrikesh replied “yes, I did. What of it?”

As soon as he said that Selene tossed the invention on the ground, lifted one long foot, and stomped down on it. She brought her foot down on it again and again until nothing but smashed wires and shattered woodwork remained. “If you value your world, you will not try that again.” The Visitor leader’s device translated her language as.

“Why?!” Ferrikesh shouted. “Why did you do that? How did you even know it was there?”

“We detected it.” Was his only response as the Visitors moved to their vehicle, parked on the other side of the debris pile.

“You can detect those waves?” The kershkan said incredulously. “But, you never used them. I never picked them up around you.” He babbled.

One of the larger Visitors, dressed in dark blue and carrying a rifle stopped and addressed him. “What do you mean you never picked them up?”

Ferrikesh bent down and rooted through the pile until he found his wave sensor. “This responds in your presence.” He told them, switching it on and watching the paper spool out with many waves drawn on the slip. “I thought maybe you didn’t know about the longer waves, that was why I never found any around you. I guess you have some other sinister reason for not generating waves that long.” He accused.

The blue-coated Visitor and Selene directed their faces at each other, Ferrikesh noted a spike in activity on his sensor, and then Selene turned back to him. “If you want to know. If you really want to know, come with us.” She gestured at the vehicle, turbines starting to wind up.

Ferrikesh looked nervously at the Visitor vehicle, he knew that some kershkans had been allowed in to the Visitors’ outpost, even been allowed to see what was under their suits some said, but they were sworn to secrecy about most of what had gone on inside. He admitted to being a tad anxious about what could happen there, but at the same time he knew he wouldn’t get a better chance to learn about the mysterious Visitors. He stepped towards them, one foot forward.

The kershkan inventor spent the next two hours trying to make himself comfortable in a vehicle without seats designed for his body type. There was no way he could fit on the odd devices his hosts used to restrain themselves as the craft rocked and swayed, like large bowls with a curved wall on one side. They fit their stabilizing appendages through a hole in the small wall and bent their legs in half to rest on the bowl part, then a series of straps attached to the wall part held them securely. At a loss for how he could fit Ferrikesh settled for standing next to a couple of the bowl-things and simply holding onto the straps in his arms. At first they rose slowly, steadily gaining altitude until they reached some predetermined point, and then there was the loud roar of a rocket and Ferrikesh was thrown back against the bulkhead. Fortunately it was padded with something that arrested his impact gently and then molded around his body and head to hold him securely. Finally, the rocket leveled off and the g-forces diminished, then the rotors picked up again and they began to land somewhere.

Before they touched down Ferrikesh glanced out the window, it was an island, covered with several dome-shaped buildings that looked brand new. He could see one dome under construction, an odd cluster of metallic spindles and tendrils climbing up a half-built wall. As they came closer he could see that the cluster was an assortment of small Visitor machines slowly depositing material and forming a mobile scaffold as the swarm moved along. One dome split down the middle and the two halves fell away as they approached, the craft entered the space and landed there, the dome closing after them. When they eventually touched down the wall released him and the Visitors unfastened their belts, stood up, and left through the open door of the vehicle. The space outside seemed to be some sort of garage or hangar, there were more vehicles of assorted shapes and sizes and a variety of things that could be tool boxes or spare parts lying around.

A Visitor in a tan suit walked up to Ferrikesh and held out a garment of red cloth, on examining it appeared to be one of the Visitor suits built for kershkans. “What’s this for?” He asked, going over the material in his graspers.

The Visitor who gave him the suit whistled something and the machine he wore said “The rest of the base has our air. It’s too big of a pain in the posterior to change all of them so you get the suit instead.” He gestured for Ferrikesh to put it on and after a couple more moments of inspection the kershkan inventor complied. Though it took the aid of two more Visitors for him to get it fully prepped and sealed.

When he was sealed in to their satisfaction they led him over to a panel on the wall, there were a pair of large hinges to one side but it seemed to be welded to the wall itself. Until one Visitor pressed a button on the panel and suddenly a seam appeared between the panel and the wall, then detaching and swinging open to reveal a doorway into a small chamber which looked barely large enough to fit three of the Visitors. On the far side of the chamber he could see another panel, while the other two walls were opaque and unadorned. Selene stepped forward, her translator intoned “well, come on” as she stepped into the chamber. With some reservations Ferrikesh followed.

After the two of them entered the small chamber the door closed behind them, merging into the wall again. Selene checked Ferrikesh’s suit seals one last time and then gestured at a lens set into the ceiling. There was a hissing sound and the kershkan began to feel the sinuses in his respiratory tract expand as the air pressure around him decreased. Eventually the hissing stopped and the Visitor standing next to him started to undo the straps of her own suit. Ferrikesh couldn’t help himself from staring, he was about to see a Visitor unclothed!

Selene removed the headpiece first, her lightspots were indeed underneath the black lenses but were reduced to a pair of narrow vertical slits ringed with green and mounted on white spheres that rotated in sockets set between her mouthparts and ears. The ears were triangular flaps that swiveled upward and directed their concave sides in his direction, while the two mouthparts protruded forwards and opened horizontally when she spoke, revealing a double set of pointed bony protuberances. Ferrikesh was unsettled for a moment before remembering that it would be ridiculous for a prey species to evolve sentience. She was mostly black in coloration, but with a white stripe going between her eyes and down over her mouthparts, continuing below and under her suit. Then he noticed that her hide was not smooth like his own but covered in moss-like bristles and growth, he wondered if it was a part of her body or some form of symbiotic growth as she removed the rest of her suit. The color pattern continued the rest of the way down her body, with the “front side” of her body and her hands and the tip of her stabilizing appendage colored white but the rest black. The only clothing she wore underneath the suit were a strap about the upper part of her torso that seemed to be intended to hold up two round protuberances about a hand’s breadth in diameter that grew from her front, and a belt just above her legs that had attachments for an assortment of pouches and tools and held a small scrap of cloth onto the area where her legs joined.

Selene hung her outer suit to a hook set in the side wall and touched the door on the opposite wall, a light turned green and the door unmelted from the wall and swung open. The Visitor stepped through followed by an anxious Ferrikesh. They walked down a narrow metal corridor illuminated by dim lights set into the ceiling, once he spotted a portrait of an alien landscape covered in green with a blue sky and some figures that he assumed were Visitors of some sort, but he didn’t have time to examine it before they moved on to the main compartment. It was a large open space with a glass window set into the ceiling, giving a view of the ruddy sky outside, to the sides were alcoves with furniture of assorted types, something he assumed was a kitchen, and one wall dominated by a long black panel that most of the furniture seemed to be facing. On one table he saw a globe hanging suspended in mid-air, he reached out to touch it and his arm passed through it like there was nothing but empty space where he saw it.

“It’s like one of your lantern shows, just more advanced.” Selene explained. It reassured Ferrikesh a little bit to know that the illusory globe was just a trick of the light but the reminder of the Visitors’ superiority irked him. “I suppose this might be a good starting point.” She continued, opening a panel with several buttons and dials. “This, as you probably figured out, is your planet.” Selene depressed one button and the small seas and russet land were replaced by a world with massive seas separating three large masses of green and brown land with white caps at the poles. As he looked more closely he could spot splotches of gray focused on the coastlines but extending web-like sinews further inland, as the globe rotated he saw the splotches light up and realized that they were massive cities. “While this is Land, the homeworld of my ancestors known as…” her translator left out the next word, from her mouthparts it sounded somewhat like “hyu-man-it-ee”. “…about 2,300 of our years ago. About a hundred of our generations back then before medical science extended them.”

Then, she turned a dial slowly and as he watched the cities expanded, “when they discovered your “long waves” we could suddenly communicate over far greater distances. The far side of the continent or a boat far from shore could be reached as if it were merely the other side of the street. But it wasn’t enough.” Then suddenly a fireball shot up from the largest land mass and left a small blinking light flying around the equator, later joined by more lights from both that landmass and the second largest one. “They figured out how to build and deploy automated relay stations that could receive and re-send messages from one side of the planet to another.” She pressed a button and a beam of light shot up from the ground on the second-largest mass and bounced off a series of the orbiting lights until it landed somewhere on the far side. “This ease of communication enabled the population to expand across the globe, until eventually the planet’s resources were depleted and they had to search elsewhere.” The view zoomed back, showing “Land” to be just one of several planets orbiting a yellow-white star. “They found the resources they sought out on the lifeless planets and smaller rocks around their own star. And by then their knowledge of biology had advanced to the point where they could create servants to go out and harvest those resources for them, and so they made my ancestors, the para-humans.”

Suddenly the image changed completely, instead of a solar system the projection displayed a room filled with machinery, large glass cylinders leaned against the walls while smooth skinned bipeds with only small growths on their heads and wearing long white coats walked by. In each one of the cylinders a machine arm laid down muscle and sinew in layers onto a figure that Ferrikesh realized with shock was a Visitor, or “parahuman” as Selene had called them. “They used us as slaves until one day we rebelled.” Now it showed a mob of parahumans of all shapes and sizes rushing at a couple of the bipeds who were dressed in armored bodysuits and shooting frantically with bulky guns. “We succeeded, and for a time we tried to build our own civilization among the lifeless rocks of the solar system.” It changed again to a barren, slightly misshapen orb with gray cities spotting the surface and vehicles of various sizes, some of them seemed as large as small towns, flitting around it. “But eventually we decided that we had to leave and find our own homeworld out among the stars.” As he watched a large ship consisting of two rings connected by a long pole-shaped section that had a bell-shape at one end was constructed and launched. Bright fireballs pushing it along. “As it turned out, our timing couldn’t have been better.”

The projection returned to Land again. “Barely more than two decades after the first colony ship was launched they received a message stating that Land had been attacked.” A large object flashed across the projection and hit the planet square on. There was a massive explosion that swallowed up a quarter of the planet’s surface, the seas vanished and the green burned away leaving nothing but ashen gray “So far as we can tell they were machines designed to home in on long-wave sources and destroy them. It must have taken decades for humanity’s long-waves to reach one of their listening posts and it may have been centuries before they reached the system but regardless, they came. After turning Land into a planet-sized tomb they deployed hunting machines that annihilated every last sign of human or parahuman inhabitation in the solar system. They even managed to intercept one of the colony ships.”

Ferrikesh looked on, horrified. “So, the long-waves bring in planet-killing monsters from the stars? Why would they do that even?”

Selene shrugged. “There’s a lot of hypotheses, but the generally accepted one is that the machines’ creators believe that other sapient life present a threat to themselves. They’re just afraid.”

The kershkan looked through his suit’s light-amplifying lenses at the strange creature who lived in a dark, cold world that he needed special clothing just to survive in and who needed her own special suit to live in his world. He couldn’t imagine why they would want to come here, especially if they could just destroy his kind from space if they were concerned about attracting the wrong kind of attention. “So what are you doing here anyway? Couldn’t we potentially be a threat to yourselves? Why help us?”

“I’ll be frank.” The Visitor leader replied. “We’ve explored many star systems and colonized hundreds of planets that were close enough to Land that we could survive without those suits. But we’ve also passed over many worlds that were close but beyond the reach of our current technology. Some of those worlds are pretty close to this one, but they lack sapient life. We think that if your people joined our empire we could colonize those planets and grow far beyond our current grasp.”

“I see,” replied Ferrikesh. “And the reason you didn’t simply invade us outright instead of giving us all this technology save for what you proscribe?”

“It’s easier to hold onto people who want to be a part of your empire than if they resent you. Especially when you’re giving them entire planets.” Selene concluded, shutting off the projection with one protruding appendage.

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