ESS Lore Volume 1: Eternal Winter

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The story so far: 500 years after the civilisation on Pollux is destroyed, the Droo Alliance ship New Frontiers is on a mission to investigate the outer Juno system. Crew member Xanadu encounters a stranger, Lethe, at the Cylero One base who requests a meeting with Captain Hodiyah. But while trying to find Lethe, Mitra and Hodiyah are attacked...

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Chapter 3, Juno Date 015.2167:

Mitra raised her arms to shield her face from the inevitable blow but instead she heard a shout from the direction of the clearing. Mitra’s attacker turned to see Lethe pushing through the undergrowth with a huge ornamental sword in his hand. He was wielding it over his head in a very threatening way, and despite Lethe’s obvious age his robe and sword made him cut a terrifying figure. The stranger leaped back, apparently unsure of how to deal with this new threat; and in that moment, Mitra jumped forward and grabbed the arm holding the knife. The cloaked figure twisted and kicked free, but by Lethe was now within arm’s reach and started to force the attacker backwards towards the waterfall with his sword flashing in all directions. As they reached the edge of the vegetation Hodiyah appeared, stumbling shakily towards the combatants with a torn-off branch for a weapon. However, her assistance was clearly not required. The two New Frontiers crew watched in amazement as Lethe handled his weapon like a professional swordsman, gradually driving the aggressor towards the water’s edge. Neither was giving any quarter, and the clash of steel sounded over the rushing water. Finally, the cloaked figure struck out with one final effort and almost managed to cut Lethe’s arm. But, for just a moment, they also lost balance—and this was the opportunity the old man had been waiting for. He struck the assailant with the side of his sword, pitching them over the rocks into the rushing water. A loud, choked cry echoed for a second then the fight was over.

Panting, Lethe turned to Hodiyah and Mitra who were still in shock after their sudden assault and unexpected deliverance. He extended a hand to the captain. “My name is Lethe.” he greeted. “I believe you have come seeking me, and it appears that I arrived at a quite convenient time.”

Hodiyah gripped his hand. “You certainly did, I had no idea crime like this existed on the colonies! I cannot thank you enough for this, you saved mine and Mitra’s lives!”

Lethe nodded gravely. “Unbelievable as it may be, there is indeed violence even in these outposts of the Alliance. This individual was a member of an organised gang which stowed away on a supply vessel and preys on unarmed visitors. There are many ancient volcanic caves under the base where criminals and other unsavoury characters can conceal themselves and be quite safe from detection.”

Then for the first time he noticed the wound on Hodiyah’s head, and he took a step forward in concern. “You must allow me to check this injury.”

Mitra and Lethe led the captain, who looked rather shaky, to the boxes by the water and helped her sit down. The old man opened a chest lying nearby and brought out a small first aid kit, then proceeded to clean and dress the wound.

“My comms officer, Xanadu Tritos, mentioned your meeting with her yesterday.” Hodiyah prompted, wincing slightly. “She said you had a request to make?”

“That is correct,” Lethe replied. “I am an explorer like you, although I seek the answers to life’s questions through meditation and closeness to the universe’s beauty. Your ship is on a mission to the outer system, and I wish to join you. I am trained as a doctor and a counsellor, so I believe I could be of value to you in your voyage.”

“It seems most ungrateful of me to refuse, given the situation.” the captain responded thoughtfully. “However, it is against protocol to allow additional, inexperienced members to join the crew while on a mission. On the other hand, this is an exceptional circumstance.”

Lethe nodded slowly. “I believe that it is such an occasion. I would not wish to burden you any further but please consider that my life is now in danger. These criminals are desperate, and they will stop at nothing to injure or even kill me now that I have crossed them!”

This alarming observation decided the captain. “I will allow you to join my ship,” she agreed, “on the condition that you serve as an assistant medic on board and are prepared to disembark when we return to Droo at the end of our mission.”

Lethe nodded assent. “In that case I believe I should accompany you to your ship. I have some personal items I would like to transfer to the New Frontiers if possible.”

While Lethe and the captain were talking, Mitra noticed that her attacker had dropped the knife they had been holding. She bent down to pick it up and noticed that it was carved with an insignia and text. Her curiosity aroused, she put it into her pocket and decided to show it to Xanadu when she returned to the ship.

After a short time, Lethe was satisfied that Hodiyah had suffered no serious injury. He led the way along a track through the forest to the edge of the biodome, and out into the base’s habitation modules.

A few hours later, the crew were boarding the New Frontiers once again in preparation for lift-off. Jun was high overhead in the pale Cylero sky, reflecting off the ship’s freshly cleaned windows. In addition to the resupply, the DAC-29 had also received a full clean and check over to ensure every system was in full working order ready for the voyage to the depths of the outer system. Captain Hodiyah had already taken her position at the bridge and the other officers were completing their checklists. Mitra, Kalfr and Columba took their places in the seats at the back of the bridge and tightened their seat straps for the long burn required to escape Cylero’s sphere of influence for interplanetary space. Next to them in the fourth rear crew seat sat Lethe, who looked slightly nervous. He reached into a fold of his robe and took out a small string of pendants which he held tightly and then closed his eyes.

Each officer announced their command was clear for departure and the captain gave the order to Xanadu. The three great ion engines hummed into life, increasing their intensity as the ship slowly lifted from the pad. Once clear of the base, she further increased throttle until the acceleration became quite strong. To escape Cylero and head out into the far reaches of the system a long engine burn was needed, and the crew settled deeper into their seats in preparation. Outside, the sky grew darker until only the blackness of outer space remained, with the horizon slowly turning into the huge orange disk of the planet. After several minutes, the captain gave the order to reduce throttle and make final course corrections. Dr Ogmaz took a star sighting to double check the computer’s course projection and confirmed that the New Frontiers was now on target for Urados.

Once the engines shut down the crew were able to leave their seats and return to their usual stations in the ship’s labs and workspaces. Lethe returned to the quarters Hodiyah had assigned to him, and the other officers remained at the bridge for a while to ensure that all systems were in order. With her tasks completed, Xanadu received permission from the captain to leave the bridge. She walked down the main crew corridor towards the crew quarters, intending to visit Lethe. However, before she reached the room Hodiyah had assigned to him Mitra came out of a one of the storerooms and called her over.

She held out the knife that the cloaked figure had dropped in the bio dome to Xanadu. “When the captain and I were attacked the criminal dropped this, do you understand what these symbols mean?” she asked.

Xanadu was surprised to be asked yet again to decipher unknown symbology and remembered that Deimos had a similar request on the first day of the mission. She turned over the wicked looking knife in her hands and noticed the same hourglass shaped carving as in the last occasion. On the other side of the handle were some off, angular letters that somewhat resembled the word TEMPUS. “Can you tell me exactly how you got this?” she asked Mitra, frowning.

The crew hand told the story of the fight in the bio dome, how Lethe had defeated their attacker and his explanation for the event. Unsure of what to do for a moment, Xanadu decided to investigate further. “Thank you for showing me this” she said to Mitra, who seemed slightly surprised by Xanadu’s concern. “I’m afraid I will need to keep it for further investigation, as per protocol.”

At first the navigation officer considered visiting Lethe immediately to ask for more detail about the criminal organisation, but instead she decided to take a detour to the shuttle bay where Deimos had thrown away the broken actuator component and compare the carvings. Sure enough, both the main symbol and the letters appeared to be identical. Determined to discuss the matter with Lethe at a suitable time, she returned to her quarters and placed both items in her personal safe box. She then set off once again to the old man’s quarters.

Lethe’s room was what had been the spare crew quarters, at the middle of the ship. Xanadu knocked on the door several times but got no response. Remembering how nervous the old man had looked during lift off, she became concerned and slowly pushed the door ajar. The lights were dimmed in his room, and Lethe was standing with his back to the door, arms outstretched. It appeared he had not noticed her knocking or entrance, instead remaining completely motionless. He was wearing a different robe to when Xanadu had last seen him, this time he was clothed in a dark cloak with gold writing around the hems. Laid on the ground behind him, just in front of the door, was the sword Mitra had mentioned in her tale. Transfixed, Xanadu let go of the doorhandle and crouched down to pick up the dazzling weapon. It was sheathed in black wood which had been polished and coated until it had a surface as smooth as glass. Close to the hilt was an insignia, three small silver triangles linked with lines to a larger gold triangle. Down the length of the sheath was gold lettering in a script she had never seen before. Xanadu felt a sudden pang of guilt at entering Lethe’s quarters without permission and looking at his property and hastily put the sword back on the ground. But as she stood back up to close the door, she realised Lethe had turned around and was now facing her. Expecting him to be angry at her rudeness she began to apologise but he held up his hand to stop her.

“Don’t be embarrassed, your curiosity is only natural.” He reassured her kindly. “I appreciate your coming to check on me, I am afraid that it is taking a little while for me to adapt to life aboard a spaceship!”

Xanadu was relieved that Lethe was not angry, and as in her previous encounter with the old man she noticed how kind and peaceful his manner was. Something about his way of speaking and his sincere face gave her confidence that he would not judge her unfairly or react harshly to her curiosity. It was this feeling which had led her to spend so long talking to him at the Cylero One base, a sixth sense suggesting that something was different about him. “This sword is beautiful!” she said, picking it up from the floor. “I have never seen anything quite like it, where is it from?”

Lethe remained silent for a moment, studying her face. “It is a gift from a late friend of mine.” he responded slowly. “I once knew an archaeologist who studied the Tendarri desert people from the Badlands of Droo. He found this artifact and saved it as a gift for me when he retired.”

Xanadu looked again at the weapon, slightly confused. She had studied the ancient tribes and peoples of Droo at the Pedroian Institute before her posting to the Droo Alliance and had never heard of the Tendarri. “I must confess I have never heard any mention of this tribe.” she admitted. “Were you brought up by them?”

The old man looked grave. “I was not,” he explained, “but my family lived far from the main civilisations of the planet. Alas, they died many years ago.”

“I am sorry to hear that!” Xanadu replied. “How was it that you became a scientist in the Droo Alliance?”
“That is a long story.” Lethe responded. “I cannot tell it today, maybe some time in the future? It is very good to see you, but I must ask to be left in private for a time now as it is a while since I have been in such unusual surroundings and I need some rest!”

“I understand! If you do need anything please let me know, I will be happy to help you.” Xanadu reassured him. She quietly closed the door and walked thoughtfully back to the bridge to find Hodiyah. On one hand she was amazed by the wisdom and kindness of the new crew member, but she couldn’t help feeling uneasy as well. Something about his story did not add up, and she was concerned that the captain might have made her decision while injured or confused after the attack on Cylero. Could Hodiyah have unwittingly allowed an illegal stowaway to enter her ship?

However, when she respectfully voiced her concerns to the captain, Hodiyah was not moved. “I agree there is something that Lethe is not telling us.” she agreed. “However, even if he is a stowaway or a criminal, he has done no damage to our ship or mission. In fact, he most certainly saved my life and Mitra’s life. It is not our mission to return him to Droo, so I intend to allow him to serve on the ship until our return to the planet.”

Xanadu was relieved that the captain recognised the possibility but was also happy that she would have more time to talk to Lethe. ‘Who knows what the greatest mystery of this voyage will be.’ she thought. ‘The secrets of the outer system or our new visitor?’

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