Alex leaned back against the rock and gazed into his campfire. The warmth that radiated out of it felt good against the chill of the night air. With a sigh of pleasure he looked up at the sky. The air was pure and fresh and crystal clear in the Tantalus mountain range, located in the center of the northern continent of Audeao. At night like now you could see in the night sky stars past numbering as well as a couple of the nearer gas nebula in all there brilliant and colorful glory. He had been camping by himself for two standard weeks and was now on the way to his pickup point about 100 kilometers south of where he was now. He had talked Stephan into letting him go on this trip by himself because he needed to get away from everything and have some time to think, to decide what he wanted to do. He had been working with Max in Max’s shipyard where he helped build and repair the small custom starships that were Max’s specialty. Alex had decided that he wanted to build starships. He had always loved working on ships with Max and the desire to learn how to design and build them had long been in him. His dilemma had been that he had many questions about his origins. Even so he was mostly willing to put off indefinetly the search for answers. He was safe where he was even though the ISS suspected that he and Lirca were here. Or more specifically suspected Lirca was here. The disappearance of three sets of agents who had tried to kill them seemed to have blunted the ISS’s eagerness to continue it’s efforts to kill Lirca and himself. It had been four years since the last attempt just after he and Lirca had turned fourteen. If he left the planet though, he would be exposed to more attempts on his life. And any search he made would most likely lead the ISS to any of the other special children of staff who had gone into hiding. He was willing to let more years go by to let the ISS lose the scent and to give time in which to prepare for the search. Unfortunately Lirca didn’t warn to take the long view. She had of lately increased the pressure to go search as soon as possible for the others. He had come on this camping trip to consider her arguments and his eventual response. The peace of being alone in the wilderness. Days spent in thought as he hiked through this section of the Tantalus divide had brought a peace to him and the decision he had made. He was not going to rush into the search prematurely and unprepared. The search could wait a few years until he was ready for it. It would do him no good to find his sibs if they and he were caught because of his search.
Alex paused on the trail and cocked his head to listen. It sounded like a shuttle or small ship coming in from orbit, but something was wrong. The counter#grav units were not making the normal steady bass hum, instead they were cycling up and down in an ominous way. With a concerned look on his face he started to scan the sky for the ship. If it went down out here it would be awhile before anyone got to it, it anyone even looked. With a thrill of fear he wondered if it was Stephan come to pick him up early. He finally spotted a silver glint high up to the north of his position. It’s motion not the smooth glide of a ship on contra#grav, rather a jerky, shuddering motion that barely got it past the mountain peaks it had just passed over. There was something else strange about it.
Alex adjusted the focal length of his eyes and pulled the image up closer. It was like no ship that he had ever seen. The smooth flowing shape looked like water flowing gently over rocks. It was a thing of almost unearthly beauty. He mentally sorted through files of all the human and alien ships that he had seen data on or heard about. It wasn’t even close to anything else he knew about. It was almost even with him now and a couple of kilometers west of his position about a kilometer up.
Suddenly the cyclic disharmony ceased as a gout of flame shot out the side of the ship and knocked it y in the sky. In erie silence the ship started a long arc out of the sky to the ground and it’s death. It hit with an impact that shook the ground where he stood more than thirteen kilometers north east from the impact site. For several minutes secondary explosions and the sound of pieces of the ship which had broke off coming to rest echoed off the mountains.
Alex immediately started for the wreck, even at his best pace it would take him an hour to reach the crash site in the foothills below. He moved quickly though, sometimes moving in excess of 20 kilometers an hour and even jumping crevices and arroyos more than ten meters wide. It still felt like it would take forever to reach the wreck.
The majority of the ship lay in the crater made by the impact and explosion. Other large and small chunks that had been broken and torn off in the crash lay scattered in a fan shaped pattern spread out in the direction the ship had traveled at impact. The farthest piece Alex could see was more than six hundred meters away. A pall of smoke wafted over and around the wreck the product of the crash and the vegetation that still burned in a slowly widening circle out from the wreck. Other than the crackle of fire there was no other sound. A circle of silence surrounded, as if the forest and mountains themselves had bowed in mourning over the death of the beautiful ship. Alex stood in the treeline near the wreck and observed the desolation for several minutes before movement in the drifting smoke caused him to look closer. The figure of an alien stalked out of the smoke that hovered around the wreckage. It had another of its kind in its upper limbs. It set the body beside what Alex now saw was a pile of alien bodies. Not all of them of the same race.
Cautiously Alex moved out of the tree line. The alien an insectoid decapod with an exoskeleton of a green chitin like material sensed Alex soon after he had left the tree line. It’s head a semi triangular appendage with large faceted eyes and two feathery antenna at the wide top portion and mandibles in the lower narrow portion turned toward Alex. For a second it froze and then in a motion so quick that a normal human couldn’t have followed but so smooth and graceful that it didn’t look fast it turned it’s entire body to face Alex in what he judged a defensive posture.
Alex slowly spread his arms wide and showed his empty hands in a gesture of peace, at least he hoped that the alien interpreted it as peaceful.
With a cautious step forward the alien also spread it’s upper arms and showed empty hands. After a moments pause the alien slowly reached down and pulled a thin metal disk about ten centimeters in diameter out of a pouch it wore on it’s abdomen, and hung it over its head. It them resumed the open arm open hand stance that Alex had initiated. The Alien then spoke in a language that combined sharp clicks and fluid whistles. “Peace be to the one who finds this one called Xacta” came out of the disk hung around the aliens neck in clear Tradic. Tradic was the dominant trade language in that sector of space.
Alex carefully phrased his reply to match the syntax used by the alien and answered in the same language “Peace be to Xacta the one who has come” Alex continued “This one called Alex offers assistance and help to Xacta”
With a graceful motion that seemed to be a supplemental part of the audible language the alien responded “Xacta thanks the one who finds called Alex and in the name of the Kajrot’e Assemblage accepts the offer”
Alex was startled at this, there had been a total embargo on any trade or traffic into Kajrot’e territory for several centuries. Most knowledge of the races and government of the Kajrot’e had been pure conjecture ever since. The embargo had been put in place and enforced by the Kajrot’e since they had pushed the empire out of several systems that the empire had tried to forcibly annex from the Kajrot’e. At that time the Kajrot’e had a significant technological edge that had allowed them to easily prevail. It was thought that the empire had closed the gap in technology considerably since then but no one wished to test the theory. The Ka`jrote could have easily swept through and conquered a large portion of the empire if they had wanted to at the time.
Alex spoke to himself in a mutter as he thought about what needed to be done.
The alien reached up and adjusted the translator he wore when he heard Alex speak in GalStan the main tongue spoken in the empire and by the Audean’s. “Would it be your preference if I adjusted my translator to this language” Xacta asked. The translated words much closer to a normal syntax.
With a start of surprise Alex looked up when he heard GalStan, and nodded his head as he comprehended the question. He then remembered that Xacta probably didn’t understand human body language and gestures. “Yes. It would be much easier for me.” Alex replied, relieved that he didn’t have to try speaking in that bizarre form of Tradic. “If you want I can help you search for any more survivors” Alex said as he looked at the bodies of the ships crew Xacta had already recovered.
“Thank you for the offer” Xacta said in a flurry of clicks and whistles. “But I an the only survivor of my creist (crew/pact brothers/family). My only remaining duty is to give them the warriors tribute” So saying Xacta arranged the bodies. Two of the same species as himself, two that looked like a very large feline species and the last which looked like a large rubbery textured rock. Xacta then stood and faced the row of bodies in a position that Alex interpreted as one equivalent to attention in a human. Xacta then astatine what appeared to be a ritual for the dead.
“Those who were, are not now. Those who are, continue on, The memory of those who were, live on with those who are.”
Xacta’s body shivered as he stood over his creist and gave an inward cry of anguish at the loss he felt. Memories of their growing up together flashed past. Memories of their training together. He deliberately wrenched his thoughts away from his creist and turned them to his situation. He was on the wrong side of the interdicted zone and his ship was as well as in the hands of the empire. He quickly dismissed the unworthy thought that he could prevent the human, Alex, from reporting the wreck and his own survival. The human had greeted him in the spirit of friendship and offered help. Honor demanded that he recognize the debt he owed for unsolicited aid, no matter how politically disquieting the results of that aid would be. Out of duty and honor he reached a compromise in his mind.
Xacta turned to Alex “please wait on the hill top while I gather some things” he said and pointed to the hill Alex had just come over a few minutes before. Alex went back up the hill and then observed what he could see of Xacta’s actions down among the wreckage. First Xacta gathered various objects and placed them in what appeared to be a pack designed for his physiology. He then pulled a large crate out of one of the larger fragments of the wreck and took out about a dozen circular disks which he placed on carefully selected sections of the wreck. Returning to the crate he then pulled several other things out. One that looked like a large blanket he placed over the bodies of his creist. The other resolved its self into a weapons harness that was then strapped on. Xacta then strapped the long thin pack to his back and climbed the hill to where Alex was.
Alex comprehending the actions Xacta had taken and wistfully asked “I don’t suppose you could leave a little of it intact?”
Xacta gave Alex a steady look as he replied.”I have no choice, duty demands that this be.”
“Forgive me. I understand your duty and in your place would do the same, but I would give much to be able to study one of your ships” Alex said straight forwardly.
Xacta brought up his true hands and touched a button on what looked like a large rectangular computer or sensor strapped to his left arm.
Alex looked down in the valley at the wreck. “Shouldn’t we take cover behind the hill?” he asked.
“It is not necessary” Xacta calmly replied as he depressed a second button. The blanket like object that covered Xacta’s creist began to glow with a orange heat that quickly turned to a white hot incadesence which incinerated the bodies and left a patch of molten earth behind to mark where they had lain. Xacta looked at the glowing spot for a second and softly said “In memory do you live” He then turned to the wrecked ship and pushed a third button. Each of the round disks that Xacta had placed on the wreckage began to glow with a pale violet light that extended in a sphere about 25 meters in radius. There was no discernable effect for the first 30 seconds or so, then gradually everything within the spheres of violet light began to sag and fall apart into dust. After two minutes all that was left of the larger and presumably more important pieces of the wreck were large spherical craters of dust where the light had even dissolved the ground the wreckage had sat on.