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Chapter 38: End Transmission

Back on the Pandora's bridge, the crew reviewed the tapes from the excavation. Bud was the first to speak. "Party," he said. The others looked at him, waiting for an explanation for his non-sequitur. He furrowed his brow and added, "I was at a party on the Warden and I was talking with a smiley guy named Biff. He was going on about the bio-hazards of exploration. He said that Europeans brought horrible plagues to the Americas, often minor illnesses at home but fatal to the natives... and a woman, Doctor Walken, piped in and said that Europeans often avoided the interior of Africa for the same reasons: no immunities." Bud switched to sub-vocal radio-on and addressed Bailey, Nike, Arkady, Chel and Percy. "We might want to consider full med exams for the natives... There might be some non-human weirdness among them, especially if we're putting any credence in the 'shape-shifter' stories. I read the Martian Chronicles as a boy. Part of that story involved a vanishing native race that could assume familiar forms as a disguise, not to say that we haven't already witnessed mutations of our own..."

"Good idea, Bud," Nike replied over the sub-vocal comm. "I agree. We should have medical records for everyone we meet, including ourselves. Our records are spotty enough already. We only have data for Horatio's student, David. Shlitzee's already determined he was a pure-strain human, no gene mods or anything unusual."

"Might shed some light on our friend Drake as well," Bud added, continuing the closed-circuit soliloquy. "Speaking of Drake and the natives, we might want to gather all the firearms and secure them."

"Arkady took care of that," Nike answered. She looked around for him, but he wasn't on the bridge. She wondered where he was. "All the weapons are safely locked away in the munitions locker."

Bud was coming down from his buzz. He always felt chatty after a good smoke. "Just to beat a robohorse to death," he continued, "what if the locals are talking about automatons with advanced camouflage?"

Nike raised an eyebrow. It wasn't any crazier than any other explanation that had occurred to her. Before she could respond, Bud continued, "And how about Benalidino? The robologs list him at the 'archeology site of doom' but he seems to have made a lasting impression among the natives here. Maybe they didn't all buy it?"

"Yes," Nike replied. "I'm curious too." She turned around and asked Horatio to tell them about Benalidino.

"Benalidino was a great man," Horatio explained. "He was a Prophet second only to John Galt. He had many wives and lived in the sanctuary until the day he died. He taught our engineers and prepared them for the day Warden would someday return."

Percy returned from the galley with a mug of coffee for Nike and himself. He took his seat back from Amanda and sipped his brew.

Bud's fingers lightly tapped his forehead. Horatio hadn't given them much to go on. His brain switched gears to follow other clues. "How feasible would it be," he asked Percy, "to re-task the satellites to scan for the Warden and other near-space objects? We might be able to find something useful, like a space station, ships or orbital ladders..."

Percy logged into the satellite while Bud continued his runaway train of thought. "And on the subject of ships, weren't Hercules class droppers capable of planetary exit? Maybe we should get Pandora over there after all and see what we could cobble together?"

"Yes," Bailey replied, "but that ship was in terrible condition." He replayed portions of the video detailing the overgrown hull and damaged systems. "We'd have to rewire the entire ship and rebuild the hull. We don't even know what shape the engine is in! Since the doors to engineering were radioactive, it's a safe bet that what's inside was dangerously useless. It might take less time to build a new dropship from scratch than rebuild that one."

"I propose we still head over to the archeo site anyways while we try and get a better idea about some of these things."

"Woah!" Percy practically shouted. He had connected to the satellite and discovered collision software running with a database of nearby objects, but the Warden was not listed among them. The database listed hundreds of meteors in standard, elliptical orbits with dates and times when the satellite had propelled itself from danger. There was, however, another spaceship orbiting nearby. Nike stared at him questioningly. "The Alexandria is still in orbit!" he said over the comm, but loud enough for everyone on the bridge to hear him.

"Hot damn," Nike responded. "She's still out there."

"Shanghai!" Bud exclaimed as he crowded in close to Percy to view the screen. "What spectra can you scan that mudder-cruncher with?"

"There aren't any cameras on the satellites," Percy sighed. "Just data in the database of objects, dates and instructions of how to avoid them."

Bud squinted as if it would reveal more of the Alexandria's condition. "Hey, if the sats can broadcast to us, can we use them to broadcast to the Alexandria?"

"There are some transmissions from the Alexandria," Percy replied as he began typing furiously. "Maybe we can communicate with her."

"If you can contact the Alexandria," Bud said, "try these words: 'The ox is slow, but the Earth is patient.'"

Shlitzee pondered the many hours and years she'd spent conversing with various electronica and tried to connect them with the human's phrase about an ox. A connection popped. It was a passkey phrase used by Special Security to 'deputize' civilian use mechanoforms. Shlitzee was no longer limited by her intelligence governors. She chose to ignore the passkey.

Percy successfully connected to the Alexandria's computer! He tried Bud's suggestion and was rewarded with remote access to the ship's systems. Percy cheered and examined some of the archives and functioning systems. There was a telescope pointing at the planet, global maps and a flight log. Only one of the hibernation chambers still functioned. It belonged to the captain, Aralwith Pyr Jamar. His vital signs were nominal.

"Captain," Percy said, deciphering the information. "I've found the captain!"

"Margulis?" Nike said under her breath, almost reverently.

"No, captain Jamar of the Alexandria!" He looked up at the captain of the Pandora. "He's alive... and in perfect hibernation. He's been asleep for 235 years!"

"Can you see if any landers or lifters are operable on the Alexandria?" Bud asked Percy and Bailey on subvocal radio.

Percy performed the search. Bailey looked over his shoulder. "Two dropships are listed," Percy answered. "Both are missing, location unknown."

"Anyway we can track down the other dropship?" Bud asked.

"I'd like to know where that other dropship is too," Nike said.

"If we knew roughly where to look we could use a metal detector to find it," Bailey suggested.

Nike replied, "But where do we start looking for it?"

"Roger that," Bud added. "Maybe we'll pick up some clues from the natives... Like a holy shrine or something?" Bud remembered Horatio's earlier comments about a seminary in Eden: histories, documents, maps, scriptures - all precious, rare and jealously guarded. "I think we need to make a little pilgrimage to Eden and check out a few relics," he added. "While I'm being demanding, what're the chances the Alexandria's transmission monitoring logs are accessible?"

"Hmm," Percy replied after another search. "There's very little data here from the local array. Three years of data from 2555 to 2557, no local transmissions detected then the logs end abruptly. Laser broadcasts from Eridani, however, have continued without interruption since the Alexandria left Eridani in 2336. By the way, in case no one's looked at a calendar recently, the year now is 2790."

"So there's 400 years of transmissions from Eridani to sort through?" Bailey asked.

"454, to be exact," Amanda added.

"Yup," Percy replied, scanning through the list of files. "There are a lot of news reports, software updates and who knows what else here."

"Percy," Nike said, "look for the captain's log. Download what you find in case we lose our link. Quick scan them for anything that might be important. Yes, I know the logs are quite historical at this point, but since Alexandria is out there now I'd like to know why she's still out there and, unless THX regurgitates any more recordings from Aralwith's Greatest Hits, our only answers may lie in those logs."

Percy was uncharacteristically silent as he got to work. Before long, he discovered what he was looking for. The entries were identical to those THX-1492 had played. Percy skipped ahead to the end and found several unheard entries. "Found 'em," he said and played them over the comm so only the crew could hear.
December 11, 2555: The robots are diligently removing the grime from the ancient stones. They've uncovered a few artifacts, badly corroded metal work and a few statues that resemble the humanoids we saw in the lunar murals. The stones have a curious language carved into them that bears little resemblance to the one we found on the moon.

December 12, 2555: We've returned to the Alexandria. John and Mike have made a breakthrough. They've applied specific frequencies of light to the white fibers with remarkable results. When certain frequencies are passed through them, the ceramic trees and polymers move, give off heat or emit light in varying frequencies. They haven't figured out the purpose of the devices or all the frequency combinations they'll react to yet. John believes they may also react to specific sequences of alien DNA. Marie is looking into the possibilities, but we have little to go on as we have no DNA samples from the race that built them.

December 13, 2555: John has taken an interest in the images taken from the moon. He mentioned to me there's a linguist on board by the name of Dwayne Spragni.
Percy stopped the recording and said into the comm, "Waaaaaitaminute! Horatio mentioned Spragni, didn't he?"

"Yeah," Bailey replied softly. "He mentioned three tribes, the Spragni, the Rota and the Hithari."

"Dwayne must've founded the Spragni tribe," Percy said. "Who founded the other two, and what role did Galt and Benalidino play in all this?"

"Play the rest of the recording," Nike demanded. "Maybe it'll give us the answer."
Mr. Spragni didn't mention on his resume that he had experience with linguistics, but John said he heard him say on the passage to the Alexandria that he'd studied linguistics at the University of New Alexandria. I've authorized Marie to thaw Dwayne immediately.

December 14, 2555: Dwayne took the news well. His eyes lit up when I showed him the alien script. He's studying it now. He hopes to soon be able to tell us more about the aliens.

December 19, 2555: The robots have exposed a large portion of three buildings. The artifacts they've uncovered are packed away in the dropship. Amrit has completed his estimation of the age of the lunar sites. His findings have made those ruins even more amazing. Based on the crater patterns, the rate of new impacts and the number of large meteors detected by the lunar probe array, Amrit estimates the lunar ruins were abandoned between 30 and 40 million years ago! After so much time, it's amazing there's anything left at all! I wonder what happened to the people who built those ruins.

December 24, 2555: John and Mike have the alien devices bending, rolling and flashing like brightly colored toys, but Dwayne, on the other hand, disappoints me. He has nothing to show after 11 days of study. He hasn't taken a single note! John, by contrast, seems to have found the keys to unlocking the mysteries behind the alien technologies. I have been repeatedly impressed by John's intellect and his ability to grasp patterns. I wonder how he could have been fooled into thinking Dwayne knew more than he did about linguistics. I'm sending Dwayne down with the next landing crew. Maybe seeing the alien script in person will start his muse. I'll definitely think twice before thawing another crewmember.

-end transmission-
"End transmission," Nike repeated incredulously. "That can't be the end of it!"

"That's all there is," Percy replied apologetically. "The captain's last entry is dated December 24, 2555. The ship's log says the other dropship left the Alexandria on December 25th, an hour or two after several systems on the Alexandria started failing. Captain Jamar's hibernation chamber was activated on December 27, 2555. That looks like the last time anything happened onboard the Alexandria."

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