“Is this the city of Gadios?” I asked Hadolko.
“Yes, is the ‘Cornerstone of Dreams’, one day this world will be full of cities like this, but for now we start by building one!” Hadolko puffed out his chest with obvious pride.
The city seemed to float inside the Hex, a great expanse of floor had been cut away from in front of us. Below were huge machines working on something unfathomable to me at the moment. Across the empty expanse was a wall that stood solidly against any that hoped to enter. On one side I could see gleaming white spires that appeared similar to the embassy behind us. But in the center of this Hex, four enormous cylinders dominated the skyline. Each a kilometer across and stretching from floor to the ceiling six hundred meters above.
I pointed at the behemoth structures “What are those?”
“They are factories for making metal. It is the only place on this planet where metal is made in such large quantities!’
“You mean refineries?” I realized that refinery would be an odd word to pick up learning basic English. “They melt metal ore to purify it? Refine it?”
Hadolko squinted his eyes as if thinking hard and nodded his head. “Yes, they must make it very hot so it melts. The Grimahdon tribe run some of them.”
The city rose up above the floor of the hex in plateaus each one fifty or more meters above the one before as they step up toward the center of the city.
We followed a road around the perimeter of the hex, Other transports and trucks from the ASO camp traveled on the road along with us but this was my first look at alien vehicles. A thin tractor trailer sized vehicle silently slid up next to us. It had six legs that it seemed to swim along the ground with. As I watched their action, I realized that they did not support the vehicle. It seemed to float above the ground. As it passed by I noticed the driver in a small bubble cockpit down near the ground. He looked up at us and seemed to laugh at our awe.
“Hadolko, what is that?” I blurted out. Several other men took notice of my question and fixed their attention on our guide waiting for enlightenment.
Hadolko had to figure out that I was now pointing at the vehicle next to us that to him seemed mundane. “That is a Carrier. I have heard some of your people call it a frey-ter.” He strained hard to reproduce the word.
“Freighter? How is it moving above the ground?” It was nearly past us at this point.
“Its engine pushes against. . . ” he grasped at the air with his hand. “What is the English word for what make things fall?”
“Gravity?” I offered.
He had a hard time with picking up the word. “It lifts the Carrier up.”
“So it’s an anti-grav vehicle? Why does it have legs?”
“The legs push it along, they are quiet and can move without enemies noticing.” He explained.
The vehicle was indeed quiet, as it had passed there was an eerie quietness about it.
Shortly after a small vehicle much more familiar raced past us. It resembled a go cart with its four small wheels and single rider, but moved at near two hundred kilometers an hour.
“What do you call those?”
“Zemot, they are a Kelrath invention that people in Gadios use. There are many things in Gadios that have been taken from the Kelrath because they live so close to us.”
“The Scimrahn deal with the Kelrath? They want to kill people from earth!” I did not remember anything about the Scimrahn working with the Kelrath from our briefings.
“The Chezbah hate us more than they hate the Kelrath, because of this, we protect the Kelrath and they help us when they can. If they are too open about it, they will anger the Chezbah.”
“But what about Gadios? The Kelrath city of Penalon is only thirteen grier away. They cannot deny that Gadios is under their protection.”
Hadolko snickered “Rantaa’ Votusk the ruler of Penalon insists to the Chezbah that this territory has been searched again and again and he cannot find this city!”
“Surely that does not fool the Chezbah.”
My attention was drawn away from the conversation by what appeared to be a four meter tall robot running by. Its movement seemed organic and fluid defying its mechanical nature. At one point it appeared to notice a Scimrahn that was walking on the side of the road and avoided stepping on him.
“Is that an Environmental Suit?” I blurted out.
Hadolko was watching my amazement and had a smirk on his face “Yes, that is a Tee Fer Pahpah u’ Koche u’ Chetoc”.
The name stumped me, the majority of it was a number but the common numbering system used on The Artifact was difficult to understand. The decimal system Earth uses was equally difficult for Scimrahn to understand. The first part of the name wasn’t a word but two letters. After several second of furrowing my brow, I understood.
“That’s the model number right?”
Hadolko looked at me with the same look of confusion that I had given him.
“Its not the name of the E-Suit, it’s the numbers that say what type it is.” I offered.
Hadolko wagged his head as if shaking the thought around would shape it into something recognizable. Apparently it worked.
“Y-yes, but it is named after the Tanroc Fredar.” Hadolko mumbled.
I barely was listening at this point, several other “Carriers” were skimming by, moving in a line that went on for two hundred meters. Their tall slender bodies were a creamy white and for a moment they had a passing resemblance to sailing ships moving on water by the smooth way they glided through the air.
Moments later a different kind of anti-grav vehicle rumbled by. It moved more like a flying tray than the skimming motion of the Carriers. The vehicle had an open cockpit in the front and cargo was piled in the back, strapped down by cables. Piloting it was a large dark skinned aboriginal man, from our training it looked like a Kelrath!
“Is that a Kelrath?” I exclaimed.
I should have been more discreet in retrospect as everyone in the transport instantly went from lazy sightseeing to alert.
Hadolko pushed down two of the raised assault weapons and said in a voice loud enough for all to hear clearly “That is a merchant, there are many of them in Gadios and they are used to Earthers being here! He is not your enemy!”
Hadolko sat back down. “You are safe here in Gadios, but do not assume the same outside of the city. Be careful of raising your weapons here, you are outsiders, respected yes, but carelessness can easily strip you of that respect! Shooting a Kelrath would bring the anger of his Rantaa’ and cause hardship on the city.”
We turned off the perimeter road and onto the bridge that heads directly into the city. Cold air blew up the sides of the bridge and formed frost on it’s edges. I tried to discern the source of the frigid air and noticed several towers surrounded by what appeared to be spherical coolant reservoirs. The thing that gave them away was that they were covered by what was obviously a thick sheet of ice even from five hundred meters away.
“What is the purpose of those coolant towers?” I asked Hadolko.
Hadolko looked over the edge of the bridge as if he needed to see what I was talking about to identify it.
“They make the lower level cold so. . . ” He looked around at the air, trying to pull his thought from it. “. . . there is no explosion when fuel is made.”
I began to recognize a small number of the structures down below. They appeared to belong to a fuel refinery, but the inhabitants of The Artifact do not use fossil fuels. Instead they create their own carbon fuel. I observed man and machine breaking hex walls into tiny bits with hammers and that they then fed to machines. I watched this for several minutes until the city had snuck up on me.
Suddenly a wall passed in front of my face. I looked up and saw that we had entered the city streets, and our speedy trip down the border road slowed down to a crawl. The road teemed with pedestrians. The smell of unfamiliar but appealing foods filled the air. Sounds of music that I could not identify spilled from a doorway where twenty to thirty people had gathered. On one side of our caravan a thirty-meter tall wall rose straight from the ground. Homes and shop entries lined the base of the wall. On the other side, the city appeared more as a conglomeration of one story buildings that were built on top of another creating a step effect. Each level above the last hosted it’s own street teaming with busy Scimrahn.
However I quickly noticed that not everyone on the street was Scimrahn. A large percentage of them wore I-CA uniforms some were civilians, colonists. This surprised me, I knew that the I-CA was aggressively transporting men and materials to The Artifact, but there was nearly one I-CA soldier to every four Scimrahn.
“Hadolko, there are very many I-CA soldiers here. How many are there in Gadios?”
Hadolko shook his head “Many! They have helped the Scimrahn very much! I wanted to work with them but two cycles ago they stopped going to the surface. They were unable to defend a colony they built on the surface. When your people said they would help, I was assigned to you.”
“So we weren’t exactly your first choice.”
“You must understand, the threat that we face is great. If we relied on only the people of the ASO, we would not be able to survive. We cannot simply wait to be attacked, we must hide until we can attack our pursuers and prevent their attacks.”
I wanted to say something that would put him in his place, but I couldn’t. I could feel my face flush red. Here we were laying our lives down for these people and all we are is a means to an end?
I suddenly felt my connection to the people around me sever. I was infuriated to think of these people as using me as a human shield. My frustration must have been apparent as Hadolko seemed to read the thoughts from my expression.
“You are angry at this? We do what we must to survive. You are doing exactly the same. If you were really worried about the Scimrahn, you would do anything to help us. But you are not! You are doing what is best for you. The people from the ASO want to come to this planet to live, but they cannot without war or alliance. The Scimrahn give you their alliance even if you endanger our lives.”
“Endanger your lives? Every soldier that comes here defends your tribes and this city! How do we endanger you?” I retorted.
“This is true, but when you come, you anger your enemies. Your enemies are not our enemies.” Hadolko responded.
“I don’t understand, you are alone on this planet, who is your ally? Who do we anger?”
Then it hit me he was talking about the Kelrath. Something that I had not considered before driving down the road to the city.
Hadolko spelled it out for me. “Gadios, the city around us is defended by the Kelrath. They hold the Chezbah at bay. If this city fell, we would take many spans to rebuild another. Without this city our vehicles would have no fuel to run. Without this city, many tribes would simply die. The Kelrath are your enemy, not the enemy of the Scimrahn. You see, we already have a protector, the Kelrath. Can your ASO defend us against the Chezbah, while defending yourselves against the Kelrath?”
“No we couldn’t.” I had to admit. “But we would If we could, and in the future we will be able to.”
“But for now, our defender is Votusk the Rantaa’ of Penalon. The I-CA people have helped us strike the flanks of the Chezbah blockade and weaken their forces. The I-CA people are the ones that have made it possible to get to the surface and assist the Kwi tribe.
All men do what they must to live. We believe you that Earthers will help the Scimrahn, but until you are stronger than the Kelrath and the Chezbah, the Scimrahn are not safe.”
“Then ours is only an alliance of mutual self interest.” I said partly to Hadolko and partly to myself.
The view was accurate if not pragmatic. I suppose I had expected a more idealistic outlook from a people that talk so freely of dreams and hope. I had to ask myself where that left me. What was my self interest? More accurately what was the ASO’s self interest. My focus had been to defend the Scimrahn, but now since even the people I was to save only viewed that as my function, how could I view it as anything more. In the end, my goal must then be to preserve my own life, primarily, and then to further Earth’s goal of colonization. The thought had a hollow ring to it. It failed completely to inspire me to action. If we are not saviors, then only a fool could think of himself as one.
It seemed all I had left was duty. I wondered if there was any hope of success with only duty to fire the hearts of men. Centuries of conflict on Earth, showed that it is not. America alone had suffered defeat several times when we had lost our vision of salvation.
Even still it would be ignoble of me to disregard the needs of people at home on Earth. After all, weren’t we a salvation to them? That was still a difficult thought to choose as the sole motive for fighting. That air of arrogant self importance had nearly disappeared when the colonies of the great empires slowly gained their independence. Even more than that, self importance is difficult when you are the clear underdog. At that point I am only left with desperation. Desperation is a weak motivator that quickly leaves when things go badly.
I had lost all interest in the city at this point. Somehow, where it had seemed natural and quaint on entering, it now appeared grubby and squalid. I saw children playing, but did not notice them playing. Only that they were dirty and had no shoes on their blackened feet. The men that seemed full of color with their facial tattoos at first, now appeared dangerous, untrustworthy. I saw a group of thugs beat a man and drag him down the street.
We labored down busy city streets that wound around and through the city. The buildings had an almost pueblo like appearance. My mood stayed sour until we had made a final turn down the road that would take us out of the city. As we approached the bridge leading away from the city, we were met by a group of colorfully dressed Scimrahn women and children that barred our way.
Thirty to forty children scrambled onto our vehicles with surprising ease. Each had a pouch slung over their shoulder into which they all simultaneously reached and broadcast what appeared to be a curious from of confetti that spiraled through the air as they fell.
“What is this Hadolko?” I asked. Crowley’s eyes asked the same question.
Before Hadolko could answer, the women assembled before us called out in chorus. “Rah-lah-earth pel resh resh-ki!” and beamed wide smiles at us.
Major Crowley asked “What are they saying Concade?”
I answered “It translates literally to ‘People of Earth are the owners of doing a much good!'” I turned to Hadolko “Is that right?”
Hadolko had difficulty with this. “In your language it means they are saying ‘On people of Earth, a great good is with you’, It is a Scimrahn blessing.”
Crowley stood up and faced the women and children and bowed. “Thank you.”
The small blockade separated and stood to the side of the road.
“Lets get moving driver!” Crowley ordered.
I held a piece of the confetti in my hand. The transport was covered with them. Each one was a small piece of art. Intricately folded to flutter through the air. I held the tiny piece of paper in my hand until the wind picked it up and blew it into the chasm that yawned beside us.
I watched Hadolko as we accelerated away from Gadios. I realized that I had been too harsh. Hadolko did not look back on the city as a sentimental man would, but ahead to the road. Hadolko was focused on his task. To him the goal is what was important, not the sentiment behind it.
“Hadolko.” I called to him.
“What?” He asked bluntly as if I was interrupting something.
“How old are you?”
“I am. . .” I could tell he was trying to convert the numbers from Chezbah numbers to decimals. “Eight and ten births. I don’t know the number in you time.”
He left a little for me to figure out, I assumed he meant eighteen, luckily I had a calculator to help me out. The Artifact hangs in a LaGrange point between two suns. There are no years because there is no orbit. The Artifact uses a universal code that counts up one number nine times a second. The Kelrath and the Chezbah use this time, but the Scimrahn were fearful of using The Artifact’s computer systems because alarms would alert the Chezbah. As a result they used the only way of measuring time left to them, the human body. As a result, they use unusual units of time like “births” and “spans” and “cycles”. A birth is approximately nine months, which makes Hadolko only fourteen years old!
The mortality rate of Scimrahn is very high, so not many live past fifteen years old. Hadolko was just a kid, but among Scimrahn, he was considered an adult.
I decided that even though Hadolko’s attitude bothered me he was not nearly mature enough to understand anything more than his own viewpoint. Even if he represented a majority of the Scimrahn in his outlook, it was essentially the outlook of children, that have had nothing more than children watching over them. Perhaps they needed us to save them from the Chezbah and themselves.
We left the hex that houses the City of Gadios and entered the next. A vast sea of tents of all kinds filled the hex. Near the tunnel we emerged from, a single permanent structure stood out. It appeared at a glance to be a medieval castle with a wall and parapets, and a tower in the middle. Despite the native materials used, the architecture of the structure was blatantly of Earth origin. I soon was able to make out that the patrol that circled it wore I-CA markings on Scimrahn body armor.
“These are the Scimrahn that come to work in Gadios, when they fall on hard times.” Hadolko offered.
“Why don’t they stay in the city?” I asked.
“The Scimrahn here would mix in with the city and never leave. They stay outside the city to keep their tribes together.” He replied.
“What is wrong with mixing with the city? Aren’t they welcome?” I snapped.
My jab hit it’s mark, Hadloko gave me a glare to show his displeasure. “They have a function to perform. Some used to acquire food, some carry the food deep to other tribes. They are good at what they do they are not good at working in the breaking yards and the chemical factories. It is a courtesy that the people of Gadios extend to them, allowing them to re-build their tribes.” He added “They want to get back to their lives.”
We past through the sea of tents and finally into the uninhabited depths.