Somewhere Else Entirely - Epilogue 2

With the quarantine now lifted, the crew of the Vasco da Gama finally get to explore Anmar. However, the questions keep multiplying with the answers seemingly too incredible to accept. Then King Keren invites them to a session where he reveals that, two hundred and five years ago, the royal family made a pact with aliens, Vast Multidimensional Beings...

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

Epilogue 2 - The Secret Pact

Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2010-2016 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.



The shuttle ramp lowered and a single person walked down it to the hard-standing.

"Tom! What are you doing down here?"

DeFreitas grinned back at Campbell as he joined her. "And good morning to you as well, Mistress Campbell! I've come to collect the crew shots, which I'm guessing are in that box you're holding."

"I'm sorry, yes, hello Tom. But, I thought you were all confined to the ship until the quarantine was ended."

"Sort of. Captain Suarez knows that somebody has to come down here to collect and deliver whatever needs transferring, so those who were in the original party are permitted down. We still mustn't touch, of course, until we've taken those shots of yours."

"Of course. Here you are."

Campbell handed the box to DeFreitas with outstretched arms and he received it, but made no move to retreat into the shuttle. She raised an eyebrow.

"It occurred to me that I only actually saw you for a brief time the first landing that the shuttle made so I'm just familiarizing myself with the face that matches the voice, so to speak."

She dimpled at his frank admission but then said, "Was this your idea, Tom, or did your Captain suggest that you start to fraternize with the natives, see if you can find out anything for him?"

He flushed. "There was a suggestion made, actually, but he was pushing at an open door, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately the fact that we talk so much on those communicators is all over the ship now. Some of the engineers are even taking bets on an early wedding."

"That's outrageous! Tomas DeFreitas, we've barely met, we haven't even been formally introduced -"

"Technically, we have, I guess. The Captain did that when we first arrived."

"Don't split hairs with me! I meant properly introduced, as any good Palarandi maiden should be." Her expression softened as she added, "I don't think I would object to being properly introduced to you in due course. First of all, though, you have to get those shots back to your ship. They are live cultures and have a limited shelf life."

DeFreitas clicked his heels and bowed. "As you command, Mistress. I'll see you in a few days, perhaps, and you can show me the sights of downtown Palarand."

She snorted. "You don't want to go to downtown Palarand, trust me. It's just full of boring old government offices." She smiled. "I could consider taking you around the Old City, though. It is classed as a World Heritage Site and has buildings dating back to Roman times."

DeFreitas stared at her. "Roman times? I still don't know if you people are pulling our legs or not! Look, I'd better go, I'll call once I've handed this lot over."

Campbell retreated to the safety of her car as she watched the shuttle seal itself and then climb into the sky with an ear-shattering roar and a column of exhaust. She considered DeFreitas thoughtfully. She didn't know if there had been any suggestion from Captain Suarez but she and Tom had gravitated together naturally. The indications were positive but she wasn't planning on doing anything until the quarantine had been lifted and some kind of treaty signed. There hadn't been any instructions on her side concerning fraternization but everybody was aware the possibility was there. They were all normal humans, after all.

What will he do when he finds out the truth about me?

It might not be a problem, especially once we hit them with all the other stuff. He'll be too busy to notice!

~o~O~o~

Four days later, the shuttle landed again but this time, there was a substantial group waiting for the party that disembarked. The same crew members that had descended the first time had done so again.

"Captain," Keren said, holding out a hand. "It is a relief to finally be able to greet our visitors properly."

"Your Majesty," Suarez responded, taking the hand firmly. "It is a relief, certainly, and I am glad that I and my crew can finally begin to investigate some of those puzzling items that have caused us such disquiet." His eyes looked a question at the King. "You will permit us to do so?"

"That's something we need to agree, Captain, but in general I don't see any great difficulty. There are perfectly rational explanations for everything that might concern you but to begin with, you and your crew will need to familiarize yourselves with our local laws and customs. Again, I don't foresee any difficulty but I'm sure you'll want to avoid any incidents caused by ignorance."

Suarez nodded. "Of course, Sire, but this planet is a riddle wrapped in a mystery and I'm not sure that some of it can be rationally explained, at least not simply."

"You quote Churchill, Captain. We have our own reasons for knowing his speeches but I can tell you that, concerning Anmar, that saying is substantially correct. We intend to explain all in due course but today, we merely desire to show you some Palarandi hospitality. Come with us to the palace for a lunch of welcome, following which we should begin talks on the relationship between my world and your crew."

"We can eat your food?"

"Of course! If you do not already know that we are the same species as yourselves, Captain, then your Surgeon Commander has been derelict in his duty and I cannot believe that of him. You will find all that my kitchen provides to be more than acceptable. There should be enough variety to cover any of your more specific dietary requirements."

The two parties were momentarily distracted by the sight of a huge aircraft soaring into the sky from the nearby airport. There was no vibration or exhaust that anybody could detect and very little noise. The plane continued directly out to sea as it gained height.

"Another riddle," Suarez muttered. He turned back to Keren, pointing. "Is that your transport? What keeps it off the ground?"

That was something resembling an executive coach. Like the cars and trucks that had met the shuttles on previous days, there were no wheels.

"I don't know, exactly," Keren replied. "I'm no scientist. Something to do with a quantum effect, so I've been told. These vehicles don't properly fly, they are just repelled by the solid surface of the ground."

"My Chief Engineer can't wait to get his head inside the engine compartment of one of those. What are the chances, Sire?"

Keren shrugged. "Let's leave that to our diplomats, Captain. Now, if you and your people would join us aboard the coach, we can be on our way."

The coach had seats in pairs with tables between and Keren and Suarez took the first pair. Somehow DeFreitas found himself seated facing Campbell. Once everybody had made themselves comfortable the coach headed almost silently for an exit from the landing pad, onto an access road and then up a ramp onto an elevated highway heading south-west. The speed increased so smoothly that it was impossible to work out how fast they were traveling.

"You gave us a strange welcome that first day, Sire," Suarez remarked. "Did you know we were coming?"

"That's an interesting question, Captain. We knew somebody would come but we didn't know who or when. Or, for that matter, whether they would be hostile or not. We were therefore forced to set up an elaborate early warning system so that we could take precautions whatever happened."

Suarez nodded. "If I were in your situation, Sire, I don't think I would have done anything different. We were just surprised by the extent of your preparations."

"It has taken us decades to put the system in place and test it as well as we are able to. I will admit that we don't have an interstellar drive such as the one your ships use so we couldn't detect it in operation. All we could do was invent the best sensors we could and scatter them through the system."

"But that doesn't explain the absence of communications of any kind, even now. Do you really not use radio?"

"Only for specialized purposes, Captain. We didn't want to radiate anything that a hostile force could use to analyze our system." Keren shrugged. "That was an accidental byproduct of what we do use, as it happens, but we're not complaining."

"But supposing that hostile force could analyze whatever it is that you do use?"

"There is a very small chance but..." Keren hesitated. "There are other factors involved. If we had been forced to, we could have shut that down as well, though it would have made our task very difficult."

In the next pair of seats Campbell looked at DeFreitas.

"Like what you see?"

"It's all so... flat," he said. "I realize we're at the mouth of a big river but do the drainage ditches have to be that deep? Don't you control the river?"

"We do, to a certain extent," she replied, "but that's not the big problem. In a few months it will begin to rain and not stop for two months. With that much water, there's nowhere for it to go."

"Two months? So you have a monsoon season, then. Doesn't that make it awkward, if this is where your capital is?"

Campbell shrugged. "We get used to it. There was talk a while back about moving the capital but that came to nothing. What we have seems to work, so..."

Suddenly there was a wide expanse of water, with sailboats and pleasure craft dotted along the watercourse.

"This used to be part of the river," she said. "Now it's just a big, crescent-shaped lake which we call, oddly enough, Crescent Lake. That's the end of Kendeven and we're now into Palarand itself. Welcome to my home, Tom."

Palarand looked different than Kendeven, DeFreitas saw. Whereas the former had been mostly heavily farmed fields Palarand appeared to be entirely built up. Rows of neat, modern-looking buildings went as far as the eye could see. None were more than three storeys tall.

"All low-rise buildings, I see. No skyscrapers, then?"

"Not really feasible when your soil is bottomless alluvial deposits, Tom. It's great for subways, sewers and service tunnels but not so much for building upwards. We do have some higher buildings around the World Assembly District but it is all heavily regulated. That's not where we're going today, though."

The coach took an off-ramp and slowed right down to pass through an older district. They passed a sign saying, "University of Palarand. Kendeven Road Campus". Soon the vehicle passed through an ancient gateway in a stone wall and slowed right down to a crawl.

"This is the Old City, Tom," Campbell explained. "Most of the buildings here are many centuries old."

The coach manoeuvered at low speed through narrow streets between picturesque wooden buildings, eventually turning into a wide yard in front of the longest building any of them had yet seen. As it halted Keren rose to his feet and addressed the coach passengers.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Palarand's Royal Palace," he grinned, "which also happens to be my home. It is technically a museum these days but we still use it for important occasions, and I can't imagine anything more important than honoring visitors from another star system for the first time." The smile became apologetic. "I'm sorry, everybody seems to think there ought to be some kind of ceremonial thing to do so we'll just have to put up with it. It won't take long and our lunch will be waiting when we're finished."

The passengers stepped from the coach onto a red carpet which stretched across the yard, up some steps and into the front doors of the structure. At the top of the steps a number of civilians waited. Either side of the steps, a line of guardsmen stood at attention, dressed in green with purple collars, belts and pocket flaps. A military brass band at one end struck up a tune as the last person, Keren, stepped out of the vehicle. Standards held by waiting guardsmen were lowered as a familiar tune was played.

Suarez started. "That's -"

"The Barber of Seville, yes," Keren confirmed. "We don't really use national anthems here on Anmar so the bands play popular tunes instead." He gestured at the carpet. "Go ahead. Do you want to review the troops? I've heard it is customary."

Suarez shook his head, embarrassed. "Sire, I'm just a starship captain, not a visiting head of state. I know this is the first ever visit but I wouldn't feel right doing something like that. We aren't a military operation, after all."

Keren and Suarez walked side by side along the carpet, with the crew and those few who had come with the King following in pairs. They all climbed the stairs and stopped so that Keren could introduce those who were waiting.

"Captain Suarez," he began, "This is my wife Lanilla who is of course also Anmar's Queen. My second son Steban, my eldest daughter Julina, middle daughter Merizel, youngest son Robanar and this little one is Jenet, barely a year old."

"Delighted to meet you, Your Majesty," Suarez said to Lanilla. He bowed and kissed the Queen's hand before nodding respectfully to the children, who ranged in age from mid-teens to toddler.

Keren continued, "We also have here my Chancellor Dubrin and head of the Palace Guard Colonel Surekha. If you have any queries, concerns or desires I'm sure either will be able to assist you."

Suarez bowed. "Chancellor. Colonel."

"If you would follow me, Sire."

The Chancellor gestured and led the way inside the palace. Lanilla and the royal children took their places behind the King and Suarez, the youngest child being carried by a retainer. The others followed, still in pairs. The route was relatively straightforward, ending at a pair of ancient double doors. Beyond these was a large chamber, set out now with three long tables for a formal lunch. High windows allowed light into the room while a pair of thrones were positioned on a dais at the far side. Inside the room, waiting for the arrivals, were more people both civilian and uniformed. A female servant approached Campbell and curtseyed.

"Welcome back, Milady."

DeFreitas turned at the words addressed to Campbell, surprise evident.

"You're some kind of noble? How does that work, then?"

She made a dismissive hand gesture. "It doesn't mean much, Tom. I told you, I'm descended from one of Palarand's Queens."

Now why does she phrase it that way? Why doesn't she say that she is descended from one of Palarand's Kings?

Campbell gestured at the servant. "This is Elizet, who is a kind of personal assistant whenever I'm in the palace. Elizet, this is Lieutenant-Commander Tom DeFreitas who is the Assistant Communications Officer of the Vasco da Gama."

Elizet said, "Pleased to meet you, Commander. If you will both follow me."

To the surprise of DeFreitas, they were led to the center table to be seated near one end and facing each other. Keren took his place at the center of the same table facing Suarez, with Lanilla facing Hammond and the other officers spread out along that side of the table. DeFrietas noticed that only the oldest of the royal children joined the table, seated beyond his father.

Once everybody had been shown to a place Keren stood and addressed the diners.

"Friends," he began, "today we greet the first visitors to have found their way to Anmar from another star system. On Anmar the offering of a meal is seen as a token of welcome and friendship and I hope their visit to us will prove as peaceful as it has begun. This is only a lunch since our visitors have only just begun their exploration of our beautiful world and I don't want to overload them with excessive ceremonial. Perhaps, just before they depart, we can arrange a proper meal for all of the crew to show them our appreciation.

"Once we have finished eating, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have provided around an hour for circulation before we begin the serious business of defining the relationships and limits which the crew of the Vasco da Gama will operate under. That hour will give you all an opportunity to meet and greet with each other before we get down to negotiations. Now, that's enough from me, bring on the first course!"

The meal itself was a surprise because it was unexceptional. There were silver cutlery and porcelain plates, cut crystal glassware and gold centerpieces on the linen-covered table looking remarkably like any formal meal on Earth would do. Of course, being a formal meal, there were seven courses but none seemed offensive to the crew and all portions were of manageable size.

Captain Suarez took another sip from his glass and smiled appreciatively at Keren.

"Sire, left to my own devices I would immediately sign a trade deal with you for this wine. I do get invited to a few official dinners now and again and this is at least as good as anything I've tasted elsewhere."

"I'm pleased you like it," Keren replied. "It is a local vintage from the Faral valley. Of course we don't use grapes but the end result is just as good, so I'm told." He considered. "I may gift you a crate or two, Captain, as a sign of goodwill."

"Why, thank you, Sire. I'm not sure I can offer you anything as good in exchange. I'll have to talk with our stores officer."

"Don't concern yourself, Captain. We have more to consider than just a few bottles of wine."

At the end everybody stood and watched as the tables were dismantled and the chairs moved to the edges of the great chamber. After a few moments of confusion a protocol was settled which involved the ship's crew circulating the chamber meeting all the other diners in turn. Keren joined Suarez and Hammond to make the first introductions.

"And this is Stannard Porserio," he said gesturing at a tall civilian. "Stannard leads the major party of opposition in our government, the Progressive Party."

Stannard shook hands with Suarez and Hammond. There were several others gathered around Stannard, some looking uncomfortable.

Keren continued, "The Progressive Party believed that our expenditure on defense and space was excessive, given that we have no apparent enemies within our solar system." He quirked a smile. "That lasted right up until the moment your ships appeared, Captain. Fortunately we weren't called upon to defend ourselves this time."

"We didn't believe the government," Stannard said. "It seemed paranoid to us to go on spending money that could be better used raising the standards of the poorer members of our peoples." He shrugged. "It seems that His Majesty has access to information we were not privy to, however. I don't apologize for our actions in the past, but seeing you here today, Captain, I hope that the visit of your ships will prove successful for both our peoples."

A small, dark man in his group hissed. "Why do you persist in this fiction, Your Majesty? These people are no space travelers, as you are well aware!"

Stannard sighed. "Captain, I must apologize for Delegate Alintis. Regrettably there are some on Anmar who even refuse to believe the evidence of their own eyes." He turned to the man. "Alintis, keep your mouth shut or you'll be on the first plane back to Ovardua. You're embarrassing yourself in front of everybody."

"I'm not the one who should be embarrassed," Alintis shot back. "It is the rest of you who persist in this charade! You've all been taken in by this talk of other worlds and space travel, which everyone knows is impossible. Why, they even speak English! You can fool most people, Stannard, but you won't fool the rest of us."

Suarez smiled. "We have people like you back on Nirvana, Delegate," he said to Alintis. "I'd be happy to give you a tour of our ship, perhaps that would inform your skepticism."

"And what would that prove?" Alintis asked. "A few hours spent on an elaborate vid set pretending to be a ship in space. Any fool could do that."

Suarez raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And can such a set demonstrate zero gravity? If you came up to the Vasco da Gama, I can have my Chief Engineer cut off some of the deck plates to let you experience complete weightlessness."

Alintis opened his mouth and then closed it again. He fixed Suarez with a sullen glare but said nothing.

Stannard smiled at the Captain. "Captain, I must congratulate you! It takes a lot to leave Alintis lost for words." A gleam came into his eye. "Perhaps we might take you up on that offer, Captain. This idiot isn't the only one I have to put up with and some reality would come as a refreshing change."

"Well," Keren said. "That will have to wait until we have some protocols defined, I think. The idea sounds an interesting one, if Captain Suarez is willing."

"I have no problem with it, Sire, providing we don't just turn our ship into a fairground attraction. We would anticipate a few judicious visits, of course, wherever we went, so in principle my invitation remains open."

Keren nodded. "That's good to hear, Captain. Now, if you wouldn't mind, we have to move on. If I may introduce you to -"

* * *

The visiting crew were back in the shuttle on their way to the Vasco da Gama.

"Alison, what are your impressions so far?"

"Really strange, Captain. It is both so alien and eerily familiar, if you know what I mean. These people speak English, for God's sake, and that banquet could have been set anywhere on Earth or any of the colonies. But every meat, vegetable and fruit was like nothing we've ever seen before. They speak of Earth affairs as though they have been a colony for hundreds of years, if not thousands, which is of course completely impossible."

Valborg cleared his throat. "Captain, that might not be so impossible. I'm beginning to think that they are a colony, just not one planted by humans."

"Aliens, you mean? Explain."

"There's all those other animals, Captain. Somebody's been shipping in species in job lots for millions of years, is my guess." He shrugged. "Who or why is the big question, Captain."

"There's another factor, Captain," Marianne Vargas added. "From studying their history it appears they were bumbling along for a long while and then about two hundred years ago everything changed for some reason. Their development since then has been nothing short of meteoric. In fact, I'm amazed they haven't already invented their own interstellar drive by now."

McDaid said, "They might not have an interstellar drive, Captain... that they have admitted to, that is, but they have several other advances we'd probably kill for. Those floating cars, for a start, and what I'm beginning to suspect is some kind of broadcast power arrangement. That's the only way I can explain some of the things I've seen down here."

"Broadcast power?" Suarez raised both eyebrows. "Now why didn't I think of that? No wonder their vehicles are so clean, if they don't have to carry fuel around with them! Does that explain their communicators, too?"

McDaid shrugged. "No idea, Captain. I'd be more cautious on that one."

Baranov now said, "Captain, there's a phrase I've been hearing ever since we arrived, and Marianne just used it again. That phrase is 'About two hundred years ago'. There's also the word or name Garia, which seems to crop up in all kinds of conversation."

"That does make a sort of sense," Vargas said. "If I remember that list of Kings and Queens right, there was a Queen of Palarand named Garia about that far back. Maybe she had something to do with all this?"

"But what?" Baranov questioned. "You're saying one Queen effectively managed to do all this? For the sake of argument, let's suppose that somehow, aliens brought her here to Anmar and she somehow got hooked up with the King of the time. Leaving aside the question of which aliens and why, not that we know of any aliens, of course, I can't imagine that anything she could tell them two hundred years ago has much influence on what's happening on the planet now."

Hammond objected, "That might be a crazy hypothesis, Ivan, but it is no weirder than anything else on this crazy planet. My advice is, don't discount anything just yet."

"All right," Suarez said, bringing the discussion to an end. "We're almost back at the ship so let's go and consider carefully about what we have discovered today. To my way of thinking, they have found just the right bait to put on their hook, don't you agree?"

* * *

Vargas poked her head around the door of the Captain's day cabin.

"Can I have a moment, Captain?"

"Sure. Come right in. What's on your mind, Marianne?"

"We were talking about that Queen called Garia on the way up."

Suarez nodded. "We were. You have some more information?"

"Yes, but I'm not sure it's helpful. She first appears in the records we have access to about two hundred and six Anmar years ago and marries the then Crown Prince Keren almost a year later. Since the King at the time, Robanar IV, lived for about another fifteen years beyond that point, she doesn't become Queen until 1190 their calendar. Once on the throne she does stay there for forty-six years or so but dies under mysterious circumstances four months after her husband, Keren VI." Vargas shook her head. "I can't seem to get the timings to make much sense, Captain. If we're right about a sudden jump in technology, it has to happen almost the day she appears in the historical record, which seems unlikely."

"Every thing about this damn planet seems unlikely, Marianne," Suarez groused. "That doesn't make it your fault, though. Now we're allowed down on the surface we can go through their historical records in much greater detail... but we might not have to."

"Oh?"

"We've just received a further invitation from King Keren to attend a special presentation tomorrow where he says all will be explained. He suggests that we bring as many specialists down as we wish because what will be revealed will affect everything we do and Anmar's entire relationship with the rest of humanity."

"Really? That's a relief, Captain, if I may say so. I like a puzzle as well as the next person, but this situation is beginning to question my sanity." Vargas stopped, struck by a thought. "Captain, if we bring down all our specialists, then what happens to the ship? Suppose this is a ploy to capture it and us?"

"I already had that discussion with Baranov, Marianne. We'll be leaving a picked crew on board led by Andrades. The ship will be secure even if the shore team will be exposed."

"I'm hoping it won't come to that, Captain. I need answers!"

"So do we all, Marianne. I'm a little afraid of what those answers might reveal, though. This planet has me thoroughly spooked, and I don't mind admitting that."

~o~O~o~

The shuttle ramp lowered and the passengers blinked in the sunshine as they began to disembark. Waiting for them were several of the wheel-less coaches, and standing in front were Keren, Hamblin Teldorian and Milsy Campbell.

Keren strode forward, his hand outstretched, a smile on his face.

"Captain. Welcome again, all of you. This will probably be the last time I greet you in person when you land but I thought today was appropriate. I cannot promise that every question will be answered today, but this morning's session should help you to understand Anmar's story. Can I enquire how your own investigations are proceeding?"

"To us, this whole planet is impossible, Your Majesty. We don't understand a fraction of what we see or that we have been told about. However -" He turned and beckoned to Hammond. "I believe our Diplomatic Envoy has something she wishes to say to you."

Hammond stood beside Suarez and took a deep breath. "Your Majesty, on behalf of the United Nations of Earth and of the eleven colonies, I am formally empowered to offer the planet of Anmar a treaty of friendship and mutual assistance on the basis of equality of membership, subject to the usual guarantees and safeguards. We would be willing to exchange goods and technologies assuming some kind of agreement on relative values can be reached. But first, we would insist on having an explanation to some of the more unusual phenomena we have observed."

Keren replied, "Anmar thanks you for your offer and I am sure you will be pleased to know that we will probably accept. I understand you have found much that does not make sense but I can assure you there is an explanation. That explanation has been kept secret from everybody for over two hundred years, Captain, but with your arrival the moment has come to reveal all. Today I am formally inviting you all to a special presentation where you will be told the whole story."

"That's what we are here for, Sire."

The crew specialists climbed on the coaches, many staring openly as DeFreitas walked over to Campbell and greeted her. There were grins as the two took facing seats in the first coach, some possibly thinking of future winnings. The coaches set off and followed their previous route west towards Palarand. For most of those on board this was their first experience of the surface and they were glued to the windows as the vehicles smoothly swept along the elevated highway.

Campbell smiled at DeFreitas. "Have you figured it out yet?"

The return smile was rueful. "You wouldn't believe some of the crazy ideas the survey team have proposed! Me, I'm just keeping an open mind. More accurately, perhaps, I don't think my imagination is big enough to guess the true answer. I can't wait to find out what's really going on, and I don't think any of our wild ideas are going to be wild enough."

"I really can't comment, Tom, not yet, as you are well aware. Afterwards, though, I hope we can still be friends."

"Now you're worrying me! I hope everybody isn't going to be disappointed."

"Trust me, Tom, nobody is going to be disappointed today."

This time the coaches turned off into the University of Palarand campus, making their way slowly between buildings both old and new scattered over a mature park.

"Look there!" someone shouted. "There are hippos grazing in the grounds!"

Keren looked at Suarez and shook his head with a smile. "Captain, those are not hippopotamus as you know them, instead they are a much more intelligent land-based animal which has evolved from the same ancestor as the hippo did. These animals are sentient, Captain, and they can read minds, including yours."

Suarez stared at the King but the coach had now slowed, to come to a halt alongside a long, low modern building which proclaimed itself to be "The Garian Institute".

Keren smiled at the Captain. "We have arrived. Shall we all disembark?"

With the survey team now standing in front of the entrance, Keren climbed to the top of the steps to address them.

"This building is a research facility and something of a museum. Its sole purpose is to analyze whatever we can find out about Earth. Access is normally restricted to those studying that particular field but I can inform you that, after today's audience, the crew of the Vasco da Gama will all be given access to the available materials. Today we are using one of the meeting halls deep inside, so if you would all follow me."

Hammond felt light-headed as she followed the others up the steps to the entrance doors. Study Earth? How was this possible, when Earth was eleven hundred light-years away and these people didn't have interstellar travel? Her confusion increased as the party made their way past glass cabinets, darkened now, which held random-seeming objects that could only have been made on Earth. Others in the group had also noticed the exhibits and there were sudden shocked words, but the King merely kept on leading them through the long hall towards doors at the far end.

Left at a T junction led them past offices, laboratories and reading rooms to a foyer with double doors either side. The first armed guards any of them had seen held open one set of double doors and the party filed in to find themselves in a well-lit auditorium, with a crescent-shaped bank of seats holding perhaps a hundred facing a semicircular podium.

About half to two-thirds of the seats were already filled. Keren ushered his guests down to the podium and then turned to address those who had already arrived.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the Captain and some of the officers and crew of the starship Vasco da Gama. Now that medical restrictions have been lifted, it is likely you may find occasion to meet and talk in the future. I must ask their Captain to forgive the lack of introductions at this time, though some of you have already met at the palace lunch yesterday. I may briefly point out to our visitors that those sitting in the center are members of my loyal government, senior members of our military and selected professors from the university. On their left sit members of our opposition party and a number of others who have been skeptical of the government's desire to create a strong defense for Anmar."

Keren turned to Suarez. "The reason for their skepticism, Captain, apart from the usual monetary reasons, is that they saw no need for such defenses on a federated world with no obvious enemy. Your own presence here demonstrates that their logic was faulty, but they had every reason to hold the policy they did.

"I have to tell both your crew and those sitting here already that there is a secret, known to a small number surrounding the throne, which has been kept for two hundred years and that secret gave us a certain foreknowledge of your arrival. The appearance of your vessel signals the ending of that secret pact and the start of a new era both for Anmar and for Earth and its existing colonies." He gestured at the empty seats to his left. "Please, Captain, Ladies and Gentlemen, find some seats and I will explain all, though you may not believe half of what I am about to say."

The crew members filed away from the podium and found seats to the right of the government. Once they had settled, a dead silence fell on the chamber. The King's pronouncements had ensured that nobody was going to leave that chamber even if death threatened.

"This chamber, as a small number of you already know," Keren began his explanation, "is known as the Chamber of the Two Worlds. It was originally built to serve a secret committee known as the Council of the Two Worlds, and that council was set up to control the information Anmar was receiving from Earth." He gestured to the starship's crew. "Of course, our intrepid space travelers had not yet arrived, so how did all this knowledge get here? The answer, strange as it may seem, is that both Anmar and Earth have been colonized for many millions of years by aliens, Vast Multidimensional Beings, to serve a desperate plan concerning the fate of the galaxy."

There were gasps and whistles from some in the audience.

"The method of colonization was by making exact copies of creatures from other worlds, including Earth, transferring them to the target worlds and letting them develop without interference once there. Once humans came along they were also transferred and for various reasons those chosen were individuals who were close to death on the source world.

"Of course humans, and indeed other intelligent beings also being transferred by this program, require clothing and tools to survive so these were also provided. If a candidate, close to death, happened to be wearing or carrying something, those items would get transferred with them, although there are differences in the methods used. All such objects or clothing that we have been able to discover on Anmar through the years are now either displayed in the galleries which surround this chamber or are kept in storage under controlled conditions. All are available to accredited researchers, including now the crew of the Vasco da Gama."

There was a buzz among the listeners until Keren continued.

"If I may digress for a moment. The Beings discovered, many millions of years ago, that creatures so transferred often evolved at different rates and in different directions to the original stock. Many such transfers were successful; just as many produced complete failure or unusual outcomes. The creatures presently grazing the university's lawns are known to us as dranakhs and to Earthlings as hippopotamus. Both are descended from an intelligent bipedal species about the same height as humans who call themselves the Darayet. That species are telepaths, Ladies and Gentlemen, but on Earth they evolved into giant dumb water creatures and on Anmar into giant land draft beasts... who on Anmar are still telepaths.

"Other transfers seem not to have evolved at all. You all know what grakh are, and it appears that they are little changed from those which were brought here eighty million years ago. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Beings think in prodigious timescales. In fact, they have been managing this galaxy in one fashion or another for around five billion years."

Keren gestured again. "So, how do we know all this? Essentially, these Beings wanted to manipulate and improve the galaxy without anyone noticing what they were doing. Now, on Anmar, when a human transferee arrived they were usually integrated into the local population with little fuss but their knowledge becomes available to that society, and thus helps improve it. Very occasionally a whole group of people were brought here to start up a new colony and around Anmar we have discovered many of these, brought at different times. Thus on Alaesia alone we have discovered Romans, Norse, Mayans, Japanese, Arabs and many others. Some prospered, some did not.

"Two hundred and six years ago, a single transferee arrived and shook Palarand to its foundations. She was brought to the palace and eventually married my namesake and became his Queen. I'm speaking, of course, of my beloved ancestor Queen Garia."

There was not as much surprise at this announcement as Keren expected. The fact that Garia had once been an Earth person was well-known to the local community and the visitors didn't know Palarand history in any detail yet.

"She was different. To begin with, she had been a boy on Earth but the transfer mechanism had somehow misfired. We have subsequently learned that as many as one in four transferees were so switched. The Beings missed this problem because those who tended Anmar did not have genders as we understand them. The more important difference was that, once here, she began to evolve into a Being herself. Ladies and Gentlemen, all the Beings I speak of were once like you and I. We are still not sure what triggers this Emergence but very few make it. Queen Garia is the first we know of from Anmar."

There was a rustle from the government seats. Garia had been the first transferee who had been publicly acknowledged but her fate had been deliberately left obscure. Most naturally believed that she had died in the fullness of time and had been given the usual state funeral of a pyre. They regarded the adulation still accorded her by many of the population as a kind of unwelcome cult, preventing progress by clear-minded people.

"I should add," Keren continued, "that the Beings are not limited by the lifetimes of the original Solid forms they once were. Many already have lifetimes in the millions of years and they may deteriorate very slowly. Our universe is multidimensional, so that in every respect we are all multidimensional creatures but those like ourselves who are referred to as Solids are unable to perceive the higher dimensions. You may consider it similar to someone who is blind from birth and cannot therefore understand colors. The Emergence of a Solid into a Being can be thought of like that of an insect emerging from a chrysalis. The original body is discarded but the insect assumes a new, more capable body with a completely different existence.

"That is what made my ancestor Garia different than all the others who had come before. Although she had little idea at first what she was looking at, she could perceive an existence we Solids can only theorize. The Beings who tended this planet discovered her and realized what she had done. She was permitted to continue her Emergence with the help of other Beings. It was then she discovered the Great Plan and the fate of the galaxy, and that has directly led to your presence here today, Ladies and Gentlemen."

A man jumped up from the seats on Keren's far right.

"Preposterous! All this is a fantasy! There are no Beings, no transferees, no visitors from other planets! You seek merely to enrich yourselves at the expense of other lands with your ridiculous tales!"



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