Erish, Alhalsu, and Kirashi descend to Anuria
Captain Hurin turned to Kirashi as they approached Anuria. “Ambassador,” she called. Kirashi glanced at the Captain. “Two Anurian ships approaching,” she paused. “…weapons drawn, shields raised.”
“On screen,” Kirashi ordered.
In front of them they saw two ships moving away from each other. They received a message instructing them to move between the two. The crew on the bridge looked out windows to the right and left. The vessels were blue-green with fin-like protrusions. Other than these shapes, the ships bore no decoration, no ornament or design. The surfaces were scratched, damaged, badly maintained. However, the presence of fins indicated the ships could fly through air and water. They received another message, “We welcome you to Anuria. We are not worthy of Compatibility. Please remain removed from intimate contact with our undeserving world.” This message repeated three times.
The three diplomats looked at each other. Alhalsu tried but failed to suppress a laugh. Erish shook her head. The Anurians’ sycophantic message was clear.
After a short time, they received another message, “Please prepare a shuttle to descend to the planet. Your ship and crew may continue to reside in orbit.” Kirashi felt growing impatience. The Tayamni diplomats turned, making their way to the shuttle bay.
Erish would pilot the vehicle to the surface.
The shuttle doors in the belly of the Essuru opened beneath them. Two bots from the Anurian ships sped immediately to each side, instructing them to fly between them down to the planet. Kirashi thought it odd, since this was a diplomatic mission, that there was no greeting, no formal welcome, just an instruction.
“Ambassador,” Alhalsu said aloud.
Kirashi looked at him.
“They’ve activated weapons.”
Kirashi looked through the left window of the shuttle. She could see the bot flying close to the ship. She also saw the pale blue light of an electron sheet force field around it. She looked at Erish, who nodded and sent her a telepathic message, “They are hostile.”
Erish kept the Tayamni shuttle kept between the two bots and activated shields.
Soon, they were descending through thick clouds. Through heavy mist, they saw stretches of water. Then, once below the clouds, water as far as they could see. Kirashi wondered that there were no subsequent communications. The bots directed them to the oceans’ surface. From the angle of their approach, it was clear they would be taken under water.
Alhalsu looked towards Kirashi again, “Sensors indicate the oceans are fresh water.”
Even though she knew it, Kirashi still felt it was strange, a planetwide ocean of fresh water. They splashed through the surface. It was crystal clear. After a time, she saw a set of domes anchored to the seafloor. In the center of each group was a larger dome with supportive frames circling under and arching over. The domes and metal framing were scratched and weathered. She saw signs of repair on the larger dome, less transparent patching.
At the base of the dome were circling support structures onto which the frames above were attached. Four smaller domes were connected to the central dome by tubes. The domes were cloudy, some covered by sediment. At least one had a cracked surface, partially collapsed and filled with water. Looking southwards, Kirashi saw another set of domes arranged in the same manner. The large, central dome in the that structure had collapsed.
Alhalsu added, “The waters are surprisingly lifeless for freshwater.” He looked towards Kirashi and continued, “Nothing larger than micro-organisms.”
Kirashi was wondering what the absence of life in the ocean could mean. As they approached the first set of domes, she saw connectors from metal frames leading upwards. As her eyes followed the flexible connector, she saw it was constructed of metallic fibers and connected to another set of domes, upside down on the surface. Above the floating domes was another set of domes right side up. They weren’t domes at all. They were spheres, floating half in the water, half above. The set of spheres floating on the surface were better maintained, and clear.
The bots turned downwards. They were headed to a central set of domes. Under the domes, buildings, walkways, streets, and trees were visible. As they approached, she saw some buildings were crumbling, showing signs of battle, as if attacked. Plant life under the dome was wild and un-manicured, obscured by thick forests, overgrown, almost as if abandoned.
Suddenly, her vision through the windows of the shuttle went dark. They entered a structure underneath the central dome. As they moved through dark passageways, the water outside her windows grew lighter, until she could make out walls, pipes and thick chords. Then, the shuttle surfaced within the structure. They were speeding over of a body of water within the central dome. The shuttle began to slow. Erish stood, placing her right hand over weapons.
“Activate personal shields,” she instructed. Without question or comment, Kirashi and Alhalsu reached down to their belts and pressed jeweled controls. Dim blue, geometric shapes appeared and disappeared around each of their bodies. The shuttle slowed dramatically, until it came to a complete stop. They received another message.
“Exit your craft and follow bots to your quarters.”
Kirashi opened a door on the side of the shuttle. Humid air, sharp with the scent of decay and ammonia, rushed into the ship. A platform extended unevenly from the floor of the structure. Erish stepped out of the shuttle onto the platform carefully. She distrusted the uneven angle but made her way a few steps further onto the floor. Looking back at their shuttle she saw that it floated on a narrow body of water at the center of an open space, like an airplane hangar. Interior walls were darkened and smudged by weapons fire. Extending from seams on the walls, she saw mold spreading outwards. There were no windows. The hovering bot turned and floated in the air, moving ahead.
They walked towards a flat, gray wall. As they approached, a door opened. The bot turned towards them, then back around, directing them to follow. As they walked, lighted bars at the base of the wall ahead activated. The walls were gray and unadorned. Ahead, the bot stopped, turning to the right. Another door opened. Kirashi followed it through the door, entering a small room with no windows. Two horizontal sleeping pads hovered a meter off the floor. “You will find nourishment in the cabinets,” the bot instructed. It turned back, exiting the room. The door closed behind him.
“This is our quarters?” Kirashi asked her crew telepathically.
At that moment, a voice sounded in the room. It used the ancient Tayamni language, but spoke with such a thick accent. “Welcome to Anuria.” Then, silence.
Erish asked, “Are there only two sleeping platforms? There are three of us.”
The voice continued, “Forgive our poor accommodations. We are not a wealthy people.”
Kirashi remembered seeing the decayed and damaged structures, overgrown gardens, and abandoned areas under the dome but she said nothing.
“We direct you to the display above the cabinet, Ambassador Kirashi.”
She looked at the plain, gray, unadorned cabinet.
The voice continued, “We ask you to commit to the agreement made by others in the Alliance. We understand you have not yet joined the Kataru. However, we ask all who visit to signify that you agree to our terms, by placing your hand in the oval shape on the display.”
“I don’t see the terms,” Kirashi responded.
“That is acceptable,” the voice continued. “We are certain you will agree. It is not important to be familiar with details.”
Kirashi was concerned. “I am sorry, but I cannot authorize the agreement, until I know details.”
The voice was silent. One of the drawers in the cabinet opened, and a blue light appeared from it. Kirashi walked over and saw several squares of a substance she did not recognize.
“Enjoy your meal,” the voice added. “We will revisit the agreement.”
Erish sent Kirashi and Alhalsu a strong telepathic message, “We should not trust them. The food may contain a drug.”
At that point, three containers of a clear liquid materialized onto the surface of the cabinet.
The voice activated again, “You may replenish fluids within your bodies, by consuming this clear liquid.” Then, the drawer of food closed abruptly.
Kirashi sighed and walked over to a platform, sitting down heavily.
The voice sounded again, “We will provide nourishment after you have authorized the agreement.”
Kirashi looked around the room, trying to find the source of the voice. She responded, “You may relate the details of the agreement now.”
There was silence. The containers of liquid on the cabinet dematerialized.
Erish removed a device from a flap in her environmental suit. She held it outwards away from her body as it emitted a purple beam onto the walls, ceiling, and floor of the structure.
“As you wish,” the voice sounded. “Please put away your device. We wish to avoid contamination.”
Erish did as she was told, and placed the device back into the flap. The voice continued, “The agreement is simple. We will allow you to rest for a time here in our city. We will give you food and water. In exchange, you will give us technology.”
Kirashi smiled and shook her head. “I am afraid you have misinterpreted the purpose of our visit.” She looked at Alhalsu and Erish with foreboding. “Such exchanges of information are only possible after diplomatic relations and agreements have been authorized.”
“Then, we ask again for you to consider authorizing the agreement.”
Kirashi cleared her throat. “Which information will you give us, if we give you technology?”
Erish sent telepathic messages to Kirashi and Alhalsu. “The instrument I just used shows me that they have scanners turned on us right now.” She looked down at the flap from which she had withdrawn the reader earlier. “They are also scanning our shuttle.”
Kirashi stood and continued, “You will remove your scanning devices from around this room and from around our ship, or I am afraid this visit has come to an end.”
When the voice activated, they could detect that a different Anurian spoke. The accent was a bit more accurate. “Please forgive our curiosity. We simply wish to know more about you.”
Kirashi looked at Erish and smiled. Erish’s expression of disgust could not have been more obvious. Kirashi sent a telepathic message, “I know. They want technology.”
Kirashi spoke aloud now, “As we wish to know more about you.”
Then, the image of an Anurian appeared on the display above the cabinet. The face was shades of blue and green with dark stripes across the top of his head and under his eyes. There were openings at his lower jaw bone, and something like gills on his neck. Large eyes glowed yellow behind two sets of lids. He wore a golden headdress, like a crown with decorative chains linked together at his forehead. Two fin-like projections on each side of his head moved expressively. Without this movement, one might assume the fins were ornamental.
He wore no shirt, but instead a cloak, joined by a golden clasp, and thrown behind one shoulder. His fingers were large and webbed, with sharp looking claws. His ventral side, starkly white, blended into blue green at his shoulders and around his back. When he lifted one arm, web-like structures between his upper arms and back were apparent.
“Unfortunately, you may not enter our cities,” he asserted, “…the risk of contamination is too high.” The face of the creature turned to the side, then, back to the center. “We can show you footage of our civilization. Sit on the platforms and regard our history.” He bowed and stepped away from the display. An image of a city under one of the large domes materialized.
The first image was of a great hall, there were no chairs, but standing at the front of an assemblage was a single being, taller than the others, wearing something similar to an environmental suit, but with a cloak around him. They appeared to have two arms like humanoids, but with another jointed fin-like protrusion extending from the back. When the Anurian standing at the front spoke, he was disciplined, somber in appearance. However, the fin jutting out from his back, moved wildly. There was an opening for this outgrowth in the cloak, which was slit up the back to allow the protrusion freedom of movement. It was as if the jointed-fin in their backs expressed the emotions the rest of their bodies suppressed.
At the end of the speaker’s statements, the crowd emitted moaning sounds, expressions of approval.
The image changed to pathways circling through a city under a large central dome. Fountains, statues, steel and glass buildings were constructed on either side. Transparent coverings and metal frames were clean and gleaming. Abruptly, the image changed to a view of the same area with dead plants, garbage in the streets, and dead bodies.
Kirashi recorded these images with technology at her belt. This was before and after some cataclysm. The footage would be analyzed and interpreted once they returned home. The video stopped, freezing an image of a dead Anurian, suffering from a condition that coated his body with a white, powdery substance. The large, spherical eyes, dried and cracked, shrunken into the head, a ghastly image. The voice sounded again.
“We have shown you the suffering our people endured at the last contamination. The evil was brought by those who dwell in salt. The Tiamatu. They brought it. They took our gold, our jewels. They brought contamination, and stole our heritage.” He paused and spoke in a different language for a moment. Then, he continued. “The Tiamatu brought the contamination. We detect you contain contamination within your bodies. Surely, you understand why we limit contact.”
Kirashi nodded, and responded, “We are saddened to see such suffering.”
The voice continued, “We warn you. Do not interact with Tiamatu, lest you suffer as well. Please authorize the agreement.”
Kirashi moved to the display, and was raising her hand to the oval shape, when Erish shouted, “Stop!”
Kirashi looked around at her with astonishment. Erish continued excitedly, “They are trying to dismantle the shuttle!”
Kirashi turned around quickly to the image of the dead creature on the display, as if it were the Anurian who spoke. “Our visit is finished. We will leave now. Open the door to our quarters.”
There was no response. Erish was holding her scanning device, “They are moving personnel to positions around this room.”
Kirashi reached down to her belt and pressed a jeweled shape. She moved her hand to a position in front of her. A beam of yellow light shone from her palm onto the wall. After a short time, the wall began to tremble, then crumble. Dust billowed into the air. A section of wall disintegrated, collapsing to the floor. Through the settling dust, they saw Anurians, running away from positions behind the wall.
“Come!” Kirashi commanded, as she made her way through new opening. Behind it, they saw their shuttle floating on the narrow inlet. Erish reached into another flap and retrieved invisible sensors, scattering them on the floor. As she stepped into the large hangar, she held her left palm outwards. A white beam shot forth striking several Anurians, who fell to the floor. Others, ran away from them. The Tayamni diplomats walked calmly to the shuttle. Kirashi saw blue geometric shapes around her body activate. Weapons were fired, but she was not harmed.
As she approached the door, discolored, burned and scraped from attempts to cut through, it opened. They entered and the door closed behind them. Kirashi commanded the shuttle to return in the direction from which it arrived. The craft raised into the air, and turned facing the opposite direction. The Anurians began firing at them.
“Their weapons are primitive,” Erish stated. “They cannot penetrate our shielding.”
“Hold your fire,” Kirashi ordered. She opened a channel, “Cease firing, or we will destroy your cities. Your protective domes will no longer contain the sea.”
The firing immediately stopped.
An Anurian voice sounded in the room,“You will depart from Anuria, Barbarians. You lie in filth with the Tiamatu. We wash our bodies with your waters. Do not return. You will be reported.”
The shuttle sat back down onto the surface of the water, and began lowering underneath. Kirashi looked at Alhalsu and Erish with determination, “They viewed this entire visit as an opportunity to steal technology.”
“Why were we not warned?” Alhalsu responded.
“We will find out,” Kirashi answered. Then, she opened the channel to the Anurians, as their shuttle made its way back, out of the structure. “Anurians,” She began. “We come to the Kataru to request assistance in a military conflict in another system, many light years away. Your help and assistance is no longer requested.” She looked around at her companions and continued, “You have proved you cannot be trusted. Your weapons and defenses are far too primitive to be useful in our conflict.”
There was no response. Finally, the shuttle rose through lifeless oceans, headed towards the surface. Erish gasped, “They are sending a probe,” she tried to suppress a smile. “Do they think we would not recognize it?” A beam of red light shot from the shuttle to the probe, causing it to burst into fragments.
Kirashi wordlessly instructed the shuttle to scan for probes that may already be attached.
They received a communication from their ship orbiting above. “We just had a skirmish,” Captain Hurin said. “Don’t worry, their weapons were not up to the task. They are returning to the planet.” They heard amusement in her voice. “They told us to depart.” She paused. “They told us you were killed. They said they would devour your bodies and wash themselves with your waters.”
Erish looked at her companions with concern.
Captain Hurin continued, “We are glad to see you are safe.”
Kirashi simply shook her head. The shuttle climbed out of the ocean into the atmosphere. “Station warning buoys around this system.” At that moment, the shuttle punched through the cloud layer, and they could see the sky darkening above them.