Graduate Cordam Massin rubbed a hand through his hair and stared at his translation, looking for another interpretation, but finding none.
‘Descend from heaven(stars?) on tails of flame, come(ing?) destruction… stealers… life… from God's fingers… Lords(Rulers?) of Death.’
He looked again at the stele. The rock was worn and cracked, weathered by age. But the readable glyphs were clear; if you interpreted them, and the grave goods that it had been found with, clearly.
It was unfortunate the text was fragmented. For granite to have weathered this much, it must have been exposed for a considerable time. Even on a guess it was a thousand years old, plus or minus a few hundred. It had better go in the report.
“Graduate Massin, we have considered your report. Thank you.”
Cordam sat, waiting, while the Chairwoman made an entry on her data-pad and the other committee members scraped back chairs and picked up briefcases.
“Do you have no questions? What about how we proceed from here? We need to have an expert with whatever group is going to be working on—“
“Thank you, Graduate Massin. We have concluded this portion of the inquiry. We have your full report and will be in contact if we require anything further.”
He watched the committee file out of the small door behind them, leaving him alone with the stenographer.
“What did you expect my friend? Did you think that you were going to be on some committee investigating an alien threat from the stars?” Pharsec passed Cordam a beer. “There is a rumour coming from the Principle’s office that you’re about to lose research privileges. This is serious. You need to lay down a barrage of orthodoxy, or you are going to be writing conspiracy books for the mass market, and wishing you had been on the other ark ship.”
“I don’t understand, Pharsec.” Cordem asked. “We arrived from the stars, why is it so incredible that this planets original inhabitants could have been attacked by another alien race?”
“You’ve never worked out the politics, Cord. You think that whatever you do is right. Trouble is, without the right schmoozing, you end up as that prig no one likes.”
“But the data, the information…”
Pharsec shook his head, and took another drink. “For a genius, you can be pretty dumb. I don’t know how you’ve survived so long. There is no data. Just the interpretation, the understanding, the context—“
“It is in context!” Cordam interrupted him. “I was very careful to put it in the context.”
“No, you didn’t. You gave a view, an understanding of the details. But the context, the structure, is how it connects to where we are and the people we are.”
Cordam ran his hand through his thick hair, sipped beer, and saying nothing.
“It’s the way things happen my friend.” Pharsec said. “Chin up. Tonight we drink beer. Tomorrow, we save your career.”
Professer Massin rubbed his bald skull as he reviewed the submission of a student who should be doing better.
Cordam looked up. The uniformed woman was familiar, but he couldn’t place where from.
“I studied under you four years ago. Abeth Hevarit.”
He nodded, remembering a skinnier, less assured girl.
“Captain Abeth, how may I help you. Sorry, please, sit.”
He interrupted her, “Please, I am no longer your Professor. Call me Cordam.”
She smiled. “Thank you, Cordam. Please, call me Abeth.”
Cordam nodded, and waved for her to continue.
“I am here because of something you wrote. The Alien Stele Report.”
“That was along time ago, Abeth, and surely above your security clearance.”
“It was, until yesterday. I’m in the Intelligence Directorate, and I studied under you. So I was chosen to approach and ask if you would review some information.”
“Can you tell me about this information?”
She smiled, “No. That remained above my security clearance.”
The stele was pristine, complete, unlike the one all those years ago. Cordam read the translation and, apart from one pernickity amendment, agreed.
“Your translator is excellent. What do you need me for?” He asked the officers around him.
“Captain Abeth will be gratified, I’m sure. But this is not the data we’d like you to consider.” The most senior officer replied.
Cordam stared at her. “Then could we stop wasting time, and let me see it?”
The screen at the end of the room lit up with a view of the northern sky. A section was circled. Within it, some of the stars appeared to have tails.
“The highlighted areas contain craft of unknown origin. The angle and rate of deceleration indicates that we are the target.”
Cordem cut in. “Let me guess. They started out in the ‘Fingers of God’ constellation.” He looked round and one of the officers nodded. Cordem continued. “I hoped it would not happened, but I’m not surprised, and the time scale fits.”
“Could you explain that please Professor Massin?”
“It’s all in the paper I wrote. The aliens, ‘Lords of Death’, plundered this planet of its mineral wealth. It’s why we’ve found so little. They also left a race so weakened it couldn’t sustain itself. My suspicion is they weren’t advanced enough to defend themselves, but too advanced to be thrust back into their equivalent of the stone age. The survivors didn’t last long enough to re-establish civilisation. They only left a few stele as a warning. But the invaders continued to monitor the planet. Scatter from our communications systems took about thirty-five years to reach them. They are returning for more plunder.”
“How do we defeat them?”
Cordam rubbed his head, “Well, I am no expert in military matters. But unless we’re better prepared than the original inhabitants of this planet, we don’t. It’s what I tried to warn about forty years ago.”
An original story and photograph by Stuart C Turnbull.