Demons Of The Past 03 – Retribution – Chapter 10
“You’re sure of our destination, Murr?” she asked.
The color-flicker across the creature’s skin was one she thought held both confidence and slight annoyance. “If your information was accurate, yes. The name Hmmmseeth is not a terribly common one, and combined with other information available on the public nets, there appears to be only one such that could meet your criteria.”
They had taken a shuttle-boat to Konntenata, an inhabited reef area some distance from the rough-scattered center of the main city. Now the three — plus Murr — were making their way down a broad, sea-scented tunnel curving along a panorama of water-washed blues and greens with occasional flashes of brilliant colored plumes waving against the backdrop, schools of small water-creatures like fish flickering past the transparent walls. Water flowed gently through the tunnel, shallower to the sides than to the center.
The EÃ¶nwyl found the going somewhat tiresome, as even at the sides the water came nearly to her knees, and in the center she would have to swim. Guvthor, she had to admit, was having the hardest time of it, as he had to walk in considerably deeper water simply to give himself enough room to move, and the water soaked and dragged at his fur. Vick, with his slender form, was the least inconvenienced and, she suspected, could swim extremely well with his tail to propel him.
“Have you at least contacted Hmmmseeth, let him know we are on our way?”
“That was not possible,” Murr said; the tone of his voice carried a note of intrigued interest. “Your target is highly private at the moment. He has withdrawn contact from public webs and, in fact, it required quite a bit of ingenuity to locate him at all. Had I not numerous contacts in Enforcement remaining from my service, and your generous expense account to encourage cooperation, I am quite doubtful that we could have located him at all.”
“How interesting,” Guvthor said. “Is this common?”
“To isolate oneself completely? It is not unheard of; unlike your species, ours is not seized with a need to associate with others at nearly all moments of our lives. Yet . . . no, this is not common. Not, especially, for one such as this Hmmmseeth, who has clearly mastered the art of associating with aliens and thus — like myself, to an extent — is used to frequent and diverse communication.”
That sense was stronger. Something’s wrong, or at least some kind of danger’s approaching. Despite the creeping discomfort, she found that there was at least some comfort in knowing that this sense was an objectively real and powerful capability. “Did you come across any hints as to why Hmmmseeth might have isolated himself to this extent?”
“No clear indications, no.” Murr stopped before a tunnel seal, presented his credentials to a waiting sensor. The tunnel unsealed, allowing them to pass through. “According to the timeline I was able to uncover, he returned to Mydr approximately roughly two years ago by your measure, and spent six months working on his project using the resources he had gained while offworld, including leasing very large amounts of time on the available simulation systems.”
The EÃ¶nwyl surveyed the area; as usual, there were few Mydrwyll anywhere in sight, one far down the corridor from which they’d come, another at least a hundred yards ahead, and little else other than the tunnel and the reef outside. “Go on.”
“After those six months, he ceased all work abruptly, purchased a large reef-section out here, and then moved in. Aside from occasional transactions for supplies, I have seen no indication he has ever left since, and there are no records of any visitors that I can find.”
That’s . . . interesting, she thought to Vick.
Indeed. The timing would indicate that he came back very shortly after Captain Varan’s escape and the subsequent debriefing — and memory erasure — of all on board. Then he worked for half a year and suddenly retreated. Most suggestive.
“So how do we get to see him?”
“I am taking you to the entrance to his purchase. There will be a communication installation there. Whether he chooses to respond to a query or not . . . that I cannot say.”
The EÃ¶nwyl frowned. What if he doesn’t answer? We have to see him.
An impression of a toothy grimace. That will be something of a challenge, then. Forcing ourselves upon our host in such a hostile environment will be not only difficult but extremely dangerous. We are none of us able to breathe water.
Murr led them through several more corridor gates; the EÃ¶nwyl was increasingly impressed with the engineering and extent of these structures. They have built so much infrastructure to support movement of such a relatively small number of people . . . just to facilitate the existence of their unique civilization.
Finally, after kilometers of slogging, the corridor came to an end at what was clearly a door, and a massive one, reinforced with E-steel like a battleship or fortress main entryway. Next to the huge door was, however, a recognizable communications pad.
She glanced at the others; Guvthor moved forward. “Allow me.”
He bent towards the communicator and activated it with a delicate push of his smallest finger claw. “Hmmmseeth, Child of the Seventh, a greeting and a request for dialogue. This is Guvthor Hok Guvthor of Thovia, formerly a research comrade of yours aboard Teraikon. I am accompanied by Dr. Sooovickalassa, Master of the Dawning Light of Thann’ta, and by the trader named The EÃ¶nwyl.”
They waited, but there was no response even after a full minute of waiting. Guvthor raised one heavy brow, but bent back to the communicator. “Our mission is most urgent for us, and we believe of import to you as well.”
When there was still no response, the EÃ¶nwyl moved forward. “Please listen to us, Hmmmseeth.” Thinking of everything she knew about what had brought them to this point gave her a hint as to what to say. “Hmmmseeth, I believe we know why you ceased your work and have retreated here.” She sensed approval from Sooovickalassa, and an additional hint from the telepathic R’Thann gave her the proper wording. “Captain Sasham Varan sent us, and we can tell you what the missing factor in your simulation truly is.”
A light suddenly flickered to life on the communicator. “Who is the other with you?” said a Mydrwyll voice.
“This is Murrrinnessak, a guide under contract to us.”
A hesitation. Then a stream of Mydrwyll language came from the speaker, to which Murr responded. A few moments later, the massive door gave a clank and swung outwards. “Instruction: Enter swiftly and let the door close before proceeding.”
The four followed these directions, finding that the door opened into a large chamber with another closed door directly across from the entrance. The first door closed and locked, and brilliant lights shone out into the chamber. The EÃ¶nwyl could see multiple cameras and other sensor emplacements . . . as well as a few installations that appeared far more lethal. We’re being studied . . . carefully.
It took only a few seconds, but watching what she was sure were rannai automatic cannon focused on her position made the time stretch out rather unreasonably. Finally, however, the lights dimmed and the second door opened.
Squatting just beyond the door, one manipulator tendril still on a nearby console, was Hummseeth. Having spent some time now around Mydrwyll, she was certain this was the same being shown to her by Vick.
Guvthor certainly thought so. “Hmmmseeth, I give you thanks for this risk you are taking.”
“You recognize the risk. Good. It is a rational fear I possess.”
“More than you know,” the EÃ¶nwyl said.
“Query: you said you were sent by Captain Varan. Captain Varan is a psi, a murderer. I have witnessed this. Why do you speak his name as a justification?”
Vick hissed and his bared teeth were not a comforting smile. You allowed us in. You have suspicions of your own. You are of Mydr and our alliance. You know that memory is not always true. What intrigues me is that you have such a suspicion. Why?
The Mydrwyll opened its eye wide to examine them all in detail, then closed it to leave only two visible portions open. “Captain Varan clarified research direction. Captain Varan is owed Rational Debt if research is verified. Captain Varan’s behavior throughout tenure on Teraikon entirely at odds with my memory of final day. It is more rational to misdoubt a memory of a single day than the history of many days. So the Captain is the person I remember from the year, not the day: verify?”
The EÃ¶nwyl grinned in relief — though that sense of danger was not yet gone. “I verify this, yes, and so do your colleagues — who know what did happen that day. So my query to you is this: what did your research discover?”
Hmmmseeth hesitated — the first time she had seen this type of hesitation in a Mydrwyll, with their focus on rational and direct approaches. Finally, however, he spoke. “Captain Varan appears to have been correct. Adding an unknown factor provided an explanation for historical course of galaxy as known. However, this only resulted in correct simulation if the unknown factor was continuous in operation and ultimately malevolent in nature, and precise motivation remains impossible to determine. The latter points cast doubt on veracity of model.”
“But we have discovered this unknown factor,” Guvthor said. “Its leader is someone well-known by reputation, if not personal conversation to us both: Prime Monitor Shagrath.”
The eye flared wide, and then shut completely, Hmmmseeth concentrating the entirety of his mental resources on some analysis of his own. Minutes passed, to the point that the EÃ¶nwyl was wondering if the researcher even remembered they were there.
As abruptly as it had closed, the Mydrwyll’s eye opened again. “Clarity achieved. Manipulation at highest level of major civilizations. You have data confirming this?”
“We have,” Guvthor said. “Data which also confirms the description of the First Civilization, the one called Atlantaea.”
Hmmmseeth’s eye flickered almost closed again; clearly he wanted to think a great deal on that. But instead he rotated in place, then stopped, eye-segments now open and staring at all three of the alien visitors. “You did not come merely to confirm my research. Describe your needs.”
“As I said, Captain Varan sent us. He sent us because you, and only you, can help him.”
Hmmmseeth gave a rippling blink, then waved his tentacles in an emphatic manner. “I owe Captain Varan Rational Debt, the Debt must be discharged. How may I assist him?”
Tremendous relief burst through her. I won’t have to argue with him!
No, Vick agreed. Once I knew he felt Rational Debt was owed, I knew he would come. There is nothing the Mydrwyll take more seriously.
She looked at Murr. “Murr, we may be discussing things that will sound insane, and certainly may involve you in dangerous doings if you continue. You have fulfilled the terms of your contract and I will pay the remainder and release you.”
“Query: May I stay? I am . . . intrigued. Mysteries — seeking of understanding — have been the reason I have spent so much time in the Enforcers and interacting with aliens.”
A moment of thought, then she shrugged to herself. Despite that slowly-growing sense of menace, none of it seemed associated with their guide. “If that is your wish, yes. But here,” she handed him the payment crystal. “Payment in full for all services rendered thus far.”
“Accepted and recorded.”
“All right. Hmmmseeth, we have to hurry; I have a very bad feeling about how long we have. But I understand if you need to hear more –“
Hmmmseeth looked to Guvthor and Vick. “Both were shipmates. Both fellow researchers. Both of you swear that what she says is true?”
“We do,” Guvthor affirmed, echoed by Vick.
“Then we shall speak of the details when you feel safe,” Hmmmseeth said decisively. “I must gather my materials. Query: I am correct in assuming my research, my professional knowledge and capabilities, are what is needed?”
“You are correct,” the EÃ¶nwyl answered.
“Then I require . . . twenty-five minutes, thirty maximum.”
She nodded and the Mydrwyll scientist immediately flowed away deeper into his home.
“You will be departing the planet, then,” Murr said.
“As soon as Hmmmseeth is ready and we can get back to The EÃ¶nwyl, yes.”
“For a relatively small fee,” Murr said, and she was certain that the pulses of color in his eyes were a broad grin, “I will call ahead and arrange all of the launch clearances so that your departure will be . . . swift and simple.”
She grinned back. “I’ve still got some Mydr funds. You’re on. Make sure we’re cleared to launch as soon as we get back.”
Vick nodded and rattled his crest. A wise choice. He will arrange traffic to suit us with the appropriate, as you say, ‘grease’.
That won’t be such a small fee, though. She sent a grin. But then, I don’t need to save any of the Mydr money I got in trade.
Something about Murr’s posture struck her as odd; after a moment, she realized most of his manipulator tendrils had stopped moving. “Murr?”
“Information,” he burbled, in the tone of one puzzled and beginning to be worried. “Even though I have successfully interfaced with our host’s transmission antenna, I cannot contact the port.”
She froze. “Oh, fallen Towers.”
As though the words had been a trigger, the sense of danger spiked, and without even thinking she screamed “Down! Everybody down!” and dove to the side, dragging Murr with her with the strength born of panic.
And the massive front door blew inward with a shockwave that deafened her.