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The Wanderers

By Ros Williams
Page 2 of 4

"It's so bleak," Cally said, staring at Zen's screen which showed a forward projection with the galaxy Fornax directly at the centre, "and yet so beautiful. How marvelous it would be to visit all those galaxies and see what they have done with their lives, and the people who live there."

"The chance of finding life in Fornax is remote," Orac intoned, "You will notice that it is an elliptical galaxy, thus not likely to contain life of any description."

"Now you've dashed all our hopes," Dayna protested, "We don't need your doom--laden predictions, Orac, thank--you very much."

"Nonetheless," Orac continued remorselessly, "I shall greatly enjoy the opportunity to visit another galaxy, and perhaps another system if the Liberator is fortunate enough to survive for a long enough period of time."

"Oh, that machine gets on my nerves," Dayna muttered. "I've got a good mind to remove the key...."

"Don't." Cally shook her head. "Avon wants him activated at all times in case of necessity. It's only sensible."

"I might mention," Orac remarked next, "that it is fortunate that Avon has taken this precaution, since I have to tell you that there is an obstacle in the path of the Liberator.

"What?" Cally leapt to her feet and activated the ship's intercom. "Avon, Tarrant. Emergency." She returned her attention to the little machine. "What is it, Orac?"

"Sensors indicate," Orac said importantly, "that it is a solitary star, encircled by a planetary system."

"But surely that's not possible," Dayna protested, "We're so far from the galaxy..."

"An eccentric sun," said Avon from behind her. "It will have escaped from some galaxy, probably ours, and is wandering in the intergalactic void. Eventually, it will most likely become attached to some other galaxy unless it disintegrates first." He moved to his console and punched a few keys.

+INFORMATION, Zen intoned +IT IS ANTICIPATED THAT THE LIBERATOR WILL PASS CLOSE TO THE ECCENTRIC SUN'S THIRD PLANET BUT A COLLISION IS UNLIKELY.+

"That's a relief," Tarrant said as he entered the flight deck with Vila.

"Third planet," Vila remarked, "I wonder if that's significant?"

Avon turned and stared at him. "Should it be?"

Vila sighed. "I'm just trying to be cheerful," he explained patiently.

"Do it somewhere else" Avon suggested shortly and returned his attention to the screen. "It occurs to me," he remarked, "that there might just be life of some kind on one of the planets--most likely the third."

"It is highly probable," Orac interrupted. "The third planet is definitely of the terran type. The alien computer will be able to show you a close view in three seconds from now. As you will see, it is somewhat cooler than Earth, not surprising in view of the distance of this sun from the galaxy, but still eminently suitable for life, especially if life evolved before its extragalactic phase--although I should mention that it has not yet escaped the gravitational pull of the galaxy nor is it likely to do so for some considerable time. Indications are that it will eventually be captured by the gravitational pull of another galaxy, namely...."

"That will do," Avon said. "Our main interest at the moment is our own fate, not that of some wandering system. Orac, see if you can contact the inhabitants, if any."

#

"There is no doubt of the presence of sentient life," Orac announced, ten minutes later, "but I am unable to communicate with it in the normal fashion. Sensors indicate that it is fairly primitive."

"How primitive?" Avon inquired.

"The data I am gathering suggests that it does not possess an extensive space technology," Orac said. "On the other hand, it seems possible that the sentient life form is reasonably intelligent."

"If we could slow our speed sufficiently to be captured by the gravity of the sun, or one of the planets, we could regain our power," Tarrant said, excitement creeping into his voice. "Avon, is there any chance?...."

"I need just a few more minutes," Avon said. "But if it takes too long, we shall overshoot the star altogether. However...do you have the manual override free yet, Tarrant?"

"Almost. I'd have finished by now but for this interruption...."

"So what are you waiting for?" Avon snarled. "We have...how long, Orac?"

"Six minutes and thirty-one seconds precisely," Orac announced with usual brevity.

"I can do it if you can," Tarrant shouted as he ran.

#

"There seems no easy way to contact the planet's leaders," Orac declared. "They appear to have no normal means of communication with extraterrestrial sources. I would liken the technology to that of Earth in the late twentieth century of the old calendar."

"Do we really need to contact them?" Cally asked. "They might not welcome us."

"Perhaps," Avon replied, "but Orac has discovered that they have registered our presence and our arrival has caused more than a little excitement, hardly surprising given their circumstances. I'd prefer them to know that our intentions are strictly neutral and peaceful. Orac, I think you are going to have to interrupt one of their world-wide news bulletins; I am sure you will find their reactions fascinating."

"Peaceful?" Vila muttered, "They'll have a massive outbreak of heart-failures, I should think."

"It's one risk weighed against another," Avon said, "Liberator is in no condition to argue with them at present. Now that we have-achieved orbit around this planet, I am not all that enthusiastic to leave until necessary."

"I am in contact with one of the broadcasting stations," Orac announced, "and I have succeeded in setting up a two-way relay. A political leader is being summoned but it will be at least fifteen minutes before he or she is available to speak to Liberator...."

#

"You can't be serious!" Carmion Ren, Prime Minister of Pellastra, was struggling into his clothing. "It's a hoax, Jadelle, it has to be. I mean, starships! It's like something out of a scurrilous novel."

"It all ties in with that mysterious object which was spotted on the defence systems," Jadelle said.

"It's probably some trick by that swine Andorric!"

"We've checked, of course. Andorric swears Kellermon has nothing to do with it. They've also been monitoring the object, as you know, and they are hopping mad because this contact hasn't been made with them."

Carmion Ren grimaced as he pulled on his shoes. "Or at least, so they say," he remarked. "Well, what has this thing, whatever it is, condescended to say to us, eh?"

"Nothing much really. Apart from a few pleasantries, they merely asked to speak to our leader."

"There you are; it is something from one of those filthy science fiction sagas."

"Perhaps they, whoever they are, read them too?" Jadelle suggested as she opened the door and Ren hurried through. "Wouldn't it be priceless if some of those strange stories are true. Perhaps our ancestors really did come from the Stars of the Crown and perhaps the spaceways are filled with starships flitting to and fro."

"Don't be ridiculous!" Carmion Ren snapped as he climbed into his road vehicle. "Everyone knows how unlikely that is. Oh, we can be sure that beings have ventured into space, just as we have tried to do, and more advanced civilisations, always supposing there are any, may move slowly about in starships but those stories about ships tearing about as though it were Freeway 1 during rush hour are quite ridiculous."

"Advanced civilisations may have succeeded in perfecting a light-speed drive," Jadelle ventured. "Surely anything coming here would need it."

"It depends how long they've been travelling, whoever they are."

"Why are you so convinced it has to be a trick?" Jadelle demanded. "It could be that they are genuine space travellers; even you must admit that."

"Oh yes, of course they could be; but, Jadelle, ask yourself. Why should anyone want to come here? To this distant, lost world, forsaken even by the gods themselves? Tell me that Jadelle and then I'll believe in them...perhaps."

"If they took us on to their space ship...."

"It could be a simulation, all of it. Andorric could arrange it."

I wish I could tell you that I think that a pretty silly idea, Jadelle thought irritably, but I suppose one does not dare say things of such flippant nature to one's Prime Minister. Perhaps if you read a few of the science fiction books, you'd see that there is a chance for us, however distant it may seem. And if these strangers could help us, one day there may be hope for our descendants instead of the awful fate these Realists see as inevitable. My goodness, Carmion, I wonder what you'd say if you knew that I'm an Escapist at heart...

"Yes," she said politely, "of course it's possible, but it would be such a juvenile trick."

"Andorric is a juvenile idiot. Lord knows how he ever gets himself elected." Carmion frowned, thinking angrily of his implacable opponent on the Nether Continent, and glared out of the window at the busy streets. "Why doesn't this thing hurry?"

"It is hurrying. We're nearly there," Jadelle said as the roadcar turned into the television centre's forecourt.

"Thank heaven!" Carmion Ren clambered out of the vehicle and hurried up the building's steps. "Where's the person who took this extraordinary extraterrestrial message then?"

"Here, Ren," said a tall, grey haired man, moving forward to greet the Premier. "The message came through on one of our spare receivers which somehow managed to switch itself on."

"Excellent!" Carmion Ren said, assuming his habitual air of sensible practicality. "Lead me to it then."

They hurried through the building and into a poky studio. Carmion Ren looked around disparagingly. "Hardly the place for our first-ever contact with astronauts, is it?" he muttered to his aide. "They might have chosen somewhere more auspicious for their dramatic approach."

You really are a tetchy old thing, Jadelle thought irreverently. When it comes to it, you aren't much better than Andorric. "Perhaps this is the kind of environment they--the astronauts--like," she said, a little tongue-in-cheek.

Carmion Ren glanced at her suspiciously before his attention was taken by the flickering screen. "What on earth is that?" he demanded.

"Apparently, it is their ship. Someone up there has been filling in the time showing us what appear to be pictures of the ship's interior and exterior, or so the voice says, but we haven't seen the people yet."

"Andorric trying to convince us, eh?" Carmion Ren murmured to his aide. "All right," he said to the technician, "let's hear what these incredible people have to say."

Before the technicians had time even to send a signal, the screen flickered and a dark-haired, cold-eyed being appeared before them. "You are Carmion Ren?" it enquired in a chilly, forbidding voice.

"I am. And you?"

"My name is Avon. My ship, the Liberator, is in geostationary orbit about your planet. We request your permission to stay here unharmed while we carry out essential repairs to our ship."

"Where have you come from, Avon?" Ren demanded, while his mind raced with possibilities. Dare I believe in this? he asked himself. Could Andorric possibly have set it up? How can we find out?

"Our home is your adjacent galaxy, Carmion Ren, which we call the Milky Way."

"I see. And why are you here?"

As the stranger explained, Jadelle's attention wandered to what she could see of the ship itself. Behind the dark man were other beings, not unlike the peoples of Pelladion apart from their outlandish clothing and shorn hair. They have to be real, she thought; they must be real! At last the dreams of the Escapists could come true! We shall leave this dreadful place and find ourselves a new planet, a safe planet cocooned within the Star Crown, where the legend says we belong.

"As a matter of interest," said Carmion Ren said after a momentary hesitation, "how do you speak our language so perfectly?"

"A simple matter," the stranger said, "our computer is translating."

"You must realise," Carmion Ren said to the stranger, "that I need to consult my brother premier on the Nether Continent. I will speak to you again shortly." As the screen blanked, he looked across at Jadelle. "You're convinced, aren't you?" he said.

"Well...yes. I see no reason to doubt them."

"It's so easy," he said, "to be convinced, Jadelle. But I am Prime Minister and the people of the Upper Continent are in my care. I have to be sure, don't I?"

"Yes," she said, admitting his wisdom in spite of her enthusiasm, "you do have to be sure...." but don't be too cautious, she thought, for I want to meet these people and learn and learn and learn...

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