by Richard Tornello
"Damn, I cut myself." I taste my blood. Sweet. Its color is somewhere in the 668 to 780 THz range and sweet. "Cold Core, some Ander-Tallis trainer you are," I mumble to myself.
"I cut myself." They look at me as if I'm some sort of clumsy old one. I watch as the skin seals itself against the cold. There are no visible signs of an opening. Good, the quick healing is a sign that I am healthy. "Let's move on with the task at hand. Where did you say this object was?"
"Beyond the exposed ridges, above the solidcold line," answers the young one who came to me with the find. The sharp jagged peaks push out just beyond the claws of the solidcold. The gray sky softens the edges of the ridges to the vision. When the local star does shine, the teeth-like peaks are imposing.
I look around at the other young ones. They're all excited about a Discovery. They have no cares, jackets flying open in complete disregard of the weather. Light hats on some. A few will get sick and learn. The world is a solidcold mass that never goes away. When new solidcold blocks the roads we have to cut through or reroute if necessary. We are lucky today, the route is clear.
I look at them and I am proud of our achievements. Our cities are protected and beneath the undersolidcold. We have mastered the planet. We, the Ander-Tallis, The Connected Ones, are the only intelligent beings here. We've been here forever or so our myths indicate. There were others, it has been said. After a short time on this planet they left. Any trace of them all but disappeared. What junk. I believe none of that. Show me!
That's what I requested when he came to me, "Show me." All I saw was confusion in his mind. He couldn't describe it. "I didn't touch it," was his first coherent reply. I let him calm down. "It's not natural," was his next. What could make one such as this one act like that? We have no enemies; we are in no danger from anything.
Our bodies are made for this. Our blood doesn't solidcold like some animals we've captured from lower, warmer regions. Warm is a euphemism and relative to the situation. Up here we get little light and heat from the local star. The lower regions get more, but not much. The permanent cloud cover blocks the dangerous radiation and associated heat. Our heat and energy come from the underground thermal sources that the planet provides all of us. The radiated energy is unlimited.
The industry and technology is planet based and our lives are rather complete. Travel is made possible through thermal driven vehicles. They are able to traverse the regions. Some are wheeled and others tracked as necessary. The core, almost liquid, is mined and the hot mass is used as a catalyst to turn all this solidcold into steam to drive our vehicles. Our whole society is based on steam generation. It's been that way as far as we can remember.
I communicate these things to my wards as we move closer to the location. Part of my responsibility is that of pedagogue to our future. I go on about a subject I feel might be of slight interest. "The animals we hunt in the south have a different mixture of bodily fluids and they solidcold at the slightest drop in temperature that we can run naked in. We know they are an older species, evolving from a line that just barely survives and will eventually die out. Why we know that?" I pull out one specimen that I have been carrying. "Look, as I cut one open that we've brought along for food, a hot colored fluid, good to eat, but not at all sweet. And it solidcolds almost instantly. You see that, boys and girls? If you see hot color, it's not our kind."
Since these animals exist, sometimes I wonder if they, those other "people" that our myths hint, exist. Might the myths hold some degree of truth? My mind gets hold of me. Why bother contemplating that. Where is the proof? My thoughts are interrupted " Cold Core, where did they come from?" asks one.
"They were always here," I correct. She looks at me with an expression that I know means that she doesn't quite understand me, because that is not a true scientific answer.
"Then why do we and our animals not go to solidcold and they do? Why are they even here?" I have no real answer.
I look at her and state, "I really don't know. That is not a subject I am well versed in. You will have to research that. In fact when we get back that will be your assignment."
A frown follows the command on her young face.
"I don't intend to suppress inquiry. Please. You have to be ready to follow your questions. That's how you grow." I reiterate.
"Yes I know. You've said that before. I was just hoping …"
"For an easy answer?" I interject. She gives me a look, but nothing is communicated.
Returning to the subject at hand I ask, "Okay young one, where did you see this thing?"
"We're close. It's just beyond this peak. It's not natural. Be prepared" The peak casts a shadow over a wide swath of solidcold. There is hardly any Star light warmth there.
When he came to us he told us he found something. "Cold Core, you need to hear this."
He went on about an odd discovery poking out of the solidcold. I didn't understand what he was saying I couldn't visualize it.
So here we all are a group of chosen young ones. These will be our future leaders. I will watch their efforts and how they respond to the tasks at hand. I am the pedagogue.
"You all stay here, but You, the finder, you come with me. This is your find." He's all puffed up and proud. Can't say I blame him, especially if he's correct. The pack and solidcold are thin in this area. I can see the rocks below the solidcold. We're a few feet above the ground. Most of the time the ground is miles below.
As the two of us round the peak I stop dead in my tracks. Hairless, solidcold and small. An arm reaches through the solidcold. Oh my, this is real. I've heard of these but never have I seen one. It's not an Ander-Tallis, that's for sure. "Get the others, now!" I command. Where did this come from? No one I know has ever seen one of these.
He's off and running, jacket open flying in the breeze. Kids. I didn't have to tell him twice. And they're all here surrounding what will be a momentous find.
"Who has the digging tools?" The steam penetrators are brought up to the location.
"You three, start 9 measures out and dig around this thing. Keep it encased. Keep the heat away from it so as not to melt it. Then we'll decide what to do." They all give me a look and communicate that they figured that out immediately. That is a good sign. They are using their brains.
Another thought hits me, "Finder, you're in charge." He has just been named for an historic moment that he contributed to. This is an honor that his family will cherish and receive respect for generations. Other names are given out as the young ones mature, but to have a name like this? That is something. He will be a leader.
They are yelling and sweating as they dig. The others watch. They switch places after a while.
The time is now High Star, and the moon is out. It is large and pale to the view. What's up there as I peer through the atmosphere, thick with moisture where visibility into the sky is diminished?
They are finished and we look. The being is tiny by our standards. It's bipedal with material covering its body. It has a similar, if you can call it that appearance to us. It is adult but so small.
"Can they really have lived here," someone asks?
"How old is it?" comes another inquiry followed by myriad others.
"It's female, look!" shouts one. That's a change and we are all startled by his outburst.
I hold my hand up, which is at least 2 times as large as the face of the being face I'm standing over. "I really have no idea. This is new and will be news to all of us throughout the connected world." Blocking my communications, I think to myself, this changes many a thing, maybe. Looking at the material on the encased being I do notice a high degree of sophistication in design pattern and material. They are not of us. It's adult. It's so small.
Some time later...
We have all examined this find. Based upon our size and weight our average female weighs two and a half times her living weight. Our men are at least three or four times larger than theirs. This was a small, flat faced race.
Our research and scientific engineering people have gone back with sophisticated mining tools to discover any other remains and artifacts. All the artifacts recovered are useless to us. Their utility on most of the discovery is unrecognizable and on a scale fitting of the solidcold body. A few pieces are large, bulky and unopenable by any means we have. It takes 8 grown men and women to carry the largest one. I noticed some designs engraved into the side of one. It looked like four separated 180 degree-angled objects as a circle. Crude drawings on a big metal container. Odd but of no concern to us.
Our Ander-Tallis legends tell of beings that could fly and manipulate the cosmos. Then came a great catastrophe. The small tools that this female had were well made and of metals we've never seen. Their use can only be guessed at. We wonder about this. But like that huge container, not for long. We have life to live. That past, whatever it was, has no relation to us. Someone did ask if they may have been a line of intelligent beings that died out not able to adapt to the climate of the planet
"I think that they may have been another line of being that died out. Or from out there," I communicate, pointing up. "This place is not for such a small being. Look, phase transition! We don't go through that," I declare, calming myself.
Strange reaction I think. Where did that come from? It was almost like instinct. I am beginning to have doubts and want to investigate. I don't want to say too much yet. As I mentioned to that young one in the field, one's questions are one's quest.
"Up where?" someone asks. My private thoughts are interrupted. I see one of my other associates make an obscene gesture. I laugh. What am I to tell him or anyone? Look at the material that we discovered. Something is there. My mate is there and turns her head away to hide a laugh.
Up there, I think. Is there a warmer planet closer to the local star that they came from? Or was this place that much warmer at some past time? Viewing this being I know, I hope, they are not from here. I never express this to anyone. I will go to the main library and begin a quiet private search.
"Can anyone tell if it's glycol based?" Someone pipes up. My mind comes back to the here and solidcold.
"It's not, obviously. What a waste of time this is. Throw it into the hot core with all the tools." I reiterate, "All of them.. They are of no use to us. This is a dead end, nothing to do with us. Get it out of here," I command. Something about her and all this paraphernalia has me worried. We found no evidence of a settlement, encampment or any form of residences.
"It's been in the solidcold forever. It has not caused an issue, so why worry," my mate expresses to me after I tell her all my concerns. Either destroy it or rebury it in the solidcold and leave it at that. There are no others. They left no trace. Maybe you're correct and they did come from," and she starts to laugh, "up there."
On a more pleasant note, a vote was held. Finder was given the status and honor of that Find. His family was proud. He was allowed to throw the being into the heat source. It was melting and stinky too. The tools and all the artifacts were next. His family will wear the insignia for generations. He will be one that will rise in the system. My mate says he is already being approached by possible mates of equal status and mental qualities. I feel proud as if he were one of my own.
Back to work...
My initial research turns up little except that the earliest writing we have do mention beings and the divine combat or something or other. The information is ancient and missing sections that would add to my understanding. There is some connection between that found female, her artifacts and these myths. The old ones do not have answers. They tell me to leave the past alone and buried.
As I leave the repository, Old One, the most ancient of all our people, pulls me aside as I am leaving the Vault Of History. "Cold Core, please come with me."
I look at him. He is one of the oldest and wisest of all the ancient men and women. "Of course. Why, what is the matter?"
"Hush," he says.
I am surprised by his voice.
"Just follow, and maintain comm silence."
I do as commanded.
We sit down at a table in a room I have never seen. It's well below the community structures. This is deep into the rock. I look around and notice items I have never seen, article of literature all in miniature.
"We, the Ander-Tallis, were once the dominant race on this planet. It warmed. The newcomers from the south spread. They had the bodies developed for a very warm type of climate. We initially assisted them, taught them, mated and lived with them.
As we were to find out, they were a warlike line of beings, much like us in physical features except they were smaller. They didn't need the food intake we do. The used less energy for food gathering. They could spend time doing other things which they did very well. Growth and warfare, that, combined with the climate change and thus we were pushed out. We were either to be destroyed or forced to modify."
"What are you talking about Old One? This is blasphemy, this is false science, and none of this is true. WE were and are the only ones…"
"You met one," He stands to his full height, towering over me even at his old age and continues, "in the solidcold. She was one of them. If I'm not mistaken, she was a warrior too. Her costume and the artifacts, all point to that conclusion." His voice softens, "Look here. I have a few myself."
I notice a collection of items I have never seen before. "What are these things?"
"Weapons, if I'm not mistaken," The Old One says. "For us, they are unusable, but fierce, terrible weapons of the past." He speaks aloud, which is unusual. But by doing so, he will not be heard by others.
I spend some time going over the metallurgy, the designs and the obvious use. I think about the beings' features and these items. I have the beings' features etched in my brain. He is correct of course. I look up and ask, "What else have you to tell me?"
He says nothing more.
Late, I return home, drained.
"That being has made you curious?"
I jump, surprised by the voice. I know it's my partner. She will not communicate anything.
"Yes, and I am not satisfied with the answers I am getting. We may have shared this planet with others that faded out, disappeared or, looking up at the roof, come from somewhere out there."
"Leave it alone. What if they are from out there as you put it? Or if they are even from the past, there is nothing you can do about it. The presence of that being will only cause you mental strife and who knows what else. Get rid of it."
"Yes, I will. But still, the tools and associated artifacts are all in excellent condition, no oxidation, and if I am correct with my guess, useable. They were more advanced then we are."
"Then why are we here and they are not?" My partner demands.
"I have no answer for you. That's my problem. I have no answer, just more questions."
"You should have put everything back into the solidcold where it came, and cordoned that location off. It can only bring trouble. That was and still is my advice to you, pedagogue." She gives me a look. I know she's correct but I have to answer, "A frozen body, trouble? Please. It's gone with all the other junk we found."
I lied. We know some of the artifacts were weapons. What kind, we have no idea. They are too small for us to use and like huge metal container, many are unopenable. They are not like our hunting or construction tools. There were none of those types of tools in the discovery pit.
Five orbits around our star later
We are back to our lives. Most have forgotten the biped incident. Finder is growing into a fine specimen fitting our world. His discovery has brought his family great distinction even if the reason for this honor is forgotten, or maybe just ignored. I wonder if I'm the only one who thinks about it.
"What's that noise?"
"What's going on? The ground is shaking," someone yells
"It's coming from the core."
A great blow up is occurring. In all our time here we've never had this. Never in any of our recorded history do we have any mention of this. Communication goes out to all the connected ones.
Our factories are being destroyed. Rock and ash are tumbling out of the sky. Homes are melting from the heat.
"This is impossible!" I shout refusing to believe this reality. "The artifacts, that bulky object, that's what caused this! That's why they disappeared. The inscription on the side was strange. It must have been a warning of some type. The heat from the core ignited this thing, some type of power machine, a weapon, a device that has a power I can't even imagine."
I once came upon the word, human, in our ancient histories. No one had an answer to what it was. There was no description or definition. Any reference was either effaced or lost. I searched and searched but turned up nothing. The only data I had to go by were myths passed down, and by this one old one.
I remember his words like he was here now, "We adapted to their presence, mated, intermingled, reduced our physical differences and reduced our brain case size, but we kept 4 to 10 percent of our genes interspersed in their genetic code, dormant but ready to be activated."
He continued, while at the same time searching my mind, connected to me, making sure I understood the full meaning. "When the climate changed, again, brought on by some catastrophe that I now think I understand, our genes came out of dormancy. We re-evolved to the race we are today. We are bigger, smarter and better able to live in such hard climates. We took much of their technology. We modified it to a more benign state. We are Ander-Tallis, The Connected Ones. We can do these things." This is what the old one showed me.
As a race we are not warlike. Those small beings had conflict that appeared to be part of their nature, but was not in our genetic makeup. We would defend ourselves, of course but, to be like them, never. We were from a longer line of evolution. We could force modifications. They took what came.
I take what I know to be my last look at our moon. For us, the planet, our home is dying. Red dust is everywhere. Voices fill my head. The sky is obscured.
Out there? Here, they won.
© 2010 Richard Tornello
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in the story are fictional. Any resemblance to persons living, dead, and incidents, real or imagined elsewhere in this or any other universe or time-space setting is purely coincidental.
Steel Mouse Trap Publications, LLC
South Riding VA 20152
Bio: Richard Tornello is a business owner/consultant/technical recruiter with 28+ years experience, married and kept by one very neurotic cat Stella. He has a degree from Rutgers University in Asian Studies. Richard's poetry and fiction has appeared a number of times in Aphelion (with one or more poems almost every month!); most recently, his stories Neko and Hewa appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 edition.
E-mail: Richard Tornello
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