Pattern of Infinity - Part IV - THE AURON COMEDYBy J. Kel
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|Hegel says somewhere that all great events and personalities in world history reappear in one fashion or another. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.
-- Karl Marx
The Trees of Knowledge
"We are not alone"
Jenna Stannis intended the statement as an affirmation. She made the observation dryly, implying a summary conclusion to a long list of non-arguable facts. Yet the tone of frustration persisted. Her Auron friend, "Li", had to know more than she was telling. How typical of an Auron! From the moment the lifecraft began orbiting the blue-bronze planet of "New Auron" -- which is what Li called it (though it had been officially cataloged as "Kaarn" after the name of its almost forgotten discoverer of centuries before), her friend had been measuring out observations with the maddening deliberateness of water torture. Li claimed she had forgotten almost all that had happened recently, but Jenna could not help doubting that. What else is being withheld?
And who was "Li"?
Jenna had been scanning the planetary surface for hours. She always strove to be cautious, to overcome her natural impetuosity, and her misgivings about Li's assurances gave her an added incentive. She was going to be as certain as possible about what awaited them (as if we have any choice in the matter). They had time.
Did "Li" think the same?
Yet despite Jenna's reservations, all planetary parameters, displayed and inferred on the monitors, were within tolerable limits. Below was an environment capable of sustaining human, or at least human equivalent, life. She could live with the read-outs being a little too different, a little too "off". They all could.
So Jenna Stannis, space rebel extraordinaire and survivor for so many years, nursed and cursed her hesitancy. If "Li" were correct, whoever was down there should be friendly. They were Aurons after all: two adults, and several thousand -- God-help-us -- preteens.
So why aren't they responding to my calls?
She turned to Li and said, trying to restrain her irritation: "But you already know that, don't you?"
Li, floating slightly above an acceleration couch, was a gnawing mystery. How Jenna wanted to accept what had happened and move on, but it was all preposterous. "Li" had informed her that she was now, in fact, two persons: an "amalgamation" of the long-thought-dead Cally and her sister, Molli. And the two remained separate beings -- though for how much longer was an open question. Jenna didn't believe a word of it, but was in no mind to dispute her. Should I hold my breath until the truth is forthcoming?
It was the supposed Cally part of Li who had been keeping up a running commentary on the history of Kaarn: beginning with the terrible event of ten years before when Cally, Avon, and the others (Jenna was elsewhere at the time) had saved all that was left of Auron after the planet had been annihilated. She was familiar with the story, but up until now had only heard it third hand. She never dreamed she would hear it from her former comrade Cally, a woman supposedly as dead as her home planet.
Even under ideal conditions it would have been too much to absorb and conditions of late were far from ideal. There did remain the threads of a bond between her and Cally, but it was not going to be an easy matter to renew it. There was also a bond with Molli and it had nearly snapped. Before Jenna stretched a barren landscape of emotion: scarred, eroded, sterile of hope or sense. So she stuck determinedly to the business at hand, while Li watched like an attentive stranger. (If you are part Cally, you should know exactly what I am doing. So why are you so curious?).
Every so often, Jenna or "Li" or both, would glance over to the fitfully sleeping third member of the crew: the sedated Mykal. He was recovering from a blow to the jaw administered by Avon. He would be awake for a time, seemingly absorbing what was being said and done in full consciousness, then be back sound asleep the next time they looked. I hope he's taking notes, she thought.
"Yes, of course," said Li, without elaboration.
Jenna looked at her sharply. (Damn their air of superiority. They never abandon it, but what did it ever get them?) She turned away abruptly.
The lifecraft passed over the settlement every hour and a half -- this was their eighth pass -- while Jenna struggled to get a feel for the place, a sense of what awaited them. The settlement was on the shore of a northern sea, on the west coast of either particularly misshapen continent or a very large island depending on your point of view.
The location seemed adequate. There was a strong ocean current flowing fast by a sickle of shore, a spit that arched out from the settlement. The current brought warmth from the lower latitudes and considerable rain -- yet it was an ocean without fish, apparently without anything above plankton on the scale of life, unless it was so far deep in the ocean it was impossible to detect from orbit. The atmosphere over the continent was crystal clear -- but there were no birds in that air. The soil around the settlement was tan brown (there was evidence of considerable erosion) --
but no animals on the land. Nothing apparently had evolved past blue-green algae -- except where there was grass, more a kind of wheat actually, which was of distinctly Auron origin. There were also trees, at least around the settlement. Well, they seemed to be trees. The sensors were decidedly unsure on that point.
According to her scans, the settlement was no crude affair: no haphazard collection of drafty huts and creaking ox carts. It was large: a count showed over a hundred buildings (of such straightforward design and exteriors that most she presumed had to be dormitories for the thousands of children.) It was quite sophisticated, with installations that looked like power plants and even a communications center judging from the various antennae. But there were no transmissions and despite her repeated attempts to raise them, the inhabitants of Kaarn did not respond.
Why? These people had fled the Federation. They were the last hope of Auron. Surely they would be listening to what was happening in the galaxy. Were they frightened? There was activity down there, and apparently no effort to conceal it.)
In fact, the whole scene was disquietingly tranquil. And speaking of indifference to concealment, there was even a very unusual building -- was it a house? -- apparently shaped, judging from its morning shadow, like a large cone, its whorls curving inward and upward in the manner of a logarithmic spiral. It must look very like an enormous seashell on the ground. And it was smack on the shore, blatantly conspicuous. Who had separated from the others in and why in so spectacular a fashion?
Well, taking the question from the opposite point of view, if it were a Federation trap, it was the most elaborate she had ever encountered. But a trap would enable her to fit it into her knowledge and experience quite comfortably. This settlement refused to give such comfort.
What had Li, or the Cally part of Li, told her of the flight from ruined Auron? Just two Aurons aboard the Liberator had carried the future hope of their planet . . . in a couple of medium size rectangular ceramic cases. From that modest and pathetic beginning, they had somehow created this: a thriving complex of several thousand on a planet that was acceptable but far from ideal to humanoid life. Because Jenna did not understand how that could be possible, as a matter of course she deduced there must be danger. (How great a danger? Can I trust you to tell me? Or do even you know, my friend(s)?)
She recalled with irritation an Auron proverb. They're always so smug about how different they are from us. But one can be both mistaken and betrayed. What could be more obvious than that?
She felt her two guns press against her but their mass did not give reassurance.
She would delay no longer. Dawn was coming to the settlement. Jenna made her decision: they were going in. I could ask their opinion or give them a long explanation but in either case why labor the obvious? Like it or not, I am in charge.
It was momentarily amusing to her. What shall I call them, my new band of valiant rebels, free to fight again -- thanks to Servalan's recent coup de main? "Blake's Four"? Wretched taste that. "Avon's Three"? Worse.
For the lack of anything better, how about "Jenna's Two"? Surely there was a name to cast fear into the dark heart of the Federation, wherever in the galaxy it might rear it's ugly presence. Jenna's Two. She attempted a smile, but it would not come.
She would inform Li of her decision (Mykal was snoring again and she saw no point in awakening him). She programmed the lifecraft for the retro-burst and said as if making a routine announcement, "The planet looks safe enough. We'll land a couple of kilometers east of the settlement, where there is a plain. It' s uneven, highly eroded, but tolerable. Descent will take under an hour," she said as she studied her companion. "Unless there are objections."
"No," said Li.
Don't overwhelm me with encouragement. Jenna initiated the countdown sequence. She lay back in the acceleration couch, trying to relax. There was flash of searing light in the view ports and a nudge to the lifecraft. The descent to "New Auron" had begun.
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