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Chapter Eight

Signal from Beyond

"Hey, you guys, several large objects just entered the range of the renewed satellite system!"

The young female tech stood panting in the doorway, having run to Kain's office all th e way from the restored control room in Paseo's central administrative building.

"Objects?" Kain repeated.

Hugh looked up at Kain from across his desk and then at the girl. "What kind of objects?"

The tech sucked in a deep breath. "Ships!" s he spouted. "We think they're some kind of spacecraft! There must be well over a hundred of them!"

Hugh's face turned grim as he wondered what that could mean.

"What kind of ships are they?" Kain asked, keeping his voice under control.

"They don't match any designation I'm familiar with. None of the other techs have seen them before either. They're incredibly huge," --she waved out her arms-- "and they're all clustered together. They look almost like giant molecules, with one globe in the center, and six similarly sized globes each attached to the central one in the same plane. There are tube shaped structures connecting each of the globes to the central one and to the ones immediately adjacent to themselves."

Kain gazed thoughtfully at the technical material sprawled across his desk. "They're nothing I ever heard of," he admitted.

The tech bowed her head slightly. "We would have tried hailing them, but as you know, our long distance transmitters are still offline planetside. The satellite that alerted us was the Orbus type you repaired last month."

Kain chuckled slightly. "It would have to be the weather satellite, wouldn't it. Well, it has warned of us something to come all right, be it a Motavian storm or one of another nature."

Hugh turned to look at Kain. "Do you think it could be more Earthmen?"

The latter of the two scowled. "It had better not be. Besides, the ones on Noah were supposed to be the last, unless they were lying to us."

"I hope they weren't," said Hugh. He glanced back to the tech. "Who else is being told of this?"

"Runners have been sent to Councilmen Turgen and Hartford, Rolf Landale, and Commander Yurik," said the tech. She paused for a moment and then added, "We also were going to notify Miss Drakon of the situation, but we were told that she was not in the building today."

Kain sighed. "I sense an emergency meeting coming up," he muttered under his breath. He turned to face the tech. "Tell the councilmen we'll be ready to meet any time they are. We'll just need a few minutes to clean things up here."

The tech bobbed her head and rushed out the door.

Kain swiveled his chair back to face his desk. "I suppose we should go find Lore. If there's a meeting, she ought to be there. She wouldn't let us live it down otherwise."

Hugh nodded. "I think I know where she is. I'll go get her."

The biologist waved his parting to his friend and then walked out the door, leaving Kain to organize his papers.

Four months had passed since Hugh, Kain, and Lore restored the power to Mota, or rather Motavia, as Lore insisted people call it. But despite the current abundance of energy, especially that generated by the dams the New Council had ordered to remain functional, life remained on the harsher side than before. Much as a file is lost when it isn't saved before the computer is turned off, the destruction of Mother Brain caused a massive data wipe throughout Motavia. Kain felt certain that Mother Brain had kept a backup copy of everything somewhere, but that she may have erased it as well when faced with her imminent destruction.

That wasn't to say all data had been lost. Even a system as tightly networked as Mother Brain needed time to execute the complete deletion of all existing information. Spotty bits of information still survived the wipe, and Kain and the team of computer scientists working with him did their best to recover every scrap they could. But even so, it was discouraging when the surviving files may include the homework sets for the first year students at the Paseo Science Academy but not the information needed to properly operate the various factories on the planet.

But at the same time, the food supply was no longer as much of a concern. Many of the people of Paseo who no longer had jobs due to the shutdown of the factories and most of the technology-dependent businesses turned to farming to earn their living. Hugh managed to scrounge up seeds of the few fruit-bearing native Motavian plants, and with Lore's help, taught a majority of them how to grow and maintain their crops. Some people even spread out from the lands around the city to the farming domes where they could make use of the rudimentary climate control systems therein.

Paseo's inclination towards recovery also attracted immigrants, many of them from nearby Arima, which already felt the effects of decline even before Mother Brain's destruction. Others were displaced from Oputa, the remnants of the people who survived the plague or had the luck to not have been infected in the first place. And yet more gradually arrived from the remaining cities; all to claim their slice of hope for restoration. With the teleport stations still down, the immigrants arrived on foot, frequently with few possessions and perhaps no more than a tent as a place to stay. The New Council placed as many of them to work as possible in a farming compound set up expressly to provide employment for those who needed it, but the spaces filled faster than they appeared, and word of mouth could not spread news quickly enough to deter people until after they arrived. Even so, most of them stayed, and there was enough food to go around to keep people from being hungry, if not actually full.

Now if only the monetary system would fall back into place so that people could use what they already had rather than barter and work for every small bit. But Hugh shook his head. He didn't need to go looking for problems. This recent one was bad enough, and might beat all the others put together.

Hugh entered the playground of Lyton Elementary School through a seldom used back gate. Past the swings and blacktop designated as the playing area and nestled between the cafeteria and the classroom buildings lay the lunch benches. Schooling had just restarted a few weeks ago. Though materials remained scarce, especially for the older students, many of the teachers recalled what they could from their own memory. Teaching the elementary school children remained the easiest, since the subject matters were the basics that virtually every adult knew.

He spotted a large group of children, ranging from five to eleven years of age, crowded around the lunch benches where a sole adult figure sat on one of the tables, strumming a simple tune on an old wooden guitar. Her voice sounded gently, almost remorsefully, yet strong enough for all to hear in the oppressive heat of the afternoon air.

Friends old and new, cherished my deeds,
But I could not miss my dear people's needs.
A savior they believed me, as a savior I must live.
I had my strength and hope, and still more to give.

Problems that I had only begun to see
Found their way of coming to me.
People who knew no other life,
Became afraid without evil's strife.

Lassic is defeated, the Evil is gone.
What do we do? We must move on.
Do not forget the past, but do not let it stay.
With the leaving of the old comes time for a new day.

The guitarist strummed a few more measures before repeating in a cappella, "Do not forget the past, but do not let it stay. With the leaving of the old comes time for a new day." Then she played a quick four chords and ended her song.

The children turned to look at Hugh, who had taken a seat on the benches behind her. The guitarist paused, and then moved to follow her audience's gaze.

"Hey, Lore," he said in greeting as she turned around.

She smiled slightly. Though her song had made her sound hopeful, her eyes were tired from lack of sleep, and a sense of weariness drifted from her.

"I hate to break up your work here, but something important has come up," he continued, hoping some of his energy would animate her. "I think you'll want to come back to the office with me."

Lore's expression darkened, seeming somewhat resentful. "All right, but I need to escort these kids back to their classrooms first. I was requested to do more of a history lecture than a couple ballads from Alis's point of view, but if it's important enough that I should go..."

"Believe me, it could be. But I don't think we should talk about it here."

She nodded, putting her guitar back into its case. "Okay, then. Hopefully the school admin istration won't be too upset."

A smile tugged at the corner of Hugh's mouth. "They shouldn't be. If they can get you to come back later they'll be happy enough. You're the best history teacher they've got right now. Besides, they may have more to worry about if you don't go."

"It figures," she sighed.

* * * * *

Hugh and Lore walked into the main conference room of the central government building, which had been renamed the Motavian Command Center to help incorporate the usage of Motavia rather than Mota. The air conditioning kept the conference room chill, even colder than the rest of the building, and Lore shuddered slightly, still used to the warmth of the Motavian outdoors. The two of them had caught a note that Kain left for them on his office door and just barely arrived in time for the meeting to start.

They took the empty seats next to Kain at the far end of the table. Rolf sat one over and closer to the head, and Rudo across from them. Commander Yurik, the Commander of Mota during Mother Brain's reign and the Command of Mota still, sat at the head with a large projection screen behind him.

Kain smiled his hello to Lore. He hadn't caught much more than a glimpse and a hurried conversation out of the onyx-haired historian for the past month and a half. Sometimes she would appear in the halls of the Motavian Commander Center, or at Hugh's apartment, but otherwise he saw very little of her. Hugh told him that Lore had been in and out of his apartment as well, returning home to visit and then coming back again. She also increasingly left most of the business of dealing with the New Council to Hugh and Kain, preferring to work with the less fortunate folk instead.

A young green-haired man dressed in the uniform of a satellite tech stood near the Commander's chair and, once Lore and Hugh were seated, began to speak.

"As you all have been alerted to, there is a small fleet of starships numbering roughly around two hundred strong heading towards the planet. They passed within the sensory range of the weather satellite Orbus less than an hour ago. The ships have been moving very slowly, likely so that they can retain formation. They do not appear to have been built for maneuverability so much as to house passengers."

The room darkened slightly, and the image of a seven globed starship appeared on the projection screen. Commander Yurik wheeled his chair off to one side to allow the others a better view. The ship was viewed from a slightly elevated position above the horizontal plane to reveal seven small landscapes within each of the domes.

The tech took a deep breath before continuing. "The better part of a half hour passed before they arrived within our hailing range. Even then, our visuals are still down, so we were not able to see the people we were speaking with. However," --the tech paused to make sure he had everyone's attention-- "they claim to be the survivors of the explosion of Palm."

Lore felt her heart flutter, but she quickly squelched the feeling.

"Naturally, we can't be certain," continued the tech, "as Gaira's crash into the planet was completely unexpected from our perspective, and likely should have been from theirs." The screen shifted pictures to reveal a still showing dozens of the globed ships clustered side by side. "There's also the matter of the quantity of spacecraft sighted. Since Mother Brain banned space travel ten years ago, Palm should not have had any more spacecraft left than Motavia did. The transmission from these ships indicated that a total of four hundred ships left the planet, and the contingent around Motavian space is the group that has decided to try resettling here. Although they didn't directly say it, they implied that the rest are somewhere within the star system, possibly near Dezo." The tech gestured to the lead ship of the current image and the picture enlarged. "There is also the matter that these ships do not match the known designation of any Algolian ship ever made, even those made prior to Mother Brain's inception," he added with a nod to Lore, who nodded vaguely in return to confirm his statement.

The lights returned to their normal levels and the tech relaxed his arms at his sides. "If there are any further questions..."

"I have one," said Kain, lifting a hand to flag the tech's attention. "Who contacted who first? Us or them?"

"They reached us first. Apparently they had been trying to hail us for a long time and did not know that our planetside communications are severely hampered. We caught the middle of a repeated signal they were sending out. After a couple repetitions we decided to respond."

"Were they using a specific frequency? Or broadcasting on several bands?"

"They were using the old hailing frequency for contacting other ships and spaceports during the time Mother Brain allowed space travel. It was the standard channel at the time."

Kain nodded thoughtfully, lowering his gaze in contemplation.

Commander Yurik swiveled his chair back into position. "What we must decide here today, as you may gather, is how to resolve this situation. The fleet has halted in orbit around the planet and is currently awaiting our response. They wish to send down a small shuttle of envoys to speak with us before the mass exodus of their people begins. They claim those ships of theirs are not capable of making a comfortable planetside landing and that they would need our cooperation in bringing their populace down to the surface.

"Naturally the focal question is whether or not to believe they are Palmans. If they are, we are duty bound to help them, and they might even be able to help us recover our technology since they seem capable of designing their own spacecraft. However, if they aren't, we do not want to open ourselves up to a second invasion, be they Earthmen or another species."

Slight murmurs of approval came from around the table.

Lore pondered for moment, then turned her gaze to the Commander. "Well, if they are a new sort of invader, they shouldn't have been able to pick up our language that quickly. I'm certain the Earthmen would have held any foreign species at bay during their plans for occupation. So if this is some sort of trick, they could not have been in Algo for more than six months."

"Your point, Ms. Drakon?" asked Councilman Hartford.

She glanced at Hartford before looking squarely at the green-haired tech. "If the transmission was in unaccented Palman, then chances are the speaker has been in our star system long enough to be fluent; eliminating the possibility of this being a new danger."

The tech nodded and crisply replied, "The transmissions were received in fluent Palman. There was no detectable accent beyond that which can be attributed to local lingual shifts from being separated for ten years."

"Well, that eliminates one possibility," said the Commander.

"Provided the aliens don't have some sort of advanced word parser so they learn languages more quickly," someone muttered.

"Come now, we can't keep second guessing ourselves," Rolf said pointedly.

Rudo nodded his assent. "We should stick to what we know is possible, rather than venturing into something that may not yet exist. With that in mind, it seems improbable, though not as much as the previous theory, that these ships would be crewed by more Earthmen. The ones we met explicitly made it clear that they were the last of their race. They had no real cause to lie since they believed they held the upper hand."

"That would only leave the possibility that these ships are telling the truth," Councilman Hartford protested.

"And if they knew enough of what was going on, how come they didn't tell us!" Turgen vehemently demanded.

"One question at a time," Yurik admonished. "We can ask that question if we decide to let them land."

"Well, there's one way to be certain that they are truly Palman," Hugh said quietly. He purposely kept his green eyes averted as he drew the collective gazes of the people present. "Many of us have relatives who we were separated from when Mother Brain banned all space travel. All we need is a pair of people, one from their side and one from ours, who know each other from before ten years ago; have our person ask his friend or relative a couple personal events that only the two of them would know about. We could find several people from our side so that at least one of them is certain to have someone they know who should have been on Palm and who might be among the group that wants to relocate here, assuming our visitors are telling the truth. And if this pans out, then we either have an unbelievably good set of liars or we have the impossible; the survivors of Palm."

For a moment no one said a word. Hugh held his breath as he wondered what sort of flaw lay in his reasoning.

"That would seem to be the most reasonable suggestion possible right now," said the Commander.

Hugh relaxed. "Thank you, sir."

The discussion turned to ideas on how to implement Hugh's idea and what sort of person would made the ideal candidate for the exchange; certainly not anyone with a well known family history. Kain volunteered to round up a few people and Commander Yurik asked the green-haired tech to relay their request to the ships, asking for two days to get their side of the exchange organized.

The meeting adjourned an hour and a half later.

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