Aphelion Issue 278, Volume 26
November 2022
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"Forbidden Archaeology..."

by Sergio "ente per ente" PALUMBO

Edited by Michele DUTCHER

A Mare Inebrium story
(Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield)

Jerzy Sadkovich stepped onto the hardwood floor of the Mare Inebrium's main room, his long garment -- similar to a wide gown -- fluttering in the air, his chestnut-- colored eyes looking everywhere for the person he was meeting. Tonight, the young, black-haired customer had come to Bethdish with only one goal in mind. Many years had passed since the last time he had paid a visit to this planet, as his business usually kept the man away from here. In a way, he had missed the local star that was called Antuth by the locals.

After a while Sadkovich found the one he was looking for, sitting at a table along the far wall, so he made his way over. As soon as he came nearer, the eyes of the Ullll-xelllll - who was clearly waiting for someone - raised at once and met his glance. The slim, red, elfish alien addressed the newcomer in a soft tone: "Are you Mr. Jerzy Sadkovich?"

"Yes. And you are Mr. LLll-tlll-nddd, I suppose..." he replied, displaying an almost perfect pronunciation of the alien name.

"Please have a seat." The Ullll-xelllll gestured for his guest to sit at the table, the upper surface of the inside of his wide mouth frothing interestingly.

So the man sat, pulling his chair close to the table of a group of small, hairless fellows with strange faces the size of a pink road signs. They were very thin, too, and surely unusual even for such a famous and peculiar space bar. Lllllw was the name of that species, if Sadkovich remembered correctly, but the locals commonly called them "The Slim Muzzles" or "The Paper Snouts".

"You're exactly on time."

"I like to be punctual, if I can be," he smiled politely. "May I buy you a drink, Mr. LLll-tlll-nddd?"

The Ullll-xelllll nodded, pointing at his bulky mug, which sat almost empty in front of him. Sadkovich searched the menu for the right icon for the order, and he paid the price requested. A hole in the middle of the table opened wide and a turbulent grayish beverage was delivered. The alien eagerly took it, bringing his narrow mouth to the drink, only saying, "Nothing for you?"

"I rarely drink anything alcoholic at night because of my queasy stomach, unfortunately," the man replied. Beyond that, he understood the silent question that was pending in his guest's eyes, so he added, "Non-alcoholic drinks just don't have the same appeal, of course, so I'd just rather abstain from drinking altogether."

The Ullll-xelllll's delicate facial features sneered in return, most likely amused by such a funny comment.

Two showy, plumed Maldoerians crossed the room, waving to a larger group of the same species on the other side, all of them taller than the tallest man known. They were orange-skinned and completely intoxicated. Retro Earth music from the 25th century filled the air, originally played by the human-alien mixed bands which had been very fashionable during that past era.

"Let's do some business, Mister," the Ullll-xelllll started, placing his mug on the table.

"I'm here exactly for that," Sadkovich stated. "Do you have the rock with you?"

"Yes, of course..." the other one said. "I can show it to you now, if you like."

The human in the peculiar garment looked around warily, then offered a suggestion. "A bit of privacy, please. Just let me activate this device." With that being said, he took out of his garment a metallic dodecahedron-shaped object and put it in the middle of the table. As if in response to what his guest was thinking and seemingly ready to ask him, Sadkovich made his intentions clear at once. "It's not a recording instrument, it's simply a device capable of displaying all around us an ongoing false image in 3D -- a sort of holo which will show our figures as if we were drinking and chatting, sipping our drinks and laughing. This way nobody inside the room will be able to look directly at your rock, nor will they see us bargaining about this delicate matter. On the other hand, we will be able to watch everything happening around us from inside the bubble, just in case..." and then he touched a button with a simple gesture and started it. Only a low buzz indicated to them that the fictitious holo had begun to completely envelope their table, hiding them inside the protective staging for the time being.

"What about the security systems of the Mare Inebrium? I have been told that they always are on full alert and it's almost impossible to deceive them..." the LLll-tlll-nddd objected.

"Rest assured, this will override them at once."

"Well, what a fabulous device, I see..." the alien acknowledged, openly surprised. "Where did you get it?"

"It's a secret, some military gizmo, you know," the young man replied. "It's just a precaution; one can never be too prudent. As an experienced seller and wary trafficker of some valuable and forbidden items across many space sectors, you should appreciate it as well, I would think."

"Ok, no need to know any more about it. You wanted to see the merchandise, right?"

"Exactly," Sadkovich grinned quickly.

The trafficker took a bag from under the table and placed it on top, then disclosed the contents handing a black-whitish rock to the human. The object wasn't any bigger than a common skull (human in size), crude and pointed, far removed from any kind of semiprecious stone or famous gem.

The human held it in his hands for a while, pondering its size and the overall weight, then stared at the Ullll-xelllll in front of him. "How tall is the artifact inside?"

"About ten inches, three million years old."

"And you know that because..." Sadkovich paused.

"I can show you the contents of the rock by means of this small x-ray device," the guest said, putting a little foldable plymeric sheet on top of it. "As you can see, this is the silhouette of the statue. It resembles a sort of bipedal creature; its subject would not have been taller than six feet."

"What about the face...?" he asked, curious about that.

"As the image on the sheet clearly shows, there are some fragments collected and fixed around the place where the head should be. Likely it has been broken over the course of the centuries, but all the pieces of it remained in the same area so they were incorporated within the rock at the same time the stone began forming and solidifying."

"What kind of rock is this?"

"Diorite, one of the strongest minerals known in the galaxy, commonly produced in volcanic arcs. Actually, the researchers who found it supposed that the area where that thing lay was affected by an eruption which thoroughly covered the ground and wrapped the object inside, burying it deep underground. But that didn't destroy the statue and the fragments nearby, because of its extreme hardness, it simply concealed them within the stone until the day it was unearthed."

"On Lndre 2, if I remember our space-mail conversation correctly."

"Yes, Lndre 2 is the place they found it. From there it was handed to me so I could use my ability as a trafficker of unusual archaeological items and finds to make the most out of it. The money received can reward the people who violated so many laws about the protection of such artifacts -- and money for myself, of course, for my interest in this transaction. Dealing with such important finds is very insidious. There are many dangers involved, as impoverishing the archaeological heritage of an alien planet is something strictly forbidden in most of the civilized sectors."

"So, the Lndre 2 authorities could be tracking you because of your actions?"

"Not really them. I mean, today that planet is a very primitive world -- there are some local inhabitants, of course, but they look like cave-dwellers. On the other hand, the system that includes that planet could bring about great debate concerning its relics between two conflicting protectorates nearby -- so such an act could be of interest to both of those archaeological policies."

"I see..." Sadkovich nodded, as he kept turning it in his hands. "Once opened and extracted all the pieces, the fragments could be put in the right position and the face be fixed again, I imagine..."

"Indeed, I think it's a sure thing. There is no real damage along the structure of the fragments which could make it too difficult for a capable and skilled hand in the field," the Ullll-xelllll concluded.

"Very well," the man said, looking satisfied with the explanation. He still couldn't take his eyes off the rock on the table. "Now I imagine it's only a matter of price after all..."

"You said it, Mister!"

A softer buzz indicated something that the alien in front of him almost didn't notice, but the man was very aware of it immediately. Someone was just entering the fictitious shield of the holo-image which had been created all around them.

The new and unexpected guest appeared in front of their table with a strange bag in hand. The shield couldn't prevent anyone from entering its holo range, of course, it only made the ones inside prepared for what was happening in advance. Both of them noticed that he wasn't wearing a typical Mare Inebrium waiter's outfit. Other than that neither of the dealmakers showed signs of knowing him. The trafficker grabbed the stone out of Sadkovich's hands and tried to put it under the table, but he wasn't fast enough.

The alien's facial features clearly indicated he wasn't from this space area nor from any species the man was familiar with, while the Ullll-xelllll looked a bit ill at ease. There wasn't even enough time to introduce himself and the newcomer soon took out a bag holding a strange pointed object which seemed threatening, in spite of its simple appearance.

"Keep your hands in sight please gentlemen," he said. His voice was coming out of the white chubby protuberance in the middle of his blue ball-shaped face, which was positioned on top of a massive dotted neck. "The thing I'm pointing at you is a lethal weapon capable of killing both of you before you can move away."

Sadkovich kept calm and replied at once. "How do we know that is really a weapon as you say? I've never seen anything like it. Besides, how were you able to bring such thing inside this spacebar? It's very well protected, for sure."

"Actually, this is a weapon from the Kl-jhu authorities. They can easily disguise it like a common object," the trafficker explained. "And then I can transform it into a charge or burst, thanks to our internal energy, by means of our high tech gadgets." The alien then continued abruptly, "Bring that thing you are trying to keep hidden under the table into the light ...slowly!"

Sadkovich considered everything that was happening as just a matter of fact -- after all, it was happening inside the Mare Inebrium bar itself, and no one among the customers could even witness it because they weren't allowed to see what was really going on through that fictitious holo shield. The funniest thing was: such a device was meant to protect its owner from any strangers and to keep its user safe from prying eyes. It wasn't built to prevent others from seeing a violent act happening inside by an armed robber.

The Ullll-xelllll did as ordered.

"I did nothing wrong, actually..."

"That won't wash with me, you Ullll-xelllll trafficker," the guest got to the point immediately.

"Do you know this person, Mr. LLll-tlll-nddd?" the man asked without moving at all.

"He's a space cop from the Protectorate of Kl-jhu," the other one admitted.

"Didn't you promise that no one was after you? That no authorities would be able to track you down in this space sector?" Sadkovich had slightly raised his voice, seemingly resentful.

"Yes, I am a space cop," the alien replied. "In particular, I'm an expert from the Kl-jhu Investigative Service, assigned to retrieve all the archaeological finds thieves like you try to steal from the historical heritage of our planetary system. We're aware that we are not a powerful species and don't possess a great army, nonetheless we care a lot about our history and our artifacts -- which are important relics of our past."

"Really? I thought this rock wasn't from your homeworld. Then its ownership is disputed between your people and the Hlgbq Protectorate, too. Not to speak of the furry inhabitants of Lndre 2, who are the real descendants of the ones who built it and the final proprietors of such find nowadays. They would probably want it back if only they weren't too primitive to figure out its significance."

The Kl-jhu didn't reply.

The man briefly examined the policeman's weapon. It didn't look very powerful after all, and probably wasn't good enough to be used unnoticed and in secrecy inside a public place. The gun the trafficker should have hidden somewhere on his body, just in such cases, probably would look much better, and would be endowed with a useful silencer as well. He was just thinking of how to reach it and use it in order to get rid of that night's inopportune visitor.

After all, such a thing as this stone was too important...

"Let's try and be reasonable for while," the man threw out.

"You mind your own business. I suppose you are only a rich human buyer who wants to increase your collection of rare finds and precious artifacts that you've hidden somewhere in your home. You probably weren't worrying about where they came from in reality." The angry Kl-jhu officer added, "I just can't stand people like you. You probably have your powerful friends and are surely well protected by the higher-ups. Anyway I'm not afraid of you, be sure! I can do my job without your interference."

"I don't doubt your ability, officer, but if we could all just stay calm..."

At that moment, the trafficker got the opportunity he was waiting for. "Come on, now get real! Are you actually thinking about using that weapon inside this bar? Even if you just hit me or my customer some blood would spurt out of our body, and that blood would get out of the holo shield. Lots of red and yellow blood would splatter on the hardwood floor or on the tables nearby, and all the customers would be aware of what you're doing. This could make a mess everywhere in the bar. The security systems would go off and all the local authorities would intervene at once to settle our differences. Trafficking with alien finds and buying them are not crimes on every single planet, as you well know, that's the reason why you concealed your weapon inside that bag and chose such a weird expedient. Not to speak of the fact that the bar owner is an Immortal himself, or so they say. Do you really want to start a fight with him or to damage his interests? You're only a poor alien cop from a distant world not much considered or recognized by law in some planetary systems here around. Just give it some thought before doing anything so stupid!" Sadkovich believed that he could sway the outcome in his favor, after all. So he stared at the Ullll-xelllll until that alien understood that Sadkovich was going to go for his gun -- while the policeman was tied up, having to keep an eye on the trafficker, ready to shoot at him.

Next to their table were a few young, gray customers from Gu-gu-gu, who were coming from space colonies not so far away from Bethdish. Their clothes were more similar to unusual swimsuits, actually, and many of the party-goers kept laughing with all their strength. They seemed to be cheering the last attempt of one of them, likely the guest of honor, to eat and finally wipe-out all the candles on his birthday meat-cake. Three, two, one...

That was exactly the right moment to act!

So, the man jumped to his feet, suddenly coming between both aliens, trying to calm them down.

The policeman immediately ordered him to, "Back off, don't even try to intervene!"

And Mr. LLll-tlll-nddd added, "Don't play stupid and just stand there, you're making everything more difficult."

Soon the whole situation was out of control and two rays shot out of both weapons. At the same time Sadkovich used the small "phase control" apparatus positioned on his belt, disguised as a common spacecom, to simply become incorporeal for a few seconds in order to allow both rays to pass through his body -- or more exactly -- the place where his body had stood just a few moments before. So there wasn't any damage and neither ray reached its target. So the two opponents tried it again, shooting directly at each other: the policeman was very clever about killing the trafficker and the Ullll-xelllll, in turn, hit the Kl-jhu officer. Both of them turned out to be excellent marksmen, there's no denying it.

Exactly at that time, the Gu-gu-gu party-goers broke into a long, resounding cry of joy which overpowered any other noise in the room, congratulating the man of honor on his birthday, who was surrounded by his friends on all sides.

What a sense of timing, Sadkovich sneered silently.

Really, there was no need to worry about the wounds and the blood ejected around due to the firing of the weapons. Actually, the activated holo-shield was capable of containing the blood-squirts without letting them inconveniently spurt through in sight of the rest of the bar's patrons. Of course he hadn't told either of the aliens anything about that. "That's how to easily get rid of two nuisances at the same time. All's well that ends well," he whispered to himself.

What's more, the man hadn't told either of them about that "phase control" on his device, which had turned out to be a very useful piece of equipment. He had stolen it years ago on a lost planet whose alien species hadn't been discovered yet by the rest of the civilized galaxy.

It's incredible how things can go exactly according to plan, if you just weigh in advance all the possibilities and effects, and make a good use of your experience, Sadkovich thought, while taking the late Mr. LLll-tlll-nddd's bag and placing the important stone carefully inside it. Then he left the metallic dodecahedron-shaped object still functioning on the table, so he could leave everything that had happened there hidden for the time being, and he headed for the exit.

When the man was near the front door, he had a glimpse of a being with a human appearance, very average-looking, short, dark hair, dressed in neutral colors. He was an Immortal that the artifact collector knew very well -- Max, the famous bartender himself. Both of them kept silent, without either of them moving away. Then Max stared at Sadkovich, a deep and fierce look of disapproval on his face, but he didn't say anything.

The man continued to walk on the hardwood floor of the Mare Inebrium, his long garment fluttering in the air, and he exited without turning around.

About one hour after that, while already aboard his private luxury spaceboat, Jerzy Sadkovich thought back on everything that had happened.

The statue inside the stone was indeed very important to him, for some historical reasons, but most of all for his own interests. As a matter of fact that artifact depicted true to life one of the famous Living Gods of Lndre 2's first and now lost people's ancient mythology. It depicted one of the legendary deities who were said to have descended on that world and made the locals evolve, teaching them how to build their civilization and giving them their first technologies. All that had occurred about one million years ago. Even though such an ancient alien population was now almost entirely extinct because of an unpredictable planetary disaster, due to an asteroid collision, some of their successors still existed. And even though they had become forgetful of many of the old teachings the Living Gods had bestowed, they still recounted that first civilization of theirs as The Golden Period, and many other myths and legends had come from that time.

Anyway, there were many things that the members of that lost civilization and their descendants couldn never find out: most importantly that this was probably the only statue still intact that depicted the real features of one of those Living Gods, as sculpted by a clever representative of the first civilization which had disappeared. It was an image of one of the gods in particular -- Sadkovich himself.

Of course, the face of the statue was broken, but the capable hand of a researcher could have put all the fragments in the right place, and then someone would have discovered the similarities. That ancient sculptor on Lndre 2 had proved amazingly gifted, even though he had been working with Diorite, a rock very difficult to carve by means of such primitive tools.

There were some factions among the Immortals nowadays, and there were some rules he himself, as an Immortal, had to comply with. Also Max, the bartender, had certain rules for his behavior, of course.

We were very young at that time... Sadkovich considered, And we had some interesting projects in mind back in the day...

He himself had been a member of a group of them that, as a choice, or maybe just to pass the time doing something amusing almost three million years ago, had chosen as their home a small planet covered with forests where a strange primitive species was progressing along its evolutionary course. Sadkovich and his friends had decided to endow that group of people with their teachings, data, and help in order to make them develop a new kind of civilization, faster than usual, deceiving evolution's natural laws. Unfortunately an unexpected disaster had destroyed almost everything there, some ten centuries after his group had left that world in search of a new object of interest somewhere else in space.

Eventually though, the descendants of a few of the surviving individuals had continued to advance slowly without ever reaching their ancient technological heights. After all, such a situation had occurred also on Earth at the time when dinosaurs ruled the planet -- whose species would have probably risen to a better evolution stage, if only they had developed the predominance of intelligence instead of their beastly cruelty and if they hadn't become extinct because of a planet-wide disaster. Of course, this was the same thing that had happened on Earth again, only a few thousand years earlier, because of another natural event, before the current Mankind had rebuilt their homeworld and finally made it into the stars.

"We don't do things like that anymore," he said to himself, "as we allow evolution to take its natural course these days. Such an act is now reputed to be inconvenient and is forbidden: interfering with some primitive worlds' evolution and then forcing them to believe you are a god is unpopular nowadays among us, the Immortals..." He felt the room vibrate a little as the spaceboat took off from the spaceport. "We were young at that time, we thought that we could do anything we wanted to."

Now it was very important that such an ancient statue, found by chance during an archaeological excavation, wasn't going to be exposed publicly inside a museum and become subject to some inconvenient research. As a matter of fact, Sadkovich had gone to the Mare Inebrium this night just to buy it and then destroy it. He was hell-bent to take it by force, if necessary, from the Ullll-xelllll, so he had gone well prepared. The Immortal just couldn't stand it that someone may have recognized him by means of that statue or that he might have been teased over and over again in the near future... No matter what it would take, he had to have it back!

But things had taken a weird turn, after all. The problem with the trafficker had been settled by itself, the same about that uninvited and incautious space policeman from the Protectorate of Kl-jhu. The man managed a brief smile.

Then, there were those two remaining researchers, the ones who had found the rock on Lndre 2. Certainly, one of Sadkovich's reliable employees would take care of them very soon, once and for all, on his behalf.

There were still hours of space flight ahead of him before he got home again. Surely there was time enough to have a good sleep on his costly, well-cushioned seat, after a night so lively.

p align="center">THE END

© 2011 Sergio Palumbo

Bio: Sergio tells us: "I'm an Italian public servant who graduated from Law School working in the public real estates branch. I've published a Fantasy RolePlaying illustrated Manual, WarBlades, of more than 400 pages.Some of my works and short- stories have been published in English-language webzines including WeirdYear Webzine, YesterYearFiction, Another Realm Magazine, Alien Skin Magazine, in the Australian Antipodean SF, in Orion's Child Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine and Kalkion Science Fiction and Fantasy Web Magazine." Several of Sergio's stories have appeared in Aphelion, most recently On Both Sides of Reality, October 2011.

Sergio continues: "I am also a scale modeler who likes mostly Science Fiction and Real Space models, some of my little Dioramas has been shown also on American site StarShipModeler or MechaModelComp, on British SFM: UK site and Italian SMF.
"My Sci-Fi/fantasy/Horror short- stories in Italian have been published in
Alpha Aleph, Algenib, Oltre il Futuro, SogniHorror, La Zona Morta, edizioni Lo Scudo, etc."

E-mail: Sergio Palumbo

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