The people who had come to our aid when our scoutship crashed were fairly representative of the inhabitants of this world- all-in-all they were good people, like most people anywhere. I liked them, even before the crash- when we were in orbit studying them through the scanners. We had orbited for days without being detected, or so we thought. Then our ship was struck by some unknown weapon, we tumbled out of orbit, and smashed up on the surface near a small castle. We were never supposed to contact the natives, but there we were being pulled from the wreckage. They never asked where we were from- they seemed to take our ship for granted -as if they weren't as primitive as they first appeared. Indeed, we found that they had a long and varied history of visitors from the stars. But then we should have known that from an orbital study, the remains of a truly gigantic spaceport covered a continent-sized area straddling the planet's equator. I suppose that non-interference is not the all-pervading directive of other space-traveling species. My fellow survivors and I should be thankful for that because it meant that the natives had access to some highly advanced medical equipment and techniques. Out of the seventeen crash survivors from our crew of twenty-five, none died after we had been found by the natives.
An artillery shell of some kind detonated near my position, knocking me to the ground and bringing my attention back to the task at hand... continued survival. When I was able to raise my head again I saw a platoon of the invading soldiers advancing toward my position. I raised my blaster and hosed them down with bolts of star-hot plasma. A clear violation of our non-interference directive, but unless I acted I was unlikely to survive to be court-martialed. Besides, we had a treaty of sorts that one of our surviving Junior Officers had signed with the locals who had rescued us. Not that I held any hopes of it standing up in court, but it was something. I watched the invader's corpses burning from the blast from my weapon and turned to look for the next target.
The battlefield was a study in contrasts. The weaponry in use ranged from swords, spears, and arrows, through gunpowder firearms and mortars, to armored vehicles and robotic battle-suits looking for all the world like giant knights in armor. I aimed my blaster again and brought down a trio of snipers. A bowman, another with a scope-sighted gunpowder rifle, and yet another with a portable laser. They burned nicely.
What a melange... I was beginning to think that this world had been invaded by a bunch of idiots with time machines. It was as if all periods of history were being mixed and matched by some godlike overlord who reveled in slaughter and destruction. The battle couldn't go on much longer, this was the third day already and most of the big high-tech weapons had already destroyed each other. It was all coming down to ground troops and hand weapons. Oh, there were still half a dozen of the armored, tracked vehicles left and perhaps four of the robotic battle suits, but they were far off on the other side of the battlefield from me. At this distance, a couple of miles anyway, I couldn't even tell whose side they were on. They were mostly fighting each other, leaving the troopers of both sides to duke it out with each other. Closer at hand I could see knights engaged in single combat, some on foot and some mounted of this world's analog of horseback. There must be some form of code of chivalry that prevented other combatants from interfering with those bouts. I couldn't tell one side from the other, so I left them alone and concentrated on the troopers that were shooting at me.
Darkness was falling, I could hear bugles and horns sounding a cease-fire for the night. I scanned the battlefield for anyone who ignored the signals and saw that both sides were observing the cease-fire. The knights disengaged and bowed to each other, the tanks elevated their guns and turned away from each other- rolling off in a cloud of dust, and the giant battle suits stopped pummeling each other- just walking away. On the first day of battle I'd seen troopers shot down by their own side for ignoring the signals. For such a bunch of dedicated killers, these natives seemed to hold to some code of honor that they strictly enforced. At least it let me live for another day. Damned silly way to run a war, but I was grateful nonetheless. When the shooting stopped, I began to make my way to the camp of our native allies. Maybe I could get some of the local nobility to answer my questions at the evening feast. I trudged toward the cookfires of our encampment, hoping that I wasn't the only one of my fellow crewmembers who may have survived the day.
"Baron Sachmon," I said to the local chieftain who led the natives that had befriended us. "I'm glad to find you still among the living."
"And I am pleased to find you still sharing that exalted status," he replied. "Tell me, what do you think our enemies will try next?"
"Well, I don't have enough information about them to hazard a guess. All I can say is that I hope we can outlast them."
"Indeed," he sighed as he sliced a sizable chunk of meat from some unidentifiable roasted animal on the feast-table. I followed suit and added some of the local greens and bread that the Medical Tech had certified safe for us to eat. We were lucky, I reflected, we could eat most of the local food with no fear of allergic reaction and as long as our vitamin pills held out we could get the rest of the few minerals that the food couldn't offer us. "I admire a capable trencherman like yourself," the Baron added. "It gives me faith that my people can trade admirably with your own."
"If we manage to contact the relief expedition," I said. "It should arrive in a year or two."
"True, then it is up to me and mine to see that your people survive until then."
"Thank you, Baron."
"Think nothing of it. Besides, I would be gravely remiss in my duties as a host if I were to allow your people from the stars to be taken prisoner by those brigands that we battle. I fear that the matter will be taken out of my hands soon, however."
"Oh? What do you mean, Baron?"
"Hmmm... Well, this attack is a violation of a treaty signed a generation ago."
"You had a treaty with these raiders?"
"Indeed, yes. And they have broken its terms most unexpectedly. Its as if they were being influenced by some outside force. Such things will not be taken lightly by the Immortals. I have received word that they have sent an Adjudicator to investigate."
"Yes, they seldom interfere with the doings of we mere mortals, unless there has been some threat to the whole of the world. They have been intrusted by the Gods themselves to care for Bethdish. Long have they toiled to care for the world and all of its inhabitants. More wine?"
"Yes, thank you. So these Immortals are sort of like a world police force?"
"More like caretakers and gardeners, or even zoo keepers- with the rest of us being the animals in the zoo."
"That's hardly a complimentary comparison," I said. "Surely they don't look on you as animals?"
"Some of them might, the ones that have watched us rise from clever animals to become people. But others see fit to grant us status equal to any other race that has groped their way to civilization. Those Immortals see us as younger children of the same Gods that created them."
My mind reeled. A race of immortal beings? Could such a thing be true? If so, what would they make of our arrival on their world?
"Do not fear," the Baron added, noting my distress. "They are stern, but fair. This Adjudicator, for instance, he has a reputation for honesty and integrity that was renowned before my great- grandfathers were born. He would not cast your star-traveling people out. The Immortals have dealt fairly with visitors from the sky before. Likely they will only seek to sign a treaty with you, more to keep you from harming my people with ideas and inventions that we are not yet ready to assimilate without harm than to gain some advantage from you."
"That's good to know, but are they really immortal?"
"Well, this Adjudicator, he himself has seen the evolution of my people from mere bright animals roaming the plains and forests of the world into the civilized people we have become. There are histories that tell of him that date back to when we first developed writing, as well as tales passed down by word of mouth for generations earlier. The Immortals are real, rest assured. You will see for yourself on the morrow. He should arrive shortly before dawn. Then we shall see what these brigands have to say for themselves."
"They would allow this one man to bring them to a halt? I find that hard to credit, Baron."
"The Immortals are not o be taken lightly, my friend. They are wise beyond any of my people, and they have arms such as to make even that formidable lightning-thrower of yours seem as primitive as a rock hurled from a sling. These raiders will come to the bargaining table, you may wager upon that."
"Still-" I began.
"Yes, it is hard to accept, but you have yet to meet the Reever. When he arrives tomorrow, you will see."
"I suppose I shall," I sad thoughtfully. The rest of the meal I passed in silence, only barely listening as the Baron and his warriors discussed the day's battle and the imminent arrival of this Immortal called Reever. Afterward I excused myself to go look for the rest of my companions and carry them this strange news.
Bethdish is a world circling a star, called Antuth by the natives (who named the star after the chief deity in their pantheon), presently some 65 lightyears from Earth. Rumor has it that the entire solar system had earlier been located in the Andromeda Galaxy, but was moved by some mysterious force to its new location in our own Milky Way Galaxy. The surviving written history of Bethdish covers some 12,000 years, (with the afore-mentioned displacement to the Milky Way occuring in their year 6055 -- circa 3140 AD, Terran Calendar) but the records of the Immortals reportedly go back roughly a billion years and relate the rise and fall of several civilized eras of non-immortal natives before the present recorded history begins.
The Immortals claim to have been directly created by the Gods of Bethdish, while the diverse non-immortal species are said to have evolved naturally. The several alien colonies now present are, of course, immigrants. One Xenoarcheologist of note, Professor Eustas Gray of the Emperor Norton University of San Francisco, has published several monographs on the subject of excavations on Bethdish that purport to uphold the Immortal's beliefs. Other experts in the field dispute his findings, but all the evidence is not yet in.
Further records of the history of Bethdish are forthcoming from this Author, while previous excerpts are available in your local information network.
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