Volk popped the vent and let the impact gel drain out into the container underneath. The quiet gurgling nooise had an odd mournful sound to it, as if the lander already understood it was destined to be broken down and recycled. With the lander’s power plant offloaded and running the colony dome and valuable cargo unloaded and awaiting installation the lander was bereft of purpose and scattered over half a square kilometer of Martian soil so Captain Gyle had finally ordered it tossed into the nanofacturies planetside and broken down into its base components. If the Stewart really needed a sixth Tigris class lander they could always rebuild it in their more advanced facilities shipside. But right now no one was missing it.
A banging noise came from inside the main hull section, followed by a frustrated growl and the distinct sound of a nanosealer hitting a bulkhead at throwing speed. “Shit.”
A smile tugged at the corner of Volk’s mouth. So someone was kind of missing it. He climbed up the canted hull and slid into the lander’s main hatch, adjusting his balance in an effort to stay upright on a floor canted about twenty degrees off level. “Got that flight recorder yet, Langley?”
“No.” Volk found the nanosealer sitting in the lowest corner in the room and picked it up. “I forgot how damn hard it is to get these things out on purpose.”
“Removing them wasn’t part of your training on Somme class landers?”
Langley’s head appeared in the doorway to the cockpit. “Under the circumstances, if we crashed one of those we were expected to sterilize the crash site and go to ground. I have experience with that but I suspect you wouldn’t appreciate it, much less the Borealis folks.”
“You blew up your escape pod when you landed on Earth?”
“Yup.” He disappeared back into the cockpit, his voice echoing through the empty compartments of the ship. “And my Somme when it went down, although that had a much bigger boom.”
Volk made his way towards the cockpit, stepping carefully in the slimy remains of the impact gel. “This may be an indelicate question to ask but how many ships have you crashed?”
“Four.” He’d pulled the entire side of the central computer compartment off and was trying to balance it on the pilot’s chair but it wasn’t cooperating. He sighed and just tossed it in the corner. “We’re recycling everything anyway.”
“Isn’t that kind of a lot of ships to crash?”
“In my defense one of them was an actual waterborn thing and I was six.” He dug into the guts of the computer, pushing racks of purpose built processors and general purpose storage drives out of the way. “The other two involved getting shot by hostile parties before the crashing part took over and this one was calculated and deliberate-”
“-so I’m confident my flight privileges are in no danger.”
Volk handed Langley the nanosealer when he waved a hand for it. “Well, I do plan on putting in a good word for you though I’m not sure how much difference it will make in your command structure. You did get us down with everything of note intact and no casualties.”
“That’s a first,” he muttered.
Not a subject he felt a need to dig into. “So if you want…”
Langley came out with the flight recorder in hand. “Yes?”
“I’m trying to say, you don’t have to stay here and work cleanup. We’ve got a second lander on landing orbit now, stuffed with all kinds of engineers to sort all this out. And I was under the impression you were here to keep an eye on Miss Vance.”
“Well you’re wrong. I’m here as her security blanket. She gets nervous very easily and is away from everything she’s ever known, plus a lot of the assumptions she’s always held about humanity got seriously shaken about a week ago. She wanted a familiar face to come along with her to Mars.” Langley shrugged and tossed the flight recorder into the seat beside him and scrambled to his feet. “That was me. But she took to you folks and the Bottletowners like a fish to water, like I kinda suspected she would. She keeps running off places without telling me. Frankly, I think it’s healthy for her and I’ve taken a strict hands off policy about it for the time being.”
“So she’s more Starfleet’s speed than the Klingon’s?”
He laughed. “More or less.”
Volk took the flight recorder and started working his way out of the cockpit. “So how did you get exposed to the Great Man’s work, if I may ask? I know our recordings came from the original colony records but I was under the impression not many people put a lot of weight behind his work most places.”
“In general we don’t. Until a few years ago I knew only the stereotypical stuff about Rodeberry’s work – he was overly idealistic and had notions about human nature which don’t really bear out. Everyone knows it’s more nuanced than that but few people dig in to his stories to get an idea of how. So after I was shot down over Minerva I got rotated back to Copernicus and went on leave for a bit. Wound up taking a bunch of correspondence courses to brush up some skills and I signed up to audit an introductory course on the ‘Great Man’ from the Naval Academy in New San Francisco along with everything else. And the thing that stuck out to me most was the guest lecturer who came in to talk about the Klingons.”
Volk smiled. “Professor Pachelli.”
“You know him?”
“He’d just started teaching STC 201 when I took it,” Volk said. “That’s ‘Introduction to Rodenberry’s Antagonists,’ if you were wondering. Fluent in Klingon and mean as vinegar, he had definite ideas about what the best aspects of the Great Man’s work are. Let me guess. When he was guest lecturer he gave the ‘Five Insights into the Klingon Mind’ talk.”
“That’s the one. I got interested in Klingons, their stories were fun and I thought the idea of them as antagonists was clever. The honor code let Kirk and Spock outmaneuver them without always resorting to violence. But also another indication that Rodenberry was writing without considering human nature. No one sticks to their guns to that extent, and having the bad guys do it instead of the good guys isn’t great messaging either.” Volk hopped down onto the ground and Langley followed a moment later. He glanced around the empty field the lander sat in and dropped his volume to a quiet but still conversational level. “Still, I’ve been thinking about Klingons a lot the last couple of days.”
“Oh?” Volk looked around as well but couldn’t find anything noteworthy. “Why is that?”
“Sins of the Father.”
“You’ll have to refresh my memory.”
“Worf’s father is censured by the Klingon government and, after investigating, Worf chooses not to tell the truth in order to protect the reputation of a powerful Klingon. In doing this he prevents a possible civil war but is dishonored for his father’s supposed actions. Worf believes trading the truth for lives is the honorable choice.” Langley held his hands out and tilted them like he was a scale, weighing justice. “But then the Klingon ruler dies and the powerful Klingon Worf protected fights a civil war to take power. And the war is worse, because he had more time to gather allies from inside and outside of Klingon space, than it would have been if Worf just disgraced him. In the end, Worf made the wrong decision.”
This was ringing some bells somewhere in the recesses of Volk’s memory. He’d always enjoyed the later stories, from the Deep Space Nine incarnation, more and many of the details from the era Langley referred to were spotty. “Yes, I remember that story, somewhat. What’s significant about it?”
Langley sighed. “Never mind. Just make sure you tell the Malacandrans the truth. They deserve to know that the story they’re living in is over, Fyodorovich. Tell them who C.S. Lewis is. Show them the other books he wrote and let them know the Silent Planet talks to them again. The truth will out, one way or another, and any fallout from that will be worse later. Not better.”
Then he took the flight recorder out of Volk’s hands and walked off towards the Old Borealis basecamp. Volk glanced at his empty hands with a start. “Hey!”
“I need a copy of that descent telemetry,” he said, “or no one will ever believe I pulled it off!”
Volk shook his head and followed after, still not sure what he made of the man.
Pak watched as Elder Alyssa and the rest of his guests worked their way along the outside of the dome. While blueprints and programming for custom built vacuum suits was one of the many blessings the Rodenberries had given them over the past few days a form fitted suit you were unfamiliar with was almost as cumbersome as a poor fitting one and it was slow going for most of them. With the exceptions of Volk and his silent shadow. Pak was now convinced Spacer First Class Shen was actually some kind of personal watcher that Volk’s superiors had tasked with keeping him out of trouble because she’d refused to leave him alone since he’d crashed his ship in the cornfields three days ago.
Out of the Malacandrans who’d come out with him only Gemma had any kind of time logged in suits so the rest of them, from the Eldest down to petitioner Drake, stumbled over every hillock and flailed against every gust of wind. They still got where they were going inside of a quarter hour. “We saw this doorway when we first arrived,” Volk said when he saw where Pak had stopped. “But it didn’t look operable. Now power readings, anyway.”
“It doesn’t need power,” Pak said, taking the hatch by the handle and lifting it completely off its hinges and setting it aside. Without the added gravity inside the dome it was an easy enough thing to accomplish. “It hasn’t worked that way in more cents than I can count.”
Volk just stared at the door for a minute. “I don’t know why we didn’t think of that.”
“In my experience,” Alyssa said, “overthinking things is Rodenberry way.”
“Speaking of doing things the hard way…” Pak turned and tried to pick the Thulcandran woman out from the crowd. With everyone in vac suits it was hard to do. “There’s an entrance at the bottom of the reactor, right? Why aren’t we using that?”
“We don’t have the passcodes to open the door,” the Eldest said. “And we can’t be sure the door isn’t boobytrapped.”
“What’s a boobytrap?” Alyssa asked.
“Nothing good,” Volk said. “Let’s go down and see what this place is all about.”
The stairs down were caked with red dust. Most of the lights were dark but they’d anticipated that and Volk passed out four portable lanterns and they picked their way down with appropriate reverence. “Why do you think your Founders closed this part of the dome off?” The Thulcandran woman asked. “The plans don’t show anything interesting down here.”
“We don’t have any idea,” the Eldest said. “We just know they didn’t want it reopened until we’d made peace with Thulcandra.”
“That’s why you’re here, Aubrey,” Volk said.
“I always wanted to be a living loophole.” But she didn’t seem too put out at the idea.
At the bottom of the stairway there was a locked hatch. The lights fucntion for the twenty or so feet leading up to the landing and this entrance had power. A key pad at the center of the hatch suggested how people gained entrance. Eldest Nobari pushed his way to the front of the line. “Naomi told me the combination before she passed,” he said. “It’s part of the oral tradition.”
“What happens when you open the door?” Volk asked.
“Those instructions come once we enter the next chamber,” Nobari replied. “But I don’t think anything dangerous. Naomi said it was our last, best chance to see peace with Thulcandra but she didn’t know anything more than that.”
He put the code in and the hatch clunked. The Eldest was reaching to open it when Volk gently pulled him back from the entrance. “Shen? If you would.”
The small woman wormed her way to the place Nobari had been standing, taking her weapon in her hands and nodding to Volk. He reached out and opened the hatch.
The room inside was dark but as soon as the hatch opened completely old lighting systems snapped to life, marching across the chamber in an ever expanding circle of illumination. At first Pak was listening for the instructions that would tell them what happened next. But he lost track of that notion as he began to realize how big a room he was looking at. It was nearly thirty feet from floor to ceiling but he couldn’t tell how far it went in any given direction because it was full, floor to ceiling, with racks of pods. He wasn’t sure what was in the pods but they were about ten feet long and three feet high. After a moment Pak realized with a start that they were the exact size of a Glass Coffin.
“The floor, sir,” Shen said, gesturing to an illuminated strip running down the center of the aisles. Most of the lights were white but a blue strip led off to the left. “I think It’s telling us where to go.”
“I agree. Aubrey what do you- hey!” Volk pulled her hands away from her helmet. “Keep that on until we know what’s going on here.”
“It’s a Vault,” she said, voice wooden. “Schrodinger’s Vault.”
“What’s that mean?” Pak asked.
Shen knelt by one of the pods, down at the point where the blue lights ended. “Wait, Naomi is in here. What the hell is this?”
“She’s gone into Shutdown,” Aubery said. “They all have. Your Founders put everyone into Shutdown in the hopes that they’d get revived once Earth broke its silence and contacted you again. None of your elders are dead, just waiting for us to break the Silence…”
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