The ship dropped back into real space at the edge of the solar system and moved on at a reduced speed. The sensors gathered data about the planets and their orbits and they checked the star system for transmissions coming from Earth, the Moon, the habitats on Mars and from satellites in space.
The computer produced a map of the star system and compared it to the maps saved to the archives in space. It also searched the databases for registry entries about the solar system and the planet Earth. The computer identified the solar system. It had been mapped in the past. Earth was registered as planet XO-10874no, a planet in the habitable zone of its star system. The planet was not recommended for colonization and mining activities. No further explanation was offered, however.
Nahusha handed the translation tablet to Eric. Eric read the text and then spoke to Brandon and Dave.
“The computer identified the solar system. The planets are where they are supposed to be. Nothing has changed,” he said. “The computer produced a map. It matches the maps saved to the archives in space to a high degree. Some of the maps were produced in recent years, other maps are older. The USS Explorer didn’t jump millions of years into the past or onto the future. The Aryaka are checking for transmissions coming from Earth, from the habitats on Mars and the Moon and from beacons ins space, communication satellites for instance.”
“Don’t they fear the ship will be detected by Earth’s monitoring systems?” Brandon asked.
“No,” Eric said. “The ship has sophisticated shields. It can’t be seen by terrestrial devices.”
“Our ship could have jumped two thousand years into the future and the civilization on Earth could be well advanced now,” Dave said.
Nahusha turned in his seat and reached out for the tablet. Eric handed it to him and Nahusha typed a text. Eric read it to the others.
The sensors are receiving signals from Earth, but not from Mars and the Moon and neither from beacons in space. You said Earth’s population was global but we’re receiving signals only from a restricted area.
“What? What does it mean?” Brandon asked. His voice was shaking.
The men looked at each other, fighting against a sudden fear.
“It can only mean that something happened on Earth. A major disaster. A global catastrophe,” Dave said finally. “Where do the signals come from? Have they already identified the area? Can’t they send a map to a screen?”
The ship approached Earth and went into orbit. Images of Earth were coming in. They showed the European continent in daylight. Everything looked familiar, but the images were taken from a great height. They saw the change when the ship crossed the American continents where the sun had not yet risen. The continents were dark with only a speck of light on the Southern continent.
Nahusha told them that this was the area where the transmissions were coming from. The signals were regular and showed a repeating pattern. They were most likely automated and sent by a beacon still working after who knew how many years.
It was the only active area on the planet. The ship completed a couple of orbits. The entire planet was silent and dark.
The humans were devastated. Earth had looked different when they had left it.
Humanity had come far. They had erected habitats on Mars and the Moon. Dwarf planets were mined in the asteroid belt and spaceships traveled regularly between Earth, Mars and the Moon. They had sent unmanned ships to Planet 9 in the outbound region of the solar system and to Alpha Centauri, four light years from Earth. Plans had been made to send manned ships with gravitational drives to exoplanets in the neighboring regions of space. Interstellar space flight and colonization of an Earth-like exoplanet was imminent because the overall situation had worsened on Earth.
Energy resources, oil and gas, had become scarce, and climate changes had become a major factor all over the world. Vast areas in Africa had turned into wastelands and the people had fled as a result. War had never stopped in the Middle East. The European continent was hit by a never-ending migration flow from Africa and the Middle East. Welfare systems had collapsed and governments had gone down. Many European countries were ruled by military leaders. The situation and life conditions of hundreds of millions in Africa, the Middle East and Europe had deteriorated as a result. Russia, China and the USA had closed themselves up. The three still fairly stable countries watched each other suspiciously, but none had the will or the means to attack the other. That’s what the men had believed, what everybody had believed. The belief had turned out to be false.
“A nuclear war in the past?” Brandon asked. “The gravitational wave that hit our ship. Was it the beginning of a major war?”
“The catastrophe must have happened after a colonist ship reached the star system 55 Cancri,” Dave said. “They didn’t have space programs anymore after the war. The colonists were left to themselves. Think of the old spacesuit in the monastery. The logo was identical to the one on our suits. They must have sent a ship to 55 Cancri around the time we left Earth. They equipped a ship with the new warp drive that we were supposed to test and sent a colonist ship to 55 Cancri. They probably hoped to escape the catastrophe.”
“The wave that swept our ship to 55 Cancri was immense. Which nation on Earth could have possessed such a powerful weapon? Could it have been an extraterrestrial attack?” Brandon asked.
“Beings so vast and powerful that are able to snuff out a civilization as you would a candle between your fingers?” Dave asked in a doubting voice.
“I don’t think the aggressors came from outer space,” Eric said. “Think of the monks and their hateful reaction. They know what happened on Earth. The truth is buried in their secret chamber. I think humanity started a war that led to total annihilation. Humanity destroyed the world and erased the civilization on Earth.”
The men fell silent.
“Do you think there’s still somebody down there?” Dave asked finally with a nod at the screen that showed Earth. “Are there survivors of the catastrophe? In the area with the transmissions maybe?”
“The Aryaka think the signals are automated. They show a repeating pattern. It could of course be an emergency call, but we don’t know when the sequence was started. Centuries could have passed by,” Eric said.
“What about the light coming from the area?” Dave asked. “Still working after hundreds of years?”
“I don’t know,” Eric said. “I’m certain, however, that the Aryaka won’t land the ship to investigate.”
“The inhabitants of the exoplanet in the system 55 Cancri are the descendants of the human colonists. The items in their secret chamber were old and the people had no clear picture of their origin anymore,” Brandon said. “Their civilization dropped to a more primitive state, peasants and monks with a weird cult. I think many centuries have gone by since the colonist ship and the USS Explorer left Earth. I think Earth’s civilization has degraded, too. I imagine agricultural societies with backward religious cults, hunter-gatherers societies possibly.” He paused. “If there are any survivors at all.”
“Izanami mapped the solar system in the past. Earth is registered as planet XO-10874no, a planet in the habitable zone of the solar system. Earth is not recommended for colonization and mining activities, but unfortunately no further explanation is offered in the archives,” Eric said.
“They know damn well what happened,” Dave said angrily. “They mapped the system and made an entry to their databases. They sure had a look at Earth after the war and they know what happened on Earth. The area with the transmissions could be an Izanami ground base now. The transmission station might be a beacon, the regular signals guiding spaceships in. Whatever they do down there or did in the past, I prefer not to know.” He leaned back in his chair.
The men fell silent. The Aryaka watched the humans. Nahusha typed a text into the tablet and handed it to Eric.
The first entry to the space archives is 1,859 Earth years old. It was most likely made after the catastrophe on Earth attracted Izanami’s attention. We could jump back 2,000 years for instance, to a time when transmissions most likely still leave Earth, and then calculate a precise second time jump based on the transmissions. You may find an intact world and the catastrophe may still be far in the future.
Eric read the text to Dave and Brandon. He took a breath. “I was captain of the USS Explorer. I was responsible for the safety of the ship and the crew. I’ve already lost my ship. I don’t want to lose the crew. I think we know very well that the pulse that hit our ship was the beginning of a war that resulted in a global disaster. I consider a double time jump a tremendous risk. It would also put the Aryaka in danger. I opt for abandoning the ill-fated mission once and for all. I opt for returning to Kunjara,” he said. “Let’s talk it over. Dave and Brandon, what are your thoughts?”
The Aryaka left the bridge and the humans slumped in their chairs.
A chasm had opened out to them.
The ship set course for Kunjara, a four days warp trip for the sophisticated ship. The men had retreated to their sleeping chambers. They had chosen the only reasonable option. They had opted for a fresh start on Kunjara, but they had to come to terms with Earth’s cruel fate and their own uncertain future. The men had not taken their decision lightly and they would forever feel guilty for it.
The Aryaka were on the bridge. They let the humans be and only called them back when the ship was approaching Kunjara.
The ship touched down in Patha’s spaceport. The group left the ship and was welcomed by an Ektari spaceport official and an Aryaka group. Varyuka, the Aryaka Elder, had come to Patha. He was accompanied by several individuals from Dharana and Patha, among them the trader Raktanga.
The group talked and then proceeded to a gate. Patha spaceport refrained from security controls. The Ektari official would lead them from the landing area directly to an air cab stop outside of the spaceport. The group stopped at a sudden commotion. Two security men dragged an individual from a small passenger ship bound for a planet in the adjoining sector.
“Izanami arrested the squad that threw the three Aryaka out on the half-deserted planet. They also arrested the captain of the Izanami ship that shot the repair ship off course. An investigation is underway. One man of the squad was missing, an Ektari individual who didn’t go to Izanami but to Varuna instead,” the Ektari official informed them. “You were lucky you didn’t fly to Varuna. You could have run into this man. He came back to Kunjara where he learned of the arrest of the others. He fled from the facility and, as we see, was seized before leaving Kunjara. He’s really a shame for the Ektari species.”
The security men and their captive passed them by. The Elder pointed at them and spoke to Nahusha. Vasuki grabbed the translation gadget from Eric’s hands, typed rapidly and handed the tablet to Dave.
That’s the man who knocked the Elder down. The man shot at the child. Varyuka recognized the tattoos on his hands.
Dave handed the tablet back to Vasuki. He took a deep breath and started to run. “Hey, you there. Wait,” he shouted.
The security men turned around, dragging their captive with them. Dave stared into the yellowish face with a broad nose and rubbery lips.
“That’s for the little one,” Dave shouted and slammed his fist into the man’s face.
“And that’s for having me wait so long,” he shouted, dealing another blow.
A security man drew a weapon.
“And that’s for you simply being an asshole,” Dave shouted, raising his fist again.
He was dragged back by Raktanga who had hurried after him. The Elder hastened towards the group and explained the situation to the security men. They gave a sharp response but then moved on. The prisoner was bleeding from his nose and his lips. One eye was already closing.
Dave was breathing heavily. Raktanga placed his hand on Dave’s shoulder and pushed the man back to the others. The Elder apologized to the spaceport official. Vasuki nudged Dave and held a thumb up. Dave grinned and gave a triumphant laugh.
The group left the spaceport and the Ektari official departed. The Elder and Nahusha spoke with Raktanga, and then the trader left. The remaining group climbed into an air cab and traveled to Dharana.
The Aryaka had gathered in their meeting place. They had prepared an opulent welcome meal. They greeted Nahusha, Shesha and Vasuki and they all nodded politely at the humans. Some even reached out their hand for a handshake. The teacher had trained the welcome gesture, typical for many warm-blooded species, with the Aryaka. She nodded at each handshake approvingly.
Brandon spotted the teacher and walked over to her. “It’s nice to see you again, Karma,” he said, trying to convey the meaning of his words by gestures.
Karma nodded. “Welcome Brandonchieftain,” she said with a heavy accent.
“You’ve remembered my words,” Brandon said with surprise. “That’s nice, Karma. I’m glad to be in this beautiful place. You can’t imagine the havoc I’ve seen.”
Nahusha, Shesha and Vasuki sat down on the step of a pyramid. The Dharana citizens asked questions and the three Aryaka answered them patiently.
The official welcome ceremony ended and the meeting turned into a social gathering. Dave waited for a moment to leave the place unnoticed. He went to the pyramid where the little one had rested after the attack. Dave ran into the nurse who was just leaving the building. She pointed into the room. Dave went inside. The little one was sitting on the bed with colored pencils and a piece of paper on a clipboard. The child looked up.
“Hello, little one, how are you doing?” Dave asked softly, sitting down on a chair beside the bed. “You’re drawing a picture? May I have a look?”
The child had drawn a blue circle with a spaceship orbiting a yellow planet.
“That’s the label on my shirt, right? It’s a beautiful painting, little one,” Dave said.
The child looked at him, jerked its head and moved its fingers choppily, as if indecisive or thinking twice, and then it took a pencil and held it out to Dave.
Dave smiled and painted a flower garland. “Kunjara flowers, blue, red, and yellow,” he said. “Kunjara is a beautiful place for a fresh start.”
Night fell. The meeting dissolved and the place emptied. Eric was sitting on the step of a pyramid. He was listening to the sounds of the night.
He was alone with his feelings and the scents and sounds of a new world. It was already late at night when the Aryaka Elder sat down beside him. They sat together quietly for some time.
The Elder placed his hand on Eric’s arm softly, then made typing movements with his fingers. Eric pulled the translation tablet out and handed it to him. Varyuka typed slowly, then handed the gadget back to Eric.
The Aryaka composed a song when their home planet went down and they became fugitives in space. We remember this time in a song.
Witness the fate of the tortured land There is no graceful way to fall Son of dawn, star of the morning Darkness has crept into our souls
The waves have risen and lowered When the sun rose high in the sky Son of dawn, star of the morning The old Dragon days have gone by
We sing the song on our most important holiday: The Dawn of Day. We remember our fate and acknowledge our destiny. Our fate is written down in the Serpent Songs and our destiny is recorded in the book of the cosmos. We Aryaka believe in the concept of the balancing scales. Whenever we deviate from our way, destiny will take us back on the right path. We can’t avoid our destiny. We can only acknowledge it and learn on our way. We Aryaka have learned in our long history that destiny will lead us through the night and into the light of a new day.
The Elder pointed at the sky. Dawn was breaking. He took the tablet and typed again.
The celebration is closed with the words that I now want to say to you on behalf of all Aryaka. We may seem cold, but we know how your loss feels and we feel with you.
The Dawn of Day. Welcome a new day. Peace be with you and your kin.
Varyuka placed his hand on Eric’s arm, then rose to his feet and left the place. The first rays of the sun were shining through the leaves and Eric heard the wind whispering softly to the creatures and trees. The subtle sound was comforting.