1 -- The Shepherd
are dark on Klodi-Famta; there is no moon
not an orbiting body to
light the planet at night
to interrupt the menagerie of stars
the galaxy thus visible in
shepherd boy sits beneath a tree
on a rise on the edge of a grove
by grass plains, no living soul but the sheep
half a day's journey
from any human dwelling, he sits alone
sheep, one by one, go off to sleep
alone in the quietness of
night, his young eyes scan the sky
is the third time I've seen a light moving about in the sky.
first time, Uncle Zhue Paw told me it was only a shooting star. I
thought it went too slow for that, but I figured maybe he was right
and it was my mind playing tricks on me. Then I saw it again a week
ago -- definitely too slow.
I'm positive it wasn't. Shooting stars don't stop and go back the way
they came. But they'd probably say I was lying. They already say that
knowing how to read the ancient writing makes my head too cloudy.
well, it's not bothering the sheep anyway. And they're probably
right. Lights in the sky don't do anything to people anyway,
especially this far from the village, so telling them would only make
more trouble for me.
might tell Venerable Too Dha, though. He's different from the others.
He takes me seriously, probably because he can read, and knows it
isn't bad for you. Uncle Zhue Paw would only scold me for being so
dreamy from too much reading.
I'd better get to sleep. It'll be a long walk back to the village
tomorrow. The sheep have settled down anyway.
that light again, and now it's coming from that direction. Wouldn't
it be something if that were a ship -- like what our fathers arrived
scanned the surface once more, this time at an altitude from which he
could make out individual features. The all-around viewer, aided by
the infra-red sensor, showed the nocturnal landscape. The grassland,
the few clumps of forest here and there, looked dryer than Heptosh's
home planet, but well suited to keeping sheep. His activity shouldn't
raise any undue alarm from the inhabitants on this side of the
mountain divide. They'd mistake him for a shooting star.
and there, he could pick out a shepherd minding his sheep, or a
caravan camped out for the night -- harmless, but it wouldn't be good
to interrupt their peaceful existence by suddenly appearing to them
out of the sky.
was those on the other side that worried him. They were a more
advanced civilisation -- or, at least they used to be.
they were as they used to be, they'd present no problem. The Klodi
and the Toki human populations had enjoyed many many happy
they reported some sort of struggle. The Klodi had sent out a warning
not to enter their solar system until they had got their problem
sorted out. They also said something about seven transport shiploads
of refugees. It wasn't clear exactly what the trouble was, but the
refugees would explain it. So the sector council issued a
restriction, and waited. Then they went silent. No refugees ever
appeared. That all happened twelve years ago, as humans still counted
the restriction had expired -- still, the silence, so Heptosh was on
a scouting mission.
far, he determined that on the Famtizhi half of the planet,
civilisation carried on as it always had. Heptosh had spend the last
several weeks making observations of life on the ground -- nothing to
worry about here.
over the divide? He had detected no satellite surveillance, no
reconnaissance ships -- the Klodi hadn't been in the habit of
maintaining such a close watch, but who was in control now?
it was, at least hadn't begun to guard the airspace. Perhaps that was
perhaps it meant bionics. Bionics would follow the habits of their
human hosts, and therefore maintain the same level of surveillance.
were no signs of bionics on this side of the divide. He would cross
over and examine the ground on the Klodi side -- carefully.
mountainous isthmus separated the Famtizhi land mass from the Klodi
continent. Nestled in a valley in that isthmus, was the city of
Klodi, where he would find the space port. The mountains were quite
impassable for land travel, except for a tunnel through a mountain
from the Famtizhi area into the city, which was only approachable
from the rest of Klodiland via the subterranean portion of the city.
The same mountain range lined the North coast of the Famtizhi land
mass, surrounded the city, and then went along the South coast of
Klodiland. Therefore, access by sea was also all but impossible.
began flying at a low level across Famtizhi territory towards the
mountain range. His intention was to creep over in stealth mode below
the range of their scanners.
line of cliffs topping the mountain range loomed ahead of him,
running in a straight line as far as his eyes could see. A millennia
of erosion had rendered them more natural looking, otherwise, the
straightness of the formation was the hallmark of its human design.
Everything on these artificial planets, the mountain ranges, the
coastlines, even the caves under the ground, were done in straight
ship hovered in a cleft that had been eroded between two giant stones
forming the mountain range, providing him a vantage point. From
there, he looked.
fence encloses the mouth of the canyon
approach to the grass
within is through a gate
is greenness, large rocks, a winding stream
the sound of a
waterfall echoes from deep within
lies what once was a market
old stalls and stone tables tell of
the gate the boy leads his sheep
into its safety he guides them,
replacing the bar
the abandoned shelters he then retires
he finds a resting place
among market stalls
from the morning's walk, he sits
refreshing himself with the last
of his bread
say Fa-tzi-zhi, used to trade here with the Klodi. It must have been
exciting with so many people about selling things. I would have been
two years old when it all stopped, so I don't remember any of it.
sheep will be safe here until I come back with more food. I won't
stay in the village very long. I never do. Ever since Ni Gwah got
sucked down the whirlpool, Venerable Too Dha is the only close friend
visit him, and tell him about the lights in the sky.
wonder if it was the lights last night that prompted that dream?
was the same dream I've had before. I'm with someone in a dark cave,
holding a light. We find these golden plates that were buried in the
wall. The first time I dreamed it was when Paw and Maw were still
alive, and Venerable Too Dha hadn't started teaching me to read yet.
I must have been six years old. After that I started reading the
writings, and I read where it says there are golden tablets hidden
somewhere that will complete our knowledge, and it will be someone's
job to fetch them. Later, I had the dream again, when I knew it was
about those golden tablets. After I told Venerable Too Dha the dream,
he got all quiet. He still mentions it sometimes. I'm sure he doesn't
take it seriously,
ask Venerable Too Dha to let me read the tablets again. I've read
them so many times already, I wish there were more to read -- maybe
if someone found the golden ones.
wasn't sure who introduced Bionic Replication to his native planet of
Nefzed. He was only old enough at the time to know it was the
in-thing for the rich and leisurely. Several renowned playwrights,
minstrels and storytellers had taken an implant. So had a few
senators' wives and other setters of the latest fashions.
placed it under the skin either in the forehead or in the wrist. It
was a chip containing microscopic bionic self-reproducing cells,
programmed to replace their neighbouring cells until the whole limb,
and eventually, one's whole body became bionic. When the process was
complete, there was the bionic humanoid, perfect in every way, with
super strength, super intelligence (so they said), absorbing all its
energy from sunlight, thus not needing organic food to keep it alive.
In fact, with proper maintenance, it would go on living forever.
all the advantages that were publicised, there appeared a sinister
father, a university professor named Dr. Nashtep, was one of the
first to have major doubts regarding the process. Heptosh had
accompanied his father as a pupil and remembered the discussions they
had. One of his friends, a doctor, while closely observing the human
psyche during the last stages of the transformation, noted what he
thought were indicators of the death of the human personality that
originally animated the body. Others of their friends, including
other professors, doctors, art and literary critics, had also noticed
disturbing changes in the personality before and after. They became
convinced that the human soul did not survived a complete bionic
transformation. The bionic humanoid was no more than an artificial
intelligence storing the memory that used to belong to the soul.
was left was a good representation of a human personality, enough to
fool many. Playwrights and storytellers continued producing stories,
sometimes more furiously than ever. However, as time went by, and the
demand grew for new types of plots or literary styles, only
non-bionic human artists were able to adapt. Bionics couldn't keep up
with new trends.
certain ones noticed this. The masses only continued following the
works of their favourites as long as they were popular. The fact that
they were bionic only seemed to enhance their image. They never
wondered, as the critics did, why they went from liking an old artist
to a newly bionic one. If anything, society put that much more
pressure on the more creative to accept a bionic implant. Refusal, in
some cases, put artists on a black list.
who had undergone a complete transformation, the Total Bionics,
insisted that everything was fine. They voiced strong opinions that
they were the better for it, and did their utmost to influence yet
more people to become host to a bionic cell. As their numbers grew,
the dissenting voices became more and more marginalised. The Total
Bionics continued to gain political clout, and before long, there was
discussion about making a bionic implant mandatory for all citizens
of the increasingly frequent food shortages, the idea of a body that
didn't require food, gained all the more appeal. The working classes
and the unemployed masses rallied for the legislation, which would
mean they would get their implant for free. Farmers weren't as
enthusiastic -- it would mean less demand for farm products -- but
even they began to accept it as inevitable.
Nashtep and his circle of professionals formed the core of the
dissenting party. They spoke out as loudly as they could, but there
were backlashes. Mr. Takanen, a social commentator who had become a
close friend, made a final impassioned plea that was heard
planet-wide. Then he was soundly discredited, caricatured as a
crackpot, and banished from the media. Heptosh, himself, vividly
remembered the taunts by former playmates, the ostracism, the
betrayals by ones he loved; and at the same time, the fear for the
future -- his own and of humanity. Would he finally be forced to take
an implant? Would his soul die at such a young age? Would this mean
the extinction of the human race?
first, it looked as though all the dissidents could do now was to
ponder this question and wait for it to happen, or perhaps go into
hiding. A limited number were exploring other avenues.
of these included space travel. At first, that sounded like a pipe
dream. Even though most of the population was aware that space travel
existed, it wasn't an option that most thought likely. They knew that
humanity wasn't birthed on Nefzed. Humans had to come from somewhere,
and this presupposed space travel.
Nashtep was the expert in history, so he knew that space travel was a
reality, only to be rediscovered. Once in Nefzed's history, a major
portion of the population had to be shifted to a new planet. That was
a long time ago, in the days of the ancient Nephteshi Interstellar
Empire. Then, they had the capacity to build mini planets out of
black holes. But that technology disappeared with the collapse of the
great empire. Their only legacy: hundreds of artificial planets
scattered throughout the galaxy, all populated to capacity. No one
was building new planets any more.
perhaps an empty planet wasn't necessary -- there weren't really that
many dissidents. Where there any friendly planets out there that
could take just a few more? They began to look at the options. Dr.
Nashtep's brother-in-law Nagasha, an engineer, spearheaded in this
had to be discreet, as some of the powers-that-be were opposed to
anyone seeking to leave. However, some of them were able to obtain
the information that was available.
of their number, Mr. Vashkanen, had been a bureaucrat in the
planetary government, and had opted to take retirement before his
refusal to take an implant became an issue. Though bureaucrats and
academics had always been at odds, it was his concern about bionic
replication that brought him into their circle. Having once been high
up in the government, he knew things that historians, like Dr.
Nashtep, didn't. One of these was the fact that since the collapse of
the Nephteshi empire, interplanetary travel throughout the galaxy was
now regulated by the sector councils -- councils representing species
other than human.
council for their part of the galaxy, the Ziern Sector, was primarily
composed of Groki, a species that did everything in their power to
discourage human space travel. They had an extensive knowledge of
history, and some had even lived long enough to personally remember
the Nephteshi empire -- that it had been a thorn in the side of all
non-human species. The more they learned of the Ziern sector council,
the more it became obvious that the Groki were supportive of
mandatory bionic implants for humans. Other planets in the sector
were in the same position as they.
had never been a concern for most Nefzedis, as no one but government
people had ever though it necessary to do any space travel. The
government, knowing the perils, had always suppressed any ideas that
would lead to people venturing to try it. Mr. Vashkanen knew all
about that, and in his career days, was party to it.
this was a new day, with new dangers. Now, with Mr. Vashkanen's help,
Nagasha's people were able to find some unused ships powered by
logical relocators, the records of which had long faded from the
inventory books of the planet's bureaucrats. These kinds of ships
could simply relocate somewhere outside of the sector without being
detected. They also gained access to a galactic map, which showed
other sectors of the galaxy. Nagasha with a crew of four went off in
search of a friendly planet. Though they travelled hundreds of light
years, they kept in touch via twin particle communicators.
though administrated by non-humans, offered the best prospect. The
governors of that planet were a non-Groki species that tended to show
sympathy toward humans. There was already a human community living
there quite happily, an Akkadi speaking tribe. The governors, when
they heard of the Nefzedi plight, extended them an invitation to
relocate a portion of their human population there. Other planets in
that sector were also found, with their help, and they sent giant
ships to help with the move.
exodus went on discreetly and took the bionic population by surprise.
All non-bionic humans who wished to move, gathered in a predetermined
location. They communicated their coordinates to the Toki ships that
were waiting in the upper atmosphere. They landed in stealth mode,
brought them all on board and sped them across the galaxy to their
was a long time ago, when Heptosh was young. Most of the elders,
including his father, Dr. Nashtep, his Uncle Nagasha and others were
dead. Only Mr. Takanen was left of that group, having lived to an
extraordinarily old age. Heptosh, himself, wasn't a young man any
more, though he remembered all of this as though it were yesterday.
the original home planet of the Nefzedi was wholly inhabited by Total
Bionics. No humans were left. Nefzedi humans were all living in the
Noofrishi sector of the Galaxy. Their Toki hosts allowed them to
administer their own affairs and they had relative freedom of travel
within the sector in which they lived.
perched in the cleft of the cliff overlooking Klodi City, he
wondered. Did the same fate befall Klodi-land?
dwellings, the colour of the yellow brown earth
from which they
on, yellow brown paths slope up the side of the mountain range also
yellow brown, except where interrupted by patches of green
by, small children run, their naked skin matching the yellow brown
earth both through dirtiness and natural colour
elders finish their chores, chat and enjoy the evening
as for the
can smell stew cooking behind Tee Maw's house. I hope someone has
enough food left from their family meal for me. Uncle Zhue Paw
usually has some but he always makes me wait until everyone else has
eaten. Venerable Too Dha usually eats by himself, so he might have
no! Here comes that brat, Nyu.
shouts, 'Hoi! Eetoo!'
you supposed to be studying?' I say.
I'm of age already! I can do whatever I want!'
age! You're not thirteen yet!'
course I am!' he snaps back.
thirteen,' I emphasise to get it into his thick
head. 'I've just had
my manhood ceremony two months ago. You're at least a year younger
the cycles around the sun! I'm thirteen!'
Thirteen cycles around this
other stars do you expect to go around!' He says it as though I
were the stupid one!
they teach you or what? Our fathers came from a different place:
different star, different planet!'
I think we've always been on this one!'
so obstinate! 'And you expect to be the next Keeper of the Writings?'
I ask. 'You haven't even read them!'
sure won't be you! You're just an orphan boy!'
least I'm keeping up my family reputation of being a sheep owning
family. What are you doing?'
Paw's got the biggest flock, and he has the respect of the whole
got a point. I'd better not say anything stupid. 'Well, Ni Gwah
should have been it. He was better than both you or your Paw!'
The gods obviously didn't think so!'
off in the other direction, muttering something extremely
disrespectful about Ni Gwah.
another thing. The writings, which he thinks he's going to keep say
we must worship only one god. He still talks about the other gods
like the shaman of Tu-tu-ah does.
lot of people have got fires going. Mo Paw, the traditional wrestling
instructor is still at work making clay bricks. I think he's going to
build an extension to his house. I hope he leaves enough room for his
wrestling gym. Ni Gwah used to be good at that too -- always beat me
Wee Ta, still working away on her weaving loom.
need a new tunic soon. I hope this one won't start showing my
nakedness before shearing season. Now that I'm a man, no one gives me
any slack. I have to come up with raw wool before anyone will make me
a tunic. I might have to start going naked on days I'm far enough
from the village, so my tunic won't wear out so fast.
Zhue is so shameless, he does that even when he's near the village,
in plain sight of everyone. He also eats most of the food at home so
there'll probably not be enough for a decent meal for me. Uncle Zhue
Paw never restrains him like he does me.
Too Dha's all right though. He treats me like a family member, even
better than Uncle Zhue Paw. I think I'll go straight to his house.
Doo Bweh, the baker. He sees me coming. I know exactly what he'll
You owe me wool!' -- yep.
remember,' I say on cue.
Then come by in the morning for another dozen.' He's got the routine
down. I don't even have to put in an order.
pass by a few more houses and there's Venerable Too Dha, sitting on a
bench outside his door.
day, Eetoo,' he says.
day to you, Venerable Too Dha.'
sit down and rest. How are the sheep?'
are well. I left them in the canyon behind the old market.'
won't leave them there many days, I hope.'
I just came back for more bread.'
still have credit with Doo Bweh, the baker, I trust.'
I'll owe him three bags of wool, come shearing season.'
have grown to be a responsible young man, Eetoo. Your father would be
proud of you.'
flatter me, Venerable Too Dha.'
sit quietly for a while. He seems to be thinking about something.
think too, but about things Nyu just said.
seems to think he's going to be chosen to be the keeper of the
writings when you die.'
he says, 'That seems to be the will of the village. But I'm afraid I
won't live long enough to teach him at the rate he's learning.'
only knows the pictographs, and even then he says them in Fa-tzi-zhi
instead of the holy language.'
I remember you and Ni Gwah; I caught you two spelling out Fa-tzi-zhi
words using the Nephteshi phonetic letters.'
You almost gave us a hiding!'
least it showed you had mastered the language.' Has he got softer in
his old age? ' Ni Gwah was very good at it.'
I agree. 'Ni Gwah should have been the next keeper of the writings.
At least he worshipped only the creator god. Nyu still talks about
the lesser gods.'
It's a losing battle. Many of them, including Nyu Paw and Doo Bweh
Paw, went off to attend the spirit celebrations in Tu-tu-ah a few
days ago. At least they haven't tried to install a shaman here as
looks sad. After a pause, he says, 'I tried to persuade the council
at the last meeting, to make you the keeper -- that you were ready
even now -- but Nyu Paw seems to wield influence, and he wants his
son to be. Perhaps, unless I live to be very old, you can teach him
what he needs.'
such a brat, he'll never listen to me.'
he'll grow wiser with age...' He's back to thinking again. '...and,
maybe it's better this way.'
been thinking a lot about that dream you had. I've had dreams of my
does that have to do with it?
have a more important job,' he says. 'I've been wanting to tell you,
I haven't known how, and I fear time may be short.'
Venerable?' He looks healthy enough.
you remember what is written in the fifth tablet?'
the seven laws?' I return.
how Venerable Noka passed on his legacy to his three sons.'
He gave his eldest son the golden tablets, but to his second son, he
wrote it down on tablets of stone, and to his youngest, he wrote it
on animal hide. What we have are copies of the tablets of stone. The
original stone tablets were neglected by the Nephteshi guardians, so
Imhotep, the prophet-ruler, obtained them and added them to the great
library at Memphis.'
you remember what else?' he prods.
Some day, one from among the descendent of the second son must go to
read the golden tablets belonging to the eldest son so that our
knowledge of the Way will be complete.'
believe the time is near when the descendent of the second son must
make his journey. That descendent is you. I am very sure of that.'
can hardly talk. I whisper, 'Me?'
your heart strong, Eetoo. I would not say it if I didn't believe it
were so. I've thought so for a long time now.'
first, I dismissed it as an idle thought,' he explains. 'I tried to
forget it, but with time, it only began coming back stronger and
stronger. I discussed it with Venerables Zti Paw of Sho-ta-le and Meh
Zha of Nyu Pee River Village. They all feel the time is near, and
believe that my instincts are right. So, now, I must tell you.'
can't think of what to say.
here tonight. Read the fifth tablet one more time. You must tune your
mind to the truth. I feel as though your journey may begin soon.
Perhaps even tomorrow when you leave here.'
where must I go to find the golden tablets?' I ask.
I don't know. There is much that I don't understand. That is why I
have delayed telling you, but tell you, I must. I've been troubled
about it in my sleep for a year now -- visions in the night. All I
know is, the tablets are not on this planet. They are near the
birthplace of humanity. Our people haven't travelled in the ships for
hundreds of years. They haven't been seen since before you were
saw a ship last night -- or it was a light in the sky. I know it
wasn't a shooting star. And then I had the dream again.'
you are, then,' he sounds more sure than ever. 'The hand of the most
high is already at work. You are the one. And don't worry about your
debt to Doo Bweh. If I don't see you again, I will repay it.'
have a meal of bread with a stew that Ae Maw brought by.
read the tablet.
had observed as
much as he could from his perch in the cliffs surrounding the city.
He had use his magnifiers to get a closer look. He saw no signs of
life apart from a few herds of cattle. Perhaps some wrecked vehicles,
and -- bones? He didn't dare speculate. He still couldn't bring
himself to descend to ground level, at least not within sight of the
space port built into the mountains opposite.
with the information he had gleaned so far, the sector council would
see fit to send a larger investigation team.
used the linear propulsion motor to bring his ship into orbit before
engaging the logical relocator. The one had to be completely shut
down before it was safe to use the other.
first step was to simulate linear motion. That involved the reverse
beam transmitter sending a series of commands at very high speed,
each inducing relocation by half a hydrogen atom's width, thus,
pushing other matter out of the way instead of trying to occupy the
same location. Two atoms occupying the same space at the same time
can lead to atomic fusion, at worst.
also insured that the relocator was working properly. Not everyone
bothered to do that, but Heptosh believed in playing it safe. Only
one person he knew of had relocated himself to a totally unknown part
of the universe. By a miracle, he had managed to find his way back
with a faulty relocator and a good geographical knowledge of space.
set the relocator to simulated forward motion, and engaged.
times out of a thousand it worked just fine. But this was that one
time out of a thousand that it didn't. The planet below him, instead
of growing steadily smaller, was jumping from one size to another.
flicked the relocator off. Using linear propulsion, he began moving
back to Klodi-Famta.
he travelled back to Tok using linear propulsion, it would take a
couple of centuries to get there. To him it would only seem like a
couple of months travelling close to the speed of light, but it would
be far too late to make use of the data he had gathered on the Klodi.
non-human species had other means of travelling beyond the speed of
light, but the only technology known to humans was logical
relocation, using the hyperspace coordinates to re-plot the location
of each atom within a given range.
Heptosh's logical relocator wasn't working properly. He'd have to
land and try to get it fixed.
it something he could fix himself? Where would he get help? Half of
the planet was primative. The other half -- what? Heptosh still
didn't know. Did he dare land there and find out?
was moving at a linear speed that would get him there in half a day.
He had time to think.
the sheep sense relief
sits on an ancient seller's slab
they say I'm the one who's supposed to find the golden tablets.
Venerable Too Dha talks like I have to go right away! How does he
think I'm going to do that? It's not on this planet, and I can't even
go everywhere here, much less anywhere else!
hungry. I'll have a piece of bread with some goat's milk cheese.
Tomorrow I'll take the sheep to the grass field near where I've
planted some gourds. There, I can pick some cucumbers and squash to
eat with my bread.
should start a small heard of goats so I can make my own cheese. I
wonder if I'll have enough wool left after shearing season to buy one
on! What's bothering the sheep?
see something, but whatever it is is behind those huts. I'll go
leave my food on the stone table and walk about the huts near the
holy! It's a man -- dressed all funny! And I've never seen anyone
with hair like that -- it's grey, but it's in really tiny ringlets,
and his skin is real dark -- almost black! Did the Klodis look like
sees me. I'm sure glad I didn't take off my tunic!
walks up to me and he's saying something.
saying it again, more slowly.
of that sounds -- but no! The Klodi didn't speak Nephteshi. That's a
pakh khal-ti -- khati Heptosh'
Heptosh -- That is
Nephteshi! It means 'my name is Heptosh'. Oh the gods! How can he be
saying it all again, this time using his hands to point and all that
sort of thing.
Gwah and I used to say things in Nepteshi when we didn't want other
people to know what we were talking about.
ti Eetoo,' I say.
think I know what else he was saying: 'Can you help me?'
doesn't sound exactly like Nephteshi, but close enough.
ta, Eetoo,' he says.
That means, 'Hello, Eetoo.'
ask him if he is a Klodi.
says, 'No, I'm a Nefzedi, living on Tok.' He says it slowly, so I can
understand him. I have no idea what those places are, though.
talks faster than me, but he's got his sounds all wrong. That's why I
didn't understand him at first.
need help with my ship,' he says. 'Does anyone near here know how to
fix a ship?'
ships come here,' I say. 'I never see a ship.'
don't know if I have my tenses right or not. He understands me,
follow him. We walk past the edge of the canyon, around the
protrusion and into the smaller canyon next to it.
must be a ship. It's a big round thing, like a covered dish, but with
legs. If he didn't say it was a ship, I would have thought it was a
giant's dish for cooking people in.
does he get the lid off?
stand there looking at it.
looked again at
the shepherd boy standing with his mouth open. Obviously he'd never
seen a ship before. He looked as primitive as they come -- the
home-spun tunic that he could almost see through, no shoes, straight
rusty brown hair that might have been cut some months ago by placing
a bowl on his head, his question if he were a Klodi, probably never
met anyone outside his tribe. Did Heptosh really expect any help from
the boy spoke Nephteshi! That was truly amazing.
probably would never have discovered that had he not been so
desperate. Maybe there was hope.
you never seen a ship like this?' he asked.
not,' said the boy.
you know who has seen one?'
boy only shook his head.
hadn't expected him to say yes, but he didn't know anything else he
could ask. But maybe...
you know the way to the land of the Klodi?'
The boy pointed back towards the abandoned village.
you take me there?'
boy stared at him for a moment with his greenish eyes, and then said,
followed him back to the village, and then towards the rail fence.
years ago, the Klodi come here, they buy, they sell. Fa-tzi-zhi come
to trade. They stop. Now, nothing.'
happened to the Klodi?' asked Heptosh.
boy shrugged, 'They stop.'
boy, Eetoo, lifted the rail that served as a gate. The sheep stood at
a safe distance, obviously wary of Heptosh.
winding stream flowed from inside the canyon, out past the village
where a stone bridge crossed it. The path Eetoo took crossed one of
the bends. He simply began wading in.
stopped while Heptosh took off his shoes. The water came up to the
his shoes, Heptosh followed. Perhaps he'd try to follow as best he
of the sheep followed at a distance, though on the other side of the
boy's feet were obviously well calloused from years of trampling the
countryside unshod. After they crossed another stream, Heptosh had to
put his shoes back on. The ground was becoming more uneven, and the
stream was now bubbling over the jagged rocks.
they could see the end of the canyon and the waterfall that fed the
boy pointed to a road built against the cliff. Now, Heptosh could see
it went all the way along the cliff to the village, probably leading
to the stone bridge.
this stumbling over rocks and wading the streams when a road went all
looked in disbelief, but the boy looked oblivious to the irony.
climbed a few rocks up the face of the cliff until they met the road.
It took so much climbing it would have almost been worthwhile going
back to the stone bridge.
path continued to climb until it brought them behind the waterfall.
There, they found a cave.
was dark inside. They'd need a light. It was also getting late in the
far is it to the other end?'
boy shrugged. 'Three furlongs.'
far, but Heptosh preferred to make a fresh start in the morning.
come back tomorrow. Let's go back. Can we take this road all the way
to the village?'
saw no problem.
went back that way.
two return by way of the bridge
they cross the stream to the
the stalls their path divides
the traveller to his ship
shepherd to the seller's slab
he sits once more and muses...
will the stranger want next?
still didn't eat my lunch, and it's evening already. My bag is still
on the stone bench.
stranger's gone back to his ship thing. He's probably got food there.
should have offered him some of mine. He is a stranger, and we should
he's gone now. I finish my food.
wonder if that's the same ship I've been seeing?
still light. I walk over to where the ship is. I don't see the man. I
sit on a rock and look at it.
never seen anything like it. Where did the man go? He must be inside,
but I don't see any way to get in.
this the kind of ship that goes to the stars? Maybe our ancestors
came on them.
getting dark. I get up and walk back to the market. I put my stuff
into one of the huts and roll out my rug. I hang up my tunic to air
out, take my blanket and settle down.
can't sleep. There's so much happening.
still thinking about Venerable Too Dha's strange words. I have to go
to find the golden plates. He doesn't have any idea how, nor do I.
Our people haven't travelled on the ships for hundreds of years.
today, I've seen a ship, and I met the man that keeps it. I showed
him to the cave.
I can go on his ship to the stars, and then I can find the golden
seems a nice man. I'm sure he'll take me. I'll ask him in the morning
as he goes to Klodiland.
even speaks the holy language for every day conversation! He's
probably one of the gods.
flicked on his viewer. The whole upper dome of his ship turned
transparent, revealing that it was morning .
first thing he noticed was the shepherd boy sitting on a nearby rock,
gazing at the ship. To the boy, the ship would have looked no
different than before, as it was a one way viewer.
young chap. Knows Nephteshi, though not very fluently.
hadn't heard that the Famtizhi understood Nephteshi. The Klodi only
used Nephteshi as the language of interstellar communication.
what he wants now?
look on the boy's face gave no hint. He didn't look as though he were
in any hurry. Maybe it was idle curiosity.
decided to have his breakfast before emerging. He reached into one of
the compartments and got one large corn wafer and a jar of honey.
That would do for breakfast.
wafers were ideal for interplanetary trips. Some were made with
various fillings, such as meat or vegetable, or perhaps something
sweet. For breakfast, Heptosh preferred a plain one with honey.
boy just sat, perfectly still.
wonder if I couldn't use a helper for this excursion? Though
Heptosh. The boy looked as though he'd be no trouble. He seemed to
have the time for it.
had no idea what he'd find on the other side of the divide besides
the landscape he had seen from the cliff. He wasn't as young as he
used to be. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have a companion.
Could the boy fight?
downed the last of his wafer, licked some honey from his fingers, and
reached for his flask of coourzt
three or four swigs of it did him for the morning, but today, he
lingered over it. He wanted to think a while longer over what he had
berry was native to one of the Blilkin planets, but had been
introduced to most of the populations in the sector -- both human and
non. The Nefzedi traditionally drank wine or fresh juice on their own
planet, but since settling in Tok, they readily adopted the coourzt
beverage as their favourite. Wine was okay for digestion, or getting
drunk, but coourzt
could be taken more often and in larger quantities without the side
effects. They brewed it in a manner similar to wine, often with
various herbs blended in, but it was more of a stimulant. A few swigs
in the morning made the eyes brighter and made one feel better
prepared to face the day. It was also good for adjusting to different
day and night schedules by helping one stay awake when one needed to.
nursed his coourzt and deliberated.
knew that much of what was to be found in the Klodi area was
underground. The surface had shown him nothing.
there would be at least a few people on the surface. The fact that he
saw none, should mean something. So should the fact that the shepherd
boy had never met a Klodi, nor, apparently, knew what one looked
like. They were not a black-skinned race, like the Nefzedi. He said
the Klodi used to trade at this market, but had long stopped.
what was he to expect? Was it safe to venture underground?
choice did he have? He'd have to live here for the rest of his life,
or until someone got curious as to why he didn't return and came
looking for him. That could be a lifetime. This wasn't a high
priority mission, or they would have issued him a twin particle
communicator. The Human Affairs department of the sector council,
administrated by humans, wasn't known for its efficiency.
began to gather various items and put them in a carry bag: a metzig
torch, some corn wafers, a water flask, his coourzt flask, a spare
loin cloth and toga, bedding, and a few items for personal hygiene.
He already had his utility belt strapped on, which had his distance
viewer, night goggles, balm, knife and a small dart-gun. Then he
twisted the release handle and pushed the door open.
boy lurched to his feet in surprise, then stood there, indecisively.
you go with me through the tunnel?' Heptosh asked in as simple
Nephteshi as he could.
can,' said Eetoo.
Let's go then. I might need your help.'
insisted on going by way of the stone bridge. Eetoo had no objection.
Eetoo had tended to walk either in front or directly behind Heptosh,
here he began walking beside him. He looked as though he were wanting
to say something. He made several attempts, but seemed to give up
before he started
said Heptosh, finally. 'What do you want to tell me?'
pointed in the direction of the other canyon. 'Boat?'
to sky? To heaven?'
-- er -- travel to the heavens, yes.'
have golden tablets, where?'
-- ' then without warning, the simple shepherd boy launched into a
spiel in a literary form of ancient Nephteshi: '"Noka
was the father of three sons, and after the waters subsided, he wrote
for them, the words of this account: for his first son, Sim-Hep, he
wrote it on golden tablets; for his second, Kham-Hep, he wrote in on
stone; and for his youngest, Yap-Phet, he wrote it on an animal
hide. The account, according to all three, is complete, but in none
of them is it whole. One among the sons of Kham shall one day journey
to the sons of Sim and receive from his sons the writings from the
tablet of gold. One from among the sons of Sim will one day journey
to the sons of Yap Phet, and give to him the message of the golden
listened in amazement. Obviously, the boy had been taught Nephteshi
as a means to read ancient manuscripts in the possession of his
tribe. The names sounded familiar. They were associated with a
legendary account of a planet that was engulfed in water.
went back to his broken Nephteshi: 'I -- son of Kham-Hep. I must
travel find golden tablets of Sim-Hep.'
noticed he was looking at him, as though hoping for an answer.
told you that?' asked Heptosh.
-- ancient -- er -- old man Too Dha. He keeper of the tablets. He
have dream say I go.'
do you plan to go?'
-- ' suddenly Eetoo looked perplexed, as though he were surprised
that Heptosh didn't already know. 'Er -- you Nephteshi speak -- you
dear! No! I'm certainly not a god!'
-- Nephteshi -- holy tongue! Men not speak to men!'
Nephteshi was a holy language to his tribe, for reading their holy
writings. The fact the Heptosh spoke it made him a god!
is spoken by many peoples,' corrected Heptosh. 'On my planet, we
speak Nephteshi to people of other nationalities and other planets.
On the planet of Nephtesh, they have no other language to speak. They
must speak Nephteshi.'
not god? But you have boat.'
"boat" is broken. I must fix, repair, mend. If I were a
god, I could snap my finger and make it better. I cannot. That's why
I must go to land of Klodi.'
carry me to planet of Nephtesh?'
don't know where the planet is. I only heard it was the centre of a
vast empire once. And, my ship is broken.'
help me find?'
boy looked as though he'd break into tears if Heptosh refused.
tell you what. You help me find parts for my ship. I'll think about
helping you look for the planet, Nephtesh. But what about your father
and mother? What would they say?'
and mother died. Only Uncle Zhue Paw, and old man Too Dha. I am man
now. I can go.'
Eetoo was no longer the shy timid shepherd boy of earlier. He was
someone with a mission.
now, they had reached the waterfall. Between the falling stream and
the cliff face, the road ended at the cave.
been in before, haven't you?'
Sheep run away, go in. I go in after. It night. I have fire.'
you find your sheep?'
I go and go, I hear sheep ahead, sheep afraid of light and go on. I
think road must stop, but go on. I want to go back, I afraid, but I
hear sheep. Then I see star light. Sheep gone. I wait for morning,
but then, no fire. Also, no sheep. I see Klodiland. I afraid to go
but I know I must not stay. Fa-tzi-zhi people must not stay. I go in
dark -- afraid.'
have a light here.' Heptosh brought out his metzig torch. He lit it.
Eetoo looked at it in amazement. It lit the cave walls like broad
Not afraid now!'
stepped into the tunnel.
-- Klodiland dangerous for Fa-tzi-zhi people.'
you are to go in search of the golden tablets, you will certainly
pass through places more dangerous than Klodiland.'
walked on and on. It was a straight rectangular passage with no
features aside from bare rock, and straight vertical seams every few
yards. Now and then, the passage made a slight angle. This prevented
any light from showing from either entrance, so it was impossible to
see how much further they had to go.
much further?' asked Heptosh.
-- er, but didn't you say it was three furlongs all the way through?'
sure we've already been three furlongs. How much further?'
that should be six furlongs.'
the time Heptosh saw daylight showing around the corner, he estimated
that they had been seven.
shook his head.
valley stretches before them -- an ancient city, overgrown
and boulevards draped in shrubs and creeping vines
mountains that line the city, appear like giant bricks place atop one
the man-made landscape towers over the city
these, again, giant blocks rise into mountain peaks
geometric mountain range
is just the way I saw it before. Still don't see any people. It must
be okay. The Nephteshi man said it is. I can't believe I'm going to
go to the stars and find the golden tablets.
man is taking out something from his belt, putting it up to his eye,
and looking into it. He points it here and there. Maybe it shows him
looking at the mountain on the other side of the valley. It looks as
though it were made of giant bricks. There's a wide hole on the side
facing us that looks awfully big -- a lot bigger than this hole we're
in. A tree could easily stand up inside, and it looks as wide as the
mouth of the Nyu Pee river.
he's looking at the big square thing in middle of the valley, that
looks like a giant's house, made of the same giant bricks. I also see
normal sized houses here and there. Some are pretty big. There's a
road that leads from there, and a fork off to the mountain across
from us. There's lots of trees in between, and more houses.
he's trying to see where this path leads -- the one we're standing
go,' he says.
we start walking.
enough for two to walk abreast, the path clings to the side of the
it curves around what contours there are on the otherwise
on, the path doubles back
in three stretches, they reach flat
been a long walk. We're at the bottom of the mountain now, and
there's a road that goes off straight ahead. It looks like solid
rock. There's ivy growing on it in some places, and big cracks in
others where plants are growing through.
a herd of cows up ahead going from one side of the road to another.
Some are stopping in the middle to eat the plants growing up through
got to be someone about. Why would cows be wandering about like this
by themselves? Further off I see some horses, also loose by
a house, but it looks half fallen down.
man's looking about too. It looks as though he's as surprised as me
at not seeing anyone.
go in here,' he says.
has an upper floor. We go to the big gate at the bottom. There's a
board missing. He looks in.
tries to open it, but it's locked.
he steps back a bit and gives it a hard kick. The door gives way.
go in. It's one big room downstairs.
back door is open. We could have gone in that way.
a big thing in the middle. It has a couple of chairs built in, and
some handles and some sort of other funny things in the front, some
things with letters and crystal surfaces.
(something or other)!' he says. 'I didn't think they were so
(something or other)!'
you seen one of these before?'
an (something or other).' He says it again.
at me, he says it again. This time I catch it.
It's been a long time since anyone's used it.'
another corner, there's a wooden cart, but part of it is rotted.
There's also some feeding troughs. I'm sure they had horses once, but
they escaped out the back door.
man looks at the ladder leading up to a door in the ceiling. He tries
the ladder to make sure it's safe. Then he starts climbing.
never seen so many cobwebs. The dust is as thick as my finger in some
places. I'm sure no one's been here in years. The room has chairs and
tables. There are some things lying about. He takes a stick and pulls
the cobwebs off, and dusts off some of the things. Some things, he
puts into his bag. One looks like a light, like the one he already
has. He's trying it out, and shining it on the rest of the room.
picks up a small flat box and opens it. There's no room to put
anything. It's just solid silvery stuff. There's a stick attached to
the lid, and he takes that and pushes it into the silvery stuff. He
waits for something to happen, but it doesn't. Then, he turns off the
shiny thing, opens it up and sticks the end into the back end of the
box. Suddenly the stuff starts moving, and little bits of it stick
up. I see they're all little tiny pins all stuck together. He pushes
some down to make letters, and other ones pop up, so he can read it.
I can tell they're pictographic letters in Nephteshi. It must be
turns about and sees me.
is a (something-or-other).'
shuts the lid and puts it in his bag.
read it later. It may tell us a lot.'
opens a door to another room, but suddenly he shuts it again. He
looks at me, looking a bit pale.
better stay out here, Eetoo.'
does he see?
go to the door and open it a bit and peep in.
a bed. It's hard to see what's there because of the cobwebs.
The gods! It's someone's bones -- two people's! They're lying side by
side on the bed.
friend looks about and sees me. He tells me to go ahead and come in.
probably thought I'd be spooked.
pulling the cobwebs off with a stick.
bones are a bit funny though. Some of it's not completely rotted. One
arm still looks it's still together, but it doesn't look like a real
arm. The man looks at me and says, 'Have you seen this before?' He's
pointing to the arm.
shake my head.
It's not real skin and flesh. It's human flesh that started to turn
into machinery. This is what I feared had happened. This also
happened on my own planet, and many families there also killed
themselves when they knew what they had done.'
turning into machinery?
go,' he says.
go down the ladder again.
he's looking at the big contraption downstairs. He opens the gates on
both sides of the room so we can see it better.
turns some handles on it, and pushes on something, and waits. Nothing
happens. Now he's looking about the room. There's stuff all over the
place. He picks up this and that. It looks as though he's found what
he's looking for. It's a small box. He brings it to the thing, gets
down and opens a little door. He takes out a box that looks like the
one he found, and puts the other one in. He tries turning the handles
again. Something seems to be doing what he wanted. At least he's
happy about that. Then, he opens something else and does something to
another part of the contraption.
he dusts off the seat in front, and sits on it. He pulls a handle,
and suddenly there's a noise, sort of like a waterfall. Then, the
whole contraption lifts up into the air, about one hand's breadth
on,' he says.
don't know about this. It flies!
okay. It won't hurt you.'
get in the seat behind him -- very carefully. The thing starts to tip
when I step on it, as though it were a boat.
sitting down. It's a nice chair.
we're going out the gate and back onto the road.
We're going fast! Is it safe to go this fast? He said it would be
going past more houses. Some cows run to get out of our way.
starting to enjoy this!
kept his apprehensions to himself. The boy had no idea of the danger
that might lurk behind any corner.
ahead were the remains of another air scooter. Bones were scattered
time, there were whole bodies that looked bionic. One lacked a head,
and another had a hole in it's chest. The cavity looked burnt about
the edges. One of them looked as though its head had been burned off.
stopped the scooter, dismounted and walked over to the bionics.
could have caused this much damage to bionic bodies?
stepped to the wreckage. The bones looked as though they had been
undisturbed throughout the 12 year restriction. They were completely
dry, lacked any smell, one of the hands was bionic.
What was the other one holding?
looked like a voltage shooter.
stooped to pick it up. It was a hand held tool that would draw the
voltage from whatever power cell was attached, and send a lightening
bolt to whatever you aimed it at. It could set fire to sticks, or
jump start a machine, or -- with a power cell this size -- kill a
much voltage was there left after 12 years?
aimed it at the wrecked vehicle. Just enough to produce a visible
bolt and make a black spot on the surface. Then it died.
also made Eetoo jump out of his skin.
weapon,' Heptosh said. 'We just need to find another power cell.'
boy looked at him blankly.
pointed to the bionics. 'Have you ever seen people that looked like
survivors. Perhaps they did a thorough job of exterminating them. But
some should have survived, either bionic or human.
wouldn't take any chances. He searched the wreckage for any spare
power cell. There were none. He put the shooter into his bag and they
got onto the scooter once again.
people them?' asked Eetoo.
used to be normal people,' began Heptosh. 'They took an implant -- er
-- a very small machine thing that can use what's in the body to make
more of itself. It reads the DNA and...'
-- it just makes more of itself until the whole body becomes bionic.
But the soul is dead.'
a machine man without a soul.'
looked at the dead bionic once more with a look of dread.
started the scooter and they moved on.
passed more houses in various states of disrepair -- more wrecked
vehicles -- bones and bionic remains -- Heptosh searched a few of the
sites for power cells and other supplies. Another computer or two
would give a fuller account of what happened -- a tragic story, by
the looks of it.
the dead wasn't Heptosh's idea of a good time, but if it would avenge
their death --
power cell seemed to have half a charge left -- probably enough to
disable three bionics if he set the voltage only moderately high. His
bag was weighing him down. If they had to do much walking, maybe
Eetoo could carry some of the items into his shepherd bag.
took a turn that he judged would take him to the pyramid. There
should be an entry to the underground infrastructure. All the
human-made planets had a similar architectural design, even if their
facial geography varied.
they saw more wreckages and signs of battle, they stayed on course
until they came to the foot of the pyramid. Then, they circled it
until they found the entrance.
the side of the pyramid facing the space port he saw a lake --
rectangular shaped, but it didn't have a proper shore. Some dead
trees were sticking out of the water.
wasn't supposed to be a lake here,
road led to the open gate through what appeared to be a park with
stone tables in the shade of some big trees. They stopped for lunch
before proceeding. Eetoo appeared to enjoy the corn wafer with
spinach and chicken filling.
entered the pyramid via a downward ramp wide enough for land
vehicles. From there, if Heptosh knew internal planetary
infrastructure, there would be a road straight to the space port.
and Eetoo mounted the scooter, Heptosh lit the lamps and they
descended the ramp.
turned to the left, the direction of the space port, but suddenly
found himself facing a rock wall.
turned to move along the wall to look for a door, but he found none,
only rubble and broken rock.
moved away from the wall, put the lamps on high power to get a better
look. What he saw took his breath away.
giant slab that formed the roof over the passage had fallen in,
blocking off the way to the space port. The two ends of the fallen
slab looked as though they had been blasted so as to make it fit
precisely into the entrance.
explained the rectangular lake up on the surface. The ground had
sunken in and filled up with rain water.
were other ways of getting in. Heptosh dimmed the lights, and started
down the other corridor.
furlongs onward he came to one of the smaller doors into the central
area. It was shut, and there were stone beams placed into the
aperture, wedging the door in closed position. It was, in effect,
locked from outside.
about the entrance further down?
sped on to that. Same story. Were all the entry points to the central
area blocked off?
Heptosh knew. He also conjectured that if he were to go to the
surface, he'd find all skylights and vent holes likewise sealed.
Probably the entire population of bionics were trapped inside the
central area. Without sunlight, their primary energy source, they
would eventually go comatose.
was a good-news-bad-news situation. They probably didn't have to
worry about the bionics, but the only way to the space port now was
through the mountain range -- a long way. The scooter wouldn't be
able to navigate the whole route.
about approaching the space port from the surface?
he were a lot younger, he could have tried scaling the face of the
great wall to reach the space ship entrance. Eetoo could do it,
maybe, but how would he get Heptosh up?
have to go the long way. If they rationed wisely, the food would
Eetoo. We have a long way to go,' he said.
filtering from openings high above
illuminates stalactites and
that time has glazed over the human-hewn cave walls
sound of running water echoes through the caverns
the two trudge
on -- on foot
trip is really taking a long time. I'm sure the sheep will have
scoured the ground bare by now.
stopped twice to eat. His crispy bread is nice, but I think I'll go
back to my normal bread with cheese next meal. I'll offer him some.
walking now. The 'scooter' thing won't fit through all these places
we have to go. We've crossed one underground stream.
least we don't need the torches on all the time, there's just enough
light coming through from up there.
can hear water up ahead. Probably another stream we have to cross.
There's also more light coming from that way.
on! I smell something cooking! There's a bit of smoke in the air.
Heptosh smells it too.
we've found so far is dead. Who could be cooking fish?
up to the stream now. There's the mouth of a cave where the stream
goes out, and there I see a fire. Someone's sitting beside it -- a
kid, he's got no clothes on.
looking at us, like he's scared.
I know him! Ni Gwah? It couldn't be! He's dead!
standing up. It is him! He's turning to run away.
Gwah! Stop! It's me, Eetoo!'
stops, and turns about.
Gwah! How did you get here? We all thought you were dead!'
think I am dead! How did you get here? Did you die?'
look alive to me.'
this is the place of the dead. Everywhere I go I only see people's
It's Klodiland. All the Klodi's died or something. Some of them
started to turn into funny machine things, and they all killed each
Heptosh. He's going to take me to the Planet of Nephtesh to find the
he speaks Nephteshi. Try talking to him.'
just stands there looking at us. I think he doesn't have any idea
what we're talking about.
tell him, 'This is my friend, Ni Gwah. He go down a -- er -- water go
around and round -- not come up again. We not find him. We think he
dead, but I find him here.'
whirlpool?' says Heptosh. 'Ask him where he came down.'
Gwah understands him. 'There,' he says. He points upstream. 'Water
come down -- er ...' then he says to me in Fa-tzi-zhi, 'a long slide,
I thought I was sliding into hell. Then I landed in the stream and I
followed it until I came here.' Then he says in Nephteshi, 'Water go
whoosh!' He makes a motion with his hand.
looks like he knows. 'So,' he says, 'The head of this stream is in
the Famtizhi area. You must be a very good swimmer to survive being
sucked into a whirlpool.'
I say. 'He very good.'
long have you lived here now?'
don't know,' Ni Gwah says.
year,' I say.
been year?' he asks me in Fa-tzi-zhi.
takes us to the mouth of the cave. There are his fishes cooking on
the open fire. He turns one of them over.
I see we're on top of a waterfall. Down there, there's a pool, and a
stream that goes on through a canyon. I guess it must lead into the
flat lands, but we see only steep cliffs from here. There's a
vegetable garden next to the pool.
you plant that?' says Heptosh.
find herbs and plant garden,' he answers him. Then to me, in
Fa-tzi-zhi, he says, 'I found all sorts of vegetables growing wild
near dead people's houses. I take them and plant them here, so I
never have to go off and look at people's bones and stuff.'
can see beans, cabbages, a few gourds, and carrots.
he says, 'Come!'
jumps off the edge into the pool below.
water looks good. We've been walking a long way. I throw off my
tunic, put it beside the fire, and jump in myself. Heptosh walks down
the path on the edge of the cliff. He watches us for a while,
swimming and splashing. The, he carefully takes off his clothes and
has a lot more to take off than me. There's a cloth he wraps about
his shoulders, and then a leather belt with pockets and lots of stuff
stuck in it, and then a cloth that he wears about his waist, and then
his shoes. Even then he's not totally naked. He's still got something
wrapped about his waste and strung between his legs, but I guess he
doesn't mind getting that wet.
have a good time in the water.
says we'd better spend the night here. Ni Gwah spears some more fish
with his stick, and cooks them for us. He's also made a blowgun, and
he says he catches rabbit and squirrel sometimes.
looked about as much as he could in the morning light. The mountains
blocked any view and it would be a long walk to the mouth of the
canyon -- Ni Gwah said it was three furlongs. He was beginning to
suspect that Famtizhi people could only count up to three. He decided
that the best thing would be to continue through the underground
new boy, Ni Gwah, could come with them. They would get him home where
his parents and relatives would certainly be happy. Ni Gwah could
probably use some clothes. He'd obviously been sucked down the
whirlpool while swimming naked in the stream, and hadn't seen any
clothes since, except those draped about dead bodies.
fetched his extra toga from his carry bag and helped Ni Gwah put it
on. He didn't look bad in it, though it wasn't the sort of thing he
was used to wearing.
they were off. This time, their food supply included some cooked fish
and various vegetables from Ni Gwah's garden plot.
they lunched on some of Eetoo's bread and cheese, and some cabbage
and cucumber. The cheese tasted rather nice, Heptosh thought.
evening, they had entered an area with wider passages. The scooter
could have been useful here. They finished Ni Gwah's fish with some
of Eetoo's bread, and settled down for the night.
drifted off to sleep.
was abruptly awakened by a kick to his ribs. There were people
walking about, holding weapons. He heard a scuffle next to him, and
looked just in time to see a human figure grabbing a toga, while Ni
Gwah escaped its folds, running off in the direction they had come.
human figures -- three of them, Heptosh counted -- forced Heptosh and
Eetoo to their feet and they walked down the corridor in the opposite
direction from the way Ni Gwah escaped.
was a conveyance waiting for them. As soon as they were seated and
flying down the wide corridor, Heptosh tried to catch a glimpse of
their captors by what light was available.
was too dark. He could only see that there were three of them, plus
himself and Eetoo.
luck, Ni Gwah, He thought.
they came to a more well lit area.
came to a stop, and the bionics escorted the two off the conveyance,
up a narrow corridor, and into an office.
they met a stout gentleman dressed in his human clothes, but with
bionic skin. Most bionics Heptosh had known hadn't bothered with
clothes after their transformation.
said something to the escorts, and they bowed and left the room.
be alarmed, gentlemen. I have a glitch in my programming that
prevents me from pretending to be a self conscious living human.
Please sit down. Welcome to Klodiland. My name is Shan. That is, my
late human host was known as Shan, the son of Khong.'
sat down in one of the chairs. Eetoo followed his example. Shan also
was unlike any bionic Heptosh had ever heard of.
are confused, no doubt,' Shan went on. 'Before we succumbed to the
final stages of bionic transformation, the human Shan gave himself a
bio-media upload. Are you aware of that process?'
was aware. It was the only known process of uploading information to
the human brain. But it had a downside: anything input into the mind
in this way became extremely vivid, like a phobia, or an obsession.
It would be easier to jump off a cliff in ignorance of the law of
gravity than to unlearn something thus uploaded to the brain, so
unless great care is taken in the selection of information, an upload
could lead to obsessive behaviour or a neurosis.
the upload so vividly imprinted actual facts onto my brain which Shan
had carefully selected, it overrode the programming that was built
into the bionic chip. Whereas most bionics are programmed to portray
themselves as intelligent living beings, my understanding of the true
state is the same as that of my human host before the
you actually found a creative use for bio-media upload!' commented
Oh! I'm sorry for being such a bad host. I haven't even asked you
yes,' began Heptosh. 'I'm Heptosh, this is my young companion, Eetoo.
I'm afraid Eetoo hasn't been able to follow all you've said.'
From the Famtizhi area, I see. Their tribal culture is probably their
best protection from bionic take-over.'
are incapable of cultural adaptation,' explained Shan, 'and therefore
would be unable to relate to their values in a way that would
persuade them to accept a bionic implant.'
seem to understand it quite well,' said Heptosh.
was programmed by the bio-media upload to learn as much as I can
about bionics, and to pass that information on to humans as soon as
the opportunity presents itself, as it has just now. Besides that,
I've been doing my original job of maintaining the internal
infrastructure of this planet until such time as humans arrive to
relieve me. Is that your purpose in coming?'
only on a fact finding trip' replied Heptosh. 'I'm sure something
could be arranged later on, when the sector council has had a chance
to review all these facts. My biggest problem right now is getting
off this planet. My relocator engine isn't functioning properly.'
take my ship. I have no use for it.'
a life saver!' exclaimed Heptosh.
told him about Ni Gwah.
was told there was another human. I'll send him on his way to the
Famtizhi area as soon as my bots find him. I do wish I had something
to offer you by way of refreshment. We bionics only consume
don't worry about us. We brought plenty of food for ourselves.'
Shan went on, 'What did you learn of our situation from the
We sent seven large transport ships, filled to over-capacity with
those not yet infected by a bionic chip, including many orphaned
-- they did say something about ships of refugees, but no such ships
have been seen.'
There was a pause, as the the bionic displayed a remarkable show of
spoke: 'But, please tell me about the state of the subterranean city.
It appears that the entire city centre has been sealed off.'
That was a part of our strategy. All bodies not implanted with the
bionic chip, including all the children, were to be evacuated. The
rest would stay to prevent the bionic army from gaining access to the
Famtizhi area, and wreaking havoc there as they had done here. I was
to have seen them off, as the others made the last stand. Our sources
told us that they would seek entry to the capitol city via the
subterranean portion of the city. They sprang a trap for them, by
setting explosives to go off in strategic places that would trap
them inside. They could have dug their way out, if they had the time,
but, deprived of sunlight, their only source of energy, they couldn't
last long enough. The surviving, but infected humans did a mop-up
operation, eliminating all the bionics that did find their way into
the city, and then went, each to their home, to end their own lives.'
all the bionics are eliminated from the planet -- except for these?'
are yet a few bionic communities still functional in the Klodi area,
but not in large enough numbers to do anything. There are a few
isolated human communities as well. Some are well armed and prepared
to resist any bionics that approach their villages. Others are so far
away they don't know anything of what's happened.'
must pay posthumous compliments to your host, Shan, in succeeding to
form you into a safe bionic.'
not one hundred percent safe, I'm afraid. From studying myself, and
the others (as Shan programmed me to do), I have been able to
discover that there is a control circuit in each of us bionics. By
targeting that circuit, I'm able to control the others -- but only
when they're close by. Furthermore, I am only able to access a
peripheral command level. There is a deeper command level which I
have not been able to probe neither in them nor myself. I don't know
who holds the command key to that level, but whenever such a person
shows up on this planet, he or she will have complete control over
me, even to the point of overriding Shan's bio-media upload.
that brings me to the bit I'm now concerned about,' the bionic Shan
continued. 'I'm also not sure if, whoever it is, hasn't already tried
to access my circuits on a couple of occasions.'
have absolutely no memory of the departure of the refugee ships.
There is a gap in my memory lasting from a few hours before launch
time to about an hour after. It's a bit on and off at the beginning
and end, as though I was going in and out of consciousness. I only
know from my fellow bionics that the launch took place, and that I
had a part in it. Now, you say he refugees never arrived. That
concerned Heptosh too.
gave Heptosh yet another computer, containing all of his research
into the dynamics of bionic replication and their workings.
ship was similar to Heptosh's. It sat not far from the office in the
space port. Heptosh and Eetoo said their goodbye, and boarded.
drove Shan's ship over the mountain range and landed it near his own.
had proven helpful, so Heptosh decided to take him along. His
property included enough grassland to accommodate a few sheep, so he
told Eetoo to herd some into his old ship. Then Eetoo boarded Shan's
with Heptosh, along with a few sheep that wouldn't fit in the other
expanded the radius of the reverse beam transmitter to include his
old ship, and began to simulate linear movement. Once he reached a
safe distance, he relocated both ships to the Toki system, and again
began to simulate linear movement for their approach to Tok.
ship of Shan's was every bit as good as his own. As for his own, he'd
have to send it to the planet, Ashta, where the Heknosh clan were the
only known experts in relocators.